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The Evil That Irish Men Did
Down the centuries Ireland has produced its share of scoundrels and blackguards. In a new book Joe O’Shea delves into the dark world of Irish villains.
Olaf Tyaransen, 02 Nov 2012
While modern Ireland has no shortage of well-known stage scoundrels – from bankers, politicians and developers to murderers, rapists and paedophiles – if you go back a century or three you’ll find that almost all of the vile villains writ large in the annals of Irish history were foreigners. It’s not that there weren’t any homegrown bad guys, more that nobody wanted to remember them.
Murder, Mutiny & Mayhem, the fascinating debut offering from Cork journalist and broadcaster Joe O’Shea, seeks to rectify that historic imbalance. While the Irish are more usually celebrated at home and abroad as explorers, freedom fighters, writers and artists, his book features a cruel cast of native slavers, jailers, conmen, grave-robbers, pirates and killers, who wreaked havoc around the globe.
“Part of the inspiration for the book came from having a drink with my brother about four years ago and talking about [explorer] Tom Crean,” the 42-year-old author explains. “A book had just come out about him, and a play, and there was even a Guinness ad. People were eulogising him, and he practically became a secular saint. Because Crean is exactly what we want from our heroes, straight out of central casting. He was a son of the soil who went off and had this incredible adventure and endured terrible ordeals, but never said a word about it or sought glory. A big, strong-jawed guy, he looked like everybody’s idea of a heroic Irishman.
“Anyway, I was having a conversation with my brother about him, saying, ‘Look, there’s a flipside to this. We have guys who went off and did terrible things as well, but we never talk about them’.”
Even as a Cork schoolboy, O’Shea had always been interested in history.
“I had the standard Christian Brother education, where they were very focussed on Irish history – you got it from Brian Boru to Michael Collins, basically. It stopped just at the Civil War because nobody wanted to be talking about the Civil War in Cork in the ‘70s or ‘80s. So I got a very good basic education and that kind of fed my obsession with the subject.”