Juliet Doubledee's Reviews > 1916: A Novel of the Irish Rebellion

1916 by Morgan Llywelyn
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Dec 13, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: ireland, history
Read from January 18 to 30, 2011

I found this book to be extremely enlightening. The author, Morgan Llywelyn, did a great job of weaving together historical facts and fictious persona...moreI found this book to be extremely enlightening. The author, Morgan Llywelyn, did a great job of weaving together historical facts and fictious personal interactions between a character she created, Ned Halloran, and the leaders of the the Easter Rising of 1916.

Seen through the eyes of this young man in his teens, Llywelyn tries to explain the motivating factors that led a group of scholars and poets to challenge the might of the British Empire in an attempt to gain independence for Ireland.

The book opens with the main character, Ned, aboard a large luxury liner (the Titianic) as he heads to the U.S. from Ireland for his sister's wedding. Booked on as a 2nd class passenger with his parents, Ned becomes aware of the under current of bigotry displayed by the English passengers towards the Irish Catholics aboard. Many of the Irish, like his friend Daniel Duffy, are travelling 3rd class to start a new life. Mid way out, the Titanic hits an iceberg and sinks with both his new friend and parents trapped below.

Grieving his loss, Ned returns to the family farm in Ireland. Lord Inchiquin, an Anglo-Irish land owner his family rents from, offers to pay for his schooling in Dublin. The parish priest decides the best place to send Ned is to St. Edna's, as it will help to rid him of the guilt he feels of surviving the disaster. At this school Ned is taught the value of Irish history, to converse in Gaelic, and to be proud of his Irish heritage. It's here also that he meets the "conspiracy of poets," including Headmaster Padraic Pearse, who will become commander-in-chief during the Rising.

Ned sees Pearse and his fellow conspirators as models for "Irish nationalism", and becomes aware of the various movements that have begun to surface in the fight against the occupying English rule: the Sinn Fein (then standing for non-military rebellion); the socialist John Connolly's Citizen Army; and the Volunteer Corps. While still attending St. Edna's he joins the Fianna (a youth corps founded by Countess Constance Markievicz), and after graduation the Volunteer Corps.

Ned, in addition to worrying about the inevitable battle for a country, is experiencing internal strife as he must choose between prim Anglofile Mary Cosgrave, or a patriotic prostitute Sile Duffy (Daniel's sister).

Meanwhile, as a side note Llywelyn hits on the strong ties between Ireland and U.S., as she tells what is going on in the life of Ned's sister Kathleen. Her husband is a brute, contemptuous of her strong feelings for Ireland, so she has turned to her Catholic upbringing and young Father Paul. Also, she becomes acquainted with members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood in the U.S, after hearing Pearse speak during a fundraiser in New York to raise money for his school.

The last chapters of the book tell how Pearse and his commanders were forced to go against their better judgement; worried if they didn't proceed with their orignial plans they would miss the opportunity to catch the British off guard. Instead, they entered into a lopsided fight with less rebel volunteers than anticipated because of in-flighting between several factions of the resistance, and without the arms promised by the Germans. In the end they faced a battle tested military force willing to demolish an entire section of Dublin in order to repress the uprising and storm the General Post Office the nationalists were using as a headquarters.

For a few unforgettable days though, these brave souls managed to hold out against the might of one of the strongest nations in the world to briefly realize an impossible dream. If ever you visit Dublin I suggest you visit the General Post Office on O'Connell Street where you can still see the bullet holes in the outter walls of the building.

This is the first in a five book series which chronicles the history of this island during the 20th century.
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