A Thanksgiving Guest Post from Betty

Today’s post is contributed by Betty, a Pink for All Seasons participant, who felt particularly passionate about the history of Irish uprisings while reading Pink III.  Enjoy, and have a happy Thanksgiving!

The Deception of the Emerald Ring takes place mainly in Ireland of 1803 where Robert Emmett is attempting to lead a rising for Irish freedom with the help of France. It is mentioned that an earlier rising of 1798 was a failure led by Emmett’s brother, Addis Emmett who then fled to France. Lauren writes in her historical note that truth can make a colorful story for fiction. How true! Rereading this book brought to my mind the long struggle for Irish freedom. As an avid reader of historical fiction, I sometimes find myself getting passionately involved in a story to the point that I want to know more, especially about the real life people who created this history. As my heritage is Scots, English, and Irish, I am always intrigued with whatever I discover.

Two years ago, while listening to a CD by my favorite Irish tenors, I was captured by a song entitled, Grace, sung on this CD by Anthony Kearns. I kept replaying it to learn all of the words and then went on an internet search where I found it was written about Grace Gifford who married her fiancé, Joseph Plunkett, four hours before he was executed for his part in the Irish Easter Rising of 1916. This rebellion was listed as the most significant fight for Irish freedom since the failed 1798 rebellion. It was called “a pivotal event in modern Irish history” which lasted for six days beginning Easter Monday, April 24th. The heavily outnumbered and out armed Irish fighters surrendered to prevent so many civilians from being slaughtered. British Gen. John Maxwell, a martial law governor sent to Ireland April 28th to suppress the rebellion, ordered immediate courts martial and executions of the major leaders, 16 of whom were put to death between May 3 and 12, before public outrage put an end to the executions of the rest of the 90 sentenced to death. Joseph Plunkett, one of the 7 signatories of the Proclamation of the Republic, and ill from tuberculosis, was shot on May 4 at the age of 28. He was a poet, an aristocrat, a journalist, and Irish Nationalist. He and Grace Gifford were supposed to be married on Easter Sunday, but the revolution got in the way. After his sentence, Grace petitioned to marry him, found a jeweler as he was closing his shop to purchase a ring, and was married in the chapel in Kilmainham Jail four hours before her husband was executed. She continued to fight for Irish freedom along with her sisters, one of whom was married to another executed leader and had two young children. This story so grabbed me that I wanted to read more. I ordered a book about Joseph Plunkett written as part of The 16 Lives series, Unlikely Rebels, the Gifford Girls and the Fight for Irish Freedom, and Grace Gifford Plunkett and Irish Freedom, Tragic Bride of 1916. I so wish that one day someone will write more of their story. I intend to read the other books in the 16 Lives series one day, to learn more about these brave men who were later considered martyrs and heroes for Irish freedom.

In the modern story of The Deception of the Emerald Ring, Eloise is explaining to her date, Jay (set up by grandma), that she is researching English spies who became involved in the 1803 Irish struggle. Jay questions whether the English involvement bothers her, considering her heritage (Kelly, red hair – love that line), and ends up calling Eloise a moral relativist after she explained, “The English behaved horribly in Ireland, but they had their reasons” (p.181). I got to thinking about those words, ‘moral relativist,’ which simply put (in my mind) was justifying events for the time period without considering the overall question of right and wrong. Was England right to foil the fight for freedom? Did the Irish people deserve to rule themselves, or were they to remain part of England and used as puppets by both England and France? Those of us looking back on history have a unique opportunity to judge it and look at it from our modern perspective. This was a time period when punishments were cruel and human life easily forfeit, with not much sense of value or conscience, albeit man’s inhumanity to man was not anywhere near as awful as that exhibited during the middle ages. Even though Napoleon’s ministry of police and its tortures are mentioned in her books, I applaud Lauren in her use of humor that helps the reader know what is going on without dwelling on the horrors that are sometimes difficult to read about.

Getting back to the 1916 Easter Rising, I guess what appalled me was the quick rush to justice, which in these cases seemed extreme. These men were treated terribly during their brief imprisonment and executed so quickly and sometimes cruelly – one man, James Connelly, had been wounded so badly during the fight that he had to be tied to a chair to be shot, even though a doctor had said he would die within a day or two because of his wounds. Each day their bodies were thrown into a lime pit after execution – relatives were not allowed to claim and bury them. I kept thinking: “This was the 20th century – how could it happen?” But then, we later on had two world wars in which atrocities were committed. Historical fiction can make history come alive and help us ponder this term of moral relativism. Will we ever get to a point in human history where some things can be looked upon as always right or always wrong? I think back to the American Revolution and the men who were brave enough to “pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honors” without guarantee of success, and I wonder how many men and women would be able to do that today. I am curious as to whether anyone else has thoughts on moral relativism. Is there any particular event in history that grabs you?

I know this has been a little bit deep, and certainly don’t want to detract from Lauren’s wonderfully enjoyable books. However, the subject matter did take me down a passionate path. Sometimes something as random as a song or painting (Lauren’s That Summer) can lead to many roads of discovery, as all of Lauren’s books do for me. If you’re interested in the song, Grace, you can google “Grace Anthony Kearns” and hear a beautiful rendition. The chorus is:

Oh, Grace, just hold me in your arms and let this moment linger,

They’ll take me out at dawn and I will die,

With all my love I’ll place this wedding ring upon your finger,

There won’t be time to share our love for we must say goodbye.

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5 thoughts on “A Thanksgiving Guest Post from Betty

  1. Thank you very much, Betty, that was great. I do the same thing when I am intrigued by a character or event in a book or movie. I start with one question and then go down many many paths. This is one reason I love historical fiction so much. I have learned so many things I never dreamt of.

  2. Thank you for the explanation on Grace. I have a CD of Irish tenor Frank Patterson singing this song and it always makes me tear up. Before he sings it he gives a short explanation of the circumstances. I really enjoy historical novels which make me investigate the history behind it. Actually, I already knew about the 1798 and the United Irishmen from several histories I have read of Ireland but I did not remember the story of the 1803 attempt with Emmett. It is a fascinating and tragic story but I do not find Eloise’s attitude strange. She is not writing a dissertation on Irish history and the Irish rebellions of 1798 & 1803. She is writing about the struggle between Great Britain and Revolutionary France, particularly the spies and Ireland in 1803 is just one part of the story just as the Mahratta in India in the Betrayal of the Blood Lily is just one part. England’s strategic position in this struggle would have been gravely compromised if the rebellion had succeeded and France had managed to gain a foothold in Ireland and so the attempts to suppress the rebellion were correspondingly severe. That only explains, of course, and does not excuse, but Eloise is not trying to excuse it, she is only describing how this rebellion was discovered and scotched. There is the old saw, in working for a doctorate the person knows more and more about less and less until finally he knows everything about nothing!

    • Thanks for your comments Helen. I’ve not heard of Frank Patterson, but this song always makes me tear up even though I’ve listened to it at least a hundred times by now. I’ll have to check him out, as I love Irish tenors. I bought the Cd I have mainly because John McDermott was one of the three tenors (along with Anthony Kearns and Ronan Tynan), and he is such a favorite of mine., and has his own very interesting story.

      I agree with your take on Eloise, as she so aptly explained to Jay. Point of view is extremely important in everything, and Eloise was telling the situation from the English point of view. Funny you should mention Betrayal of the Blood Lily, because I thought about that book also in regards to English actions and mores of the time regarding Indians. I’m really looking forward to rereading that one, too.

      It’s a pleasure hearing from someone who loves and investigates history through historical fiction just as I do.

    • Also, Helen, you might enjoy reading some of the 16 Lives series. I know I want to find out more about Patrick Pearse, Thomas McDonagh (friend and brother-in-law of Joseph Plunkett), and James Connelly.

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