Rebel Sisters, Marita Conlon McKenna’s powerful new novel, is set in Ireland during the 1916 Rising and is based on the real life Gifford sisters – Muriel, Grace, and Nellie – three young women at the very heart of the Rising.
As the threat of the First World War looms, tension simmers under the surface of Ireland.
Growing up in the privileged confines of Dublin’s leafy Rathmines, the bright, beautiful Gifford sisters Grace, Muriel and Nellie kick against the conventions of their wealthy Anglo-Irish background and their mother Isabella’s expectations.
They soon become involved in the Suffragettes, the 1913 Dublin Lockout and the growing Nationalist movement.
As war erupts across Europe and battalions of British and Irish soldiers are sent to fight on the Western Front, the spirited sisters soon find themselves caught up in their country’s struggle for freedom.
Muriel falls deeply in love and marries writer Thomas MacDonagh. She watches as her husband becomes a leader of the Irish Volunteers.
Talented artist Grace meets the enigmatic Joseph Plunkett, a member part of the secret organization that is planning the Rebellion. Instead of an Easter wedding, Grace will marry the man she loves in the prison chapel of Kilmainham Jail only a few hours before his execution.
Nellie joins James Connolly’s Irish Citizen Army and bravely takes up arms fighting alongside Countess Constance Markievicz in the College of Surgeons.
On Easter Monday, 1916, the biggest uprising in Ireland for two centuries begins. The world of the Gifford sisters and everyone they hold dear will be torn apart in a fight that is destined for tragedy.
Praise for Rebel Sisters
Rebel Sisters is a true story, conveyed through the medium of a wholly engaging novel. And it really works.
Conlon-McKenna’s marvellous book could not be more timely. As painful as the story of these three sisters is, it is told with a light and deft hand. Her attention to historical detail is meticulous; her prose is easy and fluid. To tell a tale where the ending is already known and yet hold the reader spellbound throughout is an admirable trait in a writer, and Conlon-McKenna has accomplished this tricky manoeuvre beautifully. It’s simply a gripping read.
23rd January 2016-Anne Cunningham-The Irish Independent
The cause of Irish freedom, Conlon-McKenna suggests had been a dream for so long that few recognized that it’s time had come. Nellie, though, knew what was going on and the events of that climactic Easter week are seen through her eyes as she is besieged inside the Royal College of Surgeons, caring for the exhausted and hungry fighters.
In a deft re-telling of the story, the whole blundering messiness and the stirring excitement is captured as well as the immediate terrible aftermath during which Muriel and Grace are widowed and Nellie imprisoned. In spite of their dedication to Irish freedom these rebel sisters, alongside many other women have been, if not exactly airbrushed out of history, decidedly sidelined. In this centenary year, this engrossing novel might help to put then centre stage.
10th January 2016-Penny Perrick-The Sunday Times
The true life story of Grace, Muriel and Nellie Gifford is given a novel treatment in Marita Conlon McKenna’s new book. ‘Rebel Sisters’ recounts their involvement in women’s suffrage, labour and nationalist activism, up to and including the 1913 Dublin Lockout and 1916 Easter Rising.
Conlon McKenna makes her book an easy read that fairly skips along. There is such a story to tell that the author skilfully handles her considerate amount of research as the Gifford’s move through a veritable who’s who of the Irish literary and revolutionary society of those first two 20th century decades.
‘Rebel Sisters’ is a timely addition to other publications writing women back into the history of the Rising. Readers, whether romantic or revisionists, will surely come away knowing more about these complex women and those extraordinary times.
7th February 2016-The Irish Mail on Sunday