Third installment—1916 (1998), 1921 (2001)—in Llywelyn’s series about modern Ireland.
Earlier, we met Republicans Ned Halloran and Henry Mooney, who fought (as courier and journalist, respectively) to support the doomed 1916 Easter Rising. Now, in the aftermath of the 1921 Partition that divided Ireland into two states, Halloran and Mooney are bitter men. Mooney is so disillusioned, in fact, that he emigrates to Texas and sets up his own newspaper. But first he pays for the education, in Switzerland, of Halloran’s daughter Ursula and helps her find work in the Irish Civil Service when she graduates. Ursula is every inch her father’s girl—fiercely independent and a Republican to the marrow. She takes a job with the newly formed Radio Éireann and eventually becomes Ireland’s first woman broadcaster. Her position gives her a privileged insight into the complicated relations between world events and Irish politics, and she watches with growing satisfaction as the Irish President Eamon De Valera takes advantage of the turmoil of the 1930s to wrest more and more concessions from the British. Soon, however, Ursula finds herself in a crisis of her own making when she realizes she’s pregnant—and unsure whether the father is the dull Finbar Cassidy or the dashing Lewis Banes. In order to escape the opprobrium faced by unwed mothers, Ursula moves to Geneva and takes a job with the League of Nations. There, she witnesses the inevitable eruption of WWII as she gives birth to her son Barry. She returns home toward the end of the war (or the Emergency, as it was known in neutral Ireland) and raises Barry on her father’s farm in County Clare. The climax comes in 1949, when Ireland (minus Ulster, of course) is proclaimed a fully independent republic.
A captivating story, though Llywelyn’s idealization of the Republican cause can lead her to play fast and loose with some shadier aspects of modern Irish politics.