Ireland: A Concise History from the Twelfth Century to the Present Day, by Paul Johnson ★★★
I had this book sitting on my shelves for years, and finally got around to reading it. Ireland: the Emerald Island, the land of pots of gold and Leprechauns, of St. Patrick, of fields of green as far as the eye could see. What more could a person want? Truth be told, Ireland has been anything but a land of peace and prosperity. The British originally invaded Ireland in the 12th century and found there to be barbaric, savage conditions among the Irish. Any attempt since then for the Brits to bring law and order and civility to the Island has been thwarted. The Brits certainly were never saints toward their treatment of the native Irish, and many of their decisions only brought increased sorrow to the Irish. But, whether it be by allowing the Irish relative freedom or ruling with an iron fist, peace has been wanting on the Island. Much has been the fault of the Irish; whether it be sectarian or religious issues, the island has been rent with the clash of differing ideologies, whether it be the Protestant vs Catholic clash, or the amount of tolerance for the British ruling their Island, discord among the Irish has always been the prevailing theme. Natural calamities, such as the potato blight, only contributed to the pathetic state of the inhabitants of this island. Ireland has served best at exporting its population to other countries, such as Canada and the United States. Johnson ends the book in the early 1990s (when the book was published) with a glimmer of hope. Sadly, based on Irish history, this glimmer is probably wishful and illusory. I can only hope that Johnson is correct in his optimism.
I’ve read many of Paul Johnson’s books, and have rated them as 4-star and 5-star books. He is an excellent author and historian who can hold your interest. This book assumed better than a cursory knowledge of Ireland, and so a modest amount was missed as to what he was talking about. Johnson, being Catholic, did a fair job of hiding that from the reader; still, it is impossible to have a neutral, unbiased opinion regarding the disaster that we call Ireland. This book is very much worth reading, though I hope that the prospective author is a bit more informed as to the history of Ireland than I was.
A few comments:
1. Patrick was Welsh, not Irish, though he became a missionary to Erie from his childhood capture by Irish pirates.
2. This historical account of Ireland is rather limited and has an English bias against the Irish. It sounds from your review like it was written for popular consumption.
3. The history of Ireland goes back to the settlement of the Firbolgs in the south, who were probably Israelites. The next wave of immigrants were the Milesians, who were Israelites originally from Egypt. The last wave were Zarahites of the tribe of Judah from northern Spain (Catalonia, Galicia) from the Iberian (Ibairim => Abraham) peninsula, who founded Hibernia on the north side, with capital at Tara. These three founding waves were all BCE and probably 2nd millennium.
The Israelite prophet and government official Jeremiah took the daughter of Zedekiah there. She married the Irish Zarahite king, Eochiada, the heremon of Erie (either there or in Spain, or maybe Milesia – the records have variations in their accounts) and the dynasty of David, though going through one of the three”turnings” Jeremiah talked about, continued (as YHWH said it would) in Ireland, a country with more Jeremys than any other. Jeremiah was put in charge of securing the national treasures of Israel in view of the impending Babylonian attack and deportation. His party took these treasures, which he had hid in a cave in Jordan, with them via a Phonecian (or possibly an Israelite Danite long-boat) to Segunto, Spain and then on to Tara. All of this is in the raw material on Irish history but it does not fit neatly into the classic-based (Greek and Roman) history on which, since the Middle Ages, Western historiography has been based.
4. Ancient Ireland was not much different than ancient England, Celts with a druidic governmental structure. Early England was also Celtic (before 1066 AD/CE) and Wales is what is left of Celtic England, though there are many traces of it elsewhere. The Scots are Irish, from Fergus More McErc’s founding of Dalriada on the southwest coast of Scotland. In the 500s AD, Ireland was a major source of Christian missionaries to the rest of the British Isles and to mainland Europe. The island of Iona, between Ireland and Scotland was a mission school, with notables such as Columba and Columbanus – great saints long forgotten.
5. Instead of reading pop-history, Ken, I recommend that you read some books that stay closer to the sources and cover the origins of Ireland. Origins are important in understanding where what exists in the present came from. A book such as St. Patrick’s World by Liam de Paor, Four Courts Press, 1996 is an example. Books that begin with the Firbolgs are likely to be attempting a more comprehensive history of Ireland.