Bitter Freedom: Ireland in a Revolutionary World, 1918-1923

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9780571243006: Bitter Freedom: Ireland in a Revolutionary World, 1918-1923

"Sets Ireland's post-1916 history in its global and human context, to brilliant effect." ―Neil Hegarty, Irish Times Books of the Year 2015

The Irish Revolution has long been mythologized in American culture but seldom understood. Too often, the story of Irish independence and its grinding aftermath in the early part of the twentieth century has been told only within a parochial Anglo-Irish context. Now, in the critically acclaimed Bitter Freedom, Maurice Walsh, with "a novelist's eye for detailing lives in extremis" (Feargal Keane, Prospect), places revolutionary Ireland within the panorama of nationalist movements born out of World War I.

Beginning with the Easter Rising of 1916, Bitter Freedom follows through from the War of Independence to the end of the post-partition civil war in 1924. Walsh renders a history of insurrection, treaty, partition, and civil war in a way that is both compelling and original. Breaking out this history from reductionist, uplifting narratives shrouded in misguided sentiment and romantic falsification, the author provides a gritty, blow-by-blow account of the conflict, from ambushes of soldiers and the swaggering brutality of the Black and Tan militias to city streets raked by sniper fire, police assassinations, and their terrible reprisals; Bitter Freedom provides a kaleidoscopic portrait of the human face of the conflict. Walsh also weaves surprising threads into the story of Irish independence such as jazz, American movies, and psychoanalysis, examining the broader cultural environment of emerging modernity in the early twentieth century, and he shows how Irish nationalism was shaped by a world brimming with revolutionary potential defined by the twin poles of Woodrow Wilson in America and Vladimir Lenin in Russia.

In this “invigorating account” (Spectator), Walsh demonstrates how this national revolution, which captured worldwide attention from India to Argentina, was itself profoundly shaped by international events. Bitter Freedom is "the most vivid and dramatic account of this epoch to date" (Literary Review).

20 photographs

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About the Author:

Maurice Walsh is the author of The News from Ireland: Foreign Correspondents and the Irish Revolution, a Times Literary Supplement Book of the Year choice in 2008. As a foreign correspondent, he has reported from Africa, Asia, Latin America, the United States, and Europe. His essays, reviews, and reportage have appeared in Granta, the London Review of Books, the Dublin Review, and the New Statesman. He was Knight Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan in 2001, Alistair Horne Fellow at St Antony's College, Oxford, in 2010-11, and teaches journalism at Brunel University in London. He lives in Oxford.


Bitter Freedom is a wonderfully involving work: vividly written, with a storyteller’s eye for human detail and a scholar’s sense of broader and deeper movements over time. Anyone interested in Irish history will find the book riveting.”
- Joseph O’Connor, author of Star of the Sea

“Maurice Walsh is a gifted writer with a novelist’s eye for the illuminating detail of everyday lives in extremis...The great strength of Walsh’s book is its breadth of vision. His book challenges parochial tendencies in the revolutionary story.”
- Prospect

“Maurice Walsh’s invigorating account of the revolution and its immediate aftermath starts after the Rising, and firmly locates the Irish crisis in the postwar Europe described by Thomas Masaryk as ‘a laboratory atop a vast graveyard’. Vivid and incisive, his approach highlights discontinuities and contradictions among the revolutionaries.”
- Spectator

“Maurice Walsh’s book is the most vivid and dramatic account of this epoch to date: if you want to feel the full horror of Bloody Sunday in Dublin and the ‘sacking’ of Balbriggan by the Black and Tans, this is the place to look.”
- Literary Review

“The great strength of this compelling book is that it manages to make large and abstract arguments while conveying a sense of the lived experience of the Irish revolution. With one hand, Maurice Walsh widens his lens, while simultaneously he applies a magnifying glass with the other. The result of this dexterity is an arresting set of Big Pictures interspersed with a sequence of vivid miniatures. Indeed, the particular originality of the work lies in the striking conjunction of images.”
- Tablet

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