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.
Praise for Tipperary
“The narrative moves swiftly and surely. . . . A sort of Irish Gone With the Wind, marked by sly humor, historical awareness and plenty of staying power.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Another meticulously researched journey…Delaney’s careful scholarship and compelling storytelling bring it uniquely alive. Highly recommended.”—Library Journal (starred)
About the Author
Hometown:New York, New York, and Kent, Connecticut
Date of Birth:October 24, 1941
Date of Death:February 21, 2017
Place of Birth:Tipperary, Republic of Ireland
Place of Death:Danbury, Connecticut
Education:Thomastown National School 1947-54; The Abbey School, Tipperary, 1954-60; Rosse College, Dublin, 1960
Read an Excerpt
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.
It is expected to arouse strong interest—on account of the main document and the story it tells. In a great personal drama, the two principal characters played out their lives against a backdrop of Ireland’s most crucial historical period.
The narrator with the sloping handwriting was a man named Charles O’Brien, part wanderer, part journalist, many parts lover. After he wrote those opening “Be careful” sentences, he loaded his document so copiously with details of his world that it has been entirely possible to trace him and his story, and the lives of those he knew or encountered, and the forces and mysteries that became part of his life.
His document, apart from the slightly crumpled top and bottom pages, has remained in excellent condition. Although time and the weight of the clothing in the oak chest compressed the pages, Mr. O’Brien had been careful (and wealthy enough) to use high-quality writing paper, and he wrote with expensive ink, which did not fade; when even the innermost pages were gingerly pulled apart, they lost none of their legibility.
The handwriting helps—his big-handed script had no affectations; every word he wrote is rewardingly legible. As is his style, and in this, Mr. O’Brien was also a man of his time. Other than a breaking down of sentence length and an occasional formality, few major permanent changes have occurred in English writing fashions since the middle of the nineteenth century. The writers of the period, such as Robert Louis Stevenson (who lived from 1850 to 1894), could have been writing today, so fresh seems their general idiom.
Directly after his opening apologia, Mr. O’Brien tells the first of his many tales, a vivid account of an incident from his childhood.
I commence writing this volume (whose genesis and purpose I will presently explain) with a memory that haunts me, and that blazes with the fire at the core of Ireland’s history during my early lifetime— the struggle over land.
This report may seem to come from the storehouse of distant recollection, but it has the higher value of immediacy because, at my father’s request, I began writing it directly we reached home on the day in question. Save for adjusting boyish errors and excesses, and maturing the style into adult expression, I have not tampered with the account since I wrote it, in June 1869.
I had just reached my ninth birthday. My father and I had been visiting Mr. and Mrs. Treece, near neighbors and well-known to my parents. They owned a good-sized farm, which had been given to the Treece family for helping Oliver Cromwell on his fiery rampage through Ireland in the 1650’s.
Mrs. Treece seemed to like me. I remember her as lovely, and I know from my parents’ comments that she was considered a great beauty— tall, full-figured, and with a slight snort when she laughed. (My father often made her laugh; my father was a benign and humorous man.) Mr. Treece frightened me; I never found his jokes amusing, and he had that disconcerting trait of making an outrageous assertion without regard to its truth.
“All men who are fair-haired as boys tend to go mad in later life,” he said to me that day. I may have doubted him—but I wished for many days thereafter that I had my brother Euclid’s coal-black, rod- straight hair, instead of my own Viking curls.
As we departed their doorstep, Mr. Treece suddenly said to my father, “Bernard, I think I’ll ride alongside of you—I have a bit of business happening out the road and I might need you to witness it.”
We waited in his cobblestoned yard while he saddled up a great mare, close to eighteen hands high. Down the avenue, out through the gates, he rode along beside us, chatting down to my father; Barney, lunging between the shafts of our yellow pony-trap, wanted to race Mr. Treece’s horse.
The dampness of the morning had now cleared, with the clouds in those formations that I find unique to Tipperary—big white fleeces drifting across a powdery blue sky. A mile or so along the road to Cashel, Mr. Treece said, “We’re down here” and spurred his horse. My father hesitated as though he might not follow; he actually halted the pony. Then he changed his mind and we swung into a lane behind Mr. Treece and his horse’s rump.
Around a bend, under some trees, the lane ended and we rode on to a wide place of open grass bordered by the woods. My father said, “Oh damn-and-blast” and pulled up Barney so hard that I was pitched forward on the leather seats; and my father, still talking to himself, said, “Huh. I was afraid this was what the bugger meant.”
Straight ahead, a knot of people milled around a long, low house with a thatched roof and whitewashed walls, the kind of dwelling very common in our countryside. Two or three apple trees stood near a small wall that confined a little garden in front of the red door. Outside the house, men in uniform, some on foot and some on horseback, swirled in a commotion. My father breathed, “They’ve brought in the soldiers. Boys-oh-dear!”
Other men, big-boned laborers, backed up two huge, head-plunging horses with flowing manes until their large, high-sided farm cart met the low garden wall. The men began to unload the cart. First came some heavy wooden poles, which others began to set up in a great, high tripod; next, they hauled from the cart a rattling, clinking length of heavy chain, which they attached to the tripod’s neck. Finally, three of the men jumped on the cart and began to push and haul. In a moment or two, a huge wooden beam slid from the cart onto the little wall. It then eased down into the garden, where a workman leaned against it, to keep it in balance against the wall.