Select one of the keywords
The Garden of Martyrs    by Michael C. White order for
Garden of Martyrs
by Michael C. White
Order:  USA  Can
St. Martin's, 2004 (2004)

Read an Excerpt

* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Two men are arrested for murder. An attorney general/prosecutor is bent on election to higher office. A pro-bono counsel is assigned to the accused three days before trial date, after five-months of continuous, degrading incarceration. In Boston, Massachusetts prejudice is rampant - anti-papist, anti-Catholic, anti-Irish ... and bias against immigrants is at a boiling point. Two priests have been assigned to establish and maintain a Boston Catholic parish that is to service all of New England. It is 1806 when a record number of immigrants are fleeing their rebellion-ridden, starving, poverty-stricken home countries seeking peace and a better life in America. It is a time of 'the rank odor of despair and lost dreams.'

In Massachusetts, the body of young Connecticut farmboy Marcus Lyon is found in the Chicopee River. He has been shot, beaten, and his body weighed down with a heavy rock. Evidence points to Irish immigrants Dominic Daley and James Halligan, apprehended on the Boston Post Road on an errand from Boston to New York City. The prosecution's witness claims to have seen the two men with the victim's horse, and a large amount of money was found on their persons. Daley and Halligan are accused and jailed for the murder, confined to a Northampton, MA prison for five months before they are brought before a judge, and informed that their trial will be in three days time. Frank Blair from Worcester, MA, is assigned as legal counsel to the defendants. He has a commute of fifty miles to the prisoners, and little time to plan their defense.

Dominic Daley, his wife Finola, baby Michael, and his mother Rose, fled the revolution in their country. James Halligan served two years in Irish prison for beating a man in self-defense, and left the country after he got a young woman with child. Catholic priest Father Cheverus fled the French revolution, with its massacre of papists who would not denounce their church. Cheverus came to America to assist in establishing a parish to service all of New England. The priest is haunted by memories of the year 1790, a country split in two by the revolution, and the Jacobin takeover. After witnessing the massacre of fellow priests while concealed from the soldiers, 'it came to him: the bright, fragrant courtyard garden -- the 'garden of the martyrs'.'

Based on the actual murder of Marcus Lyon, White brings forth a true episode in American legal history, one of bigotry and hatred. His narration of the trial proceedings is rich and eloquent. Many defense witnesses swore they had seen the perps with the victim's horse or talking with the victim, all under the guise of hatred for the Irish. Yet no witnesses were allowed for the accused, nor were they allowed to take the stand in their own defense. White shows the despair and hopelessness of the accused through the words of Dominic's mother Rose, 'As bad as it was back home, I wish we'd never left. Least there when we died we could rest in our own soil, I curse this land, Father.'

The Garden of Martyrs is moving, compassionate, and substantially researched, revealing injustice to an ethnic and religious minority of the early 19th century. Integrating history with fiction, White immortalizes the conviction and hanging of two Irish immigrants. Daley and Halligan were exonerated (175 years later) in 1984 by then Governor Michael Dukakis on behalf of the State of Massachusetts.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more Historical books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews