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  • We Don't Know Ourselves

  • A Personal History of Ireland Since 1958
  • By: Fintan O'Toole
  • Narrated by: Aidan Kelly
  • Length: 22 hrs and 12 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History, Europe
  • 4.8 out of 5 stars (253 ratings)

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Summary

Fintan O'Toole, Ireland's leading public intellectual and author of Heroic Failure, tells a history of Ireland in his own time - a brilliant interweaving of memoir and historical narrative.

Fintan O'Toole was born in 1958. His life covers Ireland's journey out of underdevelopment and domination by the Church, to the country's transformation into the relatively prosperous and tolerant society that it is today. But, along the way, there was a sectarian civil war in the North, which cast a dark shadow over the whole island, and bitter struggles for intellectual, civil and sexual freedoms. The Church fought a long rearguard action to defend its entrenched positions in education, healthcare and childcare. The truth about child abuse and institutional cruelty emerged slowly, and women still had to die to make possible the liberalisation of Irish laws on contraception and divorce.

This is a very personal history by a writer who is considered by many to be the country's leading public intellectual. He was a participant in many of the controversies and arguments of the past 35 years and knew the leading literary, musical and political figures of those decades.

©2021 Fintan O'Toole (P)2021 W F Howes

What listeners say about We Don't Know Ourselves

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Outstanding cultural analysis

I'm under a decade younger than Fintan, the offspring of immigrants to Ireland from a secular, liberal social-democratic culture. Fintan's analysis of how the cruelty of the church hierarchy and the corruption of the kleptocratic political class existed as unnameable knowns in Ireland is spot on. I'm sad he didn't tell the story of the death of Savita Halappanavar. This was the event that tipped the balance towards abortion rights in this country.

We're not out of the woods yet; the vast majority of primary schools in Ireland (approximately 3,300) are church controlled (over 90% by the Catholic church and about 6% by Protestant churches). The state pays for the upkeep of schools, but it does not establish them. Conscientious atheists cannot hold the office of President, Judge, Taoiseach (Prime Minister), or other offices of the Council of State because, in order to take office, it's necessary to swear a religious oath, the wording of which is in the Constitution.

Fintan uses the experiences of his own life as anchors from which to hang many of the stories in this book. He doesn't overdo it - this is not an autobiography. It's exactly as described, a personal (and subjective!) history.

If you're born and bred here, or if you're a first or second generation immigrant, or if you've moved abroad and want to understand the Irish psyche, this book will clarify a great deal for you.

8 people found this helpful

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A worthwhile reflection

A cerebral and insightful reflection upon a period of history through which myself and Mr O’Toole have both lived. I don’t agree with all his positions and I think his views on the Church could benefit from more conversations with key church figures who would certainly talk to him. The reader on Audible is inaccurate in many places and mispronounces many Irish words.

4 people found this helpful

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Deserved Irish book of the year

Excellently written analysis of modern Ireland, told with humorous & moving personal stories. Should be of interest to immigrants to Ireland to understand why the Irish are like we are & also to young Irish who did’nt live through a church controlled state & forced emigration. Good to hear the more in depth knowledge of one of Ireland’s best journalist on many stories over the last 60yrs.

3 people found this helpful

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If you love a good story, this is it.

I loved this book, having read a few books on Irish history post 1916. This one is different and looks at Eire and Ulster thru' the eyes of the author during his lifetime. He isn't afraid to show the dark side but there is also warmth and humour. It's a long listen but beautifully read by the narrator. This has been my COVID companion while I isolate and I couldn't have asked for better.

2 people found this helpful

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Brilliant Look at Modern Irish History

Brilliant tour of modern Irish History. Author uses stories from his own personal experience and those of his family to illustrrate and illuminate the way things were.This may change your perspective on your parents and grandparents generation and go some way towards explaining why we are the way we are. While doing all this the book still manages to be highly entertaining which is no mean feat. Thanks Fintan.

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Facing up to ourselves

really enjoyed listening. I was born in 1986 to English mother and Irish father. hearing anecdotal tales of what Ireland was like was almost as unrelatable as hearing myths about ancient Greece and Rome.

no doubt uncomfortable listening for many but it's worth listening to for any person trying to get their head around the Irish, especially Irish people themselves.

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An important read.

After a few chapters, I bought this book for my father (born in 1948) in hardback so that I could check-in and cross reference passages from the book with what his take on those events were. This was the greatest educational piece I've read as an adult. An important read for anyone who had lived or lives in Ireland.

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I'll miss this book and the reader.

An excellent book, and well read and presented. Fintan O'Toole's book is honest,clear and disconcerting.....but essential.

2 people found this helpful

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A hymn to whistleblowers

A forensic history of religious, nationalist and consumerist mythologies viewed from one small island.

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Joyless look back by an Elite insider

This put years on me and I lived through the time.
The author was born into a relatively well off family, a family with a mother and father who had a good job and lived in a new house with an inside bathroom and still managed to be miserable.
He became and insider and one of Irelands elites and now decides to tell all about the inner workings of the Elites world,it would of been better if he told us back then.
And no he cannot escape his failure of his journalistic duty by saying we all knew. No we did not!

1 person found this helpful

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  • Kathy
  • 01-07-22

An incredible book

As a child of an Irish immigrant ( I am now 76) I have enjoyed this book immensely and look foreward to listening to it again . It has also helped me to understand what is happening here is South Africa. There are so many similaritieswith our journey towards becoming an itegrated , functional and ethically sound part of Africa . That which everyone belived we could be and somehow we are not yet mature enough to grasp and ‘be’ Thankyou

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  • Ronan Browne
  • 05-03-22

Great AudioBook; Shite Production Company (W.F. HOWES)

Fintan says it as it is.
He doesn’t pretend to know everything and nor should you or I. But we should all question sacred cows handed down to us by the past, and by present forces. Fintan questions everything. And that questioning leads to obvious answers. It really is that simple.
Read this author; you will be inspired and you will learn to also question the status quo.
All that said, it is nothing short of ridiculous that the production company who made the recording left poor Aidan Kelly looking like a fool when he is anything but! Aidan is a wonderful narrator but he doesn’t speak Irish (read/listen to the book to find out why Ireland belittles all things Irish 😆)
Aidan doesn’t know how to pronounce Irish words or place names. This doesn’t reflect badly on him or on Fintan – they are NOT in control here; the production company is at fault for being too lazy (or too stingy) to stump up a few quid for an Irish language advisor. I’ve no idea how much they charge but even at €250/day this should have been an essential budget line item.
My advice is not to allow this to deter you from buying this audiobook – if you speak Irish, you’ll have a good giggle and, if you don’t, it matters not.
The book is wonderful, the narration is wonderful. The production company are lazy. I went hunting just now and it took me 20mins hard effort to even locate them: W.F. HOWES. Funny that they turn out to be English – a possibly colonial reason why they are happy to take our money for a sub-par product? I noticed a link on their website called “Quality Policy”. Guess what? It leads to a 404 Error:
“Page Not Found
Sorry, the page you’re trying to view does not exist”
I rest my case 😁
Enjoy the book, readers; W.F. HOWES, wake up, cop on, pull up yer socks or leave the business.

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  • kerriar
  • 05-11-21

What a book - pity about the narration.

What can one say about Fintan O'Toole? The clarity of his writing, the depth of his research and his eye for telling detail are only a part of what makes him the best commentator modern Ireland has produced. It's maybe a long read/listen for somebody who is not Irish but anybody who stays the course will come away much wiser about how the country got to where it is today.

He is able to look back on extraordinary and unlikely people, places and events and to tell his story, at times with well-suppressed but still tangible anger.

It's a pity the narration often comes across as a journeyman's work and is clearly not up to the standard of O'Toole's prose. The pronunciation of non-English words is slapdash - for French and other languages this might be overlooked but the careless mispronunciation of Irish names and phrases is excruciatingly bad.

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  • Gerald M. Kilby
  • 21-10-21

Superb!

A must read for anyone wishing to understand Ireland's transformation as a people from the dark days of the past to the confident modernity of the present.