Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on The Rebels of Ireland: The Dublin Saga.
For those of you who loved the first volume of Edward Rutherfurd’s Irish saga, The Princes of Ireland, the wait is over. For those of you who have never experienced a Rutherfurd saga before, you are in for a real treat!
Edward Rutherfurd is a master at breathing life into the history, culture and social life of whatever country he has chosen for his subject. His previous books include Sarum, Russka, London and The Forest. The Rebels of Ireland is the second volume in Rutherfurd’s story of Ireland. The first volume followed the destinies of six fictional Irish families: the O’Byrnes (ancestors of the High King of Ireland); the MacGowans (pre-Celtic craftsmen and merchants); the Harolds/Doyles (Viking families of farmers and merchants); the Walshes (Flemish knights settling in Ireland after Strongbow’s Anglo-Norman invasion in the 12th century); and the Tidies (English craftsmen arriving in medieval times). The first book began in 430 A.D. and took us through Viking invasions, political intrigue among the Irish ruling classes, the annexation of Ireland by England, the Wars of the Roses, and the beginnings of the Irish conflict between Protestants and Catholics. The book ends with the burning of Catholic icons in front of Christ Church Cathedral and the attempt to purge Catholicism from Ireland forever.
As the second volume begins, Catholicism is very much alive and well in Ireland, despite all efforts to destroy it by the Protestants. The first few chapters of the novel follow the life and times of Doctor Simeon Pincher, who “knew all about Ireland.” As a fellow of the newly formed Trinity College in Dublin, Pincher comes from Cambridge with a checkered history but a firm set of beliefs:
“The special gift that Doctor Pincher brought to Ireland was his belief that the mere Irish were not only an inferior people, but that God had deliberately marked them out – along with others, too, of course – since the beginning of time, to be cast into eternal hellfire. For Doctor Simeon Pincher was a follower of Calvin.” Pincher’s Calvinism leads him to stir up Protestant-Irish emotion against Catholics on the pulpit of Christ Church Cathedral. His lack of compassion for his Catholic countrymen eventually leads him to die a sad and friendless man, but his legacy of hatred lived on for centuries.
Pincher is just one of hundreds of characters in this action-packed novel. The generations of these families are woven into Rutherfurd’s massive tapestry of events: two young lovers are separated when the girl is forced to marry his older brother; a faithful servant persuades a professor to help his son get into university thereby improving the family’s fortunes; a father rejects his eldest son because he refuses to betray his fellow students at university. Rutherfurd uses these poignant stories to reveal the complicated, amazing story of Ireland – the flight of the aristocracy from Ireland, Cromwell’s cruel suppression of Catholicism in Ireland, the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, Grattan’s Parliament, the risings of Robert Emmet and Daniel O’Connell, the Famine, the huge Irish migration to the New World, and finally, the Irish literary Renaissance. Rutherfurd’s characters interact with real historical figures such as Oliver Cromwell, Jonathan Swift, Charles Parnell, William Yeats and James Joyce as the saga unfolds. The settings vary according to the needs of the story, but Dublin and the ancient estate of Rathconan play central roles in most of the stories. In the end, the estate, which has changed hands many times, returns to its rightful owner.
Rutherfurd’s novel is a testament to his meticulous historical research. Readers are not only entertained and uplifted by the powerful stories in this saga, they are also educated about an important times and places in history.