Behind the Walls

Written by Nicola Pierce
Review by Jane Burke

This novel tells the story of the siege of Derry in 1688, at the time of the accession of a Catholic monarch, James II, to the British throne. The English preferred a Protestant monarchy in the persons of William and Mary, James’ daughter; support for the Catholic James was strong in Ireland. The spontaneous action of the apprentice boys of Derry in closing the city gates against a Jacobite army was an essential step towards William’s eventual victory.

Nicola Pierce takes, as her main characters, Daniel and Robert Sherrard, two of the apprentices whose names have come down to us in historical documents, and gives an exciting account of the siege in workman-like prose and well-plotted action. The two brothers prove an engaging central duo. Good use is made of meticulous research – slang such as ‘Redshanks’ for the kilted Highlanders that make-up the Jacobite army – and a sprinkling of allegory and history: the Greek story of the Spartans holding the pass at Thermopylae is mentioned. Daniel’s endearing pet dog, Horace, often reasons and responds like a human being, and provides another character easy for children to identify with.

The gory possibilities of the siege and the antagonism between Catholics and Protestants are not glossed over but are made manageable for the young reader: even an account of the notorious siege of Drogheda by Cromwell is rendered terrifying but not graphic. Perhaps a shortage of female viewpoint in the novel is a slight disappointment.

This book aims to bring to life a period and location not often covered in children’s fiction, and would be useful background reading if studying the history of Ireland and England. The book also contains useful information, listing other books and web-sites if readers wish to follow up their interest. Recommended for readers aged 8 – 12.