They just don’t write novels like this anymore! Michael Farrell’s Thy Tears Might Cease is the perfect embodiment of the novel form. It is reminiscent of Dickensian novels of the nineteenth century, a golden age when novels were more than short blocks of dialogue and action and when a reader’s attention span was stretched and held by the poignancy of the themes, depth of the characters, and the beauty of the prose.
This novel was made more intriguing for me, as the author’s grand-nephew, Frank O’Farrell, is one of my best and oldest friends. Frank is originally from Dublin, Ireland. We met and became friends while attending college at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. Last spring while I was visiting Frank, he handed me a thick, paperback novel titled, Thy Tears Might Cease. I’d never heard of it, but I was immediately interested by the author’s relation to Frank and by the subject matter: the early days of the “Troubles” in Ireland. I’ve long been fascinated by the history of the conflict between England and Ireland. As I was still in the throes of editing and promoting So Shelly, I set the novel aside for nearly a year, until not long ago, I picked it up and became deeply enthralled, not only with the historical insights of the novel but especially with the personal troubles of the protagonist, Martin Reilly, as he attempts to define his own place in the world, in Ireland, in the “Troubles,” in his family, and in his own conscience.
After I conducted some research, I learned that Thy Tears Might Cease is considered by many scholars of Irish literature to be one of the greatest Irish works of historical fiction and a classic coming-of-age novel. The story is set during the World War I era and follows Martin as he grapples with the pressing issues of his day, some of which have remained shockingly and sadly relevant in our own time as he learns the cost and futility of war; he loses his once sacrosanct Catholic faith to secularism and a budding atheism; he is traumatized by the sexual advances of a Catholic priest; and he finds himself a republican freedom fighter/terrorist, depending on which side of the Troubles one is on.
If you’re in the mood for an old-fashioned, lost classic, read Thy Tears Might Cease by Michael Farrell.