Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Rebel Sisters by Marita Conlon-McKenna

I had never heard of Marita Conlon-McKenna, who is an Irish Times bestselling author. But, her book, Rebel Sisters, deals with three sisters of a large Irish family who became part of one of the tragic events of their times, the Easter Rising. And, this year is the 100th anniversary of that tragedy.

The book begins in 1901, introducing the Gifford family, a well-to-do Irish family living in Dublin where Frederick is a lawyer. He and his wife, Isabella, are the parents of twelve children, six boys and six girls. In some ways, they are progressive. "They had high expectations for the education of all their children equally." The oldest daughter, Kate, attended the University of Dublin, and was one of its first female graduates. But, the book focuses on three of the young women. Nellie, who loved cooking, training to be a "rural domestic instructress", teaching practical lessons about cooking to women throughout the country, while she observed their poverty, so different from her own life. Grace attended art school in Dublin and London, and became part of the suffragette movement. Muriel attended nursing school.

But, each of those young women disgraces themselves in the eyes of their mother, Isabella. By 1915, Nellie is part of the Citizen Army, prepared to rebel against the British crown. Muriel falls in love with a Catholic, writer and teacher Thomas MacDonagh, one of the leaders of the rebellion. And, Grace is first infuriated, and then fascinated by another leader of the Rising, Joe Plunkett.

Rebel Sisters is a novel, dealing with the details of family life and emotions. It begins in 1901, when Queen Victoria has just died, and Frederick Gifford fears for the country and the world. His feelings foreshadow World War I, and the jealousies and relationships between relatives that will tear the world apart. At the same time, he doesn't see the rebellion rising in Ireland that will tear apart the country, and his own family.  The Gifford family will be caught up in the events of Easter 1916, and the Rising. That's how Conlon-McKenna deals with the politics of the time. She tells it as a personal story of one family.

Nellie, Grace, and Muriel Gifford were actual women who fought, married rebels, became icons of  the rebellion when their husbands were executed. Rebel Sisters is not a happy story. It's a tragedy built on passion. But, it's a fascinating story of the passion that can fuel a revolution, the passion that can change the world.

Marita Conlon-McKenna's website is

Rebel Sisters by Marita Conlon-McKenna. Transworld Ireland. 2016. ISBN 9781848271999 (paperback), 399p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I requested a copy of the book to participate in a book tour.


Heather J @ TLC Book Tours said...

Years ago I visited several of the important places from the Easter Rising during a trip to Ireland. Having those remembrances of the places will make this book just a bit more personal for me I'm sure!

Thanks for being a part of the tour!

Lesa said...

Heather, I'm hoping to visit several of them in October when we go to Ireland. You're welcome! Thanks for including me.