Tom Phelan


Life
1940- ; b. Strahard, Mountmellick, Co. Laois; ordained; after a first curacy he moved to America and left the priesthood; worked in various jobs incl. Assoc. Professor of English at Harriman College, insurance companies, and the District School on Long Island; grad. University of Seattle (MA); issued In the Season of the Daisies (1993), a first novel dealing with the killing of an orphan twin by the IRA;
 
finalist in the Barnes & Noble “Discover Great New Writers” series; issued Iscariot (1995), the story of a widower and former priest; issued Derrycloney (1999), set in the Irish countryside in the 1940s; issued The Canal Bridge (2005), a novel set in the trenches of Flanders and the Irish midlands about two young Irishmen who join the British Army; issued Nailer (2011), a thriller in which a serial killer is targetting child abusers.
 
Phelan has spoken at numerous educational, cultural and civic groups in the US, England, France, and Ireland; m. Patricia [née Mansfield], Sep. 1991; lives on Long Island, NY.

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Works

  • In the Season of the Daisies (Dublin: Lilliput Press 1993), 226pp., and Do. (NY: Four Walls Eight Windows 1998), trans. as À la Saison des Marguerites (Paris: Edition Balland 1998), 301pp.;
  • Iscariot (Dingle: Brandon Press 1995), [6], 281pp., trans. as Keegan’s Geheimnis (München: Franz Schneekluth Verlag & Bastei Lubbe 1998), 416pp.;
  • Derrycloney (Dingle: Brandon 1999), 273pp.;
  • The Canal Bridge (Dublin: Lilliput Press 2005), 240pp.
  • Nailer (NY: Glanvil Enterprises 2011), 439pp.
 
  • Also “My Life as a Priest”, in Recorder [American Irish Historical Soc.] (Summer 2004).

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Criticism
See Shirley Kelly [interview], in Books Ireland 191 (Dec. 1995), pp.313-14; Louise Cooper, review of Iscariot (1995), in Irish Times ( 2 Dec. 1995), p.8; John Dunne, review of Iscariot, in Books Ireland (Dec. 1995), pp.325-26; Shirley Kelly, ‘The Field Marshal Had Him Shot’, in Books Ireland (Oct. 2005), p.219. See also under Commentary, infra.

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Commentary
John Dunne, reviewing In the Season of the Daisies (Lilliput 1993), with warm approbation in Books Ireland (Summer 1995), p.150.

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Sandra A. Cooke, review of Iscariot, in The Irish Reporter, 21 (Feb. 1996), summarises the work as a novel of passion and redemption; set in claustrophobic midlands; repressive Catholicism; ‘very clearly concerns of former priest’; a serving priest Father Eddie Keegan and a returne emigrant who had left the priesthood, Frank Molloy; village squalor with chorus of reeking grotesques; Keegan revolted by the bodies of his parishioners; bears festering resentment towards his prosperous brother; Molloy, a sensitive, with treasured books, refined musical taste and ‘efficient sexuality’. Cooke sees ‘a form of extended therapy’ in the novel but also ‘imaginative and even delicate use of language and exactness of observation that suggests he is hold a huge talent in reserve.’ (pp.79-80.)

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Irish World (q.d.), on Derrycloney: ‘[...] At the heart of this wonderfully humorous novel is Derrycloney Lane, where Kate Glanvil tries to keep the peace; Billy Bates listens to the trains on a deserted railway bridge at night and dreams about Miss Hippwell; Lizzie Burns plots to steal her dead brother’s farm; Crip Quigley wishes for his long-dead mother to come home; Missus Brady protects the defenseless Benny Cosgrove; Crissy the Widda reads an old letter from South Africa by the light of a Sacred Heart lamp; Cha Finley makes a sacrificial offering at his sister’s expense; Murt McHugh reveals an ancient obstetrical secret; and young Liam Glanvil visits the swans and writes letters to a nun.’ (Quoted on Tom Phelan webpage [ link ].)

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Sundry comments on Derrycloney (1999) - The Irish World: ‘A moving portrayal of rural Irish life in the 1940s, Derrycloney is one of the finest Irish novels I have read in some time [...] Phelan’s insight is phenomenal and the language [...] is rich, evocative and powerful [...] All in all, a great book - readable, powerful, thought-provoking, moving and often very funny.’ Leinster Express: ‘Phelan is a master story-teller with keen powers of observation and an innate command of suspense.’ Irish Emigrant: ‘A book filled with incident, with humor, with unforgettable characters, which I can heartily recommend. Irish Examiner: ‘His work [...] is highly esteemed in the US, and with good reason [...] This is a comic novel, with a strong plot and a very moving, happy ending.’ (Kindly supplied by Patricia Mansfield Freeport, NY.)

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Derek Hand, ‘Cyphers in the Killing Fields’, review of The Canal Bridge, in The Irish Times (17 Dec. 2005), praises battle scenes in Belgium but censures his ‘portrayal of the politics of the time’: ‘A far too easy opposition is set up between those who fought in the trenches of the Somme and Ypres and those who fought for Irish independence in 1916. Nationalists are cartoon villains, all mystical Ireland and martyrdom. The difficulty with this is that Phelan’s inability to understand nationalist sentiment is matched by an equally worrying inability to understand those who went to fight in the Great War. In his desire to present them as honest and upstanding, they become Forrest Gump-like characters who get caught up in passively in history rather than make it. [...] There is no working through of ideas here, no sense of a Ytatsian work-inprogress. Rather, the author, imposes ideas from outside the story, reducing the characters to mere ciphers speaking someone else’s words. [...] In the end this novel is unable to transcend often sentimental and obvious emotions while peddling a simplistic view of Irish live and history. [...; &c.]’.

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Reference
There is a Tom Phelan web page - online.

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Notes
In the Season of the Daisies (1993), deals with the brutal killing of one of two orphan twins when they discover the IRA raiding a Protestant-owned porter house and its effects on the other.

Iscariot (1995), the story of Frank Molloy, an expatriate ex-priest (and widower with grown children), returns to Davinkill - his home town where even his own brother has disowned him - and stumbles upon suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of a young woman. and involving elements of detective fiction. Father Keegan, a childhood friend and now the parish priest, is haunted by the memory of a ghastly crime and experiences revulsion at his congregation ...

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Derrycloney (1999) is an evocation of an Irish town in the 1940s: Kate Glanvil, the peace-keeper; Billy Bates listens to trains and dreaming of Miss Hippwell; Lizzie Burns plotting to get her dead brother’s farm; Crip Quigley wishing that his long-dead mother would come back; Missus Brady protecting defenseless Benny Cosgrove; Crissy the Widda reading an old letter from South Africa by the light of a Sacred Heart lamp; Cha Finley making a sacrificial offering at his sister’s expense; Murt McHugh, keeper of an obstetrical secret; and young Liam Glanvil visiting swans and writing letters to a nun. [Adapted from Tom Phelan - Derrycloney page.] 

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The Canal Bridge (2005) deals with the consequences of war on the lives of a group of people from the Irish midlands, both at the Front and at home; central characters, Con Hatchel and Matt Wrenn [see Derek Hand, review, supra.].

“My Life as a Priest”: Phelan has written an essay about a young priest finds himself thinking the unthinkable: he no longer wants to be a priest if bein one means ending up like the men he has sworn to obey, in the Recorder [American Irish Historical Soc.] (Summer 2004).

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The Way They Were: Tom Phelan spoke at The Irish American Heritage Museum on the subject of “The Way They Were: Life in the Irish Countryside in the 1940s” (Albany Public Library; 2.00 p.m., Sunday, November 16, 2003).

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Patricia Phelan [née Mansfield], formerly an editor at St Martin’s Press to c.1997 and afterwards a freelance editor, m. Tom Phelan 14 Sept. 1991. Tom Phelan has two grown up sons from a previous marriage.

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