Friend or Foe: 1916: Which Side Are You On?

Written by Brian Gallagher
Review by Geoffrey Harfield

This is a fast moving, exciting, and informative historical novel for twelve- to fourteen-year-olds. The Irish Question is difficult for the rest of the world to understand fully, but most British people are delighted to have the gentle and easy-going people of the Irish Republic as close neighbours. This book will help teenagers to understand the Rising of 1916 and what formed the Republic.

When Emer Davey saves her neighbour Jack Madigan from drowning, it seems they’ll be friends forever. But eight months later they find themselves on opposite sides in a life-or-death struggle, as Dublin is torn apart in rebellion. In this story of division, parents attempt to draw the friends apart but loyalty between the teenagers seems to be secure.

Like her father, who is a part-time officer in the Irish Volunteers, Emer believes that armed revolution is the only way to gain independence from Britain. Jack, meanwhile, follows the rule of law like his father in the Dublin Metropolitan Police. So the two young friends find their loyalties tested as the Easter Rising hits closer to home than either could have imagined. Though on different sides of the rebellion, they act together to locate their fighting dads. Tension rises as the two children work their way through fighting. As they see British soldiers fixing bayonets and hear bullets flying, they realise that warfare is anything but glorious.

Both main characters display the best of human motives, as they play their part in this extremely well-written outline, by a skilled Irish writer, who sees both sides of the Question. In an age when forgiveness and reconciliation are too rare in the popular media, it is refreshing to read of youthful kindness and courage, duty and family unity. This is the best children’s book I’ve seen.