Staff Pick: Ireland

This month, Yale University Press London staff voted for their favourite book on the theme of ‘Ireland‘. Find out which books they recommended.

March’s Staff Pick: Burning the Big House

Burning the Big House: The Story of the Irish Country House in a Time of War and Revolution, by Terence Dooley, received the most votes from our staff and is this month’s Staff Pick.

The gripping story of the tumultuous destruction of the Irish country house, spanning the revolutionary years of 1912 to 1923

During the Irish Revolution nearly three hundred country houses were burned to the ground. These “Big Houses” were powerful symbols of conquest, plantation, and colonial oppression, and were caught up in the struggle for independence and the conflict between the aristocracy and those demanding access to more land. Stripped of their most important artifacts, most of the houses were never rebuilt and ruins such as Summerhill stood like ghostly figures for generations to come.
Terence Dooley offers a unique perspective on the Irish Revolution, exploring the struggles over land, the impact of the Great War, and why the country mansions of the landed class became such a symbolic target for republicans throughout the period. Dooley details the shockingly sudden acts of occupation and destruction—including soldiers using a Rembrandt as a dart board—and evokes the exhilaration felt by the revolutionaries at seizing these grand houses and visibly overturning the established order.

“Dooley is a skilled narrator, capable of crisply exposing the inventions of national myth…It remains the great strength of Dooley’s work that it goes beyond the pious rhetoric of heroic struggle and ancient wrongs to expose the grim brutality that accompanied the birth of a new nation.”—Andrew Gailey, Literary Review

Find more about the book here

Other Recommendations

The Dead of the Irish Revolution by Eunan O’Halpin and Daithí Ó Corráin

The first comprehensive account to record and analyze all deaths arising from the Irish revolution between 1916 and 1921

This account covers the turbulent period from the 1916 Rising to the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921—a period which saw the achievement of independence for most of nationalist Ireland and the establishment of Northern Ireland as a self-governing province of the United Kingdom. Separatists fought for independence against government forces and, in North East Ulster, armed loyalists. Civilians suffered violence from all combatants, sometimes as collateral damage, often as targets.
Eunan O’Halpin and Daithí Ó Corráin catalogue and analyze the deaths of all men, women, and children who died during the revolutionary years—505 in 1916; 2,344 between 1917 and 1921. This study provides a unique and comprehensive picture of everyone who died: in what manner, by whose hands, and why. Through their stories we obtain original insight into the Irish revolution itself.

“A monumental new book [and] an incredible piece of research. . . . Formidable, authoritative and handsomely produced, The Dead of the Irish Revolution is a fitting memorial.”— Andrew Lynch, Irish Independent

Find more about the book here

The First Irish Cities: An Eighteenth-Century Transformation by David Dickson

The untold story of a group of Irish cities and their remarkable development before the age of industrialization

A backward corner of Europe in 1600, Ireland was transformed during the following centuries. This was most evident in the rise of its cities, notably Dublin and Cork. David Dickson explores ten urban centers and their patterns of physical, social, and cultural evolution, relating this to the legacies of a violent past, and he reflects on their subsequent partial eclipse. Beautifully illustrated, this account reveals how the country’s cities were distinctive and—through the Irish diaspora—influential beyond Ireland’s shores.

“This is a book that operates on a number of levels. For some readers the pleasure will be in excavating nuggets of information on particular places – and thanks to Dickson’s mastery of the evidence there are many gems to be discovered. (….) Whichever category you fall into, you will find enlightenment and entertainment in this volume.” – Raymond Gillespie, Irish Times

Find out more about this book here

The Quick and the Dead: Selected Stories by Máirtín Ó Cadhain

A collection of the finest stories from the Irish author of The Dirty Dust, published fifty years after his death

These colorful tales from renowned Irish author Máirtín Ó Cadhain (1906–1970) whisk readers to the salty western shores of Ireland, where close‑knit farming communities follow the harsh rhythms of custom, family, and land, even as they dream together of a kinder world. In this collection, the resilient women and men of the Gaeltacht regions struggle toward self‑realization against the brutal pressures of rural poverty, and later, the hollowing demands of modern city life.
Weaving together tradition and modernity, and preserving the earthy cadence of the original language, this rich and heart-rending collection by one of Ireland’s most acclaimed fiction writers is a composite portrait of a country poised at the edge of irreversible transformation.

“Every sentence is packed with explosive power, not a word wasted, and the whole is almost unbearably moving.”—Hilary Mantel

“One of the most visionary writers ever to come out of Ireland.” — Belinda McKeon, Irish Independent

Find out more about this book here

Life in the Country House in Georgian Ireland by Patricia McCarthy

A deft interweaving of architectural and social history

For aristocrats and gentry in 18th-century Ireland, the townhouses and country estates they resided in were carefully constructed to accommodate their cultivated lifestyles. Based on new research from Irish national collections and correspondence culled from papers in private keeping, this publication provides a vivid and engaging look at the various ways in which families tailored their homes to their personal needs and preferences. Halls were designed in order to simultaneously support a variety of activities, including dining, music, and games, while closed porches allowed visitors to arrive fully protected from the country’s harsh weather. These grand houses were arranged in accordance with their residents’ daily procedures, demonstrating a distinction between public and private spaces, and even keeping in mind the roles and arrangements of the servants in their purposeful layouts. With careful consideration given to both the practicality of everyday routine and the occasional special event, this book illustrates how the lives and residential structures of these aristocrats were inextricably woven together.  

“[This study] was well worth the wait and can be thoroughly recommended.” — Malcolm Airs, Transactions of the Ancient Monuments Society

Find out more about this book here

Photo by Yan Ming on Unsplash

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