Book Review: The Course Of Irish History

The Course Of Irish History, edited by T.W. Moody & F.X. Martin

One of the interesting aspects of this particular book is that it began life as a television show that featured various episodes on Irish history in a somewhat lengthy “mini-series,” and then was reformatted in a way that each episode became its own chapter in a moderately lengthy book that also featured a lot of visuals from the television show, all of which made the book a good deal more interesting even if the fact that there are so many authors means that there is some overlap in subject matter even if the approach is different enough. I found this book to be an appealing and interesting read, and given the fact that Irish history frequently has a lot of tired anti-English tropes to it, the fact that the writers were able to frame Ireland’s history in light of its physical geography and the challenges that terrain presents to unification, along with the persistent divisions that have existed in Ireland between Ulster and the rest of Ireland, to say nothing of the remoteness of the West, suggests that the people involved are sensitive about the need to avoid blaming only the English for the problems that Ireland has faced, and that is an improvement over many Irish history books.

This book as a whole is between 350 and 400 pages, a sizable work, and is divided into 23 chapters that discuss varying themes within the overarching focus on Irish history. So it is that we have a preface to the 1967 edition, the revised edition, and a list of illustrations to begin the work. The first essay of the book begins with a discussion of Irish historical geography (1), after which we move to the archaeology of prehistoric Ireland (2), early Irish society (3), and the beginnings (4) and golden age (5) of early Christian Ireland. This is followed by a discussion of the Viking wars (6), Ireland in the 11th and 12th centuries as it attempted to unify itself (7), and the arrival and settlement of the Normans (8), which ended those efforts. This is followed by a look at the medieval English colony (9), the Gaelic resurgence and the Geraldine supremacy (10), the Tudor conquest (11), the colonization of Ulster (12), and the restoration and Jacobite wars (13). After this comes a look at Ireland under the penal laws (14), the Protestant nation (15), the age of Daniel O’Connell (16), the Great Famine (17), and the agitation over home rule and the land war (18). This is followed by a few chapters that deal with more modern history, such as the period from Parnell to the achievement of Irish home rule (19), Northern Ireland (20), the Irish Free State and early Irish Republic (21), and two chapters on Ireland from 1966-1994 (22, 23), after which the book ends with notes, a bibliography, a chronology, and an index.

One of the benefits of having a book with a great many authors is that as long as one is able to get a coherent view of Irish history–as is the case here–along with consistent style, the diversity of interests means that chapters will avoid hitting the same few notes over and over again. This unity in diversity is a winning approach and this book does get the benefits of having solid editing for consistency and coherence while also receiving the good side of having writers who are interested in various aspects of Irish history that allow the reader to appreciate the diverse approach. The fact that the book manages to draw together academics from both Ireland and Northern Ireland, even if Ireland as a whole does not have as many universities as one might expect, means that the writers are interested in speaking to other academics in a way that is going to avoid inflaming a lot of the wounds of the past but rather being fair-minded to other approaches while discussing the high points of Irish history, of which there are a good many, especially if one is a fan of military and political history, as I am.

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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