For more than 800 years, the relationship between England and Ireland was held in a tenuous balance. The English Parliament and Crown felt that Ireland could not and should not be independent of England:
Ireland is too great to be unconnected with us, and too near us to be dependent on a foreign state, and too little to be independent. ~C.T. Grenville, the Duke of Rutland, 3 December 1784.
However, many Irish citizens thought differently. Starting in 1534, the Irish began opposing English claims on their land and demanding sovereignty. Conflicts continued for more than 250 years.
Then, 14 years after the Duke of Rutland uttered his condescending words, the Irish Rebellion of 1798 erupted. Inspired by both the American Revolution and the French Revolution, the Society of United Irishmen, dedicated to the pursuit of a republican form of government in a separate and independent Ireland, took up arms against their English oppressors. The rebellion lasted from 24 May-12 October 1798. When all was said and done, approximately 30,000 Irish were dead.
Fast forward about 125 years to 1916. With England heavily engaged in World War I, members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, Irish Citizen Army, and Irish Volunteers rose up against English rule in Ireland, demanding an independent Irish Republic. Dubbed the Easter Rising because it occurred during Easter week (24–29 April 1916), it was the most significant Irish uprising since the rebellion of 1798. About 2,600 people were wounded, including at least 2,200 civilians, and more than half of the 485 people killed in the Easter Rising were civilians.
Both the 1798 Rebellion and the 1916 Easter Rising are highlighted in the book, Castle on the Rise, by Kristy Cambron. This split-story novel, the second in the Lost Castles Series, follows the lives of three different women: 21st century American Laine Forrester, early 20th century Irish woman Lady Isolde Byrne, and late 18th century English woman Lady Maeve Ashford.
Maeve runs her father’s home, Ashford Manor. On the manor grounds are the Castle Caryn ruins, overlooking the Irish Sea. Maeve soon discovers that these ruins are being used by rebels, led by a man named Eoin O’Byrne. Soon, the people of Ashford Manor and the surrounding area are caught up in the 1798 Rebellion.
Isolde, nicknamed Issy, is an amateur photographer, who turns her back on her parents’ expectations in support of Irish independence. She soon finds herself in the heart of Dublin during the 1916 Easter Rising. Through the lens of her camera, Issy risks everything to document the horror of war and the people caught its snare.
Laine, a lover of antiques, travels overseas for her best friend’s wedding. After the nuptials, she agrees to go to Dublin with her friend and the new in-laws to sort out family rifts and a recently inherited estate: Ashford Manor and the Castle Caryn ruins. While staying at the estate, Laine uncovers the stories of the previous owners and finds connections between their lives and her own.
Spanning more than two centuries, Castle on the Rise views two tumultuous times in Ireland’s past through the perspectives of three women, two living during the turmoil and one observing with objective eyes, years removed. As a lover of history, I enjoyed learning more about these moments in Irish history, although I found the story sometimes lacking in details. What events led up to these uprisings and why? (So, being who I am, I did some research on my own, as evidenced by my introductory paragraphs.)
And as a genealogist, I appreciated how these women’s stories, which at first seemed unrelated to one another, were in fact connected by family ties, antiques and ruins, and shared emotions. However, because this connection is not immediately apparent, the novel reads like three books instead of one.
Switching back and forth between eras chapter by chapter, the transitions are not always smooth. As a result, I found myself stopping and starting, stopping and starting Castle on the Rise instead of reading straight through as I have done with other books. Yes, it did take me much longer to read this novel than I would have liked, but I appreciated the author’s way with words and admired the story’s strong women.