Tipperary-born and raised author and novelist Frank Delaney has spell-bound readers with his inimitable storytelling gifts. In his bestselling novel Ireland and his masterful true-life sea saga, Simple Courage, he has made history engrossing whether through the prism of fiction or nonfiction.
In his newest offering, Tipperary, he has crafted another fine, superbly paced novel. Delaney, formerly one of the BBC's best-known and most popular commentators and a judge for the prestigious Booker Prize, is a keen student of Irish history and traditions. He turn to turf he knows like the back of his literary and personal hand in Tipperary.
The book's protagonist, the memorable Charles O'Brien, speaks to the story's timbre in the opening lines: "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. ..."
Just a few lines farther into the tale, O'Brien's words could seemingly stand for the author's viewpoint: "... .To us Irish, though, memory is a canvas - stretched, primed and ready for painting on. We love the 'story' part of the word 'history. ...'"
Charles O'Brien, the son of a prominent Anglo-Irish family of the 1860s, harbors a deep and profound appreciation for his country and its poor. A physician, he is the archetype of the beloved country doctor, and as he treats patients highborn or lowly with equal compassion, he revels in the mixed tales of legend and history with which his patients regale him, and struggles to grasp the often violent paroxysms of the land-reform movement fueling the even more explosive issue of Irish independence.
As change engulfs Ireland, Charles is called to Paris to treat a dying patient who happens to be Oscar Wilde. The forty-year-old doctor meets a beautiful, headstrong English woman named April Burke and falls headlong in love with her. The much younger woman spurns him - brutally so. Shattered but determined to find greater purpose in his life, Charles returns to Ireland and immerses himself in rescuing the once-renowned, now-desolate estate of Tipperary. To his shock, he learns that the vast property might, in fact, belong to the insensitive April and her father.
Charles's quest to preserve the estate leads him to write a history of both his own life and his country, the process bringing him into contact with a 19thcentury Irish "who's who including Charles Stewart Parnell, William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, and many other notables. Simultaneously, Charles's life leads him into a maze of far more dangerous and unsavory sorts. The result is a tale teeming with lively, well-researched history, passion both personal and national, and every facet of emotion. In Tipperary, Frank Delaney has indeed painted a vibrant, unforgettable literary canvas.
On the phone with the BIR, Delaney discussed his work and his roots. "Tipperary," he says, "tells a story of passionate romance within an epic struggle for nationhood, and the narrators who tell it embody these varying perspectives: a thoughtful wanderer [Charles OT3rien] considers his country's upheavals alongside his heart's obsession. The fierce activist records his tale for his nation's archive. And a modern commentator tries to remain objective, until he discovers, deep in his researches, that in Ireland everything is personal, especially the past."
Reflecting upon the roles of conqueror and conquered in Ireland, Delaney notes, "Colonization is one of the world's oldest stories - history, as the saying goes, is geography. Thus, the freedom struggles of countries trying to overthrow their invaders have given us some of our most dramatic legends and our most enduring myths."
He adds: "The drama is universal. A volcanic core of indigenous people rages secretly against occupation, waiting to erupt. Around them resides a quiet majority, coping with domination. On top of both sits a foreign ruling class, imposed upon and exploiting those below. From afar, the controlling power rules severely, until the inevitable revolution comes.
This is a story that gets told over and over, in differing ways..."
In Tipperary, Delaney tells that age-old story - Ireland's story - in a memorable manner.
At the North American launch of Dylan Thomas' Selected Poems, beautifully bound and published by The Folio Society to mark the centenary of Thomas' birth, Frank read Fern Hill and talked about his own history with Thomas's family and work. Frank, who had written a presented a BBC documentary on Dylan Thomas some years ago, also shared a personal memory of the actor, Richard Burton, reciting the poem at a table in a Dublin restaurant.
To secure your own copy of this marvelous book, go to The Folio Society.
Another issue of the wonderful "Public Domain Review". In this edition Frank has contributed a marvelous piece on Beatrix Potter, and PD has enhanced it with the most charming photographs and illustrations.
One of Frank Delaney's most endearing new projects, a series of short stories produced as e-books called, "Storytellers," began as a means of introducing his novel "The Last Storyteller," in which the character of an itinerant Irish Seanchai is central to the plot.