The essays in this collection cover several centuries of Irish history and discuss a variety of topics. Yet, as Professor Beckett points out in his preface, they are linked by a crucial central theme; in one way or another the essays all touch on 'those elements of conflict that have played such a large part in Ireland's past and have left a troublesome legacy to the present generation'. The opening essay, his inaugural lecture as the first Professor of Irish History at Queen's University, Belfast, lays the foundation for the rest by discussing in a general way the chief problem facing the Irish historian: the lack of any clear pattern of development into which the conflicts presented in the other essays can be readily placed.
The topics discussed range from the question of Irish-Scottish relations in the seventeenth century to the role played by Edward Carson in the politics of Ulster, and include a previously unpublished essay on 'Swift: the priest in politics'.
'.[He] brings out, with his usual lucidity and detachment, how at all levels and in all periods of modern Irish history, friction of a peculiarly abrasive kind has been almost a law of life.' Times Literary Supplement