Many Irish women and men probably tire of the official version of themselves that is packaged for export nowadays. From the hammering heels of Lord of the Dance to the manic comedy of Waking Ned Devine, books, films and Broadway extravaganzas portray the children of the Emerald Isle (both natives and their descendants) as devout but hard-drinking, sentimental but hard-bitten and colorful to the point of gaudiness.

Several new books alternately confirm and refute this national stereotype. Among the more comprehensive recent accounts is Patrick Bishop's The Irish Empire: The Story of the Irish Abroad. The stories range through the Dromberg stone circle in Cork, New York politicians, the English invasion and oppression of Ireland, lyrical poetry, prison uprisings, shipboard squalor, urban exploitation, religion and political activism. The scope is surprising, for such a brief and comprehensible and well-illustrated book. It's beautiful to look at, but also rich in anecdotes.Bishop tells, for example, the fascinating Bonnie-and-Clyde epic of Ned Kelly, an Irishman in Australia. Kelly imbibed stories of oppression and outrage at his mother's knee and grew up contemptuous of authority—and particularly scornful of Irish policemen, whom he considered traitors. Inevitably he clashed with the abusive, nationalist, class-obsessed rulers.


Michael Sims is fond of Irish coffee and greatly admires redheads.

comments powered by Disqus