Patrick Kavanagh was born in rural County Monaghan in 1904. He's probably better known as a poet than a novelist - "On Raglan Road" being particularly well known, having also been set to music. "Tarry Flynn" was first published in 1948.
The book opens in 1935, and Tarry Flynn is 27 years old. He lives and works on a farm, in the townland of Drumnay, County Cavan, with his mother and sisters. He is something of a dreamer, reads when he can and has been known to scribble the occasional poem. He also tends to say rather strange things about religion and his mother thinks he has a strange twist to him
Tarry is also something of an amateur lothario : he admires any number if young women from afar...where 'admire' can mean anything from 'lusts after' (such as his near neighbour, Molly Brady) to 'idolises' (like Mary Reilly). Frustratingly, he never seems to get anywhere - for some reason, he always appears to bottle it at the last minute. Tarry doesn't much care for mass, but going to church gives him a great opportunity to ogle the girls. When the book opens, there's a great deal of local gossip about Mary Reilly, Tarry's dream girl, having been 'knocked off' her bicycle at the Drumnay crossroads. Despite his stunning lack of success with the ladies, Tarry himself is being blamed far and wide for it - and his mother is mortified that Tarry may have laid 'heavy hands' on her. (Worse, he is even being denounced from the pulpit - although the contribution of Eusebius Cassidy, a friend of Tarry's, doesn't go unnoticed). Concerned at the state of the Parish, Father Daly then invites the Redemptorists to the parish to organise a Mission - when it comes to dealing with sexual sin, the Redemptorists are renowned as specialists. (The Mission doesn't have quite the effect the priests might have hoped for, even amongst the older folk. Delighted that they 'need' a Redemptorist Mission, there's now a spring in the collective step and a twinkle in the collective eye).
"Tarry Flynn" is described as 'an idyllic and beautifully evocative account of life as it was lived in Ireland' in the early part if the 20th century. The account may well be beautifully evocative, but I found little idyllic about life in Drumnay. Most of the work around the farm is carried out by hand - there is no mechanisation, nothing like a tractor to make Tarry's work any easier. (However, he does seem to enjoy the physical side of things - Tarry loves the clay, and he takes nearly a spiritual, religious joy in working the land). The problems, however, were caused largely by Tarry's neighbours. As time goes on, there seems to be no end to the people who will try to thwart and frustrate the Flynn family. That even extends to Eusebius - although initially described as one of Tarry's friends, I found him to be a treacherous, self-centred sneak. Eusebius is far from alone, though - there seem to be plenty of people in Drumnay who'd be happy to see their neighbours fail and would be spiteful enough to contribute to their failure. Having said that, come the book's end, I found I wasn't entirely impressed with Tarry's choices either. For me, Tarry's mother was the book's strongest character. Although her opinions of people would depend on which way the wind was blowing - good one day, vicious the next - she was determined to do the best for her son. Certainly worth reading - though I'd rather read about Tarry's life than live it.
on 11 February 2012
Don't be fooled by the descriptions of copywriters and others, who don't seem to have read this book with any attention. This isn't idyllic or heart-warming. The society it portrays is actually quite a dingy one: a world of neighbours constantly spying on each other and rejoicing in each others' misfortunes, where nothing ever happens and the only way to live your life with any freedom is to leave. The hero, both shifty and shiftless, selfish and sneaking, isn't especially likeable either.
The author himself, with a disarming lack of modesty, called it 'not only the best but the only authentic account of life as it was lived in Ireland this century'. He was probably proud when the Irish Republic banned it for a while.
In short, this has more in common with the British 'kitchen sink' novels of the 50s than the Darling Buds of May. With its sly, slightly absurdist tone, keeping emotion at arm's length, the book it reminds me of most is Billy Liar. I wasn't bowled over by it at first, but I find that I keep coming back to it. I think it's because it's so real - not a false note from beginning to end - and yet it isn't drab, because Flynn's/Kavanagh's deep love of the country and the soil redeems it. Kavanagh's prose is straightforward and natural, he conveys his characters' speech patterns without getting bogged down in dialect, and so unlike most modern novels of any substance it isn't hard work to read.
on 24 October 2000
When first starting to read you need two thing's to fully appreciate this book. Firstly a pipeing cup of what ever take's your fancy (preferably tea) and secondly a raging open fire. To start this book is writen by the type of person anyone can relate to. The type of incidents which happen throughout the book may seem trivial in this day and age but at the time they were matter's of life and death. It brings you to a world deep within Ireland, a simple way of life only upset by gossip and public opinion. When all that is important is the price you can get for the hen's eggs and a woodbine at night. Simplicity is the initial reaction you may have, but in reality there is much much more. The story is based on the author's life beneeth the Grey hill's on a Monaghan farm. His life some what distracted by his love for book's and awe of nature in short you could say he is a dreamer but in truth he is only a romantic who long's for love. In his mind he is all conquering but when faced with the reality of a situation thing's just never seem to go right. A heart warming look at the toils and tribulation's of a young man and his struggle with love and his outlook on life.
on 6 March 2016
A semi-autobiographical story from the bog-farms of Ireland before WW2, the same society in The Field, of poverty stricken neighbors rowing over ditches and back-biting over tea. The community is essentially made up of fierce competitors for any advantage and dignity that can be got where there are no resources nor good partners to be found. Tarry is a 27 year old poet who cant fit in here nor get a 'court', has a domineering mother and is bullied by the locals and has essentially retreated into books, he is as imprisoned and functional as any of the farm animals, and though he sees the beauty of the land he feels buried under it. I loved it and will read it again, it is an Irish classic about the 'good' old days.
on 2 March 2001
I have read and reread this book many times. It is brilliantly written and captures the essence of country life in S.Ireland. I have relatives in this part of the country and characters like this still exist. This is not a book where a lot happens, but you will be captivated from page 1 in Tarry's life, trials and decisions.If you like Irish literature - read this ..