Mervyn Kavanagh is not only the main character but also the dominating presence in the novel. The reader sees everything through his eyes and listens to his external and internal monologue on the past and present condition of Ireland. His range of reference is startling: He alludes to the Bible, Irish myths, poems, stories, speeches, and tales, as well as to newspaper and radio reports. His attitude toward Ireland is also strategic; he is somewhere between the mindless patriotism of Killoran and the total cynicism of Jeremiah. Furthermore, he does not so much change his character in the course of the book as confirm his view about what has happened in Ireland with the division between Protestant and Catholic.
Deborah is an appealing character; she seems to be full of humor and is invariably good-tempered. She listens with interest to Mervyn’s tales and songs and adds a few of her own. She is a less complex character than Mervyn, but, in contrast to him, she does change. She responds more directly to the terrible events that she has witnessed than Mervyn does when she throws his book into the fire. By doing this, she seems to be blaming history itself for the catastrophe in Carmincross. Although she is, finally, reconciled with Mervyn and her husband, she seems subdued at the end; she has become a part of that history, not someone outside it.
Jeremiah is a familiar Irish type, the cynic. He is unflaggingly sarcastic and satiric. He has created a Revised Irish Minstrelsy in which all the patriotic songs are turned on their head and made to seem absurd. Jeremiah’s indictment seems to be absolute and has become automatic. In addition, he has no part in all the suggestions of renewal, reunion, and marriage. He remains at the end as he was in the beginning.