Fintan O’Toole (2022)

A personal but wide-ranging exploration of Ireland in the last sixty years, by someone who’s reported on a lot of it. That makes for an insightful reading of political events in particular, the rise in national self-confidence and fall in religious influence across Irish society.

It’s probably largely incomprehensible to anyone who hasn’t spent a lot of time in Ireland, though: many things remain under-explained, as perhaps they have to given the sweep of the narrative. The deep-seated feelings of guilt that underpin many social relationships go unmentioned, for example. And the description of the boom-and-bust of the 2000s won;t be clear to anyone who doesn’t already know the story.

But O’Toole does manage to dive deeply into something that many outsiders find perplexing: the “dual consciousness” in Irish life whereby something can be known about but not acted upon, or rather where daily life goes on without any reference to things that “everyone knows”. (I lived in Ireland off and on for over twenty years, and this still baffles me.) How was Charles Haughey treated as a man of the people when he lived quite clearly beyond his means? Why did no-one investigate? – well, because there was nothing to expose, because “everyone knew”, and so no demand to read about it.

But with those provisos, this is an excellent history of a period of tumultuous change for Ireland, during which it emerged into the modern world, peacefully and culturally intact.

4/5. Finished Wednesday 10 November, 2021.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)