The Great Shame: And the Triumph of the Irish in the English-Speaking World

by Thomas Keneally

Ebook, 2010



Call number

DA950 .K46



Anchor (2010), Edition: Reprint, 891 pages


"In the nineteenth century, Ireland lost half of its population to famine, emigration to the United States and Canada, and the forced transportation of convicts to Australia. The forebears of Thomas Keneally, author of Schindler's List, were victims of that tragedy, and in The Great Shame Keneally has written the full story of the Irish diaspora with the narrative grip and flair of a novel. Based on unique research among little-known sources, this book surveys eighty years of Irish history through the eyes of political prisoners - including Keneally's ancestors - who left Ireland in chains and eventually found glory, in one form or another, in Australia and America."--BOOK JACKET.

User reviews

LibraryThing member john257hopper
Although I have tagged this book unfinished in my library, I did not give up on it 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
Show More
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.
Show Less
LibraryThing member jroach19
A very good book about the Young Ireland movement and the fate of its leaders in the 2nd half of the 19th century. The book also provides a detailed background to the Fenian movements and the Land Wars. I found the biographical information about William Brian Smith and Thomas Meagher very
Show More
interesting and informative as well as the account of the voyage of the Catalpa.
Show Less
LibraryThing member TracyK1
An absoulutly fabulous book! I thought that the author did a great job of following different peoples lives from Ireland to Australia and then in some cases on to the USA. Lots of details, which made it very interesting. Definatly for someone who is interested in history!
LibraryThing member mbmackay
This is not Keneally's greatest book - I'm glad I read it, but . . . He tells the story of Irish resistance to British rule during the 19th century through the stories of key individuals who were captured and sent to Australia as convicts. One of the minor players he describes is the ancestor of
Show More
his wife. The problem is that there is too much mind-numbing detail about the activities of the individuals being followed, and not enough background information on the Irish resistance to the British to allow the lay reader to put the events into context. Read March 2011.
Show Less
LibraryThing member ljhliesl
I did not think much of the writing in Schindler's List, which I recently read, and here I found that the style was not due to Keneally being cajoled into writing that book but that it really is his own. He drops the "and" from a series of three when the conjunction would clarify and he uses
Show More
fragments without intention. Not like this. Where they do not add to his point. But detract.

Plus I just finished Governess about miserable C19 people so maybe I should take a break from miserable C19 people before facing more, especially in a voice I don't like.

(He writes -- in the 1990s! -- that in the 1830s the "droit de seigneur" was still in effect in Ireland. I'm sure peasants suffered rape aplenty but I'm surer that this "right" was neither codified nor regularly practiced.)
Show Less
LibraryThing member Bostonseanachie
From the beloved author of Schindler’s List comes a sprawling account of the lives of dozens of Irish men (and some women) who fled or were transported from Ireland to farflung places, including principally the penal colonies of Australia, the United States, Central America, and Continental
Show More
Europe. The story begins with one of Keneally’s own relatives by marriage, a minor figure named Hugh Larkin who is meant to typify the Irish in his relative anonymity, his revolutionary tendencies, his forced family-separating transportation, and his new life abroad (including a new wife and family). Quickly, however, the stories Keneally retells are those of the more famous: John Mitchell, William Smith-Obrien, the poet Esperanza and her son Oscar Wilde, Thomas Meagher, John Boyle O’Reilly, Charles Stewart Parnell and dozens of other familiar names. Keneally is a magnificent juggler; for the most part he manages to keep all the balls in the air as he tells these interwoven stories over the decades from the 1820s into the early 20th century. Certain accounts are riveting; the elaborately plotted escape of six Fenians from the penal colony aboard a New Bedford whaler is a tale of great suspense. Other choices seemed a little odd: a minute-by-minute account of the last hours of John Boyle O’Reilly lacked both tension and interest. This sprawling tome needed an editor. (Indeed, the text was marred by careless grammar errors, such as the use of the phrase court martials instead of courts martial.)

Keneally has made great use of original sources, from which he recites at length, and he is a master at deploying particulars to convey a sense of the whole -- at times, however, one wondered whether continuously referring to one member of the diaspora as "Saint Kevin" from beginning to end was a bit laborious and I wasn't sure I needed to hear about the (sad) end of every single one of his offspring, no matter how tangential to the history.

The title and subtitle were also confusing. While Keneally attempts to explain the use of the word “shame” in an afterword, one does not sense in his retelling either shame concerning the failure to build an Irish state or survivor’s guilt. Indeed, I read more frustration than shame into these stories -- primarily at the unending streak of factionalism and backstabbing that typified every effort to launch a free Ireland in the period. As for “triumph” of the Irish in the English-speaking world, the lives told were indeed in some cases very successful and even redemptive, but as many ended in the gutter dead of alcoholism or its complications. Triumph did not seem like le mot juste for this disparate collection of lives.
Show Less
LibraryThing member threadnsong
I really, really have to give this book five stars. It is densely packed with personal stories, history, background, and so many different continents that anything less would not do it justice.

Kenealy turns his brilliance in storytelling and research to his own Irish ancestry, and this is no "Danny
Show More
Boy" warbled in a Boston pub. This is the gritty, realistic shame of the British penal system that sent rebellious Irish off to colonies in Van Diemen's Land (modern Tasmania) regardless of marital status (Keneally's married ancestors never saw one another again) or whether they had a reason for their actions. There were many rebellions and many transports, and the "Great Shame" of the book is manifold: the Irish who were never able to flourish in their own country, the treatment of the Irish by the British government, and the achievements of many of the transported Irish in their new countries.

There were landholders in the burgeoning Tasmanian and Australian Outback posts, including Perth, Civil War leaders (yes, on both sides), a Governor of Montana, and the rise of such movements as the Fenians. And these many stories, continuing with the Young Irelanders, is what makes this book so dense. As Keneally's ancestor lived in Van Diemen's Land, Keneally weaves in the life of other Irish conscripts forced to make a new life in a new land far from their homeland. Then he moves to Australia, prisoner escapes and the details it took to get them smuggled onboard ships, their reception by the Irish in San Francisco, their rise to prominence in New York and New York's politics, and he does not stint in the details. Some of the men were good, and some not so much: one Young Irelander became a Tennessee slaveholder, not seeing the parallels between his oppressing of other humans and his own oppression in Ireland.

I found it necessary to read a chapter at a time; others may be able to read this book at one sitting, and I salute them. It was worth the time and effort, though, that went into this book.
Show Less


Page: 0.1449 seconds