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It's a common complaint where I live that Protestants in Northern Ireland do not know their own history. Yes we all know that King William rode in on his white horse on the 12th of July and defeated King James - except that it was a brown horse and the 1st of July - but that's another story. Or if you prefer the shortened version " A Dutchman and a Frenchman had a fight - and we've been fighting it ever since". But the schools don't want to touch Irish history with a 10 foot pole as there is too much of a question of what is our history and what is theirs and it is incredibly easy to offend someone.
But the fact is Northern Ireland does have a unique position - we are British and Irish. Shared history could be the beginning of a shared future. I was determined that my sons would learn British and Irish history - but finding the right books can still be a challenge. I like to think I am a reasonable person - and not quick to take offense - be we all have something that can get our hair up - for me it's terrorism. So when I found that the first book which was highly recommended was written by an author whose other books were all about terrorists- it did put me off - but this book had the same name - and a a different author, and a price tag of £2.81 meaning if I found it offensive I could afford to bin it if need be.
I did read this book myself before sharing it with my son, but I have to congratulate the author. There is absolutely nothing I could take offense at in this book. It is written as the facts with inserting moral judgement and very little is mentioned about the troubles. Of course being too politically correct can also render a story very boring, but that isn't the case here. This is a well written easy to understand story of Ireland beginning with Pangaea and stretching forward to the Good Friday Agreement and the Celtic Tiger economy . Unfortunately I think the poor tiger is dead now but this book was written in 2001.
This book has very well drawn cartoon like illustrations, and some of the stories are presented in short comic strip style. These are often told with a bit of humour, which I feel is a real plus in keeping children's interest. The reading level is fairly easy, and I would think most children would be able to read this by age 8. The main exception to this is one single phrase in Gaelic which I have no intention of attempting to pronounce, but this is used to demonstrate difficulties in communication, with one character speaking Gaelic, another English, and the third French.
If I were going to fault this book, my complaint would be that it doesn't give enough detail on anything. This is very much a condensed history, but I suppose in all fairness you really can not give much detail if you want to cover the history of a nation from prehistoric times to the present day in 32 pages. This honestly does give the reader a fairly good amount of history, in a very short time, and if you find any particular subject interesting you can always research more online or with other books.
There are few things I feel were left out and should have been there. I would have liked some mention of Emain Macha, the seat of the Kings of Ulster and the Tain Bo Cuailnge the oldest recorded European legend dating back to the 7th century. I also wish they had mentioned that Wolfe Tone and most of the United Irishmen were in fact Protestant - simply because it emphasizes a point of shared history and takes something from the us versus them mindset. Finally I would have liked mention of the 16th Irish and John Redmond. I hope you do not mind my sharing this quote from the man:
"armed Nationalist Catholics in the South will be only too glad to join arms with the armed Protestant Ulstermen in the North. Is it too much to hope that out of this situation there may spring a result which will be good, not merely for the Empire, but good for the future welfare and integrity of the Irish nation?"
How on earth could they leave him out? If ever there was a basis for common ground in history this is it - the men from the 16th irish and the 36th Ulstre fought and died as allies not enemies. But then the book is not really intended to find common ground, it is simply a history of Ireland. As this book does focus more on the South, I could understand Carson and 36th being left out but not Redmond.
But for all my complaints - and I just have to have a few - this is an excellent book. It does cover Mount Sandel, Newgrange The Dal Riata, the Book of Kells, the Viking invasions, St Patrick, Brian Boru, the Normans, The Battle of the Boyne, Cromwell Irish rebellions, the famine, Irish authors, the 1916 revolution and more. You also some very nice illustrations of Dublin and Belfast. For only 32 pages it really isn't bad. I would have really preferred this book to be at least 64 pages - OK to be honest, I could fill 1,064 pages but this being so short does have it's advantages as well - the major advantage being that it can easily hold a child's interest.
I chose to read this book out loud to my son - so I could add wee bits and we could discuss the issues. Because this was so short, we were easily able to read this in one sitting. We had an especially interesting conversation on one comic strip passage from the book which one poor fellow in a castle with the Irish pointing a sword at him and declaring "He's so English" while the English on the other side point a sword at him and declare "He is so Irish". This of course is still the way of it today.
I would like to say this book inflamed an interest in Irish history in my son - and made him desperate to learn more about his heritage. The truth is - my son isn't terribly interested in history unless we are going way back to the prehistoric or it involves plenty of military action. We used this book because we are home educating and I want my son to have a well rounded education. It did engage him,and catch his interest and he asked a fair number of questions as I read, but in all honesty, he will not pick this book up again, unless it is for school purposes. He would rather read about super heroes, airplanes or weapons. I can't fault the book on this though, it isn't the authors fault that he just isn't that interested in history. And I am happy that he was able to learn quite a lot of Irish history very quickly and painlessly.
I would certainly recommend this book to home educators, especially those in Ireland - North or South. I also feel it would be an excellent book for a school library. Other than that, if your child enjoys history and wants to know more about Ireland this book would be perfect, and I do feel even an adult might learn something from this - especially if you have a fairly limited knowledge of Irish history - but I don't feel that there is enough depth on any one subject to satisfy and adult reader. Still it could be enough to get an adult interested enough to find out more. I would have enjoyed this a child - but I always loved history if it is presented well rather than a list of boring dates. This is well presented, as good story with a smooth and even flow.
And for a child with no interest in history - I was quite surprised that one tiny segment did catch his interest. He was fascinated by Newgrange and is now begging for a trip to see it. We will of course be researching this further online - and I will make every effort to try to arrange a visit. This alone would have made the book worth purchasing - it has made him want to learn more about one portion of history - and I do feel child led learning sticks more than anything else. Who knows what a visit to Newgrange could spark an interest in?