Saturday, 19 March 2016

The Scrap by Gene Kerrigan

The Scrap by Gene Kerrigan
Pages: 384
Date: March 19, 2016
Grade: 4.5
Details: Non Fiction
Paperback / Own

The blurb:

In the last hours of the 1916 Easter Rising, 20-year old Charlie Saurin came face to face with his Commander-in-Chief, Patrick Pearse.

In a final gamble, Pearse had a desperate plan to save the collapsing rebellion.

It required the sacrifice of Saurin and his comrades.

The Scrap is the true story of the rising, from first-hand evidence, as seen by one rebel unit - F Company, 2nd Battalion - following them from the first skirmish in Fairview to the inferno of the GPO.

Told in the context of some of the major events of that week, the story of F Company brings alive the excitement, the humour, the horror and the contradictions of that decisive moment in the creation of the Irish state.

My thoughts:

If I’m perfectly honest, I have to admit that I didn’t really want to read this book. Since I live in Ireland it has been impossible not to be aware of the upcoming commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising. Considering how long the lead up has been, I was fed up with the whole event before it even started. But my reading group was adamant they wanted to read about the rising and that it had to be a non-fiction book. So I took to the catalogue of my library and discovered only one title of which we stock enough copies to make it at least feasible that most if not all members would have the opportunity to read the book before our next meeting: The Scrap by Gene Kerrigan.

Now that I have finished to book I find myself having to admit I was wrong. I’m really happy I was ‘made’ to read this book. Before I started reading The Scrap my knowledge about The Rising was very basic. This book proved itself to be a very enjoyable way to learn more.

What really worked for me is that the author tells the story through the eyes of a whole host of participants in The Rising—from its doomed leaders to several teenagers who were part of the event despite their elders best efforts to keep them out of it and a wide range of characters in between those extremes. Initially the flurry of names and places thrown at the reader confused me, but it wasn’t long at all before I found myself becoming attached to at least a few of the recurring participants. And despite the fact that I (of course) knew how the ‘story’ was going to end, I couldn’t help rooting for those I’d come to care for.

The anecdotal manner in which this story is told—giving us glimpses of moments rather than a grand, overall picture—made this an easy to read book with an almost fictional feel to the narrative.

It was wonderful to read a book in which women were given their rightful place in history. Because women played a huge role in the Easter Rising and not ‘just’ as nurses. They were at the centre of the action, facing as much danger as their male counterparts and unlike so many other commentators and books, Gene Kerrigan acknowledges that.

There were times it read like a comedy rather than a factional description of a doomed uprising. For example: Dublin’s inner city is burning, the GPO has been abandoned and a few of the still remaining Volunteers take shelter in a shop on Moore Street.

The rebels now had access to Cogan’s grocery shop, at the junction of Henry Place and Moore Street. Inside, John Twamley was barricading the back room window against snipers. Pearse came into the shop, then James Connolly was carried in on a stretcher. A couple of Cumann na mBan women began cooking a large ham.

I mean, WTF? ‘Cooking a large ham’? I’m sure they were hungry but given the circumstances cooking a ham which depending on its size, takes several hours, feels kinda ridiculous.

In fact, the whole Rising, from (delayed) beginning to end was filled with what for me were WTF moments. And it was exactly those WTF moments which made me realise that even war and unrest are human endeavours and that they almost have to be a combination of the mundane and the breathtaking, the expected and the incredible, dumb luck and even dumber misfortune. With that in mind The Scrap seems to be a very appropriate title for the whole affair.


One of the characters to truly fascinate me was Michael ‘The’ O’Rahilly. Sure, in part that may well be due to the fact that I have a friend with the same surname who, when I asked him, confirmed that he is indeed related to The O’Rahilly. What really touched me though was the fact that throughout the whole duration of The Rising he continued to write and send notes to his wife and children and received at least one back from his son. This, to me, is as beautiful as it is surreal and I love it. I was sad when The O’Rahilly died, alone, but not without first having written a final note to his wife, Nancy….Of course J

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