In response to my reading of Leon Uris's Trinity, a historical fiction of Ireland's struggle for independence and nationhood, I wanted to learn more about the history without the fiction. This is my response. Killeen has written a very brief survey of Irish history from prehistory through 2011 in just 300 small paperback pages. With this limited space he necessarily focuses on the big issues of political history and the occasional comments on the religious and cultural threads that in Irish history are always woven tightly into the political tapestry.
Killeen makes good use of the few words he has room for here. I learned that the big historical divides are more complex and deeper than I had known before. Not just Catholic vs Protestant and English vs Irish, but
Old English vs New English
North vs South
Crown vs colony
landlord vs tenant
unionist vs nationalist
political activists vs militant revolutionaries
Anglicans vs Presbyterians
New Light charismatics vs Old Light Calvinists
Gaelic revivalists vs English cultural adopters
And the divides cut in unexpected, shifting, and multidimensional ways. I was interested to learn of the depth of the divide within the Protestant doctrinal groups in the 17th through 19th centuries and how those divides directly influenced the 20th and the separation of the island and the union and disunion with England.
The brevity leaves little room for documentation of cultural and literary interest, influences, and ideas except where they intersect with the political history. Yeats gets four brief mentions, and musical superpower U2 none. Indeed the last two decades seem summed up in a rush. Perhaps another 50 pages to cover this ground in more depth could have been allowed within the title's adjective.
But Killeen provides exactly what is promised and satisfies the reader's desire for a basic grounding in Irish history. And he provides recommendations for deeper dives with a bibliographical essay on sources at the end.
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About the reviewer
Todd Stockslager (TStocksl)
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
Richard Killeen is a historian and the editorial director of an Irish publishing company. He has written a number of books on Ireland’s past including A Short History of the 1916 Rising and The Concise History of Modern Ireland.