This week, in honor of St. Patrick's Day, I re-read Frank Delaney's Ireland. The "framework" story in this book is that of a young man named Ronan O'Mara, whose life is drastically changed forever when a Seanchai, or a traveling storyteller, visits his home when Ronan is nine years old. The storyteller's larger than life persona and story delivery makes a lasting impression on young Ronan; he knows that fate has brought this man into his life. Ronan is devastated when his mother sends the storyteller away from their home.
Ronan now has a new passion in life: history and stories about Ireland. Ronan spends most of his free time collecting and chronicling stories and searching for the storyteller. Along the way, Delaney chronologically retells some of the most fascinating stories from Ireland's history: from the Architect of new Grange to the 1916 Poets' Rebellion. Some of my favorite stories from the book include: St. Patrick and the Devil's Bit, The Origin of the Book of Kells, The Pursuit of Finn MacCool, The Marriage of Strongbow, and The Man Who Could Handle Handel. These rich stories are, for the most part, told in Ireland's oral tradition by the storyteller and other characters in the novel. Delaney's writing is so perfect in recreating these oral stories that I feel I am there, in the smokey room, listening. And I believe every word as the Gospel truth! These stories of Ireland are what make this book so special. I am not trying to take anything away from Ronan's story at all; it is very good in and of itself. But the Irish stories make this book unputdownable.
When Ronan enters university in Dublin, he decides to read history. When tragedy strikes, Ronan takes to the road in pursuit of the storyteller. After several months traveling and searching, Ronan is shocked by a family secret everyone seems to know about but him. Devastated, he returns to his favorite history professor's summer school session, and later to his family. Ronan continues his education in Cork, and gives-up on finding the storyteller. Throughout the book, there have been odd coincidences in how the storyteller is able to find Ronan and send him transcripts of stories. Other characters seem to know far more about the storyteller than is seemly, and no one is telling Ronan a thing. Family secrets, Irish folktales, an ingenious plot, and a perfect climactic ending make this book a must-read for anyone who loves a good story. And in the case of Ireland, you get dozens of well-written stories woven into its framework.
Until next time...