Thursday, March 17, 2011

Book Review: The Princes of Ireland

Maeve Binchy calls it “A giant, sprawling, easy-to-read story told in James Michener fashion.”

I’ve yet to read Michener (*blush*) but if he fills his books with as much history as Rutherfurd, I look forward to doing so.

I’m enamored of Ireland. Maybe it’s my more-than-a-quarter Irish blood. But I like to think it’s because of the spirit of the Irish: hardy, humorous, independent-minded, rebellious. Of course, as becomes apparent in The Princes of Ireland, that applies more to western and southern Ireland than to eastern Ireland (Dublin and thereabout). We were there in 2008, in both Dublin and out along the west coast (Galway, the Burren, Cliffs of Moher, Kilfenara), and although I enjoyed Dunguaire Castlecertain things in Dublin, such as seeing the Book of Kells, in general, I was much more comfortable in the west. It felt more … Irish, so to speak. Maybe that doesn’t seem to make sense, but once you read Edward Rutherfurd’s sweeping saga of Irish history, it does.

When the novel began, I felt a true excitement of being “there” at the Pagan beginnings of the “western The Burrenisland” with the hardy souls inhabiting the cold, wet, rocky land. It is cold, wet, and rocky. Even in June, it was hard to stay warm. As is pertinent in any story of Ireland, mythology was pulled in, the mysticism of the ancient Irish mixed with the reality of animal and human sacrifice and a connection with a greater power.

As it went along, I began to have the feeling that it was more non-fiction than fiction, with hints of Story tying the events together and connecting them through the centuries. It does read largely as non-fiction. There are a plethora of details, names, ruling families that can be hard to keep all together from beginning to end. In fact, this one would be a good candidate for multiple reads (although I’ve yet to do that, either).  It’s a very long novel. Expect to spend plenty of time with it.

Also expect to come away with a new understanding of Ireland and its mix of people and cultures, from Druids to Vikings to Scottish warriors to St. Patrick’s Christians to English slaves, and later to English Catholic colonizers. And expect toSt. Patrick's Cathedral have questions raised in your thoughts about what Christianity, and then Catholicism, actually did to Ireland (and beyond). This is a straight-forward account of how religion has always mixed with politics and how it’s impossible to separate one from the other. It’s non-judgmental, well researched, and as straight forward as the ancient Irish themselves.

The Princes of Ireland is very highly recommended for Ireland enthusiasts, religion enthusiasts, as well as history enthusiasts in general.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

By the way, St. Patrick’s Cathedral (shown above) is a protestant church and corned beef and cabbage is not a traditional Irish food. It’s Americanized Irish created by Irish immigrants who had to cure their meat well enough to transport it. In my view, that makes it the perfect American Irish way to celebrate the day!


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