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This is Mr. McMullen?s second book of Sherlockian fiction and his gift for catching the reality of time and place is undiminished. Since this book is about Irish History, it is a sad book. It tells of the Easter Uprising of 1916 as experienced by Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson at the request of Mycroft Holmes. The characters are mostly historic and are presented much as they were, flawed human beings trying to live up to their own ideals.
My knowledge of 20th Century Irish History is spotty at best, so I cannot speak to the accuracy of Mr. McMullen?s portrayals, but I suspect they are fairly true to life. Many of the participants in this tale died during or within a short time after the events narrated. Most of the prominent survivors died within the next few years, so our knowledge of these times relies mostly on the memories of a very few survivors and on those of friends of the participants. Paper evidence, outside of court records, is in short supply and the courts were mostly English, with little regard for the truth of events in Ireland in the face of the urgency of The Great War.
The History between England and Ireland begins shortly after the Norman Conquest. From the traditional English point of view, Ireland was a land of feuding tribes and pirate raiders. The period of anarchy that followed the death of Brian Boru, who turned back the Vikings and their allies at the Battle of Clontarf, offered all the excuse that the Norman overlords needed to extend their conquest to the island. Unlike England, the Irish were never integrated into the Kingdom. They retained their own language, customs and religious leadership.
When Henry split the English Church from Rome, the Irish remained in communion with Rome. The Church of Ireland made little impact on the Irish. Most members were those whose loyalties were to England such as the descendants of Scottish and English emigrants brought into Ireland as part of Royal policies. The Glorious Revolution of the Seventeenth Century completed the entire subjection of Ireland to English control as Cromwell invaded and devastated Ireland. Revolution festered and generations of Irish patriots carried out an uprising roughly every forty years from the late Eighteenth Century into the Twentieth.
This story is typical of Irish tragedies. Poets, teachers and madmen persuade and trick others into a hopeless revolution and the English act in their chosen character. After the battle is won, they decide to wash out all traces of revolution with blood after being unable to mount any effective prevention. Stupidity, venality and complete misunderstanding of the other side mark the normal course of English-Irish relations.
Obviously, this tale is fiction, but it could have been true. Most of the characters are real and they acted much as described. Holmes and Watson provide us with insights and a point of view of events that echo Greek Tragedies with their view that character is destiny. As I said, this is a sad story, but it is gripping, emotionally involving and impressive.
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