Through the Barricades by Denise Deegan, published December 2016 by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform.
Goodreads Synopsis: She was willing to sacrifice everything for her country. He was willing to sacrifice everything for her
“Make a difference in the world” are the last words Maggie Gilligan’s father ever says to her. They form a legacy that she carries in her heart, years later when, at the age of fifteen, she tries to better the lives of Dublin’s largely forgotten poor.
“Don’t go getting distracted, now” is what Daniel Healy’s father says to him after seeing him talking to the same Maggie Gilligan. Daniel is more than distracted. He is intrigued. Never has he met anyone as dismissive, argumentative… as downright infuriating.
A dare from Maggie is all it takes. Daniel volunteers at a food kitchen. There, his eyes are opened to the plight of the poor. It is 1913 and Dublin’s striking workers have been locked out of their jobs. Their families are going hungry. Daniel and Maggie do what they can. Soon, however, Maggie realises that the only way to make a difference is to take up arms.
The story of Maggie and Daniel is one of friendship, love, war and revolution, of two people prepared to sacrifice their lives: Maggie for her country, Daniel for Maggie. Their mutual sacrifices put them on opposite sides of a revolution. Can their love survive?
Honestly? I don’t know where to begin with this novel. Brace yourself for some A Grade word vomit.
The most obvious point to make first, is this, I genuinely engaged with and enjoyed this novel. It is a historical novel with romance elements, and horrifying action, and real-life events with unmistakable gravity, which actually leads this to being a somewhat contemporary novel, as the reverberations of these real-life events have had, and continue to have, a MASSIVE impact in contemporary Ireland. Above all of this, it’s an emotive and well-written book, with characters I grew to care for, and even love. And all of that was packed in to less than 400 pages, with an excellent depiction of Irish humour throughout.
For those entirely unfamiliar with Ireland’s history, it’s a decent introduction (albeit a fictional account). For those aware of Ireland’s history, it’s still an education. So much of this story is intrinsically intertwined with the Irish identity – whether you are aware of it or not, whether you agree with it or not, whether you support the ideals of a Republic or not. We are all steeped in the history of this country from birth, including all of its political quirks and idiosyncrasies, to the point where most of us understand it (to a degree) on a subconscious level, and “outsiders” (AKA simply those not born here), are often left with looks of confusion and bafflement when they try to understand the complex history, the wars that have been fought, the persecution and terrorism encountered, and the great divide that still remains to plague us to this day (possibly more so in the North of Ireland, than the South, but even that’s a discussion for another day).
I can only apologise if this reads more like an Irish history lesson, or political opinion piece, than a book review. But for me, these are inextricably linked. Do not let my stance discourage you from reading this book. If you’re only in it for the war scenes, or the romance, by all means proceed with wild abandon – you will love this read. However, if like me this book touches you deeper than that, if it strikes you straight to the core and gets you really thinking well past your bedtime on a school night – then I would love to engage with you and discuss this further. I want to read reviews by others who have limited knowledge of Ireland’s history, I want to read reviews by others who identify as British. I want this fantastic novel to be well-read and loved, but I also want it to inspire discussion, because that’s what it did for me.
This is an immense and difficult subject area, that was very well handled. There’s a powerful movie inside these lines. I’m sure of it. Do yourself a favour, and give it a read.
Maggie woke coughing. It was dark but there was something other than darkness in the air, something that climbed into her mouth, scratched at her throat and stole her breath. It made her eyes sting and tear. And it made her heart stall. Flames burst through the doorway like dragon breath. Maggie tried to scream but more coughs came, one after the other, after the other. She backed up in the bed, eyes wide, as the blaze began to engulf the room. She thought of her family, asleep in their beds. She had to waken them – with something other than her voice.
She hurried from her bed, peering through flame-lit smoke in search of her jug and washbasin. Reaching them, she flung water in the direction of the fire and began to slam enamel against enamel, fast and loud. She had to back away as flames lapped and roared and licked at her. But she kept on slamming.
Her arms grew tired. Her breath began to fail her. And she felt the heavy pull of sleep. She might have given in had she been alone in the house. But there was her father. There was her mother. There was Tom. And there was David. She could not give up.
Then like a miracle of black shadow, her father burst through the flames, his head tossing and turning. His frenzied gaze met hers.
She began to cry with relief but relief changed to guilt as she realised that she had only drawn him further into the fire.
‘No! You were meant to take the stairs. You were meant to-’
‘It’s all right, Maggie Mae. It’s all right,’ he said, hurrying to her. He scooped her up and held her tight as he carried her away from a heat that burned without touching.
She felt cool air on her back as he opened the window. Wind rushed in, blowing the drapes aside. The flames roared louder, rose higher. But her father only looked out at the night sky. And down.
‘Missus O’Neill! I’m dropping Maggie down to you!’ he called. ‘Catch her now, mind. Catch my little girl.’ Then he looked deep into Maggie’s eyes. ‘Missus O’Neill is down below with her arms out for you. I’m going to drop you down to her.’
‘Will she catch you too?’
But he just smiled and kissed her forehead. ‘Make a difference in the world, Maggie.’
The sadness in his eyes filled her with a new terror. ‘But you’re coming too?’
He smiled once more. ‘I am, as soon as I get the others out. Now keep your eyes on mine, Maggie Mae. Keep your eyes on mine all the way down.’
Have you read Through the Barricades? What were your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!