No blarney

Oxford University Press continues to extend it excellent line of Companion reference books to include the Emerald Island.

In addition to the usual entries on Ireland’s leaders, battles and geographic locations, the book also reflects a more progressive view of historical research. It examines popular Irish sports such as soccer, handball and bull-baiting, and there are entries on money, prostitution, drink, police and schools. An entry on torture notes that it’s “an occasional feature of the Irish legal system since the 13th century,” favoring flogging, the rack and pressing defendants to death by loading weights on their chests.

Those with a serious interest in Ireland will find plenty of information tucked in its 600-plus pages, while browsers may delight in ferreting out interesting trivia. The only area the book lightly skims over is its generous contributions to literature, leaving the entries on writers and playwrights to other Companion volumes.

So whether you want to know more about Dian Cecht, the Celtic god of doctors who cured with magic and herbs, or “Screaming William” O’Brien, the nationalist journalist, this Oxford Companion is bound to have the answer and leave you hungry for more.