Book Review:For the Love of Ireland by Judy Lelsie

Much like the union between England and Ireland, the marriage of Margaret Sullivan and Alexander Sullivan was the proverbial “marriage made in Hell.” Margaret is a feisty and independent woman who defies the conventions of the late 19th century by having a career as a journalist for the Chicago Tribune. She married Alex with the understanding that she could work as a journalist, and he pretty much permitted her to do that, but, the downside was that he was arrogant, manipulative and often cruel. She soon regrets her marriage, but, being a good Catholic, she does not wish to risk her soul by opting out of it.
On a sea voyage to Ireland to report on the social and political situation there for the Tribune, she meets an Irish patriot, Michael Davitt, who has recently been released from a British prison. She finds that Michael is everything her husband is not, and she immediately falls in love with him. Michael is equally attracted to Margaret, but they both know that any meaningful relationship between the two of them is impossible.
Margaret’s hostess in Ireland is Delia Parnell, the mother of Charles Parnell, an Irish member of the British Parliament. Michael Davitt and Charles Parnell join forces to found the Irish Land League, a non-violent organization created for the purpose of bringing relief to the Irish peasants who are starving and being evicted from their homes by greedy landlords. It is the ultimate aim of the Land League to redistribute land from the aristocracy to the peasants, but the organization rejects the use of violence. Margaret joins Delia Parnell’s daughter Anna and volunteers to help the cause. On one of her travels she rescues James, a six year old child from a burning cottage and assists the child and his mother Emma in joining Emma’s father in London.
After she returns to Chicago her husband Alex becomes president of Clan Na Gael, a secretive Irish organization. Unlike Michael Davitt’s Land League, Clan Na Gael has no problem with violence and soon Alex is in over his head. Margaret becomes increasingly disaffected with her husband and increasingly disturbed at how things are going in Ireland. She finds out that a man that her husband sent to England on a supposedly peaceful mission has been responsible for bombings and has been killed in an explosion. Killed along with him is James’ father whom Margaret had arranged to be the man’s host. How could her good intentions have gone so utterly wrong? Was her husband Alex responsible for this madness? Who is pulling the strings here?
For the Love of Ireland raises a number of difficult questions which are still relevant to our world today. What is the best means to struggle against oppression? Does violence ever accomplish anything positive? How do we better the lives of the desperately needy? It also brings to light how much has changed for the better for women, at least in western countries, bearing in mind that we still have some way to go before we reach true equality.

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