THE BACK OF BEYOND: A Search for the Soul of Ireland

James Charles Roy, Author . Westview $24 (242p) ISBN 0-8133-3909-X

Travel and history writer Roy (Islands of Storm) takes nine hapless Americans on a guided tour of the wilds and backroads of Ireland in this witty and intelligent travel narrative. None of them is prepared for Roy's tour and delivery; readers, too, will be surprised by Roy's winningly cantankerous mishmash of Irish history, a past he defines as "parochial, narrow, and inward, despite all the hyperbole" (i.e. How the Irish Saved Civilization and the spectacle of Riverdance). Roy, for example, is obsessed with the "wiles of wandering popish friars" and their rundown monasteries, though he admits that the bond he sees between them is "superficial and frivolous," and that their "complaints about modernity and its gross excesses [get] somehow... confused with the hermits' more profound denial." One of his charges complains that Roy seems to go out of his way "to emphasize all the gloomy things in Ireland." Indeed, Roy's stories about the invasions of the Vikings, Romans, Normans, Catholics and English are gruesome affairs, and he is brutally honest about his opinion of the Irish and their country. Forget saintly, pious Ireland: Roy portrays the ribald, earthy and immoral Ireland in his stories, which, to the amusement of his patrons, revolve around raving monks, the injustices of the English, a man known as "the Beheader" and ritualized sex between a king and a horse. Infused with the humorous personalities of the tourists, the Irish they meet along the way, as well as the author himself, this book offers a personal and historical glimpse of a forgotten Ireland. Illus. (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 02/04/2002
Release date: 02/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
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