The cover note of Politics and the Irish Working Class, 1830-1945 points out that this is the "first ever collection of scholarly essays on the history of the Irish working class." These fourteen essays, ranging from such subjects as Robert Owen and cooperatism in Ulster in the 1830s to politics and the Irish working class during World War II, are, without exception, informative and well researched. Largely untouched by the theoretical considerations, Politics and the Irish Working Class is a confident and much-needed contribution to Irish historiography. Granted there can be no return here to the heady metanarratives of the likes of Edward Thompson and Christopher Hill,1 but in the disengagement from any idea that "class" in general, and the "working class" in particular, might be the product of cultural construction, Politics and the Irish Working Class formulates itself in largely unproblematic intellectual terms where discourse seems ousted by the high craft of history writing. The collection, in short, is not much interested in theoretical introspection, and it comes off none the worse for that.
It has to be said, however, that the application of this kind of work to Joyce studies, for all the current interest in Joyce and history, is not immediately obvious—a useful reminder that "history" comes in different shapes and sizes, for Irish culture as all others. Occasionally one comes across the odd piece of information in this collection that clearly intersects with Joyce: the material on J. P. Nannetti in Emmet O' Connor's excellent piece on how colonization, in all its dimensions, shaped labor politics across the period 1830-1945 (32), for example, and a reference to the cattle trade (102), which links the export of cattle with emigration and hunger, as Mr. Power does in "Hades" when he observes that the livestock being herded down to the quays are "[e]migrants" (U 6.389). There is also the broader application of the material on such figures as Charles Stewart Parnell and Daniel O'Connell. In a highly suggestive essay on Chartism, O'Connell, and 1848, for instance, Christine Kinealy usefully articulates the conservatism of O'Connell ("the man who did most to forge the link between Irish nationalism and Catholicism"—4) and the strength of his opposition to labor politics. Here an interesting and important contradiction, between Joyce's espousal of socialism and the lyrical evocations of the O'Connell effect in such places as "Aeolus," is fully exposed (U 7.880-83).
But such applications hardly come pouring off the pages of Politics and the Irish Working Class, which is, for the most part, located elsewhere, in a number of senses. Some pieces are geographically remote [End Page 605] from the Joyce text, concerned with events in Belfast, Limerick, or Cork; others are temporarily distinct, set early in the nineteenth century or late in the twentieth. Above all, however, it is, ironically enough, the level of detail, the localness, and the concern with people who largely fail to register in the Joycean landscape that really separate Politics and the Irish Working Class from the Joyce text. A piece like Maria Luddy's "Working Women, Trade Unionism and Politics in Ireland, 1830-1945" (44-61), concerned with people like Delia Larkin (the sister of Jim Larkin) and Helena Moony, who both worked for the Irish Women Workers' Union in the early twentieth century, inhabits a world that appears to have no real parallel in Joyce's reproduction of Dublin. Similarly Maura Cronin's account of how workers in Cork and Limerick responded to Parnellism in the 1880s involves a political environment of skilled artisans, unskilled workers and casual workers, and trade unionists and trade councils that is quite "other" from the version of Irish society produced in, say, Dubliners (140-53).
Interestingly enough, Politics and the Irish Working Class provides one potential answer to the absence of the Irish working class from the Joycean text. For all the care they take over the documentation of the partial, local successes of the Irish...