Connolly Books in Temple Bar is a delightful bookshop. It is a place where independent and alternative thought can be encountered. It is a place where books that go against the grain are sold. It is a place where I bought two excellent books just before Christmas.
One was On Dangerous Ground: A Memoir of the Irish Revolution. The writer Maire Comerford was from a wealthy family in Co Wexford. Growing up in the fox hunting fraternity, she moved easily among the landed families. A friend of the Barton and Childers families, she worked as secretary to Alice Stopford Green, but feels no need to make reference to their differing religious backgrounds. Comerford was a republican socialist, and anti-Treatyite, an active participant in the Civil War and a bitter critic of the Ireland that emerged from the conflict.
Growing up on tales of Michael Collins, I fear I would have been a Free Stater if I had been alive in 1922, but there is an unflinching integrity in Maire Comerford, an integrity that would cost her much.
Comerford would have pointed to the present border issues and the unresolved question of the future of Northern Ireland and have claimed vindication for her uncompromising stance a century ago.
The other book was Peadar O’Donnell’s Salud: An Irishman in Spain. Written in 1937, it is his memoir of the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. Bizarrely, labelled a “Red” because he had campaigned for a sub-post office in an isolated part of Achill Island, he had gone to Spain with his wife to find peace and time to write.
If Comerford might be credited with a degree of political prescience, O’Donnell was gifted with extraordinary technological prescience.
While staying in a small hotel in a fishing village in Catalunya, he had lengthy conversations each evening with a man he calls “the Scot.” The Scot was a man who thought that all change must come from the top. O’Donnell believed change started with people. In a remark that was almost an aside he said that television would be used in education.
It was 1937. Television was the preserve of a tiny minority. Even in those countries that had television stations, programme schedules were very limited and were strictly controlled. The idea that mass electronic communication might be used as an instrument of education would have seemed like something from science fiction writing.
The founding of institutions like the Open University and the broadcasting of television programmes for schools were to fulfil his 1937 prediction. One wonders what he and the Scot might have made of the world wide web.