Fisher's tale begins with the wreck of the St. John on Grampus Rock off the Massachusetts coast in 1849, and with a glimpse of mute, stunned Patrick Donovan, one of the few to be saved from the boatload of Irish refugees. Then it's back to Ballingarry, County Tipperary, where wandering bard Liam Donovan--""My mother was the sweet dirt of Kilfenora; my father--a potato""--settled down to marry, have children and fend off starvation. Strayed away from their land, the family wanders to Galway where Liam earns pennies singing after the speeches of nationalist Donal O'Dell and scrapes together the money to send Patrick, his brother and his sister to America where they will be ""safe."" We've already seen the mournfully ironic ending to Liam's dream, and that's just what it is, for Fisher keeps a good distance away from his characters and has little interest in Patrick except as a symbol of survival. Once again, the fickle, awesome ocean is Fisher's real subject--with an equally fickle land thrown in for good measure. But he tells and illustrates the story with some grace, and if the story is at times self-consciously monumental, it does have a kind of biblical austerity to it.