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The Catholics of Ulster

The Catholics of Ulster

by Marianne Elliott

Few European communities are more soaked in their bloody history than the Catholics of Ulster, but the Catholic and Protestant communities' faulty understanding of their past has had ruinous effects on the lives of its inhabitants. Marianne Elliott has written a coherent, credible, and absorbing history of the Ulster Catholics. The whole sorry sweep of the


Few European communities are more soaked in their bloody history than the Catholics of Ulster, but the Catholic and Protestant communities' faulty understanding of their past has had ruinous effects on the lives of its inhabitants. Marianne Elliott has written a coherent, credible, and absorbing history of the Ulster Catholics. The whole sorry sweep of the province's history is covered-from its early medieval origins to the tenuous but holding Good Friday Agreement of 1998 and formation of an all-Ulster legislature.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
Marianne Elliott's provocative book The Catholics of Ulster: A History takes an in-depth look at the roots of the sectarian strife and prejudice between Catholics and Protestants that continues to rip apart Northern Ireland. With the fragile Northern Irish peace accords again in jeopardy, Elliott's book is both timely and controversial, as its historical tour of the Ulster Catholic community tries to debunk some of the myths of Irish history. Elliott's research is exhaustive, and her prose is gripping. There will be a strong response by Irish historians to this new history of Northern Ireland.

The Catholics of Ulster starts out in 7000 B.C., when primitive man arrived on the shores of Ireland. Elliott then moves to the conversion of Ireland to Christianity and the later English invasions of the island. She disputes the notion that there is any such thing as a Gaelic Catholic race and examines the historical persecution of Catholics from the 17th century onward. Elliott makes a conscious effort to challenge the historical propaganda of modern Ulster Catholics. One myth, according to the author, is that the Irish Catholic nobility was wiped out in Ulster through exile and dispossession from their lands. Elliott shows evidence that many Catholic nobles converted to Protestantism. On the Potato Famine of the 1840s, Elliott argues that the British government and the English landlords did not exacerbate the famine that killed one million Irish. Moving into the 20th century, she puts forth the idea that the modern Irish Republican Army does not have broad popular support among Catholics in Northern Ireland.

Elliott is a professor of history and director of the Institute of Irish Studies at Liverpool University. She was also on one of the committees involved in the 1993 peace efforts in Northern Ireland. Elliott writes in her introduction that she herself is an Ulster Catholic and grew up in public housing outside of Belfast. The Catholics of Ulster was a difficult book for her to write, says Elliott, because she rediscovered all her youthful prejudices and had to reexamine them.

Besides its scholarly qualities, The Catholics of Ulster contains a number of vivid personal accounts from the centuries of conflict in Northern Ireland. During the horrible bloodshed in Ulster in 1641, details of both anti-Catholic and anti-Protestant massacres are highlighted. These massacres form the basis of much sectarian propaganda on both sides today. In the section on the Potato Famine, the descriptions of suffering are tragic and sure to stir modern readers.

The strongest part of The Catholics of Ulster is the conclusion, which covers Northern Ireland since the partition of Ireland in 1921. Elliott walks the minefield of Ulster history, using first-person accounts of prejudice and discrimination, as well as official records, to provide support for her analysis of the social and economic position of Catholics in Northern Ireland.

Though Elliott is firmly opposed to the armed tactics of the IRA, she gives a thorough analysis of "the Troubles," the post-1969 violence that goes on today, and the often harsh policies of internment by the British government that resulted in more IRA recruits. In the last pages of the book, there are excerpts from interviews with Ulster Catholics about discrimination in Northern Ireland today. These comments resonate long after the book has been put down.

The Catholics of Ulster is a powerful history of the civil war in Northern Ireland. By tracing the historical roots of the violence, the reader can understand much of what is happening today. At the end, Elliott holds out the hope that it is possible that the people of Northern Ireland may be able to address their fears and prejudices so that a peaceful solution can be found.

Dylan Foley lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Wall Street Journal
If there is anyone. . .who wants to be informed about the northern Catholic experience in all its complexity, Marianne Elliot's book is the best place to start.
An honest and important book, one that deserves wide and careful readership.
Boston Globe
Deep and sympathetic.
Irish Times
The detail is enlightening, fascinating and often moving.... An authoritative, fair-minded and compelling work.
A superb local history—but in Northern Ireland, local history is of international importance.
Library Journal
Early in the 1990s, Elliott (modern history, Liverpool Univ.) was invited to work with the Opsahl Commission, a group seeking to advance mutual understanding between belligerent factions in Northern Ireland. This book is her attempt to enhance the peace process through historical understanding. She begins with the pre-Christian era and maintains that conflicts in the geographically isolated Ulster have resulted from political, economic, and cultural differences as well as simply religious ones. Catholicism, she argues, should not be equated with political rebellion against British rule. Nevertheless, she shows that Catholicism in Ulster is caught in a Gaelic cultural trap, which locks it into a 19th-century nationalism. Unfortunately, much of the historical data that fills her book would make sense only to other historians of Ulster (as when she identifies T. Wolfe Tone, the supposed founder of Irish Republican Nationalism, only as "Tone"), and her often general conclusions seem contradictory and therefore confusing. Thus, this book will only interest academics and not the everyday readers she might have wanted to reach. Academic libraries with large collections in Irish history should consider. James A. Overbeck, Atlanta-Fulton P.L. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
The complex and deeply emotional history of Northern Ireland and its religious and historically-based Troubles are the subject of this substantial work by Elliott, herself an Ulster Catholic, who writes from the relatively detached stance as a historian at Liverpool U. in England. Beginning before the advent of Christianity, and employing in places examples of traditional folklore to convey the traditional ways of thought, she examines and frequently revises traditional thinking on the history of the area up to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Marianne Elliott's history combines original scholarship with a strong sense fo her own identity (Ulster born and Catholic raised). This enables her to write on two levels: she understands that these codes are often based on myth, and that nine out of ten popular conceptions of history are wrong...Her discussion of the 1798 repellion is masterly, as is her analysis of the role of the Catholic hierarchy in education...this book might seem to tell a despressing tale, but it is enlivened by Ms. Elliott's use of foldlore material and regional writing to shed light on the intricate and (to the outsider) baffling ways of life and thought of the Ulster people as a whole.

Product Details

Basic Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.96(w) x 9.04(h) x 1.73(d)

Meet the Author

Marianne Elliott is Professor of Modern History and Director of the Institute of Irish Studies at Liverpool University. She is the author of an acclaimed biography of Wolfe Tone, which won the Irish Times/Aer Lingus nonfiction award. She lives in Liverpool.

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