THE IRISH IN IRELAND by Constantine FitzGibbon


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A rambling, idiosyncratic attempt to identify ""what distinguishes Irish men and women. . . from their fellow humans"" and to understand ""the Irishness of the Irish,"" which largely fails on both counts. FitzGibbon disclaims any intent to write ""history,"" but his (loosely) chronological review of political, social, and cultural matters, from pre-Celtic times through the end of the 19th century, defies any other classification. Almost two-thirds of the text relates to the pre-1600 period--St. Patrick and the rise of Irish Christianity; the Viking raids and settlements; the Anglo-Norman invasion; and the Reformation--and though FitzGibbon relates Irish events to contemporaneous European developments, he presumes considerable knowledge of medieval history. On major targets, his aim is good: the Anglo-Norman occupation (13th c.) was essentially a failure because Ireland lacked the class-system basis on which feudal land-tenure rested, and the Norman governing class vanished (either homeward or through intermarriage); feudalism was unattractive to the Irish because the Celtic social system was not oriented toward either primogeniture or land ownership. From the Cromwell period on, FitzGibbon's pace picks up and the narrative becomes less digressive, traversing more familiar ground: the Penal Laws, the wretched condition of the Irish in the 18th century, the United Irishmen (short shrift), Daniel O'Connell, the Young Ireland Movement (even shorter shrift), and Parnell. Political and cultural history from 1798 onward is scanted, though it is to this period that historians most often look to trace the growth of a sense of Irish identity. FitzGibbon is annoyingly repetitious, particularly with trivia (we are told twice that Parnell liked to read Alice in Wonderland, and twice that an Englishman once claimed Celtic round towers had been built specifically to bewilder later English historians); he also has a flak for the breathtaking generalization (""very few of the Irish have a much developed visual sense""; ""[the Irish] either work very hard or not at all""). In short: all but useless as an introduction to Irish history, though perhaps of marginal interest to readers with background in early and medieval periods, or to the FitzGibbon following.

Pub Date: Aug. 15th, 1983
Publisher: Norton