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Wars of the Irish Kings: A Thousand Years of Struggle, from the Age of Myth through Through the Reign of Queen Elizabeth I
     

Wars of the Irish Kings: A Thousand Years of Struggle, from the Age of Myth through Through the Reign of Queen Elizabeth I

by David Willis McCullough
 
For the first thousand years of its history, Ireland was shaped by its monasteries and its wars. The artistic flourishing of the monasteries has received a good deal of attention, but the violent and varied wars have in recent years gone unremembered. In Wars of the Irish Kings, David Willis McCullough has turned back to the earliest accounts of these struggles to

Overview

For the first thousand years of its history, Ireland was shaped by its monasteries and its wars. The artistic flourishing of the monasteries has received a good deal of attention, but the violent and varied wars have in recent years gone unremembered. In Wars of the Irish Kings, David Willis McCullough has turned back to the earliest accounts of these struggles to present a rich tapestry of Ireland's fight for its identity.

Beginning with the legends of ancient wars and warriors, moving through a time when history and storytelling were not separate crafts, into a time when history was as much propaganda as fact, Wars of the Irish Kings tells of tribal battles, foreign invasions, Viking raids, family feuds, wars between rival Irish kingdoms, and wars of rebellion against the English.

This collection is peopled with familiar names: Cuchulain, Finn MacCool, Brian Boru, Mad King Sweeney, Strongbow, Edward and Robert Bruce, Queen Elizabeth I and Lord Essex, Hugh O'Donnell, and Hugh O'Neill.

Battles formed the legends and history of the land: the Da Dannan meet the Fir Bolgs near Sligo, Brian Boru faces the Vikings at Clontarf in Dublin Bay, High King Rory O'Connor confronts the English invaders near Waterford, O'Briens battle the English (and other O'Briens) at Dysert O'Dea near Limerick, guns are carried for the first time in battle at Knockdoe near Galway, the Bruces from Scotland and their Irish allies overwhelm the English at Connor in Ulster, and Hugh O'Neill ambushes General Bagenal near Armagh. The book ends near Cork in 1601 when the English defeat O'Neill and his Spanish allies at Kinsale.

Common people as well as kings appear in these pages. A foot soldier in the early days of gunpowder accidentally sets off a disastrous explosion, a harper's disembodied head is sent by error to the king of England, who displays it as that of the king of Ireland, and a Welsh camp follower named Alice is given the job of executing Irish captives during the English invasion.

The sources for these stories and many more range from ancient manuscripts telling of mythical battles to a seventeenth-century siege diary. There are excerpts from such Irish literary masterpieces as The Cattle Raid of Cooley (The Tain), the monumental Annals of the Four Masters, passages from Gerald of Wales's account of the English conquest in the twelfth century, pages from an Icelandic saga, and even a blistering letter from Queen Elizabeth I to her inept commander in Ireland ("You do but piece up a hollow peace...").

The result is a surprisingly immediate and stunning portrait of an all-but-forgotten time that forged the Ireland to come.

Editorial Reviews

Tom Deignan
Toss in some poetry, illustrations, and eight beautiful color pages, and McCullogh has come up with a lively, informative reexamination of, to use the author's words, "stories from the past about how, over the course of about a thousand years, a few kings from generations of kings in a country on the edge of the known world fought their battles."
Irish America
Kirkus Reviews
An anthology of two dozen ancient texts whose protagonists are the icons of Irish culture. Arranged chronologically, the stories form a general history of Ireland up to 1601, when the kings (who numbered up to 150 and were selected by politics rather than ancestry) lost power. McCullough (Chronicles of the Barbarians, 1998, etc.) connects the selections with explanations of their historical context and introductions to the authors. Thomas Kinsella translates the seventh-century poem"The Cattle Raid of Cooley," in which Cuchulain protects the valuable brown bull of Cooley against Medb's attacking army. In the eighth-century tale"Palace of the Quicken Tree," Finn McCool is tricked and trapped in the palace by the treacherous Midac. Dying there of an evil spell, Finn is saved by Dermat O'Dyna, who kills the three kings of the Island of Torment and brings their heads to Finn to set him free. The two best stories come from the twelfth-century epic"The War of the Irish and the Vikings." Around 842, Turgeis,"the Genghis Khan of the Vikings," lays waste to Ireland, separating mother from daughter and father from son. Later, Brian Boru retaliates at the battle of Clontarf, near Dublin. In a lively home-team narrative, Boru, son Murchadh, and grandson Tordhelbach lead an attack on the evil Vikings; Murchadh kills 50 of them with each hand before the three Boru men die. Two accounts by Gerald of Wales and an excellent poem from 1225,"The Song of Dermot and the Earl," dramatize the meddling of the English in Irish politics. McCullough concludes with three stories of the Battle of Kinsale, where in 1601 the Spanish came to aid the Irish fight the English. Fynes Moryson's diary records the Englishviewof the siege and the uncoordinated Irish-Spanish effort that led to defeat and the flight of Hugh O'Neill and Hugh O'Donnell, last of the powerful Irish kings. Carefully introduced, bite-sized portions of classic Irish narratives. (2 maps, 16-page color insert not seen) History Book Club main selection

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780812932331
Publisher:
Crown Publishing Group
Publication date:
10/03/2000
Edition description:
1ST CROWN
Pages:
384
Product dimensions:
7.39(w) x 10.28(h) x 1.38(d)

Meet the Author

DAVID WILLIS McCULLOUGH's most recent book is a historical anthology, Chronicles of the Barbarians: Firsthand Accounts of Pillage and Conquest from the Ancient World to the Fall of Constantinople. His other anthologies include American Childhoods and Great Detectives. He is also the author of Brooklyn . . . and How It Got That Way (an informal social history), People, Books and Book People (interviews with authors), and the mystery novels Think on Death and Point No-Point. He and his wife, Frances, live in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.

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