Breandán Mac Suibhne wins €10,000 Michel Déon Prize for Non-Fiction

‘The End of Outrage’ is about aftermath of Famine in historian’s Donegal community

Breandán Mac Suibhne: “It is impossible not to be moved by the humanity with which he writes of his ancestors and their neighbours, or to be provoked by his unconventional epic.” Photograph: Richard Wayman

Breandán Mac Suibhne: “It is impossible not to be moved by the humanity with which he writes of his ancestors and their neighbours, or to be provoked by his unconventional epic.” Photograph: Richard Wayman

 

Historian Breandán Mac Suibhne has won the inaugural Michel Déon Prize for Non-Fiction for his book The End of Outrage: Post-Famine Adjustment in Rural Ireland, at a ceremony in Iveagh House, Dublin, home of the Department of Foreign Affairs, this evening.

The €10,000 prize is sponsored by the Department of Foreign Affairs. It is named after the French writer Michel Déon, who made Ireland his home from the 1970s until his death in 2016.

Prof Michael Cronin, chair of the Royal Irish Academy’s judging committee, said: “We were absolutely delighted with the calibre of entries for this inaugural prize and feel that Breandán is a very worthy winner and one that Michel Déon would be proud of. The judges felt that The End of Outrage was a beautifully written, well told, compelling narrative and a very interesting way to look at a period of history. We would also like to commend and congratulate the other shortlisted authors who set the bar incredibly high.”

The shortlist included the bestselling memoir I Found My Tribe by Ruth Fitzmaurice and essay collection Notes to Self: Essays by Emilie Pine as well as three acclaimded histories: The Vanquished: Why the First Word War Failed to End by Robert Gerwarth; Hard Border: Walking through a Century of Partition by Darach MacDonald; and The Popular Mind in Eighteenth-century Ireland by Vincent Morley.

Helen McEntee, Minister of State for European Affairs, said: “I would like to join in congratulating Breandán Mac Suibhne and all of the shortlisted authors. The Michel Déon Prize supports modern writers of non-fiction and new artists who seek to develop and strengthen their cultural work. I am delighted that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has funded this prize, and I look forward to it growing as a key moment in our shared cultural calendar.”

Mac Suibhne is a historian of modern Ireland and is a fellow of the Moore Institute for the Humanities in the National University of Ireland, Galway (PhD, Carnegie Mellon). His publications include, with David Dickson, The Outer Edge of Ulster (2000), an annotated edition of the longest lower-class account of Ireland’s Great Famine. He was born in the community that is the focus of The End of Outrage (Oxford University Press), making it a particularly intimate and absorbing history of a small place in a time of great change.

The End of Outrage was named The Irish Times’s nonfiction book of the year 2017 after a readers’ poll. Christopher Kissane’s Irish Times review concluded: “It is impossible not to be moved by the humanity with which Mac Suibhne writes of his ancestors and their neighbours, or to be provoked by his unconventional epic. From a local row he has crafted an extraordinary work of history that makes its own importance.”

The End of Outrage: Post-Famine Adjustment in Rural Ireland by Breandán Mac Suibhne (Oxford University Press)
South-west Donegal, Ireland, June 1856.

From the time that the blight first came on the potatoes in 1845, armed and masked men dubbed Molly Maguires had been raiding the houses of people deemed to be taking advantage of the rural poor. On some occasions, they represented themselves as “Molly’s Sons”, sent by their mother, to carry out justice; on others, a man attired as a woman, introducing “herself” as Molly Maguire, demanding redress for wrongs inflicted on her children. The raiders might stipulate the maximum price at which provisions were to be sold, warn against the eviction of tenants, or demand that an evicted family be reinstated to their holding. People who refused to meet their demands were often viciously beaten and, in some instances, killed – offences that the constabulary classified as “outrages”. Catholic clergymen regularly denounced the Mollies and in 1853, the district was proclaimed under the Crime and Outrage (Ireland) Act. Yet the “outrages” continued.

Then, in 1856, Patrick McGlynn, a young schoolmaster, suddenly turned informer on the Mollies, precipitating dozens of arrests. Here, a history of McGlynn’s informing, backlit by episodes over the previous two decades, sheds light on that wave of outrage, its origins and outcomes, the meaning and the memory of it. More specifically, it illuminates the end of “outrage” – the shifting objectives of those who engaged in it, and also how, after hunger faded and disease abated, tensions emerged in the Molly Maguires, when one element sought to curtail such activity, while another sought, unsuccessfully, to expand it. And in that contention, when the opportunities of post-Famine society were coming into view, one glimpses the end, or at least an ebbing, of outrage – in the everyday sense of moral indignation – at the fate of the rural poor. But, at heart, The End of Outrage is about contention among neighbours – a family that rose from the ashes of a mode of living, those consumed in the conflagration, and those who lost much but not all. Ultimately, the concern is how the poor themselves came to terms with their loss: how their own outrage at what had been done unto them and their forbears lost malignancy, and eventually ended. The author being a native of the small community that is the focus of The End of Outrage makes it an extraordinarily intimate and absorbing history.

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