Margaret Brew (fl.1880-86)


Life
prob. dg. of Richard Brew, Church of Ireland rector of Tullagh, Co. Clare [var. from Kilrush, Co. Clare]; contrib. poetry and stories to the Irish Monthly, incl. “An Unknown Hero” (Feb. 1891), the story - purportedly true - of a tenant evicted supporting Daniel O’Connell in the Clare election of 1828;
 
she published The Burtons of Dunroe (1880), and Chronicles of Castle Cloyne: Pictures of Munster Life (1886), novels pervaded by sympathetic attitude toward the common people and inculcating peaceful relations between denominations. IF IN OCIL

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Works
The Burtons of Dunroe,
3 vols. (London: Tinsley 1880), and Do. [fac. rep.], introduced by Robertt Lee Wolff (NY: Garland Publ. 1979) [q.pp.]; Chronicles of Castle Cloyne, Pictures of Munster Life, 3 vols. (London: Chapman & Hall 1886), 934pp.

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Commentary
Robert Lee Wolff
‘Introduction’ to The Burtons of Dunroe, 3 vols [facs. rep. edn.] (NY: Garland Publ. 1979), remarks that she deplores situation of peasants under Penal Laws and quotes: ‘herds and slaves they were in the land that gave them birth; hewers of wood and drawers of water for a people whose religion they did not believe in, and whose blood and lineage they despised. No wonder that there was antagonism and deadly hate, and a discontent that was always smouldering, and only kept from breaking out into open violence by the strong[est] hand. The wonder is how so anomalous and deplorable a state of things could have been suffered to exist at all.’ (The Burtons of Dunroe, Garland edn. NY 1979, p.10.) Wolff conjectures that Brew’s description of Dunroe House as solid and substantial but inelegant and scantily and uncomfortably furnished (Ibid., Vol. 1 pp.66-67), may well be based on her own home in the Clare peninsula. Wolff supplies the names of poems and stories that Brew contributed to the Irish Monthly.

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Margaret Kelleher, ‘Prose Writing and Drama in English; 1830-1890 […]’, in Cambridge History of Irish Literature, ed. Kelleher & Philip O’Leary (Cambridge UP 2006), Vol. 1 [Chap. 11]: ‘The Chronicles of Castle Cloyne (1884), by Clare author Margaret Brew, is one of the most successful of such novels and presents two concurrent narratives, that of the landlord family, the Dillons of Castle Cloyne, and of their tenant Oonagh MacDermott, “to show how universal was the action of the Famine” with effects on “peer and peasant, landlord and tenant, the home of the great, and the cabin of the lowly”. [47] In these later narratives, scenes of individual famine deaths, which possessed such disturbing force in Carleton and Trollope's novels, largely recede from view, supplanted by meditations on famine's place in a developmental narrative of progress and modernisation. The agents of such renewal differ from novel to novel: a reinvigorated Catholic gentry in the work of Margaret Brew, or, in a plot increasingly common in Irish fiction after 1870 (Brew's Chronicles and Annie Keary's Castle Daly (1875) being among many examples), returning Irish emigrants. Yet the very recurrence of famine as a narrative subject in the years after 1850, together with the enthusiastic welcome expressed by English reviewers towards these novels as explanations of “the abiding Irish difficulty”, attest to the continuing potency of their subject in a period too often simplified as “silent” with regard to the Great Famine.’ (p.466.)

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References
Stephen Brown, Ireland in Fiction [Pt. I] (Dublin: Maunsel 1919), offers no bio-dates but identifies her as ‘a Catholic Irish lady’ a writer from Clare who contributed wrote much to Irish Monthly [ed. Fr. Matthew Russell], and summarises the plots, along with a lengthy and appreciative review of Chronicles from the Irish Monthly reflecting the pro-Catholic bias of the novels.

University of Ulster (Central Library) holds Garland reprints of Burtons of Dunroeand Chronicles of Castle Cloyne. The original of the latter is missing from the Morris Collection of that Library.

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Notes
Anne Brew
of Co Clare writes: ‘As far as Margaret Brew is concerned, the suggestion that she was a daughter of Richard Brew, clergyman, was a red herring, so I presume, as we originally did, that she was of a Catholic landed family, and possible from Kilrush, Co. Clare.’ [Private letter/1992.]

Margaret Kelleher [Mater Dei Institute] gave an account of Brew’s Castle Cloyne at the Yeats Summer School, Sligo 1996, stating that the novel is concerned with the sufferings of landlords. (Irish Times, 8 Aug. 1996).

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