Title: Loyal Son
Author: Wayne Diehl
Print Length: 439 pages
Publisher: Wayne Diehl
Publication Date: April 13, 2020
In 1846, on the eve of the Mexican American War, hundreds of Irish-Catholic immigrants under the command of abusive, Protestant officers fled the American Army and joined the other side. They were formed into a special unit under their inspirational leader, John Riley. Known as the St. Patrick’s Battalion, they became the fiercest and most feared artillery unit in the Mexican Army. Loyal Son is the fictional story of one of those San Patricios, eighteen-year-old Patrick Ryan from County Cork, Ireland. On the brink of losing their farm, his father entrusts him with their life savings and sends him to America to purchase land and establish roots. He and his sister arrive at their uncle’s house in Philadelphia a week before anti-Catholic Bible Riots erupt. When rabid Nativists invade their neighborhood, Patrick joins his cousins to resist them. During the three days of violence, the family’s house is burnt to the ground and with it all of Patrick’s money. Desperate to make it right and fulfill his duty, Patrick joins the army for the enlistment bonus of one hundred and sixty acres of land. His only goal is to get a farm and see his father, mother and brothers join him and his sister in the Promised Land of America. Nothing worked out the way any of them hoped.
When Thomas Ryan realizes he won’t be able to save the family’s land in Newtownshandrum, County Cork Ireland, he decides to send his youngest son Patrick and his sister Ellen to America to find property for the family. The voyage to America is not an easy one. I enjoyed being able to experience what that was like for many of the immigrants through the characters, such as having to drink water contaminated from being stored in old, rotten containers, to rash and fever. After arriving in New York City, Patrick and his sister encounter trouble and are bullied by boys who force them to stay the night with a widow from Dublin named Mrs. Fitzsimmons. The next day, they meet their Uncle John and Aunt Mary, who they will live with as Patrick tries to find work to make money to buy land, and so starts the journey.
From the bible wars of the Catholic vs. Protestants, the Texas Annexation Treaty, the Election of James Polk, and the National Debate on Slavery, there is a lot of good history in the backdrop of Patrick’s journey. Through the eyes of a young Irish boy and his cousins, we see the racism and discrimination against the Irish people who are stereotyped as “alcohol-soaked animals, corrupt papists, and sexual deviants.” The author does an exemplary job of foreshadowing Patrick’s eventual enlistment in the army. When religious riots explode, it forces the family to defend their position, ultimately leading to the burning down of Uncle John and Aunt Mary’s home along with the savings Patrick was going to use to buy land.
Even though the story is from a young Irish boy’s perspective, I liked how historically accurate it is also for African Americans at the time. Slavery was such an ingrained part of American society that it was a common part of everyday life. The author shows this in his descriptions of the enslaved blacks and their interactions with the people around them.
“At daybreak, James walked down the porch to the barefoot, teenaged slave holding his horse.”
“A stout, unsmiling negress in a faded calico dress and a white kerchief wrapped around her head met them on the steps of the expansive portico. James handed her his hat, riding gloves, and overnight bag.”
“Jackson noticed his protégé approach and rose slowly from his chair. The small black boy attending him tried to help but the General snarled at him and he backed away.”
This book is action-packed all the way through, historically accurate, and because Patrick and his cousins are young men, it maintains the right balance by being just as fun as it is about war and racism. The boys are young, like girls, and get into some pretty severe fights and trouble with the law.
Loyal Son is not a short book, but if you enjoy history and have some time on your hands, you will love it.
Plot Movement / Strength: 4/5
Entertainment Factor: 4/5
Authenticity / Believable: 5/5
Thought Provoking: 5/5
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2 thoughts on “Yecheilyah’s Book Reviews – Loyal Son by Wayne Diehl”
A thoughtful, thorough review.
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