A Military History of Ireland

In This Review

A Military History of Ireland

Edited by Thomas Bartlett and Keith Jeffrey
Cambridge University Press, 1996
565 pp. $49.95
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This large, handsomely produced volume ranges from the Middle Ages to the present day, probing the experience of a small country that has witnessed chronic warfare at home and sent its sons in large numbers to wage it elsewhere. The editors begin by posing the question of whether there is a distinctive Irish military tradition. To this, many writers have replied in the affirmative, including some who even explain the Confederacy's defeat in the American Civil War as a result of the predominance of Celtic military culture -- impetuous, heedless of loss, and violently aggressive -- in the Southern states. The contributors to this book are not so certain. They examine much of Ireland's remarkable military history, including Irishmen and units serving in foreign armies, although by design they pay less attention to Irish guerrillas, or what they term "the paramilitary tradition." They fully explore the tragic irony of Irish military history, which has witnessed Irish soldiers fighting valiantly on opposite sides of many causes, not least their nation's own. This is, in short, a comprehensive and engrossing study, of interest not only to students of the history of Britain's former empire, but of military culture in general.