Thursday, January 21, 2016

Irish Middle Grade Historical Fiction

If you are looking for Irish middle-grade historical fiction, Celia Keenan writes that in her "reckoning, approximately one quarter of all Irish books for children consists of those predominantly of historical interest." Although this may be true, finding them can be a bit difficult. I've searched out a number to get you started.

I found a pot of gold at O'Brien Children's Books. The selections are organized by period, which is helpful as well as inspiring. They illustrate Ireland's long history, significant periods, and events.

The list begins with Irish Prehistory or Celtic mythology. Although mythology is more often associated with literature than history, it easily belongs to both and is an excellent place to begin. The list continues up to the 1969 Troubles.

The major Irish historical topics you are likely to find at your local library, beyond mythology, are the potato famine, immigration, and political unrest and civil war. And, of course, I can't omit the Titanic.

The Hunger

The Great Famine occurred between 1845-1849 when a water mold decimated the potato crops in successive years. A million people died of starvation and disease while a million more immigrated. The population in Ireland is below prefamine levels to this day. Perhaps one of the best known series on this topic is The Children of the Famine by Conlon-McKenna, which includes Under the Hawthorne Tree, Fields of Home, and Wildflower Girl.  

Newberry award winning author Patricia Reilly Giff, wrote a series that begins with Nory Ryan's Song followed by Nory's immigration to America in Maggie's Door, and the story of her friend in Bird Mallon. 

Another book on this topic is The Hunger, by Carol Drinkwater.

Political Unrest and Civil War

No study of Irish History is complete without addressing the division and civil war which has torn the country apart throughout history, and especially in the 20th century. It is impossible to understand the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland today without understanding the past.

The Easter Rising of 1916

Although division and unrest permeate much of Irish history, two periods are a touchstone in the literature: The Easter Rising of 1916 and what is commonly called The Troubles.

The Easter Rising was an attempt at independence from British rule by a small group of Irish. It occurred during WWI when England was busy fighting Germany with the aid of two hundred thousand Irish soldiers. Some of these soldiers fought to prove they supported a United Kingdom, others fought to show the British that Ireland was deserving of home rule--the right to govern themselves with their own parliment.

The insurrection began on Monday of Easter week, April 24th and became know as the Easter Rising of 1916. Outnumbered, the rebellion was quickly supressed and most of the leaders executed. However, the Easter Rising lit fires that smoldered and flared throughout the 20th century.

The Troubles or Northern Ireland Conflict

The Troubles, or Na Triobl√≥id√≠ in Irish, occurred mainly in Northern Ireland from about 1969 to 1998 when the Good Friday Agreement was signed. Some place the actual end of violence into the early 2000s. More than 3,500 were killed in this conflict and the trauma of it persists in the lives of all those affected to this day.

The Titanic Museum in Belfast. The silver sides of the
 building replicate the hull of the ship and the four
 sides represent White Star Lines which built it.
The Titanic

The books writen on the Titanic are legion so you won't have any trouble finding some. What connects the Titanic to Ireland is that it was built in the famous Belfast ship yards and was a titanic feat. 

On that note, I'll leave you to pursue your own pots of gold in Irish history. We've only grazed the surface here. Do you have any Irish historical fiction you'd like to recommend?

Michele Hathaway is a writer and freelance editor. She has an M. A. in Social Anthropology and has worked in libraries in California, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania. She writes stories set in culturally diverse, historical and contemporary periods.

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