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Tomas Mulholland swears to avenge his dead father, murdered by Captain James Spencer-Lambert, during the 1916 Easter Uprising in Dublin. Involved in the death of a priest himself, he flees to England. There he re-encounters Spencer-Lambert, now a wealthy coal owner in County Durham. Working in Eastinglea Colliery, owned by the Lamberts, he progresses to "District Overman" and is held in high regard. He establishes an IRA cell, fronted as the Christian Men's Charitable Society (C.M.C.S.), working to relieve the ravages of WWII. His cousin, fellow emigre Michael Railley, is second-in-command; his two sons are his lieutenants. An assortment of enthusiastic "soldiers" makes up the Company. As Republicanism wanes in Ireland, Tomas's plans become thwarted. Michael gets alarmed as Tomas's frustration changes to fanaticism, when the IRA's Army Council calls a halt to his activities. Tomas ignores them and develops his own agenda. Dermot is the "runt of the Mulholland litter", years younger than Bridgett, his sister. Dermot's adult brothers pay him scant regard, and his son's genteel nature perplexes Tomas, who distances himself from the boy. His father's disregard hurts Dermot deeply.
His mother discovers Dermot's religious leanings, and guides him to the priesthood. Margaret's pride in Dermot contrasts sharply with Tomas's bitter contempt for things religious. Their difference becomes totally irreconcilable once Dermot is ordained. Appointed curate in a parish near Eastinglea, Dermot determines to intervene when Michael Railley makes him aware of Tomas's treasonous activities, but he, alerted to his son's intentions, neutralizes all interference - in the confessional. Bridgett's life too is disrupted by her father's destructive agenda, when her beloved James joins the C.M.C.S. Losing the battle for James' loyalties, she finds herself alone - and pregnant! Engulfing the lives of those who love him most, Tomas's futile crusade rages on to its tragic conclusion.