The Year of the French

by Thomas Flanagan

Paper Book, 2004




NYRB Classics (2004), Edition: New Ed, 544 pages


In 1798, Irish patriots, committed to freeing their country from England, landed with a company of French troops in County Mayo, in westernmost Ireland. They were supposed to be an advance guard, followed by other French ships with the leader of the rebellion, Wolfe Tone. Briefly they triumphed, raising hopes among the impoverished local peasantry and gathering a group of supporters. But before long the insurgency collapsed in the face of a brutal English counterattack. Very few books succeed in registering the sudden terrible impact of historical events; Thomas Flanagan's is one. Subtly conceived, masterfully paced, with a wide and memorable cast of characters, The Year of the French brings to life peasants and landlords, Protestants and Catholics, along with old and abiding questions of secular and religious commitments, empire, occupation, and rebellion. It is quite simply a great historical novel. Named the most distinguished work of fiction in 1979 by the National Book Critics' Circle.… (more)

Original publication date




159017108X / 9781590171080


(82 ratings; 4)

User reviews

LibraryThing member ablueidol
Story of the attempt by Ireland in 1798 to follow in the footsteps of the successful revolutions of the USA and French. The Catholic and Protestant middle classes united to throw out the English aristocracy and create a republic of legally free citizens.

We follow through the eyes of different
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sections of society- protestant landowners, catholic gentry, English land agents, Irish farmers, landless peasants etc the trigger for the revolt and its tragic course as the revolt is aided by the French.

The weakness of the middle classes, and its reliance on the Irish peasants who want a Celtic Ireland free of all landlords tragically undermine the rebellion with serious consequences. Ireland looses its political independence for an 100 years and its Irish culture. And the failure of the French leaves the way open to the rise of Bonaparte as a key political General looses the ability to counter his rise to power.

Its not a dry historical account or an historical romance. The book uses live action with a range of letters, journals, histories etc to build up the complexity of motives, views of both sides so you the reader are involved as a judge of history to weigh up the whole picture rather then the myths of all sides.

I would recommend it but the different narrative formats require a concentration and can drag in places but if you pursue to the end it comes together in a grand sad ferocious sweep of a maybe moment in history.
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LibraryThing member GeorgeBowling
This is one of the finest historical novels I have read for many years. I was about to write that it tells the story of the Irish uprsisng of 1798, but in fact "telling the story" is precisely what it does not do - at least not in the old-fashioned sense of a story: something with a beginning, a
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middle, and an end, and (usually) clearly defined good guys and bad guys. Instead it teases out the "meaning" of the event by looking at it from different angles. The "point of view" changes every few pages, events beng seen through the eyes of different characters, sometimes in the form of first person accounts written at a later date. Even meaning, or THE meaning, comes to seem a bit too simplistic a term. The events have a different meaning for each character, and the tragedy that emerges has a lot to do with the blindness of even the most well-meaning of them to the outlook of the others. There are few actual villains - and those on whom I would put that description are basically those whose blindness has become pyschotic.

My own view of Irish history, as a Socialist, has always been that Irish nationalism was a cul-de-sac into which the Irish allowed themselves to be led by escewing economic analysis in favour of romanticism. There is much to support that outlook in this novel; and also much to give pause to it.

Oh, and he does bring the period alive. One point the book makes, is that the rising was not an event with a clear end. It lived on in memory and history taking on new forms. But at the same time it was a real event in which real people lived, suffered, triumphed, and died.

I confess it was at times a bit confusing, there were perhaps a few too many different narrations, although contradictingly, I sometimes thought of viewpoints thet we were not being given. When I fot to the end I found a long list of the characters. Had I known it was there I would have found it useful to consult as I read.
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LibraryThing member urhockey22
A remarkable novel. I have not read it since college, but I remember not being able to put it down in spite of its length. I must read it again at some point.
LibraryThing member Doondeck
Beautiful and classic writing. The first of a great trilogy.
LibraryThing member leonie_b
Sadly I am coming to the end of this wonderful novel which has absorbed me for weeks. It is complex and harrowing in its account of a brutal period of Irish history, the rebellion of 1798. I now have a deeper understanding of the Irish rebel songs which so intrigued me when I fell in love with the
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Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem all those years ago. I can't wait to read the other novels of this master writer. With thanks to Melbourne City Library for the loan!
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LibraryThing member charlie68
It was interesting to read this book alongside Mr. McCauley's History of England, Volume 3, recounting King William's invasion of Ireland a hundred years earlier, and realize how a hundred earlier it was Oliver Cromwell and before that Queen Elizabeth, the more things change the more they stay the
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same. The Troubles only ended recently in my lifetime. But this was a good book, told from multiple perspectives to give and in-depth account of this 'French Invasion' of Ireland. It is interesting to look on Google Earth and follow this invasion and how the Irish still honor the French General who made it happen.
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LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
1798. Ireland. It all starts when a school teacher is asked to write a letter to a landlord. Arthur Vincent Broome offers a narrative of the events that followed. Malcolm Elliot writes a memoir. Sean MacKenna shares a diary. Characters from every angle share a voice in the telling. Thus begins a
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long and tumultuous history of Ireland, starting with the Rebellion of 1798. As with any war, the Rebellion is violent tide that sweeps up anyone in its path, be they Protestant, Catholic, Papist, landowner, landless, landlord, farmer, soldier, blacksmith, teacher, poet, peasant, gentry, French, English, Irish, man, woman, or child. Narratives come from all of the above and readers are cautioned to read carefully, to concentrate on the voices. Flanagan puts you into the plot so well that at any given moment you are either on the side of the Protestants or Catholics. Either the French or the English welcomed you into their camps. Year of the French describes war maneuvers as well as personal rifts between families, struggles in marriages and livelihoods.
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