Across the Bitter Sea (cover) Eilís Dillon
Across the Bitter Sea

Starting out from the devastated landscape of Ireland after the Great Famine, this sweeping novel charts the struggle for Irish independence through the lives of three individuals whose destinies are intertwined:Morgan Connolly the impoverished revolutionary, Samuel Flaherty, the generous landlord who cares deeply for his country, and Alice McDonagh, the tally-woman's daughter who loves both men but marries Samuel. Passionate, moving, comic and tragic by turns, Across the Bitter Sea is an epic canvas spanning seven decades and three generations.

WHAT THE REVIEWERS SAID:

"This is as important and as fine a novel as has come out of Ireland in many a long year" (Cork Examiner)

"A triumph for Eilís Dillon" (Financial Times)

"Merits the accolade of greatness ... it will become a classic" (Sunday Independent)

"rivetingly readable" (Smith's Trade News)

"a romantic, exciting and tragic tale." (Glasgow Evening Times)

"What gives Across the Bitter Sea is distinction is Miss Dillon's deep sympathy with her own people and their sufferings" (Times Literary Supplement)

"Anyone who likes to settle down to a long colourful read will be swept up in the very real love story" (Birmingham Post)

"a big compulsive novel" (She)

"One of the better epics." (Liverpool Daily Post)

"A splendid novel" (Daily Mirror)

"A quite remarkable novel ... a huge panorama of suffering, frustration and bitterness ... one of the most compelling and convincing love stories I have read ... a novel of which Zola might have been proud." (The Sunday Times)


"Across the Bitter Sea" also received some political reviews and some hostile reviews, which we have included as part of the Education and Research section of this site.

Now read the opening pages ....

1

On a warm June day in 1851, a week before her eldest son's wedding, Mary MacDonagh was out in the far potato field in the morning. She moved slowly along the edge, by the wall, looking at the ground as if she were searching for the nest of a renegade hen. She knew the hen was dead and gone; ten days ago she had found the carcass in a field, well chewed by rats or foxes, but she had provided an alibi for those terrible compulsive trips to the potato field by asking the neighbours if they had seen the brown one laying out. She was entitled to search the fields for her, while she eyed the crop of potatoes. The flowers were fine and white. The leaves were glossy and thick. There was no sign of withering, no brown spot, no smell of rot, that ghastly smell that all Ireland had breathed in with death for what seemed like a lifetime.

She was sheltered by the shoulder of the hill from the mountain wind and the scents of summer floated all around her, compounded of salt and seaweed and grass and potato flowers and roses, with a strong addition of manure from the nearest neighbour's pig shed. That was a comforting smell, showing that the pig at least was alive and well.

Mary knew that the neighbours were watching her, and she imagined heir conversation with extraordinary accuracy. In every house except hers, there had been so many deaths that no one was in humour for a wedding. Yet they would feel obliged to come, out of gratitude for all the favours she had been able to do them. She fully realised her good fortune. If she lifted her eyes to look up the hill, the dead walls of many little houses were visible, where only six years ago children had played and men and women had worked in the adjoining fields among the accursed potatoes. Now the fields had gone back to grass and the pyramids of the gables were high- piled with fallen thatch and rotted rafters. A dark-brown stain of turf smoke would remain where the chimney had been, for as long as the gable stood. The lucky ones had gone to America, wailing along the desolate, unfriendly roads to Galway and Limerick and Cork. Of those who stayed at home, many had died of famine fever.

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