Northern Ireland forms the setting or the backdrop for five of the six pieces collected here--mostly from The New Yorker--and while it may be impossible to say anything very new on the Ulster problem, Bailey's flat, impersonal reportage fails even to convey the impression that it matters. Three articles examine aspects of the current situation familiar to anyone who's kept up with the newspapers: life in an army-occupied elementary school in Belfast, where ""lollipop patrols"" of soldiers escort children through the hostile neighborhood; the enormous difficulties faced by a couple contemplating an interfaith marriage; the bleak poverty of the Creggan housing estate, a Catholic ghetto and an IRA stronghold perched on a damp hillside in Derry. Ulster also underpins the title piece, written for Quest: a quickie portrait of Ulster-born poet Seamus Heaney (Field Work, 1979) which substitutes lit-crit posturing (Heaney, says Bailey, joins ""the verbal energies with their sense and felicities to the energies of time and place"") for insights into Heaney's work, his roots in the North, or the forces which impelled him to leave Ulster. Another lost opportunity is ""Irish Miles,"" in which Heaney reappears as Bailey's companion on a three-day walking trip along the River Boyne, scene of events commemorated in Ulster to this day and an ideal entrÃ‰e to the effect of the past on the present; what we get, however, is factual data (Slane had 896 people in 1857, the megalithic tombs at Newgrange were built around 3000 B.C., etc.) and no feeling. The sixth piece is a tedious biographical account of the late Irish President Erskine Childers that has no apparent relation to the rest of the book. A professional job, in the worst sense of the word.