This book deals with Irish society and history at a turning point. At the beginning of the sixteenth century, Irish society was just had it always had been from time immemorial. It was not a state but a collection of warring states. Even that statement is not quite accurate for there were warring statelets within the warring states. The attempts by the kings of England from the twelfth century onwards to impose law and order had been little more successful than the attempts of various Irish chiefs before them to establish a single kingdom in Ireland. Yet the endeavours of the English kings were not without some improvements. They managed, chiefly in the eastern half of the island, to bring in improvements.
By the end of the 16th century a Government had been established with a system of central administration based on Dublin and local government and administration based on shires or counties under sheriffs. Ireland might have developed into a centrally-managed state with regular parliaments and systems of courts, as the old ways were abandoned and forgotten. Unfortunaately, a civil war broke out in England which became mirrored in Ireland. In Ireland, in addition, the civil disputes between the king and the English Parliament were complicated by religious disputes. Ireland became polarized on sectarian lines. Though a peace of sorts was established after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, the sectarian struggle broke out again, at the end of the century. Both sides sought the help of foreign armies, and the Protestant armies proved victorious. The Catholics paid the inevitable penalty. This might have been confined to the history books, if the Catholics, largely financed from the United States, in the 19th century tried to recover their dominance through political and violent means.