From Clery’s Clock to Wanderly Wagon: Irish History You Weren’t Taught in School

By Damian Corless

The Irish Free State muddled by without an official anthem for four years between 1922 to 1926 as the rival songs “Let Erin Remember the Days of Old” and the more recent “The Soldier’s Song” fought it out for supremacy.

At the time they had bigger fish to fry, until it became evident that this sorry state of affairs could not be permitted to continue. In 1926 a question was tabled in the Irish Parliament asking the nation’s leader W.T. Cosgrove to reveal which was its true identity.

No sooner did “The Soldiers Song” win out than it was being attacked Deputy Frank McDermott as a “jaunty little piece of vulgarity” and a “cheap music hall jingle” that was “unworthy” of representing the Irish people as the national song.

Other critics of the period hoped it would eventually be replaced by an anthem as undeniably majestic as the French “Marseillaise,” but it was not to be. In 2015 we are still singing the bluntly militaristic anthem with no sign of a replacement.

These and other interesting aspects of our history never made it into the school curriculum, but journalist and former editor of Magill and In Dublin Damian Corless has assembled a telling collection of moments from our past into his immensely entertaining new selected history book.

Handsomely illustrated and beautifully produced, From Clery’s Clock to Wanderly Wagon misses nothing, including the memory of the publican in Co. Meath who cleared out his premises every night in the 1980s by playing a loop tape of the rosary at a deafening volume.

The newspaper report gave it the following headline: Hail Mary Full of Grace, Drink Your Pint and Leave This Place. The inclusion of that story alone is worth the cover price.

Dufour, $24.

The Celtic Myths, A Guide to the Ancient Gods and Legends

By Miranda Aldhouse-Green

Cu Chuliann will wield his hurley stick through all the ages of man. Having once defended Ulster single-handedly from Queen Medb and her army, it was prophesied that his life would a famous one – but short-lived.

But the thing about myths is that every generation reworks them to suit the times. The main cast remains the same but aspects of their adventures change as the need arises. Being our Hercules, Cu Chuliann has been adopted by both nationalists and unionists.

A bronze sculpture of him stands in the GPO in Dublin to commemorate 1916, but in Belfast he is depicted on a Loyalist mural as a defender of Ulster from Irish attacks. (He is also depicted on murals in Nationalist areas).

Both of these facts show how porous and elusive myths can actually be, and Aldhouse-Green’s book expertly charts the way the Celtic myths have been transmitted through time.

The perfect introduction for the modern reader to the enduring world of Celtic legend, the book is thoughtfully illustrated with the sacred objects, sites and landscapes that helped inspire these tales in the first place.

Thames & Hudson, $24.95.

Ireland’s Best Walks, A Walking Guide

By Helen Fairbairn

Ireland isn’t just a country; it’s really the world in miniature. From secluded valleys to wild mountain ranges, from lush landscapes to rock strewn wilderness, the country’s hidden landscape is best explored on foot.

Picking 61 of the best walking routes in the Ireland, with treks that vary from short strolls to full day excursions, the entire Ireland is featured, north and south.

Each walk in this handily illustrated guidebook includes sketch maps and color photos of what to expect, and each is also prefaced with a quick summary and access notes.

Whether you’re a day-tripper out for a short jaunt or a fearless navigator in search of the most challenging paths, the book wants to introduce you to the best one-day routes in Ireland.

A regular contributor to Walking World Ireland, Fairbairn is a full time travel writer, and her experience writing guidebooks makes this an indispensible volume. Starting her journeys where the road ends is what inspires her, and many of her best selections lie far off the beaten track.

Wild, dramatic scenery is what this book is after, from high peaks to unspoilt coastline, and Ireland still boasts a surfeit of them. Let this book guide your steps.

Dufour, $27.

Short reviews of some great Irish books on the market.Getty Images/iStockphoto