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Emer Martin

  • Original Title: THE CRUELTY MEN
  • Publication date: June 2018
  • Publisher: Lilliput Press
  • Country: IE
  • 448 print pages
  • Drama


  • Epoch: Historical
  • Time Period: 20th century, 21st century
  • Location setting: Ireland
  • Themes: FAMILY, Siblings, Dysfunctional family, Intergenerational, Mourning, PEOPLE facing life, Surpassing oneself, Life choice, Life change, Disease, Handicap, Death, Moral dilemma, Resilience, Facing failure, PEOPLE facing the extraordinary, Injustice, Psychological dysfunction, Survival, SOCIETY DYSFUNCTIONS, Poverty, Exclusion, Discriminations, Power, SOCIAL CHRONICLES, Commitment, CHARACTERS, Strong Female Character


This saga follows the O Conaill family from the 1930s-1960s. When they are abandoned by their parents, Mary is left to raise her siblings. She works tirelessly to keep her family alive and away from the Cruelty Men, who uproot children from their homes and place them in industrial schools. Despite Mary’s best efforts, however, the siblings betray one another as they grow older.


A powerful story with extraordinary writing. Each of the chapters is told in the first person, and in spite of the number of perspectives, the narrative is never confusing and the emotions are continually engaged. It’s a terribly sad story, but there are moments of redemption to be found in Mary’s creative storytelling and boundlessly loving character. This feels like it has prize-winning potential.

Emer Martin is an Irish writer. Originally from Dublin, she now lives in California. She is the author of BREAKFAST IN BABYLON (1995, winner of the Book of the Year 1996 at the prestigious Listowel Writers’ Week), MORE BREAD OR I’LL APPEAR (1999), and BABY ZERO (2007). She was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship in 2000 and founded the publishing cooperative Rawmeash in 2014.


This book is a sweeping multi-generational view of an Irish-speaking family who moved from Kerry to the Meath Gaeltacht and the disasters that befall their children in Irish institutions. Abandoned by her parents when they resettle in Meath, Mary O Conaill is faced with the task of raising her younger siblings alone. Padraig is disappeared, Bridget escapes and her brother Seamus inherits the farm. Maeve is sent to work as a servant to a family of shopkeepers in the local town—later, pregnant and unwed, she is placed in a Magdalene Laundry where her twins are forcibly taken from her.
In this novel, two Ireland’s run in stark parallel. A gentle country of fairy rings, blackberry picking, and poker evenings with the local priest masks a system in which the Church and State incarcerate the vulnerable for profit. The intimacy of the first person accounts draws the reader into the world of each character. Their stoicism makes their suffering all the more moving and dignified.

A delightful abundance of poetic and surreal phrases, quips and curses in this book give it a vitality and authenticity. Poignant and swift, The Cruelty Men tells an unsentimental yet emotional tale of survival in a country proclaimed as independent but subjugated by silence.

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