Amidst a collection of texts and artifacts from past Irish generations, historians and fans of history gathered at Boston College’s Burns Library on September 20 to celebrate the launch of “The Cambridge History of Ireland,” the first volumes on the subject of Irish history by the renowned university.
Thomas Bartlett, the general editor of the collection, spoke to just how necessary it was to provide the world with a new abridged history of the island of Ireland.
“I agreed to act as general editor in this series because I had become concerned that the explosion of publications in Irish history over the past 40 years had rendered the subject, in many respects, all but inaccessible,” he said. “A new synthesis drawing on the most recent scholarship was badly needed, one that would pull together the most significant writings on Irish history and provide stimulus to further research.”
He added, “There have been multivolume histories of Ireland before, in the 17th century, 18th century, 19th century, and in the 20th century. This is a history for the 21st century.”
Liz O’Donnell, a Progressive Democrat now retired as an Irish politician, asserted in her keynote speech that history, in addition to keeping a record of events, is about informing a “national psyche. I think every nation needs to have a narrative, and a story that we embrace about ourselves,” she said.
O’Donnell, who played a significant role in the Good Friday Agreement process, spoke about the delicate process of forming a historical record from a variety of different political and social lenses. “The truth is,” she said, “is that there may never be a shared version of what actually happened...so it’s important that historians show us the fullest accounts of the past.
The event concluded with a panel discussion in which O’Donnell and editors of the series discussed, among other topics, the historical implications of Brexit in Ireland. The prospect of a reinstated hard border, which they thought improbable, would have disastrous economic and social implications and would amount to “a breach of the Good Friday Agreement,” said O’Donnell.
“The Cambridge History of Ireland” is available for purchase online at the Cambridge University Press website, as well as at barnesandnoble.com and amazon.com.