A History of Ireland in 250 Episodes

Author: Jonathan Bardon

Publisher: Gill and McMillan

Published: September 4, 2009

ISBN: 978-0717146499

Pages: 592 including works cited and Bibliography.

Synopsis: Jonathan Bardon covers all the obvious things: the invasions, battles, development of towns and cities, the Reformation, the Georgian era, the Famine, rebellions and resistance, the difference of Ulster, partition, the twentieth century. What makes his book so valuable, however, are the quirky subjects he chooses to illustrate how history really works: the great winter freeze of 1740 and the famine that followed; crime and dueling; an emigrant voyage; evictions. These episodes get behind the historical headlines to give a glimpse of past realities that might otherwise be lost to view. The author has retained the original episodic structure of the radio programs. The result is a marvelous mosaic of the Irish past, delivered with clarity and narrative skill.

Review: I won’t speak about the contents of the book because the synopsis does a good job of it. However, I will speak to the validity of information. The author does a good enough job of conveying the information in bite size chapters. His mythology understanding is very rudimentery and in some cases even laughable. His historical understanding is good though so one thing carries the other. 

I think this book was based on episodes done for TV or Radio so that should give you an indication of how indepth (or in this case not so indepth) the information is.

Who is this book for? Someone who wants an overview of Irish history but doesn’t want to go indepth.


Early Christian Ireland

Author: T.M. Charles-Edwards

Publisher: Cambridge University Press

Published: 2000, 2004, digitally 2007

ISBN: 9780521037167

Pages: 707 including Appendix, Glossary, Bibliography and Index



This is the first fully-documented history of Ireland and the Irish from Saint Patrick to the Vikings. Other books cover either a longer period (up to the Anglo-Norman conquests) or do not indicate in detail the evidence on which they are based. The book opens with the Irish raids and settlements in Britain, and the conversion of Ireland to Christianity, and ends as Viking attacks on Ireland accelerated in the second quarter of the ninth century.


The book is made up of an Introduction, 13 chapters and a conclusion. The book also has, as mentioned above, and Appendix which starts on page 600 and contains Genealogies and King-lists. The glossary, which starts on page 630, has a list of Irish and Latin words and names and their definitions. Page 635 is the first page of the Bibliography which includes principal works of Irish interest that were mentioned in the text and notes of the book, as well as important works on related topics. The Bibliography is very extensive and could keep one very busy tracking the mentioned books and reading them. The Index starts on page 671.

The Introduction of the book is a tour of what the book will be talking about and why the author chose one route over another when writing about the subject matter.

From the very beginning I liked the author’s writing style. The author assumed that his audience are intelligent enough to read the book and didn’t dumb the material down. It is a huge book with lots of good and interesting information. I couldn’t get through it all as I usually do when reading books so I have been reading it in chunks to get all the information presented digested. I still feel like I need to re-read some parts, not because I didn’t get what the author was trying to say, but because there is SO MUCH there to digest and get a handle on.

This is a book I’d highly recommend but only if you are REALLY interested in the subject matter, don’t mind reading an academic book and are not just looking for information on Ireland in general. It is pretty easy to get lost in the details…

A New History of Ireland


In this review I will be discussing a whole series made up of 9 volumes called A New History of Ireland. Some of the volumes will be out of order because they are actually a companion to one of the other volumes. The series covers Irish history from prehistoric times to 1984.

Volume I (Prehistoric and Early Ireland): The aim of this volume is to survey Irish history from the first settlement (around 7000 BCE) to the Anglo-Norman invasion. This happens to be the longest period of Irish history. This period is divided into pre-and post-Patrician eras mainly because with Patrick came the written word. The four themes discussed in this volume are:

  1. The antiquity and thoroughness of the process by which land was cleared and given a shape designed for human needs, as well as the fluctuations in the extent and intensity of agriculture.
  2. The origins of Celtic Ireland.
  3. The organization of the Church AD 650 – to 1150.
  4. The relationship of the political order to the landscape

This volume is edited by Dáibhí Ó Cróinín. First published in 2005 then reprinted in 2008.

**Some of these chapters were written in the 1960s and 1970s, and so they reflect the direction of research rather than the lates research.

Volume II Medieval Ireland 1169 – 1534): The period discussed in this volume starts with the coming of the Normans and it ends with the rebellion of 1534. Basically, two nations and their interactions that form the complex history of Ireland.

**This is a very interesting volume that sets the stage for the history that is yet to come, and REALLY begins to explain the struggles that are coming.

This volume is edited by Art Cosgrove. First published in 1987 then reprinted in 1993 and 2008.

Volume III Early Modern Ireland 1534 – 1691: This volume actually came out before volumes I and II. In this volume we see the English completely taking over Ireland. The period discussed in this volume starts with the unsuccessful rebellion of Thomas Fitzgerald in 1534 and ends with the Treaty of Limerick in 1691. This volume also discusses the Irish language, literature, the Irish abroad and even the English language in early modern Ireland.

This volume is edited by T.W. Moody, F.X. Martin, and F.J. Byrne. First published in 1976 then reprinted in 1987, 1993, 2009, 2012. 

Volume IV Eighteenth-century Ireland (1691 – 1800): This volume discusses a well marked period in Irish history that starts with the Treaty of Limerick and ends with the parliamentary union. This was the period where the protestant minority reached its height in the political, economic and social arena. This volume also discusses Irish language and literature, Irish literature in English, the visual arts and music. It also has a chapter on the migrations to the continent of Europe.

This volume is edited by T.W. Moody, and W.E. Vaughan. First published in 1986 then reprinted in 2009.

Volume V Ireland Under the Union (1801 – 1870): This volume discusses the first part of Ireland under the Union.  The Union was enforced on January 1st, 1801 but by the end of 1870 there were a lot of things that undermined it.  These include the Land Act of 1870, the Church act of 1869, and the foundation of the Home Government Association. This was the period of direct rule by Britain of Ireland.

This volume is edited by W.E. Vaughan. First published in 1989 then reprinted in 2010.

Volume VI Ireland Under the Union (1870 – 1921): This volume discusses the second part of Ireland under the Union. It completes the coverage of Ireland under the Union.  This is one of the more interesting volumes to me.  I heard a lot of stories and read a lot of books on this period, but none of the stories have actually explained it as well as this volume.

This volume is edited by W.E. Vaughan. First published in 1989 then reprinted in 2010, 2012.

Volume VII Ireland (1920 – 1984): This volume  gives an outline of the division of Ireland and the eventual birth of the Irish Republic. It also gives us a comprehensive at the political developments in the north and the south.  It also gives us chapters on the economy, literature in English and Irish, the Irish language, the visual arts, emigration and immigration, and the history of women.

This volume is edited by J.R. Hill. First published in 2003 and reprinted in 2010.

Volume VIII (A Chronology of Irish History to 1976 – A Companion to Irish History, Part I):  The chronology here encompasses all of the volumes.  The editors attempted to give us a chart of events in the history of Ireland from the earliest times to 1976.  It aimed to cover all of the social spectrum but of course politics has a major part of this chronology. The book is divided into phases that correspond to the volumes of the New History of Ireland.  Every entry is based on either a primary source or a reliable secondary one. This as far as I know was never done before and if it was, it was not done to this extent.

**If you don’t get any of the other volumes get this one.

This volume is edited by T.W. Moody, F.X. Martin, and F.J. Byrne. First published in 1989 then reprinted in 2011.

Volume IX Maps, Genealogies, Lists – A Companion to Irish History, Part II: This volume is amazing.  Full of interesting information that you probably won’t get all in one place.  For any researcher this is a treasure trove.

**If you don’t get any of the other volumes get this one.

This volume is edited by T.W. Moody, F.X. Martin, and F.J. Byrne. First published in 1989 then reprinted in 2011.

MY VERDICTED: I think you need to pick and choose which volumes you want to get depending on the subject matter you are interested in, for me all of them were relevant.  If you want my advice and have a limited budget I suggest you get the last two volumes and read the rest in the library. 

I loved the series and see myself going back to it time and again when conducting research (with some cross referencing for updated ideas and such of course).

The Origins of the Irish

Author: J.P. Mallory

Publisher: Thames & Hudson

Copyright: 2013

ISBN: 978-0-500-05175-7


About eighty million people today can trace their descent back to the occupants of Ireland. But where did the occupants of the island themselves come from and what do we even mean by “Irish” in the first place? This is the first major attempt to deal with the core issues of how the Irish came into being. J. P. Mallory emphasizes that the Irish did not have a single origin, but are a product of multiple influences that can only be tracked by employing the disciplines of archaeology, genetics, geology, linguistics, and mythology. Beginning with the collision that fused the two halves of Ireland together, the book traces Ireland’s long journey through space and time to become an island. The origins of its first farmers and their monumental impact on the island is followed by an exploration of how metallurgists in copper, bronze, and iron brought Ireland into increasingly wider orbits of European culture. Assessments of traditional explanations of Irish origins are combined with the very latest genetic research into the biological origins of the Irish.

Table of Contents [with my notes]:

Introduction [Mallory here tells us WHY he uses origins (plural) instead of origin (singular) in the title and defines what he takes origins to mean(physical composition, culture, language and genes) and also defines what he means when he says Irish (the Irishman of the 5th century CE)]

Chapter One: The Origins of Ireland [There seems to be…err…humour in this chapter or at the very least an attempt at it.  The chapter discusses how Ireland as an island came into being starting with the big bang and ending with the last Ice Age.  If you aren’t into geology I would suggest reading the conclusion points at the end of the chapter.  And yes the first two points, which may seem weird, were explained at the beginning of the chapter.]

Chapter Two: First Colonists [This chapter was about the first inhabitants of Ireland, which the author calls “Irelanders”.  He looks are when they arrived, what their toolkits were like, what their diet was like, and how many of them there were.  He does devote the majority of the chapter though to the origins of these first inhabitants, putting forward several theories as to where the first “Irelanders” came from.]

Chapter Three: First Farmers [The neolithic package arrives in Ireland. Ireland being Ireland, not much is known for sure about this period but we do know these things: a) The neolithic package brought with it a major change in every aspect of Ireland’s culture. b) There is very little evidence that there for acculturation. c) The Mesolithic population did not seem to contribute much to the Neolithic culture. d) The Neolithic package spread very rapidly. e) There does seem to be evidence that Britain and Ireland shared the same origins where the Neolithic culture is concerned.]

Chapter Four: Beakers and Metals [As the name of the chapter suggests, the beaker culture has arrived.  The author I think gave us the best description of the beakers in Ireland I have ever read.]

Chapter Five: The Rise of the Warriors [The chapter talks about the Bronze Age in Ireland and what is similar and different to Britain and the continent, and though the title talks about the rise of the warriors you hardly see any talk of them specifically.]

Chapter Six: The Iron Age [This chapter was certainly an interesting read.  A description of the phases of the Irish Iron Age, the evidence for Hallstatt and La Téne material, and what it means and the evidence for foreign settlements like the Romano-British in Ireland are just some of the topics discussed in this chapter.  What was even more interesting was the absence of the words Celtic or Celts in this chapter (except on one map), speaks volumes…]

Chapter Seven: The Native Version [The chapter was short but very interesting, it talks about the origins myth of the Irish, and who wrote it.  Nice analysis.]

Chapter Eight: Skulls, Blood and Genes [This chapter was very interesting, it chronicled the different ways people had tried to trace the origins of the Irish starting with skulls and ending with DNA.  At the end of the chapter Mallory gives you two different conclusions to what you read in the chapter which is really telling.]

Chapter Nine: The Evidence of Language [This was a very interesting though very linguistically packed chapter.  The author seems to think that the Irish Celtic language may have “arrived” in Ireland between 1000 BCE and the first century BCE.]

Chapter Ten: The Origins of the Irish [This final chapter didn’t have a conclusion in bullet points, and I think that is telling.  It means the issue of the origins of the Irish is still very much open.]


This book is really hard to rate, in some places I loved it, in others it was okay and on occasion I found myself thinking hmmmm.  The beginning of the book was a bit jarring because of the bit of humour that Mallory tried to infuse in it and once I got passed that and the fact that he no longer sounds like the dry Mallory of old I really got into the book. Mallory does a great job in this book of explaining a few things that have always baffled me like the absence (or not) of La Téne or Hallstatt material, the Irish Iron Age and what we really know about it and so on.  The book was a good mix of history, science, language and archaeology.  It was not boring to read about the pieces of archeological discoveries he discussed because he puts them in their historical context rather than just telling you from when they date and what they looked like.

I liked how he began each chapter with his ideal “Irishman” Niall of the Nine Hostages and how that beginning always gave you an insight into what the chapter was going to be all about.  The conclusions at the end of each chapter were a great way to get the main ideas of the chapters incase you needed to go back and look something up but you weren’t sure exactly where it might be.

Have I learned the origins of the Irish, well no, but I have learned all the different theories and way used to look into the subject.  I think this is a book that deserves more than one reading to really get everything that Mallory is trying to say, I see a few specific readings of different chapters with lots of supplementary research in my future.

Malachy McCourt’s History of Ireland

This book was a gift from a relative in ireland, I had said the last time I was there that I wish I could take him back to Kuwait with me so that I could listen to him tell me the history of Ireland.  So in 2005 he sent me this book with a little note saying that since he could not come, Malachy McCourt will do just fine.  And he was right.

This book will give you the history of Ireland in snapshots of the most important people, places and historical events.  The author starts with Ireland before St. Patrick and continued until Mary Robinson and Bertie Ahern.  The tone of the book is very beautiful.  I keep seeing myself sitting near a fireplace or in a pub listening to a very good storyteller.  This is a book that people of Irish decent would want to read, and perhaps read from to their children and they won’t be bored.  How do I know that? I had a bunch of kids at my apartment two months ago that I was supposed to keep an eye on, needless to say it was chaos.  So I asked them all to sit down and I started to read a few of the chapters on the more heroic characters in Ireland like Brian Boru and Turlough O’ Connor.  The children were entertained AND they learned some history.

Is this a scholarly book?  No, is it factual, absolutely.  McCourt himself says that this book is not meant to be scholarly nor is he qualified to write one.  It is a storyteller’s book who happens to be delivering the history of his country.  A very enjoyable read.