Ireland: The Struggle for Power: From the Dark Ages to the Jacobites by Jeffrey James

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Ireland: The Struggle for Power: From the Dark Ages to the Jacobites by Jeffrey James

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Category: History
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: The 'Irish troubles' go back over many centuries and a field where there has been little in recent years, this book does us a service in helping to fill a considerable gap.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: April 2017
Publisher: Amberley
ISBN: 978-1445662466

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The 'Irish troubles' go back over many centuries. When I and doubtless many others of my generation studied History at school, the Emerald Isle barely intruded on our consciousness, apart from brief references to the Battle of the Boyne and maybe the Easter Rising. This book therefore does us, and the country, a service in helping to fill a very large gap.

This island story begins in the first century A.D. when the Roman general Agricola is thought to have contemplated invasion. It was the opening salvo in a long saga of invasions and conflicts between the native Irish, Vikings, Anglo-Normans, English and Scots, before religion reared its head and the opposing factions were Catholics and Protestants.

The comparative emptiness of Ireland as a nation made it appear rich pickings for landless knights, resulting in the Norman conquest of 1171 as barons came to carve up the country for their own ends. When Henry II of England named his youngest son John (later to become a notoriously inept King) as Lord of Ireland, it was but a brief flicker of royal interest in the territory. That is unless one counts the aftermath of the death of Brian O'Neill, King of Tyrone, killed in battle near Downpatrick in 1260 and whose salted head was sent to London for Henry III to gloat over. (It seems he drew the line at this, and instead gave orders for it to be impaled on London Bridge). Richard II came to visit in 1394, but he was the only monarch to do so between 1210 and 1689. James observes that had it not been for the subsequent failings which cost him his throne and ultimately his life, he might have successfully united both kingdoms, and Irish history might have been very different. A few decades later another Richard, the Duke of York and so-nearly King (as well as father to Edward IV and Richard III), was appointed lieutenant of Ireland. His rule at Dublin was described as firm and even-handed, even a golden age of stability and positive reform.

It was not destined to last. His departure was followed by years of strife during the Tudor and Stuart eras, not to mention the Cromwellian invasion, with constant rebellions against English rule and the Lord Protector's storming of Drogheda and Wexford, an age of almost unrelieved savagery and cruelty between both sides. One of the worst episodes was the massacre at Rathlin Island, off the coast of Antrim, when the Earl of Essex, sent by Queen Elizabeth to subdue Ulster, sent a force to hunt down and slaughter about three hundred non-combatants – elderly men, women ands children, with little regard for the the rules of war. It was a sorry but by no means isolated episode. The war between England and Spain during the later Elizabethan years also witnessed the arrival of Catholic troops from Spain, Portugal and Italy to support the Catholic Irish against the colonizing Protestant English. It almost seems at times like the island was one vast battlefield. Once William of Orange became King of Britain, the competing European powers remained, and the legacy of division would live on.

The book includes a section of plates, mainly in colour, and is prefaced by five maps, one showing the locations and years of major battles. One addition I would like to have seen is a timeline of important events. Despite that, this is a well-researched account of history in a field where there has been little in recent years.

For a slightly later episode in Ireland's history, we also recommend The Famine Plot: England's Role in Ireland's Greatest Tragedy by Tim Pat Coogan.

Buy Ireland: The Struggle for Power: From the Dark Ages to the Jacobites by Jeffrey James at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Ireland: The Struggle for Power: From the Dark Ages to the Jacobites by Jeffrey James at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Ireland: The Struggle for Power: From the Dark Ages to the Jacobites by Jeffrey James at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Ireland: The Struggle for Power: From the Dark Ages to the Jacobites by Jeffrey James at Amazon.com.

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