Books: The Colony




In the summer of 1969, as sectarian violence erupts across Ireland, two outsiders arrive at a tiny storm-swept village off the Atlantic coast.

Mr Lloyd is a London artist, searching for solitude and inspiration in an attempt to revitalise his unfashionable art and his failing marriage to a fashionable art dealer.

He is more than disgruntled when his peace is disturbed by the arrival of a French linguist, Jean-Pierre Masson, drawn to the island as one of the last remaining pockets where the locals still speak pure Irish, Gaelic, rather than English.

For the past four summers Masson has been recording the speech of the old grandmother, Bean Ui Fhloinn, for a doctoral thesis which he hopes will win him a professorship.

This is the setting for The Colony, a beautifully written book by Irish novelist Audrey Magee, who reflects on the impact of colonialism on people and their language.


Author Audrey Magee       Photo: Pat Redmond


Her first novel, The Undertaking, published in 2014, has been translated into 10 languages and is being adapted for film.

Mageeis a confident, original writer, who thinks nothing of dispensing with quotation marks and unnecessary details.

Is it safe?

This boat?


The boatman shrugged.

It’s a bit late to be asking.

Lloyd laughed.

I suppose it is.



Magee writes in absorbing detail about the island, three mile slong and half a mile wide, where only 92 people remain – 12 families – scratching a living from fishing and occasional tourists.Those with good English have left.

She writes with wit and humour, specially when she recounts the wry comments made in Gaelic by the islanders about the unsuspecting visitors.

Stark reminders of the brutality of the Catholic-Protestant conflict, at its peak in 1969, come with brief accounts of the killings.

Hugh O’Halloran, a 28-year-of Catholic father of five, dies in Hospital on Monday, September 10th, from injuries received two days earlier when he was beaten by a gang of republican men with a hurling stick and a pickaxe handle.

The Colony, published by Faber & Faber, is thought-provoking, insightful, a pleasure to read.