1941 - The Uninvited
Updated: May 31, 2019
1941. The new Irish State is repeatedly bombed by the Luftwaffe, and its tiny shipping fleet is attacked by both the Allies and the Axis. Taoiseach (the Irish Prime Minister) Éamon de Valera though is determined to maintain his country’s neutrality, and these provocations don’t phase him. Valera’s party, the Fianna Fáil, support this policy and Irish neutrality is maintained until the end of the War.
Ireland’s neutrality has popular backing. The country is new and weak, and De Valera’s policy is that small states should stay out of the conflicts of big powers. This doesn’t mean that there is no criticism of this policy. There are many who are upset that their country is refusing to take on the moral fight against Nazism. To these the Secretary of the Department of External Affairs, Joe Walshe, responds as follows:
“small nations like Ireland do not and cannot assume a role as defenders of just causes except [their] own ... Existence of our own people comes before all other considerations … no government has the right to court certain destruction for its people; they have to take the only chance of survival and stay out.”
Despite these words and Ireland’s official position, in practice the Allies receive a lot of help from Ireland under the table, mainly in the form of shared intelligence, but also by allowing British ships to be repaired in Irish Ports, and allowing the RAF to establish a single air strip on Irish territory. On an individual level, at least 50,000 Irish citizens serve in the British armed forces in a wide variety of positions, and these also include Dorothy Macardle, who relocates to London during World War II to participate in the fight against the Nazis. While there, she spends most of her time helping refugees, and also writing The Uninvited, a supernatural mystery about an Irish brother and sister who buy a haunted house.
Dorothy Macardle (1889-1958) was an Irish writer, novelist, playwright, and propagandist who was very active during the Irish War of Independence, and a woman who I would have loved to meet. She was an active feminist, a humanitarian who supported universal civil liberties, but also a nationalist and Irish Republican, who believed that the entirety of Ireland should be under Irish rule. Her book The Irish Republic is considered basic reading for anyone who wants to study the Irish War of Independence and its aftermath.
As a feminist, Macardle was highly critical of the 1937 Irish Constitution, which awarded special recognition to the Catholic church, and restricted women’s presence in the public sphere by protecting their place in the home. Macardle felt this was a betrayal to the commitment to equal citizenship, which was made in the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic.
In general, Macardle was highly critical of how family ideals were being championed by her country, while the reality was that many mothers and children were forced to live in poverty. She wrote a series of articles in The Irish Press in which she argued that preaching about home and hearth matter little when working class mothers and children were deprived of basic living conditions, and these are also criticisms she revisits in The Uninvited.
The book is a first person narrative told from the perspective of Roderick “Roddy” Fitzgerald who together with his sister Pamela, buy Cliff’s End, a gorgeous house with an amazing view located outside the remote village of Wilmcote. Roddy is an aspiring playwright, and Pamela wants to experience country life. They figure Cliff’s End will help inspire Roddy’s writing. The house was owned by Commander Brooke who is raising his orphan granddaughter, Stella. Stella's mother was killed in a tragic accident when she was three. Commander Brooke tries to warn the Fitzgeralds that the previous residents had issues with the house, but the siblings dismiss these concerns, and invite Pamela’s old housekeeper, Lizzie to move in with them together with her cat.
Gradually over a period of several months, Roddy and Pamela discover more about the original residents of Cliff’s End, and learn that Stella’s saintly mother, Mary Meredith, died near the house when trying to save her husband’s mistress Carmel. As they learn more, the Fitzgeralds also start experiencing disturbances in their new house. Pamela starts hearing voices at night, one of their guests sees herself aged in the mirror, there are ghostly manifestations, and it is impossible to spend the night in the old nursery. The Fitzgeralds are going to need to unravel this mystery, if they want to be able to keep on living in Cliff’s End, a task which is made all the more difficult because of the many secrets involved.
I loved this book, and strongly recommend it for a long Shabbat afternoon. The suspense was built up at just the right pace, giving me plenty of time to get to know and connect with all the protagonists. There are multiple sub-stories that unfold together with the primary mystery, and I didn’t see the twist at the end coming at all. I was left with a strong taste for more after reading this novel, and now need to explore more of the stories Macardle wrote. She’s got a collection of short stories, Earth-Bound, which sounds really fascinating.
The Omer today is foundation in foundation and, and I found myself thinking about this a lot as I read about the Ireland’s neutrality, and the founding principles of the country’s new constitution, which in many ways reminded me of the tensions that exist in Israel. The powers of the government “derive, under god, from the people.” Freedom of religion exists, subject to public order and morality, and the state can’t prefer any specific religion. At the same time Catholic principles are enshrined within the text of the constitution, such as the ban on abortion (repealed in 2018), the recognition of a mother’s special place at home, the need to provide for mothers to enable them to stay at home, and the protection of marriage. There is no State church. However, for decades the church was a dominant power. I don’t know if it would have made any difference in Israel, regarding religious tensions, if the Chief rabbinate had never been established, and instead Orthodox religious principles would have been enshrined more deeply in Israel’s basic laws, but I do like the fact that the constitution has mechanisms for changing these laws when there is enough popular support to demand them. Comparing our two countries, and the principles that make up their foundations, is something I would recommend if only for the sake of getting a different perspective. The grass is never completely greener on the other side, and it’s always worth talking a look.