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Contested Island: Ireland 1460-1630 by S. J.…

Contested Island: Ireland 1460-1630

by S. J. Connolly

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I found this a much more interesting and well-structured book than Colm Lennon's Sixteenth Century Ireland. By the end of it I had a much better idea of the two key narratives - the shift of the Old English areas to permanent alliance with Gaelic Ireland, and the growth in power of the state apparatus centred in Dublin. The general failure of the Reformation to take hold in Ireland is a part of this story, but Connolly admits after surveying the various theories that he does not have a good explanation of why it failed. The least satisfactory thing about the book is that the six maps at the end are horrendously mislabelled; only one is published with the correct caption.

An unexpected benefit of reading about this period of Irish history is that it gives me a slightly different insight into international relations today. Reading how various English military expeditions tended to end not with the defeat of the Irish enemies, but with them being bought off with recognition of their authority and (often temporarily) converted to allies, has obvious parallels with today's Iraq and Afghanistan. And the gradual extension of the central govenment's authority across the whole island has many resonances with state-building efforts around the world up to the present.

It is fascinating that the British government in Ireland was utterly unable to cover its costs from locally raised revenue. At the start of the book, roughly 90% of Dublin Castle's budget had to be met from Westminster; by the end of the book it was down to roughly 30% but that is still a heck of a lot - and the cost of this improvement in the finances was the loss of identification with English interests of the vast majority of the previously loyal population. One question that is rarely asked is, given the huge costs of Ireland to England, why bother? I guess there was a certain amount of protecting existing investments of property and prestige, but the question of securing a geographical back door to the English realm must have been even more important - just before the start of the sixteenth century, you have Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck, and just after the century ends you have thousands of Spanish troops landing in Kinsale.

Anyway, somewhat heavy going in places, but enlightening all the same. ( )
  nwhyte | May 12, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0198208162, Hardcover)

Between the 1460s and the 1630s Ireland was transformed from a medieval into a modern society. A poor society on the periphery of Europe, dominated by the conflicts of competing warlords--Irish and English--it later became a centralised political unit with a single government and code of laws, and a still primitive, but rapidly developing, market economy. These changes, however, had been achieved by brutal wars of conquest, while large scale colonisation projects had created lasting tensions between old inhabitants and recent settlers.

At the same time the great religious divide of the Reformation had introduced a further source of conflict to Ireland, dividing the population into two hostile camps, while at the same time giving it a new and dangerous role in the conflict between England and its continental enemies. Against this confused and constantly changing background, individuals and groups had repeatedly to adapt their customs and behaviour, their political allegiances and aspirations, and their sense of who they were. A long and complex story, with many false starts and numerous dead ends, it is the story of the people who became the modern Irish.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:21 -0400)

This definitive study of Ireland's transformation from a medieval to a modern society looks at the way in which the country's different religious groups, and nationalities, clashed and interacted during the transition.

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