The Turning Tide is a hymn to a sea passage of world-historical importance. Combining social and cultural history, nature-writing, travelogue and politics, Jon Gower charts a sea which has carried both Vikings and saints, invasion forces and furtive gun-runners, writers, musicians and fishermen.
The divided but interconnected waters of the Irish Sea – from the narrow North Channel through St George's Channel to where the Celtic sea opens out into wide Atlantic – have a turbulent history to match the violence of its storms. Jon Gower is a sympathetic and interested pilot, taking the reader to the great shipyards of Belfast and through the mass exodus of the starving during the Irish Famine in coffin boats bound for America. He follows the migrations of working men and women looking for work in England and tells the tales of more casual travellers: sometimes seasick, often homesick too.
The Irish Sea is also a place with an abundant natural history. The rarest sea bird in Europe visits its coasts in summer while the rarest goose wings in during winter. Jon Gower navigates waters teeming with life, filled with seals and salt-tanged stories and surveyed by seabirds.
At a time when Irish affairs feel like they are building towards an historic crescendo, he tells the story of the people who have crossed these waters, and who live on their shores. Lyrically written and deeply considered, this is a remarkable and far-reaching book.
Jon Gower grew up in Llanelli, Wales and studied English at Cambridge University. A former BBC Wales' Arts and Media correspondent, he has been making documentary programmes for television and radio for over 30 years. He has over thirty books to his name, in both Welsh and English. His last trade book in English, The Story of Wales, with an introduction from Huw Edwards, was published to accompany a landmark BBC series broadcast in 2012. He lives in Cardiff, Wales, with his wife Sarah and two daughters, Elena and Onwy. He is currently a Hay Festival International Fellow.
"Fascinating, spellbinding, erudite and great fun – every page made me want to walk out the door and go look at the Irish Sea."
– Roddy Doyle
"As full of life and vitality as the sea itself."
– Nicholas Crane, author of The Making of the British Landscape
"The Irish Sea has found her bard. This is a dazzle of storytelling, an enthralling trove of history and a joyful work of travel and reportage, singing with the love of the sea. Nobody can tell a tale like Jon Gower."
– Horatio Clare, author of Down to the Sea in Ships
"A beautifully absorbing read encompassing aeons of human and natural histories. What a remarkable, generous, compendious achievement."
– Neil Hegarty, author of The Story of Ireland
"Contagious with delight and fascination. The seeming informality, the twinkle-in-the-eye in the telling, the gentle provocation make it a joy to read. Jon's perhaps brought into a being a new class of book, for it's nothing if not a "Racontography.""
– Cynan Jones, author of Stillicide
"In prose as glittering as the ocean itself, Gower unearths the saints and smugglers, the birds and bards that have inhabited this salty kingdom. In The Turning Tide, the Irish Sea roars with a unique passion and character."
– Mike Parker, author of All the Wide Border
"An elegant, engrossing portrait of the turbulent Irish Sea. Bursting with detailed natural history and stories of conquest, love, tragedy, and poetry alike, and so teeming with life, you can't stop reading."
– Bathsheba Demuth, author of Floating Coast