A Traveller’s History Of Ireland, by Peter Neville
It has always puzzled me about the blind spots that exist in books about Ireland. I am a great fan of C.S. Lewis, and have appreciated his literature since I was young, and been aware for some time of the influence that has background and childhood in Ireland had on his writing and his imaginative approach to such diverse subjects as medieval literature, science fiction, children’s writings, and popular theology. Yet I have yet to find a book on Irish history that mentioned him, even when a great many books, including this one, spend a great deal talking about the cultural figures of Irish history in the 20th century. That said, I did find this book to be a generally good one, even if it had many of the quirks and focus issues that one tends to find regularly in books on Irish history, although this particular book at least manages to balance its attention between Ireland and Northern Ireland in the 20th century and provide a look at more than just the usual suspects in Irish history and that is something. And that is enough to make this book a cut above most Irish history books that I have read, to be sure.
This book is between 250 and 300 pages if one includes supplementary material. After a preface the book begins with a look at Irish history from Tara to St. Patrick, when Ireland enters the realms of history proper (1). This is followed by a discussion of early Christian Ireland (2) as well as the coming of the Vikings and their mixed influence on the island (3). After this comes a look at the period from Brian Boru to Strongbow where Irish division became a decisive problem (4), followed by a discussion of the Norman invasion that led to a permanent English presence in Ireland that continues to this day (5). There are chapters on the Anglo-Scots War and the statues of Kilkenny (6), the Gaelic revival and the wars of the roses (7), the Tudor conquest (8), the time from Rathmullan to the Boyne (9), the Protestant ascendancy (10), the rise of Catholic Nationalism and the famine (11). After this comes a look at Parnell and Home Rule (12), the Orange revolt (13), the period of independence and civil war (14), Northern Ireland up to 1973 (15), the transition from Free state to republic and Ireland’s turn towards Europe (16), and contemporary Ireland (18). This is followed by a list of rulers and monarchs, a chronology of major events, suggestions for further reading, a historical gazeteer, and an index.
One of the ways in which this book succeeds well is its balance of topics. Having seen books on Irish history that have the majority of their coverage in recent history, this book is a far better one in terms of its historical coverage in that the midpoint of this book occurs around the beginning of the Protestant Ascendancy in the late 17th century, a much better point given the natural bias of source availability and awareness on the part of the author to slant coverage to more contemporary subjects. This is all the more remarkable given that the book focuses considerably little attention on the myths and legends of prehistorical Ireland, making this a genuinely historical work that still manages to have a lot to say about medieval Ireland, a fascinating and worthwhile area to study that expresses the way that Ireland’s division both aided and frustrated efforts at centralized control on the part of the English and then served as the basis of later divisions like religion that inflamed an already dangerous situation. The end result is a work that is easy to appreciate and one that is deeply informative to the reader, even if it is not quite perfect at least by my own lights.