Set amidst the Cromwellian Invasions, “Seek the Fair Wind” begins in 1641. Dominick McMahon, a merchant by trade, has little appetite for fighting, yet is forced to defend his town against Cromwell’s army. From dark city streets to wild mountains, from vicious slaughter to triumphant faith, from selfish obedience to heroic opposition – this novel paints a vivid portrait of the struggles of the Irish people against the English.
This book is set during a period of Irish history which I’m not that familiar with. In school we studied everything from the Stone Age through the Celts, Vikings and Normans in great depth, and then bypassed the 15th to the 18th century going straight to 19th century onwards. The result is my knowledge of Oliver Cromwell’s campaign in Ireland is pretty much the broad strokes; Rape, pillage, plunder by the English Army; Siege of Drogheda; Babies thrown from town walls; Widows and orphans sent as slaves to the plantations in the Caribbean. And of course that he famously said the Irish could go “To Hell, or to Connaught“. So when this was selected by my bookclub for one of our Irish group reads, I figured it would be interesting and perhaps it would help fill in a few gaps in my knowledge.
In terms of style and technique it reminded me of the Irish children’s classic Under the Hawthorn Tree by Marita McConlan McKenna. Both books portray two major events in Irish history (Seek the Fair Land – Cromwellian Invasion, and Under the Hawthorn Tree – The Famine), and show the impact in an ordinary family as they travel across the country in search of safety. While I enjoyed Seek the Fair Land and it’s well written, I can’t say I ever loved it. I think the problem was I never fell in love with any of the characters. Why this was I can’t quite put my finger on as none of the are unlikable. I just never found myself routing for any of them.
In terms of the history of the period while we experience it, we are slightly removed from the main events of the period, apart from the Siege of Drogehda. Like many the family take to the road and go effectively into hiding. We experience the hardship of the time but know little of what is happening in terms of battles etc. We do however gain great insight into the aftermath, as the structures which would shape Ireland for the next 400 years are established. The end of the Irish Chieftains. The establishment of the large estates under the control of the British landlords. The introduction of the Penal laws, and the outlawing of Catholicism and the persecution of priests and anyone found harbouring them. One of the most harrowing events in the entire book is the killing of Sebastian, one of the main characters and a priest.
So who would I recommend this too? Anyone with an interest in historical fiction and Irish history will probably enjoy it.