Peter Cunningham’s latest novel “Freedom is a Land I Cannot See” is due for release by Sandstone Press on 24th June. It is one of his best. He shows great skill and sympathy in evoking living conditions of a century ago.
The novel is set in the Baldoyle/ Sutton area of Dublin, 1924 when the new Irish Free State was coping with their aftermath of the successive internecine in wars of the 1919 to 1923 period. To explain why the characters were as they were in 1924, the novel then switches back to 1920. This is at the height of the fighting between the IRA and the Army, Police and Black and Tans. The killings that happened then left a mark on the surviving characters that remained in 1924.
The central character, and narrator in the book, Rose Raven, is the daughter of a Presbyterian, English born, ex soldier, who is married to an Irish Catholic woman and living in a cottage in Sutton.
Rose’s mother believes Ireland would be safer staying in the Empire. Her father tries to keep his head down, but Rose’s friends are all nationalists of various hues, who want out of the Empire and are prepared to act in varying degrees to achieve that.
In 1920, the risks run by mixed allegiance families like the Ravens in 1920 are substantial. People were suspected of being “informers” on the strength of their religious beliefs and/or past service alone. Many left the country out of fear.
By 1924, the Free State had finally been established and was trying to stay afloat financially. It was highly sensitive to its credit rating, and worried about the dissemination of bad news that might damage confidence in the State’s creditworthiness.
The plot of the novel revolves around the involvement of some of Rose Raven’s friends in endeavouring to pass some such damaging information, about conditions in the West of Ireland, to a US newspaper.
Peter Cunningham makes the reader feel he or she is living in North Dublin, alongside the book’s characters, as they navigate the successive crises of the 1920’s.
Peter spent much of his own early childhood in Sutton and has a great eye for local detail. That said, the characters he describes remain something of a mystery. This a good book and I recommend it.