By Jill and Leon Uris
New York: Bantam Books, 1978
288 pages

Comments by Bob Corbett
June 2008

This is an eclectic book, reflecting the interests and experiences of Jill and Leon Uris. While not systematic, it is organized by themes.

I enjoyed the book in the main (I was a bit taken aback by the bitterness of Uris’s attack on the British and Unionists in Ulster, but more about that later). The prose is marvelous and the photos exquisite. I couldn’t quite tell if it is more a book where well-written prose supports exquisite photos, or where exquisite photos support a well-written text? I just accepted the book as the treat to the eye and mind that it provided.

I read this book in conjunction with a light, but more systematic, history of Ireland. From the other volume I wanted facts and systematic details. From the Uris volume I wanted some feeling tone in both text and photos. For that role it is an excellent volume.

One of the few chapters that seems to me far out of date in Uris’s assessment of the place of women in Ireland. He correctly assesses the woeful position of women both in history and the mid-1970s when the book appeared. However, from several of my own visits to Ireland since that period I think it fair to say that Uris’s position is woefully out of date and that women have made serious gains since this book was published.

Irish women have clearly not gained the fullness of modern female rights of England, the U.S. or Continent, but significant, notable and quite hopeful changes seem to take the current situation of women far beyond Uris’s experiences in the early 1970s.

In the long last section of the book, Uris unleashes a very bitter attack on everything about the way the British and (mainly) Protestant Unionists have dealt with the Ulster Catholics and the violence of the recent 40 years. It’s not that I think he was incorrect in his assessment, just a bit taken aback by the power and bitterness of his treatment. It wasn’t easy to read by any means. I learned a lot and was challenged, but was also very happy to finish that section.

Uris seems to have accurate, even penetrating insights on the rule of Catholicism and the church in Ireland.

“Until recently few authorities were as absolute as an Irish bishop in his diocese and the priest was usually the only literate man and dispensed justice in petty quarrels, advised in business matters, and oversaw health and education, as well as religion…
… “To perpetuate this position, an abundance of priests were produced. Some twenty thousand ordained priests manned twenty-eight Irish dioceses…
… “As their power grew, they indulged in a little ecclesiastical bigotry of their own. Catholics at first were forbidden by the Protestants to attend Trinity College in Dublin. The restriction was continued by the [Catholic] hierarchy itself until recent years. For centuries Catholic bishops never set foot in either of the two Protestant cathedrals in Dublin, although the doors had long been open to them. They went so far as to forbid Catholics to attend weddings or funerals of their Protestant neighbors…
…”With all said and done, there is but one basic truth. Without the Catholic religion and the priesthood, the Irish race would not have survived.”

The book is a good read and the marvelous photos which accompany the text are a special and moving treat in themselves.

Bob Corbett


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Bob Corbett