Looking Back: Living and Writing History
This book is a selection of historian Oliver MacDonagh’s writings edited and introduced by his former student, Tom Dunne, who contibutes an account of MacDonagh’s career and a bibliography. It brings together a series of childhood memories of a bank manager’s son in 1930s Roscommon, with reflections on a lifetime spent writing several different kinds of history, in Ireland, England and Australia.
Oliver MacDonagh was a significant writer as well as a distinguished historian, his work marked by a sophistication of style and intellect. As Roy Foster remarks in his preface, ‘Oliver MacDonagh was a great scholar, and a good deal more.’ He is best known in Ireland for States of Mind: A Study of Anglo-Irish Conflict, 1780-1980, which won the Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize in 1985, and for his two volume biography of Daniel O’Connell. He earned a major international reputation for his studies of early-nineteenth century government, as well as for an important book on the novels of Jane Austen.
Few historians have paid as much attention as MacDonagh to the importance of style, and this is reflected in all the elements of this book. It ends with his tribute to John Henry Newman’s Apologia pro Vita Sua, a book that had been with me as a schoolboy, that had helped to shape me then, and since’.
TOM DUNNE is Professor Emeritus of History at University College Cork. His Rebellions: Memoir, Memory and 1798 won the 2005 Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize.