The Story We Carry in Our Bones: Irish History for Americans

By Juilene Osborne-McKnight

Forthy million Americans count themselves as Irish American, but enduring links to their Irish heritage often got lost at Ellis Island.

Professor Juilene Osborne-McKnight, who teaches Irish literature, mythology and diaspora studies at DeSales University wants to help redress that with her new book The Story We Carry in Our Bones: Irish History for Americans.

Unable to find a book that covered every aspect of her own Irish studies background, she decided the thing to do was write it herself. Osborne-McKnight focuses on ancient Ireland, the arrival of Christianity, the success of waves of invaders and the mass migrations that would change Irish history and help shape American history.

Her intent is to broadly tell the story of every Irish Americans’ ancestry for a general reader, and in this she succeeds admirably. Ireland’s history is epic, from its prehistoric sun forts to the transformative Easter Rising. It’s a story that Osborne-McKnight insists we carry in our bones.

Pelican, $28.95

Shane O’Neill, The Grand Disturber of Elizabethan Ireland

By Brian Mallon

The Ireland of the 16th century is as lost to us now as Tara, but the battles that were fought in that turbulent century profoundly shaped the country that Ireland has become.

Ulster, the northern province, was the last to fall to English rule, holding out for decades against each successive military incursion. At the head of that effort in the mid-16th century was Shane O’Neill, an Irish king of the powerful O’Neill dynasty, and a remarkable subject for author Brian Mallon’s new novel Shane O’Neill, The Grand Disturber of Elizabethan Ireland.

Mallon, who grew up in Michigan, is best known as the film and stage actor of Irish descent, but along the way he has also distinguished himself by becoming a scholar of Irish history. This novel is a tribute to his passion for his heritage.

Mallon’s career in the theater is notably reflected in the rich character studies offered in the book. His O’Neill is a portrait in full, a man whose historic legacy is still unfolding.

In the book Queen Elizabeth I is in the early years of her reign. In her desire to assert her absolute power over Ireland, she denies O’Neill’s claim to succeed his father as Earl of Tyrone, precipitating a chain of events that nearly saw the English driven out of Ireland.

Each of O’Neill’s victories fed his ambitions, until at last he began to envisage himself high king of Ireland. Emboldened by success, he pursued the seemingly endless territorial squabbles among rival clans that ultimately aided the English conquest and plantation project, and Mallon gives us a memorable portrait of how much was irreparably lost in the process.

Red Branch Press, $28.95

The Next Gig

By Frank Kelly

Father Ted is arguably the most beloved Irish comedy series ever filmed, and in it veteran Irish actor Frank Kelly played the irascible Father Jack Hackett, the blasted alcholic resident of Craggy Island.

Kelly had a richly varied career before – and after - his Father Ted days, but the success of that series allowed him a new degree of financial freedom (albeit temporary).

Growing up in post-war Ireland, he took his first steps on the hardscrabble path that would stretch out before him, with rationing and making do the features of his earliest memories.

As he shows us in The Next Gig, his heartfelt memoir of an Irish actor’s life, it was his creativity and his comedy skills that carved out his career path and from the early 1960’s onward, helping to make him a household name.

Along the way he worked alongside actors like Pierce Brosnan and Michael Caine and other banner names of Irish and British film. Kelly also talks about the loneliness that can accompany life on the road for a working actor, with long stints filming or onstage away from all the comforts of home.

To be in London filming Father Ted or Yorkshire filming Emmerdale, when the weeks stretch into months or even years, can be powerfully isolating Kelly writes.

Through it all he maintains an actor’s key awareness that despite all the awards and accolades, a working actor is still always dependent on the next gig. An actor’s life is a glamorous one, but privately it can be a lonely one too.

Dufour, $31.

Huddle up this Christmas with a good Irish book.iStock