Sixteenth Century Ireland, still in the Middle Ages, forms the background for the biography of the wild Irish chieftain who kept Elizabeth's Irish army at bay for nine years. From the time when his grandfather, Conn, was made the first earl of Tyrone, there was disunity among the bewildered people. Some thought he had betrayed his race for immediate good to himself. His grandson was sent to be brought up in the household of the elder; he returned to face years of struggle for his own ancestral rights in the North of Ireland. He was an opportunist -- he played his cards well for his own ends; he stayed virtually clear of the bitter Desmond Wars of Southern Ireland, he shut his eyes to the massacres and butchering, until his loyalty was taxed by the kidnapping of his sily's son, Red Hugh. From that moment, his roots struck deeper into Irish soil, and though he played for time, and pretended friendship for the dread English, he was veering towards his fate as leader of Ireland's fight for independence, a fight which almost brought success. Spain was yapping at England's and promising aid to Catholic Ireland. The wars were wars of frontier and forest, and for nine years, The O'Neill used strategy, deceit, and the allies of time, famine and penury, to keep successive English leaders at bay. But his own success caught him by the heels, and at Kinsale he met defeat and rout. O'Faolain shows him as he was, not an Irish patriot hero, but as a man who ""had designed with what he found...A European figure intelligently aware of the large nature of the conflict..as intelligent a man as any of his time..lost to European history and made part of merely local plety."" There is much that is fascinating reading, but Irish history -- at its best -- is difficult and confusing to any mind but the Gaelic. This is not for light recreation.