When on tour I often run across books that I think, “that might be interesting.” But books are heavy. So I collect the ISBN number(s), and come home and order those I’m still interested in. When they arrive, they usually sit on my shelf, unread (a sad state of affairs for any book), as my life moved back into its normal patterns. On my “to do” list has been actually reading them, and I’ve been working my way through a few of them over the past month or so.
“Irish Churches and Monasteries” by Sean D. O’Reilly, 1997. I picked this one to start with mostly because it was short. The organization is by place, by time. The first chapter discusses the oldest building, the last chapter the newest one. Each chapter of a couple of pages places the construction in a historical context, and discusses specific construction features an the individual sites. Because the book is organized by initial construction, the context provided from one entry to the next is often unrelated. I found the historical discussion interesting, the specific details of which carving existed on which window less so. By the end they were discussing construction in 1964, which interested me not at all.
“Irish Castles” by Harold G. Leask, 1941.
This is one of the seminal works on Irish castles. The writing style is a bit antiquated now, and it’s a technical historical book, so it would never have been considered light reading. The book is organized into the different types of castles, which makes it a bit harder to follow, as I try to remember where exactly all of those different castles are, scattered around the countryside. Dozens (hundreds) of castles mentioned, with a short summary of the different aspects of their (remaining) construction. This book is long before the Irish realized that castles were a potential source of income, so many of the castles described within are now developed and/or reconstructed. It’s got great diagrams and pictures.
“Castles in Ireland: Feudal Power in the Gaelic World”, by Tom McNeill, 1977. Another scholarly historical book, so still a bit hard to follow. The chapters in this book are ordered chronologically, which I thought would be better after reading Leask,but in turns out it didn’t seem to be. Still a lot of good information here, and yet more photos and diagrams. McNeill glues things together a bit better with more historical context. He also disagrees in a fair number of places with conclusions drawn by Leask, primarily in the rationale for where and why particular castles came from.
“The Norman Invasion of Ireland” by Richard Roche, 1970. I really should have started with this book, better reminding myself of the historical overview before digging into all of the specific different castles, but I’m drawn to the castles, so started the other way around. I have a hard time keeping track of who’s who in Irish history (between the number of people with almost identical names, and the fact that many of those names are things like, “Murrough O Maoloaclann and his own son Conor O’Connor”), and often a person with a similar name is active in different parts of Ireland during the same time period. The book uses primary sources, as well as discussing which of the primary sources are more (or less) valid, and the biases in each. The book goes into great levels of detail of who did what to whom, providing a lot of historical context for the Normal Invasion and what followed thereafter. That detail on sources is missing from the two earlier castle books.
A lot of data all at once. Those books are no longer ignored, and I have a lot of notes on places in Ireland I haven’t been to yet that I’d like to visit, and places I’ve visited once before that are worthy of a second visit. I also have a much better sense of Irish history. At the end of my first tour in Ireland, I felt like I had a good grasp of the history, which in hindsight I can see is because I followed much of the sequence of the Norman invasion in the south, so the information came at my in order. I also had a lot of time to process things, since I could spend several hours at any one place, and had time to mull things over from one place to the next. I specifically remember slowly realizing that the information from the guides slowly shifted in perspective as I moved west and north.
The next stack is castle books that discuss the castles of Ireland and Wales, which should be interesting since the Normans who invaded Ireland came primarily from Wales. I’ve also got the complete set of the Mike Salter books for Ireland (The Castles of Leinster, The Castles of Ulster, The Castles of Connacht, The Castles of North Munster, and the Castles of South Munster), all 2.5 lbs of them. I can’t just “read” those, because they’re just alphabetical listings of castles and their features for those particular regions, which if nothing else is too much raw data for me to be able to absorb out of context. But they’ve got great pictures and artwork. I’ll likely use them as I swing back through my list of castles from the other books as I look at potential routes through Ireland.