Neil Hegarty digests 2000 years of history into a readable 342 pages. While readers may want a page turning text, this pageant is too long to dwell on individual heroes or eras, which are the sorts of things that make for a more compelling read.
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.