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O’Flaherty, Liam

Dublin: Wolfhound Press



Plot Summary

The novel begins on Easter Sunday where the 24 year old Bartly Madden is returning to Ireland from work in an English war factory. Although he “looked the type of man that is ideally fitted by nature to be a soldier,” Madden’s desire is to return home to Connemara to wed a farmer’s daughter and start a family. His plans are ruined, however, when after getting drunk in a tavern while waiting for his train, he is robbed and left pennyless. Madden then becomes involved in a different scheme when he stumbles upon the beginning of the Easter Week Rising.

While watching the Irish Volunteers and Citizen Army storm the General Post Office he accidently becomes the protector of the frail Mary Anne Colgan, who he continues to defend as further bloody conflicts break out between the soldiers and insurgents. Despite Madden’s pleas for her to go home, Mrs. Colgan professes her only concern is for her 16 year old son Tommy, who is naively determined to fight with the rebellion. The crowd gathered in front of the General Post Office then fall silent as the poet Patrick Pearse addresses them, and Madden enthralled by the words uttered by Pearse, decides he wants to join the poet in the uprising.

As the calvary lead the attack on the post office, Madden urges forward with Mrs. Colgan close at hand. In the chaos Madden manages to retrieve a rifle from a fall soldier, then falls unconscious. Mrs. Colgan brings Madden back to her house where she cares for him, and upon his awakening she suggests that he go and fight with the men at the post office, her hope that he will watch over her young son. Possessed by the “beauty of the Idea” of insurrection that Pearse inspired, Madden joins a group of rebels including Tommy Colgan and George Stapleton, who are led by Michael Kinsella, a man he comes to deeply admire and respect. Despite all of his prior zealousness, when the time to fight comes, Tommy is overwhelmed by his fear and flees. Stapleton and Kinsella agree that Madden is now a changed man, that the “evil in his nature has come to surface,” and Stapleton warns Madden the time will come when he will have to stand alone.

Despite the insurgents efforts, they lose to the imperial soldiers and Kinsella is killed. Refusing to accept his beloved leader’s death, Madden carries his body to the refuge of a shop where a group of civilians are hiding, including Mrs. Colgan. Madden demands they treat Kinsella, but they inform him the captain is undoubtedly dead and Madden flies into a rage in his grief. Mrs. Colgan inquires about her son and Madden informs her of his abandonment and she refuses to accept the truth. She hurls insults at the man she once called her son’s protector and he eventually demands that her and the rest of the people in the shop leave. Madden emerges in the morning to find the insurgents waving the white flags of surrender, and among them is Tommy Colgan, followed by his mother who is overjoyed that he is alive. Madden is not going down without a fight, however and he draws his pistols at a group of imperial soldiers, killing several of them before being gunned down himself.

Main Characters

  • Bartly Madden

Significant Minor Characters

  • Tommy Colgan

  • Mary Anne Colgan

  • Patrick Pearse

  • George Stapleton

  • Michael Kinsella

Publication History

The novel was first published in 1950 by Victor Gollancz ltd. (London). In the same year it was reprinted by Four Square Books. The first American edition was printed in 1951 by Little, Brown (Boston). It was reprinted in Spanish by Emece (Buenos Aires) in 1952. In the same year the National Institute for the Blind (London) printed an edition for the visually impaired. Both Four Square Books (London) and Landsborough Publications (London) reprinted editions in 1959, with Landsbourough reprinting another edition in 1962. A subsequent edition was reprinted in 1966 by the New English Library (London). Wolfhound Press (Dublin) reprinted editions in 1987, 1988 and 1993. The novel was published in French in 1996 by Joëlle Losfeld (Paris). The final edition, also in French, was printed by Rivages (Paris) in 2004. Novel is currently in print.

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