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Home » Book Review » Book review: Fergal Donoghue, Crime in the city: Kilkenny in 1845 (Dublin, 2015)

Book review: Fergal Donoghue, Crime in the city: Kilkenny in 1845 (Dublin, 2015)



On the 10 September the latest books in the Maynooth Studies in Local History series were launched at Maynooth University. This series -edited by Professor Raymond Gillespie and published by Four Courts Press- has been producing valuable local history studies since 1995 and has accumulated a total of 122 pamphlets. These cover a broad geographic spread across the whole of Ireland. The pamphlets normally focus on a particular aspect of their respective area’s history. They offer an informative, enjoyable and accessible insight into the history of selected local areas. Of particular worth is the ability of the series to connect the local to the national and demonstrate how wider national trends played out in a local setting. In addition, the relatively short nature of these publications means that they are ideally suited to those with little time on their hands.

This year six books were published, namely: Gerard Dooley, Nenagh, 1914-21: years of crises; David Doyle, The Reverend Thomas Goff, 1772-1844: property, propinquity and Protestantism; Adrian Empey, Gowran, Co. Kilkenny, 1190-1610: custom and conflict in a baronial town; Pierce A. Grace, The middle class of Callan, Co. Kilkenny, 1825-45; Ann O’Riordan, East Galway agrarian agitation and the burning of Ballydugan house, 1922; Fergal Donoghue, Crime in the city: Kilkenny in 1845.

Typical of the high calibre of the series is Fergal Donoghue’s Crime in the city: Kilkenny in 1845 (Dublin, 2015). The book provides a fascinating insight into the nature and punishment of crime in Kilkenny city in 1845. The book begins by providing much context in terms of the social condition of the city in the period. It demonstrates that well-known generalisations such underemployment and the lack of a wage economy created a significant underclass in the city. In doing so the book also highlights the conditions in which this underclass lived. The author is also careful to guide the reader through the nuances of the locality and demonstrates that there were two sides to the city: one living in poverty alongside another living in relative wealth. The second chapter places justice and punishment in the city in a national context and gives the reader a good understanding of how the justice system in the Kilkenny operated in 1845.

The final chapter of this short book is a testament to the great efforts of the author to garner as wide a picture of crime and its punishment in the city as possible. The author demonstrates not only the effects of the famine on crime in the city but also through careful and insightful analysis of the statistics highlights how the study of sentences can provide an insight into the fears of the city’s elite.

Overall this short book offers a fine contribution to not only our understanding of crime and punishment in Kilkenny city but also to the wider national history of this subject. In doing this the author provides a valuable insight into the motivations and fears of those responsible for the punishment of crime in mid-nineteenth century Ireland.

This book (priced €8.95) and the rest in the series are available via the Four Courts Press website at: http://www.fourcourtspress.ie/books/browse/history/maynooth-studies-in-local-history/


Adrian James Kirwan, co-editor of Holinshed Revisited, is an Irish Research Council funded Ph.D. candidate at the Department of History, National University of Ireland, Maynooth. His research focuses on the interaction between society and technology, more about his research can be found here.


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