A "Devil's Dictionary" of the Emerald Isle, in which Oxford don Eagleton (Heathcliff and the Great Hunger, not reviewed) cheerfully detonates myths left and right about Eire's history, culture, and current condition.
Tourists who come to Ireland expecting to find a nation of Barry Fitzgerald look-alikes quaffing Guinness and clutching rosary beads are in for a shock, Eagleton warns. Nowadays - thanks to a highly educated population, strong European Union ties, and a surging economy that has caused the nation to be labeled the Celtic Tiger - you're more likely to find "computers, Big Macs, Japanese cuisine, bad American movies on TV,… a thriving film industry known as Paddywood, and more lawyers than leprechauns." In an attempt to banish the misconceptions, Eagleton offers an alphabetically arranged mulligan stew of Irish slang, key phrases, historical figures, and place names. Subjects range from the famous and expected (Yeats, emigration, Saint Patrick) to the less familiar, even obscure (among the 20 things that make Ireland unique: more dogs per capita than any other European Union nation). Sometimes the drollery is genial (e.g., God is defined as "an astonishingly popular figure in Ireland, second only to Bono, lead singer of the rock group U2"). Other times Eagleton can be biting, particularly on two favorite fixations of the intelligentsia: the Catholic Church and the legacy of British imperial rule ("English attitudes to the Irish are a bizarre mixture of affection, uneasiness, condescension and hostility").