The publisher here presents Murphy as a ""great contemporary travel writer"" who has turned her perceptive gaze on her native land. Further increasing the reader's expectation of a work that would be useful to have in hand during a visit to the Emerald Isle are 140 photos. But no Baedeker this: rather it's a densely woven discussion of the contemporary political, social and religious life and the Gaelic revival in the 26 counties of the South, with one chapter on the politics of the six countries in the North. Murphy is a knowledgeable observer and intends a penetrating portrait of Irish thought and how it has been influenced by Gaelic history. But, in its massing of interminable minutiae, the book becomes, finally, impenetrable. Murphy says today's Irish don't have a national identity as much as a ""national essence."" And this essence is like a jigsaw puzzle--composed of many pieces with irregular shapes that hide where they belong in the overall picture. To understand the national essence, one must fit all these pieces together. The difficulty comes because Murphy describes each piece in such excruciating detail that in the end the overall picture cannot be grasped. There are, for instance, lengthy discussions of which priest or bishop hold which view of which aspect of the multiplicity of problems facing today's Irish. The discussion is too complex to be of interest except to close students of Irish life or history. The style is sober-sided, reading like a doctoral thesis. The pictures--by German photographer Klaus Francke--are pedestrian. The book is printed in dense and tiny type, which contributes to the impression of being heavy-handed.