Saturday 8 July 2023

The Irish Story - Alice Curtayne - Cluny Media Reprint Edition

The Irish Story
A Survey of Irish History and Culture
Cluny Media Reprint Edition
Alice Curtayne

ISBN 9781952826122
Previous editions:
Kenedy & Sons (1960)
Clonmore & Reynolds (1962)


A few years ago I fell in love with the works of Alice Curtayne. I first encountered the writings of Alice Curtayne through her book Twenty Tales of Irish Saints, I was captivated by her writing style and her style as a hagiographer. And I started tracking down her other writings. This is not proving an easy task. The first problem is that only 2 of her works were in print at that time. Second many of her books never had North American editions, and that made them hard to find in Canada or even copies that would ship to Canada. Her first book was published in 1929 and her last I believe in 1977. I believe this was the second last volume she published. She wrote histories, most focused on saints. She wrote a few novels. And she wrote extensively for newspapers and magazines. I have also found that she wrote pamphlets for the Catholic Truth Society and other Catholic organizations. Cluny Media has released 5 of her books in reprint editions and one she contributed to, The Irish Way.  Most are available as paperbacks or hardcovers, and to date only one has a digital edition, this Cluny reprint edition released in 2020. At the time there was indication that eBooks editions would be forthcoming but 3 years on they have not materialized. This is the seventh volume I have read from Cluny Media. 

The description of this edition of this book states:

“The Irish Story surveys the history and culture of the Emerald Isle, beginning from the Celtic Sagas and the coming of Christianity to the penal years and the Easter Rising of 1916. In these pages, Curtayne uncovers the roots of the Irish experience, traces its evolution from pagan outpost to the heart of Western civilization, and testifies to its trials and tribulations as an English colony and its struggle for independence. Conscientious and uncompromising, Curtayne focuses on the characters of Ireland: the “Irish story” is drawn from the particular people, the flesh-and-blood men and women, whose faith, fervor, and creativity lent Ireland its shape and its spirit. Originally published in 1960, The Irish Story is an absorbing and rewarding narrative of Ireland from its earliest documented days to the mid-twentieth century, introducing its key people and places and presenting its mythos with heartfelt honesty.”

Before we get to the review of this specific volume I want to restate, that it should be noted that this reprint edition from Cluny is very well done. Unlike many books brought back from the public domain, this volume went through a process of a high quality scan. And a complete re-typesetting. Cluny is dedicated to restoring quality editions of old books, focused on the Catholic Tradition. Their motto is: ‘Promote the tradition. Preserve the Past.’ Which is a very worthy cause. I really appreciate the work of Cluny Media, they are trying to restore Catholic books, bringing them back into print in wonderful physical editions and for a few eBooks. They are excellent editions. I just wish they had eBooks for all volumes.

The chapters in this volume are:

Heroes of the Celts
Ireland Goes Christian
The Art of the Golden Age
The Descent of the Vikings
The Two Archbishops
Norman Conquest and Gaelic Recovery
A Martyr and a Soldier
Another Martyr and Soldier
The Penal Night
O’Connell, Davitt and Parnell
1916
Literature in Twentieth Century Ireland

This was a fascinating read from beginning to end. It begins with the earliest histories and legends and goes right up to the time of writing. It is a history of a nation and a people written in bread strokes, and yet also fine details. It span centuries, but shows what makes us Irish so very Irish. It covers from the year 3000 B.C. to 2000 A.D. and yet it is so riveting the reader will come to the ends of the volume and be desperate for more. 

Curtayne writes in a flowing style that is easy to engage with. Readers are drawn in and become captivated by the events, people and places whose stories she tells. She is a master wordsmith and this is an excellent offering. The volume begins with these words:

““Betcha ye didn’t see Queen Scota’s grave.” This used to be piped in mocking tones by the children in my native town of Tralee in county Kerry. To go on a holiday expedition to Gleann Scotin, or Scota’s Glen, was one thing; to stand on the very flagstone underneath which the Queen is buried was another. The glen is only three miles south of the town, but the miles are uphill and the grave lies almost at the top of the rugged place. As children, we considered it a point of honor to salute Scota when visiting the lovely glade.”

And the volume ends with these words:

“Early in its history, the Gaelic League founded An Toireachtas, an annual festival of the Irish language and culture. This had lapsed during the years of strife, but has since been restored as an annual nine-day event, held in October. It includes competitions for original works in verse and prose, music, drama, traditional singing, story-telling and an important art exhibition.

After a slow start, during which people were confused and inhibited by political catch-cries, aftermath of the troubled years, a wave of national effort at cultural reconstruction is now sweeping the country. There is a new clamor for the products of all creative workers, which is evoking response. Every year sees some exciting development—it may be a set of stained glass windows in a church, a book in Irish, or an original play. No one knows to what crest this wave may yet carry us.”

Having read a number of volumes on Matt Talbot over the last few months including Curtayne’s own, The Holy Man of Dublin or the Silence of Matt Talbot
I see much better how he fits in his times and history. And Much of the history I have been taught in school, in the home, and from extended family here in Canada and from the emerald isle I now look at with much different lenses. I have absolutely loved several of Curtayne’s books about saints for young readers. And this volume rounds out the history of the Irish before and after the eras of those great saints. It was a fascinating and vastly entertaining read!

The Cluny edition with its freshly reset type and artistic covers is a pleasing book to hold and read. As with all titles I have read from Cluny or from the pen of Curtayne I am thankful to have given this a read. And very thankful it is back in print. But I will state again with my dual form of dyslexia I really wish this volume and the other by Curtayne were available digitally so I could change the font, and font and page colour to make it more accessible. That being stated, yet again, I can say this is an excellent volume I can easily recommend!

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2023 Catholic Reading Plan

For All reviews of Books from Cluny Media click here.
For All reviews and articles about Alice Curtayne click here.

Books and Booklets by Alice Curtayne:
A Recall to Dante
Francis Ledwidge: A Life of the Poet
Lough Derg: St. Patrick's Purgatory
Patrick Sarsfield
Saint Anthony of Padua
Saint Bernard and His Friend Saint Malachy
Saint Catherine Of Siena A Woman Who Changed The World
St. Bernard Doctor of The Church 1933

Books Edited by Alice Curtayne:
The Complete works of Francis Ledwidge
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Books Translated by Alice Curtayne:
Labours in the Vineyard by Giovanni Papin
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Books Contributed to by Alice Curtayne:
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