How many miles to Babylon?
Three score and ten.
Can I get there by candlelight?
Aye, and back again.
If your feet are nimble and light,
You'll get there by candlelight.

nursery rhyme

How Many Miles To Babylon is also the title of a novel by Jennifer Johnston, generally accepted as one of the finest living Irish writers.

The novel is set during the years preceding and immediately following the outbreak of World War I in Europe. Though it is nominally a war novel, the story is far more centred around the firmly entrenched class divides in the Ireland of the time, between the Protestant Ascendency, the manor lords who retained almost feudal rule even into the twentieth century, and the common Catholic peasantry who lay in their employ.

The narrator of the story, a young boy from a Protestant upper-class family, Alec, is the heir to the estate and the only son of the bitter marriage of his aristocratic parents. Isolated in the country manor from any contact as a child, his only friendship is with a stable-boy, Jerry, who shares his passion for horses. Their friendship is hampered by the social climate of class segregation; and when war breaks out, the two find that enlisting in the army is no refuge from persecution.


Jennifer Johnston's novel was first published in 1974.

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