Martyrs and Traitors: A Tale of 1916

Written by Marina Julia Neary
Review by Nan Hawthorne

The typically romantic approach to the Easter Rising in Ireland in 1916 is refreshingly missing in this story of Bulmer Hobson, a leader of the struggle for independence from British rule, who said of the Messianic hero Padraig Pearce, “No man has the right to risk the fortunes of a country to create for himself a niche in history.”  Hobson was one of the only people in the movement who saw how poorly prepared they were for their Easter Monday revolution and was villainized for decades for trying to stop it in spite of the fact he was proved right in every way.  In her biographical novel of Hobson, Marina Julia Neary explores his background, his rise to eminence, and his fall from favor, sprinkling the intricate and dramatic tale with his failure to find and maintain satisfying personal relationships.  Ultimately it is a story of passionate people in extraordinary denial, whether of their own motivations, their personal vulnerabilities, their abilities and their disabilities, emblematic of the entire Easter Rising.  The novel, unfortunately, devolves in the need to trot out historical details and its abrupt shifts in point of view as well as one extraordinary failure to follow through on a cliffhanger.  Nevertheless, Neary has created a fascinating and complex portrait of some remarkable people and how they worked and fought so heartbreakingly for their ideals.  The author asks in the beginning for special attention to the women in the story, caught in a society still backwards in the assignment of gender roles, who despite being marginalized among the revels, were very central to much of the Rising, including taking their place on the barricades.