A circumspect and nonpartisan introduction to Irish history from pre-Christian antiquity to Devlin, Paisley and the current bloodletting in Ulster. Striving ""not to validate competing myths but to find a common historical language,"" the authors steer clear of the incendiary romanticism which sees Irish history as a heroic tale of Saxon oppression and Celtic resistance sparked by the sacrifices of martyrs and guerrillas from Robert Emmett to Padraic Pearse. The economic and political rationale behind recurrent British ""conquests"" and ""settlements"" is stressed and the policies which gradually isolated and alienated Presbyterian Ulster from the rest of Ireland are attributed to the exigencies of 19th century British imperialism: both Catholic and Presbyterian elements were victimized by the Protestant Ascendancy and English discrimination against Irish manufacture and industrial development. The revolutionary tradition of Irish nationalism -- its tendency to ""break out spasmodically and without a central plan"" -- is set against ""the alternation of conciliation and repression"" which has characterized English policy in modern times. The true significance of all the abortive uprisings which have punctuated Irish history since 1798 lies, the authors show, in the perpetuation of a ""school of revolution"" which has lingered alongside the ""sensible and mundane"" parliamentary politics of Redmond, Cosgrave, De Valera and Lynch. Although they vouchsafe no prognosis as to the outcome of current IRA terrorist activities, the authors imply that the beleaguered Catholics of the North (""prisoners in a system created against them"") now hold the key to the future.