The story of what happened to the Irish political prisoners known as the Young Irelanders and the Fenians, in the 1850s and 60s, is expertly told by Australian writer Thomas Keneally in "The Great Shame." Sticking firmly to documented history, about the only thing Keneally leaves out is the nastier side of Fenianism, with its secret vendettas and occasional underlying brutality. The book also recounts how the Fenian forces tried on three occasions, prior to Confederation, to invade Canada in order to hurt the British in North America. These men had little hope of ever leaving their prison, and were mostly ailing by the time American Fenians had raised the enormous sum needed to buy a ship to go to their rescue. The hair-raising tale of what happened is one of the nineteenth century's best adventure stories, and Keneally relishes the telling of it. I imagine that it was an absolute pleasure for him to write a book like this and I look forward to the day when he finds time to do it again.
The heart of Keneally's book is the stories of two groups of Irish revolutionaries -- the Young Irelanders transported in 1848 and the Fenians transported in 1867. Keneally details their pre-revolutionary lives; their failed activism; their arrests, trials and imprisonments; their journeys to Australia; their lives as convicts; their escapes from Australia; their new lives in countries around the globe; their continuing interest in and work for Ireland's freedom; and their deaths. I found it difficult to keep everyone straight, and while there was much in the book that was interesting, there was far too much that was repetitive because it basically tells the same story over and over: an Irish freedom fighter's rise, capture, transportation to Australia and escape.
As the Irish starved, grains and edible foods grown in their country were shipped to England. The Irish changed the faces of the countries to which they were exported as refugees and criminals. Thomas Keneally's book follows some of these reluctant immigrants and "criminals." Thomas Meagher was sent to Australia, escaped and became a Union general in the American Civil War. Commanding the Irish Brigade, he led his men in many prominent battles including Bull Run, Sharpsburg, Antietam and Fredericksburg. Even today, there are certain foods the Irish prefer not to eat because of its association with the famine.
But, alas, he got terribly bogged down in the irish exile to Australia of the many key political figures during the mid 19th century.
Thomas Michael Keneally, AO (born 7 October 1935) is an Australian novelist, playwright and author of non-fiction. He is best known for writing Schindler's Ark, the Booker Prize-winning novel of 1982, which was inspired by the efforts of Poldek Pfefferberg, a Holocaust survivor. Life and Career: Born in Sydney, Keneally was educated at St Patrick's College, Strathfield, where a writing prize was named after him. Most recently Thomas Keneally featured as a writer in the critically acclaimed Australian drama, Our Sunburnt Country.