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Vol 38  No 11
March 16, 2006


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New book puts Irish hero under the microscope

By Leslie Vryenhoek

Peter Hart

Dr. Peter Hart, Canada Research Chair in Irish Studies, has published a thorough examination of an Irish hero that’s sure to stir some controversy, even as it garners acclaim.

Mick: The Real Michael Collins provides a detailed chronicle of the life of the Irish revolutionary who became the first government leader before dying in an ambush in 1922. Young, good-looking and having attained a “celebrity hero” status in life, Mr. Collins has been revered in Ireland since his death, Dr. Hart says.

Mick was favourably reviewed in the Books section of the Globe and Mail on Feb. 19. Reviewer John Brady called the work an “enthralling study” and noted, “Hart has produced a meticulous, doggedly factual and minutely detailed account.”

And that, in fact, is just what Dr. Hart set out to do in this, his fourth book.

“There have been other biographies written about him,” Dr. Hart says of Michael Collins, but notes that his uses more evidence, and uses it more thoroughly to describe the man and his actions. “I don’t approach it as a fan; I’m quite skeptical. He was a very powerful man who acquired his power very quickly and used it ruthlessly, and he was responsible for a lot of violent deaths. I believe such people need to be looked at very critically.”

However, he stresses that while he expects to hear the accusation, he is not hostile toward Mr. Collins or his legacy; he just wanted to get beyond the mythology.

Dr. Hart is no stranger to controversy. His 1998 book The I.R.A. and Its Enemies continues to draw criticism from Irish leaders for its depiction of a pivotal ambush. He’s been called “a revisionist” and accused of tearing down heroes.

“In some ways, I’m labelled now as an anti-nationalist,” he notes, adding others commend him for deconstructing myths. “I don’t like either label. People start asserting ideological positions and the arguments become irrelevant. Then there’s no progress.”

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