The annals of the four masters

Irish history, kingship and society in the early seventeenth century

Bernadette Cunningham

Paperback €26.95
Catalogue Price: €29.95
ISBN: 978-1-84682-538-5
April 2014. 348pp

'Cunningham’s work is a labour of love that deploys the best resources of professional scholarship and personal enthusiasm … this volume demands sustained and intense concentration, but the effort is more than well repaid. Nevertheless, it is sprinkled with gems throughout that lighten the burden and wonderfully illuminate the point. Cunningham deftly illustrates the passion for history and the writing of histories that flourished throughout Europe at the time of the Reformation … Cunningham uses [many examples] to explain that writing history is never simply about the past but how to accommodate the past to the needs of the present … We can but concur with the confident assertion of the selection panel who awarded the 2011 Irish Historical Research Prize to Bernadette Cunningham for the work under review: in its understanding of the sheer central importance of its subject, this masterly book is unique', Mícheál Mac Craith OFM, Irish Economic and Social History (2013).

‘The acclaimed author of the world of Geoffrey Keating has explored the makings of the Annals of the Four Masters in all its rich dimensions. Everywhere, she highlights the larger significance of events and, in its understanding of the sheer central important of the subject, this masterly book is unique’, Selection Panel for the 2011 Irish Historical Research Prize.

‘These annals trace the history of Ireland from the biblical flood right down to the upheavals of the early 17th century … These annals became recognised as an important element of the cultural capital of the community that valued it’s Gaelic heritage which at the time of their compilation was considered to be in grave danger of extinction through plantations religious persecution and the military defeats suffered by the Gaelic lordships which permitted the advance of English culture and language. In this new study of the annals, Cunningham explores the scholarly context, both Irish and European, that inspired the compilers and the networks of professional expertise and patronage that gave rise to a new renewed interest in the Irish past and indeed, facilitated such scholarship on an ambitious scale … of particular interest to the genealogist and local historian, Cunningham examines the operation of these relationships where the Gaelic learned families shared their scholarship through “schools” and in the absence of a university, these schools were the most advanced centres of higher learning in Ireland. This work will possibly become the standard companion for anyone seeking to fully utilise the annals in their research', Michael Merrigan, Ireland’s Genealogical Gazette (June 2010).

‘This is a fascinating book that helps re-evaluate these seminal texts in modern Irish history, showing that they tell us about the Irish culture from which they emerged', Books Ireland (September 2010).

‘The sheer intellectuality of this book, the overt depth of its learning was itself a pleasure … fascinating and accessible … an exceedingly handsome book’, Joe Horgan, Books Ireland (November 2010).

‘This important book … is a fresh contribution to the study of early-modern intellectual life in Gaelic Ireland and its continental diaspora', Thomas O’Connor, Catholic Historical Review (October 2011).

'This important study not only makes a vital contribution to source criticism and understanding of the interrelationships of extant manuscripts, and the nature of historical learning and collaborative scholarly networks that transcended confessional boundaries to include Protestant scholars, such as James Ussher, Church of Ireland archbishop of Armagh, and Sir James Ware, but equally importantly elucidates the ideological milieu in which the Annals of the Four Masters were compiled between 1626 and 1636', Marie Therese Flanagan, Journal of Ecclesiastical History (April 2012).

The Annals of the Four Masters is one of the most formative books in Irish history. Bernadette Cunningham here provides an exhaustive resumé of the modern research, by herself and others, on the composition, content and context of the work of the Four Masters. This is a book which every library with a serious interest in Ireland will want to have and, though written for an academic audience, it will also prove enlightening for the ordinary reader about the emergence of the very idea of a Catholic Gaelic Ireland, which has dominated the consciousness of the country down to a recent date … This is a scholarly tribute to a set of exceptional scholars. Bernadette Cunningham has provided a valuable and important book, which enables the reader to gain a perspective on the early modern period and its scholars, as well as on its idea of its own past', Peter Costello, Studies (Spring 2012).