Ancient Ireland, by Peter Harbison, photography by Jacqueline O’Brien. Published by Oxford University Press, 1996. $45 hardcover. To order, telephone 800-334-4249.

Although the phrase ‘lavishly illustrated’ is no doubt overused by book reviewers, it seems ideally suited to describe ANCIENT IRELAND, a new pictorial guide to Ireland’s historic places. Written by Peter Harbison and photographed by Jacqueline O’Brien, this 256-page tome covers the period from earliest prehistory to the end of the medieval era.

Featuring more than 300 photographs of everything from Celtic high crosses to Tudor manor houses, Ancient Ireland delves into the Emerald Isle’s intriguing ancient history. Drawing on his extensive knowledge of the period, Harbison provides readers with a solid background for the dozens of sites mentioned in the text. Married with O’Brien’s vibrant, well-captioned photographs, the two combine to form an elegant and informative book.

The text is organized into six chapters covering broad periods of Irish history, (Ireland Before History, The Anglo-Normans, etc.) and each chapter is further broken down into more specific sub-topics (The Stone Age, Gothic Cathedrals and Parish Churches). Harbison begins each of the later chapters with a synopsis of the political scene, a useful way to set the stage for the sites that follow.

The text’s value is enhanced by a well-organized map preceding the text and an alphabetical index following it. An extensive bibliography is included for readers who wish to further explore individual topics.

For those who wish to take a visual tour of Ireland’s historic sites, accompanied by the insightful commentary of an expert on their history, Ancient Ireland will not disappoint. If you can not see it in person, this is the next best thing.

Leigh Ann Berry