A balanced overview of the history of Ireland, written to accompany a BBC television series.
This island nation’s history teems with explosive, emotional issues that partisans tend to view in simplistic, black-and-white terms; such readers will find no encouragement here. "Nothing reduces me to despair more than a vision of Irish history that reduces the debate about the past to a simple paradigm of the Irish versus the English, who was right and who was wrong, as if history could be reduced to a crude morality play," writes Irish author Hegarty (Dublin: A View from the Ground, 2008, etc.) at the outset of this ambitious survey of nearly 1,600 years of Irish history. His primary theme is that Ireland is a land repeatedly invaded and settled by foreigners, from the Vikings who founded Dublin to the Scottish Presbyterians invited into Ulster by the government of James I, and that each of these groups has contributed to the ethnic, religious and cultural diversity and conflicts on this divided island. Ireland has also been deeply affected by such outside influences as the Counter-Reformation and the French Revolution, and has in turn affected Europe and North America by the almost constant emigration of its people. Hegarty highlights the complexities underlying Ireland’s ongoing conflicts and sails through them without passing judgments, calmly observing as one communal massacre inspires another, or as British government policies fail to relieve the devastation of the Famine, or the Irish Free State descends into civil war. The broad scope of the work requires that the author move along briskly. There is no dreary catalogue of early Irish kings; even such giants as Oliver Cromwell and Charles Parnell receive only about a dozen each, and cultural history is given short shrift. The resulting focus on political events and social movements at the expense of colorful personalities and illuminating anecdotes, combined with Hegarty's consistently objective tone, render the narrative sometimes disappointingly bland but never dry.
Recommended for general readers seeking a thorough, nonpartisan guide to the tragic history of this most distressful country.