The Irish Civil War 1922-23: Ava’s Diary

Written by Patricia Murphy
Review by Linda Sever

The latest in the “Hands On History” series, published by the excellent Poolbeg Press, Ava’s Diary moves between the present day, with the arrival in Dublin from New York of Ava and her mother following the bitter break-up of her parents, and 1922-3 at the height of the Irish Civil War. The latter is told through a series of letters and documents Ava finds in the flat her mother is renting. Along with her new but secretive friend, Mal, Ava deciphers the manuscripts written by and to Molly, an 18-year-old medical student, who tended to the wounded men fighting against the ‘Free Staters’, those who signed the treaty to divide Ireland. Molly’s story hearkens back to the first book in the series, The Easter Rising: Molly’s Diary, where the historical characters were first introduced.

The series of books are primarily aimed at Irish schoolchildren, as it presupposes a level of knowledge of Irish history. Non-Irish children may find the cultural and historical references difficult to understand, despite there being some facts at the beginning and end. Figures and groups like Countess Markievicz and Fianna Eireann, along with some of the dialogue used, e.g. ‘goms’ and ‘yokes’, may need further explanation.

That said, the story is fast-paced and gripping. The present day is as engrossing as the past, with Ava trying to come to terms with her parents’ split and being bullied. There is intrigue and mystery, based on meticulous historical research. But it also makes reference to current events, such as the situation in present-day Syria.

I recommend adults to read this book as it will enlighten readers about a period in history rarely discussed outside Ireland.