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The Clanking of Chains

MacNamara, Brinsley

County Kerry, Ireland: Anvil Books


The Clanking of Chains

Plot Summary

Michael Dempsey, always somewhat of an outcast in Ballycullen, gains some popularity when he plays the part of Robert Emmet in a local play. However, support for him does not translate into support for his cause, Sinn Fein. He soon realizes that the funds raised by the production will go toward renovating the local town hall into a club for Ballycullen’s elite.

Soon it is rumoured that Orangemen, determined to fight vehemently against Home Rule, have begun arming themselves, and the men of Ballycullen are quick to make plans to defend themselves. Shaun MacDermott arrives from Dublin and gives an impassioned speech, which becomes a catalyst for the marching of the local men as part of the Irish Volunteers. Michael begins to wonder how it is possible that his neighbours can be so resolved to fight against fellow Irishmen but simultaneously so unwilling to fight against the British, who have enslaved Ireland for centuries. He also laments that he cannot be part of the Rising in Dublin because he must remain in Ballycullen in order to provide for his mother and sister. He does not share these feelings with many people, though, since they would be vastly unpopular in Ballycullen; most of the town’s population view the rebellion as a needless tragedy.

Increasingly confused about his political leanings, Michael burns a meticulous rebellion plan that he has been drafting for years. However, he gains some hope when it is decided that a national pledge to resist conscription to the British Army is to be signed right in Ballycullen and a Defence Committee elected to administer the money subscribed to the Anti-Conscription Fund. But Michael’s disillusionment with his own people becomes complete when he objects to the non-democratic nature through which members of the Committee are appointed—only the richest are to have any power or control—and his neighbours falsely accuse him of being a traitor and an informer as a result. The novel ends when, exiled from Ballycullen, Michael is forced to leave Ireland.

Main Characters

  • Michael Dempsey

Significant Minor Characters

  • Mirandolina Conway

  • Thomas Cooney

  • Ambrose Donohoe

  • Kevin Shanagan

  • Marcus Flynn

  • Connor Carberry

  • Seumas McEvoy

  • Shaun MacDermott

Publication History

Brentano’s Publishing (New York) first published the novel in hardcover 1919 under the title The Clanking of Chains: A Story of Sinn Fein. The Maunsel Press (Dublin) reprinted it in hardcover in January, 1920. In 1965, it was published in both hardcover and paperback by Anvil Books (County Kerry), who reprinted it again in hardcover in December 1979. The novel was published again in paperback in October 2007 by Kessinger Publishing (Whitefish, M.T.), who also reprinted it in hardcover in June 2008. The Hard Press (Lenox, Massachusetts) also reprinted it in paperback in 2008. Then, in August 2009, it was reprinted in paperback by General Books. In November 2009, the novel was published by Bibliolife (Charleston, S.C.) in both hardcover and paperback. Novel is currently in print.

* Brinsley MacNamara was the pen name of John Weldon.*

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