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A Brief History of Ireland

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  408 ratings  ·  53 reviews
The perfect introduction to the Irish story-a story wrapped in mythology and legend.

Since its very origins, Ireland has become the home for a successive series of invaders-the Celts, Christians, Vikings, and Normans. And despite deprivation, desperation, and suppression, Ireland has developed an unwavering sense of purpose and place.

In this lucid and fascinating introduc
Paperback, 352 pages
Published January 24th 2012 by Running Press Adult (first published November 1st 2010)
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Aug 02, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A great tour of Irish history. I downloaded this for a trip to Dublin, and if anything I would suggest one can skip the first 8 chapters if you want to get to the meat of the dispute and skip the Viking/Norman conquests of the island. Or you can skip the first 14 chapters if you just want the last 200 years of strife. To Richard Killeen's credit, the book is incredibly modular: each chapter is rich in its own right, and his reference to movements makes it easy to pick up at any point. If one, fo ...more
Elsbeth Kwant
Apr 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
An excellently written, very interesting book on Irish history. I am impressed by the sheer intellectual effort, the compelling storytelling and insightful asides. The book focuses both on 'big people': St. Patrick, The O'Neill, Kildare, De Valeran and big stories' Catholic-Protestant relations, Anglo-Irish history, economics and demography, but without ever becoming just a boring summing up.
I have been reading this book in the sun over the Easter weekend, I don't think many history books could
May 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history-european
Well written book. I wanted an overview before a trip to Ireland and this appears comprehensive. Killeen made some of the more thorny parts of Britain's relationship to Ireland and Ulster's relationship to the Republic of Ireland more understandable. It appeared to me that the author tried to be objective and explained the points of view of each side.

An easy, fun read.
Oct 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
It's good to have perspective. Of other places, people, culture, history. I found Killeen's all encompassing 300-page book exactly at the right resolution. Not too long, but not fast forwarding too much. I love how one can always find parallels between people and countries. For example to simplify a lot with a little smirk in the corner of my eye:
+ both Estonians and Irish have been invaded multiple times by multiple different parties
+ none have desired to conquer outside their borders
+ there ha
Todd Stockslager
Jun 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Review title: Biography and natural history of the Celtic Tiger
In response to my reading of Leon Uris's Trinity, a historical fiction of Ireland's struggle for independence and nationhood, I wanted to learn more about the history without the fiction. This is my response. Killeen has written a very brief survey of Irish history from prehistory through 2011 in just 300 small paperback pages. With this limited space he necessarily focuses on the big issues of political history and the occasional co
Mar 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I chose to read this book in preparation for a trip to Ireland and finished it just in time. I don't know how long I'll remember all I've learned, but I knew enough of the history to appreciate what the 100 year commemoration of the 1916 uprising was all about.
Jon Musser
Overall, I feel like Killeen's treatment of such an incredibly vast and complex history is generally fair and even-handed. I only give the text 3/5 stars, however, because I think the that the task he set before himself - writing on this subject in brief - is impossible. He gave the impossible a valiant effort though.

Also, it could use a new addition with some reflection on the collapse of the devolved government in Belfast and the waning of the Celtic Tiger.
Oct 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
"People who can put that much bad history behind them can do anything to which they aspire."
Nov 22, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A super potted overview of Irish history from prehistoric times to today; capturing the whole subject within 300 pages or so is no mean feat and it's an achievement Killeen pulls off with no little wit. It's a balanced account too - the excesses of extremism are analysed dispassionately while the book's publication after the 2008 crisis which almost brought the country to its knees undoubtedly changes the perspective.

That Nationalism hasn't always been equal to Catholicism is something I did not
Apr 19, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I recently did one of those ancestry DNA test. When the results came back I was surprised to learn that I was 60% Irish. This led me to begin a further investigation into my ancestry and I also wanted to read more about Ireland. I knew very little but didn't want to tackle a full blown history text. So when i chose 'A Brief History of Ireland' I was expecting it to be concise. I was not disappointed and it was fun to read about a land that I had no idea I was descended from. I recommend the book ...more
May 05, 2015 rated it liked it
A lot of history in a not so large book. I know this was a "brief history" but I did find myself wishing the author would have expanded on a few things a little further. So I guess you could say this book piqued my interest to read more in depth histories of the things I was particularly interested in. My only real complaint is that the writing style was a little dusty for me personally and too many times it went a little text bookish. Overall - interesting.
Laura Hoffman Brauman
This one read more like a textbook, but it gave me the background info I was looking for and gave me more context to some of the Irish fiction I have been reading lately.
Grady Ormsby
Mar 21, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history fans
A Brief History of Ireland: Land, People, History by Richard Killeen is necessarily brief and must omit a great deal. It begins at the dawn of history 12,500 years ago and goes to the decline of the Celtic Tiger in the early Twenty-first Century. Ireland has been shaped by many things over the centuries, but three factors have predominated: migration, sovereignty and religion.

Perhaps more so than most other countries, Ireland has been shaped by the movement of people. There have been successive
Barksdale Penick
Jun 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very good survey history of the island nation. The introduction lets the reader know this is a modern history when the author tells us he will not be recounting the "freedom narrative," which made me realize I was expecting that, at least in part. I expect a history written not that many years ago wouldn't use that phrase.

The book is about 300 pages and does not require much background to appreciate, which I found to be the case with a couple of other histories I tried earlier. On occasion I did
Jul 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
A good account of Irish history for anyone that's interested but hasn't read much before. I am from the North myself, and even so, this book filled in the many (many many many) holes that the education system left in my understanding of the Island. From what I can tell, the author is fairly unbiased, never embracing romantic nationalism, nor intentionally downplaying the tragedies and conditions of which it was symptomatic. I did sense a couple of hot takes, although the aforementioned impartial ...more
Oct 14, 2020 rated it liked it
This is book is exactly what is appears to be: a high-level survey of 2000 years of Irish history. As such, reading it comes off a lot like your high-school history courses, where the main goal was keeping the names, dates, and battles in your head long enough to be able to regurgitate them for the test. It doesn't help that Killeen often fails to follow through on premises he sets up. At one point, he characterizes Hugh O'Neill as "one of the greatest figures in Irish history," but O'Neill exit ...more
M. Thomas Apple
Aug 29, 2018 rated it liked it
I recommend reading this book (and all historical overview volumes) a bit at a time over the course of several weeks.

It takes the author 150 pages to get from 7,000 BCE to the Act of Union in 1801, then takes another 180 pages to survive until 2009.

That’s a lot of history.

Some names are familiar, some not so. Some are famous, some are obscure. But I can’t deny the history of the Emerald Isle remains fascinating - and is still very much a work in progress.

The lack of any images is a major drawbac
Michael Harrison
Oct 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was one of the better history books I've read. While not riveting or amazing, it was a great overview of a subject which could surely occupy several volumes. Aside of the usual names and dates, the author includes in many places interesting accounts of events which keep one's interest in reading more. Having visited Ireland, reading it was much more interesting than it might have been. Many of the places and geographical references I knew and understood because I had been to or near them. R ...more
A good overview of the current political situation in both countries, and a short history of how those politics got there, but it was just one side of the coin and there are certainly two sides (if not more) to that coin and it seems to keep flipping. And though Mr. Killeen brings to task several other writer/historians for being too brief and shallow with a history of ancient Ireland, he ends up guilty of the same offense. He doesn't even mention the Tuatha de Danann (some think these were the ...more
Dennis Keithly
Mar 12, 2018 rated it liked it
This book is a comprehensive history of Ireland. It is compact and dense. That is a strength and weakness. With so much to cover in about 300 pages, it is packed with names and dates but it has a limited amount of time and space to devote to any particular subject. When I finished reading this, and it took a while, I felt like I had a general sense of Ireland’s history, but not a great understanding of it. This probably benefits those that know a bit more about Ireland already.
Anthony Zappia
Mar 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
An enjoyable read. This is how history should be written. The book is not too long and not too short and covers the history of Ireland from prehistory to around 2007. Ireland has an incredible history and it's had some amazing characters. Of great value is the bibliographic essay at the end for people who want to read more. The only thing that could be improved would be a guide to pronunciation for the many gaelic names and places.
Ross Mckinney
May 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was a well written book and a fairly quick read. My purpose was to review Irish history before a trip to Ireland on vacation, and this served the purpose well. The text was clear and explained the basic dynamics of the many tensions that have ruled Ireland for centuries. Catholic/Protestant, Rural/Urban, North/South, English/Irish. Quite a list. Recommended.
Margaret Roberts
May 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
From druids to priests, abundance and poverty, peaceful settlements and utter rebellion; Ireland seems to have had it all. The history does my head in-and to think this is a "brief" retelling! However Killeen does a great job with summary and wit. A good overview but with the amount of history, I'm definitely going to have to reread.
Jun 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
I read this book in preparation for and during my recent trip to Ireland. It provided me with a more detailed and broader perspective of the history, geography, politics, religion and culture of Ireland. It helped me to understand why my ancestors could not stay and what price was paid for that emigration, and perhaps the underlying sorrow associated with leaving one's home land.
Jan Davis
Oct 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Preparing for a trip to Ireland, so I picked up this book. It took a long time to get past the prehistoric days. It got interesting for awhile and then the proliferation of names got overwhelming. I doubt I'll remember much of the information I gathered from this book, but still glad I tried it.
Sep 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I read this in preparation for a trip to Ireland, and it’s a solid introduction to the basics of Irish history. It’s trying to cover a lot of ground, so nothing gets discussed in much depth, but it’s extremely readable. Killeen is an excellent writer—clear, precise, and lively.
Jan 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Interesting overview; a little impressed with it's own cleverness perhaps?

I enjoyed learning a lot of things I didn't know; I was a little unsure why there wasn't a bit more about a couple of the characters who supposedly had their own chapters - De Valera, O'Connell as examples.
Sean Crowley
Jul 17, 2020 rated it liked it
As the title says it is indeed a Brief History of Ireland. It is suitably broken up either into Chapters dealing with important individuals or periods of important developments in its evolution. A good refresher course for some and an excellent introduction for others or familiar with the history.
Tanya Julien
Nov 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interesting for an overview of irish history, giving better insight to more recent events.
Feb 12, 2018 rated it liked it
800 years of British asshattery and the locals killing each other over whose interpretation of middle eastern bronze age nonsense should rule .
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