Aidan Beatty sets out to pursue two worthwhile goals with his monograph, Masculinity and Power in Irish Nationalism, 1884–1938. The first is to draw out Irish notions of masculinity as they relate to the formation of an independent Irish nation from the founding of the Gaelic Athletic Association to Eamon de Valera's first Fianna Fáil government after the enactment of the 1937 Constitution. The second is to stress continuities from before, during, and after the revolutionary period of 1916 to 1922. Beatty chooses to use a running comparison between Irish nationalists and European Zionists and their respective masculine ideologies, although the unevenness of the comparison—this is a book about the Irish, not Zionists—undermines the effectiveness of this interpretative strategy.
The book is composed of six main chapters and starts with the revolutionary era. Beatty then flashes back to the late nineteenth century to explore the development of masculinist ideas of power in a series of important institutions, among them the Volunteers, the police (later Garda Síochána), the Gaelic Athletic Association, and the Gaelic League. Beatty also provides an interesting exploration of the relationship between economics, land ownership, colonialism, and notions of manhood. Finally, the last substantive chapter—the most intriguing and thought-provoking in my opinion—details how locating the line separating the state from the Catholic Church was complicated because of a shared commitment to policing the social order, whether it was in the realm of prostitution, temperance, or dancing, particularly through the control of gender. All of these chapters are well written and well argued, and they admirably contribute to the growing historiography that has sought to highlight the manner in which nationalism (and the movements it spawned) were invariably not gender-neutral, but rather drew on both long-standing and evolving expressions of masculinity and femininity.
While acknowledging that a single monograph cannot accomplish all things regarding a topic as sweeping as this one, I believe that the lack of any discussion of clerical masculinity was a missed opportunity (or alternately, an avenue for future research). Beatty convincingly argues for the centrality of Catholic culture in construction of gender norms in Ireland but does not address the elephant in the room: priests and religious brothers. As nominal celibates, they did not offer a complete model for wider Irish masculinity. Nonetheless, as nationalists, sportsmen, imbibers, religious leaders, and disciplinarians, their views and actions obviously had a great effect on how the Irish imagined proper manhood.
The ubiquity of corporal punishment in schools at the hands of male authority figures could not help but have profound effects on Irish men and women. The literature on child abuse has long shown that children who are physically maltreated are more likely to be violent with their own children, creating cycles of violence across the generations. Beatty astutely argues that “Catholic-centric explanations serve … to exculpate the state. Thus, in the context of a society that has ostensibly moved away from Catholicism, oppressive social control can be historiographically represented as something Catholics were responsible for in the past, whilst the state, then as now, remains blameless” (210; author's emphases). Before the phrase “It could happen to a bishop” became a punchline alluding to secret children sired by members of the Catholic hierarchy and other scandals, the common phrase was used to convey the idea that bad things could happen to even the best of men. After the Ryan Report, it is hard to imagine a consensus that sees Irish bishops as the embodiment of untarnished virtue. An examination of the state's tacit support for prevailing models of clerical masculinity—especially with regards to open secrets of illicit sexuality and physical violence—would have tied in well with Beatty's other case studies and strengthened the overall argument.
Despite the book's many strengths, Beatty somewhat oversells the uniqueness of his chronology and subject matter. While there are of course monographs about the revolutionary period, Irish historiography is not particularly bifurcated at any one date—not 1916, 1922, 1937, or 1949. Most major histories do not specially privilege a date in that range as a major dividing line for Irish culture, as opposed to Irish politics and governance. R. F. Foster chooses 1600–1972, Paul Bew 1789–2006, Alvin Jackson 1798–1998. Diarmaid Ferriter focuses on the whole twentieth century. In other words, there is no established consensus that Irish culture and society (as opposed to politics) drastically changed in those years, so there is not much to be debunked. Furthermore, while interesting in conception, I did not find the Zionist “mirror” to be particularly enlightening. Beatty uses a smattering of Irish- and Hebrew-language sources in his work, which certainly points to an uncommon linguistic repertoire, but the comparison never provides a novel interpretation of Irish masculinity beyond showing that it was indeed part of a wider European culture of gender construction. These (possible) shortcomings are nonetheless easily overlooked in light of the overall contributions of this eminently worthwhile monograph.