Book Review: Irelandopedia by Fatti and John Burke

illustration of several Irish cultural objects

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It’s rare that a book comes along that is both A) intellectually stimulating for adults, and B) entertaining for toddlers. Illustrator Kathi “Fatti” Burke and her father, retired primary school teacher John Burke, have created such a book.

I’ll be honest: When Irelandopedia: A Compendium of Maps, Facts, and Knowledge was first gifted to me several years ago, I didn’t know what to make of it.

For starters, it’s BIG. Much too tall for the average bookshelf. And while it could best be classified as an Irish coffee table book, the book is so damn big you could stick legs on it and use it as a coffee table itself.

Of course, once you open the book, the size is immediately justified. Irelandopedia is a cultural atlas. In its 89 pages, which include a thorough index at the end (I love a good index), the book takes you on a beautifully illustrated journey through Ireland’s 32 counties, with each county receiving a two-page spread.

From landmarks and wildlife to foods and beverages to authors and musicians, Irelandopedia takes everything and everyone you love about Ireland and puts them on the map.

photo showing the inside of the book Irelandopedia
A glimpse inside Irelandopedia (source: fattiburke.com)

For my fellow Irish mythology nerds, this means you’ll get to see where, for example, the famed story The Children of Lir actually takes place (spoiler alert: it’s Lough Derravaragh in County Westmeath). Ditto the Táin Bó Cúailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley), a good chunk of which is set in County Louth.

Now, at the risk of making myself sound like a culturally ignorant buffoon (too late?), I must admit that another aspect of the book that threw me off at first, apart from its size, was its cover—the color scheme, in particular. For the predominant colors you see on the cover are red, white, and blue. The green is an afterthought.

But why, you might be wondering (especially if you are a dense American as I was… am… look, I’m working on it) would a book titled Irelandopedia not have a cover that is resplendent with green? Overflowing with green? Just green everywhere?

It’s almost as if the book’s authors refused to succumb to tropes, refused to translate Ireland’s vast, varied culture into some reductionist, tourist-friendly advertisement. Yes, to be sure, Ireland has rolling green hills. But it also has a LOT more to offer to the world than verdancy. And that’s what Fatti and John Burke put on full display in their massive—and massively informative—book.

(It’s also worth noting that through much of its history, Ireland was represented by the color blue, not green. But I digress…)

photo of inside the book Irelandopedia highlighting Ireland's land animals
The back pages of Irelandopedia feature some awesome two-page spreads, including this one highlighting Ireland’s land animals (source: fattiburke.com)

In closing, I love this book. And my toddler loves this book. And it was seeing my toddler engage with this book, pointing out all the animals—the dolphins, the puffins, the cows, the butterflies—that made me realize just how unique of a work this truly is. Of the 17 books I included on my list of must-read books on Irish culture and history, Irelandopedia is the only one that is fun for the whole family.

I encourage you to get a copy for your family and wrap your arms around it and never let it go… assuming your arms are long enough.

Irish Myths rating: ☘️☘️☘️☘️☘️ (5/5)


Grab your copy of Irelandopedia.

Per the publisher: “Get ready to go on an exciting adventure around Ireland. Unleash your imagination and sense of adventure as you discover Ireland like you’ve never seen it before! Armchair travelers of any age will be totally absorbed by Fatti Burke’s detailed illustrations and her father John’s fabulous facts, which can be discovered on every page.” Learn more…

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