Essays in Irish Labour History

Francis Devine, Fintan Lane and Niamh Puirséil (editors), Essays in Irish Labour History (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2008)

Essays in Irish Labour History is a tribute to the late Professor John W. Boyle, University of Guelph, Canada and a leading practitioner of Irish labour history, and his late wife Elizabeth. Boyle’s specialism was in nineteenth-century Irish history, with a particular emphasis on Dublin and Belfast, cities to which he had academic and personal attachments, and these interests are well reflected in this book. The history of labour in Ulster is especially well covered, as is that of Protestant workers throughout the island. The collection includes substantial scholarly articles that reflect ongoing research and explore areas that have thus far been neglected, such as the emergence of time-discipline in nineteenth century Ireland and the impact of religion on the Irish Labour Party, 1922-73. The range of topics is broad and includes an obituary essay on the Boyles by Francis Devine and an interrogation of Irish historiography and the working class by Fintan Lane.


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‘Fintan Lane provides an insightful overview of the development of labour history from its late nineteenth-century origins to the present day…The lack of interest, as Lane notes, forms part of a broader neglect of class within both Irish society and historiography. An Irish Bourgeois History Society, was such an organisation to exist, might have more cause for complaint than the Irish Labour History Society: while the first collection of scholarly essays on the history of the Irish working class did not appear until 2005, the first collection devoted to the middle classes was only published in 2010. Tellingly, both were edited, or co-edited, by Lane…[He] advocates a labour history that embraces “the entire history of the working class, from politics to leisure, from workplace behaviour to family relations, from socio-economic conditions to socio-cultural values.” Indeed, he goes so far as to suggest ditching the term “labour history” for something which more accurately encapsulates the ambitions of present-day labour historians.


Lane warns against insularity: observing that the working classes form part of an ever-shifting relationship with other classes and modes of production, he argues also that the ultimate object of labour history must be to assist in the writing of holistic general histories that reflect the centrality of class in the past and present. This is an ambitious manifesto to be welcomed by all with an interest in the development of a vibrant Irish labour historiography.’ – Fearghal McGarry in Saothar, vol. 35 (2010)


‘To a great extent labour has been written out of the general history of Ireland. As Lane rightly states, the study of the working classes is not viable if it is conducted in a vacuum. Furthermore, Lane is right to argue there is a strong case for abandoning the rather restrictive term labour history…The essays in this collection make a significant contribution to the study of working people’s lives and in the best examples attempt to contribute to producing a more holistic history of Ireland by chronicling the lives and contributions of its working people.’ – Claire Fitzpatrick in Irish Studies Review (2009)