An Irish History

you may judge this book by its lovely, lovely cover

Frank Delaney is an eloquent and expressive literary mind. I read and relished in the dazzling, incandescent story about a storyteller, Ireland, in high school, so in 2007, when I heard about a reading/signing of his newest book, Tipperary, I jumped at the chance to hear the man himself speak. I was working at Barnes and Noble at the time and was therefore privy to readings and discussions and seminars in B&Ns all over Manhattan. I made the trek all the way uptown to the store on 82nd St. on a cool November evening. His address was as inspiring and as congenial as one ever would have hoped for from a favorite author. I even wrote down something Delaney said that day, something that has stuck with me ever since. He said, “A writer is one of three things: a teacher, a storyteller, or a magician. A good writer is a little of each.” Brilliant, brilliant man.

So I’ve had the book Tipperary by Frank Delaney on my bookshelf for some time now, and yet, I have never read it. Some people don’t understand this. Even my boyfriend wonders why I buy new books when I have so many on my shelves yet to be read. The thing is I believe very strongly that a book, especially one that could potentially have more than just a passing impact on one’s life, has a time and a place. I can’t just haphazardly select a book from my collection, and I can’t plan what I should read next. If I’m not in the mood to read nonfiction, its significance will be lost on me. If I’m stressed or anxious, a dark, laden Gothic novel is not a good fit. And if I’ve just read something light, I usually like to follow it with something important or meaningful to me.

These are most likely rules, or preferences really, followed only by me, but over the course of my lifetime of reading, I have come to realize a few things about my literary patterns. The point is this: Ireland hit me hard… in the best possible way. I haven’t been able to forget it. Tipperary needed some time to age and mature on my shelf, perhaps something like the time necessary for a fine wine.

I have finally picked it up. And what glory! I had to put the book down to copy its first few paragraphs here:

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.”

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3 responses to “An Irish History

  1. I’ve been listening to this and haven’t been captivated yet. Maybe it’s not a good book to listen to?

    Also, I love the idea of books lingering on shelves and maturing and just waiting for the right moment. I absolutely do that.

  2. Emily J Ramey

    Kerry, it’s funny that you mention that, because as much as I adore Frank Delaney and his books, I had to admit to myself that I was thinking the same thing. Then, I remembered that as Delaney signed my book, I told him how much I enjoyed reading Ireland, and he replied, I’m so glad to hear that, but this is not quite like Ireland. This starts slow. Give it time. I think you’ll love it too.

    It’s not in me to leave a book unfinished, so I’d stick with it either way, but if I know anything about Delaney’s works, it’ll be worth it in the end.

    Also, isn’t his voice mesmerizing? I love that he is the narrator of the audiobook.

  3. I’ll be interested to hear what you think as you get farther into it. I’ve put Tipperary aside for now (or to be more specific, I’ve returned it to the library), but I haven’t given up on it. Just not right for me right now. I’m excited to start Ireland, though!

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