Conan Kennedy,
Ancient Ireland: The User's Guide
(Morrigan, 1997)

When you're touring a country, what do you like to see? Chances are, if you're in Ireland, you have at least a passing interest in castles, ruins, standing stones and other megalithic sites. If you want to find them easily, a good source is Ancient Ireland: The User's Guide by Conan Kennedy.

It's not a comprehensive manual to the countryside, but it's a good overview, providing enough information to fill several Irish excursions and whet your appetite to learn more.

The first section, Monuments & Artifacts, is the one which drew my attention the most when I picked up a copy in the Library Shop at Trinity College, Dublin. After an introductory portion explaining the differences between various kinds of tombs, rings, forts and circles, the book gives you a county by county breakdown of some of the best sites to visit.

If I had any suggestions for improving this book, it would be to expand this section. More entries would be great and, given the questionable nature of Irish road signs, better directions would be incredibly helpful.

The second section is devoted to Irish mythology. Again, it's by no means an exhaustive coverage of a fairly broad topic, but it provides a nice overview for people who aren't already familiar with the gods, festivals, heroes and druids of Ireland. Kennedy has a conversational style while discussing source material and content of the various mythological cycles, grounding the legends in the facts which are known, or at least strongly suspected, about Irish people and places. Here you'll learn the gist of the most famous Irish stories, love affairs, raids and battles.

The final section, Magic, Ritual & Religion, is made up of more esoteric information, based less on fact and dealing more with beliefs and philosophies. This portion is dominated by an A-Z directory of "strange information" from board games to sacrifice.

There are better, more complete sources on the market for an in-depth examination of Irish mythology and ancient sites, but The User's Guide is a convenient, compact and absorbing introduction to a broad course of study. It's a useful resource to keep handy.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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