The Great Shame: And the Triumph of the Irish in the English-Speaking World

The Great Shame: And the Triumph of the Irish in the English-Speaking World

by Thomas Keneally

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Overview

"Thomas Keneally recounts history with the uncanny skill of a great novelist whose only interest is to lay bare the human heart in all its hope and pain. As he was able to do in Schindler's List, he shows us in The Great Shame a people despised and rejected to the point of death, who in the face of all their sorrows manage to keep their souls. This story of oppression, famine, and emigration--a principal chapter in the story of man's inhumanity to man--becomes in Keneally's hands an act of resurrection; Irishmen and Irishwomen of a century and a half ago live once more within the pages of this book."
--Thomas Cahill, author of How the Irish Saved Civilization


In the nineteenth century, Ireland lost half of its population to famine, emigration to the United States and Canada, and the forced transportation of convicts to Australia. The forebears of Thomas Keneally, author of Schindler's List, were victims of that tragedy, and in The Great Shame Keneally has written an astonishing, monumental work that tells the full story of the Irish diaspora with the narrative grip and flair of a great novel. Based on unique research among little-known sources, this masterly book surveys eighty years of Irish history through the eyes of political prisoners--including Keneally's ancestors--who left Ireland in chains and eventually found glory, in one form or another, in Australia and America.

We meet William Smith O'Brien, leader of an uprising at the height of the Irish Famine, who rose from solitary confinement in Australia to become the Mandela of his age; Thomas Francis Meagher, whose escape from Australian captivity led to a glittering American career as an orator, a Union general, and governor of Montana; John Mitchel, who became a Confederate newspaper reporter, gave two of his sons to the Southern cause, was imprisoned with Jefferson Davis--and returned to Ireland to become mayor of Tipperary; and John Boyle O'Reilly, who fled a life sentence in Australia to become one of nineteenth-century America's leading literary lights.

Through the lives of many such men and women--famous and obscure, some heroes and some fools (most a little of both), all of them stubborn, acutely sensitive, and devastatingly charming--we become immersed in the Irish experience and its astonishing history. From Ireland to Canada and the United States to the bush towns of Australia, we are plunged into stories of tragedy, survival, and triumph. All are vividly portrayed in Keneally's spellbinding prose, as he reveals the enormous influence the exiled Irish have had on the English-speaking world.


"A terrible and personal saga, history delivered with a scholar's density of detail but with the individualizing power of a multi-talented novelist."
--William Kennedy

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307764393
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/22/2010
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 768
Sales rank: 312,026
File size: 9 MB

About the Author

Thomas Keneally is one of Australia's leading literary figures. He has won international acclaim for his novels, including Schindler's List, the basis for the Steven Spielberg film and winner of the Booker Prize; and The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith. He lives in Sydney, Australia.

Read an Excerpt

Up to the moment we write, there have been about thirty unfortunate individuals convicted under the Whiteboy Act, and therefore destined to spend the remainder of their lives in a clime far, far distant from their native homes from the land which holds all that is dear to them in the world.
--Galway Free Press,
31 March 1832

For English and Anglo-Irish noblemen, the post of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland was both a challenge and a reward. The Lord Lieutenant was chief executive of Britain's most ungovernable kingdom but also the British monarch's representative, and the centre and apogee of Irish society. In the bright July of 1833, the Lord Lieutenant happened to be a friendly and reckless 73-year-old womaniser named Richard Colley Wellesley, 2nd Earl of Mornington. He had the benefit of being the elder brother of the Duke of Wellington, conqueror of Napoleon and former Tory Prime Minister. For the mass of Irish peasants, it did not matter a great deal who held the post. The known face of their landlord or his agent, how much land they had to live off, how secure was their tenure, and what they could sell their labour for these were the intimate and recurrent concerns of their lives. People of quality though, in towns or on their estates in the west of Ireland, wanted to know about the Lord Lieutenant's movements, levees and recreation. They read, for example, accounts of that summer's Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire) Regatta.

"After the morning sailing races, all the Dublin establishment attended a splendid lunch in a huge marquee pitched in the Commissioner's store yard." Then the Lord Lieutenant and Lord Paget returned to Dublin in separate vehicles, and in Mount Street Paget's horses and vehicle ran into a Dublin urchin. His Lordship reined in the horses to prevent his carriage crushing the child, and footmen carried the bloodied child to Mr Burrowe's, apothecary, Lower Merrion Street. There were hopes for the survival of the little sufferer. The Lord Lieutenant might have enjoyed the opportunity to be of direct effectiveness. He could not have indulged such simple hopes for the health of Ireland as he did for the health of the Mount Street urchin. For in describing the ills of the kingdom of Ireland, commentators of that period rarely knew where to start. In that very same summer of the Lord Lieutenant's encounter with "the incautious child," a peasant cottier and farm labourer from East Galway named Hugh Larkin was waiting in the county gaol in Galway city. He was to be judged for a gesture of discontent against his landlord, and so against the system represented and protected by the Lord Lieutenant, Dublin Castle and the Parliament at Westminster.

Hugh was twenty-four years old, married, blue-eyed, robust, and 5 feet 7 1/2 inches tall. According to his East Galway descendants, he was the intense, lively, likeable son of a widowed mother. Then or later he became hard-drinking, yet his record would not imply he was reckless or utterly headstrong.

Larkin came from a scatter of houses at a crossroads known as Lismany. This name for the landscape in which he had spent his childhood and youth bespoke pre-British ownership. The Irish name was Lios Maine, the fort of Maine, long-ago king of the region called Hy Many. This kingdom was made up of parts of modern Galway, Roscommon and a small slab of modern Tipperary. The Gaelic lords of the region had been dispossessed after the victory of the forces of England's King William III over the Irish at Aughrim, a village north-west of Lismany, in 1691.

During Hugh's childhood people had believed that the old Gaelic system was likely to be reasserted by God in some day of jubilation, but that day now seemed too remote to save him. Hugh's depression in Galway gaol arose chiefly from homesickness for Lismany, his two infant sons, and his wife Esther Tully, whom he had married three years before in the chapel of the Catholic parish of Clontuskert.

That very name, Clontuskert, showed that Hugh's kind of Irish walked the earth with two competing addresses in their heads. For administrative reasons, Dublin Castle had divided the country into Church of Ireland parishes, the smallest local unit, and then into larger baronies, somewhat akin to municipalities. So Larkin's official and English-language address as a member of the United Kingdom was (Church of Ireland) parish of Clontuskert, barony of Longford, County Galway. His emotional and native address, however, was (Catholic) parish of Clontuskert, diocese of Clonfert, Hy Many. Perhaps this double geography the peasants carried in their heads was one of the reasons those in power saw them as sly and duplicitous.

Esther and Hugh, living virtually in the midlands of Ireland, spoke English, the language of government and commerce, when they talked to their landlord or went to market, but courted, sang, praised and mourned in Irish. The courtship of Hugh and Esther had been, if at all characteristic of their society, particularly ardent and poetic, driven by furious longing, observed by an entire rural community which did not countenance fornication, but put a premium on flirtation as an art, and on the extravagant use of the images of desire. Gaelic love verses and songs which have come to us in translation indicate the style of eloquent persuasion Hugh would have been required to use with Esther.

What People are Saying About This

Thomas Cahill

As he was able to do with Schindler's List, Keneally shows us with The Great Shame a people despised and rejected to the point of death, who in the face of all their sorrows manage to keep their souls.

William Kennedy

A terrible and personal saga.

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Great Shame: And the Triumph of the Irish in the English-Speaking World 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
mbmackay on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is not Keneally's greatest book - I'm glad I read it, but . . . He tells the story of Irish resistance to British rule during the 19th century through the stories of key individuals who were captured and sent to Australia as convicts. One of the minor players he describes is the ancestor of his wife. The problem is that there is too much mind-numbing detail about the activities of the individuals being followed, and not enough background information on the Irish resistance to the British to allow the lay reader to put the events into context. Read March 2011.
TracyK1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An absoulutly fabulous book! I thought that the author did a great job of following different peoples lives from Ireland to Australia and then in some cases on to the USA. Lots of details, which made it very interesting. Definatly for someone who is interested in history!
jroach19 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A very good book about the Young Ireland movement and the fate of its leaders in the 2nd half of the 19th century. The book also provides a detailed background to the Fenian movements and the Land Wars. I found the biographical information about William Brian Smith and Thomas Meagher very interesting and informative as well as the account of the voyage of the Catalpa.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
informative and interesting read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago