Top critical review
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Rewardingly detailed but quite a slog
on 27 November 2005
I chose this book based on the notes on the back cover. The notes imply that the book tells the history by following the story of Hugh Larkin, transported to Australia, and his family left behind in Ireland. Wanting to know more about Irish and Australian history, especially around the time of famine and transportation I thought this would be an interesting way to read about it. However, the Larkin family history takes up, I would estimate, less than 1% of this book. The book fails to give an interesting history of Ireland and Australia through the 19th century, using the Larkin family as a vehicle, so the book did not meet my expectations and did not suit me.
However, if you are looking for a book that will give you a detailed insight into the key political agitators for home rule and land reform in 19th century Ireland, then this is the book for you. Told with lots of interesting personal asides that make the key people feel real, and help you to understand their motivations, two main generations of activists are followed as they are transported to Australia. In time, some return to Ireland, some remain in Australia and many make their way to America. More American history is covered in this book than Australian and if you want a detailed account of the role of the Irish in the civil war and the formation of America then this book will give you insight into some of the key players.
The Great Shame has reinforced my understanding of the motivations for home rule and the struggle to break away from British rule. Additionally it has provided me with some background on ex Irish and American motivations for funding the Irish struggle. The Chicago Triangle and Invincibles are given various mentions in their role as groups responsible for dynamitings, and the general Fenian desire to distance themselves from the actions of these groups. However, the emergence from the IRB of the IRA is mentioned on only a couple of pages.
In conclusion, I've tried to be fair to this book, as it was the cover notes that set up my expectations of the contents, which were not fulfilled. Despite this, I still found the book hard going and was glad to finish it.