Story of Ireland. Neil Hegarty Hardcover – Apr 28 2011
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The history of Ireland has traditionally focused on the localized struggles of religious conflict, territoriality and the fight for Home Rule. But from the early Catholic missions into Europe to the embrace of the euro, the real story of Ireland has played out on the larger international stage. "Story of Ireland" presents this new take on Irish history, challenging the narrative that has been told for generations and drawing fresh conclusions about the way the Irish have lived. Revisiting the major turning points in Irish history, Neil Hegarty re-examines the accepted stories, challenging long-held myths and looking not only at the dynamics of what happened in Ireland, but also at the role of events abroad. How did Europe's 16th century religious wars inform the incredible violence inflicted on the Irish by the Elizabethans? What was the impact of the French and American revolutions on the Irish nationalist movement? What were the consequences of Ireland's policy of neutrality during the Second World War? "Story of Ireland" sets out to answer these questions and more, rejecting the introspection that has often characterized Irish history. Accompanying a landmark series coproduced by the BBC and RTE, and with an introduction by series presenter, Fergal Keane, "Story of Ireland" is an epic account of Ireland's history for an entire new generation.
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Hegarty showed me a lot that I hadn't known, not just about the history - which I knew I didn't know - but also about the source of the conflict - which I thought I knew something about.
The history is tragic from the start. Henry II and the Pope essentially give Ireland to each other. From then on there is a history or wars/uprisings and punitive/confiscatory laws. Over the years, Irish leaders have looked for ways out of the quagmire, but there was no "luck `o the Irish" for its political life. Ireland sought outside help from the Catholic Church and Catholic nations, but most of medieval and renaissance Europe did not want to take on England over the Irish question; France, which was finally convinced to help, was impeded and discouraged by a snowstorm. In modern times, World Wars I and II took precedence and so it went, until the recent uneasy detente.
Hegarty shows the conflict has not been one dimensional. It has been viewed as a colonial problem, a religious war, a civil war and a class war.
I was surprised at how many Protestants had been champions of severing/reducing Ireland's ties with England; surprised at Ireland's posture in WW2 and its aftermath (De Valera's commiseration on the death of Hitler); and surprised at the conservatism that followed autonomy (censorship, laws against women, etc.)
Two memorable portraits (among a very large cast) are those of Theobald Tone and Charles Parnell.
The layout and print make the reading easy on the eyes.
The one weakness is the maps which don't incorporate all the place names referred to in the text of their respective eras. The List of Maps, to be more helpful, should have page numbers.
At the end, there is a chronology. As I reviewed it, I was glad I wouldn't be tested. The list of names and events is far too long for my memory.
If you are looking for an overview of how things have gotten to the current state in Ireland, this is clearly the book for you. (If you are not interested in the subject, it will not pull you in.) Neil Hegarty has done a great job of digesting this long and complex saga.
Admittedly, I have given up on the book without finishing it because it does not seem to go any deeper than the TV series and has many of the same lacunae.
My major criticism is that it fails to even mention that the pope who gave King Henry II of England permission--some would say "orders"--to invade Ireland in the 12th century was the only English pope in history (Nicholas Breakspear/Pope Adrian IV). Both the book and the series are at pains to say why the pope did what he did and what his (somewhat legitimate) concerns and aims were in doing so, but I find the omission from both series and book disingenuous at the least and possibly downright historically dishonest. If you're relating/writing serious history, I feel you shouldn't simply omit important information. If the author does not believe that the pope's nationality was relevant to his actions, I believe he should state that and then put forth his reasons and arguments so that the reader can decide for himself or herself.
On the up side, like Fergal Keane, the narrator of the TV series who also writes the preface to the book, I grew up in Ireland in the Sixties where the historical narrative we were taught was much more the inculcation of republican mythology than serious history, so I appreciate the fact that an effort to rewrite that narrative with a more historico-critical approach that pays attention to reliable primary sources is needed for Ireland. Having lived in the US for 30 years and having read historians like Howard Zinn and Roanld Takaki, I know it can be done well. However, I think the fact that the TV series was made for the BBC (which also published the book) may, as some have commented in other places, have influenced the narrative and style of both TV series and book.
If one is interested in a light and essentially one-sided uncritical "retake" on Irish history, this may be the book you (or you could watch the series online for free). If you're a serious student of history, steer clear.
Then in complaint: Given my woeful lack of background in Irish history, culture and language (see above), I found elements of this book maddening. Most of these could be easily fixed in a second edition, which I hope there will be. For example: There is no glossary, which is astonishing, given the large number of Gaelic terms used, not to say other Irish idioms. Please provide a glossary in the second edition!
Bring better consistency between the text and the map-illustrations. Example: Though the text refers often to "Leinster" and "Munster" these political divisions are nowhere defined or described, nor more importantly illustrated on ANY of the included maps! On the outside possibility that someone picks up this volume as their entre to Ireland and things Irish, isn't it correspondingly possible that the reader doesn't know what some of these terms mean? (In fact, several of the nice maps in the TV series showed both "Leinster" and "Munster" -- so maybe that's the message: If you must know, buy the DVDs!)
But back to the positive: If you would like an even-handed, interesting, programmatic review of Ireland, you could do way worse than this book. Just also buy a Gaelic/English dictionary. <wink>
And as another reviewer already pointed out even the initial invasion of Ireland by the English king who had made plans ten years prior to the actual event is not fully reported upon. In fact it's misrepresented - Hegarty states that Henry II was 'ordered' to invade Ireland as if he were an innocent bystander. Not so. Henry had long harboured intentions of invading Ireland and the election of an English Pope [Hegarty fails to even mention that the Pope was English] gave Henry the opportunity. The invasion was in fact a collaboration of Henry II, the Archbishop of Canterbury and a compliant English Pope - but the author neglects to mention the English nationality of the Pope, the role played by the archbishop of Canterbury and the vital significance of all that coupled with the ambitions of the English church to control Irish Christianity and the plans of the English king to govern Ireland. An emissary - John of Salisbury - was sent to the Pope requesting permission for the English invasion of Ireland. The English Pope complied with the request.
This book is badly researched or deliberately misleading - either way it is not for the serious reader of Irish history.