Tony Farmar,
Privileged Lives
(A&A Farmar, 2010)

Subtitled "a social history of middle-class Ireland 1882-1989," Privileged Lives is a fascinating read and an eye-opening experience. We all think we know the past to varying degrees. We can recite the major political events, the disasters and the scandals, but all too often we forget that the real lives of real people were never taught in the classroom.

Read this well-written volume and at least some of those omissions will be rectified.

Author Tony Farmar has a light writing touch and a mind that is incisive. He picks nuggets of information that illuminate the past. After reading this book you will know a lot more about the past century or so of Irish life. You will also find it difficult not to bombard your friends with "did you know" questions.

Throughout the volume we find fascinating items, such as the Christian Brothers producing a book of etiquette for their pupils in the 1930s to ensure they knew how to behave in social settings. They had to learn chapters by rote. Or, there's the banking scandal that sounds like it came from contemporary headlines, which occurred in 1882.

The prevalence of Irish people renting rather than buying -- even the middle classes -- is remarked upon, as is the average amount of income going on rent of about 11 percent. We read of the arrival of commodities into Ireland like Cherry Blossom boot polish, Lipton's tea, Sunlight soap and Fry's cocoa. In fact, we find cocoa as a fairly staple diet item.

Farmar's description of Dublin for the Eucharistic Congress in 1932 is fascinating, as is the whole section on the politics of the era along with church influences in all strands of life.

Sit back with this volume and be transported to other eras so different in many ways but sadly also very much the same.

music review by
Nicky Rossiter

3 March 2012

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