cover image 1949: A Novel of the Irish Free State

1949: A Novel of the Irish Free State

Morgan Llywelyn, . . Forge, $25.95 (416pp) ISBN 978-0-312-86753-9

During the period covered in Llywelyn's third magisterial novel (after 1916 and 1921) in her Irish Century series, from the island's division into the primarily Catholic Free State and the mostly Protestant Northern Ireland in the early 1920s to the creation of the Irish Republic in 1949, the outside world changes much while Ireland changes painfully little. Avoiding such stock Irish themes as the "curse" of drink and emigration to foreign and unwelcoming shores, the story focuses on the indomitable Ursula Halloran (adopted daughter of rebel Ned Halloran, introduced in 1916), a young woman who first works for the Irish radio service and later the League of Nations. The unwed Ursula discovers how oppressive the new Catholic state can be when she becomes pregnant and must flee the country. Eventually, Ursula must choose between the two men in her life, one an Irish civil servant, the other an English pilot. The melodrama is mitigated by the poignancy of her forever losing the man she truly loves. Moving as well is Ursula's aiding a Jewish man who brought his children to Britain for safety on the eve of WWII and is returning to Nazi Germany, where his wife still resides. Well-realized characters and a vivid history make for richly gratifying reading. (Mar. 3)