Troubled Geographies: A Spatial History of Religion and Society in Ireland by Ian N. Gregory et al. (review)
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Troubled Geographies: A Spatial History of Religion and Society in Ireland. By Ian N. Gregory, Niall A. Cunningham, C. D. Lloyd, Ian G. Shuttleworth, and Paul S. Ell (Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 2013) 264 pp. $45.00

The 194 maps that populate the pages of Troubled Geographies indicate how the authors blend text and figures to significant effect in the outlining of modern Irish social history. Using Historical Geographic Information Systems (hgis)—specifically, the Irish census data from 1821 to 2001/02—a fresh and revealing narrative unfolds that excellently illustrates how the events dating from the sixteenth century still have resonance in contemporary Irish religious and social life. The distinct character of this book lies in the combination of historical narrative and the mapping of census data, which enables a pronounced spatial approach.

In the introduction, the authors state the major themes of the work as the "ways in which religion, society, and geography have [End Page 441] evolved to shape Ireland over the past two centuries" (1). They achieve their aim through a chronological narrative of the major events of Irish history, which are related to the collection of maps showing membership of religious denominations, population densities, social indicators, and changes in these categories over time. The introduction outlines their conception of spatial history by explaining the methodology and the attention to the interactions of locations and society. The main chapters are structured around distinct phases in Irish history covering the Plantations, the pre-Famine period, the impacts of the Famine, the emerging divisions of the late nineteenth century, the turmoil and change from 1911 to 1926, the partition of Ireland, the rise of Celtic Tiger Ireland, and the social and political troubles in Northern Ireland. The authors are to be commended for their ability to summarize succinctly the primary strands of Irish history from the sixteenth to the early twenty-first century. The accompanying maps assist in this process, providing an anchor of continuity while simultaneously marking change.

The potential for maps as a medium to convey aspects of social and religious development is clearly demonstrated throughout the text. For example, the core theme of the relationship between spatial and social phenomena, with a particular emphasis on religion, is encapsulated by a series of maps that indicate the changes in religious populations from 1911 to 1926 (96—100). During this time, when Ireland gained considerable independence from Britain in the form of the autonomous Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State (subsequently the Republic of Ireland), there was a notable decline in members of the Protestant denominations within the Free State. The maps show how the fall of the Church of Ireland by 35 percent and the Presbyterian by 27 percent was manifest geographically. These patterns and their locations are linked back to the events that were set in motion with the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Plantations, in which large tracts of land were confiscated from the native Irish population and colonized by British settlers. The Plantations’ ongoing influence on the political and religious life of the island is further explored in the later chapters.

The authors provide useful commentary about their methodology, discussing their employment of hgis and some of the caveats involved as well as the opportunities and challenges involved in working with national datasets and combining thematic, spatial, and temporal dimensions, in practical and academic terms. The text contributes to the increasing recognition for, and use of, hgis within history and related disciplines, most notably historical geography but also the spatial humanities in general.1 This demonstration of the use of hgis and the inclusion of spatial elements as an interpretive lens gives Troubled Geographies its lasting value.

A number of relatively minor critical points needs to be mentioned. Because of its scope, the text has to summarize large sections of modern [End Page 442] Irish history. Readers interested in a particular theme or time period would do well to consult this book in conjunction with other ones to allow for a fuller examination of society—space relationships. Moreover, the inclusion of images and even contemporary maps would have provided a richer, more nuanced history. At times, the general narrative...