Review

The Rebels of Ireland: The Dublin Saga

by Edward Rutherfurd



The history of Ireland is one of literature's favorite themes. No
country lends itself more to tales of mysticism, romance, heraldry,
and fierce battles over land and ideology than this small, rocky
island in the north Atlantic. The first thousand years of its
turbulent history were covered in Edward Rutherfurd's THE PRINCES
OF IRELAND, where he chronicled the mystical and tumultuous saga of
the Irish High Kings, and the craftsmen, farmers and servant
families who served them. 

In THE REBELS OF IRELAND, Rutherfurd continues his sweeping saga,
centered in Dublin and the Wicklow Mountains. The novel picks up
after the ill-fated Irish Revolt of 1534, when British forces
vanquished the ill-equipped Irish. The land grab begins as English
yeomen are brought in to remove and replace Irishmen on the
centuries-old land holds. Cromwell's cataclysmic invasion of minds
and souls in the mid-1600s sets the stage for the religious
conflicts that have shrouded Ireland's past and predestined its
dark future in waves of savage war and tenuous peace, which
continue into modern times.

In REBELS, the heirs to the High Kings and numerous other heirs of
the early characters in PRINCES are followed through the struggles
beginning in 1597 through the early 20th century. Rutherfurd pays
particular attention to the era surrounding the infamous potato
famine in the mid-1800s, resulting in the starvation of more than a
million people and ultimately in the Irish Diaspora, which led
several millions of Irish emigrants to the Continent, America and
Australia.

An overarching theme is the role played in the subjugation by the
British, not only in their attempt to grab Ireland's land, but to
annihilate the Irish Catholics through literal starvation of the
body as well as their minds. So long as they remained Catholic,
they were denied the vote, not allowed schooling past early
elementary school, and could not hold title to lands. Only through
conversion to the Church of Ireland or Presbyterianism would they
be allowed to elevate their position in life. This subjugation
guaranteed that they would never hold more than menial jobs and be
forever under the brutal heel of the aristocracy and British
Ascendancy. The treatment paralleled the American conduct toward
the American Indians and blacks of a similar period.

Rutherfurd's ambitious effort to encapsulate (if that is a proper
description of two weighty novels encompassing over 2,000 years and
nearly as many pages) one of the world's most colorful and
contentious countries succeeds in the same way as his prior novels.
As in SARUM, LONDON and THE FOREST, he uses a generational saga to
focus his historical precision light on one place over many
centuries.

For historical novel buffs, THE REBELS OF IRELAND weaves together
the threads of the complicated tapestry that is Ireland into a more
complete illustration. The complexities of the societal upheavals
are clearly shown through the lives of the well-drawn characters
through the generations. The novel ends with the rise of Sinn Fein
and the Irish Republican Army in the 1920s.

The regrettable conflicts of the mid-20th century and the
remarkable gains of the past two decades continue to fascinate
historians. Perhaps it is too early to commit the modern
history-making events in Ireland to anything but the front pages
and the evening news. Nothing will relegate it to the dustbins of
history, however. Some historian, be it Rutherfurd or another
scribe, will surely look upon these two books as touchstones for
presenting the last century when enough time has passed to see it
in perspective.

Reviewed by Roz Shea on January 23, 2011

The Rebels of Ireland: The Dublin Saga
by Edward Rutherfurd

  • Publication Date: February 28, 2006
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 896 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday
  • ISBN-10: 0385512899
  • ISBN-13: 9780385512893