The Cruelty Men by Emer Martin, read by Bríd Ní Neachtain, is RTÉ Radio 1’s Book on One for the next fortnight (11-15 and 18-22 March 2019). Listen to the first installment below: 

The Cruelty Men has been described as ‘a book that traces the meaning of story-telling, mislaid culture and the boundless quest for belonging, a book with new eyes on what it means to be Irish’.

Bríd Ní Neachtain reads The Cruelty Men for Book On One

The 'cruelty men' of the book’s title refers to a colloquial term used to call actual people who went around the country in the 1930s, looking out for children who could fill Ireland’s industrial schools.

Listen to the second installment of The Cruelty Men below:

These were frequently seen to be places in which the less fortunate could pick up skills and trained to progress in life, but which is now known to have been far more sinister places in to be caught in for so many Irish people, many of them vulnerable children who were poor.

Listen to the third installment of The Cruelty Men below:

They were not necessarily orphans either, as was generally accepted until so many real-life experiences started to come out through the Ryan and Murphy Reports and groundbreaking documentaries as Mary Raftery’s Suffer Little Children.

Listen to the fourth installment of The Cruelty Men below:


Mary O’Conaill is the main narrator of Emer Martin’s acclaimed novel. Mary is resettled in Rathcairn, Co Meath with her family as part of the new Irish States’ official land resettlement scheme, aimed at preserving the continuity of Irish language speaking and the creation of an Irish world, via the establishment of an Irish speaking Gaeltacht on prosperous land, away from the poor congested areas of the west of the country.

Listen to the fifth installment of The Cruelty Men below:


Abandoned by her Kerry parents, and only a young girl herself, Mary O’Conaill is tasked with raising her brothers and sisters. Under these circumstances, Mary and her siblings are obvious victims of their time. Through their voices, stories and the people they encounter, their lives are brought to life by the author with wit, nuance, vitality and authenticity. The book sweeps across decades, from the 1930s through to the summer of love of 1969, as well as gathering in some of our ancient mythological stories along the way.

As author Emer Martin recalls ‘At my book launch in Hodges Figgis bookshop on Dawson Street, there was one elderly woman who sat completely alone. She clutched the book in her hand and was staring at me throughout the reading with a startling intensity. Afterwards, when I was signing books she told me that she had been a slave in the Magdalene Laundries and had heard me on the radio. "I had to come," she said. "I had to get this book." I was moved and humbled. I knew then the story was bigger than me. It was outside of me. It had its own life. The book belonged to those who had suffered. Their courage and reliance was what inspired me to write it in the first place.’

The Book On One, produced by Clíodhna Ní Anluain, Monday to Friday, 11.20pm on RTÉ Radio 1 - listen back here.

While The Cruelty Men is being read on Book on One (11-22 March), publishers Lilliput Press are offering 20% discount on online purchases of The Cruelty Men with the promo code 'BOOKON1' - find out more here.