Belfast Confidential

Posted on by Zoe Guttenplan

Henry Hemming has written one of those books that get to the heart of the Northern Ireland Troubles. If I were asked by an outsider, say an English friend, to recommend a work that goes deep into the machinations of the conflict and the shift from violence to political negotiation and at the same time […]

Selkies, Trows & Calvinists

Posted on by Zoe Guttenplan

From St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, a lane once led through fields up to a small patch of grass. In the centre of this green, where formerly stood a stake, there is now a stone slab engraved: ‘in memory of those accused of witchcraft’. Convicted at trials held in the cathedral, the condemned were marched up the lane with hands bound, lashed to the stake and then ‘wyrried’ – that is strangled to death by the public executioner – and burned to ash.

Two Spads on a Train

Posted on by Zoe Guttenplan

There is a tradition of authors setting out to ‘discover’ England and writing books about what they find. Such works were particularly common between the wars. H V Morton published In Search of England in 1927; J B Priestley’s English Journey came out in 1934. Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London (1933) and […]

Ghost of the Kingly Raven

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The history of Britain in the period following the collapse of Roman rule is not for the faint-hearted. Those seeking certainty had better divert their gaze to later times – perhaps to the comforting triumphalism of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’s account of Wessex’s rise to power, populated with figures of reassuring solidity such as Alfred the […]

From Ballymena to Boston

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Agreat export of Ireland in the 19th century was its people. From the 1830s to the 1950s, about eight million individuals permanently left Ireland, most crossing the wide Atlantic. This was one of the great migrations in history and has produced a mass of memoirs, analysis and reflections. Sean Connolly, an expert in the field, […]

Brum’s the Word

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

It takes about fifty minutes to travel by train from Leicester, where I live, to Birmingham. It’s a flat ride and we slide into New Street station having seen nothing but fields and sheds. No big natural features. No stand-out architecture. No monumental structures, unless we are talking Spaghetti Junction, and we aren’t because that’s […]

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