A Passionate Girl
Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, 2004, 416 pp.
On May Eve 1865 young Michael Fitzmaurice, fleeing from the police with his Irish American companion, Dan McCaffrey, arrives at the family home in rural county Limerick, Ireland. Michael, against his father's wishes, had joined the outlawed Fenians and Dan, a major in the Fenian army in America, had come to Ireland to help organize an uprising. Betrayed by an informer, the meeting Michael and Dan were attending was raided by the police and Dan killed one as he an Michael fought to escape being captured.
heir only choice now is to take two of the family horses and try to flee to the coast and catch a ship to America. But Michael's younger sister, Bess an Irish patriot who is eager to flee the confines of her father's politically conservative home and go to America, quickly observes that the police will be looking for two young men heading for the coast and suggests that they disguise themselves and take her along as their guide to scout for police traps.
The three succeed in reaching New York City where Bess is immediately caught up in the wild politics of post Civil War America. One group of Irish Americans is seeking to advance their fortunes through politics and seeking to capture the Tammany Hall political machine as their vehicle. Others are seeking to free Ireland from England – not so much out of a desire to return to an independent Ireland but rather a feeling that they will gain more respect among their fellow Americans as immigrants from a free Ireland rather than improverished island under the yolk of England.
New York City is the capital of the self proclaimed Fenian government in exile and in late 1865 and early 1866 it is teeming with Irish trying to improve their lot in life. Many are taking advantage of the booming post Civil War economy and are working hard to get rich by satisfying the needs of consumers and their post war demand for goods. But others see politics as the path to success and are willing to ally themselves with the Tammany Hall machine in order to share in the payoffs available to those in power. Still others, like Dan McCaffrey, see their fortunes in the land that will be available following the planned Fenian conquest of Canada.
Thanks to a press more interested in newspaper sales than accuracy, Bess, Dan and Michael are greeted as heros as a result of exagerated stories of their escape from Ireland. They immediately move into the upper echelons of the Fenian hierarchy and enjoy the perks of power – living in the best hotels, dining in fine restaurants, expensive clothes, night clubs and gambling casinos all paid for out of contributions to the cause by poor workers struggling to support their families. Bess joins Dan and other officials as they seek to raise money and volunteers for their army by traveling the country speaking and lobbying politicians. At a White House meeting with President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State Seward they obtain the promise of support. Johnson and Seward aren't interested in Ireland's freedom but saw the threatened invasion of Canada as good leverage in negotiating with England over the Alabama affair and also saw in the Fenians the chance to conquer Canada and bring into the Union a new block of voters who would help them oppose their Radical Republican opponants.
The book is fast paced with plenty of action as the Fenians gather weapons and recruit Irish veterans of the Civil War from both North and South and build a formidble army to invade Canada. But once the battle is joined victory quickly turns to defeat as President Johnson, given a better offer by the British, withdraws the support of the U.S. from the Fenians leaving their army stranded on foreign soil with no access to their, now illegal, bases in the U.S. Bess and Dan both survive the defeat of the Fenian army but go their separate ways in putting their lives back together.
This report prepared by Chuck Nugent