Ireland's history is a violent one and, as Fulbright Fellow Carol Daugherty Rasnic shows in this book's first chapter, this is not only true for the 20th century but dates back at least to the island's 1169 Norman conquest – and actually, even further, as the Viking invasion of the 8th, 9th and 10th centuries consisted of a series of rather aggressive campaigns as well. The difference, however, was that despite these bloody beginnings the Viking colonists were eventually absorbed into Irish culture and daily life; contributing thereto rather than continuing their attempts at its suppression. Conversely, throughout much of Ireland's subsequent history, suppression was the preferred method of government of both the Normans and their British descendants; who brought in English settlers not to cultivate the island together with their Irish neighbors but to drive those out, thus sowing the seeds of the hatred still plaguing its society today, and no more so than in the six provinces still constituting British-controlled Northern Ireland, after the ill-famed 1920 Partition which eventually brought independence to the island's southern part.
Inseparably linked to nationality was, particularly from the times of Henry VIII on, the issue of religion; the English settlers being Protestants belonging to the Church of England/Ireland, while the vast majority of the Irish hung on to their Catholic faith; thus suffering discrimination not only on the basis of their nationality but also that of their religious beliefs. Tracing the multiple facets of today's division to their historic origins, Professor Rasnic shows how the identification as "Catholic" and "Protestant" has long come to exceed a mere religious denomination, mixing with everything from a person's stance towards the British administration of Northern Ireland to his or her national/ethnic origin, area of residence and social environment; to the point that the religious label is used even by those who have little to no spiritual connection to the church whose faith they claim as their own.
In the eight chapters following the book's initial historic overview, the author takes an in-depth look at the major issues dominating contemporary Northern Ireland life and politics, from ethnic strife and the (particularly: "Orange," i.e. unionist) parades, apt to newly ignite the fires of hatred every summer, to issues of governance, the release of prisoners convicted of terrorist acts, "decommissioning" (i.e., disarmament of the paramilitary groups active on both sides of the conflict), the position of the police and the administration of (criminal) justice, human rights and instances of persisting discrimination, and finally, the sectarianism in the province's schools, threatening to perpetuate the existing divide for a long time to come. Particular emphasis is given to the terms and effects of the so-called Good Friday Agreement, the April 10, 1998 agreement between Northern Ireland's major political parties and the governments of Ireland and Great Britain designed to bring an end to the province's "Troubles."