THE GLORIOUS MADNESS
The Glorious Madness is a marvellous book
The approach to Kylemore Abbey in Connemara, Ireland, is immediately a postcard. Manicured forest, ancient castle, gorgeously mirrored in a pristine lake. I visited there a quarter of a century ago when it was a Benedictine boarding school. I fell in love with the beauty of Ireland, and came away knowing the country had me for life.
So it was too with Turtle Bunbury’s book “The Glorious Madness: Tales of the Irish and the Great War”. The popular Irish historian jumps straight to the chase, that the Irish were embedded deep in the First World War from beginning to end. He reflects the story so effortlessly with genuinely passionate research, that you finish every page loving it and wanting more.
The Irish Convent at Ypres, Belgium, was in the direct firing line when hostilities began. With guns pounding in the distance, the 84-year-old Lady Abbess from Wexford prayed aloud for all to hear: “Dear St Patrick … please chase the Germans out of Belgium.” The nuns escaped and today their flag hangs in Kylemore Abbey. I needed to read more.
Turtle (so named because he’s the third son, “tertius” in Latin) promptly offers an answer to the big burning question. Why did so many Irishmen fight in the Great War only to be forgotten. Dubliner Tom Kettle is representative. He witnessed the first German atrocities of the war, and formed the opinion that until “Prussian barbarity” was defeated, his yearned-for Irish home rule would be impossible. So Kettle, and hundreds of thousands like him, joined the British Army to save civilisation. The path to Irish independence turned, however, and the Irishmen of the Great War were purged from national consciousness.
Turtle suggests an explanation for that too. The Easter Uprising in Dublin in 1916 was forcibly quashed by the British Army. Tom Barry from Kerry symbolises the conflict of so many Irishmen in the Great War. He questioned how the same army he was fighting for, could so ruthlessly fire on his people. Barry went on to become one of the most prominent guerrilla leaders in the Irish War of Independence.
The book introduces many amazing characters. There’s Donegal-born Louis Lipsett who somehow discovered that urine protected against chlorine gas. And Monaghan-born Cecil Parkes who was the greatest all-round sportsman in Irish history. In truth he was probably one of the greatest sportsmen in the world. And the biggest triumphant truth of all. The war could not have been won without the oil of the richest man in the world, Knox D’Arcy, whose father was from Mayo.
Don’t be afraid of the world and Irish history, there’s no political agenda. This is a solemnly must-have book, beautifully researched, wonderfully illustrated, and easily read. Like the Turks rubbing their eyes in disbelief as the British landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula, you’ll be wondering why you haven’t read these terrific tales before. You’ll love it and be wanting more from the third son Turtle.
An Cosantóir (Defence Forces Magazine), 3 June 2015
With numerous events scheduled for the next number of years commemorating seminal events of the First World War it is apt to examine the role of Irish men and women who participated in the Great War. The story of these men and women has now been vividly brought to life in the Glorious Madness by Turtle Bunbury, himself a scion of a family with a distinctive Anglo-Irish history. Bunbury is a well-known name on Irish television and radio. He is co-presenter of RTE 'Genealogy Roadshow', and the founder of Wistorical, an innovative concept of promoting Irish History globally.
This beautifully illustrated work is akin to the opening of a time capsule of the period and the role of the Irish in the Great War. It takes a sweeping majestic view of the conflict from the mud and mire of Flanders Fields, to the ultimately futile Gallipoli campaign where the Irish played as significant role as the ANZAC Brigade; the war at sea, Irishmen who fought in the Middle East made famous by the exploits of Lawrence of Arabia as part of the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire.
The role of Irishmen who fought in the skies above the trenches is also addressed, including the 'Eagle of Trieste' Gottfried Freiherr von Banfield.the most successful Austro-Hungarian naval pilot of the war, descended from the Banfields, a Quaker familyfromClonmel, CoTipperary.
The poignant story of Erskine Childers, awarded a DSO (Distinguished Service Order) for his outstanding reconnaissance skills over the North Sea, Gallipoli and Palestine is also recounted. Author of the acclaimed The Riddle of the Sands, considered the world's first spy novel, he was subsequently executed during the Civil War. He had been found guilty by a military tribunal of possessing a prohibited firearm, an ivoryhandled Spanish automatic, a gift from Michael Collins during happier times.
Their stories are all at once tragic, honourable, often recklessly brave, overshadowed in many instances by the deep loss felt by Irish families left in mourning by the loss of family members killed in the charnel house of the Western Front and other far-flung theatres of war.
This evocative work brings alive the Irish and their role in the Great War, be they nuns, artists, sportsmen, poets, aristocrats, nationalists, clergymen and even film directors.
Turtle Bunbury has attempted to write not a definitive book of Irish involvement but “simply a collection of Great War stories with an Irish twist”. Bunbury’s selection is enterprising and eclectic, as illustrated by the first three substantive chapters: on the “Irish Dames of Ypres”, a Belgian convent displaced by the German invasion, which eventually relocated to Kylemore Abbey, in Co Galway; on Jack Judge, the son of an ironworker from Co Mayo, who composed It’s a Long Way to Tipperary; and on Jocelyn Lee “Hoppy” Hardy of Ulster, who lost a leg on the Western Front and was a champion escaper from POW camps and went on to be “one of the most notorious British intelligence operatives in Dublin” during the War of Independence. In this engaging and attractive book – a triumph of the designer’s art – Bunbury’s metier is the largely traditional story well told.
Patrick Geoghegan, Talking History, Newstalk, 15 February 2015
An absolutely brilliant book. A fantastic production - it really does bring the past to life and captures the totality of the Irish experience.
Steve Earles - Destructive Music, 9 February 2015
Turtle Bunbury is a fine writer who has that rare knack of imparting his knowledge and enthusiasm on his given subject to his readers.
His newspaper articles are always a good read, but it’s his series of ‘Vanishing Ireland’ books that really stands the man in good stead: each featuring fifty or so interviews with elderly people talking about the Ireland of the past and of the present. A wise philosopher once said that when an old person died a library died with them: thus, in this series of books, Turtle has done their memories and valuable perspective on the present day, a great service. His ‘Sporting Legends of Ireland’ is also worth a look, as of course, is his classic ‘The Irish Pub’!
Having written about the Irish in the Great War myself (In the graphic novel ‘To End All Wars’ published by Soaring Penguin Press, with £2 from every copy sold going to Medicines Sans Frontieres), I’m always interested in learning more, and in this, Turtle’s ‘The Glorious Madness’ doesn’t disappoint.
Over 30,000 Irishmen lost their lives in the Great War, yet we were never taught about this at school, reading ‘The Glorious Madness’ helps the reader understand why (and it would be good to see it taught at school in future). This is a timely book because recently in Ireland people are openly talking about The Great War for the first time. There can be few families in Ireland whom the Great War did not touch.
Turtle’s research is top notch, but most important, he has that all important empathy for his subjects, he humanises what he writes about. This is not a dry book, it has both sadness and humour (after all, without humour, life isn’t worth living)). ‘The Glorious Madness’ gives a voice to the voiceless dead, and they have something to say, for instance, Woodbine Willie said: ‘There are no fruits of victory, no such thing as victory in modern war. War is a universal disaster and, as far as I am concerned, I’m through.’
‘The Glorious Madness’ has the hallmark of a great history book, it is eminently readable and accessible to it’s readers, it is a book for all (one I would like to see taught at school).
As usual Gill & Macmillan have produced a beautifully bound, presented, and illustrated book, this is a book with literally decades of use in it.
In short, a superb book on Ireland’s significant part in the Great War, written by a great writer.
Andrew Melsom - Irish Examiner, 15 January 2015
Turtle Bunbury has pulled together a sumptuous collection of stories that show the Irish contribution to the Great War with extraordinary tales of derring-do. This is the book you must give your father, and when he opens it on Christmas day there will be stories that will surprise even him ... This is not a ‘deep dive’ history book, but it is a colourful record of Ireland’s Great War and a tribute to many of her heroes.
Gay Byrne, Lyric FM
It is a most magnificent book and beautifully done. A superb production, superb photos. On the off-chance you’re looking for something inspirational for Christmas, look out for it. I cannot stress too much, it is a beautiful, beautiful presentation - something to be proud of and something to guard.
The John Toal Show, BBC Ulster
Anton Savage - Savage Sunday, Today FM
A piece of Irish history that was sort of wilfully forgotten for a long time. [The Glorious Madness] is wall to wall with tales of some very interesting characters, including a number who played an important role in Irish history.
Emmanuel Kehoe - Sunday Business Post, 14 December 2014
The impressively versatile Turtle Bunbury is known for his sensitively written, well-observed Vanishing Ireland series of books and his appearance on RTE’s Genealogy Roadshow. He also toured this year as one of the lecturers in the Great War Roadshow, headed by Myles Dungan. Now, also marking the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, Bunbury marches into what once would have been a no-man’s land for historians … There is much to enjoy here. Bunbury has an eye for irony and pathos and a fluid attractive writing style. It’s packed with personalities and stories of courage under fire amid truly unimaginable slaughter, of mind-boggling military incompetence and of individuals emotionally afflicted by reports of courage in another cause at home. The cast of characters is formidable.
Turtle Bunbury's excellent 'The Glorious Madness', is a fitting complement to Kevin Myers' work, 'Ireland's Great War'. The title is a quote by Woodbine Willie, a chaplain of Irish descent, later a noted pacifist, who dispensed bibles and cigarettes to the troops, and who later wrote there were "no words foul and filthy enough to describe" war.
'The Glorious Madness' is splendidly illustrated with fascinating period photographs and reproductions. It is a compendium of the stories of scores of the more prominent Irish involved in the war, including chaplains and airmen, together with accounts of some of the battles and skirmishes in which they participated. Of particular note is Tom Barry, who fought in Iraq, honing the skills he would later impart to training the West Cork Flying Column after 1919.
There's even a chapter on Captain "Hoppy" Hardy, British ace escaper, later ace interrogator, who earned notoriety subsequently as the probable torturer of both Kevin Barry and Ernie O'Malley and as the murderer of comedian Brendan O'Carroll's grandfather in 1920. Hardy escaped Collins' hitmen on Bloody Sunday.
A wonderful book packed with great individual stories and pictures which bring the Irish participation in the Great War vividly alive.
In the same edition of the Irish Independent, Books Editor John Spain declared 'The Glorious Madness' to be 'outstanding', while publisher Dominic Perrem replied to a question on his Christmas reading list by saying: 'I'm hoping to get through Turtle Bunbury's marvellous new tome on the Great War, The Glorious Madness.'
‘Based on first-hand accounts of the conflict, this collection of character portraits and stirring anecdotes brings to life the hopes, fears and ambitions that defined Ireland’s “lost generation”.’
'Turtle Bunbury’s book about the Great War is a great read, a dramatic confection of remarkable stories about remarkable events and individuals slapped together with great dexterity and professionalism. The photographs are gruesome and, by contrast, the contemporary illustrations, particularly the full colour ones of maps and battle scenes, so sensuous they would not be out of place on a box of chocolates. This is military history as entertainment on a scale we have not seen since, well, the First World War ... This is one book that can be judged by its cover.'
The Irish Times, Saturday 25th October
Sebastian Barry launches 'The Glorious Madness'
"One piece of popular science that lingers in the public imagination is the notion of menstrual synchrony, the way in which the monthly cycles of women living together gradually come into sync.
Neither I nor Turtle Bunbury is a women; I’m well past the menopause and we’ve spent a grand total of five hours in each other’s company over the course of two series of The Genealogy Roadshow. And yet somehow our cycles are coinciding.
Turtle is bringing out The Glorious Madness – Tales of the Irish & the Great War (Gill & Macmillan) on Tuesday October 21th, and my own The Atlantic Coast of Ireland (Francis Lincoln) is launched two days later on Thursday October 23rd.
They are very different books. Turtle continues the wonderful listening and yarn-spinning he has honed in the Vanishing Ireland series, applying it to veterans of the first World War. The stories he recreates are poignant, whimsical and bleakly funny, bringing back into the light the lives of people who found themselves on the wrong side of history after the struggle for Irish independence. This is my kind of micro-history.
My own book is not really my own. It is a collection of eyewateringly vivid landscape photographs taken by my friend Jonathan Hession, to which I have added a series of short essays. I grabbed the opportunity to get out of the genealogy ghetto and unburden myself about ecology, geology, myth, Irish accents, the Gaeltacht, religion, what’s wrong with Kerry and whatever you’re having yourself. Complete editorial freedom went straight to my head.
Turtle’s launch is in the Hibernian Club on Stephen’s Green at 6.30pm on Tuesday. Jonathan’s and mine is just around the corner at the Dubray Bookshop on Grafton Street at 6.30pm on Thursday.
We each have high hopes for our offspring and have made a date to spawn again at the same time next year."
‘A beautiful book, a must-read for anyone interested in the Great War.’ - Ivan Yates, Newstalk Breakfast.
'Have just finished reading The Glorious Madness found it absolutely riveting and didn't want it to end. Its a credit to your research and writing prowess - Congratulations!' - Howard Smith.
'The book is a tremendous read and I am enjoying it immensely’ - Art Kavanagh.
'A real treasure' - Daria Blackwell, County Mayo.
'Just a note to congratulate you on your brilliant WWI book. I have to say it far surpassed my expectations. It told the Irish story, not the 'Rebel' story, and that in itself is a splendid, overdue, and timely thing. This decade of commemoration is bound to whip up its fair share of republican nostalgia, and that in turn is bound to lead some to denigrate the actions of those who joined the British Army and served abroad. But I honestly believe the Irish, in the main, are hungry for a broader and more sympathetic account of the role their country played in WWI, and your book goes a long way toward providing that. Well done. I hope you sell millions.’ - R. Halpin.
A very fine and measured and moving piece of writing' - Martin Doyle, The Irish Times.
'I bought a copy of that great book the other day and am most impressed. It is beautifully presented with super pictures to accompany your excellent research. It is a long overdue tribute to the great men who did their noble best under terrible circumstances. Well done.' - Colonel Sir William Mahon, Bt, LVO.
'A well researched and profoundly engaging book, which I find for a change, tells history in a captivatingly easy to read style. Its collection of fascinating tales from a century ago brings vividly to life, again in the present, lives of some forgotten Irish men and women, amongst others, of different hues and colors. Their portraits and the diverse roles they played in different theatres of the war are at the same time grippingly mingled with narratives of horrific battles and appalling front conditions. It has me realise that the freedom I enjoy today originates in part from the price of loss of life and limb many then suffered, tens of thousands fated never to return home again, in Ireland strangely, ever to be forgotten. For me a stirring, well illustrated, high quality, solidly bound book providing an intrinsic insight into four years of brutal trench and air warfare, of life at the front and behind the lines. I view the book as a valuable must for every public library and private book-shelf.'
A book of historical punditry
I recommend to all present company
“The Glorious Madness”
Humour & sadness
in the Great War by @turtlebunbury
Ben Huskinson @benbhavingmadly
'Well Done on your new book. I am reading it at the moment and you have met your usual high standard congratulations.'
‘Very interesting. What a read. Well done.’ - Andy Verney, Co. Carlow.
'I got your book from Kenny's and am thoroughly enjoying it. It is beautifully produced, the illustrations/colour are gorgeous and so much of the time. You write so well. I have read many great novels of the First World War, but this brings it so well to life. You pitch it at such a loca, human level. Writing something in a sort-of magazine format also makes it so much more accessible to so many people. You read a story, & put it down to think about it for a day or two before picking it up again. Your book deserves a big push. Selling books must be so difficult, everybody on Kindle. I prefer the heft of a book myself, being able to leaf through it.' - Dr. M. Milner, County Louth.
‘Fabulous book’ – Kate Muller.
‘Thoroughly enjoyable and informative and well written’ - Jay Frederick Krehbiel.
'I have just finished Turtle’s book and thought I would let you know that I was absolutely fascinated by it. I had no idea how much the Irish contributed to WW1 and how many brave young, and not so young, men lost their lives. Nor did I know how many VCs were won. In fact, all in all, my ignorance was complete! I much enjoyed the life stories of the men and women which ran through the book, none more so than Flora Sandes – what a woman! The tragedy of so many battles, involving reckless charges leading to so much loss of life, is heartbreaking. Please pass my congratulations to Turtle on his excellent portrayal of The Glorious Madness (a most apt title). I have learned a great deal and am most grateful to him for opening my eyes on this period of our history.'
'I very much enjoyed Glorious Madness' - Dr Jeff Kildea, Keith Cameron Chair of Australian History at the UCD School of History and Archives in 2014.
'Could not put the book down when i read it. Great work.' - Stevo McFarland.
‘Thank you Turtle for making Christmas shopping for my Dad easy for once! Last one left in shop ... [24 hours later]. Darn he just finished it - how quickly can you write a sequel?’ – Colette Ashe Cully.
'I have just finished Glorious Madness and was enthrauled [sic] the whole way through. I now look at the various plaques in churches to fallen war heros in a new and personal light. You have put flesh and bones to names in my mind ... Kind regards and congratulations on a wonderful and moving book.' - Andrew Lee.
'The madness, good stuff, detailed and well researched, must have been a lot of work. I am glad you devote a big chunk to Gallipoli which, apart from Verdun, must have been about the most savage meat grinder of all. Good too that you devote a chapter to Brian Desmond Hurst, the empress of Ireland. As I say, all good stuff well done.' - David Grenfell.
‘Just wanted to say thank you, I decided to get all the men in my life, your wonderful book, "the Glorious Madness". I got such lovely messages of gratitude! I know this is for your book, from cover to cover, my brother, especially loved it!’ – Grainne Marrinan.
'Reading a great book, The Glorious Madness - Tales of the Irish and the Great War, by Turtle Bunbury. It's amazing how so much of the war and the 1916 rising are entwined by so many of the same people.' - Johnny Maye.
‘I am reading Glorious Madness right now and it is great. It is all credit to you, must have taken acres of research to get that all done ... A powerful work of historical knowledge for us all, young and old" – Sean McQuillan.
'What a brilliant page turner' - Trish Findlater.
'Good, v good' - Simon Draper.
'I judge all general history books about the Great Calamity on whether or not they pass the "Festubert Test" and yours does with flying colours (recognising the fact that it has been very much obliterated from memory) on page 51! Thank you very much.' - Noel Kirby.
'Gill and Macmillan have done you proud. What an excellent production and I wish you well with it. There has been a lot of nonsense attached to the subject of Ireland and the First World War. I hope what you have done brings a measure of sanity.’ - Bruce Arnold.
'Please allow me to offer congrats on your wonderfull book The Glorious Madness. As I read it I feel so in touch with the men in those trenches. Many a tear have i wiped from my eyes.' - Tony Sadar.
'A great book, both in writing and presentation.’ - Philip Lecane.
'Solid research and great writing' - Erskine Childers.
A delight, in my opinion, witty, brief and gives a fair picture - Arthur Carden on the Sackville Carden chapter.
'A compulsive read. Well done.' - Jim Nicholson (www.lismacue.com), Lismacue House, Bansha, County Tipperary.
'I found your ‘The Glorious Madness’ an excellent book for information and bringing WWI alive p participants’ - Jim Cooke, Rathfarnham, Dublin 16.
'Am reading the Glorious Madness and am loving it!!' - Michelle Burrowes, High School Dublin - War Stories.
'Turtle, got this book for Christmas. Great read. You have undertaken a huge amount of research.' - Brian Morgan, County Monaghan.
'A fantastic piece of work. Turtle Bunbury has done a great job with it.' - John Nolan.
'Congratulations on absolutely exemplary writing - and 'publication aesthetics'.' - Chris Fitzpatrick.
'Your book on the First World War is great. Fair play to you.' - Cormac Ó Comhraí, author of 'Ireland and the First World War: A Photographic History'.
'I just purchased your latest book and have to say it is one of my favorite historical accounts of the Irish people ... Thanks again for this fantastic read!!!' - Sarah Bunbury, Atlanta, Georgia.
'I received shipment of 2 copies of the Glorious Madness in time for Christmas (bless Kenny's Bookshop in Galway!) and am a chapter in. Fantastic. Congrats!' - Carol Braun, Kansas City.
‘Fascinating … The stories were full of so much detail.’ – Clive Lauder, Dublin.
'I very much enjoyed your 'Glorious Madness' book - which I bought for myself last Christmas' - Tim Coote.
'The war book is beautiful. I was weeping as I read it this morning. Its tragic to think of what was left for them when they came home, a land ravaged by civil war, rejection and a new world based on lies and hypocrisy.’ - T. O'Riordan.
'What a magnificent production! Gilll & Macmillan have really done you proud!' - Herbie Brennan.
'Magnificently produced ... I was so impressed by the print, design and production quality. Graham Thew's cover is beautiful. I will start reading asap.' - Paul McGuinness.
'I purchased a copy today in Wexford. Can't leave it down. Every school, if not every home, in Ireland ought to have copy of this.’ - Senan Lillis.
'A great book’ - Sarah Perrem.
'A thoroughly enjoyable read !! God knows the level of research involved!' - Richard Knatchbull.
'I must commend you on the book - it's an excellent work and a truly original collection. Well done!!' - Mathew Forde, County Down.
'I've been reading the book at home these last few days and it makes for very interesting reading’ - Dan Flanagan, Newstalk Radio.
'A very good read' - Bernadette Shevlin.
'An excellent and valueable new book’ - Jack Tenison.
'It not only looks very impressive but also reads very well' - Meike Blackwell, County Mayo.
'This is a truly special book, great research and fascinating.' - Michael Leonard.
'Utterly riveting' - John Bradburne.
'I am really enjoying reading "The Glorious Madness". As is usual with your writings, there is great story-telling, balance in approach, and empathy with the people you portray.' - Christopher McQuinn.
'An absolutely fantastic book with so much information, many photos and maps ... it is a wonderful tribute to the Irishmen who joined up in WW1 and counters the silence and air-brushing them out of Irish history and the shabby treatment of those who survived who did not receive a pension from their country. This is a book that every library should have.' - Eldrith Ward, Norfolk.
'A fascinating account of a dreadful era and a fitting tribute to those involved' - Sir Richard Butler.
'Beautifully produced' - Margaret Bonass Madden.
'An excellent book. Our daughter gave me a copy for Christmas and I read two or three pages at a time so as to digest each of the accounts of individual lives.' - Ian Poulton.
'It really is a superb read and deserves every accolade it has received.' - Ruadh Butler.
'Just enjoyed the Irish in WW1. Hell of a lot of work by you. Thank you. Among a bucket load of brilliant stuff, amazing bravery and selfless politcally reality was the final chapter on the Serbian Doris, amazing! That and the classless/nonsectarian devotion of the Irish people to western freedom that your book points out should be celebrated more.' - Patrick Williams, New York.
'Great book Turtle. Could not put it down.' - David Williams, County Wicklow.
'One of your lovely books sits on an Abercorn ottoman in the Long Gallery at Barons Court' - Tim Belmont.
'Really enjoyed the book, its beautifully put together and a wonderful research piece and contribution to the field.' - Rory M. Finegan PhD, Commandant, Chief Instructor, Artillery School, The Military College, D.F.T.C., Curragh Camp, Co. Kildare
'I very much enjoyed reading The Glorious Madness and admire the huge amount of research and work that went into it.' - Edward Cooper, Kells, Co. Meath.
'Got your WW1 book as a Christmas present and am enjoying it greatly' - Rev. Robin Bantry-White, Paulstown, County Kilkenny.
'The content is brilliant, honestly. You have rare gift for telling a story with compassion, and with point ... Quite the treat.' - Arran Henderson.
'An excellent read, both enlightening and very humbling' - Mike Croome.
Hibernian Club, Dublin, 21 October 2014.
That great silence which accreted around the extraordinary conflagration of the Great War in so far as it affected Ireland, has been often, ironically, spoken of in our time. But there always has been a trace of the war, silence or no silence, inside, literally, almost everyone in Ireland. When you consider the 200,000 that went to fight, and the 40,000 or so killed, and the countless wounded sometimes with fates so dark perhaps words can never be found to illuminate them, by mere genetic mathematics almost everyone on the island is related to those men, not to mention the uncounted thousands of women that served as nurses and the like, and the uncounted thousands who worked in munitions factories and other wartime industries. Our DNA tells many stories indeed that our mouths and brains would rather rest in silence, or are oftentimes not even aware of, but maybe at close of day that is a part of whatever majesty we have as a creature. Silence has a great yearning to be articulated. Silence is the great susurrus towards speech. The strand in our make-up that carries those lost people, and every one of them dead now whether they survived the war or not, the subtle, eloquent genetic strand of the Great War, is entwined into all of us, a persistent and strangely honest thread in the curious tapestry of ourselves. It belongs to a branch of human activity in some ways so foul, and in other ways so moving, with its stories of vulnerabilities and promises, and endeavours, and most usually undertaken by the very young, that there is something to be said for shame about it, and something to be said for pride.
Turtle Bunbury’s entirely unashamed, as one might say, entirely honest book of tales about the Great War is something new, really. It is almost the first book that, in the very best sense, takes the fact of the war for granted, and the fact of our participation in it as a given – a vexed and oftentimes murderous given, but a given. He goes back with his historian’s eye, but also his humanitarian heart, and gathers together a host of tiny epics, larger epics, the strange stories and the sometimes bizarre happenstances that occurred around the conflict. His open-handed, clear-sighted and finely written book comes fresh and. I might almost say, redeemed out of the moil and storm of controversy that surrounded the topic of the war, in a thousand different guises in the decades since its end. Whether the men who fought in it were traitors to Ireland, whether they were fools in the words of Tom Kettle, whether they went out for economic reasons, whether they were to be lumped in with the imperialists of the past, whether they were dupes and even sometimes martyrs, whether they were great heroes, at close of day is not quite the point. Many reasons have been attributed to the soldiers going out to that war, efforts to explain, accuse, exonerate that perhaps have often occluded, in effect, the sorrows of widows, sisters, brothers, fathers and mothers, burying them under a heap of wretched dust-covers, dubious and sometimes devious strategies to erase the war from Irish history. As not important, not true, not Irish, not wanted.
But all human endeavours, no matter how ambiguous morally -- and war continues to carry its terrifying burden of ambiguity, speaking to old impulses in us as a creature that are very difficult to admire -- since they happen, must have their chroniclers, their story-tellers, their singers, their painters, their historians. And let them be great ones, if at all possible. And in the past couple of decades the Great War has emerged out of its silence and found many extraordinary tellers, as one might say. Perhaps it is a tragedy of a kind that this has happened when all the Irish survivors, all the Irish witnesses even, even those who heaped that silence on it, are gone -- all the secret hours when medals and other remnants were put in drawers in Irish houses, when wounded men sat out their days in institutions, too maimed for public view, when those that came home unscathed were yet inescapably scathed by deep and secret wounds, and certainly finding the sombre truth that, in their own country, pride in their deeds was not to be articulated, all that difficult and twisting silence called private life, where no historian can ever reach… Lost, gone by silently, so that even the second generation following often had no idea of their relatives’ involvement, and the third generation were entirely in the dark – perhaps it is a tragedy of a kind. But recompense can take many forms, and perhaps there is some hope of redemption in humankind that an action in the far future can reach back and do some justice to the past. There can be a powerful, sympathetic magic in the mere writing of things down. I see Turtle’s lovely, responsible, hard-won book as a deeply considered handshake with some forgotten souls -- thanking them, if that is their need, for fighting for Ireland, or an idea of a New Ireland, as many of them were, or for all the thousand reasons our 200,000 men went to the war, for the defence of small nations, or to continue a family tradition, or to answer the call of adventure. Turtle Bunbury holds out his hand in the present, seeking the lost hands of the past, in darkness, in darkness, but also suddenly in the clear light of kindness -- in the upshot acknowledging their imperilled existence with a brilliant flourish, a veritable banner, of wonderful stories.