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From Germany to Glengarriff: how we were in 1913

June 4th, 2021 10:10 PM

By Southern Star Team

Ireland [1913] is published by Cork University Press.

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IN 1913, The Berliner Tageblatt, the leading liberal paper in the German capital, dispatched its rising star reporter Richard Arnold Bermann (1883-1939) to Ireland to give their readers an insight into the culture and politics on this remote, yet intriguing Atlantic island.

Now, translated for the first time, Ireland [1913] by Richard Bermann, printed by Cork University Press, is a personal yet factual account of his summer spent criss-crossing the island. In the 110 years since, Bermann’s vivid prose and astute observation have lost nothing of their charm.

Interspersed with surveys of Irish history, political analysis, ruminations on literature and theatre, Irish lore and dancing, it also forms a unique historical source of Irish life and culture on the eve of the First World War.

The book is both a serious historical and political source, unique because it marks one of the last outsider’s views of a situation that, with the outbreak of the Great War a year later and imminent Irish independence, was to undergo radical upheaval.

Jerome Aan de Wiel of UCC says Bermann’s book is a very welcome addition to a growing interest in Irish-continental European relations during the twentieth century, a topic that has been seriously neglected for decades. ‘The book dealing with the year 1913 confirms in many ways the impressions on Ireland of many German travel writers between the 1750s to the late 1880s, namely the wild beauty of the country, its abject poverty and its poor management by the British.’

When Bermann passed from Bantry through to Glengarriff, he encountered a farmer’s wife who was poor, but very proud.

‘On one of the glorious beach walks near Glengarriff we came across a tiny little hut. A small potato patch at the front, and beside every third potato plant a proud plaque stating the name of the variety: Queen of Ireland, Magnum Bonum, The best of all!

‘We go into the yard and ask for a glass of milk. The old farmer’s wife busily goes into the house, which consists of just one single, smoky room.

‘A red-haired young lad is sitting at the open fire with a pipe, while a dog is lying in front of him. The farmer’s wife fetches two clean glasses and fills them with excellent raw goat’s milk. We drink one glass after another, enraptured by the view of Glengarriff bay with its islands, its old romantic castle, its sharp contours and its soft luminous surf.

‘You have a really beautiful view here!’ I say. ‘The view is of no use to us,’ the woman replies, ‘we are too poor!’

‘But she absolutely refused to accept payment for the tasty milk, and in the end when I popped a few pennies into her children’s piggy bank, she insisted that that was just a gift and not payment for the milk.’

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