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4.4 out of 5 stars11
4.4 out of 5 stars
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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.
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on 5 April 1999
I found this work to be a very interesting and informative narrative of 19th century Irish history. It makes the main characters such as O'Connell, Smith-O'Brien, Mitchel and the others appear as real flesh and blood people and is an enthralling read. My only criticism is that there are a number of factual errors which grate and make me wonder if there are other errors which of which I am unaware. For example, Mallow is situated on the River Blackwater not the Lee (p.24), President J.F Kennedy visited Ireland in June 1963 not 1962 (p.548), and when the Irish Free State was set up, three (not two) counties of Ulster, Monaghan, Donegal and Cavan, became part of the new state (p.635). I can recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about Irish history of the 19th century and I am very grateful to Thomas Keneally for all the work which he has done to bring it so vividly to life.
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on 5 February 2000
This is a well written history of the failure of both the constitutional and revolutionary struggle in Victorian Ireland. It is full of real human characters, and the vivid story carries you along to some unexpected places. These include Ireland, early Australia and civil war America. It has strong echos for modern Ireland and should be read by anybody with an interest in modern Irish History.
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Empires aren't built by armies and navies, but by those who settle in new places, performing the daily tasks that establish a new nation. Keneally reminds us that the Irish Diaspora sent waves of unwilling individuals and families to 'new' lands in North America and Australia. At the onset of the Potato Blight of 1845 Melbourne wasn't a decade old. Ottawa, Canada was still a minor town, a generation from become a nation's capital. The great gold fields of California and Australia were some years away. Transcontinental railroads in Australia and North America, which would employ many Irish workers, were a remote dream. Driven or transported from their failing homes, the Irish had little but work as farm laborers, domestic service or, with luck, establishment as small shopkeepers to look forward to as they fled the Blight.
As a writer of many works of historical fiction, Keneally's endowed with a superior talent for depicting real people in true to life situations. He's fictionalized Australia's Patrick White, television personality Gordon Elliot and Aborigine rebel Jimmy Gouvernor. Who else could successfully portray his own and his wife's grandfathers in fiction and history? In Great Shame he's able to track the movements of Hugh Larkin and other Keneally family members with his engaging writing style. Indeed, in telling a story he is without peer in the English idiom.
The real appeal of this book is not just the story of the Irish, but the quest for justice. The Diaspora was driven by a ruling nation refusing to face the realities of their inaction in the face of all evidence. The exiles, both forced and willing, never lost sight of the dream of an Ireland free from the yoke of a foreign invader. Even through the decades of oppression and continuing agricultural disaster, Irishmen sought freedom and sovereignty. The most telling statement in this book is found in the very last page where Keneally reminds us that the population of Ireland at the establishment of the Free State was just over half of what it had been at the onset of the Blight nearly eighty years before. Anyone feeling weary from the failure to achieve a peaceful settlement to the 'Irish question' must keep this grim statistic in mind. It underlies many of the attitudes held by the Irish in today's politics. Don't buy and read this book because you're Irish; do it to understand how easy it is to overlook injustice and the long term impact on its victims.
All this said, neither Keneally nor we submiting to these pages can ignore the greatest injustice of empire building - the forced displacement or eradication of the idigenous peoples. Kensally has addressed that issue elsewhere and again in his peerless style.
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on 26 September 2013
So refreshing to find a book that counter-acts the propeganda about the Great Hunger. For years they have tried to mascarade genocide as famine. Sure, nature brought the potato blight, but a ruthless establishment orcestrated mass-starvation, deportation, and cruel hardship. It was a 'Great Shame' indeed.
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on 28 November 2003
This book not only outlines many of the great hardships faced by irish people in the 19th century but also tells how these brave people strove to defy the shackles placed on them by their British rulers. I am an avid reader of books on history in general and an Irish republican but I must admit I was largely unaware of the exploits of people like Thomas Francis Meagher however having read this book I find the men who took part in the failed rebellion led truly fascinating lives. People like Meagher, and O'Brien were pioneers of democracy on three continents. On a human level I find most 'British' people know very little about polititcs in Ireland and maybe if they read books like this and realised just what their great empire did to Ireland they might have a little more understanding.
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on 20 January 2014
I am of this stock and we survived and we prospered and we influenced. We are here amongst you and now always will be.
To think that the loss of a culture and the almost obliteration of a nation was seen as Collateral damage.
Sound familiar??
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on 10 April 2014
A very interesting read. I have now moved on to find many other views on this. Who do we blame, the system. to many children. happening now again.
Who would i pass this on to , an older brother in Australia
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on 31 May 2015
I really enjoy Kineally's book and this was no exception. He manages to write history so interestingly!! Coming from an Irish family system which also suffered in the famine, this book was really meaningful.
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VINE VOICEon 16 December 2006
I did not finish this book, but not because it was in any way bad. It is a very detailed account of 19th century Irish history. I was anticipating it containing rather more detail about the potato famine and rather less detail about Irish settlers in the new world and convicts transported to Australia - this is not a criticism, but just not quite what I was after reading, having been prompted to read it after finishing Edward Rutherfurd's Ireland: Awakening.

I may well return to this some day.
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