Critical Evaluation

(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

In HANGMAN’S HOUSE, Donn Byrne intended to write an Irish novel for Irishmen, people for whom their own country was a passion. An intense love for Irish landscape, horse racing, coursing, Gaelic balladry, hunting, and the writer’s freedom-loving countrymen is evident throughout the book. When the novel appeared, critics may have preferred his MESSER MARCO POLO or THE WIND BLOWETH, but revised judgment is likely to put HANGMAN’S HOUSE above the latter. The book was written in Dublin in 1922 and 1923, while the country was still being harried by the armed resistance of Republican irreconcilables. The state of Ireland at that time is presented in Byrne’s characterization of the Citizen, a splendid man who had direct control over those who wanted to fight for freedom. The novel has been dramatized for the stage and for motion pictures.

Ireland and the strangely heroic Irish race are the subject of HANGMAN’S HOUSE, perhaps Byrne’s most noted novel. Certain medieval prophets had accurately predicted that Ireland would be tyrannized by England for “a week of centuries” (seven centuries); and that week ended during the 1920’s, the decade in which Byrne’s novel is set. The end of tyranny is the story’s background theme. Despite the cluster of characters, ranging from the Citizen, to Lord Glenmalure, to Dermot McDermot, the dominant presence in the novel is Ireland’s finally realized struggle for...

(The entire section is 458 words.)