Book set in West Cork shows a different view of War of Independence and Civil War

Fans of Cork history are in for a treat this weekend writes GRAINNE MCGUINNESS
Book set in West Cork shows a different view of War of Independence and Civil War

Edith Somerville from Castletownshend is the subject of a novel by Martina Devlin.

THERE is a packed programme at the West Cork Literary Festival in Bantry, which starts today, Friday July 8, but one event will be of particular interest to local readers and fans of Cork history.

On Sunday, Martina Devlin will be reading from her new novel Edith, based on the life of Edith Somerville of ‘Somerville and Ross’ fame – authors of The Irish R.M.

In this time of so many centenary commemorations, as we look at the tumultuous events of 1916-1922 in Cork and across the country, Edith offers a fascinating look at events from a less-frequently heard viewpoint.

It is the early 1920s and Edith Somerville is a member of the Ascendancy, struggling to keep her family home, Drishane House in Castletownshend in West Cork, while others are burned out.

Her desire is to protect her beloved Drishane and maintain it for the next generation of Somervilles but she faces obstacles on a number of different fronts. The old country house is costly to maintain and the only sibling living there with her is neither willing nor able to afford its upkeep.

Somerville previously had considerable success with her writing partnership with cousin Violet Martin – writing as Somerville and Ross. But with her cousin now dead she struggles with the adjustment to writing alone and finds herself stretched financially.

Edith by Martina Devlin
Edith by Martina Devlin

Outside her household, Ireland is grappling to throw off the yoke of British rule, with civil war following on the heels of the war against British forces. Though Somerville feels herself Irish and is determined to remain in her home, there is a gulf between her family and the Irish people she interacts with in nearby Skibbereen. She can no longer be sure of who she can trust and who views her as an interloper – with this uncertainty extending even to families who have worked at Drishane for generations.

In Edith, Devlin draws a picture of the War of Independence and Civil War as seen from the class in the big houses. It is absorbing, and meticulously researched, with fascinating detail of day-to-day life at the time.

Fascinating too are Somerville’s personal struggles, as she turns to seances and automatic writing to communicate with the lost and much-loved Martin. She also regularly sees and communicates with probably her best-known fictional creation – the irrepressible Flurry Knox.

Edith is an engrossing portrayal the novelist and also offers an unusual perspective on events many of us have only ever heard told from one point of view.

Marianne Lee joins Martina Devlin at the event on Sunday. Marianne will read from her debut novel A Quiet Tide, based on the life of Ireland’s first female botanist Ellen Hutchins - who came from Bantry.

Marianne and Martina’s event will take place in Bantry House on Sunday 10 July at 3pm.

This is just one event of the varied and extensive West Cork Literary Festival programme, taking place in and around the town of Bantry from today to July 815.

There are master classes, readings, and workshops, as well as interviews with authors, book launches, and a myriad of other events. The long list of visitors to Bantry this year includes names like Colm Tóibín, Jane Casey, Paul Muldoon, Zadie Smith and West Cork Native, Louise O’Neill whose latest novel, Idol has been published to critical and popular acclaim.

See for more information.

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