Trinity by Leon Uris: ´Patience was the elixir of revolution´

Trinity is a novel by American author Leon Uris, published in 1976. It follows the life of Conor Larkin, who belongs to the Catholic hill farmers from the fictional town of Ballyutogue in County Donegal, as he grows up in an Ireland under the rule of the British, and in his journey moves to the Bogside of Derry, the shipyard of Belfast, even Australia, and then back in Ireland.

As he witnesses the plight of the Irish Roman Catholics (RCs) under the yoke of the British, rebellion rises in him till he joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the roots of Sinn Féin.

No prose could force a man with a full belly into the streets to rise, nor could any law stop a hungry man from taking to the streets.

Alongside Conor is his best friend, Seamus O’Neill, who decides to narrate the story from time to time, and disappears when the narrative gets too historical. The book is replete with historical events, from the Great Famine of the 1840s to the Easter Rising in 1916.

Uris does a good job of showing the sectarian and sub-sectarian divides in the Irish society of those times. While both Protestants and the RCs had fanatic overbearing churches, the Protestants have the Orangemen, the Gombeen, and the British Aristocracy. The Irish Catholics have an age-old social strata, where the oldest child inherits, leaving the rest of the siblings (always too many) fending for themselves. Most of them immigrate to America or Australia, making half of all immigration in the 1950s to the US from Ireland. As Uris says, ´only the weak´ are left behind.

Uris makes it clear that religion is the root cause of misery on both sides. The Protestants are unforgiving of those who befriend an RC and gladly follow a fanatic leader like Reverend Oliver McIvor. The RCs grow up with the fear of sin deeply embedded. A rare humorous scene is little Seamus feeling nauseous about saying the rosary every evening.

McIvor agreed, for he was now in the business of making spiritual loans to be collected at great interest in the future.

Religion pervades every aspect of life. There is no education, no doctor, no food, but the priest is right there telling you how to suffer. As an Indian, I couldn’t help identifying with this pestilence of religion, a cause of almost every problem in India even now.

RC women are oppressed as well as confused, as is revealed by Fiona Larkin´s predicament, who confesses enjoying a healthy sex life to the RC priest Father Lynch and is severely reprimanded. On the Protestant side, we see Shelley McLeod, who is much more independent, and is forgiven for having an affair with a married man, but pays with her life when she dares to love a Catholic man.

The only British female character is the daughter of tycoon Sir Frederick Weed, Caroline Weed, who is much more emancipated and has a healthy line of lovers before she settles down to marry Roger Hubble, a member of the ruling British elite. Yet, she must bring a male heir to carry on her father´s empire.

Amid all this, the characters of Conor and Roger Hubble both see clearly through the farce. Father Lynch and the Reverend McIvor both commit the sin of coveting glory and hold their congregation through fear, but both can´t fool Conor and Roger.

Finola had joined the majority of Ballyutogue mothers who had lost any physical and esoteric sensations of love making. Her home became like all the others, in that her husband was a boarder and the sons treated as gentry.

While commendable as a historical saga of the Irish rebellion that touches upon some of the worst policies of the British and their ways of oppression, the story isn’t one of Uris´ best works. Even Google and Wikipedia don’t give much information about the book. There is a feeling that the author tries to cover too much, and still falls short. And once more, Uris is accused of partiality, like he was in Exodus.

However, while Exodus seemed close to his heart, because he himself was Jewish, Trinity doesn’t capture the passion of the author. Personally, I read Angela´s Ashes by Frank McCourt before Trinity, which made the dialogue experience worse. Angela´s Ashes makes you think in Irish accents. Trinity rarely captures those colloquialisms.

We are as a stranger to those who sent us here, we are strangers to those whom we have usurped and exploited. And now we are strangers to ourselves – Roger Hubble

Still, for a person like me, it´s like a history lesson that has been peppered with romance, action, tragedy, sex, and pathos. However, the story of Conor is predictable, he is too much of a superhero. He is handsome, tall, strong, good in bed, clever, artsy, a sportsman, a leader, the list goes on. At times, he reminded me of the formidable Ari Ben Canaan, the protagonist of Exodus, but Canaan was way more real. Conor´s flawlessness makes him unreal. Roger Hubble, Conor´s British counterpart, is far more real.

Yet, Uris, as always, describes the machinations of politics flawlessly. As an Indian, there are many times I remembered the Indian struggle against the British. Even as the Brotherhood plan meticulously with scant resources and no support from the general Irish public, they never expect to succeed. To imagine how they must have gone on in the face of utter hopelessness with only the aim of gaining some dignity, is commendable.

In Ireland, there is no future, only the past happening over and over.


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