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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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 32 reviews
31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
Author Meets a Challenge June 11 2012
By Loves the View - Published on
Format: Hardcover
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.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
The Story of Ireland is Magnificent! April 9 2012
By W. R. Muhr - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Story of Ireland by Neil Hegarty is absolutely masterful in the presentation of the history of this beautiful and troubled country for those of us who do not live in Ireland as well as those who do. Hegarty is straight-forward with his commentary yet writes of his beloved country for those of us (like myself) who have visited, but don't have a feel for the dynamics of the Irish people. Hegarty does this for me. His easy to read style and lively dialogue is superb and you are drawn into the story of a country rich in tradition involving both heroes and villians. There is more to Ireland than "The Troubles" and the "Famine" and this book tells the story well. Highly recommended
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Very helpful summary of Ireland's story Jan. 15 2013
By Larry A. Mitchel - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
First, in praise: I found this volume to be very helpful in giving me a broad overview of Ireland from prehistory to the present (through 2011). Given how woefully ignorant I am of Gaelic language, British and Irish history and Irish culture, this reading gave me just the right amount of (read "dangerous" amount of) information to predicate our trip to Ireland later this year. Kudos on the great timeline in the back of the book! [This book is a companion effort to the five-hour BBC/RTE television series of the same name. I have purchased and viewed the latter, and will review it separately.]

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>
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Different perspective, but not serious history. April 9 2014
By Cerberus1961 - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I heard about the TV series and then ordered the book from before it was available in the US. I recently watched the TV version on youtube, found it to be interesting TV (with one major criticism--see below) and hoped that the book would provide a more in-depth examination of the issues directed at those who are interested in serious history. I guess I was hoping for an Irish equivalent of "A People's History of the United States" or "A Different Mirror", so I am very disappointed.

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.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
The Story of Ireland Jan. 20 2013
By M. Reynard - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Apparently this book is a companion to a TV series by the same name. I would really like to see that series, if it's half as descriptive as this book it should be pretty good. But this book was well done, considering the amount of history that was crammed into a little over three hundred pages.

The Story of Ireland takes the reader through Ireland's history back to when the Christian religion first came into the country (and the story of St. Patrick) to modern times detailing the bombings and civil strife that accompanied Irish politics for many years. In between it covers the rule of Ireland by England, and it's many tries at having home rule. It details the tension between the Catholic church and that of the Protestants, a strife that has encompassed many United Kingdom countries throughout their history. And it also says a little bit on the famines that hurt the population of Ireland.

The majority of the people talked about in this book are those that had some political standing or rule over Ireland. The average person in Ireland is not referred to much unless discussing the famines. So because this book features the people active in religion and politics, the storyline does much the same. The result is that despite the title saying this is a History of the Irish People, it's more a book of the history of politics that effected the Irish people. I'm not saying this to criticize the book, but more that I expected to learn about daily lives of people to a greater extent than I did with this book.

There's a huge period of history that's covered here and it's done quite well. For having to put all that detail into a small place, Hegarty is able to do it in a way that is readable, yet still interesting. I learned much more about the history of Ireland than I ever knew before. Especially the turmoil that has taken place in the last century that I never would have suspected. I also enjoyed reading about the real St. Patrick and will try to remember the facts about him while drinking green beer this March. When going deep into politics it is hard to remember who's who as so many names are mentioned, but that would be my only complaint with the writing. There is a nice timeline section in the back as well as a notes section.

A very nice, concise look at the history of Ireland. If you've ever been interested in Irish politics or the way religion has impacted the country, this would be a good read. While not quite textbook detailed, it still provides a lot of information for the standard reader.

The Story of Ireland
Copyright 2011
343 pages

Review by M. Reynard 2013

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