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Classic review: Ireland

A history of Ireland by the people who know it best - the storytellers.

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When a friend revealed that he was working on a book, my husband and I were im-pressed and delighted. When he explained that it was a historical novel set in Ireland, a little pity crept in.

Poor guy, my husband said, with deep sympathy. Why couldn't he have picked Croatia or someplace like that?

So many books have been written about Ireland that their collective weight could sink the Emerald Isle beneath the North Atlantic. (Any village, rolling hill, or leprechaun that's been overlooked, please raise your hand, and a writer will be there directly.)

I was going to propose that anyone not beyond page 80 of a first draft immediately switch to Iceland. It's also an island nation with a rich mythology, and, as an added bonus, novelists would have to change only one letter (well, and a few dozen descriptive passages).

But the fact remains that people love to read about Ireland - possibly as much as writers like writing about it. And that the country's tradition of history and folklore is strong enough to bear up under repeated retellings, especially if the teller is someone who truly loves the tales. Which brings us to Frank Delaney and Ireland. The former BBC reporter has wrapped as many Irish folk tales as he could into this giant bear hug of a novel.

Warm, intelligent, and unapologetically nostalgic - the book's American cover art is a print by Currier & Ives - Delaney is as much in love with the art of storytelling as he is the story's subject.

He's upfront about his desire to rescue history back from the historians, who "dry out history in order to put it down on paper." He wants the full-blooded tales of the past. "The old stories, told by traveling storytellers round the fireside on winter evenings - they came hurtling straight down the long, shiny pipeline of the centuries, and characters, all love and hate and fire, 'tumbled out on our own stone floor.' "

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