Edward Rutherfurd,
The Rebels of Ireland
(Ballantine, 2007)

History, when recorded, may focus on the great heroes, villains and events of a time. But, in truth, history is made up of the daily struggle of countless millions of ordinary people.

As he did in his other novels, Edward Rutherfurd focuses primarily on a group of ordinary families caught up in the struggles of their times. Since his characters are fictional, he is able to have them participate (if sometimes only peripherally) in the most significant of historic events. The technique permits us a glimpse into what it might have been like to live in those times.

Though he is not a historian, it is evident in all his works that he is a thorough researcher.

This novel, The Rebels of Ireland, is the second in his Dublin Saga. For those who have not read The Princes of Ireland, he includes an introduction that gives the background of the first book and identifies the six fictional families whose destinies are detailed in the two novels.

The major thrust of the novel deals with the subjugation of the Irish people and, in particular, the Catholics by England. Though he expresses great sympathy for the suffering of the Catholics, Rutherfurd also gives us the Protestant and planted-English side of the story. A most heart-wrenching segment of the novel deals with the Famine, in which more than a million people died between 1846 and 1849 and led to the outpouring of refugees to the United States and elsewhere. He also tells the little known tale of how Irish Quakers fed the starving, using up their resources and finally giving up in hope that the government would step in and do something.

Though his focus is on nondescript families, Rutherfurd does introduce a fascinating array of historical figures, including Cromwell, various English monarchs and governors, Lady Gregory, Yeats and Maud Gonne, Oscar Wilde and James Joyce, Parnell and other great Irish nationalists.

While it is a lengthy novel, it necessarily telescopes some events into a scant number of pages. For instance, I would have expected more on the Easter Rising and the personalities of that period than Rutherfurd chose to give us. Still, overall, I was once more impressed with his skill in weaving together so much in a readable and enjoyable manner and found it interesting how he demonstrated the important role women played in that event.

Rebels is not a quick read but it is an engrossing one that may set the reader off in search of more information on various depicted events.

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review by
John R. Lindermuth

26 May 2007

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