Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Boycott by Colin C.Murphy

Colin C. Murphy's Boycott is one of the first titles to be published by the O'Brien Press under its new Brandon imprint. Officially launched by Frank McGuinness, Boycott is Murphy's first novel and is based on the real historical events and incorporates actual news coverage of the time.
It's the story of two brothers who survive the Famine. Thirty years later it's the Land War and their ideals differ. Captain Charles Boycott is an English Land agent and he is the first to suffer from a new form of revolt.
Beautifully designed with a sepia tinted photograph, this is one of those books that you can't wait to get stuck into.

Opening with a reminder of the shocking words of Sir Charles Trevelyan's that the real evil of the famine was the 'moral evil of the selfish perverse and turbulent character of the [Irish] people', this    from the man responsible for administering relief during the Famine. Each chapter is preceded by a historical record of the time to accurately set the scene. They are fascinating and any history student will recognise the amount of detailed research that Murphy has gone into to bring this novel to fruition,  all adding to its validity and the poignancy of events.
We're in 1848, the Famine. Owen and Thomas's mother has died and her infant son Patrick- the only time they'd ever seen their father cry. We're reminded of the travesties of the Famine, the export of food while the people at home starved. None of this is new but it is still none the less shocking however many times we read it. With the father's death they try to avoid the workhouse.
Running parallel to this is Captain Boycott's story on Achill Island. Tough with his tenants his visiting brother reproaches him, "The thing of it is, Charles, you're not in the army now. And your tenants are hardly the enemy". Living on the western edge of the British Empire his brother further criticises him for his contempt of the people, "The land here  is extremely poor. As are the people who work it. And yet I've seen you treat them with contempt". Drawing the character of Boycott from the view of  his visiting brother Arthur who thinks Charles sees "the world  through narrow eyes that never saw anything but the fulfilment of his own purpose and ambition", Murphy is able to use the brother character as a descriptive narrator.
We are then in Claremorris to the great event of the mass meeting over rent increases, leading into Davitt's Land League and Parnell and the period of the boycott is covered in detail, September to November 1880.

A very interesting historical epilogue with historical references to the use of the word 'boycott' in 1880, explains how the practice of boycotting spread to every county in Ireland which bought within a year a new Land Act granting Irish tenantry and that the Land League "had been the single greatest instigator of agrarian reform in Ireland's history".
A really fascinating book. Even if you are very familiar with this period of Irish history, the personal touch put upon it by the Joyce boys story and the boycott events really bring it truly to life. Anybody who enjoys historical novels will be totally satisfied, but for others it is just a really good read and one that you totally get drawn into and don't want to put down for any reason, all the more poignant for its basis in truth.

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