We Get Letters: The Burning of Cork

Dear Mr. Finn,

I have very much enjoyed your “The Burning of Cork” and Neil J. Conway’s “The 1798 Rising in County Mayo” articles in this month’s Ohio Irish American News which I have gratefully been picking up in the O’Malley Center on John Carroll University’s campus.  Both of your styles are highly informative, engaging, and a delight to read.  I’m wondering if you would kindly recommend one or two good histories of Ireland.  By “good histories” I have in mind those that would not only be sympathetic to the Irish and their causes, but also be written for the layman who has a genuine interest in learning and understanding, comprehensive but not to the point of diving into doctoral dissertations, which is not to say that I don’t appreciate well-documented footnotes or endnotes.

I look forward to hearing from you and reading your future columns.

With gratitude,
James McGuire
Akron, OH


First, many thanks for your comments regarding my monthly column.  I always appreciate receiving mail from our readers. Keep reading and letting me know how I am doing.  I do appreciate it!

I’ve CC’d our Editor and Publisher John O’Brien, as he likes to hear from readers of his publication.  I don’t have Mr. Conway’s email address, but I’m certain John can supply that to you.

Now to your request – It’s very hard to hit your specifications exactly for a comprehensive Irish history – there are many available. I can recommend a couple of what I consider to be good choices to get you started.  Its a lot like looking for a comprehensive history of the US Civil War – the perspective of the book often relies on the perspective of the author and where he lives. Often it requires reading several to find the author that best fits what you need.

A good comprehensive history is The Course of Irish History, edited by T. W. Moody and F. X. Martin.  This was originally published in 1967 and currently is on its fifth edition.  It covers Irish history from the beginning up to the current time of the edition.  Each chapter is authored by a different Irish historian.  One thing I like about it is that it also contains a complete historical timeline of events by year. I’m told it was once used as a text book in Irish schools. It doesn’t take a particular political point of view of Irish history, but it tends to state the facts accurately.  Below is a link to the book on  You can also save a few dollars buying a used copy.  I run into them at Half Price Books and any used book outlet on line.

Also, I can recommend How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill.  It is a small book that covers early Irish monastic history, but reflects the Irish contribution to early western civilization.  Also available from or almost any used book seller.

There are many good books covering specific time periods in Irish History.  The Great Hunger by Cecil Woodham Smith is a great book on the history of the great Irish famine. About any book by author Tim Pat Coogan which covers a lot of modern Irish history such as; Michael Collins, Eamon de Valera, the IRA, and events in Northern Ireland.  He is quite comprehensive, but definitely has a republican perspective.

Being the cheapskate that I am, I always search the used book sellers on line and in person, then go to Amazon or Barnes and Noble if I can’t find a used version.  Sadly, books are disappearing (even from libraries) and we need to keep them in circulation – the printed word remains the best source of information. 

I hope this information helps. If you have any questions, please let me know.  Always glad to provide any guidance.

Thanks, again, for your comments.

All the best,
Mike Finn

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