Ireland and the Crimean War. By David Murphy. Portland, Oreg.: ISBS, 2002. ISBN 1-85182-639-4. Maps. Photographs. Illustrations. Tables. Appendixes. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xxv, 262. $45.00.
Recently, Irish historians have begun to rediscover the nature and extent of the Irish contribution to the British military power, both as part of the United Kingdom and after partition in 1922. David Murphy's account of [End Page 237] Ireland's part in the Crimean War 1854-56, based on his doctoral thesis at Trinity College Dublin, demolishes some cherished myths. Irishmen were proportionally over-represented in the British armed forces of the mid-nineteenth century; and from their own accounts they did not volunteer from hunger or reluctantly, but in the hope of a military career. Both elite and mass popular enthusiasm for war against Russia was considerable, sustained through to the war's successful conclusion, and commemorated in pageants, ballads and memorials afterwards. In fact the Irish presence in the Crimea was so ubiquitous, and the response of Ireland was so much like that of the rest of the United Kingdom, that Murphy's book raises questions about the nature of Irishness in this period, as opposed to Scottishness, Welshness, or Englishness. In his search for Irish nationality, Murphy also sometimes stretches too far (under some of his criteria, Robert E. Lee would be called English); social class divisions and upbringing were much more significant at the time, and famous Crimean figures such as General Sir George De Lacy Evans and William Howard Russell of the London Times are better understood as "Anglo-Irish." Correctly, Murphy does not treat Lord Lucan as Irish, any more than Lord Cardigan and Lord Raglan were Welsh.
Murphy provides good chapter-length accounts of Ireland both on the
outbreak of the war and at its conclusion, and chapters on the Crimean
theatre and on the critical naval operations. His emphasis on the Royal
Navy in the Baltic is unfortunately less original than he realises:
despite impressive wider reading he has somehow missed the most
influential recent revisionist account, Andrew Lambert's The Crimean
War (1990), which deals comprehensively with the naval war issue. His
failure to read Hew Strachan's equally revisionist works on the British
Army also causes him to repeat some discredited opinions. His strongest
and most interesting chapters deal with wider neglected issues such as the
Irish role in the support services in the war, including the Royal Irish
Constabulary contingent in the Mounted Staff Corps, and Irish "navvies"
or labourers. The chapter on the experiences of Irish surgeons, nurses,
and chaplains is fascinating, including the well documented records
of two Jesuits in the Crimea (Catholic chaplains had been allowed in
British service in 1836), and the virulent clashes between the Dublin
nursing Sisters of Mercy and Florence Nightingale. This book makes an
important contribution both to a neglected aspect of Irish history and
to the wider history of the war.
Royal Military Academy Sandhurst
Camberley, Surrey, England