(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Hyacinth “Hycy” Burke is the son of a wealthy and respected peasant who has allowed his wife, a woman with social pretensions of her own, to spoil the boy. With his mother’s approval, Hycy has become a dissolute young man. Because his father, Jemmy Burke, tries to curb him by reducing his allowance, Hycy enters into partnership with whiskey smugglers to supplement his diminished income.

When one of the prettiest young women in the area, Kathleen Cavanagh, catches Hycy’s eye, he determines to seduce her. Unfortunately for his plans, he misdirects two letters. One, intended for Kathleen, goes instead to Bryan M’Mahon, who truly loves Kathleen; another, intended for young M’Mahon, goes to Kathleen. Later, after being publicly snubbed on more than one occasion, Hycy resolves to have revenge on Kathleen and her true admirer. Any additional villainy can scarcely put him in greater danger than he is already in; he has already been an accomplice to burglarizing his father’s house, has taken a large sum of money, and has been an active accomplice of smugglers. It is through his fellow smugglers that he plans to get his revenge.

A law in Ireland requires the inhabitants of a township to pay fines for any illegal distillation and smuggling of whiskey in their township if the actual culprits are not known. Bryan M’Mahon’s farm at Ahadarra covers an entire township, and if he were to be required to pay such a fine by himself, he would be ruined. To carry out his plan, Hycy enlists the help of the nephew of the local goods inspector. Hycy promises the nephew the chance to lease a fine farm if the latter will press Hycy’s suit for his sister’s hand. The farm, of course, is Bryan M’Mahon’s.

Bryan is not the only member of his family facing tragedy. Both his and his father’s farm leases have run out, and death has prevented the absentee landlord from renewing them. The new landlord, a well-meaning but weak and inexperienced young man, is ruled by his agent, who wishes to see the M’Mahons lose their farms, leased by the family for generations.

Hycy carefully makes his plans. What he fails to realize, however, is that he has made enemies while Bryan...

(The entire section is 901 words.)