A rousing tale of forbidden love, civil war, horrible death and other things Irish.
Ireland-born novelist Delaney (Tipperary, 2007, etc.) never met a turning point in the Emerald Isle’s history that he didn’t like. With this entry in his ongoing epic cycle of novels, he turns to a big one: the bloody strife that accompanied the birth of the Irish Free State in 1922 and ’23. American priest Robert Shannon lands on Ireland’s shore just as the bullets start flying, and bad luck for him: A former chaplain serving with the U.S. Marines in France during World War I, he suffers from a textbook case of shell shock. That malady occasions a characteristically encyclopedic aside from Delaney, just as the book opens, on the etiology and management of posttraumatic stress—and readers who dislike didacticism should be warned that his narrative often pauses to break the fourth wall and explain what’s what: “One of the symptoms of their illness…is a morbid irritability—they tend to become upset and to take offense at the merest trifles—and this leads to trouble with the other patients, the nurses, and the medical officers responsible for discipline.” Morbid irritability being an Irish specialty, Shannon fits right in with the village folk he is called to serve, out in the country in which, the locals say, Saint Patrick himself was afraid to wander. Shannon restructures his shattered life while wandering in places where he’s not supposed to, including the arms of a widow lady—but it would be spoiling things to tell, save to note that Delaney explains, “In the Ireland of 1922, virginity dominated the lives of single women, and the relevant fire and brimstone rained down every Sunday from pulpits all over the country.” How this transgression resolves, and how Shannon manages to keep from cracking up in his war-torn adopted country, makes for a fine adventure in storytelling.
A well-crafted, satisfying work of historical fiction, as are all of Delaney’s novels; respectful of the facts while not cowed by them, and full of life.