We Don’t Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland

Liveright. Mar. 2022. 624p. ISBN 9781631496530. $32. MEMOIR
Irish Times columnist O’Toole (The Politics of Pain: Postwar England and the Rise of Nationalism) has written a forceful account of how Ireland entered the modern age, beginning with his own personal history, which he effectively ties in with an almost year-by-year recounting of what happened in his country during the late 20th century. O’Toole, who was born in 1958 to a lower working-class family, would never have been able to get far beyond his circumscribed life in an earlier era, he writes. O’Toole recalls the challenges facing Ireland in the 1950s, including a lagging economy and a wave of emigration to other countries in Europe and beyond; he also takes care to show the influence of the Irish Catholic Church, including limits on abortion and contraception. From 1960 on, the Troubles escalated into violence, with IRA Provos and Ulster loyalists committing atrocities. He writes that corruption reached a new level with the administration of Taoiseach Charles Haughey between 1979 and 1992, which tainted government. The picture O’Toole paints is of a country fumbling its way to the present almost in spite of itself. This volume includes several personal photographs.
VERDICT In O’Toole’s case, sharp reporting makes good history.
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