RED BIRD OF IRELAND by Sondra Gordon Langford


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Langford has researched the great Irish Potato Famine of 1845-46 and contrived a stolid horror story to fit. Thirteen-year-old narrator Aderyn Moynihan, the Red Bird of Ireland (for her red hair), is a passive observer with no personality and no individuating traits except a liking to draw. Happenstance and history substitute for motivation. Aderyn has a soulmate and prospective beau in 17-year-old Micheal MacAonghusa, who sculpts in wood. Her mother Kincora is the local healer, knowledgeable about birthings and herbs; her teacher father Colm is the local patriot-firebrand, knowledgeable about Irish culture and British cruelties. His old friend Father Mairtin is the moderating hand. When Colm is falsely accused of setting fire to His Lordship's barns, he flees to America. Gram dies, leaving Aderyn and Kincora alone. The potatoes turn black, killing Aderyn's dog. Micheal, whose marriage-proposal Aderyn has shelved, dies of scurvy. For lack of potatoes, Aderyn, Kincora, and the others must eat the grain intended to pay their rent. Because they don't have the grain rent, His Lordship evicts them--""clearing"" the land by paying their passage on ""coffin ships"" to America. En route to Bantry to embark, they discover the rampant plague. Should they stop to help others--or try to save themselves? ""I can see at least three diseases just in this one spot,"" says Kincora, beginning one of the lectures that speckle the book. Aboard a safe ship, captained by a grateful friend of Colm's, the entire crossing consists of such briefings, Colin delivers still others on the journey's last leg, from Montreal to New York. (His are on discrimination against the Irish in New York.) The terrible reality is dessicated, in sum, by the lifeless fictionalization.

Pub Date: March 10th, 1983
Publisher: Atheneum (Margaret K. McElderry)