Travel Writer Offers Historical View

February 27, 1991|By Michael R. Driscoll | Michael R. Driscoll,Staff writer

"The Intelligent Traveller's Guide to Historic Ireland," by Annapolis-based military historian, retired Naval Academy professor, and accidental travel writer Philip A. Crowl, was not written for the accidental tourist.

Crowl said his books are for travelers "who have at least an amateur's interest in history. This requires a fairly sophisticated readership, or perhaps educated is a better term. People who like to understand what they're looking at."

A veteran wanderer, Crowl said he didn't set out to become a travel writer.

"I retired 11 years ago, at the age of 65. Partly, it was something to do when I retired. It also gave a focus to my own travels, and then once I did one book, the other two sort of came easily, they sort of followed along logically," he said.

Published by Contemporary Books of Chicago, the book has two companion volumes, "The Intelligent Traveller's Guide to Historic Scotland," and "The Intelligent Traveller's Guide to Historic Britain," defined in this case asEngland and Wales.

"This was a slight misnomer because Britain technically includes Scotland," Crowl acknowledged.

Crowl's book about Ireland, like the other two is, as the author puts it, "about solid achievements, in the literal sense of both words. It is about buildings and artifacts -- dolmens, stone circles, castles, towers, monasteries, stately homes, gardens, metal work, tools, weapons, decorated manuscripts, paintings, books, etc., (and) the political, social, andeconomic conditions under which these sundry objects were created."

A 1942 Ph.d graduate of Johns Hopkins University, Crowl taught at Princeton and Stanford universities as well as the Naval Academy. He is a former head of the history department at the University of Nebraska, and served with the intelligence branch of the U.S. State Department for 10 years.

Crowl is a teacher and published author of bothMaryland and military history. His other books include two volumes of the official U.S. Army history of World War II, and a history of how the Marines developed their amphibious assault doctrines between the world wars.

Each of his travel books has a fully cross-referenced, two-part format that took about three years to prepare, Crowl said.

Part one is a narrative history of each country from prehistorictimes up to World War II. Crowl said the emphasis of this part is "on those places and things that can be visited, those aspects of history, British or Scottish or Irish, that can be illustrated by physicalsites, such as museums, buildings, castles, abbeys, et cetera."

The second half of each book is what the author calls a "gazetteer." This is a listing of practical travel information including directionsand site descriptions, visiting hours, admission prices, and the author's personal evaluations.

Crowl highlights place names in the first half of the book, by putting them in bold print with a page reference for the gazetteer.

"All the sites that I've mentioned in the first half are arranged geographically by region and county with instructions on how to get there," he explained.

The format is geared toward the deliberate pace of the sophisticated visitor who really wants a good look at another country, as opposed to the normally schedule-bound tourist.

The result is a meticulous overview, in three volumes costing about $35 each, of the British Isles that has tremendous value as a reference work for the armchair traveler as well.

Thefirst book, about Britain, was published in 1983, followed by the Scotland book in 1986, and the third this year.

Having stayed fairlyclose to home the last three or four years while writing his guide to Ireland, Crowl has started thinking about travel again.

However,he has no plans to develop any more travel books. "It's too hard work. Christ, I'm 76 years old and it's a lot of work," he said.

Crowl remembered that his "field research" for each book proved to be a great deal of fun, especially where the people were concerned. He said, "People on the whole are very hospitable, and if you get a chance to tell them what you're doing they're even more hospitable. They findit interesting that an American should want to write a guide book inthis much detail."

"I like all three peoples," he said, but "I think I probably like the Scots best of all. It's because, maybe, the Scots in some ways are more like Americans than anybody else. They tend to be more forthright, and less loquacious then the other two people."

Asked to elaborate, he explained, "If you ask a question, the British will answer, but only after making a lot of qualifications. The Irish may not answer at all -- they may go off on some other othertangent. (But) the Scots usually go straight to it. They're nice people, feisty but funny as hell, sort of like New Yorkers."

Crowl recalled his worst experience during the writing of any of the books, was getting stuck in a ditch in Ireland. This was during a rain storm,when he was searching for an ancient ruin with his wife.

A farmercame to his rescue with a tractor, "but flatly refused to take any money. I practically had to force some money into his hand."

"When you travel this intensely," he said, "you have to rely fairly heavilyon the locals. If nothing else, they can tell you where to go. It's easy to get lost, especially in Ireland where the sign posts aren't very good, and especially if you're looking for prehistoric sites or ruined castles."

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