A Place Apart
Published: 1980-10-01

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A Place Apart, by Dervla Murphy, Devin-Adair Company, 290pp. hardback, $15.00. ISBN: 0-8159-6516-8.

The "place apart" to which Ms. Murphy refers is that much maligned and misunderstood part of the world, Northern Ireland. After many trips cycling in and to India, Nepal, Pakistan and Ethiopia, the Irish authoress suddenly realized that she had not yet ventured to the "darkest" part of her own island.

Her book is not a study of guerrilla warfare, nor theology, nor politics. It is simply an honest portrayal of emotions—her own and other people's—which becomes in effect, a revision of her own—and hopefully the reader's—preconceived attitudes toward that unfortunate place. Many people, including a large number of the southern Irish, regard the Northern Irish as sub-human troglodites, and Northern Ireland as "a squalid little briar patch."

In this 1976/77 travelog, Ms. Murphy describes her bicycle trip from County Waterford in south-eastern Ireland, up through the bogs and plains of the central basin, and across the border into the British province of Northern Ireland. She describes her gradual awakening to the true causes of civil unrest, through her encounters with citizens from all corners of the political and social maelstrom which is Northern Ireland.

She meets with extremists and with housewives; with religious leaders and with politicians. She finds her southern accent and ancestry of Irish rebellion no bar to access to the Loyalist community. And her liberalism and fairmindedness rarely prevent her from engaging in honest dialog with Provisional IRA fanatics.

Throughout the book Ms. Murphy comes across as a humanitarian and sincere truth-seeker. She can sympathize with the aspirations and fears of almost everyone she meets; she feels for the people; Loyalist and Republican alike. Her book describes her own personal odyssey from a position of scorn for the place, to one of understanding. In so doing, she also enlightens the reader and expands his or her understanding too. She also provides some historical data, which sketches in the "story-so-far." And her childhood recollections provide an intimate and personal background to her own analyses.

Dervla Murphy does not provide any answers to the Northern Ireland "problem" (although she does appear to have a predilection for the interesting and innovative idea of a secular, independent Northern Ireland). As a prominent English politician once said; once you think you've solved the Irish question, they go and change the question!

Hopefully, this fine and honest book will go some way at least toward that evasive goal.

DM


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Author(s): David Mccalden
Title: A Place Apart
Sources: The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 1, no. 3 (fall 1980), pp. 280f.
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Published: 1980-10-01
First posted on CODOH: Sept. 29, 2012, 7 p.m.
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