NIAMH PUIRSEIL is joint editor of Saothar, the journal of the Irish Labour History Society and a former Research Fellow in the Centre for Contemporary Irish History, Trinity College Dublin.
The first fifty years of the state saw Ireland change dramatically, and the Irish Labour Party changed with it. Using a wealth of new material, Niamh Puirseil traces the party's fortunes through its first fifty years in the Dail, from its perceived role as the 'political wing of the St Vincent de Paul' to its promise that the 1970s would be socialist. As well as examining the competing currents in the party itself, she also looks at Labour's relationship with different organisations and movements, including trade unions, republicans, the far left, the Catholic Church, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, as well as with other Social Democratic parties in Britain and Northern Ireland. "The Irish Labour Party, 1922-1973" is an outstanding contribution to the political history of twentieth-century Ireland. Over the course of the book, Niamh Puirseil charts the ever-depressing fortunes of the Labour party. Her exhaustive research provides a penetrating analysis of the myriad personalities and structures of the Labour Party, and shows a new picture of a party that seemed throughout the period to be hell bent on pressing the self-destruct button.This book offers a fresh and insightful look at a party riven by factions throughout its existence, and one that never reached its potential for a variety of reasons all outlined here. This book marks a major contribution to our understanding, not simply of the Labour Party, but of twentieth-century Ireland itself.
A Very Constitutional Party
Could Labour Become Socialist? Labour in the Hungry Thirties
Labour's Rise and Fall, 1938-44
Picking up the Pieces, 1944-8
In Office or Power? Labour and the First Inter-Party Government
Return to the Sidelines, 1951-4
Never Had it so Bad! The Second Inter-Party Government, 1954-7
The Seventies will be Socialist?
Smoky Misdirection, 1969-73
"I would urge the leader of the Labour Party ... to present every Labour TD with a copy of this book. And I would urge them to read it."
John Horgan Irish Times
"This is a well written and deeply researched book, and a sobering slap in the face to those who wonder why the Left in Ireland struggles to assert itself."
The Sunday Business Post
"The book is an outstanding piece of research - sober in judgement, rich in detail, and beautifully written."
"This is a comprehensive and insightful study."
"Niamh Puirseil's recently published history of the Labour Party's first 50 years is a warmly welcomed addition to what remains a barren field. Published by UCD Press [it] fills an important vacuum in our knowledge of the party and the more general political context ... [it] deserves to be widely read, by supporters and critics of the party alike."
"Niamh Puirseil has produced an invaluable reference work for anyone interested in her subject. It brims with facts presented in an easy style spiced with a pleasant ironic humour."
"It is dense and extremely detailed. The author is unafraid to make assessments or draw conclusions and there is a fine degree of intelligent analysis on display."
"a seriously researched study which is not afraid to debunk the myths of previous historians, and is written with a sense of humour which is still too rare in labour history."
Red Banner 70
"a most important book which contributes to a greater understanding of the history of modern Ireland and the contribution made by Labour to it. As such it embraces what traditional historians have long ignored. To a certain extent Labour has been written out of Irish history and this book goes some way towards redressing this."
Irish Studies Review
"This is a thought-provoking study peppered with many original observations. A high quality of research is maintained throughout the book, with Puirseil's wide archival and newspaper trawl and an excellent employment of the (still underused) Dail debates reaping dividends in the production of this lively account of the Labour Party's history ... has now raised the bar for such future works..."
Irish Political Studies
"an enthralling read that deserves much academic and literary credit ... belongs in every history classroom in this state."
The Left Tribune Vol 3 Issue 2
"if Puirseil’s intention was to eschew crude paradigms, where evidence is marshalled to ‘prove’ pre-determined conclusions, then she succeeds admirably in that regard. This is a balanced and fascinating appraisal of the Labour Party, written with wry humour and an eye for the telling detail … The book is particularly strong on Labour’s time in government and, as one would expect, the party is treated primarily as an electoral organisation rather than a social movement … Puirseil has engaged with the secondary sources, scoured the archives and conducted interviews with several leading figures, and the depth of research is apparent throughout. It is a confident, authoritative and measured study that will be the starting point for all future research on the Irish Labour Party."
Fintan Lane Irish Historical Studies vol. XXXVI No. 141
"Niamh Puirseil’s study of the Labour Party fills an important gap in both the history of political parties and labour history. … [her] study is based on a wide range of new sources and intelligent use of existing archives. She is to be commended for her mature judgement on many of the key issues that faced the Labour Party and Irish party system during this time. She demonstrates that there was a considerable problem of Communist infiltration of the party in the 1940s … [and] provides a careful and reasonably sympathetic assessment of William Norton, the long-standing leader of the party. But perhaps the most important re-evaluation here is that of Brendan Corish … Purseil highlights Corish’s decisive influence when the party moved to the left during the late 1960s [providing] a more nuanced and carefully documented appreciation of this labour politician."
English Historical Review CXXIV 506
"this book represents an invaluable account of 50 years of largely forgotten Party history, and it’s for this reason that the book is so valuable. The author gives detailed accounts of events such as the disaffiliation of the ITGWU from the party, and it’s subsequent reaffiliation 20 years later, to the events around the 28-year leadership of the party by William Norton. With the level of detail provided on these events, Puirseil’s work represents one of the most significant additions to the public history of our Party. The author may not be overly fond of her subject, but in constructing such a detailed account of this 50 year period, she has done us an enormous service."
Neil Ward – Labour News UK
‘Puirseil’s book is the first comprehensive history of the party since its formation. It concludes that while the party did not make the most of the opportunities Irish politics presented it with, these opportunities were still limited, and that the conservatism of Irish society fundamentally inhibited the development of a strong Labour presence. Certain themes which recur – the existence of a permanent urban–rural split within the party, the dominance of essentially pragmatic and conservative leaders and the inability of Labour to benefit from the influences of other left wing groups, republican, communist or otherwise – all suggest that the party could not transform itself into a genuine radical alternative, even if at times, the electorate needed one. We are left with the picture of a party that seems to have gone through no major electoral, ideological or organisational renaissance over a fifty-year period, and Puirseil concludes that Labour does not deserve our sympathy for this.’
‘The striking photograph on the cover of this absorbing and iconoclastic history shows the platform during the 1972 Labour Party annual conference. Addressing delegates is the somewhat disheveled septuagenarian chairman, Roddy Connolly, son of revered party founder, James Connolly. Of the thirteen men on the platform with him, however, only the general secretary, looking quizzically upward, is paying attention. Two of the others appear to be sleeping, while the remainder are either chatting or reading. Behind them all is a backdrop comprising an inexpertly stenciled message –'Let’s build The Socialist Republic” –and the visage of party leader, Brendan Corish, gazing in the direction of the slogan with eyebrows arched, apparently incredulous.
If readers have doubts about the fairness of so prominently featuring such an unflattering portrait of the subject organization, Niamh Puirseil’s book will assuage them. This was a “party of individualists and drunken feckers” (222), in the words of one of its own parliamentarians, whose public representatives, trade unionists by and large, regarded with disdain the ideological debates that engrossed its expanding membership during th