A full-scale biography of Daniel O'Connell deserves close attention, if only because the subject was such a colossus in his own time. This particular biography calls for even greater respect because its author, Oliver Mac Donagh, has established himself as the most incisive and (with the late F.S.L. Lyons) the most prolific Irish-born historian of his generation. The compound is preferred over the simple adjective to describe Mac Donagh not because there is any doubt about his Irishness, but because most of his working life has been spent outside Ireland - at Cambridge and in Australia - and because the Ireland which features so prominently in his various studies of Late Georgian and Early Victorian society is represented by Mac Donagh as but one unit in a wider Hiberno-British world which, on the global level, stretched from Botany Bay to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and, at the more local level, from Westport to Gosport. Moreover, the prominence which Ireland enjoys in Professor Mac Donagh's earlier writings is justified by him, first, because the administrative solutions devised for the acute social problems in that country were subsequently given wider application, and, second, because many statesmen and administrators who came to enjoy prominence and reputation in Britain had served their apprenticeship in Ireland.
LRB 24 May 1990 | PDF Download