Cover image for The great shame : and the triumph of the Irish in the English-speaking world
The great shame : and the triumph of the Irish in the English-speaking world
Keneally, Thomas.
Personal Author:
First edition in the U.S.A.
Publication Information:
New York : Nan A. Talese, 1999.

Physical Description:
xiii, 712 pages, 32 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DA950.1 .K46 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
DA950.1 .K46 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
DA950.1 .K46 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
DA950.1 .K46 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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"Thomas Keneally recounts history with the uncanny skill of a great novelist whose only interest is to lay bare the human heart in all its hope and pain. As he was able to do inSchindler's List,he shows us inThe Great Shamea people despised and rejected to the point of death, who in the face of all their sorrows manage to keep their souls. This story of oppression, famine, and emigration--a principal chapter in the story of man's inhumanity to man--becomes in Keneally's hands an act of resurrection; Irishmen and Irishwomen of a century and a half ago live once more within the pages of this book." --Thomas Cahill, author ofHow the Irish Saved Civilization In the nineteenth century, Ireland lost half of its population to famine, emigration to the United States and Canada, and the forced transportation of convicts to Australia. The forebears of Thomas Keneally, author ofSchindler's List, were victims of that tragedy, and inThe Great ShameKeneally has written an astonishing, monumental work that tells the full story of the Irish diaspora with the narrative grip and flair of a great novel. Based on unique research among little-known sources, this masterly book surveys eighty years of Irish history through the eyes of political prisoners--including Keneally's ancestors--who left Ireland in chains and eventually found glory, in one form or another, in Australia and America. We meet William Smith O'Brien, leader of an uprising at the height of the Irish Famine, who rose from solitary confinement in Australia to become the Mandela of his age; Thomas Francis Meagher, whose escape from Australian captivity led to a glittering American career as an orator, a Union general, and governor of Montana; John Mitchel, who became a Confederate newspaper reporter, gave two of his sons to the Southern cause, was imprisoned with Jefferson Davis--and returned to Ireland to become mayor of Tipperary; and John Boyle O'Reilly, who fled a life sentence in Australia to become one of nineteenth-century America's leading literary lights. Through the lives of many such men and women--famous and obscure, some heroes and some fools (most a little of both), all of them stubborn, acutely sensitive, and devastatingly charming--we become immersed in the Irish experience and its astonishing history. From Ireland to Canada and the United States to the bush towns of Australia, we are plunged into stories of tragedy, survival, and triumph. All are vividly portrayed in Keneally's spellbinding prose, as he reveals the enormous influence the exiled Irish have had on the English-speaking world. "A terrible and personal saga, history delivered with a scholar's density of detail but with the individualizing power of a multi-talented novelist." --William Kennedy

Author Notes

Thomas Keneally was born in Sydney, Australia on October 7, 1935. Although he initially studied for the Catholic priesthood, he abandoned that idea in 1960, turning to teaching and clerical work before writing and publishing his first novel, The Place at Whitton, in 1964. Since that time he has been a full-time writer, aside from the occasional stint as a lecturer or writer-in-residence.

He won the Booker Prize in 1982 for Schindler's Ark, which Stephen Spielberg adapted into the film Schindler's List. He won the Miles Franklin Award twice with Bring Larks and Heroes and Three Cheers for the Paraclete. His other fiction books include The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith, Gossip from the Forest, Confederates, The People's Train, Bettany's Book, An Angel in Australia, The Widow and Her Hero, and The Daughters of Mars. His nonfiction works include Searching for Schindler, Three Famines, The Commonwealth of Thieves, The Great Shame, and American Scoundrel. In 1983, he was awarded the order of Australia for his services to Australian Literature.

Thomas Keneally is the recipient of the 2015 Australia Council Award for Lifetime Achievement in Literature. The award, formerly known as the Writers' Emeritus Award, recognises 'the achievements of eminent literary writers over the age of 60 who have made an outstanding and lifelong contribution to Australian literature.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Popular Australian fiction writer Keneally is best known for Schindler's List, but probably the major reason for that novel's renown is the Steven Spielberg movie based on it. Many readers tackling his latest book, which is nonfiction, will wonder initially if he wouldn't have been better served by using all the material he has gathered here as the basis for another novel. It's pretty tough going for a while: details seem endless and dryly presented. But hang on because before long, Keneally's narrative gains momentum. What he ultimately delivers is a rich account of Irish contributions to New World life, focusing chiefly on the impact and legacy of the men and women who, for criminal deeds, were transported from Ireland to Australia in the nineteenth century. The core of Keneally's long tale is the actual experiences of one Hugh Larkin, an ancestor of Keneally's wife. This personal touch is the book's chief quality. Keneally not only follows Larkin's transportation to Australia but also tracks other real individuals' transport from Ireland to Australia as well as to the U.S and Canada. And while keeping a watchful eye on Irish participation in Australian and American social, economic, and political life, he frequently draws the reader back to Ireland itself, monitoring the factors and features of the abyss into which the the country plunged following the great famine. And within that context, he explores the growing Irish resistance to English rule. A book that is both difficult to get into and hard to let go of. --Brad Hooper

Publisher's Weekly Review

Keneally prefaced his Booker Prize-winning Schindler's List by noting that he had chosen to tell the true story of Oskar Schindler in novel form partially because "the novelist's craft is the only one which I can lay claim to." In the years between the publication of that novel and this remarkable new book, it appears that Keneally has banished any lingering uncertainty about venturing into nonfiction. But he hasn't left his novelist's craft behind. Combining a facility for storytelling with painstaking research, he has produced a lively, narrative history that is a model of the form. His subject is the plight of the Irish from the 19th century into the early 20th, and the experience of the Irish diaspora in the far corners of the world. In the 19th century, while Europe saw the emergence of a number of independent states, Ireland remained under the thumb of the British crown. By the end of the century, famine and emigration had reduced its population to little more than half of the 1841 total. Keneally enters this history by looking at his Australian homeland and tracing the history of his own family's Irish ancestry. Beginning with a poor farmer named Hugh Larkin (from whom Keneally's wife is descended) who was "transported" from Ireland in the 1830s for a vaguely political show of discontent toward his landlord, Keneally quickly sets the sociopolitical stage. Book I of The Great Shame follows the experience of Larkin (and through him, thousands of others like him) as a convict who ultimately earned his freedom and the opportunity to build a new life in a new land. Keneally simultaneously chronicles the rise and fall of Young Ireland, a group of elite, younger Irish statesmen who pushed for a more aggressive approach to independence than did Daniel O'Connell, who led the fight for Catholic Emancipation in Great Britain and Ireland. Among the ranks of Young Ireland were inflammatory writer and editor John Mitchel and future American Civil War hero Thomas Francis Meagher. Book II follows Meagher to the U.S., where he commanded the Union's famed Irish Brigade and introduced a new group of Irish insurrectionists, the Fenians, among whose number was one John Keneally, the author's ancestor. Keneally suggests several reasons for the "shame" of the title: failure, survival, injustice. But in capturing the resilient spirit of his subjects, and rendering their story with such a true and stirring touch, his book is a triumph, an invigorating, sprawling history of a people who flourished, as Irish, outside of Ireland. History Book Club main selection; author tour. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

From the author of Schindler's List: Ireland in the 19th century, when it lost half its population. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Up to the moment we write, there have been about thirty unfortunate individuals convicted under the Whiteboy Act, and therefore destined to spend the remainder of their lives in a clime far, far distant from their native homes from the land which holds all that is dear to them in the world. -- Galway Free Press, 31 March 1832 For English and Anglo-Irish noblemen, the post of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland was both a challenge and a reward. The Lord Lieutenant was chief executive of Britain's most ungovernable kingdom but also the British monarch's representative, and the centre and apogee of Irish society. In the bright July of 1833, the Lord Lieutenant happened to be a friendly and reckless 73-year-old womaniser named Richard Colley Wellesley, 2nd Earl of Mornington. He had the benefit of being the elder brother of the Duke of Wellington, conqueror of Napoleon and former Tory Prime Minister. For the mass of Irish peasants, it did not matter a great deal who held the post. The known face of their landlord or his agent, how much land they had to live off, how secure was their tenure, and what they could sell their labour for these were the intimate and recurrent concerns of their lives. People of quality though, in towns or on their estates in the west of Ireland, wanted to know about the Lord Lieutenant's movements, levees and recreation. They read, for example, accounts of that summer's Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire) Regatta. "After the morning sailing races, all the Dublin establishment attended a splendid lunch in a huge marquee pitched in the Commissioner's store yard." Then the Lord Lieutenant and Lord Paget returned to Dublin in separate vehicles, and in Mount Street Paget's horses and vehicle ran into a Dublin urchin. His Lordship reined in the horses to prevent his carriage crushing the child, and footmen carried the bloodied child to Mr Burrowe's, apothecary, Lower Merrion Street. There were hopes for the survival of the little sufferer. The Lord Lieutenant might have enjoyed the opportunity to be of direct effectiveness. He could not have indulged such simple hopes for the health of Ireland as he did for the health of the Mount Street urchin. For in describing the ills of the kingdom of Ireland, commentators of that period rarely knew where to start. In that very same summer of the Lord Lieutenant's encounter with "the incautious child," a peasant cottier and farm labourer from East Galway named Hugh Larkin was waiting in the county gaol in Galway city. He was to be judged for a gesture of discontent against his landlord, and so against the system represented and protected by the Lord Lieutenant, Dublin Castle and the Parliament at Westminster. Hugh was twenty-four years old, married, blue-eyed, robust, and 5 feet 7 1/2 inches tall. According to his East Galway descendants, he was the intense, lively, likeable son of a widowed mother. Then or later he became hard-drinking, yet his record would not imply he was reckless or utterly headstrong. Larkin came from a scatter of houses at a crossroads known as Lismany. This name for the landscape in which he had spent his childhood and youth bespoke pre-British ownership. The Irish name was Lios Maine, the fort of Maine, long-ago king of the region called Hy Many. This kingdom was made up of parts of modern Galway, Roscommon and a small slab of modern Tipperary. The Gaelic lords of the region had been dispossessed after the victory of the forces of England's King William III over the Irish at Aughrim, a village north-west of Lismany, in 1691. During Hugh's childhood people had believed that the old Gaelic system was likely to be reasserted by God in some day of jubilation, but that day now seemed too remote to save him. Hugh's depression in Galway gaol arose chiefly from homesickness for Lismany, his two infant sons, and his wife Esther Tully, whom he had married three years before in the chapel of the Catholic parish of Clontuskert. That very name, Clontuskert, showed that Hugh's kind of Irish walked the earth with two competing addresses in their heads. For administrative reasons, Dublin Castle had divided the country into Church of Ireland parishes, the smallest local unit, and then into larger baronies, somewhat akin to municipalities. So Larkin's official and English-language address as a member of the United Kingdom was (Church of Ireland) parish of Clontuskert, barony of Longford, County Galway. His emotional and native address, however, was (Catholic) parish of Clontuskert, diocese of Clonfert, Hy Many. Perhaps this double geography the peasants carried in their heads was one of the reasons those in power saw them as sly and duplicitous. Esther and Hugh, living virtually in the midlands of Ireland, spoke English, the language of government and commerce, when they talked to their landlord or went to market, but courted, sang, praised and mourned in Irish. The courtship of Hugh and Esther had been, if at all characteristic of their society, particularly ardent and poetic, driven by furious longing, observed by an entire rural community which did not countenance fornication, but put a premium on flirtation as an art, and on the extravagant use of the images of desire. Gaelic love verses and songs which have come to us in translation indicate the style of eloquent persuasion Hugh would have been required to use with Esther. Excerpted from The Great Shame: And the Triumph of the Irish in the English-Speaking World by Thomas Keneally All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. vii
Prefacep. xi
Note on the Textp. xv
Mapsp. xvii
Book I
1 Hugh Larkin's Irelandp. 3
2 The Shipping of Ireland, and The Exile of Chainsp. 25
3 Assigning Irelandp. 36
4 The Limits of Locationp. 53
5 Ireland and the Whitby Womenp. 59
6 The Lass from the Female Factoryp. 67
7 Ireland Young and Oldp. 88
8 A Fond Farewell to the White Potatoesp. 102
9 A Thousand Farewells to You, Island of St Patrickp. 123
10 Fiasco and Noble Gesture: the Rebellion of Young Irelandp. 141
11 Young Ireland on Trialp. 167
12 Shipping Young Irelandp. 184
13 By Order of Great Denisonp. 203
14 Young Ireland and the Profane Colonistsp. 224
15 Locked Within the Pyramidp. 247
16 The Skeleton at the Feastp. 267
Book II
17 Young Ireland and the Isms of Yankeedomp. 293
18 Ireland and the Bloody Arenap. 316
19 Faugh-A-Ballaghp. 332
20 The Chickahominy Steeplechasep. 342
21 Woefully Cut upp. 355
22 Let Me Have Idahop. 377
23 Glorio, Glorio, to the Bold Fenian Menp. 403
24 Re-Making Montana; Violating Canadap. 429
25 Fenians Transportedp. 459
26 The Fenians of the Desert Coastp. 471
27 Fenians at Largep. 492
28 Home Rule and Dynamitep. 511
29 The Fenian Whalerp. 530
30 Perth Regatta Dayp. 550
31 Republican Christp. 572
Acknowledgementsp. 607
Notesp. 611
Bibliographyp. 667
Indexp. 679