The Sunken Road: An unflinching look at the brutality of Irish history
Ciarán McMenamin’s excellent second novel explores the corrosive effects of war
One of the pictures on display at the Somme Heritage Centre in Newtownards, Co Down. Photograph: Paul Faith/PA
It is November 1915 and two farm boys from Co Fermanagh, the Catholic turned atheist Francie Leonard and his Protestant best friend Archie Johnston join the Ulster 36th Division. They leave behind them Annie, Archie’s sister and Francie’s love. In a few months they will face the terrors of the Somme, where lives will be irrevocably changed.
Seven years later, Francie is now an anti-Treaty IRA gunman on the run in May 1922, at the tail end of the Irish War of Independence. As he risks everything to come back for Annie, he is ruthlessly pursued by his former British army sergeant, Peter Crozier, a one-armed loyalist bigot and inspector in “the Specials”, the notoriously sectarian quasi-military police force established in Northern Ireland in 1920. For Crozier, who harbours a deep hatred of Francie that dates back to the war, the capture is personal.