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This 1,000 page, 5kg atlas challenges the usual story of Ireland's revolutionary history

We spoke to one of its editors.

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IT WEIGHS 5K, it is crammed full of facts, figures, pictures, documents and incredible art – and it tells the full story of Ireland’s revolutionary history from 1913 – 1923.

The Atlas of Irish Revolutionary History is nominated in the Best Irish Published Book of the Year category at this year’s Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards, sponsored by TheJournal.ie. The book is published by Cork University Press.

One of its editors, Dr John Crowley from the Department of Geography in UCC – who worked alongside Donal Ó Drisceoil, Mike Murphy and associate editor John Borgonovo on the atlas – said that books like this and its predecessor, the Atlas of the Irish Famine “are legacy projects and they are huge undertakings and a huge investment of time and energy”.

“You don’t go into them lightly – you have to take a conscious decision to give it your all,” he said of working on the book.

The work of a huge amount of scholars and academics is featured in the atlas, as they examine a large range of topics such as the Home Rule crisis, the 1916 Rising, and the Civil War.

And because it covers such hugely important events in Irish history, the editors were cognisant of the fact there are varying and sometimes opposite opinions on these events.

pic 1 atlas A peace vigil outside the Mansion House. Source: National Library of Ireland

“I think it was important to be as inclusive as possible of all the different shades of opinion,” said Crowley. “There were over 100 scholars involved – they had different angles, different arguments, and it was very important to get that sense of inclusivity across.”

For him, the atlas presents a “complicated narrative” of Irish history during this 10-year period.

“Complicating the narrative means to challenge the accepted narrative about the period and I think that’s maybe what the book does in the end: it complicates the narrative, it’s challenging, it’s nuanced, it’s not straightforward. It creates a new space for approaching the past which has been very contentious.”

He said that people “can come to absorb the material, stand back, and maybe make a decision then”. Overall, the aim was to create a book which had “that space for understanding and for reflection”, which Crowley said is very important.

Fig. 1 De Valera Ennis Eamon De Valera's visit to Ennis Source: National Library of Ireland

The book is full of incredible artworks depicting life and incidents during this period, as well as new maps which give a great visual insight into data about that time.

The use of images – and extended, informative captions – are part of how the atlas shows that at UCC, their remit goes beyond scholarship and into public outreach, said Crowley. The book is for everyone, he said – not just academics.

The book is hugely substantial, and given its size and weight, isn’t something you’d be reading while in bed.

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But it is a book that rewards dipping in and out, reading a chapter or section at a time, or flicking through and seeing what piques your interest. With sections dedicated to gender, class, and all the different sides to the conflict, it also takes in many varying views. Spanning history, geography, art history, sociology and archaeology, it’s hugely in-depth and an eye-opening read.

Crowley said that as an editor “you’re very humble when you engage in these types of projects”, given the scale of the work and information that goes into it.

The huge public reaction to the 1916 celebrations points to people’s interest in reassessing and commemorating Irish history, said Crowley. “This book is building on that type of reaction and it’s going to last right up to 1923,” he said.

Four years in the making, the atlas was “an intense project but a very worthwhile project and something that hopefully will have a legacy down the line”, said Crowley.

“And that’s why you do them – it’s not about ourselves, it’s something that will give people the opportunity to connect with their past in a different way.

The book is monumental in scope – it’s almost a monument itself, but it does create that space for more reflection.

The Atlas of the Irish Revolution is out now, priced at €59, and can be ordered from Cork University Press.

To vote for your favourite nominated book in the Irish Book Awards, visit the official website.

Read: COMPETITION: Win these books nominated for the Irish Book Awards>

Read: Newbies, celebrities, and one turkey: These Irish books are in the running to be named the best of 2017>

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