An Irish Summer Reading List

(This is an update from a story I wrote at this time last year and was published at Catholic Exchange. Please enjoy the article and make it a part of your summer reading list this year.)

If you’re vacationing at the shore this summer and just have to get your roller coaster fix on the boardwalk, I’ve got a great summer reading list for you that is short, bittersweet, and will take you for the historical ride of your life. You won’t even have to leave your beach chair. In fact, you won’t want to.

Or if you’re away in the mountains, nestled next to a crystal-blue lake and a comfy-cozy campfire, then these are the kind of tales you’ll want to read, remember, and pass on to future generations. Because these characters are so real, so unforgettable, so like you and me, you’ll dash through pages craving for more.

Got your attention?

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Walter Macken’s legendary, historically accurate, and passionate novels Seek the Fair Land (1959), The Silent People (1962), and The Scorching Wind (1964), are must reads for anyone interested in the true Irish experience, the witness of faith-filled people, and those who can appreciate and recognize that end-times happen in every lifetime, every generation, every century, just like our own.

We may think we’re the only people in history to experience evil incarnate, whether in the Middle East under the black flag and barbarity of ISIS or in a simple church in South Carolina, where innocents were slaughtered in a twisted tribute to the stars and bars of a bygone era or at an Orlando nightclub where our children died because they were targeted for their sexual preferences.

But we’re not. Hell on earth has been here for a long time. It has served under many flags, depicting a rising sun, the spider-like cross of the swastika, the red banner of communism, and, earlier, the Union Jack’s domination of Erin and the French tricolor’s bloody tyranny over common sense. Thankfully, evil has always been juxtaposed with free will. And, when our gift of free will chooses the true cross, when we decide to take a knee and forsake pride for humility, when we arm ourselves with prayer, supplication and sacrifice, the forces of Satan can be mitigated, even vanquished. This is especially evident in the battleground for souls on the island called Ireland.

Of course, as the examples in the last two paragraphs prove and bear witness, the battle continues today, whether we want to recognize it or not. Denial of historical evidence, or ignorance, or naively and lazily swallowing historical fabrication is inexcusable. We must always be vigilant as part of our discipleship to truth: to our faith, our families and our heritage.

Yet there is even more to Macken’s stories than war, faith, and the political religion of those who would do anything to sustain their own power. There is also the story of combatting the very earth we depend on for our daily bread. And when pounding the soil with our fists yields no fruit, then true despair enters our souls. But, perhaps the worst trial for the Irish soul occurred when brother pointed a gun against brother.

These stories are Walter Macken’s legacy and a gift to each and every one of us. This is why it is “must” reading, especially on a pleasant, summer sun-filled glorious day. Because, in our very next tomorrow, we should never take for granted the liberty and prosperity God has granted us in the safety of our homes, the precious freedom of practicing our faith, the fertility of our fields, and the freedom of civil discourse among our neighbors.

Seek the Fair Land

What if you had to suddenly leave everything, family and friends, your land, your very livelihood, because you’re a hunted man? Moreover, what if many of those you left behind were brutally slaughtered? Of course, it’s uncomfortable to think about even though it’s certainly happening in our world today, and it is an ignoble saga inflicted upon humanity by our fellow humans over many millennia.

This is what happened in Ireland in 1649. King Charles was dead, and Oliver Cromwell decided to reduce an entire nation and people to nothingness.

And, this is where the genius of Walter Macken’s trilogy begins to capture our hearts. Because he centers our focus, not on the great and terrible event makers of the age, but on how these events affected simple people who led simple lives.

Whether, in my life time, it be “boat people” escaping their assured destruction after the “conflict” that was, genuinely, the Vietnam War, or refugees from countless conflagrations, pogroms, massacres, holocausts, and genocides, the very real and natural inclination for the common man is to run. And run as far away as they can from the madness that had decimated hearth and home. Forget about the psychological concept of “flight or fight.” You can’t fight a monster. Most people, throughout time, and certainly within our collective memories have understood this. They certainly should today. A monster is a monster despite diplomatic language from our State department and White House to call it otherwise.

Seek the fair land

that is over the brow of the hill.

And that’s what ordinary people do when confronted with monsters, be they Cromwell or Hitler, Stalin or Mao, or the demons who hunt us today. The common man desires only peace and security, to die in their own bed, to know they have passed on a legacy of faith and freedom, and saved their prodigy from annihilation. They – no we, believe, because we have to, that there must be somewhere safe to go. That’s why refugees risk their lives, and the lives of their children, to seek safer shores.

And yet sometimes, there is no place to go. When the very earth rebels against mankind and there is no place to hide.

The Silent People

Whole populations of peoples, even entire nations, have been silenced, even in our lifetime. From the Armenian Genocide to the Jewish Holocaust to the Rape of Nanking, from the distant screams of the Gulag to the killing fields of Cambodia and the diabolic massacre in Rwanda. And, today, the Christians throughout the Fertile Crescent.

This happened in Ireland in the first half of the nineteenth century. It was total devastation as millions starved in the Great Famine or fled the island in hope of a better life. Yet, historically, we know that help could have saved many if not for political and economic considerations that meant to keep Irish Catholics on the bottom rung of civil society. Hence, I equate all of the above atrocities under the same category: “man’s inhumanity to man.” Even though it was a microbe in the soil that struck the first blow.

Macken’s The Silent People is a masterpiece of historical reflection because you – yourself – your family members are part of the script. He brings us the human drama of true suffering. The unrelenting and unmitigated fight against the inevitable consequences of a two-fold oppressor: Mother Nature and an English Parliament which acted too slowly and without compassion for a discriminated and forlorn people. And the reader immediately identifies with the suffering because we have a sure sense that this could happen to us. That, as comfortable as we are in our day-to-day existence, there’s something unsettling in our universe. And we have an instinctive nudge to be aware and on guard.

There is no direct connection between the characters that people the books of Macken’s trilogy. But the reader will sense that there is. The reader will also come to understand that all three novels share a common bond. A cause and effect between what happened in a so distant past that portends future events. The inevitable and dreaded consequences of forced colonization upon a people yearning to be free.

The Scorching Wind

A Civil War is the worst kind of war because it pits brother against brother – ergo, sister against sister, mother against father. Families, always the mainstay of social order and civilized society, suffer enormously. Walter Macken depicts this wrenching phenomenon with all the precision of a surgeon’s knife as he cuts deeply into the wounds of the Irish Rebellion before and after the Easter Uprising in 1917.

Again, however, it’s not the politics of great men struggling for power that Macken is concerned about. It is how these policies trickle down to the average men and women of Ireland who had to live, on a daily basis, with the cruel hand that was dealt them. Being common people, they had no face cards, no ace in the hole, but had to struggle with what they were given. And, given that they always made the ultimate sacrifice, as the “little” people do everywhere in the world, the dregs of the bitter bottom of the cask are usually their portion.

Of course, this is what happens when brother takes up arms against brother. As Americans did in our War for Independence and, certainly, in our own civil war.

What Walter Macken is telling us is that despite the pains we, as a people, have suffered in the past, in the present, or forever more, there is an innate gene somewhere in our God-given makeup that almost forces us to survive. That, even though scorching winds prevail, the silent, little people will always seek the fair land of a brighter tomorrow. After all, we are all children of Adam and Eve. Somewhere in our consciousness is a distant memory of how things used to be before the fall of man. We yearn for an ordered universe that we know will come when men stop pursuing the false and pride-filled dream of “being like gods.”

Of course, this will not happen until the Second Coming of the Savior. Yet, I believe, as did Walter Macken, that we are innately programmed to live for that day.

Enjoy your summer.

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