Author: Frank Delaney
Genre: Historical fiction, Irish fiction
Publisher: Random House
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from my personal library
First line: Be careful about me.
My wooing began in passion, was defined by violence and circumscribed by land; all these elements molded my soul.
Charles O’Brien was born to an Irish Catholic father and Anglo-Irish mother, and so has the unique ability to be accepted by both elements of a disparate, and often violent, society. He is an itinerant folk healer and collector of Irish history, and he travels the land that he loves. In his travels, he finds himself a spectator – and sometimes participant – in moments of great historic significance, and interacts with people like Oscar Wilde, Yeats, Michael Collins, De Valera, Charles Parnell. He writes of these people, his land’s history – and the woman he loves.
He meets April Burke when she is eighteen and he is forty. He is smitten with both her, and with Tipperary Estate, the land that she inherits. As he undertakes the restoration of the property, he is determined to woo April, as well as to record the momentous events leading up to the fight for Ireland’s independence.
In a modern Ireland, a retired history professor finds Charles O’Brien’s history, and is determined to learn all he can about this intriguing man – and as his research deepens, he discovers that he may be more connected to the man than he originally thought.
Like most of Frank Delaney’s books, Tipperary has a slow build. It always takes me fifty pages or so to really get drawn into the story, but I never regret hanging in there – partly because the writing is simply beautiful, and also because I know that there is greatness to come. Delaney never disappoints, and I again found myself completely hooked a few dozen pages in.
Charles O’Brien is an intriguing character. Even though a grown man, in some ways he is very naive and childlike, which gives him a unique perspective on the events unfolding around him. The early years of the 20th century were full of tragedy, violence, and revolution in Ireland, and O’Brien, being in the midst of this, has no choice but to grow up.
I found April Burke to be a difficult woman to like, mainly because the people describing her (Charles O’Brien and his mother) are both unreliable narrators. As the story unfolds, the reasons for her prickly behavior become evident, and I ended up being completely invested in how their romance turned out.
The estate at Tipperary is a character in and of itself, and the destruction and restoration and further destruction parallel the land in which it resides. I find it difficult not to become overly emotional when reading Irish history, horrified by the injustices perpetrated by the English, and yet also disturbed by some of the tactics Sinn Fein and the IRA used in retaliation. It is such a troubled land, and reading about it makes my heart ache.
Frank Delaney’s books are full of sweeping stories of vivid characters set against the historical backdrop, and his love for Ireland saturates every sentence. I am looking forward to picking up his novel, Shannon, very soon.