Marianne Elliott is director of the Institute of Irish Studies at Liverpool University and author of Catholics of Ulster: a History and Wolfe Tone: Prophet of Irish Independence, which won the Irish Independent/Irish Life prize for biography. Her latest book is Robert Emmet: The Making of a Legend, about the leader of the doomed July 1803 rebellion.
1. The Making of Modern Ireland 1603-1923 by JC Beckett
JC Beckett’s overview is an important milestone in Irish historiography, a lucid combination of factual information and reasoned analysis by one of the recognised giants of modern Irish history. Published in 1966, it is still a mine of information for today’s students.
2. Modern Ireland 1600-1972 by RF Foster
Roy Foster writes like a dream and it is difficult to decide which of his many books I like best. Unusually for a general survey, his Modern Ireland is difficult to put down. It manages the rare feat of combining clear and authoritative analysis, challenging new insights with a sense of humour and a command of the literary as well as the historical sources.
3. Ireland: a Social and Cultural History 1922-1985 by Terence Brown
In this 1981 classic, Terence Brown gets to the very soul of contemporary Ireland, revealing the often bitter relations between the intelligentsia and politicians over the nature of the new Irish state. It was a battle that the intelligentsia ultimately won, but not before generations of Irish people had to endure the humourless and censorious nationalism imposed by an ideologically driven state.
4. The Narrow Ground: Aspects of Ulster 1609-1969 by ATQ Stewart
A brilliant overview of Ulster Protestant identity, published in 1977 when the world was trying to understand the ferocity of Northern Ireland’s troubles. The Narrow Ground is still unsurpassed as an accessible and readable introduction to this little understood subject.
5. Scripture Politics: Ulster Presbyterians and Irish Radicalism in Late 18th Century Ireland by IR McBride
This is an impressive first book by one of the most talented of a new generation of Irish historians. It explains with great clarity how the same distinctive intellectual tradition which can be found in later Ulster loyalism actually spawned early Irish republicanism – a complicated story, rendered accessible by a most readable and fluid writing style.
6. Small Differences: Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants 1815-1922 by Donald Harman Akenson
By the doyen of Irish diaspora history, this is an imaginative and highly readable analysis of the cultural and religious stereotyping which has so often distorted an understanding of Ireland. Akenson’s conclusion, that Irish Catholics and Protestants once out of Ireland behave and think in remarkably similar ways, lies behind the choice of the Freudian subtitle ‘the narcissism of small differences’.
7. Oceans of Consolation: Personal Accounts of Irish Migration to Australia by David Fitzpatrick
A moving and impressively researched series of personal accounts by Irish people of the experience of emigration, telling us as much about the situation in Ireland which prompted their departure as that in the new territory, and all drawn together by a masterly concluding discussion of the common themes in their correspondence.
8. Armed Struggle: the History of the IRA by Richard English
A book whose time has come. At a historic moment when the IRA is redefining itself, a talented and courageous historian takes a non-judgmental approach and succeeds in getting inside the republican mind. This is an impressively fresh and balanced account, written in an accessibly clear style. A modern classic.
9. The Oxford Companion to Irish History by SJ Connolly
The bible of Irish history, providing facts and concise accounts of just about everything you ever wanted to know about Ireland, from the earliest of times to the present.
10. Home Rule: An Irish History 1800-2000 by Alvin Jackson
Forget about the gulf which ostensibly separates the constitutional politicians in Ireland and the men of violence. This wonderful new book demonstrates how the former were always willing to use the latter to gain their aims and how home rule was a way of reconciling Irish nationalism and, since the 1920s, Ulster Unionism to the British connection. All in a lucid narrative style which makes for a compelling read.