Eyewitness To Irish History, by Peter Berresford Ellis
There are some topics that it is hard to find a good example of, and Irish history is one of those. It is not hard to find a good Irish history because Ireland’s history is not easy to know about. Ireland, for all of its issues, has a lot of documented historical information that people could use to make a good history–and this book certainly is an example of the wealth of materials that survives–the problem is that it is hard to find people who can write competently about Irish history without delving into victimology. This book at least contains generally primary sources from eyewitnesses of Irish history, if it is edited and editorialized in a highly skewed and biased fashion, and so it is better than the usual standard of works on Irish history, but it is still a book that should be a lot better than it is. There is no excuse for the fact that Irish history is written mostly by people with axes to grind against the English, since its material would be accessible to plenty of people who would simply like to know more about the country. It is a shame that more people aren’t interested in simply telling about the way things are without trying to stir up the reader against the English or to be partisans of the Irish nationalists.
This book is about 300 pages long and is divided between 22 different topics that are mostly focused on Irish political and military history from a primary document perspective. And so we begin with acknowledgements and an introduction that frankly admit the bias that exists and seek to justify it. This leads to sources on such areas of Irish history as ancient Ireland (1) and its myths, early Christian Ireland (2), the age of Viking incursions (3), and Ireland’s relationship with Angevin England (4) and the Anglo-Norman lords (5). There is a look at the Tudor conquests (6), the flight of the Irish princes to European mercenary service (7), obedience more or less to English rule (8), the insurrection of 1641 (9), the Cromwellian (10) and Williamite (11) conquests, the establishment of the penal laws (12), and then the insurrection of 1798 (13). This is followed by a look at the period of the early 19th century from Union to the Emancipation of 1829 (14), the famine and the insurrection of 1848 (15), the insurrection of 1867 and the land league (16), the insurrection of 1916 (17), the war of Independence (18) and the civil war that immediately followed the establishment of the Irish Free State (19), before closing with the discussion of Irish benign neutrality in World War II and the establishment of the Irish Republic (20), the Protestant state and the issue of civil rights (21), and the long war between north and south (22), as well as a conclusion, suggestions for further reading, and an index.
The editor of this book at least is honest enough to admit what he is doing. This is not a book that hides its bias or tries to disguise it in any way, but rather a book that goes out of its way to express the way that the Irish frequently revolted in some fashion against English and then British rule over the course of centuries of attempted domination on the part of the English against the Irish. A writer with some sense of balance would understand that Ireland’s internal divisions and violence against itself–a problem that persists to the present day–is at least as big a factor as the English in the general backwardness that Ireland has faced over centuries, and that is not even getting into the backwardness that resulted from a poor work ethic as well as the general backwardness that tends to come with Catholicism. But the author does not want to reflect upon the problems of the Irish among themselves, but rather wishes to paint the English and the Protestant Ascendancy in as dark as terms as possible, focusing on all the possible atrocities that people like Cromwell committed while being as mum as possible about Irish atrocities, and even praising them because the right side did them. Obviously, those who do not have the same partisan identity are not going to feel the same way as the author does.