About Tiernan's Wake
Grace O’Malley was a real-life pirate, but much more. She was an educated noblewoman of the Irish clan system, a competent CEO, a skilled political operative, an Irish patriot, and overall a major player. She may have been a spy. She certainly is a symbol of the Irish hunger for independence and the strong Irish woman in a male-dominated society.
With not enough help, Grace probably held off the completion of England’s Irish Conquest for many years. She appears to have stared down England’s formidable Queen Elizabeth when they finally met in 1593. It’s a shame her story isn’t more widely known outside Ireland. There is little known about her with certainty, even in Ireland. We don’t even know what she looked like. No identified portraits have ever been located. But there are tales and songs of the red-haired pirate temptress, and rumors of her still-buried treasure. That’s where this novel begins. Be warned, though, this isn’t primarily a pirate story.
The basic plot is historical fiction. An unlikely team of three people (with a very large supporting cast) apply their different skills to solve a real historical mystery -- locating Grace O’Malley’s only identifiable portrait and missing papers, and perhaps her treasure. They solve the puzzle, or do they? In the process, they discover that Grace was close to finalizing a deal with Queen Elizabeth that would have dramatically altered the course of European history.
On a second level, it’s a story of damaged people confronting their mortality and looking for answers they think they should have had by now, including what family really means. This is not a “coming-of-age” novel. It’s a “came-of-age-a-long-time-ago- and-never-figured-some-things-out” novel. A new literary genre!
And on a third level, it’s a story of how the past speaks to us and changes our present and future. Sometimes important messages are best delivered by ancestral spirits. Not genetic memory, real spirits. The Irish know that the spirits of our past live in us, whether we believe in them or not. We just have to learn how to listen. It can take a lifetime.
I hope the novel is an entertaining historical mystery, with interesting characters, some enjoyable twists and turns, and a resolution that will make people think. I hope also it will make readers laugh, because nothing Irish (or Irish-American) can take itself too seriously.
And what other novel will you ever read that combines real pirates, genealogy, the immigrant experience, law, Elizabethan history and art, an actual Irish historical mystery, ancestral spirits, spies, Nazis, parochial school trauma, Sherlock Holmes, the complexities of adult friendships, and the real meaning of family?