THE island of Ireland, lying on the edge of the known world for most of recorded history, has long excited the imagination of observers. Ptolemy believed Hibernia to be a land permanently covered by fog and inhabited by man-eating giants. In the 12th century, the Norman-Welsh chronicler Giraldus Cambrensis wrote of a country with islands where people could live forever, and on which no woman could set foot and live. In 1572, the Englishman Edmund Campion, sent as a spy by Elizabeth I, returned from Ireland with a report full of so many oddities that it ultimately cost him his head. In the 19th century, folklorists uncovered a whole new layer of local tradition, custom and legend, which was every bit as extraordinary as the fictions of the early observers.
This book also delves into the extraordinary, chronicling nearly three hundred arcane, and I hope, interesting and amusing facts and brief anecdotes, relating to Ireland and its people. Law and Disorder tracks down the crooks and con-men who have either disgraced or delighted Ireland down through the centuries, and, in so doing, comes across a novel medieval method of settling one's income tax difficulties. City Streets and Countrysides offers a breakneck tour of some of the more obscure aspects of the country's topography. In Saints and Scholars, a look at the idiosyncrasies and achievements of the holy, you will find the connection between Lough Derg and Hell. Eerie Eire tells of the County Down beauty spot which stubbornly defies the laws of gravity. Arms and the Man is all about that favourite Irish occupation, fighting, and recounts the strange saga of the 18th century battle in Italy between the French and Austrians that ended in a stunning Irish victory. Not a lot of people know that... ties up the loose ends, and, amongst other things, recalls the Kerry town that found it quicker to get its post from New York than Dublin.
Most of the material has been mined from local histories, newspapers, guides and the ancient legends of Ireland, gathered over years of casual collecting. The following, however, have proved valuable works of reference and. deserve special mention: Adrian McLoughlin's City of Belfast, and The Streets of Ireland, Peter Somerville Large's Dublin, and Irish Eccentrics, Ida Grehan's Irish Family Names, Julia and Brian O'Shea's Guide to Irish London, Peter Bowler and Jonathon Green's what a Way to Go, Patrick Montague's Saints and Martyrs of Ireland, Adrian McLoughlin's Guide to Historic Dublin, Sean Jennett's The West of Ireland, John Watney's Travelsarpes Ireland, Catlan Younger's Ireland's Civil War, and The Guinness Book of Records. I will leave you with a quote from that legendary wit, Oscar Wilde:
There is only one thing worse than being talked about and that is not being talked about a fate which, for better or worse, will never befall either Ireland or its people.