Ian Mulvany

June 22, 2022

We don’t know ourselves - book review



I’ve just finished reading this book by Fintan O’Toole. 


The book charts the dramatic changes that Irish society went through from the 1950s through to the present day. I learnt so much about my homeland, and reflected a lot. 

I grew up during the 70s, 80s and 90s in Ireland and became one of the diaspora. I left before the Celtic Tiger years. Even so, and even through I grew up in the place, there was so much I’d not known, or realised so clearly. 

I never knew Mohammed Ali boxed in Ireland. I never knew about the depth of the 80s drugs crisis. It finally explained why there are so many chonky bungalows in the country. 

I knew there was deep corruption in the country but not how deeply endemic it was. I’d not known about the abuse of priests, until the tribunals came out. I not know about the horrific state of the industrial schools that had imprisoned on the order of 40,000 children.  

I was born a few months after my parents married, and they separated a few years later. It seems plausible that the existence of mother and baby homes, that forcibly separated unmarried mothers from their children, played a role on their decision to marry. 

I remember strange and uncomfortable conversations that a local priest put all of the boys in my class through, when we were in secondary school. The intent of these conversations made no sense. 

I I remember explaining to French and German students that the reasons we didn’t worry about the violence in the north is that it was a different county, a different place. We were mentally disassociating ourselves from situation. 

So many of the topics in the book connected deeply with my own experience. 

It was a powerful read, and I can’t recommend it highly enough to anyone interested in economic change, in the recent history of Ireland, or in a story about how a nations finds some path to redemption and perhaps a way to be a little more at peace with itself.