I grew up in the English Home Counties in the 1970s and 1980s, vaguely thinking that Derry and Londonderry may be two different towns. Why people might have good reasons for calling the same town two different names never really occurred. In retrospect this seems utterly baffling – but then something even more obvious never really dawned on me either: that peace in Northern Ireland would not be possible without the involvement of the Irish – rather than just the British – government. Northern Ireland and Ireland were presented as such distinct entities that it was actually rather easy to write the latter out of the equation altogether. That’s upbringing for you. And lack of inquisitiveness, of course. There was a succession of images: balaclavas, petrol bombs, lanky-haired hunger strikers, speeding armoured vehicles, chilly-faced correspondents talking at length to camera about various factions, all known by similar acronyms, UVF, UDA. Something about Orangemen, marches and bowler hats, Gerry Adams having ‘his words voiced by an actor’, the rubble of the Grand Hotel. Above all, relentless propaganda. It was all, frankly, too remote and too difficult. But then it wasn’t only ill-informed youngsters who thought the ‘Irish question’ was insoluble. Ireland Since 1690 is three academics’ attempt in about as brief a form as possible, to place all this in a historical context, tracing a fast track from King Billy to Michael Collins and beyond. Published in 1999, it ends with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 and the pace means that so much of interest is only skimmed: blink and you miss Parnell, ‘shoot-to-kill’ and Bloody Sunday as Ireland moves from Free State to republic and the six counties of the north falter towards something better. One remarkable point among many: during the Easter Rising of 1916 (W.B. Yeats’ ‘terrible beauty’) rebel leaders in Dublin declared a republic, knowing that it would fail and that they would die at the beginning of a process which they hoped might – might – succeed decades hence. In fact, the formal inauguration of the republic came 33 years later. Thanks to this book, the cavalcade of my ignorance on Ireland has slowed to a crawl, interspersed with some dim light of understanding. But I’m not sure an outsider can ever really get it.