Sunday 15 September 2019

The Rose of Tralee blooms anew

Romance: The First Rose of Tralee

Patricia O'Reilly

Poolbeg, €15.99

The First Rose of Tralee
The First Rose of Tralee

Margaret Carragher

With the Rose of Tralee International Festival set to celebrate its Diamond Jubilee later this month, Patricia O'Reilly's latest novel couldn't be more timely.

The book takes its inspiration from a 19th-Century ballad supposedly penned by one William Pembroke Mulchinock in homage to his one true love. The action begins in the dingy back lanes of Tralee where the lovely and fair Mary O'Connor lives in grinding poverty with her parents and younger siblings.

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Mary aspires to better things - travel, culture, education - beyond what she was lucky to get before being put in charge of running the home and taking care of her siblings while her mother worked full-time.

But with her father intent on marrying her off at the first opportunity, that doesn't seem likely. When her mother suffers the loss of yet another newborn, Mary is sent to take her place as kitchen maid in West Villa, home of the wealthy Mulchinock family where Paudge, a long-standing and highly respected employee, takes a shine to her.

Grateful as she is for his kindliness, Mary simply isn't interested. But try telling that to her father or mother or the odious Father Sheehy, who thinks Mary is getting far too big for her boots since her move to the Big House.

Then William Pembroke, the Mulchinock's favoured son, returns from a business trip to find Mary installed in the family home. Given her natural beauty and charm and his dreamy idealism, it is inevitable the pair fall madly in love. However, Fr Sheehy is determined to put her in her place. And events conspire to take William far, far away.

Against a background of famine, pestilence and political unrest, O'Reilly weaves a tale of love and loss as charming as the song that inspired its title.


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