Eire Smarts

You folks are going to have to get your Irish act together, or at least research it better [Cover Story, “Santa Barbara’s Irish Legacy,” 3/11/10]. Angela’s Ashes is set mostly in Limerick, not Dublin. (Much of it is fiction or exaggeration, by the way, but it all made for a good story, if a terrible downer). Brian Boru was not the first high king (ard ri) but damn nearly the last.

The high kingship was not hereditary. It might stay within a family—indeed the O’Neills supplied high kings between about the 5th century and 1002, when Brian Boru assumed the title. But the O’Neill high kings might come from different clans within the family: Even the O’Briens (descendants of Brian Boru) started out as an O’Neill clan, although very distant by the 11th century. Kingship had to be fought for, either within a clan or family, or against all comers. After Brian Boru’s death in 1014 at the Battle of Clontarf—which was mostly fought against his fellow Irishmen, by the way, although there were Vikings (Ostmen) from Dublin in the opposition army—there was a brief and shadowy high kingship reasserted by several O’Neill claimants, but never effectively, and then of course in 1167 the Normans arrived. They were invited in by an aspiring high king from Wexford, who apparently never sensed the dangers of importing land-hungry Normans with allegiance to the King of England—and that was pretty much the end of the Gaelic ascendancy, with various sputters and sparks of resistance during the next six or seven centuries, which is what mostly makes up the history of Ireland between 1167 and 1921.

In your book recommendations, you might go a little further than history and pseudo-history and mention such Irish authors as James Joyce, W.B. Yeats, Thomas Moore (poetry and songs), Brendan Behan, and George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde, these last two of course Anglo-Irish and mostly fixed in English literature, but Irish by birth. Edmund Burke? Yes, Burke too. Irish are great talkers and writers, of course; this list might go on for several pages.

Malachy McCourt’s History of Ireland is ghost-written, to take advantage of the McCourt name, and it isn’t very good.

Finally, if it can still be found, your Myths and Legends list might cite Irish Folk Tales and Fairy Stories by Gerard Murphy, my late uncle. It may be out of print, but in its time it was a classic. — Des O’Neill


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