Dillon in the 1950s Eilís Dillon
The Bitter Glass

Set in the Ireland of 1922, The Bitter Glass is about a group of young people - on holiday in the far west, cut off from the older members of their families - and the fundamental crises they face in isolation and danger. The Irish Civil War is raging. Insurgent irregulars surround them. From within they are menaced by epidemic and death. Their inner strengths and inner weaknesses, prematurely exposed and ruthlessly tested, produce a complex pattern of plot and situation. This moving and exciting novel has a memorable depth of sympathy and understanding. And as Eudora Welty said, it is "written with a very sure and sensitive hand ... the world of Connemara was flawlessly conveyed."

The Bitter Glass, US edition..The Bitter Glass, Faber edition..The Bitter Glass, Ward River Press..The Bitter Glass, Poolbeg Press


"Here is a gem of a first novel by an Irish writer who knows how to remove all barriers between the readers and her characters." (New York Times Book Review)

"The Bitter Glass ... has a rounded excellence which comes from a mature technique and imagination of high quality. Without being in the least overwritten or sentimental, this is a most poetical book." (The Times)

"A remarkable novel, in a class by itself." (Homes and Gardens)

"A lovely, remote world of people and customs unforgettably described." (The Spectator)

"Written with deceptive simplicity and with a poet's eye and ear, The Bitter Glass is especially effective in its descriptions of Connemara." (The Washington Post)

"An excellent piece of work to me, full of reality, full of poetry, written with a very sure and sensitive hand. I was completely won by it. I thought the world of Connemara was flawlessly conveyed to a reader who might, or might not, have ever seen it in life. I was never more at home in a book." (Eudora Welty)

"The Bitter Glass" also received some hostile reviews, which we have included as part of the Education and Research section of this site.

More reviews after this extract from the text ....


Galway was like a different world. They all felt it, from the moment when they first caught sight of the sea and the train seemed suddenly to become smaller as it rattled over the last little bridge on its way into the station.

Standing at the window to look out, Ruth felt a huge wave of peace wash over her, carrying away on its ebb all the irritations and fears of the last weeks. She opened the window wide so that the unusually hot summer air flowed all around them. The others crowded behind her, as if they had never before seen the little inlet of the sea bordered with thatched cottages at the edge of the town. Only Colman Andrews, world-weary with his twenty-six years, did not move from his corner. Still he smiled at them tolerantly, as if he could understand their enthusiasm. Ruth turned and sent him a special look of affection, hiding her disappointment at his coolness. Then she said:

"Come and look, Colman. You can't see through that frosted glass window."

Slowly and indolently he unfolded his long legs. As he came across the rolling, swaying carriage, he stretched himself consciously to his full magnificent height. His chin came up. His hooded brown eyes lifted slightly at the corners. When he looked at a thing intently, he had a way of turning his head as if to emphasize or display his Greek profile. He was doing it now. Ruth's elder brother, Pat, watching him, held his breath. He thought as he had sometimes thought before how he would like to spring on Colman and drag him down and rub his face on the ground. Pat thought of it like this because he himself was small, and at twenty-one he was not likely to grow any more. He shut his eyes and waited for a second. Of course when he looked again, Colman was reaching for Ruth's hand and saying with his usual charm:

"Now we'll all forget Dublin completely. This is a holiday. No one may mention the war. Anyone who does will have to put sixpence into a jam-jar and we'll give it to the poor when we get home."

More reviews ....

"Excellent, powerful and moving." (Fort Wayne News Sentinel)

"Exciting and intelligent and intensely human." (Church Times)

"The Bitter Glass is no mere fabrication. Miss Dillon comes close to life itself with its pain and its grief, its courage and its decency, its uncertainties and its strengths." (Marsh Maslin, S. F. News-Call Bulletin)

"The story is set in the Irish country but the wisdoms transcend place. This is a perceptive book in which the interior struggles of the characters are highlighted, not swamped by the plot." (Houston Post)

Back to the top of this page

Italian version of this page

Back to Eilís Dillon Novels

Exit to the Eilís Dillon Irish Writing Pages

Page maintained by Eilís Dillon Literary Estate.
All material in these pages is copyright, and may not be reproduced for commercial purposes without written permission.