The Irish Story: Telling Tales and Making it Up in Ireland

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9780140296853: The Irish Story: Telling Tales and Making it Up in Ireland

R.F. Foster's The Irish Story: Telling Tales and Making it Up in Ireland examines how key events in Irish history have been recast and retold to serve a multiplicity of purposes.

In this provocative and extremely funny book Roy Foster demolishes the clichés that surround Ireland's past, examining how key moments have been turned into myths - and, more recently, airbrushed and repackaged for Hollywood and popular culture.

Whether discussing the 'misery tourism' of Famine theme parks, ideas of mystical Celticism, the contested 'Irishness' of Yeats or the sentimentalized childhoods of Angela's Ashes and Gerry Adams's memoir, The Irish Story brilliantly separates the tall tales from the truth.

'Brilliantly scathing ... combative, incisive and immensely enjoyable'
  Fintan O'Toole, Irish Times

'Inspirational ... challenging, illuminating and witty'
  Antonia Fraser, Irish Times Books of the Year

'Very funny ... the Irish story has rarely received so lively and unbiased an unfolding'
  Patricia Craig, Independent

'A complex and supremely intelligent revision of Irish identity'
  Colm Tóibín, Independent Books of the Year

'Blazingly good ... lucid and elegant'
  John Lloyd, Financial Times

R. F. Foster is Carroll Professor of Irish History at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Hertford College, Oxford. His books include Modern Ireland: 1600-1972, Luck and the Irish and W. B. Yeats: A Life.

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Review:

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

Review:

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)

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Foster, R F
Published by Penguin Books Ltd 2002-09-05, London (2002)
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Foster, R F
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