I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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Big Picture History

Barra Ó Seaghdha
Ireland in the World Order: A History of Uneven Development, by Maurice Coakley, Pluto Press, 256 pp, £16.99, ISBN: 978-0745331256 The pacification of Ireland was the last great achievement of Elizabeth’s reign, and the final act in Irish history during the Tudor period. For the greater part of a century English statesmen had wrestled with the problem, only to retire baffled by the difficulties encountered and the inadequacy of the resources at their disposal. Those who crossed St George’s channel as viceroys or lord deputies sometimes cried to be delivered from ‘this hell’ of a country, that seemed to devour reputations with the rapacity of one of its own bogs, or came home broken in health and spirit by the severities of the service; and few could be prevailed upon to return for a second spell of office. There was no glamour, no uplift, no satisfaction in their work to compensate for the hardships endured; on the contrary much of it was sordid and demoralizing. Humane men like Anthony St Leger or Sir Henry Sidney, men of iron like Lord Leonard Grey, had to admit themselves beaten by this strange island, whose people, while acknowledging England’s sovereign rights, refused either to govern themselves or to be governed. Can it be wondered at that, as Spenser tells us, many wished ‘all that land were a sea-pool’? This is how JB Black began “The Irish Problem”, the twelfth and last chapter of The Reign of Elizabeth 1558-1603, the eighth volume in the Oxford History of England, published in 1936. Is it necessary to point out how Ireland is conceived of as a problem for “English statesmen”, how the problem almost perversely refuses to be solved, and how the whole country begins to mutate into a single, symbolic, rapacious bog that devours those who venture into it? Behind this description of the colonist’s burden at a certain point in history we begin to sense a certain exasperation with the Irish problem, with its awkward obtrusion into the smoother lines of British history, with the very need to deploy time, energy and intellectual resources on attempting to understand “this strange island”. (JB Black, it should be said, made every effort to be fair, the next paragraph beginning, “Yet the blame for the confusion cannot be ascribed solely to the Irish.”) The note of exasperation rings down the centuries, from some of those seeking to govern as…

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