Pete St. John wrote the famous song, Fields of Athenry. Now Cahal Dunne's has written the book, Athenry

If you like what you read here, you have plenty of time to order it for Christmas gifts, and they will send it wherever you want!

Review By  Cahir O'Doherty of The Irish Voice, New York, November 2020
The word Athenry has become talismanic in Ireland. The famous song by Pete St. John has become a crowd staple that seems to speak to something deep in us, some inherited ache, and the lyrics are based on a true story the writer heard in his youth and never forgot.

      Because his subject is the impact of the English colonial misadventure in Ireland, in Athenry, an Odyssey of Sacrifice, Survival, and Love, writer Cahal Dunne, wisely includes primers for the general reader, who may be shocked to learn the true scale of the horror.

      The book begins by quoting the Penal Laws in operation between 1695 and 1829. Those laws forbade Irish Catholics to practice their religion, receive an education, enter a profession, hold public office, engage in trade or commerce, live in a corporate town, purchase land, vote, hold an annuity, educate their own children, or speak their own language.

      It's important to understand that this was a policy of extermination. The point was to stop the Irish people being Irish, to steal their lands, kill their language, run them into destitution and dependency, or drive them off the island. Between 1788 and 1886, roughly 164,000 Irish and English men and women were forcibly transported to Australia, never to see their homes and families again.

      We haven't even begun to undo the psychic damage of centuries of English colonialism, and so Dunne's book is a very successful attempt to outline its personal and public costs to head and heart. He wants to show us the individual cost of the Great Hunger as the worst social disaster in Europe in the 19th century. It killed as many Irish people as a low level nuclear strike.

      But it's a mistake to assume the average Irish person may be aware of all of these facts, and it's foolish to assume that any English person does. In Ireland, colonial exploitation and penal laws sought to keep the population in ignorance, outlawing the language, education, property, voting rights, and effectively citizenship of their own country.

      Dunne introduces us to Liam and Maire. Their potential is quickly stolen when Liam is caught stealing grain to feed his famished family during the potato blight. As in the famous song, he is transported to Australia on a prison ship, and is never expected to see Ireland again. [Only five percent of the transported ever returned]

      Music, Dunne also reminds us - he was Ireland's Eurovision singer in 1979 - connects cultures across time. It can give voice to what's unspoken. ATHENRY, an Odyssey of Sacrifice, Survival, and Love, is both an exile story and prodigal's return, the two great Irish themes of the last century. It's a reminder of so many of our ancestors, having their land and language stolen, had little more to live on but their wits.

      In his book, Dunne recovers the dignity of people forced to live in extremes, and he gives voice to a century - in word and song - that has too long been silenced.
  History, the Attorney General Bill Barr recently remarked, is usually written by the winners. Less time is spent on all the people under its wheel. It's a tale as old as time.

      This summer, we watched the statues of one Confederate leader after another being toppled from their plinths by protesting crowds across the country, but who thought to ask why there had been so many to topple in the first place?

      Didn't they lose after all? Didn't the Union army and the abolition of slavery write the final chapter? Why were there so many statues to literal racist losers still standing across the nation in 2020? Sometimes the hardest things to see are the things that are right in front of your nose.

      Who is commemorated and who is forgotten is a centuries long ongoing battle, one that still rages in the genteel corridors of power and of academia. Under their sophisticated surface there is violence. Because Irish history isn't just a story, it's an argument. Where you stand determines what you see and what you don't see.

      The Irish, their land stolen, are driven to destitution, and their colonial masters simply lord it over them, even blaming them for the theft. Dunne's absorbing new novel contemplates the effect of this meteor strike on one man and his family, and through them, the nation.

      ATHENRY, an Odyssey of Sacrifice, Survival, and Love is available via Amazon Kindle or in book form for $15 via

Reviewed here by Cecelia Fabos-Becker Professional History Researcher

I’m writing this review to tell you of a GREAT NEW novel, ATHENRY, ‘An odyssey of sacrifice, survival, and love,’ by author, CAHAL DUNNE. In this novel, besides husband and wife, ‘love’ also refers to family, friends, and culture. ‘Survival’ refers to several things: famine, oppression, extreme injustice, imprisonment, long dangerous voyages and more.

ATHENRY was inspired by a song familiar to many people of Irish descent: THE FIELDS OF ATHENRY, one of Ireland’s best-known folk songs.

ATHENRY, is an ‘odyssey’ story -- a real one that actually happened to some historic individuals, and literally takes you nearly around the world and back again.

Desperate Irishmen were torn apart from their families, some, because they stole their landlord’s food trying to feed their starving families. They were sentenced to the British penal colonies of Australia. These prisoners could be abused, even killed, by their assigned ‘contract owner.’

The main character in this novel, Liam O’Donoghue, is one of these hapless Irishmen. Liam is determined to escape his fate. To say much more though, would be giving away a great story.

Meanwhile, Liam’s wife, MAIRE, and their son still had to survive somehow during the worst years of the Famine. This is another important part of the whole ATHENRY story.

Cahal Dunne succeeds in making the characters believable. His characters grow and change over time and events, as the best of us hope to do. His characters become stronger and smarter, and despite oppression, even more compassionate as they begin to see more shared humanity. One can’t create better characters.

In a great novel, the reader’s imagination has been given enough detail by the writer to put himself or herself in the places in the novel. In ATHENRY, you can hear and smell the places where the main characters are. Hollywood would have to work hard to make this story come alive as well as Dunne does with his writing.

A great novel has believable characters, conflicts and plots, no idiot plots or subplots. A great novel has characters that readers recognize as human, with real obstacles to overcome.

Cahal Dunne went above and beyond the standard formula of a classic good and evil, hero and villain novel. He remembered that villains are human also, and even his villains have surprising complexity, and aren’t pure evil as you might think.

This book reminds us of our common humanity and needs as humans, that are more important than our differences, and that all people deserve fair justice, compassion, and opportunities.

Amazon/Kindle for $8.99
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