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  • Ireland in the Renaissance, c. 1540-1660
  • Brendan Kane
Thomas Herron and Michael Potterton , eds. Ireland in the Renaissance, c. 1540-1660. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2007. 384 pp. + 11 color pls. index. illus. map. bibl. $65. ISBN: 978-1-85182-988-0.

Ireland and the Renaissance have not always sat together so easily in the historiography. For much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, scholars claimed that the Renaissance, perceived harbinger of the modern world, had failed to corrupt the shores of the pristine Gael. Whereas England had succumbed to the imperial might of Rome and, later, to the cultural imperialism of Florence and Venice, Ireland remained in an untarnished state of essentialized Irishness. It was an island of saints and scholars: Catholic, indeed, but otherwise untouched by Italian influence.

Recently the trend has been to place Ireland more into the orbit of Continental Europe, and thus to reconsider its place in the Renaissance. This expansive volume is an excellent choice for getting up to speed on the range of current research. Collected here are seventeen essays, the work of scholars both new and established. It is truly an interdisciplinary effort, bringing together historians, archaeologists, and literary scholars. Primarily the articles are drawn from papers given at two conferences, the panels for which were organized by the book's editors, Thomas Herron and Michael Potterton. Some of them still suggest their origins as short presentations; others have been substantially, and fruitfully, expanded. In aggregate, they build a rich picture of Ireland's claim to be taken as a player in the European Renaissance. To make some order out of the number and range of subjects addressed here, the editors have divided the book into three sections: "Voices," "Artefacts," and "New Beginnings." Part 1 ("Voices" ), comprising eight essays, considers textual evidence and is primarily concerned with matters of historiography and religion. Contributors address the perspectives of New English (colonial officials and settlers), Old English (Anglo-Norman), and Gael alike. Included here are the views of English playwrights and colonial administrators, Old English aristocrats and humanists, Gaelic aos dana (the learned classes, or bards) and Catholic intellectuals operating at home and abroad. Renaissance modes of thought and expression were not only alive and well in Ireland, they were deployed by members of all three of the kingdom's main social groups. Part 2 ("Artefacts" ) consists of six studies of art and architecture. Here too effort is made to balance Gaelic, Old English, and New English evidence and set [End Page 1376] it in the context of contemporaneous developments in England and on the Continent. Historians and literary scholars occasionally lament the paucity of textual sources for the study of early modern Ireland. They will be indebted to the archaeologists and art historians whose work collected here on the built environment provides a means to overcome that problem. These essays offer nuanced analyses of the interplay between native architectural tradition and imported innovation. To the editors and press's great credit, the volume is richly illustrated, most notably with eight pages of color plates. Part 3 ("New Beginnings" ) has but two essays, and thus reads as something of an afterthought. This is not to diminish the quality of the essays it contains, for they are fascinating. It is, however, to say that while investigation of "post Renaissance" Ireland in the seventeenth century is an interesting complement to the other fourteen essays, it is a subject that will have to await further research and explication.

This volume will serve as a very useful scholarly resource. The legitimately interdisciplinary quality of the collection makes the footnotes a treasure trove of new sources. Moreover, the editors have done a great service by compiling a comprehensive bibliography of the works cited in the individual essays. The choice of "in" for the title —as opposed to and —is significant. The central point here is that Ireland played a part in what we term the Renaissance. It is a case made convincingly in the aggregate, and we will certainly think differently about the history of Ireland in the period as a result. The question remains, however, whether those who study the Renaissance (as opposed to...


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pp. 1376-1377
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Archived 2009
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