In the middle of the 18th century Ireland was still living in the shadow of the Penal Laws which had been enacted nearly 50 years earlier to exclude Catholics from public life. Prevented from owning more than 5% of their land, or owning a horse of higher value than five pounds, they were not allowed to join the professions, or the army, or navy; to open a school, or teach in one; to enter any trade connected with the printing of books or newspapers, or to marry outside their faith.
With the country in financial and economic distress following a series of famines, emigrants were leaving in their thousands. Amongst them were young men intent on joining the Irish Brigade, to support Catholic France in the fight against England. The Moon is Red in April tells the story of one of these men, Richard O’Shaughnessy, who abandons his childhood sweetheart, Ellen Nagle, to travel from Cork to le Havre on one of the two-masted, 20-gun corvettes which were used to transport the new recruits. Deemed to be officer material, Richard is taken to Paris where men like him attended lectures at the College des Grassins – predecessor to The Sorbonne – and Mass at the little church in the rue des Carmes before preparing for battle. But he also has time to explore Paris itself – the shops and the ateliers…the cafes…the little theatres and the opera-comique, and, on the boulevards, street-jugglers, acrobats, Spanish dancers and exotic performing animals ’- in the company of the captivating and distracting Catherine Cantillon. As he does so, he is unaware that Ellen is on her way to join him.
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