New book by Liam Kennedy

unhappy the land

In Unhappy the Land Liam Kennedy poses fundamental questions about the social and political history of Ireland and goes on to challenge cherished notions of a uniquely painful past. Images of victimhood haunt the popular imagination, yet when the Irish historical experience is placed in a European comparative perspective the story appears in a different light. The author’s critical examination of some pivotal moments in Irish history serves to pin down arguments about oppression, victimhood and a fate said to be comparable ‘only to that of the Jews’.

Was the catastrophe of the Great Famine in effect the Irish Holocaust, as is argued in some quarters in Ireland and, rather more passionately, in the other Ireland of Irish-America? Was the Ulster Covenant a battle cry for ethnic conflict and division? Was the Proclamation of the Irish Republic a means of texting terror? And who fears to speak of an Irish War of Independenc, shorn of its heroic assumptions?

Kennedy argues that the privileging of ‘the gun, the drum and the flag’ above social concerns and individual liberties during the revolutionary decade of the early twentieth century gave rise to disastrous consequences for later generations of Irish people. Ireland might be a land fit for heroes, from Cúchulainn to Michael Collins. But it is also worth pondering the warning words of the poet and playwright, Bertolt Brecht: ‘Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes’.


“These fascinating, beautifully written, myth-shattering explorations of some the most contentious episodes in Ireland’s story will excite you and inspire or infuriate depending on your prejudices. Get your friends reading them too and they could start another civil war.” –Ruth Dudley Edwards