No Hero’s Welcome (Sweet Wine of Youth)
It’s 1915, the Battle of Gallipoli during WWI. Sergeant Major Daniel Brannigan of the Dublin Fusiliers, fighting as part of the British Army, storms ashore in the first wave with his son Francis among the young soldiers of his unit. The operation turns out to be a massacre; Daniel is killed, and Francis loses his leg to wounds. At home in Ireland, Daniel’s wife Eda, matriarch of the large family, must find a way to cope. She eventually buys a Dublin pub, “The Gallant Fusilier,” where she rears and employs her daughter Molly, a crippled Francis, teenager Sean, and youngest, the reclusive Brendan. Another older daughter, Deirdre, a former nurse, lives abroad in Canada.
These are tumultuous times in Ireland. Sean becomes firmly entrenched in the Irish independence movement and is active in the fight. Francis, sullen and often drunk, wallows in sorrow, somehow maintaining a wavering loyalty to the British Crown. Molly becomes tragically enamored with a young regular at the pub. All of this revolves around Eda, who desperately tries to keep her family happy and together as she, in turn, is wooed by a kind and bookish professor of Irish language studies with his own secrets. The family endures all the turmoil from the 1916 Easter Rising, the covert aid of the Irish diaspora in North America, and the establishment of the Irish Free State.
This is a magnificently crafted novel that defies precise genre characterization. Superb historical fiction certainly, it is filled with traces of espionage, combat, romance, intrigue and even rum and gun running, all creatively and credibly interwoven by the author. The details are well-researched yet never overdone, and the characters are complicated and sympathetic. Final in a series, the book is fine as a stand-alone and comes with my strongest recommendations.