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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1998, Vol. 1 No. 2 .

Holding the Ground
Brendan Lynn

(Aldershot: Ashgate, 1997)
273pp. Bibl. Hb. ISBN 1-85521-980-8. 39.50.

'Holding the Ground' does not deal directly with ethnic conflict, and its' usefulness to those in this field is not immediately apparent.

Brendan Lynn's' work is the result of a PhD. Thesis and deals specifically with the struggles of the Nationalist Party in its' attempts to provide a focus for nationalist opinion in unionist dominated Northern Ireland.

The book itself is well written, but those uninitiated in the minutiae of Irish politics may find it a daunting read. Lynn has researched extensively using the private papers of the actors involved. Although the reader is provided with glossaries and profiles of the main personalities, the exhaustive detail of the work can also be exhausting for the reader.

Despite this Lynn's' work does highlight some useful themes that those studying ethnic conflict may wish to consider. The first is that the 'conflict' dominates all aspects of politics. The second, that as a consequence normal politics cannot develop. Finally, that in a situation of perpetual opposition the minority party, in this case the Nationalist Party will always be vulnerable because of its' apparent ineffectiveness.

Lynn establishes the first theme by quoting Donald Horowitz who noted that ethnic conflict "dominates all" politics. The second theme is a result of this and can be seen throughout the book. The most interesting theme is the last and this is also one established by Horowitz, i.e. that any party reliant upon specific ethnic support must serve the interests of that group, or lose its' support.

Lynn notes how gradually the Nationalist Party is 'eclipsed' by the Civil Rights movement whose very existence was a symbol of their failure. Lynn concedes that the Nationalist Party was 'impotent' in the face of Unionist intransigence. John Hume's' SDLP, the successors to the Nationalist Party, could depict themselves as the Nationalist Party on 'Viagra'.

'Holding the Ground' conveys the 'honourable struggle' of those who sought to keep the nationalist flame alive and Lynn deals sympathetically with their story. One wishes that it had been told in a more accessible fashion.

Peter Semple

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