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Across the Bitter Sea

Dillon, Eilis

New York: Simon and Schuster


Across the Bitter Sea

Plot Summary

The novel, a family saga that spans three generations, begins in mid-nineteeth century Moycullen, where landlord Samuel Flaherty proposes to Alice MacDonagh. Although Alice is in love with the rebellious young revolutionary Morgan Connolly, she feels it is in her best interest to marry Samuel; despite his higher social standing, he has close ties to her family. Alice is adamantly against the way the local landlords treat their tenants, who are starving and impoverished, but Samuel is unlike the others in that he refuses to treat his people unfairly.

In the years that follow, Alice and Samuel have three children. Meanwhile, Morgan Connolly is arrested and imprisoned for his collaboration with a rebel group led by O’Donovan Rossa. The years Morgan spends in various prisons in Ireland and England serve to increase his passion for the ideals of the Fenians and his love for Alice. Alice spends this time crusading for the people of Moycullen, who are being unjustly evicted for arrears in rents that are impossible to pay. She and Samuel become actively involved in the Land League. Despite their dedication to the cause, however, not all the tenants of Moycullen can accept that there is such a thing as a goodhearted landlord; eventually, Samuel and his father are both shot by their own people.

When Morgan is at last released from prison, he and Alice rekindle their love affair and are eventually married. They soon have a son, Fergal, who grows up a devout follower of the causes that are so dear to his parents. In 1916, he finds himself at Boland’s Mill, fighting for Ireland’s freedom. Several of the daughters and sons of his half-siblings have become involved in the Rising as well. Morgan, too, has managed to insinuate himself in the chaos; even though he is almost ninety years old, he finds himself unable to keep away from Sackville Street on Easter Monday and winds up spending the bulk of the week with a team of snipers positioned directly across from the GPO. The novel ends when, after having watched the rebels surrender, Morgan is about to make his way back to Moycullen. The fate of his son is never revealed.

Main Characters

  • Samuel Flaherty

  • Alice (MacDonagh) Flaherty

  • Morgan Connolly

Significant Minor Characters

  • Mary MacDonagh

  • George Flaherty

  • James Fahy

  • O’Donovan Rossa

  • Anna Flaherty

  • Fergal Connolly

  • Charles Parnell

Publication History

The novel was first published in hardcover by Simon & Schuster (New York) and in paperback by Coronet Books (London) in 1973. In 1974, it was reprinted by Fawcett Crest Publications. That year, it was also published in hardcover by Hodder & Stoughton Ltd. (London). The book was reprinted in paperback by Coronet books in 1984 and 1987.

The novel is currently out of print.

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