Irish Rome Roma Irlandese book review

Irish Rome Roma Irlandese by Vittorio and Roswitha Di Martino.

There is something in Irish Rome for every taste. This useful and well-illustrated volume offers a rich mosaic of Irish-Roman connections dating from the early 17th century up to the modern day. Exploring a great variety of links at once religious, political, social, and cultural, this book can be enjoyed as a single read, studied as an alternative guide to the city, or simply leafed through over time. Portraits of a wide variety of Irish presences will draw in all readers. Some, such as Elizabeth Kenny who aged just 20, married the 63-year-old Marchese Rondanini becoming la Marchesa Rondanini, have lurked for centuries in the shadows.

Others are better known for having spent deeply formative times in the Eternal city, such as the Irish artists James Barry, Robert Fagan, and Richard Rothwell (famous for his portrait of Mary Shelley) and Hugh Douglas Hamilton, who lived in the city from 1779 to 1791 and was a close friend of Canova. When Hamilton returned to Dublin he pined for Rome and told Canova in a letter “… è quasi un esilio per chi ama l’arte da vero”. If Hamilton felt like an exile back in Ireland, countless Irish suffered as exiles in Rome, none more so than the defeated Earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnell who are interred in the hauntingly beautiful S. Pietro in Montorio.

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Rome is also home to the tomb of Donnchad, son of Brian Boru, the last high Kind of Ireland (S. Stefano Rotondo) and to the heart of Daniel O’Connell, who campaigned successfully for Catholic Emancipation (commemorated at the Irish College). More recent Roman exiles were Oscar Wilde and James Joyce (who disliked the city intensely). Wilde, an Anglican, visited Rome many times and greatly enjoyed following Catholic ritual there, even managing to attend a papal audience in 1900.

The book also describes important Irish religious figures, who made a lasting contribution to the city and the Church, such as Luke Wadding who took over the church of S. Isidoro from Spanish friars and set up an important centre for the Irish Franciscans, and the Dominican Joseph Mullooly who led the excavations of S. Clemente in the mid-19th century.

All this and far more is to be discovered in this potpourri of portraits, memorials and lasting connections.

John McCourt

(Roma: Arbor Sapientiae 2015, 194 pages, €38)