8/24/2007

Book Review: The Rebels of Ireland

I've been on a little kick of Ireland books lately. It started with The Wild Irish and continued into this book. When I finished this last night, I started in on The Warrior's Touch which is written by my friend Michelle Willingham. After that, I think I may be out of Ireland books for a while, but 3 in a row isn't bad.

Anyway, this is a sequel to The Princes of Ireland, which after a brief scour of the ol' archives it seems I didn't ever actually review. Quickly, I'd give Princes 3 Irish Chieftans out of 5. It was a little hard for me to follow as it zoomed through history and, well, I have to say that Neolithic history is kind of interesting but just not my favorite cup of tea.

Based on my experience with Princes, I was hesitant to give Rebels a shot, but at the same time, I was intrigued. And I'm pleased to be able to say that Rebels is amazingly better than Princes. Rebels starts during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and details her attempts at Plantation in Ireland with the goal of rooting Protestant English as land owners in order to better control the country (and, oh yeah, squashing the Catholics.) It continues through roughly 1925 (ish - not sure exactly of the date and I don't have the book handy), long enough to show the after effects of the Easter Rising and the end of WWI and the establishment of the two Irish states.

The book follows many generations of the same families through this expanse of history and really involves you in their lives. This, in turn, brings the history to life. You see the conflict - even within families - between protestant and catholic and English rule vs. Home Rule. It's fascinating to see the foresight of one father who raises his eldest son protestant and the rest of the children catholic so that one branch of the family can always take care of the other, whichever way the political tides turn. (This was apparently a fairly common practice at the point when the divisions began to be clearly seen.)

I was fascinated to read about the Scottish Presbyterian Covenanters who came to Ulster after effectively staving off Charles I because I realized that this must be the Scotch-Irish that I know I have in my ancestry (seeing as how I'm descended from John Knox, this seems even more likely.) Seeing the interweaving of history I know (the American Revolution, the French Revolution, WWI, etc.) in the context of how those events shaped Ireland is, to use again what is becoming overused in this post, fascinating. In fact, the whole thing was fascinating, and real, and alive, and so much better than any non-fiction history I've managed to slog through.

I also loved the familiar scenery that was painted so realistically that I had no trouble calling up the mental image and matching my memory to what was described. Glendalough, Malahide Castle, Dalkey, the Customs House and St. Stephens Green. Not to mention the fun detail of the telescope at Birr as it was unveiled by the inventor (we saw this on our last trip - and it was one of our favorite stops, made even better by the fact that it was a random whim to go see it as the guidbook said it was overrated. Silly guidebook.)

If you need a fun, fascinating, informative, and delightful book - I can heartily recommend The Rebels of Ireland.

5 Rebels out of 5.

5 comments:

Lynellen said...

Fascinating, Mr. Spock!

Robert the Llama Butcher said...

I'm not looking! I'm not looking! I'm not looking!!

beth said...

I'll have dig out my pointy ears now, Lynellen. :)

Robbo, I know! The temptation of it all. Honestly, I think you'd enjoy it though from what I know of your reading habits.

Michelle said...

Hope you like my book! I've not read Rutherford before, but I've heard of him. :) Will have to give those a try!

beth said...

Michelle - loved it (read it yesterday afternoon) - will probably post something this weekend or on Monday. You'll probably love Princes more than I did since you love things medieval more than I. :) (But I think you'll enjoy Rebels, too.)