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Charlie Mac by M.McDonald

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Charlie was shot in his armchair by the ‘B’ Specials, during the Belfast pogroms in 1922.  Mary-Jane, devastated by the death of her husband was shunned by her neighbours and hated by Charlie’s mother who blamed her for Charlie’s death.  Theirs was a mixed marriage in a sectarian city.  Her adult children came to her aid.  James, a home rule supporter, who had fought in World War 1 in the Royal Irish Rangers and had lost his leg in the Battle of the Somme and returned from war a broken man.  Susannah, whose beau Martin had died in battle beside James and who couldn’t forgive those who fought for Irish independence including her brothers.  Charlie and Ernie, the two younger boys who joined the Irish volunteers.  Mamie who was the peacemaker, who saw both sides of every argument.

While the story begins with Charlie’s death, it goes back to a time of innocence when Charlie courted Mary -Jane, their different cultures and religion and how they compromised with their families.  It details bringing up children during those turbulent years.  Charlie working, Mary-Jane the home maker, the birth of their children and the death of their second child at eight months.  It details how events shaped the lives of ordinary people.  The prosperity of Belfast, the general strike in 1907 when protestant and catholic workers united only for the old sectarianism rhetoric to raise its ugly head again, the optimism when Harland & Wolff were contracted to build White Star Line ships and the despair when Titanic sank on its maiden voyage, the fear as the Home Rule Bill was passed by parliament despite unionist vows to fight by force if necessary to oppose it and Civil War was imminent, the outbreak of the Great War and the relief that civil war was averted and that the great war would be over within months, the despair of the endless lists of dead and injured, the shock at the Easter Rising in Dublin and the disgust at the treatment of the rebels by the British, the election of 1918 when many men, like Charlie, could vote for the first time, the partition of Ireland and the outbreak of the War of Independence and then the Irish Civil war.   The story finishes in 1926 with Mary-Jane mourning her husband yet nursing her first grandchild hopeful of a better future for him.  Ireland was partitioned with the north east of the country ruled by London and the rest of country declared a republic and gradually finding its identity after a bloody Civil War.

This story follows the divisions that existed in Irish society at that time, the differences and the similarities of each opposing section and the effect on those living through it.  Charlie and Mary Jane had a mixed marriage in a sectarian city, a city which was divided by religion and politics and eventually led to the division of a country.  Theirs is not a story of rebellion and heroism, of freedom fighters or socialists; their story is not even a love story.  This is just an ordinary tale of ordinary people trying to live their lives in extraordinary times.

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