Princes of Ireland: A Dublin Saga by Edward Rutherford (1948, UK) is a sprawling historical novel that centers on the lives of six families in Ireland from 450 AD up to the middle to the 16th century. Most of my reading since Irish Short Story Week began (March 11 to July 1) has been related to this. I realized I needed to begin to learn more about the history of Ireland so I looked for large scale historical novels and all searches seem to say that Princes of Ireland and its sequel Rebels of Ireland were two very well regarded novels that might give me a leg up on Irish history.
Princes of Ireland is easy to read and follow. It is a good popular fiction type of work and it served its purpose very well for me. The open section where we see a romance develop between a princess and a Celtic warrior was, for me, the most exciting section of the book. We also get to meet St. Patrick and we see the consequences of the conversion of the Irish to Christianity. There is an incredibly clever plot twist in this section, from a leader worthy of study by Machiavelli. There is really a lot of be learned in a painless way from this work. We see the important role of the monasteries in preserving old manuscripts and as store houses for wealth. Rutherford does a really good job of showing us the impact of the long term invasion of Ireland by the Vikings. There is a lot in the book that helps to explain the centuries of exploitation of the Irish by the English.
Rutherford also portrays the Irish women as having more say so in their lives than English women. We see a young woman refuse her fathers choice of a husband. In one really crushing perfectly done sequence we watch the English clerics backed up by their army burn many of the most scared relics of Ireland.
There are lots of small "goodies" in this novel. For example I learned where the expression "Black Irish" comes from. It was really interesting to see the great power the English longbow had over Irish armies. We learn how the English ruled Ireland through local princes and through large grants of land to English lords who helped defeat the Irish.
|One day I will tell my story-|
There is lots of violence and some PG rated sex. Sometime the people seem a bit too "modern". I have started Rutherford's Rebels of Ireland: The Dublin Saga which starts at 1537 and runs up to 1922. Rutherford's official webpage made no mention of it but there seems to be a place for a third work in this series.
I enjoyed Princes of Ireland. It is an entertaining painless way to get a broad overview of Irish history and clearly Rutherford has put a lot of work and research into getting the facts right.
I would like to read a well done historical novel set back in the time of the construction of Newgrange, 3200 BC and I am seeking suggestions for Irish Historical Novels.
Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and I will be doing a read along of Frank Delaney's Ireland (date to be announced) and I am sure there is a lot to be learned in it.
I will be posting, I hope, on Rebels of Ireland, in May.