Dead White Male Beyond the Pale

This book is a powerful example of Faulkner's wisdom that the past isn't dead—it isn't even past. Mortar shells falling on Heathrow's runways, even when they fail to detonate, effectively remind us of the Troubles they are designed to remind us of by causing so much trouble. And they recall for us Joyce's Stephen, who saw history as a nightmare from which he was trying to awake. The laser-like focus of Professor Hill's book does not, despite its intense particularity, prevent us from broadly applying its vision as far afield as Sarajevo and Hebron. Nor does the darkness of the period Hill illumines altogether dim to our eyes the ambiguity of our inheritance—political, religious, military, ethnic, etc.—from the British Isles.

Sorley Boy MacDonnell was the leader of a Gaelic family descended from the lords of the Isles whose destiny it was to protect and expand his clan's position in Ulster during the days of Queen Elizabeth. He was a contemporary and rival of Shane O'Neill, the great rebel whose father Con had submitted to Henry VIII in 1542. The MacDonnells supported the pro-French Scots, including Mary, the doomed Queen—we are reminded that 6,000 French troops landed at Leith in 1548—and reinforced their Antrim holdings with redshanks from over the water. But because the Protestant Fad of Argyll was a brother-in-law to Sorley Boy as well as the controller of access to...

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