Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Medieval and Monastic Derry: Sixth Century to 1600

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Medieval and Monastic Derry: Sixth Century to 1600

Article excerpt

Medieval and Monastic Derry: Sixth Century to 1600. By Brian Lacey. (Dublin: Four Courts Press. Distrib. ISBS, Portland, OR. 2013. Pp. x, 166. S45.00. ISBN 978-1-84682-383-1.)

Urban history has become a significant focus for historians over the past several decades, boasting at this point several journals and professional associations all around the globe. Much of what has been written under this rubric has been driven by economic and sociological agendas, sometimes expressed through the biographies of individual cities and sometimes through studies of the nature and consequences of urbanization as a process. Brian Lacey's new book on Medieval and Monastic Derry: Sixth Century to 1600, commissioned in conjunction with the United Kingdom's 2013 City of Culture festivities and launched as part of the 400th-year celebration of Derry's historic city walls, does not overtly engage with this by now substantial body of scholarly literature. However, it does provide a superb overview of what can be known of "one of the oldest more or less continuously documented places in Ireland" (p. vii) in the period leading up to 1600, when Derry began its history as an English-ruled town.

Lacey is one of the most proficient historians writing currently on the north of Ireland in the early Middle Ages. As this is a field that demands a high level of technical expertise, it is impressive that he has been able to produce a book that will be of interest both to specialists and nonspecialists alike. It is short, heavily illustrated with maps and period drawings, and (in all but a few places, where the sheer volume of names gets a bit overwhelming) easy to read. The book is chronologically organized, and for the most part consists of Lacey's meticulous reconstructions of the growth and development of the site. Among the biggest surprises for readers not yet familiar with his more specialized work will be his contention that Colum Cille, or St. Columba, was not, in fact, the primary founder of the monastery as is commonly held in popular tradition. …

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