Cahir O'Doherty reviews two intriguing books on Ireland's past.

Ireland's Harp, The Shaping of Irish Identity 1770-1880

By Mary Louise O’Donnell


Ireland's Harp, The Shaping of Irish Identity 1770-1880

Ireland's Harp, The Shaping of Irish Identity 1770-1880

Ireland is the only country in the world to pick a musical instrument for its national symbol, and the tale of how and why it did so is greatly worth hearing.

In her meticulously researched and completely absorbing new book, Mary Louise O’Donnell gives us a brief history of the Irish instrument and outlines why it plays such a central place in our national story.

A revolutionary symbol but also symbol of transcendence and grace, the many permutations of Ireland’s harp are thoroughly examined by the author. O’Donnell also discusses how the protection and patronage of the Irish harpers passed on through the centuries from the old aristocratic Gaelic order to the Ascendancy right down to the affluent middle classes in Dublin and Belfast.

Ireland’s Harp helps us to grasp the monumental importance of this otherworldly instrument to our national story by highlighting the central place the harp occupied in the formation and expression of Ireland’s cultural and national identity through the centuries.

Dufour, $54.


Haunted Ireland

By Tarquin Blake

Haunted Ireland

Haunted Ireland

It's the things that are right in front of them that the Irish often miss. When Tarquin Blake, explorer, photographer and historian, first stepped inside an abandoned Big House (the name the Irish give to stately homes) he was hooked.

Outside, people had forgotten these crumbling old houses, but inside that had often been eerily preserved, as though waiting for his camera to reanimate them. So it's perhaps not surprising that in his latest book Blake delves into the world of Irish ghosts, vampires, witches, werewolves, and other spooky apparitions.

Better yet, alongside telling the tales he photographs the locations where the ghost stories actually played out. So Haunted Ireland expertly makes use of both the landscape and local color, the better to craft an unforgettable tale.

From the curse of Castlelyons in Co. Cork to Abhartach the evocatively named vampire dwarf of Co. Derry (yes, this is a story that's actually told in the locality) Blake has you covered.

Who knew about the Coonian Poltergeist in Fermanagh? Or the werewolves of Ossory in Kilkenny and Laois?

Armed with this both charming and pulse quickening book, you'll learn what scares the Irish, and you'll see where these stories first arose.

Dufour, $45.