In 1913, before there is a rumor of war in Europe, Matthias Wrenn and Con Hatchel, lifelong friends from Ballyrannel in the Irish midlands, decide to see the world at the expense of the king of England and join the British army. A year later, while en route to India, their troop ship is recalled and they soon find themselves in the European slaughterhouse that was World War I. As stretcher bearers, the two men witness all too closely the horrors of the battlefield and the trenches, the savagery, and the unconscionable waste of human life on fields made liquid by “the blood and guts of boy soldiers” at the Somme, Ypres, and Passchendaele. Meanwhile, back home in Ireland, Con’s sister and Matthias’s lover, Kitty Hatchel, yearns for their safe return and reminds them of their carefree childhood on the banks of the local canal, as well as their hopes for the future.
Brilliantly and movingly narrated by a chorus of voices from the community — Matt, Con, Kitty, and others — The Canal Bridge tells the story of how the young men take Ballyrannel to war with them, and how the war comes back home when hostilities end in Europe. The Ireland the friends left in 1913 no longer exists, for the political landscape has been transformed by the Rising against the British in 1916. It is now a land riven with sectarian tensions and bloodshed from which there is no escape.
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A sad but compelling read.