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New YorkerDublin burned, British troops and Irish separatists exchanged gunfire and artillery shells, and about two hundred and thirty civilians were killed during Easter week in Ireland in 1916. As Tim Pat Coogan writes in 1916: The Easter Rising, the rebel leader James Connolly, injured and confined to the Irish Volunteer headquarters after a few days of bloody fighting, passed the time reading a detective novel. During a rare quiet moment, Connolly dryly remarked, "A book like this, plenty of rest and an insurrection -- all at the same time. This certainly is revolution de luxe." Out in the streets, his militia battled to take the city, fighting with a bravery that has been repeatedly eulogized since. Within a week, the group was forced to surrender, and, like most of the leaders of the rebellion, Connolly himself was executed.
Into this turbulent landscape Jamie O'Neill casts the heroes of his historical novel, At Swim, Two Boys, whose title is a play on the title of Flann O'Brien's landmark Irish comic novel At Swim-Two-Birds. This story takes place in the year leading up to the Easter Rising and investigates the complicated weave of alliances in Ireland; the two Dublin boys struggle not only with their political affiliations but with their religious and sexual identities.
W. B. Yeats spoke to Ireland's scars of strife, famously noting in "Easter, 1916" that, after the Rising, "All changed, changed utterly: / A terrible beauty is born." A new volume of Yeats's essays, Writings on Irish Folklore, Legend and Myth, examines ancient tales of the land -- an Ireland bewitched by "sociable fairies," the banshee, and the medieval warrior Cuchulain. In fables, Yeats writes, mortals are transformed into "perfect symbols of the sorrow and beauty and of the magnificence and penury of dreams.'' (Lauren Porcaro)