If Ireland is now the Celtic Tiger, a marvel of the modern world economy, it’s no thanks to many of the nation’s institutions over the past century.
“Wherever we go we celebrate the land that makes us refugees,” runs an Irish pop song, but Dublin-born historian Ferriter is disinclined to laud his homeland unduly. Indeed, he opens his massive survey by announcing uncomfortable themes, many touching on areas of life that have impeded progress and have contributed to a long legacy of misery, such as the apparent unwillingness of government and the wealthy to do anything about poverty. Though not iconoclastic, Ferriter, like his contemporary Roy Foster, demolishes or demotes cherished legends; the supposedly internecine struggle that led to independence, for example, was surely dislocating and terrible, but much less so than previous histories have it. Devotion to mythologized history (and to exaggeration) is by no means exclusive to the Irish, but it plays so strongly that certain realities go ignored; that England was a longstanding enemy did not keep some 70,000 citizens of the officially neutral Irish Republic from joining the Allied forces during WWII, though “it was not until 1995 that an Irish government formally sponsored a memorial to those who had participated,” and of course Irish Catholics have witnessed scandals involving rogue priests that rival those across the water, though that has not stopped young Irish people from being “the most spiritual in Europe,” with 48 percent professing a belief in God, as compared to only 8 percent of their French peers. Even in the wealthy high-tech Ireland of today, Ferriter notes, poverty remains widespread and largely unaddressed, as are other social problems—though, he allows, many improvements have taken hold in the last few years.
An assumption-rattling landmark in modern Irish historical writing.