THE FIELDS OF ATHENRY by James Charles Roy


A Journey Through Irish History
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A chronicle of Ireland, as seen from the parapet of a run-down tower.

In 1969, when Roy (Islands of Storm, not reviewed) was a longhaired young man touring Ireland on a motorcycle, he bought Moyode Castle for £800. Thirty years and two books on Ireland later, he offers a tale that interweaves his experience renovating the 16th-century tower with a history of the region where it stands. The result is a delightful portrait of a land split between past and present. In Athenry, history is everywhere—from the earthen mounds that are the last traces of Norman strongholds to Stone Age axes found in plowed fields. But the people Roy befriends as he works on his tower scarcely seem to care about the heritage around them: their life is simple and rooted in the present day, so much so that the author often grows frustrated with them. It takes months to finalize his purchase of Moyode, for example, and he finds it hard to hire fast-moving workmen. Roy’s account of the numerous warlords who ruled Athenry proves to be more gripping, since the Irish seemed to have been particularly well-suited to fighting among themselves at the expense of their country. First the Normans (who built Moyode) and then the English exploited the Gaels’ infighting. Eventually, lands such as those around the castle were expropriated by the British Crown and given to Protestants. As in most histories, the personalities of the players shine. Much attention is given to the Earl of Connaught, a typically merciless leader who instructed his son Richard to kill his aunt (Connaught’s sister) by throwing her out a window. Roy fast-forwards through modern Ireland, devoting little attention to the founding of the Republic, and his last chapter discounts the “Emerald Tiger” depiction of his adopted home: He’s sure that the current era, like all the others, will change for the worse.

A serious history that will appeal to lovers of all things Irish.

Pub Date: March 16th, 2001
ISBN: 0-8133-3860-3
Page count: 352pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2001