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. 

About Ian Mulvany

Hi, I'm Ian - I work on academic publishing systems. You can find out more about me at mulvany.net. I'm always interested in engaging with folk on these topics, if you have made your way here don't hesitate to reach out if there is anything you want to share, discuss, or ask for help with!