DUGGAN'S DESTINY by Seamus Martin


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Irish journalist Martin’s first fiction is the tale of the life—and 1847 death—of Daniel O—Connell, “Liberator” of Ireland and lifelong worker for repeal of the union with England. O—Connell’s manservant Duggan kept a journal of the last months of his master’s life, this being the approximate time span also of Martin’s novel. When the story opens, O—Connell has already been struck with the terrible disease called by his Dublin doctors a ’softening of the brain,” making him at first only forgetful but later plunging him into manic periods of almost primal irrationality, fear, nostalgia, infantilism, and incontinence. In flashbacks, Duggan remembers the great days of O—Connell’s rise and phenomenal success as a hero, his rallies at Irish historical sites that would draw upwards of a million people, his imprisonment by the English crown, his emergence and triumphal parade through Dublin. O—Connell’s fame was equally great throughout Europe, and when he embarks on his last journey there—heading for an audience with the Pope—all Paris turns out in tumultuous welcome, none knowing that inside his coach O—Connell is raving like a baby amid the stench of his own waste, and that Duggan, as ever, will faithfully clean and care for him until he’s presentable again. After Paris, however, O—Connell’s recovery is swift, showing promise of a full recovery—until his “doctors” insist on more devastating enemas against the “congestion.” O—Connell’s death in Genoa and the treatment of his body afterward are portrayed in scenes that are extraordinary, vivid, and not for the squeamish. His heart sent on to Rome, his body back to Dublin, an era ends. Duggan, left without employment in an Ireland crazed with starvation, death, and typus, becomes an employee in the poorhouse, tending not the greatest hero of Europe but the dead bodies of the diseased, starved, and poor. Vivid, fine historical fiction, reverent and wrenching, all through the eyes of one who was there.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1999
ISBN: 1-85371-867-X
Page count: 252pp
Publisher: Dufour
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1999