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The Big Chapel was shortlisted for the 1971 Booker Prize and winner of 1971 the Guardian Fiction Prize. It is a novel about a man, a family and a town. Basing his work upon a notorious clerical scandal of Victorian Ireland, Thomas Kilroy has written an anatomy of religious violence that remains relevant.
In scenes that range from the private and lyrical to the panorama of a whole community in convulsion he draws upon a deep knowledge of the history and folklore of nineteenth-century Ireland. While there is a great deal of humour in The Big Chapel it is, finally, a work of grave tragic proportions.
It is the characters however that remain longest in the memory. Father Lannigan, the anguished demagogue, the man haunted by the implications of his own revolution. Emerine Scully, a man unable to choose, at a time when all men are faced by choice. And Horace Percy Butler, landlord and amateur scientist, a comic, tragic character who is quite unlike anyone else in Irish fiction. The novel is punctuated with extracts from Butler’s journal which is itself a remarkable tour de force.
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