Summary and book reviews of Ireland by Frank Delaney

Ireland

A Novel

By Frank Delaney

Ireland
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  • Hardcover: Feb 2005,
    576 pages.
    Paperback: Feb 2006,
    672 pages.

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Book Summary

From a land famous for storytelling comes an "absolute masterpiece" -- an epic novel of Ireland that captures the intimate, passionate texture of the Irish spirit.

One wintry evening in 1951, an itinerant storyteller -- a Seanchai, the very last practitioner of a fabled tradition extending back hundreds of years -- arrives unannounced at a house in the Irish countryside. In exchange for a bed and a warm meal, he invites his hosts and some of their neighbors to join him by the fireside, and begins to tell formative stories of Ireland's history. One of his listeners, a nine-year-old boy, grows so entranced by the story-telling that, when the old man leaves abruptly under mysterious circumstances, the boy devotes himself to finding him again.

Ronan's search for the Storyteller becomes both a journey of self-discovery and an immersion into the sometimes-conflicting histories of his native land. As the long-unspoken secrets of his own family begin to reveal themselves, he becomes increasingly single-minded in pursuit of the old man, who he fears may already be dead. But Ronan's personal path also leads him deeper and deeper into the history and mythology of Ireland itself, in all its drama, intrigue, and heroism.

Ireland travels through the centuries, interweaving Ronan's quest for the Storyteller with a richly evocative unfolding of the great moments in Irish history, ranging from the savage grip of the Ice Age to the green and troubled land of tourist brochures and political unrest. Along the way, we meet foolish kings and innocent monks, fabled saints and great works of art, shrewd Norman raiders, strong tribal leaders, poets, politicians, and lovers. Each illuminates the magic of Ireland and the eternal connection of its people to the land.

A sweeping novel of huge ambition, Ireland is the beautifully told story of a remarkable nation. From the epic sweep of its telling to the precision of its characters -- great and small, tragic and comic -- it rings with the truth of a writer passionate about his country and in full command of his craft.

Author's Note

Beneath all the histories of Ireland, from the present day, through her long troubled relationship with England and back to the earliest times, there has always been another, less obvious reporter speaking - the oral tradition, Ireland's vernacular narrative, telling the country's tale to her people in stories handed down since God was a boy.

This fireside voice took great care to say that imagination and emotion play their parts in every history and therefore, to understand the Irish, mere facts can never be enough; this is a country that reprocesses itself through the mills of its imagination.

But we all do that, we merge our myths with our facts according to our feelings, we tell ourselves our own story. And no matter what we are told, we choose what we believe. All 'truths' are only 'our' truths, because we too bring to the 'facts' our feelings, our experiences, our wishes. Thus, storytelling - from wherever it comes - forms a layer in the foundation of the world; and glinting in it we see the trace elements of every tribe on earth.

Wonderfully, it was the boy who saw him first. He glanced out of his bedroom window, then looked again and harder -- and dared to hope. No, it was not a trick of the light; a tall figure in a ragged black coat and a ruined old hat was walking down the darkening hillside; and he was heading toward the house.

The stranger's face was chalk-white with exhaustion, and he stumbled on the rough ground, his hands held out before him like a sleepwalker's. He looked like a scarecrow deserting his post. High grasses soaked his cracked boots and drenched his coat hems. A mist like a silver veil floated above the ground, broke at his knees, and reassembled itself in his wake. In this twilight fog, mysterious shapes appeared and dematerialized, so that the pale walker was never sure he had seen merely the branches of trees or the arms of mythic dancers come to greet him. Closer in, the dark shadows of the tree trunks twisted into harsh and threatening faces.

Across the fields he saw ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Introduction

One evening in 1951, an itinerant storyteller -- a Seanchai, the very last practitioner of a tradition extending back hundreds and hundreds of years -- arrives unannounced at a house in the Irish countryside for an evening of storytelling. One of his listeners, a nine-year-old boy, grows so entranced by the storytelling that, when the old man leaves abruptly under mysterious circumstances, the boy devotes himself to finding him again.

Storyteller extraordinaire Frank Delaney takes his readers on an epic journey through the history of Ireland, stopping along the way to evoke the dramatic events and personalities so critical to shaping the Irish experience. This is ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

Delaney mixes myth, magic and history in a book that displays his obvious love for Ireland. The tales told by the storyteller work as a body but can also be enjoyed individually, while Ronan's coming of age story provides a continuous thread.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

Past and present weave together as Delaney entwines the lives of the Storyteller and Ronan in this rich and satisfying book.

Library Journal - Susan Clifford Braun

Starred Review. An accomplished historian and novelist, Delaney deftly weaves the story of a people and a country with a poignant coming-of-age tale; fans of Edward Rutherford's historical sagas will love it.

Kirkus Reviews

Delaney steers clear of mawkishness and seems much less interested in calling attention to himself than in emphasizing the importance of the oral tradition to Irish memory and writing.....Reminiscent of the best of James Michener in scope and sheer crowd-pleasing potential.

Booklist - Ellen Loughran

.... newcomers to Irish history will relish the rich stories based on real and imagined characters, while readers familiar with tales of the old sod will plow through the stories to find out what happens with the O'Maras....will appeal to readers of family sagas and popular historical fiction.

The Guardian (UK)

If you're a lover of Irish myths and history, there are rich pickings here.

Reader Reviews
Ashley

Must Read
This book is a must read. The stories of Irish history are amazing. The story line of Ronan is a definite page turner.

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Beyond the Book

Broadcaster and writer, Frank Delaney is the author of at least sixteen books, both fiction (such as The Sins of the Mothers - 1992) and non-fiction (such as James Joyce's Odyssey and The Legends of the Celts) - but this is his first book to be published in the USA.

Interesting links:

  • Delaney's full bibliography at the excellent FantasticFiction.
  • The first story that the Seanchai tells is about the Megalithic tomb at Newgrange, Ireland, which is even older than Stonehenge - it's worth a look!
  • ...

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