ISBN 0 9760827 3 X
Mysterious World Press, 2006
Retail price $34.95
Review by Deborah Fisher
This is a beautiful book. In terms of sheer physical attractiveness, I don’t think I’ve ever
been given anything more appealing to review. Although books, in the long run, have to be judged on content, they are certainly
often bought on the strength of their appearance, and this gives Mysterious World: Ireland a head start, especially
when compared with most of the stuff turned out by small publishers in the UK.
First impressions aren't everything, but the interior of the book is as well-produced as the cover -- more
so, in fact. Each page is "illuminated" -- I can't think of a better word -- in keeping with the best traditions of Irish
The concept behind the "Mysterious World" series, of which this volume is the first, is to reproduce in print
(and presumably expand on) the content of the website www.mysteriousworld.com -- an "online guide to exotic travel destinations
around the world". Ireland lends itself well to this treatment, because of the plethora of ancient myths and legends surrounding
the island. Nevertheless, it will be a little disconcerting for those expecting a practical travel guide to find that the
first section deals entirely with these legends, illustrated with charming, old-fashioned colour drawings of mythical figures.
If you like this, you'll probably like:
Hot Footing Around the Emerald Isle
But don't we have enough "normal" travel guides to Ireland already? I think so, and I think there will be
a market for something a little different. For a start, despite its sheer size, which may be off-putting for younger children,
it is in fact the kind of introduction you could read to your kids in order to get them interested. I wish I'd had it available
when I took my two to Ireland a few years ago. (The only time they perked up a bit was when they found a branch of Top Shop
in Limerick.) It is a very different style of travel guide, because the first "part" of the book, which lasts for 217 pages,
is entirely taken up with an overview of Irish mythology.
The rest of the book is more your usual kind of travel guide, though it has its own distinctive style. Part
2 deals with Ireland’s history and culture, and takes us half way through the volume. Only in Part 3 do we get the data
on places to see, eat and stay. This is the section contributed by irrepressible and energetic backpacker Ian Middleton, whose
Hot-Footing it around the Emerald Isle I reviewed a couple of years back. Ian’s style has come on a bit, quality-wise,
but he is still the same jokey, down-to-earth traveller we met in that other book. Here’s a sample from his description
of Carlow Town’s nightlife:
"Traditional Irish music might be hard to find – well, it was for me the night I was there anyway.
When I did see an advert, it turned out to be two blokes with electric guitars and a very bad PA system."
We see the everyday detail of the visitor’s Ireland through Ian’s eyes. And it’s not such
a bad way to travel, ensuring that the reader is simultaneously entertained and informed.
One criticism I feel obliged to make is the lack of a decent index. A non-fiction book with over 700 pages
really needs an index to enable the reader to go quickly to what s/he is looking for. Having said that, the contents pages
in the front of the book are comprehensive and well laid out. Altogether, this is a book I would seriously have thought of
buying if I had been looking for a guidebook to Ireland. Price-wise, it compares favourably with similar books, and it’s
more fun to read.
Review by Deborah Fisher