This massive compendium of artifacts from all of Ireland's periods of artistic development offers a handy, if weighty, one-volume overview. Harbison's chapters are well-written, summarizing the highlights yet largely free of jargon or arcana. It not only would grace a table or suit as a marvelous gift, but should be in libraries (where I found it) as a resource for those who cannot travel to the places or see up-close the intricate craft that a large-format book with excellent photographs offers. You can examine the filigree on the Ardagh chalice better here than in person at the National Museum, for example! Such often overlooked subjects as late medieval friaries gain sufficient attention here as well to stimulate the reader to more study or visits.
My only criticism is very minor, but the vexed question of the extent of the Celtic incursions artistically and demographically into Ireland appears to be muddled in Harbison's account. A clearer explanation of the academic debate over this issue would have clarified for the general reader the latest thought on this topic. Overall, however, a handsome and carefully organized book, from Newgrange to Harry Clarke, again, stunning illustrations capture the allure of millennia of art and culture.
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About the reviewer
John L. Murphy (Fionnchu)
Medievalist turned humanities professor; unrepentant but not unskeptical Fenian; overconfident accumulator of books & music; overcurious seeker of trivia, quadrivia, esoterica. … more
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