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Book Review: Between Rocks and Hard Places: discovering Ireland’s northern landscapes

BOOK2 Lyleresized.jpgBetween Rocks and Hard Places: discovering Ireland’s northern landscapes

Geoscientist 21.10 November 2011

The northern part of Ireland, despite being only a portion of a small island, boasts a wide range of rock types and wide variety of fascinating landforms and scenery. Lyle has already written about the north of Ireland in the classic Geology of Europe series. GSNI has updated The Geology of Northern Ireland, and one third of Holland’s 2003 The Irish Landscape – A scenery to celebrate was justifiably devoted to the north of Ireland. Albeit fascinating, do we need another book on the geology of this area?

Between Rocks and Hard Places came as a pleasant surprise, in part because of its size – small ‘coffee-table’ 27cm x 30cm. I had been expecting something that might fit in the glove compartment, so while it might not be useful on a trip, it certainly is worth consulting for planning. The casual reader can open at any page and enjoy the mythology and geology or skim through the marvellous photographs. Most pages have illustrated information boxes labelled “Mythology and Geology” or “Did you know?” with items of applied geology. The book lives up to its dust-jacket hyperbole: “there has been no Earth Science book like this on the island of Ireland”.

The format allows for large, high quality colour photographs, carefully selected to enhance the prose, which is aimed not just at geologists but also at a wider readership. The main areas of the northern landscape (‘northern’ is used in the geographical sense, three extending into the Republic) are reviewed and placed in the context of the plate tectonic evolution of the island, with analogies from present-day plate margins and processes. The chapter on forces that shaped the landscape - especially Tertiary volcanic eruptions and ice ages - provides a delightful precursor to the arrival of humans and their interactions with the landscape. Archaeology and anthropology are viewed from a geological perspective. Settlers started to change the landscape through farming, with the rocks supplying the raw materials for tools and early monuments and dictating their location. Now in the 21st Century the Tellus Project is helping to identify natural resources, but at the same time the environment must be managed and protected.

So sure am I that this delightful and thoroughly enjoyable book will appeal to a wider readership, that I have ordered copies for the friends who have provided hospitality during my many visits to Ireland so that they too can further appreciate their northern landscapes.

Reviewed by Brendan Caulfield
Kew, Surrey

ISBN: 978-0-337-09587-0 (hbk) 120 pp
List price: £16.99