The Great Shame: A Story of the Irish in the Old World and the New
by Thomas Keneally
(Hardback; 25.00 IRP / 37.500 USD)
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In the nineteenth century, the Irish population was halved. This book, a remarkable work of non-fiction based on a quest not unlike Thomas Keneally's previous quest for Oskar Schindler, traces the three causes of this depletion: the famine; the emigrations; and the transportations to Australia. Based on unique research among little-used sources, this masterly book covers eighty years of Irish history, told through the intimate lens of political prisoners - some of them ancestors of the Keneally family - who served time as convicts in Australia.
Beginning with Hugh Larkin, a twenty-four year old 'Ribbonman' transported from life in 1833, the book tells of the Ireland these prisoners came from and the Australia they encountered. It brings the reader close to Irish women such as Esther, wife of Larkin, and to the future Lady Wilde, mother of Oscar, friend and collaborator of notable Irish prisoners. But we also encounter the 'Female Factory' and the Irish convict women who married humble protest criminals, and we learn of the often desperate survival methods of 'transportation-widowed' women left in Ireland.
Throughout the nineteenth century, Australian and American organisations participated in the extraordinary escapes or attempted escapes from Australia of some of the world-famous Irish politicals. Amongst these was William Smith O'Brien, nobleman, leader of an uprising at the height of the Irish Famine, who became, from solitary confinement in Van Diemen's Land, the Nelson Mandela of his age. Thomas Francis Meagher's spectacular escape led to a glittering American career as orator, Union general, and tragic Governor of Montana. John Mitchel, Meagher's friend in Van Diemen exile, became a Confederate newspaperman, gave two ofhis sons to the Confederate cause, was imprisoned with Jefferson Davis, but emerged to reinfiltrate Ireland and become Member for Tipperary.
Through many such lives, famous and obscure, we see not only the daily experience of famine sufferers and Irish activists, but also the astonishing history of the Irish diaspora: to the St. Lawrence, to New York, to the high plains of Montana and the bush towns of New South Wales. All of them are vividly present in this epic tale of Australian imprisonment, Irish disaster and New World redemption.
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