"My wooing began in passion, was defined by violence and circumscribed by land; all these elements molded my soul." So writes Charles O'Brien, the unforgettable hero of bestselling author Frank Delaney's extraordinary new novel-a sweeping epic of obsession, profound devotion, and compelling history involving a turbulent era that would shape modern Ireland.
Born into a respected Irish-Anglo family in 1860, Charles loves his native land and its long-suffering but irrepressible people. As a healer, he travels the countryside dispensing traditional cures while soaking up stories and legends of bygone times-and witnessing the painful, often violent birth of land-reform measures destined to lead to Irish independence.
At the age of forty, summoned to Paris to treat his dying countryman-the infamous Oscar Wilde-Charles experiences the fateful moment of his life. In a chance encounter with a beautiful and determined young Englishwoman, eighteen-year-old April Burke, he is instantly and passionately smitten-but callously rejected. Vowing to improve himself, Charles returns to Ireland, where he undertakes the preservation of the great and abandoned estate of Tipperary, in whose shadow he has lived his whole life-and which, he discovers, may belong to April and her father.
As Charles pursues his obsession, he writes the "History" of his own life and country. While doing so, he meets the great figures of the day, including Charles Parnell, William Butler Yeats, and George Bernard Shaw. And he also falls victim to less well-known characters-who prove far more dangerous. Tipperary also features a second "historian:" a present-day commentator, a retired and obscure history teacher who suddenly discovers that he has much at stake in the telling of Charles's story.
In this gloriously absorbing and utterly satisfying novel, a man's passion for the woman he loves is twinned with his country's emergence as a nation. With storytelling as sweeping and dramatic as the land itself, myth, fact, and fiction are all woven together with the power of the great nineteenth-century novelists. Tipperary once again proves Frank Delaney's unrivaled mastery at bringing Irish history to life.
Seventy-five years after the death of Charles O'Brien, an Anglo-Irish itinerant healer and occasional journalist born in 1860, his memoir is discovered in a trunk. The result is this touching novel from Ireland author Delaney, in which the manuscript's putative discoverer adds his own unreliable commentary to the fictive Charles's probably embellished perceptions-making for a glowing composite of a volatile Ireland. Charles claims to treat Oscar Wilde on his deathbed; advise a young James Joyce ("When you write... be sure to make it complicated. It will retain people's attention"); tell an appreciative Yeats the story of Finn MacCool; and inadvertently bring down Charles Stewart Parnell. He also meets the founders and leaders of Sinn Fein and the IRA, and will, as will Ireland itself, entwine his fate with theirs. And at 40, never-married Charles meets the love of his life, 18-year-old April Burke, an Englishwoman who repeatedly spurns him and exploits him, but who has a large role to play in his life. The narrator claims that his interest in Charles and April is academic, but he eventually confesses that he suspects their stories have some personal relationship to his own. Delaney's confident storytelling and quirky characterizations enrich a fascinating and complex period of Irish history. (Nov.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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July 07, 2008
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Excerpt from Tipperary by Frank Delaney
Be careful about me. Be careful about my country and my people and how we tell our history. We Irish prefer embroideries to plain cloth. If we are challenged about this tendency, we will deny it and say grimly: "We have much to remember."
"But," you may argue, "isn't memory at least unreliable? And often a downright liar?"
Maybe. To us Irish, though, memory is a canvas--stretched, primed, and ready for painting on. We love the "story" part of the word "history," and we love it trimmed out with color and drama, ribbons and bows. Listen to our tunes, observe a Celtic scroll: we always decorate our essence. This is not a matter of behavior; it is our national character.
As a consequence of this ornamenting, we are accused of revising the past. People say that we reinvent the truth, especially when it comes to the history of our famous oppression by England, the victimhood that has become our great good fortune.
And do we? Do we embellish that seven hundred years since the Norman barons sailed to our southeast shores? Do we magnify those men in silver armor, though they stood only five feet six inches tall? Do we make epic those little local wars, often fought across rivers no more than some few feet wide? Do we render monumental the tiny revolutions fought on cabbage patches by no more than dozens of men with pitchforks and slings?
Perhaps we do. And why should we not? After all, what is history but one man's cloak cut from the beautiful cloth of Time?
Customarily, history is written by the victors; in Ireland the vanquished wrote it too and wrote it more powerfully. That is why I say, "Be careful about my country and how we tell our history." And in this account of my life as I have so far lived it, you will also have to make up your own mind about whether I too indulge in such invention, in particular about myself.
All who write history have reasons for doing so, and there is nothing so dangerous as a history written for a reason of the heart. The deeper the reason, the more unreliable the history; that is why I say, "Be careful about me."
Those paragraphs, written in a looping brown script, sat undisturbed for seventy-five years in a large wooden chest. They lay beneath a pile of clothing: a lady's green gown; a heavier and more ornate green brocade coat, with cream silk finishings; some brown leather gauntlets; a small velvet sack containing tresses of brown hair; and a pair of lady's buttoned boots.
The longtime owner of this trunk, an uncaring man with a runny nose, knew nothing about it or where it came from. It had been sitting for some years in a corner of the shed attached to his hardware premises and, ungifted by curiosity, he had never opened it. To this day he can't recall anything other than that he "bought it from a pair of tinkers," whose tribe had been buying and selling antique furniture and junk all over Ireland in the early 1990s. The travelers, when traced and asked, said that they "couldn't remember it," that they often bought and sold a vanload of "stuff" (or, as they pronounce it, "shtuff") in that town.
Now the chest rests in an attic of a county library in the south of Ireland. The man who donated it bought it from the hardware shop; he recognized it from a description he had been given by a family friend who had often talked about it and who had searched for it.
As a piece of furniture or an antique, it has little interest. Made of oak, with sharp, squared corners, it has a simple brass lock and two ordinary, serviceable handles; and when the lid is raised, the timbers still yield a faint, musty smell, that familiar incense of the past--probably from the fabric of the clothing. However, the antique objects, together with the written contents, assembled with other papers and letters, will soon form an exhibit in the museum section of the library.