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Carolan's Concerto
Caiseal Mór
Simon & Schuster Earthlight, 491 pages

Carolan's Concerto
Caiseal Mór
Caiseal Mór was born in Australia of Irish parents and grew up surrounded by the traditions of storytelling and music that are so much a part of the Gaelic culture. As a child he learned to play the harp, a skill that had been passed down in his family over many generations. He gained a degree in Performing Arts from the University of Western Sydney in 1990 and has since worked as an actor, a teacher and as a musician. Caiseal's family is from Youghal, County Cork.

Caiseal Mór Website
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Alma A. Hromic

The back blurb on this book calls it a "joyous romp" -- and never has a truer blurb been written. This is a book with a definite "touch of the Irish" -- the kind of legendary hybrid Celto-Catholic vigor which seems to have originated in, and flourished nowhere other than, old Ireland. This is the sort of world where it is not only possible but practically expected of you to go straight from a mid-winter revel with the Sidhe in the Hollow Hills to the Christmas Midnight Mass, by way of a confession that a priest is not only expected to believe verbatim but also to forgive and, much harder, tolerate.

Carolan's Concerto scintillates with wit, insight, sleight-of-word and aphorisms worthy of Dean Jonathan Swift (who, indeed, is one of the characters... and whose adventures with a pair of lace-trimmed stockings are hilarious). It's hard, indeed, to stop yourself from reading the lilting cadences of the dialogue in a sort of mental Irish accent. This is a gem, a true emerald from the Emerald Isle.

One of the book's characters declares that a long and happy life is produced when the qualities of love, laughter, liquor, mirth, mischief and music are present in equal portions -- and this book delivers all of those things (even if the liquor part of it is essentially done vicariously -- anyone attempting to match these characters drink for drink would probably be insensible by Chapter 3). It's full of larger-than-life characters, including the King and Queen of the Faeries (or, as repeatedly pointed out, the Queen and her Consort, herself being the senior partner in this marriage) who sometimes travel this world as Squire and Mrs Sheehan, and Turlough O'Carolan himself, master harper, mystic, dreamer and extravagant drunkard. He heals rifts between villages at war over trivialities for a decade; he laughs at superstition and pomposity and danger; he knows, blind as he is, exactly what colour his beloved wife Mary is wearing just by touching the sleeve of her gown (except, in a poignant scene which is enough to draw tears from a stone, where he is -- once, just once in his life -- utterly wrong...). This is a man who, in the words of his faithful servant, "...has never lied... unless his honour was at stake."

Caiseal Mór's book is about the people of Ireland -- the gentry, the poor folk, the priests, the bards, the intellectuals, the rebels, the dreamers, the whisky-runners and the colleens, and the Sidhe, who are described as those immortals who chose neither God nor the Devil in the war between good and evil and were thus exiled from Heaven and, apparently, rewarded with Ireland. It will make you laugh out loud and swallowing lumps in your throat when Carolan plays his last piece, Slan le Ceol, "The Farewell to Music".

It is indeed, as the book's publicity material puts it, a toast to the three sacred pastimes of old Ireland -- whiskey, music, and storytelling.

Copyright © 2002 Alma A. Hromic

Alma A. Hromic, addicted (in random order) to coffee, chocolate and books, has a constant and chronic problem of "too many books, not enough bookshelves". When not collecting more books and avidly reading them (with a cup of coffee at hand), she keeps busy writing her own. Her latest fantasy work, a two-volume series entitled Changer of Days, was published by HarperCollins.

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