Cumann Seandalaiochta agus Staire Phort Lairge

Thursday, July 2, 2020

A Young Historian's Notebook : 4. Reading

     4.  Reading: ‘never judge a book by its cover’  


 The Irish wit and playwright Oscar Wilde once said: 

‘It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it.’ 
The things we take an interest in during our youth can have a great impact on how we live the rest of our lives. One of the greatest gifts my parents imparted in me was the joy of reading. Our house was always filled with plenty of books as my brother Olin and I grew up with stories by Enid Blyton and J.K. Rowling. Adventures and tales capture everyone’s attention at any age, be it murder mysteries to great explorations. Often times the truth is stranger than fiction and that is what makes history so enjoyable, sometimes you just can’t make up what real events occurred in the past. 

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     One of the various books I read as a child was by the author Michael Smith noted for his various studies of polar exploration. Every year on World Book Day there would be a book sale held in the Mount Sion Hall on Barrack Street. I can remember seeing the blue cover with a sketch of Tom Crean on the front and immediately wanted it. I didn’t know anything else about it. The old adage is ‘never judge a book by its cover’, but it was one of the best decisions I ever made. Smith’s book for children on the Kerryman was titled Tom Crean – Iceman and would later be included in the national school curriculum. Those of the same vintage as myself have read that book and it is definitely the work which got me interested in history. The beauty of Michael Smith is that he has written for children and adults and my interests were further fertilized the older I got with his Great Endeavour – Ireland’s Antarctic Explorers. Both of these books could be used as signposts in my own learning and the development of my interests. 

     When I was in 6th class it coincided with the  90th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising and there was no shortage of books to whet my appetite. My uncle Raymond Murphy (who introduced me to the Waterford Archaeological & Historical Society) bought me Dan Breen’s My Fight for Irish Freedom which got me obsessed with the tumultuous events of what we now term the Revolutionary Decade. When released in 1924, Breen’s book was advertised for boys as a raucous adventure story through the War of Independence. This would be later reflected by the book being re-published by Kilkenny woman Rena Dardis and Anvil Press. It certainly captured my attention when I was 12 as I wanted to learn more and more about the period. This would shape my interests in secondary school and university. 


2016, nearly ten years after I read Dan Breen’s book I completed my MA at University College Cork in the Irish Revolutionary Decade. I feel that this was shaped by the books I read as a child and in my teenage years. If there is any advice I can give to young students who love history it would be read regularly, read a variety and read for pleasure. You won’t regret it! 

To be continued

1 comment:

  1. Great advice, can't beat the company of a good book :)


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