Northern Ireland

New book shines light on 1,400 years of Irish history

Michael Collins at a hurling match in 1921 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Michael Collins throws in the sliotar at the 1921 Leinster hurling final

Academics from Queen's University in Belfast are part of a team of leading historians from around the world who have contributed to one of the most wide-ranging and authoritative compilations of Irish history.

The four-volume Cambridge History of Ireland presents the history of the island from AD600 to the present.

It features the work of 103 contributors from 39 countries and runs to 3,200 pages.

Image copyright QUB
Image caption The four-volume collection features the work of 103 contributors from 39 countries

Prof Peter Gray from Queen's was part of the team. He wrote the chapter on his specialist subject - the Great Famine.

"I think this is a kind of a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the historical profession here in Ireland and across the world to put together our thoughts," he told the BBC's Good Morning Ulster.

Given the subject matter, it is hardly surprising that the history has a pronounced political backbone.

Image copyright Orange Order
Image caption William of Orange arriving at Carrickfergus prior to the Battle of the Boyne

But it also covers the full range of social, economic, religious, linguistic, military, cultural, artistic and gender history.

Prof Gray says some of the emerging areas of historical research form an important aspect of the volumes.

Image copyright QUB
Image caption Prof Peter Gray says the Cambridge History is a "once-in-a-generation" opportunity for scholars of Irish history

These include the history of the Irish family, sport and leisure, and material culture - which he describes as the "stuff" of history.

At a recent ceremony in Dublin Castle to mark the publication of the history, Irish President Michael D Higgins expressed concern at the diminished emphasis on the teaching of history in schools.

He said he shared the "deep and profound concern" of professional historians at this trend.

Image copyright PA
Image caption President Michael D Higgins expressed "deep and profound concern" about the decline of history teaching in schools

President Higgins described the publication as "an intellectual riposte to those who doubt the vital importance of the study of history".

Irish people are often criticised for "living in the past", but Prof Gray can see the relevance of an understanding of the past when considering current issues, such as Brexit.

"We're very conscious of the importance of the past to the present and debates in the present about British-Irish relationships," he told the BBC.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Some of the emerging areas of historical research, including into the lives of children, form part of the volumes

The four volumes will cost you in the region of £350 so libraries will most likely be the first customers, but readers may be spared the trip to their local branch.

They are currently available as ebooks at about a tenth of the price.

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