Eyewitness to Irish History

Peter Berresford Ellis, Author John Wiley & Sons $24.95 (312p) ISBN 978-0-471-26633-4
This monochromatic collection of primary historical documents depicts Irish history almost exclusively as a saga of national resistance against British colonialism. Historian Ellis, author of A History of the Irish Working Class, has culled an abundance of material--from letters, diaries, poems, nationalist speeches, medieval chronicles, British officers' memoirs, Irish Republican proclamations and contemporary journalistic accounts--and supplements it with his own somewhat tendentious commentary emphasizing Irish heroism and gallantry and English perfidy and brutishness. Despite the diversity of sources, the book's focus is limited to English attempts to subjugate the Irish, drive them off their lands and suppress their language, customs and religion. Subjects covered include the original 12th-century Anglo-Norman intervention; Cromwell's""genocidal"" conquest that killed or exiled half the population; the 18th-century Penal Laws that made Irish Catholics the virtual slaves of English colonists; the Potato Famine, in which millions starved while English landlords exported food; and the 20th-century depredations of British paramilitary forces. It's a horrific and often moving story, but Ellis's determination to commemorate every flicker of Irish resistance means that many of the selections are tedious, perfunctory accounts of battles, skirmishes and insignificant mob actions. Once Ireland proper wins its independence in 1949, the book simply leaves the region in order to continue its theme of anti-colonialist struggle, this time in Northern Ireland. Readers looking for a comprehensive account of Ireland are likely to be disappointed by this blinkered view of the country's rich history. But those whose interests align with Ellis's own should appreciate the wealth of primary sources collected here.
Reviewed on: 03/01/2004
Release date: 03/01/2004
Paperback - 312 pages - 978-0-470-05312-6
Open Ebook - 320 pages - 978-0-470-30772-4
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