The Music Makers

Written by E. V. Thompson
Review by Carol McGrath

The Music Makers is an epic historical novel about Ireland’s Great Hunger of the mid-19th century in which Thompson works out the story of the failing potato crops and the consequences of Parliamentary neglect in a thoroughly researched work. He introduces an engaging cast of personalities whose lives are touched by the famine. Every contemporary political move is covered, from the corn-laws, soup kitchens, emigration, and abortive attempts at public works to other futile efforts to address the Hunger and importantly, corruption. ‘I am not interested in how you maintain law and order,’ retorts Liam. ‘I want to know what arrangements have been made to feed the cotters and their families.’ Let us cut to the chase!

Liam McCabe, a fisherman of Kilmar, is introduced to Irish MP Eugene Brennan and becomes involved with his non-violent All-Ireland Association with the aim of giving Ireland independent government. McCabe becomes an MP and offers his countrymen elusive hope as starvation grips the poorest elements. The women in Liam’s life are brilliantly portrayed. Kathie is a fiddler’s daughter, forced into an extreme stance by circumstance and political betrayal. Lady Caroline is an Irish Earl’s sister, determined to help the starving population at great personal risk. The love triangle keeps the reader riveted. Love and politics are deftly integrated; The Music Makers is a page-turner!

One vividly drawn incident sets in motion much of what follows – the attempted theft of a grain cart and the determination of the army to destroy those responsible. This has far-reaching repercussions as the fugitives go on the run and camp in the Wicklow mountains where ‘there are hills and forests and streams and a mist that would hide Ireland itself.’

This big novel is an enjoyable read, beautifully written in clear precise prose. I cannot recommend it enough. It is a tribute to the recently deceased E.V. Thompson that his epic has now been reprinted.