Edited by T.W. Moody & F.X. Martin
Cork: The Mercier Press, 1984 (Revised edition)
ISBN # 0-85342-710-0 (paper)
479 pages

Comments by Bob Corbett
June 2008

This book is a series of 22 short essays, each about 15 pages long. It was first produced as a television series in 1967. Some of the essays were slightly revised for this 1984 published version to correct for errors and a few needed additions.

It is not an academic or especially scholarly volume, yet was just but what I was looking for when I came across it -- a good “starter” book for doing Irish history, something that would give me a decent overview, encouraging me on to further reading.

For that purpose this is an excellent book. Well written for a popular audience, yet most essays by serious academics where an editor seems to have ridden herd to keep the period essays short, as accurate as space would allow, written for a general audience and interesting.

Given that purpose I would recommend the book to anyone.

For me, I hope this is sort of the beginning of a more careful study of Irish history. I leave this book with some key trends, periods and developments upper most in my mind, and some gaping holes where the book I just read didn’t say much at all.

I am left with the impression of an Ireland that has the old Gaelic influence which goes back to ancient history and is still alive in many ways in Ireland today, especially the west. Even today, despite the enormous power of western culture and the English language to dominate, the Irish language is still alive and doing well, and Irish culture, especially in arts, music and literature, both oral and written, are alive and well.

However, things began to change as early as 500 AD and two movements had major influences on later Irish history. First was the coming of Christianity and then the invasion of the Vikings of the 9th and 10 centuries. Their period was not overly long, but their tendency to build cities and towns as a basis of trade and fishing, rather than adopt a rural agriculture life remained an important ingredient in Ireland’s development.

The Norman invasion of first England then Ireland continued the connection to and growing dominance of western culture. However the major and overwhelming changing factor was the imposition of the Protestant Reformation by King Henry VIII and Oliver Cromwell which determined much of later history.

Draconian oppression of the dominant population of Irish Catholics and much of Irish history from 1600 on was a struggle to free Ireland from English control and free the Irish people, especially the Gaelic / Catholic population to live as free and equal people.

That struggle is not even complete today with the independent Republic of Ireland which has achieved that unity. The six counties of Northern Ireland, still allied to England, and still with a great deal of oppression of Irish Catholics remains a battle ground for many.

While this “course of Irish history” has given me what seems to be a decent overview, the thrust was overwhelmingly a political history of Ireland. I will next turn to some other overviews that can give me a better picture of the culture of the ancient Gaels which still plays an important role in Irish history.

Bob Corbett


Becoming Reading Thinking Journals


Bob Corbett