The Killing of Major Denis Mahon

Peter Duffy, Author . HarperCollins $25.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-084050-1

In a fading November light in 1847, the most desperate year in Irish history, an Anglo-Irish landlord named Denis Mahon—whose ancestral family demesne in County Roscommon tenanted 12,000 poor and mostly starving people—was shot and killed in a roadside ambush. Mahon was returning from a meeting to discuss funding for a workhouse, meant to provide sustenance to the victims of the potato blight—in return for work. Mahon's death has been a source of controversy ever since. Was it justified? Was Mahon himself committing slow mass murder of his tenants? Duffy (The Bielski Brothers ) mounts an investigation, but more importantly, marshals his storytelling skills to render vividly the harsh realities and the alternately heartbreaking and appalling politics of the Great Famine. To Duffy's credit, his treatment is evenhanded. Yet he does not lose sight of the larger discussion that the blight engendered in Parliament, where powerful factions seized upon the crisis as an opportunity to persuade the Irish to change their ways—particularly, their loyalty to the Catholic Church. Duffy's effort falters some as he renders numbly the lengthy trial of the men accused of Mahon's murder. Now that peace is at hand between England and Ireland, the timing could not be better for this look back at a deadly blight and the failure of a powerful empire to manage the consequences. There is much here for all sides of the debate to learn. (Oct.)

Reviewed on: 07/30/2007
Release date: 10/01/2007
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 368 pages - 978-0-06-084051-8
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