A Soldier’s wife by Marion Reynolds
A Soldier’s Wife was the winner of 2013 Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair
‘An epic tale of a wide spectrum. It brought Dublin of that period to life’ Muriel Bolger
‘An intimate portrait of a young mother as she attempts to navigate the political and social complexities of early 20th century Dublin. Full of social and historical detail – but always warmly human’
Catherine Dunne, author
About the book:Ellen, romantic and naïve, falls in love with James, an Irishman serving in the British Army. He is posted to India and this, for her, is a dream come true. After seven years of heartache and joy, and a lifestyle which is leisurely and luxurious, they return to Ireland and James is demobbed.
They settle with their three young children in Dublin, a city rife with political and civil unrest, and beset with terrible poverty. When World War I is declared, James re-enlists. Ellen is left to bring up her children alone, in a city which views the wives of British soldiers with suspicion.
If James survives and returns, it will be to a different Ireland, one which has lived through the 1916 Rising and its aftermath, where anti- British sentiment grows stronger every day.
Ellen longs for James but worries. Will there be a place for them in this new Ireland?
The photo that inspired my novel
By Marion Reynolds
When I was growing up in Dublin there was a photo in my grandmother’s house that intrigued me. It was a large photo in an ornate frame of an elegant woman in a beautiful dress with her hair upswept in the Edwardian style and a dashing man in military uniform with a curled moustache. Between them was a baby in a lace dress and beside her another man in uniform.
Even as a child I knew that the photo and frame were completely at variance with the rest of the living room in the small two up two down which was my grandparent’s house. I found it hard to believe that the old people I knew and loved were the same glamorous people in that photograph.
They seldom talked about the lives they had led before they settled in the house in Dublin. My grandfather told me that he grew up in Bray, Co Wicklow. He went to visit a friend in Athlone; they both got drunk and joined the Connaught Rangers Regiment of the British Army. He served seven years in India before returning to Ireland and meeting my grandmother. They both lived in India for another seven years. Occasionally Grandma mentioned growing up on Lord Lucan’s estate in Castlebar where her father was the lodge keeper. Once I found a shred of luminous silk in a beautiful kingfisher colour at the back of the wardrobe which she said had been part of a ball gown when they lived in India. When I asked about the baby I was told that she died on the way to India. The other man in the photo was her cousin who had also been in the Connacht Rangers Regiment.
Grandad always wore a poppy on Remembrance Sunday but nobody else in the family or even the street did. The house was in a nationalist area of Dublin. I found a tin tobacco box with his military medals in it on a rainy day when I searched the wardrobe out of boredom. One was the Military Medal which he told me he had won for bravery during WW1. Before he could tell me more, Grandma said it was time for tea and put the medals away.
I grew up and spent less time in that house. Other things occupied my mind: education, career, boyfriends, marriage, and a family. Although both grandparents lived into their nineties, I was still young when they died. A cousin inherited the photo, another cousin the medals and the house was sold.
Like many people, it was not until I got older myself that I began to research my grandparents’ lives. The dramatic changes that my grandmother had seen in the course of her life particularly interested me. She had gone from a fairly privileged upbringing in Mayo to a glamorous life as the wife of a sergeant major in the India of the Raj, with servants to do the housework and ayahs to look after the children. She returned to a very different, frugal life in Dublin. While her husband went off to fight in Flanders, she was left alone to bring up her four children in a nationalist area of the city. She and her family witnessed the Lockout, the Rising, the Civil War and the emergence of the Free State.
When he returned from the war, he could not find employment of any kind, in common with most of the Irishmen who were former British soldiers. His family had all become nationalists and were ashamed of his military service in the British army. Family lore said that our grandfather survived WW1 without being wounded. I discovered that he had been wounded not once but twice. Most of his regiment was wiped out at the Battle of the Somme but he survived.
I have a copy of the photo in my house now. After years of thinking about it, I decided to write about my grandparents and that tumultuous period of Irish history. I wish now that I had taken more interest in their story when they were still alive.
About the author: Marion Reynolds is from Dublin and read English at Trinity College, Dublin and was awarded an M.A.in Communications by DCU. During her career, she worked as a teacher and lecturer in both Ireland and the UK. She is a regular contributor of articles, interviews and book reviews to newspapers. She has had a number of short stories published. She teaches creative writing and mentors writers of memoir and historical fiction.
A Poolbeg Paperback, 9781781997819, 1st August 2018, €9.99
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