ShareThis Page
Home

Storyteller Delaney holds his audience captive

| Sunday, April 17, 2005

"Ireland," Frank Delaney's grand sweep of a novel, is a story about a storyteller -- or a "seanchai," to use the Gaelic word for those yarn-spinners who have roamed the "auld sod" since the days of the Druids.

Delaney's itinerant storyteller captures the heart of a 9-year-old boy with tales of Ulster's King Conor and St. Patrick driving out the snakes.

When the High King reigned at Tara, the seanchai held forth for seven days and nights as an honored guest at the royal palace. (These days, like Delaney's wandering dispenser of folklore and history, he'd be lucky to get two nights' bed and breakfast at a farmhouse or pub while playing to an overflow audience of neighbors bored with the telly.)

As the boy's father tells him in this novel bursting with Irish legend and lore, storytellers "possess brilliant powers to bring the long-gone past to life vividly without the interference of scholars." A visit from one, as he roamed the countryside from Donegal to Kinsale, often gave a remote village "its brightest moment of the year."

Midway in this tumultuous mixture of heroes, poets, politicians and saints are stories about Brian Boru, St. Brendan the Navigator, Oliver Cromwell, Jonathan Swift and Daniel O'Connell.

The parlor bard frankly reveals what his tales are made of:

"Some are history, reported by those who were there, and embroidered by me. Others are myth, from deep in our souls, handed down by word-of-mouth. And I make up yet others because I like the power and the fun of creating words."

This job description could easily fit Delaney, a former BBC correspondent born in County Tipperary and now living in Connecticut. He is having a whale of a time here telling how the skeleton of a whale found on a beach inspired the invention of the harp, how the ancient monks illustrated the Book of Kells, how a Dublin bloke named Hanly coaxed Handel into composing his "Messiah," and similar audacious yarns.

There is some sad, serious history here, too, about invasions by the Danes, the Normans and the British, the "plantation" of land-grabbing Protestants and the anti-Catholic penal laws, the great hunger of the potato famine, the fall of Charles Parnell and the Easter Rising of 1916.

The novel is a bit flawed by a subplot involving the boy's complex family relationships that interrupts the tales and makes the book too long. Ah, but then again, a storyteller, once given the floor, tends to go on long past the melancholy cry of "Time, Gentleman."

All in all, "Ireland" is worthy of so grand and comprehensive a title because, as the author confesses, "The Irish like to talk: small island, big opinions."

Additional Information:

Details

'Ireland'

Author: Frank Delaney

Publisher: HarperCollins, $26.95, 559 pages

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me