The author Julie Kavanagh has stepped away from the more familiar ground in this skilful, multi-faceted historical narrative ... She draws in the strands of the story with extraordinary dexterity. She portrays the poverty and the brutality inflicted upon the starving, disease-ridden communities of rural Ireland. She describes in the most touching terms the devastation among the families of both the murdered and those men caught up in the conspiracy who paid for it with their lives ... This narrative is valuable for its exposition of the unbridgeable gulf in understanding and perspective between Ireland and England in those times. The Invincibles arguably represented in microcosm the forces that determined Ireland’s ultimate decision to break with England and to go its own way.
Kavanagh devotes special attention to Parnell, for good reason, because he is so important to this story and so beguiling. It’s refreshing to encounter an author willing to take the time to render political personalities in such fine detail ... The tale of the Phoenix Park murders is not unfamiliar, but Kavanagh recounts it with a great sense of drama ... Kavanagh’s account reminds me of the very best of true crime, the sort that Dominick Dunne used to write for ?Vanity Fair. Like Dunne, Kavanagh never hurries; she takes the time to describe characters and places with exquisite detail. An engaging story is rendered beautiful because of the tiny ephemera that a less sensitive author might have carelessly discarded.
... tragic events are vividly recounted ... Ms. Kavanagh...deftly outlines the conspiracy ... But the Phoenix Park murders are merely the hinge of a fluent, well-researched study of Anglo-Irish relations in the Victorian era ... Ms. Kavanagh’s narrative of high politics and low intrigue, ranging from Dublin to Downing Street and the high seas, brings to vivid life a bloody chapter in the troubled history of Britain and Ireland.
What Julie Kavanagh has done here is to bring this most extraordinary of assassinations to life ... The research is meticulous. There are some 150 pages detailing all of the interested parties and the history behind the political situation in London and Dublin before we even get to the murders themselves ... It’s not all dry historical record either. Rather, Kavanagh casually drops in those personal details that bring characters and history into the real world ... Crucially, the details of private correspondences, personality traits and personal grievances are not mere salacious ornamentation. They are essential to the provision of a true picture of what led to the murders and their aftermath ... The writing is clear and yet warm, leaving the reader in no doubt as to how much personalities, foibles and mere coincidence affect law, politics and history ... This is one of the best researched and most enjoyable historical reads I have come across in quite some time.
Julie Kavanagh...does a masterful job of sorting through the complexities and making the history accessible and comprehensible ... a gripping story, well and clearly told, and as you read you might find your sympathy shifting between the rural Irish, starving to death under England rule, so destitute that some people lived in holes dug in the ground; and the English ... In Kavanagh's hands, however, you will almost certainly not feel empathy for the imperious Queen Victoria, nor for the Irish thugs who murdered their own countrymen if they dared pay rent to their British landlords or even serve them a drink in the local pub.
Kavanagh has done an adroit unpicking of the intricacies of the history, and her book is at once admirable for its scholarship and immensely enjoyable in its raciness. Yet at the close one is left with the inevitable question: All that violence, all those deaths, and for what?
... marvelously engaging ... Kavanagh vividly presents the innumerable players in this saga. And she never neglects the thorny human dimension of her story: the acts of impulse, folly, and desperation, of betrayal and heroism. In a nutshell, she has built a narrative that’s faithful to the flow of events, both overt and behind-the-scenes, while never losing sight of the frailties and passionate commitments behind them ... There’s much in The Irish Assassins to please the serious historian and lay reader alike. One quibble: This reviewer was sometimes overwhelmed by the flood of characters the author necessarily introduces. An annotated roster of the principals up front might have helped. Otherwise, this is a marvelous read.
Kavanagh has constructed a riveting tale that is both deeply researched and unforgettable. The sensational events leading up to and following the trials and executions of those directly involved in the assassinations sharply brought into focus a long history of bloodshed, oppression, and injustice that also touched many of the Victorian era’s political notables, including Queen Victoria, prime minister William Gladstone, and Irish nationalist Charles Parnell. As the book’s action shifts from Ireland to England, then to North America and South Africa, it skillfully tells a complex story of ambition, conspiracy, betrayal, and coercion that was centuries in the making, with implications that reach to the 21st century ... Expertly blending history and true crime, this is an essential read for anyone wanting to understand modern Irish history. Kavanagh’s writing is engaging from start to finish.
... riveting ... To provide context for the titular murders, Kavanagh delves deeply into British rule in Ireland, which started with the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169. After sketching out the timeline, Kavanagh fully immerses readers into mid and late 1800s Ireland, providing rich historical details about day-to-day life and tracking the rising political tensions between poverty-stricken Irish tenants and despotic English landlords ... This entertaining and informative narrative is populated by colorful characters on both sides of the conflict, all of whom are brought to vivid life by Kavanagh’s stellar writing and through firsthand correspondence.
... a page-turning history ... [Kavanagh] vividly describes how the murders were plotted and carried out by the Invincibles, an extremist group within the Brotherhood, with funding from American supporters of Irish independence, and shows how the resulting backlash delayed home rule for Ireland by more than 30 years ... This entertaining and richly detailed chronicle offers fresh insights into a conflict whose repercussions are still felt today.
... painstaking and sometimes-harrowing detail ... To depict broader crises, Kavanagh uses 'the shifting episodic structure of today’s television dramas,' or quick cuts from country to country and character to character, which makes it hard to follow the sprawling plot and cast. Yet Kavanagh’s keen sense of Ireland’s pain—and the damage England inflicted on itself with its handling of it—ultimately justifies her conclusion ... A cinematic, multilayered revenge tragedy centered on Ireland’s fraught quest for independence.