2010: 35. The Great Shame


“For English and Anglo-Irish noblemen, the post of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland was both a challenge and a reward.”

The Great Shame, and the Triumph of the Irish in the English-Speaking World, Thomas Keneally

         I don’t know who in my family first bought this book, but it was kicking around the house, and I grabbed it when we went on our Irish vacation, as part of my “I like to read about where we are when we visit” schtick.  I perhaps got a little bit more than I bargained for, given that the book is 600 narrowly spaced pages (with little teeny wee typeface), but I was absolutely fascinated by the story Keneally tells.*  I’d read his fiction before, but this was my first exposure to his non-fiction writing, and he nicely walks the line between telling a good story, and still satisfying my need to believe that he’d done historical research (see the blog post on the book I’m currently reading for on Eichmann for more along these lines).  My only complaint, and this is pretty petty - is that, perhaps, the book contains too much information.  It’s as if Keneally tells us one story, and then just keeps on going for another hundred years.

          The book, generally, is the story of Irish immigrants in the New World, with a focus on Australia, and, specifically, with convict immigration to Australia.  The focus shifts between the peasant men who was sent for very minor political activity (through the lens of his wife’s great-grandfather, Hugh Larkin), and the famous leaders who were sent for their Fenian ideals.  There is just so much good stuff here - from Thomas Meagher, who was sent as a convict, escaped, became a Civil War general, and ultimately was murdered in Montana, to the extreme suffering of the everyday Irish during the famine.  In fact, as much as I kept thinking, that the dude could use an editor (this really is a book that just goes on and on) I sympathized with the author, because every different section was so interesting - how could he cut any of it out?  A seriously good book, especially if you are either Irish, or in Ireland, or have any interest in Irish or American or Australian history.**

*Plus, the length paid off when we got stuck for the extra week.  If I’d finished it too early, I’d have been stuck with Finnegan’s Wake!  This way, I didn’t run out of book until we were back in Dublin, and I could hit the bookstore.

**Seriously, why haven’t we seen any movies about the exciting escape of the Fenian prisoners from Australia to the U.S.? Russell Crowe, I’m looking at you.

Date/Place Completed: April 2010; Clifden Ireland

Categories:  Non-Fiction

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017