Morgan Llywelyn, |
St. Martin's Press, 1999)
Morgan Llywelyn's 1916 is a powerful novel of the events surrounding the Easter Rising in Dublin, Ireland.
The book opens in 1912 as Ned Halloran and his parents travel from Ireland to America to visit Ned's sister, Kathleen. Fate intervenes as they make their voyage on Titanic. Ned survives the disaster; his parents and new friend Dan Breen are lost to the sea.
Kathleen and her fiancˇ, Alexander Campbell, urge Ned to stay in New York but his heart is in Ireland and he returns to the family farm in County Clare, where his older brother and two younger sisters are mourning the loss of their parents.
Meanwhile, Lord Inchpin of nearby Dromoland Castle, to make up for what young Ned has been through, offers him a rare opportunity for a farm lad from County Clare -- further education at a private school in Dublin. The school, St. Enda's, is run by Padraig (Patrick) Pearse, who -- as those familiar with early 20th century Irish history know -- is one of the heroes of the 1916 Rising. This is a fictionalized account of events leading up to that fateful week.
Ned interacts with many historical figures during this time, including the principals of the Irish Rebellion in which he becomes a courier. During this time, too, he runs into Sile (pronounced "Sheila") Breen, Dan's sister, who has run off to Dublin and is now working in the world's oldest profession. The na•ve Ned isn't aware of this at first and is, instead, stunned by her beauty although he is side-tracked by another woman he clearly has a crush on. Important too, is secondary character Henry Mooney, the young journalist from County Limerick whom Ned meets on the train on his way to Dublin.
Even though the reader may already be aware of the events of April and May 1916 in Ireland, the emotions evoked by this novel, become very real -- as if they happened yesterday instead of 85 years ago. Llywelyn portrays the Pearse brothers, Joseph Mary Plunkett, Thomas Clark, James Connolly, Sean MacDermott, Thomas MacDonagh and others in such away as the reader feels the same love for Ireland and has the same desires as they do.
In the sequel to this book, 1921, Llywelyn has one character say to another "History tells what happened; literature tells what it felt like." This is exactly how I feel about 1916. Despite reading history books relating the events, reading this novel has made this very personal. I could feel the pain of these characters, I could feel their fervor and enthusiasm for the cause they believed in, and in the end I could feel the need to keep the memory of these brave people alive as the country fights for home rule and freedom from British oppression.
When you are finished reading this book, and I highly recommend that you do, pick up the sequel 1921, which relates the events of the next six years in Ireland's struggle for independence; although it is Henry Mooney's story, it does feature Ned in a very big way.
There's no better compliment I can give a novel than to say it not only made me think, made me want to read everything I can get my hands on, and wish to visit the historical sites in Ireland including the GPO, Kilmainham Gaol and other locales mentioned in the book. Llywelyn has made this very easy with the maps in front of the book showing the locations of these places. Also helpful is the list of characters, both fictional and historical, in the front of the book. She adds several pages of notes and a selected bibliography at the end. Read this book -- FEEL history.