I have found that learning something of Irish history has made me appreciate and enjoy my trips to Ireland all the more. Therefore, I thought I would pass along a few of the books I have enjoyed reading the most.
General History of Ireland
The history of Ireland often seems like a jumbled mess of revolts, insurrections, failures, and catastrophes. To help you make sense of it, there is no better resource than A Brief History of Ireland by Richard Killeen. I have read it before each of my last few trips. I think it is the best place to start understanding Ireland. If you haven’t read anything else, I would definitely start with this book.
There are three seminal events that have impacted Ireland: the potato famine, independence from Great Britain, and the Troubles. There are some very good books on each.
The first major event is the Irish Potato Famine. Over a million people died and another million emigrated in a country that only had about 8 million people in to begin with. To this day, the population of Ireland is less than what it had pre-famine. What’s more, the population of the western part of Ireland, where we will spend almost all our time on our tour, was hit the hardest. Some of the counties only have about 1/3 the population today that they had pre-famine! You’ll see it in all the ruins we pass.
To learn more about it, check out Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine 1845-1850 by Susan Campbell Bartoletti. It is a very readable book about an unpleasant topic, but one that had a huge impact on Ireland and the world for that matter.
As mentioned already, Irish history reads like a long list of failed revolts against the British crown. The year 1916 saw yet another one of them. Yet, amazingly, this defeat went on to result in Irish Independence 6 years later in 1922. Of course, it also lead to the tragedy of the Irish Civil War immediately thereafter.
There are many books on this subject. but one I enjoyed was A Short History of the Irish Revolution, 1912 – 1927. This is written by the same guy that wrote A Brief History of Ireland, which was recommended above.
It seems a little strange to talk about “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland as if they are a thing of the past. Most of us lived through them and it never seemed like they would end. But in 1998, they did end.
The Troubles were amazingly violent. The IRA saw themselves as defending the Irish from the British oppressors, and the British saw themselves as defending themselves from the criminal IRA. One man with access to a lot of information related to it is the author of Provos: The IRA and Sinn Fein. This is a very readable book, and an amazing tale.
We won’t be spending any time in Northern Ireland on the actual tour, but you might want to go there before or after our tour. The Antrim Coast in particular, is beautiful and full of great photography spots.
I will post about additional books as I think of them (or read them!).