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Thy Tears Might Cease Book Review - Lunchtime Lit With Mel Carriere

Mel Carriere is a mailman/blogger with just a wee bit of the Irish in him, just enough so he can get away with jokes about drunken Irishmen.

Draw the blinds, shelter in place. The Covid pandemic could be called a time of troubles, so it might be appropriate that a story about another time of troubles, Thy Tears Might Cease, would be on this mailman's lunchtime reading list.

Draw the blinds, shelter in place. The Covid pandemic could be called a time of troubles, so it might be appropriate that a story about another time of troubles, Thy Tears Might Cease, would be on this mailman's lunchtime reading list.

A Time of Troubles

It is a troubling time for letter carriers, for those who read books on their half hour lunch breaks, and those who do not. Covid-19 has introduced a novel set of problems for mailmen who indulge in novels and those who don't, via a parcel load that has exploded and a virus that has exploded, replacing dog anxiety with the worry of which customers approaching you on the street might be infected with a disease other than rabies. Some postal customers still foam at the mouth during Covid.

The pandemic could be called a time of troubles, so it might be appropriate that a story about another time of troubles, now a century removed, would be on this mailman's lunchtime reading list. Curiously enough, the backdrop of the current selection, Thy Tears Might Cease, is the Irish time of troubles. That chapter of your unread history book shook beautiful Hibernia around the same time that our last large global pandemic, the Spanish Flu, was spreading its deadly fingers around the globe.

So Thy Tears Might Cease was a very timely read, but one that certainly could not get me accused of literary escapism. There is no escape from this virus, and there was no escape for the book's protagonist, Martin Reilly, as he fled from the abusive hands of the Black and Tans, a gang of officially-sanctioned thugs chasing him down Dublin back alleys and across the landscape of lovely Eire. Does the nation's name rhyme with ire? I'm not sure, my gaelic is none too good, but Michael Farrel's novel has certainly opened my eyes to the fair share of suffering the emerald aisle has endured.

Faithful Lunchtime Lit readers, if such a group exists, know that my reading choices come from a variety of sources - books I've borrowed, books I've stolen, books I have actually bought. Thy Tears Might Cease was among the latter. I dug deep this time, purchasing the title on Amazon on the recommendation of a hub pages colleague. She calls herself RoadMonkey, a mysterious moniker that stems from the subject of her doctoral research. This highly educated lady pointed me toward this book, and in so doing opened my eyes to an area of history I had altogether neglected, to my own detriment. I thank her for that.

The Emerald Aisle is certainly lovely from space, but hidden within that beautiful of greenery lie centuries of ugly human conflict.

The Emerald Aisle is certainly lovely from space, but hidden within that beautiful of greenery lie centuries of ugly human conflict.

Lunchtime Lit Rules

Even during the present Covid-19 time of troubles, there is no extended sheltering in place for Lunchtime Lit books. All the titles reviewed here go into quarantine at work after Mel's authorized half hour postal lunch break, they are never given a stay at home order that might cause the asymptomatic spread of the viral ideas within them, via the vector of home readings not authorized under current CDC guidelines.

Lunchtime Lit Year to Date Recap * **

BookPagesWord CountDate StartedDate FinishedLunchtimes Consumed

A Suitable Boy






Death is a Lonely Business












The Casual Vacancy






Thy Tears Might Cease






*Word counts are estimated by hand-counting a statistically significant 23 pages, then extrapolating this average page count across the entire book. When the book is available on a word count website, I rely on that total.

**Twenty-six other titles, with a total estimated word count of 5,680,655 and 872 lunchtimes consumed, have been reviewed under the guidelines of this series.

Historical Fiction - Fact or Fiction?

But please do not get the idea that Thy Tears Might Cease is a historical novel, because it is not. It is a novel of the human condition that could have taken place anywhere, at any period of history. This is the quality that makes it appeal to all people, in all lands, at any random spot on the calendar. Even its editor Monk Gibbon said "...it is not an historical novel. It is an intensely personal and subjective one, linked throughout to the consciousness of a single individual."

Perhaps spurred on by Thy Tears, I was musing the other evening whether a thing called a historical novel actually exists. After all, the two root words involved, history and novel, seem mutually exclusive - history being a studied interpretation of documented facts, and novels recounting events that take place only in the imaginations of their authors and readers. After this brow furrowing session of philosophical hair-splitting, I concluded that either every novel set in the past is a historical novel, or that there is no such thing as a historical novel. You try the same pointless thought experiment in your own head, then let me know what you come up with.

In my own opinion, fiction authors that attempt real history may as well just write history books. If it takes someone 20 years to research a tale, then he or she is missing the point of fiction altogether. That hack belongs in a tweed suit, smoking a pipe in some stuffy academic department somewhere, not in the role of storyteller. I think that guy Monk Gibbon above said it best. For a novel to hit home, to relate to its readers, it must be "intensely personal...", and "linked throughout" to the consciousness of one or more of its characters.

Michael Farrell's book does not get bogged down in academic minutiae. If he gets bogged down at all, it is in the quaint details of daily life in an Irish family. True, he does relate an interesting interpretation about Ireland's role in World War I and the subsequent time of troubles of the Irish revolution, but he does not overwhelm us with it. So if one has to categorize Thy Tears Might Cease, let us do so as Bildungsroman, a coming of age tale in which the protagonist gradually progresses from simple innocence into shocking, eye opening reality. By gradual phases of disillusionment, protagonist Martin Reily's soul is sullied, evolving from unquestioning faith in Catholic doctrine to unblinking atheism, from blissful ignorance about his past to the disquieting revelation of his parentage, from loyal subject of the British King to passionate Irish rebel and Sinn Fein operative.

The story unveils on twelve year old Martin, a more or less happy orphan living in his aunt's house, where he has accepted his lot in life even though he is ridiculed by his Uncle for reading too much, and for having something of the girl in him. When the curtain opens we see him anxiously awaiting the Christmas waits, a band of wandering minstrels that played outside people's windows in the early morning. A devout child, the lad reverently and enthusiastically serves as an altar boy to the good Father Riordan. Such is the idyllic innocence of the scene that the reader yawns a bit, wondering if and how the boy-scout goodness of Martin Reilly is going to change into something that gets the pulse moving a little.

The descent from an untroubled Christmas morning into the inevitable corruption of the human experience takes a while to gather momentum, and occurs so unexpectedly that it stuns the unwary reader. First there are unspoken innuendos of homosexuality in the relationship between Martin and his best friend Norman. Then there is the sexual depravity of a priest who attempts to abuse Martin. The crass destruction of his poetry by the same depraved priests at school then turns our hero from faith to disbelief. His true sexual desire is finally awakened when he falls in love with a young lady from Dublin's working classes, but the suit is ultimately rejected because the woman does not wish to share him with Ireland, to whom he has devoted himself in writing and in action. Along the way Martin sees his friends, schoolmates, and family members suffer and die in the Great War and the concurrent local struggle against the covetous British Empire. In the book's closing pages awaits the final eye-opener, the truth about Martin's parents, the truth about his own legitimacy.

Therefore, Thy Tears Might Cease is the story of a boy who painfully grows into manhood, during which period he comes to realize that the soothing fictions of his youth are the property of the slave hearts, not of the proud, spirited, independent thinker he styles himself. As such, we could have parachuted Martin Reilly down into a multitude of nations, cultures and religions, with the same outcome.

The curtain of Thy Tears Might Cease opens innocent on young Martin Riley innocently awaiting the arrival of the Christmas waits, then slowly devolves into disillusionment and discontent.

The curtain of Thy Tears Might Cease opens innocent on young Martin Riley innocently awaiting the arrival of the Christmas waits, then slowly devolves into disillusionment and discontent.

An American's Exposure to Irish History

Although my thesis remains that Thy Tears Might Cease is not a historical novel, I cannot deny it awakened me to the subject of Irish history. In the grand scheme of things, the humble, isolated Emerald Aisle seems to get swallowed up by bigger places, nations involved in bigger conflicts with effects that reverberate around the globe. But the Irish diaspora has certainly reverberated around the globe as well. There are Irish everywhere the British touched down on the planet, and many places they did not. Living practically on the Mexican border, I even encounter Irish surnames among people in Tijuana. Sometimes you see a stray Kennedy or Riley pop up among the masses of Lopez and Ramirez. These thoroughly assimilated folks might not remember they are Irish, but they are.

Assimilated Americans don't remember they are Irish either, but the US is nonetheless chock full of of Irish descendants. Almost everybody here has got a wee bit of the Irish in them, you could say. Somewhere in my background, I am supposed to have Irish in the stew as well. Therefore, though I consider myself a well-read lad, it is surprising and inexcusable that I know so little about Irish history. It is equally appalling that up until now, I really did not care.

That attitude has changed. Since reading Thy Tears Might Cease, I have been in a frenzy of googling, digging up the pots of gold of Irish history that were previously stashed from me by some hoarding leprechaun. Here are a few fun filled facts I stole from the end of that rainbow, thanks to Michael Farrell, working vicariously through fellow hubber RoadMonkey:

For one thing, I learned that those who hailed from Hibernia did not represent a monolithic block of resistance against British rule. Prior to World War I, British loyalists were still a prominent, perhaps a dominant part of the Irish political scene. When war against Germany erupted in Europe, thousands of Irish followed England into the conflict without much prompting. Thousands of Irish died on the battlefields of Flanders and the blood soaked sites of other carnages. It was only after the Easter uprising of 1916, with its resulting mass execution of rebels, that the majority of Irish men and women fell in line for independence behind Sinn Fein. Let this be a lesson to all great empires who try to bully their weaker neighbors into subjugation, and instead find only alienation of affection.

I also knew nothing about the infamous Black and Tan, except that it was a trendy pub drink. Now I know a good deal more about those cruel cronies of the crown, those destructive dogs who carried out brutal reprisals against non-combatants, burning houses and crops, torturing and murdering those suspected of aiding and abetting Sinn Fein. A wee little lass from Limerick by the name of Dolores O'Riordan, now dearly departed, recounted the persistent echoes of the Time of Troubles in the 1994 song Zombie. Those effects linger (another song by her group), into the present, with the unresolved issue of Northern Ireland. Undoubtedly Thy Tears Might Cease continues to be relevant, a century after the events depicted in the book.

Sadly, Thy Tears Might Cease continues to be relevant, a century after the events depicted in the book.

Sadly, Thy Tears Might Cease continues to be relevant, a century after the events depicted in the book.

Lunchtime Lit Pointless, Posthumous Hall of Fame Revisited

Woefully, Michael Farrell never celebrated any long-term impacts that his one and only novel produced. For that matter, he didn't enjoy any immediate benefits either. Thy Tears Might Cease was a process of life-long tinkering for the author, who never turned in the book for publication. It was only after his death that his poet friend Monk Gibbon submitted the book to its publisher.

As such, Farrell has gained membership into an elite fraternity of authors who did not live to profit, emotionally or financially, from their most famous work. I title this lackluster litany the Lunchtime Lit Pointless, Posthumous Hall of Fame. Pointless, because if you are a nihilist who believes that consciousness is snuffed out at the time of death, it seems rather pointless to write a great book and never receive accolades for it.

I don't know if I'm a nihilist or not, but I'm not going to take up any more valuable cyber space repeating the list here. If you wish to see it, go to my profile at hubpages.com/@melcarriere and scroll down 19 articles or more to the one on Moby Dick. You will find the table toward the bottom of that review. It now includes 8 writers, great and mediocre, out of 31 reviewed on Lunchtime Lit (25.8%). The phenomenon is frighteningly common, much worse than the odds of catching coronavirus, an unsettling statistic for those of us writers who would like to enjoy the fruits of our efforts while still breathing.

Michael Farrell's history is of a man who never really tied up loose ends. Born the son of a Catholic shopkeeper in Carlow town, before the time of troubles he pursued medical studies but became distracted by revolutionary politics, a hobby which landed him in Mountjoy prison. After the war he resumed his education, but left Trinity College in Dublin without graduating. Thereafter he worked in the Belgian Congo as a superintendent of customs, then departed Africa to take up employment for Radio Eireann, while simultaneously receiving notoriety as a reviewer of dramatic works. Somewhere along the line he began writing his magnum opus, Thy Tears Might Cease, a big literary baby with a gestation period exceeding twenty years. The book was eventually accepted for publication, but then underwent excruciating editing labor pains, which eventually left it dying in the womb alongside Michael Farrell. Says Farrell's poet friend Monk Gibbon:

"Financial sanctions might have been applied...But neither they nor any other form of pressure would have made Farrell disgorge his book. It was not ready for publication. It was not yet the work of art which he wished it to be."

Monk Gibbon resurrected the work, and in so doing kept his friend from departing from us unsung, in complete obscurity. This posthumous editor wound up cutting 100,000 words from Thy Tears Might Cease. We might say he butchered Farrell's baby, rendering the abandoned waif into a form the author may have found unacceptable. But at least the book was rescued from its progenitor's imprisonment, or freed from quarantine, to use an analogy more appropriate for our present condition. In so doing Gibbon gave the world a treasure that would have otherwise remained buried. But how much of it was Farrell, how much was Gibbon, and would the original creator have approved of its makeover? The answer remains a mystery, buried with the novelist.

Protest outside the notorious Mountjoy Prison, during the Irish Time of Troubles

Protest outside the notorious Mountjoy Prison, during the Irish Time of Troubles

Ringing Music From The Anvil of a Man

The Time of Troubles is a specific period in Irish history, true enough, but we can say that life on this planet, for every man and woman across its expansive face, is an alternating cycle of hardships and happiness. Every person's life is an historical novel, it could be said, an eye-opening coming of age crucible, in which the innocence and purity of youth is eventually replaced with the disillusionment and cynicism of adulthood.

Thy Tears Might Cease paints a perfect picture of this process, and I leave you now with the closing words of Michael Farrell's one and only literary work, a statement which sums up his general theme more neatly than I could:

He stepped on then, and his bearing was not without dignity, as he moved through the shade of his prison house, seeking at long last the old hammer of reality which might yet ring music from the anvil of a man.

— Michael Farrell, Thy Tears Might Cease

Wee Little Lass From Limerick sings Zombie - RIP Dolores O'Riordan


Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on July 12, 2020:

Thank you Mills. I'm a Catholic myself, but not a cradle Catholic like you, having been brought up a Baptist. As such I can see both sides in the age old conflict, but the Baptist part never really washes off completely. It seems like folly to die for an abstraction, but that's easy to say when you're straddling the line without a firm foot in either camp.

Anyway, thanks for the nice words. I appreciate you dropping in.

Pat Mills from East Chicago, Indiana on July 12, 2020:

As a person with Irish ancestry and raised in the Roman Catholic faith, I can relate to some elements of Farrell's account. So many of us are told we can accomplish anything we want, only to learn so few of us will. It's a shame so many of the authors you have reviewed did not live to see their work. Plenty of current best sellers, though, will write things that will become dated and forgotten once they have gone. Thanks for another fine review.

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on July 12, 2020:

That trip is atop my bucket list, Ann. Thanks again.

Ann Carr from SW England on July 12, 2020:

The daft thing is that I lived in west Wales for a few years, really close to the ferry to southern Ireland - and I never went! How stupid is that!

Fact is, I didn't have the time or the money but I might do it sometime soon. I could easily fly to Dublin from Bristol so no excuse - apart from Covid, so it won't be next month!

I can identify with your criteria for a book. My main one is that it has to grab me in the first page or it's failed. I belong to a book club and I always finish the books, as someone has taken the trouble to choose them, but I know by the end of the first page whether or not I'll enjoy them.

It's certainly worth a visit, both to our Britain and to Eire. I hope you manage to do so.


Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on July 12, 2020:

Thank you Ann. There are two things I am interested in when I open a book. First, is the writer's method, insight, character development, or wit going to make the journey worthwhile? Secondly, are my eyes going to be open by very intriguing new facts I either didn't know about before, or old ones given a new perspective. If neither of these things happen, I abandon that book.

Sometimes a book delivers both of them, and I think this one has to a certain extent. Yes it was a bit ponderous in the beginning, there were points where its Irishness made it hard to follow, but overall it was worthwhile. Perhaps you as a British citizen could understand the Irishness better than me, being more close to it, though you've never gone. That you've never visited Ireland strikes me as similar to living in San Diego, as I do, and never going to Phoenix. Not that anybody wants to go to Phoenix, especially in July. You really gotta get to Ireland. I hope to too, as well as to visit your lovely island as well, someday.

I really appreciate you dropping in.

Ann Carr from SW England on July 12, 2020:

This sounds really interesting. It obviously evokes much depth of emotion and humanity as it's about a society steeped in religion and all the difficulties that accompany such things. I'm tempted to read it but worried it might be rather heavy going!

Eire is pronounce 'Ay-ra' with a rolled 'r', apparently. In Britain many don't think of Ireland as 'Eire', because we have Northern Ireland as part of the UK (capital Belfast), then Eire as Southern Ireland and part of the EU (capital Dublin), a separate country. Quite sad that it's so but there we are. That said, it's a beautiful part of the world and the people have a reputation of being friendly and welcoming. Sadly, I've never been to any part of it, though I'd love to go to Dublin.

Great review which gives us so much more information, regarding the author and the place itself.

When someone says historical novel, I think of fiction which is based within a historical era and situation and therefore should be historically accurate. It's not a genre I enjoy reading. The sounds much more interesting.

Thanks for the education, Mel. Hope you're keeping safe and well.


Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on July 08, 2020:

Eric, except the self help gurus are all rich, mostly from selling self help books. I'm in the wrong line of work. The difference between the rich and the poor is not brains, it's that the poor lack the capacity to swindle. We're missing the swindle gene. Enjoy your fine Sprung Valley summer morning.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on July 08, 2020:

Mel, you really should. These self-help gurus on "time management", never managed time like you must. I don't think a one has had to be in a real environment to manage.

Well unless you include - that SNL guy who lived in a van down by the river.

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on July 07, 2020:

Eric this is not your first Lunchtime Lit rodeo. I think you know by now I only read these books in half hour chunks, not long enough to really get bored. It is true my impression might be skewed because of that. As for being able to read, write so forth with 340 packages, I think I have solved it. I might write an article here on it. I don't think anybody cares, I just like to toot my own horn. Stay tuned.

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on July 07, 2020:

Linda sorry I could not comment before Hub Pages logged me out this morning, so what arbitrarily, in the middle of my reply. It is sad indeed that Farrell died before he could be recognized for his work. I think every writer wants to see his or her name on a book binding. I appreciate you dropping in.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on July 07, 2020:

How in the heck do you have time to read with over 340 packages. Mind boggling. But if you were reading this I bet you were ready to get back to work ;-)

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on July 07, 2020:

Thank you Road Monkey for leading me to this fabulous book. All copies of it are old now, because it is out of print. Some days I feel a little loose in the spine myself. I appreciate you dropping in.

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on July 07, 2020:

Meg, thank you for my Gaelic pronunciation lessons. Ireland sounds like a lovely place, I would love to visit the island someday. Poor little Dolores Riordan was a Catholic girl, but I think she kept no truck with the horrible ongoing war. Thanks for dropping in.

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on July 07, 2020:

Bill, I think the increased work load from the "Covid Christmas" makes every mailman want to retire. Yesterday my route had 346 packages. Thanks for dropping in.

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on July 07, 2020:

Davika, thank you so much for dropping in. That's great I could enlighten instead of disillusion you with this book.

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on July 07, 2020:

John, I will take your suggestion as a possibility for a future Lunchtime read. I am always looking to sample unknown authors. Thanks for dropping in.

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on July 07, 2020:

Pam, many Irish Americans came here via Scotland like your ancestors, and the Catholic Irish were particularly despised, which is why many of them went to Mexico. I really think you would enjoy this book, thanks for dropping in.

Mel Carriere (author) from San Diego California on July 07, 2020:

Eric, after your comment I was fired as Michael Farrell's marketing director. I just couldn't sell you. Anyhow, thanks for dropping in.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on July 06, 2020:

This is an interesting review. You've described another book that I'd like to read. It's sad that the book wasn't published during the author's lifetime.

RoadMonkey on July 06, 2020:

I am glad you reviewed this book. It is over 40 years since I read it and it has stayed in my mind since then. I hope you liked it. I gave my copy away, although, as a large paperback it was getting a bit loose at the spine.

DreamerMeg from Northern Ireland on July 06, 2020:

Great review. Eire is pronounced AIRER, to rhyme with fairer or bearer. I could probably take you to some of the spots shown in your photos and some of the film clips in Dolores O' Riordan's song brought back some memories that lie just below the surface. I hope you enjoyed reading the book, even though it is a heavy tome.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on July 06, 2020:

That book looks too big for me. It looks like you need to lift weights to enjoy it, you know?

Our postal carrier of twenty years retired two weeks ago. He was going to wait until the end of the year, but this COVID thing made him decide now is the time. It was just too much to work through on his job, and I certainly understand that.

Stay safe, my friend!

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on July 06, 2020:

Hi Mel interesting review and you definitely enlightened me here

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on July 05, 2020:

Damnit, I just left an in depth comment here and then it up and disappeared. To cut it short I enjoyed the review. You make good points in regard to historical fiction. Bernard Cornwall is a master of it. I really enjoyed “Stonehenge” written by him. Anyway, good job as always Mel.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on July 05, 2020:

I have spent a fair amount of time researching my family trees. One line was originally born in Scotland and relocated in Ireland. This is what I thought of when I started reading your review of this book.

I always enjoy reading your book reviews but I don't know if I would like this book or not. I have read about how horribly the Irish were treated when they arrived in America. My genetic line came in the 1600's so they arrived before that problem but they foght in all the wars. I like reading historial novel and watching historical movies, so I probably would like this book also. Thank you for this review, Mel. It was very thorough and let me know what to expect.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on July 05, 2020:

Well I am glad you read it to tell me the tale. Sorry but my chance of reading it is below Dukakis being out next president. OK I supposedly have Irish background but the idyllic boy in the beginning began to bring me to tears of -. You described it to well. Boy meets girl but society tears them apart?

But I liked your description of the description of the period.

Well this sounded deliciously undelicious. thanks for the warning.