Out of Ireland
Christopher J Koch
"The journal of Robert Devereux, one of the leaders of the revolutionary Young Ireland group of 1848, have lain undiscovered for more than a century on a hop farm in Tasmania. Uncovered, they tell the story of a highly unusual rebel.
"Devereux and his comrades are from the Irish gentry; activists who beleive so passionately in Irish freedom that they are prepared to hazard their lives of privilege in its cause. Paradoxically, they know little at first hand of the ordinary people they champion, who are ravaged by the Great Empire.
"A panicked British government, fearing an armed rising led by Devereux, and disturbed by his celebrity status in Europe, convicts him of sedition. He is shipped out of Ireland, and what follows is an enthralling account of espionage, violence, and a lone man's defiance of a subtle and oppressive foe. Sent first to a prison hulk at Bermuda, Devereux is then exiled to Van Dieman's Land, the British Empire's most far-flung colony, where he joins other Young Ireland leaders. Political prisoners, they are never actually imprisoned; the colony itself is their prison.
"In Van Dieman's Land, Devereux enters into a life that greatly changes him, falling in love with a young Irish convict woman, and through her, coming to know th epeople he's long romanticised. He also buys a farm, in partnership with an enterprising train robber who has been his convict servant. But his cause, and the life he has lost, will not let him go.
"Robert Devereux is an exceptional yet divided spirit: a man of romantic sensibility who is also a man of action - calling on his people to take up arms against the British. In this, he is a spiritual father of Sinn Fein, and the IRA.
"Long regarded as one of Australia's finest novelists, Christopher Koch is renowned for the clarity of his prose, the epic scope of his subjects, and his ability to combine the resources of poetry with a story that grips the reader. Out of Ireland is his most significant achievement so far."
Aboard the hulk 'Medway'
June 21st, 1848
They are talking about me, through the wall.
Invisible in my kennel, I'm separated from them by two barriers of planking, with a narrow passage between. But when the gangs come in to their quarters for dinner, and their interminable arguments be in, I can clearly make out barked obscenities, as their voices rise and shout. At times, whole sentences reach me.
My name, hateful on their English lips, has sometimes leapt a trout above the canine growling and snarling. But I've made out nothing more, until tonight. A few minutes ago, as I sat here at my table, one Liverpool voice penetrated with absolute clarity. Ralsed in a hound-like falsetto, it made me flinch.
- Bugger his eyes! What is he but a convict, like the rest of us? That's right! A buggering, bloody convict!
I can picture the brute, cursing my eyes. His own eyes, red from their work, have no doubt met mine from a distance, on the pier; or perhaps they've looked up in resentment to where I pace the quarter-deck. As well that he can't get his hands on me. And of course he's right, even though my disbelieving heart is chffled by his words. I'm a convict, 'ust as he says. But what sort of convict?
From the Doubleday hardback edition, 1999.
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Last modified: March 28, 2002.