"The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there."
L P Hartley, ‘The Go-Between’
The history of Ireland is a complicated chronicle of invasion, conquest, rebellion and identity. It is intertwined with myths, legends and the stories of the heroes and villains who over the centuries have determined Ireland’s fate. It is a country still coming to terms with the memory of its past, and what that consists of is perhaps its last great battlefield. Ireland’s relationship with Britain dominates much of its story and is a theme which still colours our sense of who we are.
To make sense of the history of Ireland and its people involves delving deep into the historical archive. Sifting fact from myth not only requires locating historical sources but interpreting their meaning and determining their accuracy. To compound matters, much of the documentary evidence for Ireland’s past has been lost or is incomplete and can often provoke questions concerning its reliability.
Where, then, do you start to find out more about Ireland’s past?
The first thing to do is to assess what you already know about Ireland’s history. Issues that you should consider include where you obtained the information and how accurate you consider it to be. The influence of the background and motives of informants for what we understand of our past should not be underestimated. Secondly, consult some of the many excellent works on Irish history. This will both improve your knowledge of the past but give you an awareness of the issues that should be considered when examining anything in relation to Ireland’s past. To find out more about discovering your Irish ancestors, please click here.
Some useful sources:
Jonathan Bardon - A History of Ulster
ATQ Stewart - The Summer Soldiers; the 1798 rebellion in Antrim and Down
Roy Foster - Modern Ireland 1600-1972