Michael O'Sullivan reviews The Young Rebels by Morgan Llywelyn, O'Brien Press, ISBN 10 0-86278-579-0, €7.95 pbk
SET IN Dublin in 1916 The Young Rebels is aimed at a 10-14 year old readership and brings Morgan Llywelyn's imaginative fiction into the twentieth century with a fresh, readable though sharply realistic account of the events leading up to the Easter Rising as seen from the perspective of John Joe, the 11-year-old narrator.
With a feckless, brutal father and a loving but sickly mother, John Joe is dispatched out of the way to boarding school to be educated as cheaply as possible. This, however, turns out to be no ordinary school but the now legendary Scoil Eanna, or St Enda's in Rathfarnham, run by the brothers Pearse, Padraig and Willie.
In economical and often witty prose Llywelyn describes, in John Joe's own words, the charismatic influence of 'The Ardmhaistir' on the boy and his gradual conversion to the cause of Irish nationalism.
Fact and fiction are combined here convincingly; most of the leaders of the rising appear as characters, and landmark contemporary documents, such as the Proclamation are quoted throughout. The story, though a familiar one, is in parts gripping, and always sad and moving.
Events happen in a grand sweep, taking in the rising itself, the executions, and the eventual closing of St Enda's, and captures well the tense, expectant atmosphere of that tragic time. A sharp sense of poignancy pervades throughout because we know there can be no happy ending, though what shines through is the young narrator's hope in the future and his capacity for love and understanding in the face of intense human suffering.
Morgan Llywelyn writes for a wide audience, and an appreciative one. As one of the finest exponents around today of Irish historical fiction she has done much to popularise Celtic myth and legend among readers of all ages.
The winner of many literary awards, thorough research and a keen eye for detail are characteristic of all her work. The young Rebels is an enjoyable and very welcome addition. We await further episodes.
Connolly Association, c/o RMT, Unity House, 39 Chalton Street, London, NW1 1JD
Copyright © 2006 Michael O'Sullivan