The author understands Ireland and its history.
& quot;Consumed in Freedom's Flame: A Novel of Ireland's Struggle for Freedom, 1916-1921, & quot; by Cathal Liam (St. Padraic Press, $24.)
By ROB STOUT
SPECIAL TO THE VINDICATOR
The Irish have always had more history than they knew what to do with. This fact is at its most obvious in their ongoing attempt to understand the seven-day uprising of April 1916 and the ensuing struggle against the British which ultimately led to the Irish Free State, a civil war and formation of the current Ireland.
If sheer output is any indication, novelists have clearly done the better job at explaining this seminal moment, more so than intellectuals and historians.
Essayist and poet Cathal Liam has entered the ranks of previous Irish fictioneers, such as Morgan Llewelyn and Liam O'Flaherty, by assembling a comprehensive and intelligent piece of historical fiction for the general reader, as well as those who can recite & quot;The Bold Fenian Men & quot; at a moment's notice.
Fictional: He follows five tumultuous years of twists and turns through the eyes of the fictional Aran Roe O'Neill, an associate of the rebellion's very non-fictional leader, Patrick Henry Pearse. As a young farm boy from Galway, O'Neill is easily persuaded to join the Irish Republic Brotherhood and sets out with this band of revolutionaries to wage a guerrilla war that would ultimately bring the British to the peace table.
Liam does not spare the reader any detail of the ensuing violence that occurs after the short-lived uprising. Revolutions are, by nature, a bloody affair and the author would not be true to the historical record if both the injustices visited upon the Irish, and their violent responses, were not chronicled in a balanced manner.
Romance: But it would not be good fiction if, along the way, there was no romance, a hasty departure to America, more romance and a return to Ireland. Liam, using the endless dramatis personae on both sides of the Atlantic, molds the young O'Neill into a mature and resolute figure by novel's end, dedicated to the cause of independence and primed for an obvious sequel to this first installment.
One does not have to read too far into the narrative to realize Liam understands Ireland and her history. Equally important, he understands how to capture an era filled with colorful and tragic men and women. As a result, & quot;Freedom's Flame & quot; is compelling as the events it recounts.
However, with any historical novel of a controversial nature, a tricky balancing act awaits the author between fact and fiction, as well as research and analysis. While Liam reveals his Irish allegiance, he avoids what would normally be considered partisanship with a stronger desire to explain the origins of the uprising through O'Neill. In that spirit, he provides a very readable work that is an impressive attempt to hold essential truths in living memory.