A Short History of Ireland

by John Gibney, Yale, 256pp, £16.99

Irish history does not need much in the way of authorial flourishes in order to exert its grip. John Gibney’s approach is brisk without being hurried, cool without being unfeeling.

The result is a very competent retelling of the old sorry tale. Five centuries are covered in five parts, each concluding with a handy section on “Where historians disagree”.

Things get off to a dismal start, with Elizabeth I resolving to bring the Irish nobles to heel and have them abandon their religion. The enforcers of her will had summary rights of execution, and could claim a third of the goods and possessions of those proscribed.

“It must be fire and sword and the rod of God’s vengeance that must make these stubborn and cankered hearts yield for fear,” bellowed Sir Ralph Rokeby, chief justice of Connaught. This was never going to end well, was it?

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