While held hostage by fundamentalist Shi'ite militiamen in the suburbs of Beirut, Brian Keenan was visited and sustained by the presence of Turlough O'Carolan - the legendary blind Irish harper of the seventeenth century. This novel is thus a re-creation of an extraordinary historical story and a personal debt repaid. It is also, obliquely, a parallel life - another life imprisoned, shaped by the dark. Narrated largely by O'Carolan from his death-bed, and through the recollections of those closest to him, Turlough powerfully brings to life a lost Ireland of famine and disease, eviction and oppression. Stalking through the broken and dispossessed comes Turlough O'Carolan, the musical prodigy, blinded by smallpox and now an itinerant harper, lauded by the aristocracy and a hero to his people. His Rabelaisian desire for drink and women is counterpointed by his artistic struggle towards the great music and some kind of inner peace. Driven by demons and dreams, riven by contradictions, Turlough emerges as a great man, full of frailty: a blind man afraid of the dark. A panoramic picaresque, rich with the textures and smells of rural Ireland and peopled by a host of angels and devils, Turlough is a remarkable historical journey, and a huge imaginative feat.
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As famine and plague sweep across Ireland, and foreign oppressors drive the people from their land, one man spreads a message of hope and courage. Through his words and music, the 17th-century bard Turlough Carolan bewitches, shocks and delights all who hear him, winning fame and notoriety throughout the land. A complex man, Turlough's musical skills are matched only by his capacity for hell-raising and strong drink. Blind from an early age, his life is a protest against darkness, in all its forms. As Turlough and those who have loved him take stock of his life, it becomes apparent that this was no drunken troubadour, but a troubled saint.
Turlough represents a bold leap from the factual-journalistic world of Keenan's previous book, An Evil Cradling. But the two worlds are curiously entwined--for while he was held hostage in Beirut, Keenan was visited by a spiritual presence whom he believes to have been the real-life Turlough Carolan. This fictional account of the bard's life is a personal homage--steeped in powerful imagery and vibrant with historical colour, the ghostly presence of its hero can be felt on every page. Mysticism has never been so entertaining. --Matthew BaylisReview:
"Imaginative and lovingly executed...There is something profound going on in this novel..." -"Times Literary Supplement"
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