ACIS Logo Breaking Away from the Church

Ireland transitioned from British rule to independence after the Easter uprising, one of its goals was to re-introduce the formerly-banned Irish language to the countryside by transplanting families of native Irish speakers from the coast to the English-speaking interior. This is the framework for Emer Martin’s fourth novel, the hugely successful Cruelty Men (2018), already in its 3d printing. The threat of the Cruelty Men, who roam the country capturing poor children to place in industrial schools, and their employer, the Irish Catholic Church, runs throughout the novel. To illustrate collusion between Church and State, as well as the psychic damage inflicted upon innumerable Irish children, Martin alternates chapters between the O’Conaill children, each of whom reflects results of Church policy between 1935 and 1968 in church-run asylums, mother-and-baby homes, orphanages, schools, and laundries. Although numerous reports have described this abuse, by giving the children their own chapters, Martin gives them a voice: a haunting, realistic, voice that reveals the damage from a child’s point of view. Woven into the children’s accounts are descriptions of Ireland’s glacial movement into the twentieth century with the introduction of cars, indoor plumbing, and electricity, set alongside ancient stories of faeries, wolves, and hags. Irvine Welsh writes that taken altogether, “The Cruelty Men is a tidal wave that drags you like a piece of debris through Irish history.” This paper will illustrate its impact.

Published on: March 31, 2020