The Easter Rising 1916: Molly’s Diary
Easter 1916. The Great War rages in Europe with two hundred thousand Irishmen fighting in the British Army. But a small group of Irish nationalists refuse to fight for Britain and strike a blow for Irish freedom. Caught up in the action in Dublin, is twelve-year-old Molly O’Donovan.
Her own family is plunged into danger on both sides of the conflict. Her father, a technical officer with the Post Office dodges the crossfire as he tries to restore the telegraph lines while her wayward brother runs messages for the rebels. Molly a trained First Aider, risks her own safety to help the wounded on both sides.
As violence and looting erupts in the streets of Dublin alongside heroism and high ideals, Molly records it all. The Proclamation at the GPO, the battle of Mount Street, the arrival of the British Troops. But will Molly’s own family survive and will she be able to save her brother?
This is her diary.
I saw this mentioned on Twitter quite a lot; it was in the Irish bestsellers for a number of weeks; Poolbeg does some lovely children’s books, and I’ve read some good reviews. I was looking forward to reading it. It has some great good points, but I also have some reservations.
Molly’s Diary looks at the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916 from a twelve-year-old girl’s point of view. It is reasonably accessible and will stretch a young mind. I love that it doesn’t shy away from the nastiness of the war, but nor does it focus on the grisly bits. It conveys well the mayhem in the city as well as the fear and the despair of its ordinary people. I also love the way the author talks about the looting and Molly’s shock at but understanding of it.
As a history lesson it is very good – it is historically accurate and the fictional bits are obvious (I mean that as a Good Thing as I am not a fan of fact meeting fiction when the reader doesn’t know which bits are true and which are not). I particularly like that the women involved in the Rising are acknowledged throughout.
But there are a lot of facts and a lot of characters. As an older reader (a much older reader) who is reasonably familiar with the names and the organisations I found it a bit overwhelming to be fed all these bits of information in quick succession, and I wonder how readers in the intended age group would cope with that. Maybe they won’t, and maybe it doesn’t matter, or maybe if it is read alongside learning the history in school it will help absorb the information. But to a reader for whom all this information is new it might be a bit of information overload. There are some notes in the back of the book, which are very helpful.
My main problem with reading the story, right from the get-go, was the diary format. There are approximately 70,000 words in this diary, and a twelve-year-old was supposed to have written this over a week. We are to believe that she wrote 10,000 words a day as well as running all over Dublin, saving lives, talking to practically every major person in the war, dodging bullets, leading soldiers to safety and hunting for her brother Jack. And that was the problem: I couldn’t believe it. We all want to believe in characters that are braver than us and cleverer than us, and I could suspend belief for the nursing the sick and even outsmarting soldiers (and I have to say that is written well, as it is her fear rather than her heroism that is to the fore), but then to sit up writing about it at 2 a.m. and with minute detail as conversations are recounted word for word ... um, no.
And they are not the words of a scared twelve-year-old. What youngster would say “Her strong face must have been beautiful when she was young and even now she was arresting.” Or “Tears, unbidden, spilled from my eyes.” Or “there was a break in hostilities”. Or ... well, you get my drift.
So I would have preferred to read the story as if Molly was narrating it in present first person, or we were being told it by an unknown narrator.
There is a clever story to make sure that Molly gets involved in the action and meets many of the main people of the Rising. Some bits are rather clunkily contrived to make sure she is in the right place at the right time, or to involve a third person, or to explain the meaning of something (most of these could have been better incorporated if it had not been written in a diary format). The end, the surrender, is written really well (apart from one shoe-horned observation).
I wasn’t sure about the use of some words for the time. For example, the word ‘gas’, meaning ‘fun’ was known, but I’m not sure would have been in general use by teenagers. "Hames" I couldn't find until much later in the century.
Some of the vocabulary is quite advanced for the age group, I think. This is no bad thing, in my opinion (I’ve recently been told to edit out of a book the words ‘seize’ and ‘vigilant’ because thirteen-year-olds won’t understand them – really? And they can’t use a dictionary?), but some teachers may object.
Some information was given near the beginning of the book that is needed to make sense of the end and I had forgotten about it by the time I’d got there, so I had to look back to see how Molly could have known the things she did. It did all tie up, but if I had forgotten it I should imagine a younger reader would have (or maybe not).
So, mixed feelings. It didn’t absorb me as much as I’d hoped, but it is a good companion to history lessons. I would say it is best read with an adult or as a class book.
Actually, I like it more now I have stopped to think about it, than I thought I did when I was reading it! I will definitely be reading Patricia Murphy’s companion volume, Deadly Shot.
Editorial Input & Design
Editorially sound, but I would have suggested not making it a diary format. With just a few changes it could have become a present first-person narrative, but I think might be better with an unknown narrator who could have explained events and meanings of terms without it being contrived. I might have suggested that characters were introduced more slowly so as not to overwhelm the reader. I would have suggested quite strongly that if the diary format was kept, entire conversations are not relayed word for word, or written in the vernacular, with an apostrophe to show a missing g ... what twelve-year-old would write this way?
The language used could have been edited. Some of it is a little stilted and clumsy and not what I think a young girl would use. There is some quite advanced vocabulary – some of which I might have suggested changing slightly. But not all of it – I think it is good for any reader to be stretched.
There are a few, but not too many, proofreading errors. And why do so many people think that “first aid” has to have initial caps? I come across this a lot and don’t understand it. An editor would have made these lower case.
I would have queried Molly’s father giving her £20. This would have been a huge amount of money (equivalent to €2,000 or so today). And I would have had her being a bit more in awe than she was at coming across £800 (worth about €100,000 today, I think).
I am not sure about the inclusion of some of the pictures, such as the poster for the waxworks and the “destination indicators” on the trams. They are interesting and authentic, but how can they be explained showing up in a young girl’s diary?
I like the cover a lot. It is aimed firmly at a young audience. It has a logo to show it is part of a series, and the pictures show exactly what it is about. The design is by Derry Dillon, who illustrates (brilliantly) Poolbeg’s In a Nutshell series.
I read the paperback and it was fine. There are a few widows and orphans I’d like to have seen ironed out, and a few spacing issues and wrong sized headings in the notes at the back.
Book Clubs & Reviews
A perfect book for children’s book clubs, mainly in Ireland but in the UK as well for children who enjoy history.
What others are saying: Amazon UK readers give it five stars (6 reviewers); Amazon US readers give it five stars (1 reviewer – also on UK site); Goodreads readers give it 4.33 stars (6 ratings).
Buy & Author
Published by Poolbeg Press, 2014
Poolbeg Press (paperback €6.99)
Amazon (Kindle £3.85/$5.54; paperback £5.9/$8.75)
Connect with the author:
Links of interest
Irish Central With an extract
Irish Times Dear diary: Patricia Murphy on hooking kids into history with a fictional diary
TES.com Teaching resources for Molly’s Diary