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A celebrity-driven, dumbed-down, whirlwind tour of Hibernian history.

History is about social movements, about catastrophe and conflict, about accidents, about misperceptions and misunderstandings. It’s about power. McCourt (Singing My Him Song, 2000, etc.), brother of fellow nostalgia-monger Frank McCourt, knows this, but he puts on the blarney at the outset: “To anyone who knows me, it’s no secret that I was never much for the formal schooling when I was a young fellow, paying scant attention when I did happen to attend, remembering little, and leaving it off completely at the ripe old age of thirteen.” Q.E.D. What follows are textbook-glossing sketches on such matters as the Cattle Raid of Cooley, the Flight of the Earls (which McCourt sensibly proposes be rechristened “The Escape of the Earls”), and the recent Troubles, some rendered with only a passing command of the facts. (The word “bride,” for example, does not come from the name of St. Brigid. It’s pleasant to think that without the Irish there would be no such civilizing touches as marriage, but that’s Thomas Cahill’s territory.) These sketches hinge on individual personalities—Hugh O’Neill, Wolfe Tone, the inevitable James Joyce—whom McCourt approaches with reverential awe. The results are not helpful. Of one writer we learn, for instance: “Samuel Beckett was a fascinating man, who gave the world a great body of work.” Of Bernadette Devlin, surely one of the more controversial figures in recent Irish history: “As a young university student, she turned to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., for inspiration. In future years some young person, perhaps, will turn to her in the same way.” Over U2 he swoons: “Passionate and thoughtful, the band brought intelligence back to rock-and-roll after what seemed like decades where stupidity in popular music was the norm.” And so on, all in the manner of an enthusiastic village explainer—helpful if you’re a village, otherwise not.

Cliffs Notes for a barstool chat. Anyone with an inkling of the subject, though, will know that there are shelves full of better sources.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-7624-1965-2
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Running Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2004


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