Friday, 24 April 2015

Guest Post: Marina Julia Neary Discusses Her Exploration of a Politically Incorrect Hero

As we observe the 99th anniversary of Dublin's Easter Rising of 1916, author Marina Julia Neary discusses its events, two key players and an unexpected admiration.

The Rising of 1916
With the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising in Dublin approaching, there is a surge of renewed interest in the subject among Irish history buffs. There's a great deal of revising and re-evaluating the past, with martyrs and traitors often trading places. Incidentally, that is the title of one of my novels, Martyrs & Traitors. The choice of words is filled with pathos and sarcasm. Perhaps, I should point out that I am not a propagandist but a storyteller. I've been asked before whether I sided with the British or with the Irish rebels, but in reality I do not take sides, nor do I try to sway my readers in either direction. Not that you need to take sides to enjoy a good historical novel. So far I have three novels in the Irish series: Brendan Malone: The Last Fenian (All Things That Matter Press, 2011), Martyrs & Traitors: A Tale of 1916 (All Things That Matter Press, 2011) and Never Be at Peace: A Novel of Irish Rebels (Fireship Press, 2014). The three novels deal with the Easter Rising. 

A controversial campaign
As a military campaign, the Easter Rising was doomed from the start. Not that it was ever meant to be a military success. The instigators lacked proper training and were no match for the British soldiers. It certainly would not be the first unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the British rule. Similar attempts had happened over the course of the 19th century on a much lower scale. It was a publicity stunt more than anything. Still, 1916 was as good a time as any. By then England was up to her shoulders in WWI on the Western front. The leaders behind the rising thought it was a convenient time for them to strike, since most of the troops were on the continent. "England's difficulty is Ireland's opportunity."  On Easter Monday, a handful of the Irish Volunteers and members of the Irish Citizen Army captured a few key buildings in the city and managed to hold them for various periods of time. Still, there was no chance of winning. The British sent the reinforcements and put the insurrection down. The initial reaction of the people of Dublin was fury with the rebels whose amateur rising had turned the city center into a pile of rubble. Most of them were totally apolitical and did not really care about Ireland's freedom, as long as they were able to run their businesses. However, after the first wave of fury subsided, people's sentiments started changing. The harsh treatment of the rebel leaders by the British galvanized the Irish population, which was exactly what the leaders had hoped for. Of course, they did not know that for sure marching into the battle. That was the risk they were taking.  

Within the revolutionary circles, not all key players were on the same side. Some believed in the 
symbolic power of martyrdom, the proverbial "triumph of failure," while other considered it a waste of blood. Many alliances, friendships and even love affairs had broken up over that question. In Martyrs & Traitors, the events are described through the eyes of a man who tried to stop the rising, Bulmer Hobson (1883-1969), a prominent member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Unlike Patrick Pearse, one of the leaders of the rising, Hobson saw no value in the sacrificial bloodshed. As an influential officer in the Irish Volunteers, Hobson went against his comrades. Such insolence had nearly cost him his life. On the eve of the rising he was captured and kept at gunpoint until the hostilities were well underway. Years later, after Ireland had finally gotten her freedom, he had no place in the political arena, as he was still remembered as a traitor.

A politically incorrect hero
Hobson's first name was John, but he went by his middle name Bulmer - which was also a surname on his mother's side of the family. Bulmer means young male calf. It denotes a clean, boyish masculinity. According to various sources, Hobson was cheerful, energetic and forthcoming but at the same time very benevolent and naive.

Hobson as a young man (24)
during his trip to the U.S.
It seems that in today's world it's almost a faux pas to depict a heterosexual middle-class white Anglo Saxon Protestant male in a sympathetic light. It's a group that's been demonized by the media as the source of all human suffering. Well, the main character of Martyrs & Traitors falls into every category listed above. The middle child of a prosperous Quaker family from Belfast, he did not experience the deprivations that so many of his contemporaries did. On paper, he does have a few saving graces: his mother was a radical feminist, whose activism formed his views on gender equality. If Hobson did not show much compassion for the poor, it was not due to deliberate callousness but rather to his lack of firsthand experience of destitution. Even though he was of predominantly English stock, he sided with Irish separatists. In the upper middle-class Quaker circle in which he grew up, his political and cultural views were regarded as rather exotic, for lack of better word. At the same time, Quaker ethos maintains that each individual is free to embrace activism that's dear to his/her heart, as long as that activism does not involve usage of physical force. The last principle of his faith mandating pacifism Hobson found hard to swallow. In 1914 he took active part in arming the Irish Volunteers with Mausers supplied by Germany. His activities were incompatible with Quaker principles, so he ended up dropping out of the Society of Friends. 

As for his nationalist comrades, because of his English roots and a fairly privileged early life, he was regarded with suspicion. It's a myth that all Irish nationalists were of Irish stock and Catholic. There were several English and Protestant participants who acted on a principle, though they were always kept under a magnifying glass. To many Hobson was just a rich half-English boy experimenting with radical politics. That view was held by his first love, Helena Molony, an actress from the Abbey Theatre and one of the most vocal belligerents. Incidentally, she is the heroine of my novel Never Be at Peace

Hobson's first love, Helena Molony

From curiosity to full-blown obsession
Truth be told, as far as my tastes in men go, I have no interest in dark, brooding, muscular Latin lovers. I like scrawny, pale, vitamin D-deprived Anglo-Saxon boys. It's no wonder that I became infatuated with Bulmer, to the point of taking the liberty of inventing several romantic affairs that fall outside what was documented by historians. Spoiler: don't expect airbrushed, orchestrated sex scenes. I always play up the grotesque element. The early 20th century saw a wave of sexual revolution. The young women involved in the nationalistic movement were rebels on many fronts. It's no secret that the atmosphere of danger and political intrigue heightens the senses. Still, we're talking about a time before widespread sex ed. Sexual norms and gender roles were still largely dictated by the Christian ethos - Catholic and Protestant alike. Premarital sex and polyamory were practiced but not flaunted or discussed in the open. There were many things that lovers had to discover for themselves. There were awkward moments that rendered disastrous results. Among the rebels there were family men like James Connolly. There were individuals who channeled their libido into their cause, like Patrick Pearse and his brother Willie. For me as a writer it was fascinating to explore those subjects.

One mysterious element of Hobson's life that kept me up at night was his marriage to Claire Gregan after the Rising. The marriage ended up failing after a few decades of internal struggle. Very little is known in terms of details, so I had to fill the gaps with my filthy imagination. Claire Gregan is something of a mystery. According to some sources, she was considered quite a beauty. Of course, there were no published pictures of her, so I set off on a quest. After about 18 months of searching, I finally was able to locate a few photos of Hobson's family in an archive at the British Library. Do not ask me how much money I spent to have those photos covered. It was worth every penny, finally being able to behold the features of my competition. It was healing to discover that she and I have something in common. Still, that picture only inflamed my curiosity.

In the spring of 2012 I wrote an essay about Florence Fulton Hobson, Ireland's first female architect and Bulmer's older sister. I was secretly hoping that Bulmer's descendents would stumble across the essay and contact me.  It was a bait of sort. I was both excited and terrified. Sure enough, it happened! About 20 months after the publication of the essay, I got an e-mail from Bulmer's grandson Roger. I was relieved to discover that his tone was most genial and benevolent. One of my not-so-unfounded fears was that he would express disapproval over my portrayal of his grandfather. Imagine my relief and gratitude when he expressed support for my work and sent more photos from the personal archive. I hope that the profundity of my love for Hobson shines through in my prose.

Handsome Edgar Harding in character
as Bulmer Hobson
Still photo from the cover shoot of
Martyrs & Traitors

Stay tuned tomorrow for Lisl's review of Martyrs & Traitors: A Tale of 1916 and your chance to win a FREE COPY!

To read Lisl's review of Never Be at Peace, please click here.

About the Author

A self-centered, only child of classical musicians, Marina Julia Neary spent her early years in Eastern Europe and came to the United States at the age of thirteen. Her literary career revolves around depicting military and social disasters, from the Charge of the Light Brigade, to the Irish Famine, to the Easter Rising in Dublin, to the nuclear explosion in Chernobyl some thirty miles away from her home town. Notorious for her  abrasive personality and politically incorrect views that make her a persona non grata in most polite circles, Neary explores human suffering through the prism of dark humor, believing that tragedy and comedy go hand in hand.

Her debut thriller Wynfield's Kingdom was featured on the cover of the First Edition Magazine in the United Kingdom and earned the praise of the Neo-Victorian Studies Journal. After writing a series of novels dealing with the Anglo-Irish conflict (including Brendan MaloneMartyrs & Traitors and Never Be at Peace) she takes a break from the slums of London and the gunpowder-filled streets of Dublin to delve into the picturesque radioactive swamps of her native Belarus. Saved by the Bang: A Nuclear Comedy is a deliciously offensive autobiographical satire featuring sex scandals of Eastern Europe's artistic elite in the face of political upheavals. 

You can find more about Neary and other books at her blog as well as her Facebook and Amazon author pages. The companion novels for Never Be at PeaceBrendan Malone: The Last Fenian and Martyrs & Traitors: A Tale of 1916, as well as others, may also be purchased at Amazon and Amazon UK. A potential addition to follow up the trilogy is entitled The Lily of Ulster.


Lisl can also be found at before the second sleep, where she publishes book reviews, poetry and her own musings. She is a contributor to Naming the Goddesshas published poetry in Alaska Women Speak, and is currently at work on a book of short stories and other projects. 


  1. Fabulous post Marina. Its made me very curious about your book and I would love to read it.

  2. Wonderful post and shall read these novels. I had no idea about your Belarus connection. I read Russian Studies at QUB as part of my first degree. Fascinated!