The Irish Story: Telling Tales and Making it Up in Ireland Hardcover – 25 Oct 2001
Customers who bought this item also bought
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
No historian has done more to unravel, question and undermine Irish nationalist historiography than Roy Foster, award-winning biographer of WB Yeats. His revisionism will now be refuelled with the The Irish Story. It is often said that the Irish know too much history, as opposed to too little; or rather they know too much one-sided history. Mythical versions of conflict in the past have a nasty habit of getting in the way of peace and reconciliation in the present. In a dozen separate studies, most of which began life as reviews and lectures, Foster mounts a further onslaught on the morose and partisan manner in which the Irish past (especially that of the Republic) continues to be memorialised. He surveys popular histories, the emergence of professional Irish historiography, historical theme-parks (the macabre phenomenon of "faminism"), Angela's Ashes, Gerry Adams' autobiography and the recent commemoration of the 1798 rising. Throughout he offers an elegant and forceful corrective to those who seek to locate Ireland within a simplistic narrative of exploitation and suffering. A good deal of the book is devoted to Yeats and there are essays on Trollope, Elizabeth Bowen and Hubert Butler too--all writers for whom Ireland and England were not opposite poles, but sites of complex identity and inspiration. This leaves one wondering where Roy Foster himself sits--like Yeats, on the border, "advantaged by the duality of the emigrant existence"--or simply on the fence, enjoying the age-old academic sport of debunking? In a book devoted to invented traditions and the politics of memory the author has left himself out of the story. --Miles Taylor
Reading Foster will sharpen your wits, leave you less likely to be duped by a story simply because it's told with a brogue. (Chicago Tribune)
Erudite and acerbic (Kirkus Reviews)
Interesting, suggestive, mostly urbane, sometimes scathing. (Wall Street Journal)
Foster is a formidably funny and exciting writer, and it is a joy to watch as he charmingly herds each sacred cow to the slaughter. (Craig Brown, The Mail on Sunday)
Foster's superb portrait of the essayist Hubert Butler evokes an Irish Orwell; someone who for 60 years, at times reviled and at others ignored, spoke subtle, lucid truth.... Foster eviscerates what he sees as the cramping of the past in memoirs by Frank McCourt and Gerry Adams.... What Foster is really going after is not politics but a way of thinking and writing 'for an audience in search of reaffirmation rather than dislocation (or enlightenment.'... Style is Foster's touchstone for truth. His disdain for McCourt's and Adams's writing, and the tradition of tale-telling, is more than literary.)
Roy Foster is one of the most elegant and probing writers on Irish topics and also one of the most controversial. In Ireland itself, where history matters, Foster attracts Cornel West-scale publicity. He's the leading figure in a generation of 'revisionist' historians who have chipped away at what they describe as Irish myths. American readers are about to get a fresh taste of his stiletto pen and icon-smashing habits when his latest book, 'The Irish Story' hits these shores. (Chris Shea, Boston Globe)
The outpouring of literature from Ireland has ever been enormous, and nothing seems to stem it, or to reduce the excellence of the best of it. Occasionally, amid that plenitude there emerges a book that startles and provokes to the point of demanding extraordinary attention. Such a book is The Irish Story.... I can think of no book that more clearly, provocatively and intelligently delineates the important underlying contemporary truths of Ireland and the Irish than this insightful, courageous and splendid work. (Michael Pakenham, Baltimore Sun)
Foster is a graceful stylist, a droll wit, and a serious scholar. For the student of Irish history, this volume of revisionist history is often refreshing in its genteel insolence and polite polemics. It provides a dozen thoughtful essays, many blending biography and literary criticism with skeptical scrutiny of traditional historiography. (Richmond Times)
The whole book is written in lively, colorful, and exact prose.... As Foster has ruefully reflected, his nation is 'too prone to mistake verbiage for eloquence, fanaticism for piety, and swagger for patriotism.' These are faults not particular to the Irish, although the Irish might be said to be especially spectacular in their use. (Margaret Boerner, Weekly Standard)
Interesting, suggestive, mostly urbane, sometimes scathing.... Foster...despises most of the acts of commemoration. He speaks of 'commercialized theme-park history' purveyed by 'commemoralist historians.' He is offended by officially sponsored bad taste and by what he regards, on the part of many of his professional colleagues, as bad history. Some of the episodes he recounts make for painful reading, especially if you are Irish. It is exasperating to find tragic acts and sufferings turned to commercial use by the Irish Tourist Board, the government and local politicians. (Wall Street Journal)
Foster's writing, which is lively and unsparing, has already inspired much commentary in the UK and in Ireland. (Publishers Weekly) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
Top customer reviews
One drawback is that ,as ever with books of this sort, there are pieces which do not resonate but generally a thought provoking book on Ireland and its writers.
By Baby Cromwell "Baby Cromwell" (Nottingham, England) - See all my reviews
I enjoyed this book immensely, but probably for the wrong reasons. The book is a bit chewy in places, but stick with it, as it's surprisingly enjoyable on it's own merits. On a more selfish, sadistic note, I had been mecilessly bludgeoned on a regulary basis by a work colleague, a second generation descendant of the Emerald Isle, with tales of Celtic martyrdom and Anglo tyranny, and none of which I felt I had the right to dispute. Then I read the book. After ten minutes of lively debate, challenging all he knew as 'fact', he has not spoken to me since. No-one had ever shut him up before. Heaven. But back to the point, I found this to be a rather good read, but I can see how it would make uncomfortable folk who like to bask in a kind of sacred cow-like grievence mythology. Recommended.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
At every turn Foster is intent on debunking Irish national myths and setting the record straight. Granted, that is important for a historian, but it gets tedious here. One needs to have read everything Foster discusses to appreciate his points. I enjoyed his comments on Yeats and Joyce, and share his opinion on Frank McCourt, whose Angela's Ashes always seemed to me to belong more to the 1800s that the 20th century.
I read this after being impressed with Foster's general history of Ireland, called Modern Ireland many years ago. In the preface to that book, I recall Foster suggested that some might think the title of that book, Modern Ireland, was an oxymoron. A great line, one that has stuck with me all these years, but as an organizing principle for a book length treatment of a topic, it gets tedious after a while.
If Foster had been an investigative reporter, or historian, and had gotten to the facts, then addressed the myths, he might have had a book that was up to its subtitle. But instead he stays in professor mode, and this book just has the feel of a teacher arrogantly putting down a student.
Terry Eagleton, the prominent English intellectual (see, for example, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terry_Eagleton) and a far more serious and respected scholar, is selectively quoted as though he approved Foster’s work. Here in fact is what Eagleton thinks of Foster “…as a commentator on Irish affairs, he tells the British by and large just what they want to hear about the place… "
See also “Ireland’s Freedom Struggle and the Foster School of Falsification” in http://www.counterpunch.org/2006/11/11/ireland-s-freedom-struggle-and-the-foster-school-of-falsification/
Foster cleverly works moments of Ireland's past into narratives of Irish culture on myth, folklore, ghost stories and romance. The result is from a varied interpetation of opinionated and right down funny interlinking essays. In Theme-parks and Histories-Foster writes of the Irish are to remember or commemorate anything. It is worth remembering the upward curve of Irish cultural achievement-referring to W. B. Yeats, Hugh Leonard, Ezra Pound, Cashel Heritage Society and the 2,000-acre Famine Theme Park in Knockfierna Hill west of Limerick. Irish history, the most distinctive achievement for it. His suggestion to form a monument to Amnesia and forget where they put it. As a historian he would be shocked, but as an Irishman he would be attracted to the idea. Foster shows no mercy on his view of manipulating Irish history on political places and Irish poverty and oppression as a commerically packaged heritage park. His exploration of Yeats' authority of the Irish story's fitting moments as the voice of his Ireland countrymen.
Foster leaves teeth-marked criticism of Frank McCourt (Angela's Ashes) and Gerry Adams and their devil may care attittude of taking hostages for fortune. Transcending into the bestsellerdom of Irish childhoods. Simply a technique of marketing where Irish version brag and whimper about the woes of their early years' experience. I find this to be an entertaining reading. In some places a bit wordy, but good telling of Irish culture. You may hate or love it. But, if your interest is in Irish history and literature it's quite essential.
Look for similar items by category