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Two four-leaf clovers in the reference field

If you're looking for facts on Ireland, start with these encyclopedias

Luck had nothing to do with it, of course, but at the end of the rainbow, we found two new reference books on Ireland. Although both present alphabetical listings from Abbey to Zozimus, they're aimed at different audiences.

Everything Irish is a convenient compilation of about 900 entries written by professors, curators, journalists, and critics in American and Ireland. They treat their subjects with clear, efficient summaries that are sufficient to start or settle an argument.

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Like most of these entries, the lively description of Michael Collins - once "one of the most wanted men in the British empire" - would help any student starting a research project. A summary of the Irish Constitution provides a handy explanatory list of all the amendments. Various terrorist groups, paramilitary units, police forces, and major events during the Troubles receive individual treatment that doesn't presume an intricate knowledge of these details. Writers from Swift to Bono also make appearances.

Unfortunately, the sprinkling of drab black-and-white photos doesn't add much, but lay readers who want a convenient survey of the Emerald Isle's history, politics, and pop culture will find this an enjoyable volume to have on hand.

At little more than twice the price, The Encyclopedia of Ireland, from Yale University Press, is a magisterial reference book comprised of 5,000 entries spread over 1,200 gorgeously designed pages, enhanced with 700 full-color illustrations and maps. The exhaustive treatment ranges from the most general to the most specific (e.g., from "energy" to "Enya").

Many subjects, like "education" and "cinema," are broken down into separate entries treated by different scholars. While Ruckenstein and O'Malley's book concentrates on specifics - people, places, events, and organizations - editor Brian Lalor makes room to include all that along with a breathtaking range of issues, like "Abortion," "Gerrymandering," and "Pensions."

The print is a bit smaller than I would like, but that was probably necessary to include such exhaustive coverage in one volume, along with all these striking photos, particularly of Irish paintings. The entries themselves stick to the superefficient, information-packed tone of encyclopedia writing, which makes hefting this mammoth volume for a little enjoyment during afternoon tea difficult to imagine. Nevertheless, "The Encyclopedia of Ireland" is an essential work for any reference collection.


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