Book Review: The History Of Ireland (The Greenwood Histories Of The Modern Nations)

The History Of Ireland (Greenwood Histories Of The Modern Nations), by Daniel Webster Hollis III

This particular book has a few biases that are irritating and that prevent this from being as enjoyable a book as it could have been. One of the biases is obvious from the series this is a part of. When a book is marketed as a history of a modern nation, it is likely that the modern history of the nation is going to be emphasized at the expense of ancient history. And for a nation as old as the Irish, that is quite an unfortunate bias to fate. It is the fate of the Irish that they have been a nation from time immemorial, and a recognized and generally united culture despite their political divisions well into the Middle Ages before the English conquests, which made them miss the development of international institutions until they regained their independence in the 20th century. The other bias is equally obvious in that the author is hugely anti-English, as that appears to be the natural approach that people take to Irish history. It is possible to write about a postcolonial nation like the Irish without showing a hostility to the English, even if it takes more graciousness and evenhandedness than one tends to see in this sort of material, alas.

This book is about 200 pages and is divided into 9 chapters. First this book begins with a series foreword and then a preface and a timeline of historical events. After that comes a look at Ireland today for those who are unwilling to read to get to that point naturally (1). This is followed by a single chapter that covers all of Irish history up to 1300AD (2). This is then followed by a single chapter that discusses late medieval and Tudor and Stuart Ireland (3). After that there is a chapter that looks at the eighteenth century Protestant ascendancy that was powerful in Ireland at the time when it alone held the right to vote in Irish political institutions (4). The author then discusses the period from Union to efforts to push Home Rule in the first two thirds or so of the 19th century (5) as well as the era of Home Rule from 1870 to 1918 (6). Then a chapter covers the twenty years of the Irish free state from 1918 to 1938 (7), a chapter that covers the latter part of the Irish Free State and the Irish Republic up to 1973 (8). Finally, the book ends with a look at the two Irelands since 1973 (9), as well as notable people in Irish history (not C.S. Lewis sadly), a bibliographic essay, and an index.

One of the more odd areas of this book is its structure. As I noted above, this is a book that gives its readers what they want in a frame fashion. The author and publisher assume (wrongly in my case) that a reader is most interested in recent Irish history and the state of Ireland now, and so the book begins and ends with more contemporary material and then in between has the material that I am most interested in. While there is certainly a fair amount of information about Irish history, the author focuses on familiar people and situations and does not go into as many unusual aspects of Irish history as one would hope. Any time an author spends half of a book on any nation to cover the 20th century is a failure in balance, and makes it impossible to provide historical insight because one is too busy focusing on contemporary events whose historical significance has not yet been determined. Of course, this is a book written for those who are interested in the contemporary and whose interest in the ancient and medieval is limited, which is a shame because this book is least interested in what I am the most interested in, as is so often the case.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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