IRISH GOLD. By Andrew M. Greeley. Forge. 334 pages. $21.95.
THIS LATEST WORK may be the Rev. Andrew M. Greeley's best effort yet. It has more of everything -- more plot, denser character development, fresh dialogue and a more solid now story line than his previous novels. Even reticent Catholics who worry about Father Greeley's specific acquaintance with sex, (how does he know?) may be satisfied with this romantic-mystery novel.
Young, handsome, wealthy writer, Dermot Michael Coyne, an Irish-American, as he likes to be identified, visits Ireland to investigate the reasons why his beloved, late grandparents were forced to leave Ireland during the "troubles." Almost immediately he meets Nuala Anne McGrail, a young student at Dublin's Trinity College. He is blown away by the beauty and spirit of the "black-haired young woman whose face might have belonged to a pre-Christian Celtic goddess." Their relationship is tenuous at first, but quickly turns to friendship and, of course, much more.
As Dermot begins to search for answers about his family's background, he is attacked by thugs and learns that he is being watched. He soon comes to the realization that there is indeed a connection between the bloody years of the 1920s and the current peace talks between Ireland and England. Dermot has ** brought with him Ma's (his grandmother) diaries written in the English dialect of Ireland. It happens that Nuala is fluent in the language and he hires her to translate them. Meanwhile, Dermot discovers a great deal about his grandparents, Nell and Liam O'Riada; Liam was a fighter in the Irish war for freedom and Nell was deeply involved in the war effort, too.
Her diaries, which parallel Dermot's story, take up a major portion of the book and give a different dimension and personal look at Irish history and its heroes and villains. The detailed history intertwines Greeley characters' stories with those of major figures of the Irish conflict during the period between 1919 and 1923. Renowned leader Michael Collins, a famous Irish hero, said by many to have been a genius and the greatest leader of men of all time, plays a major part. He was apparently accidentally killed in a skirmish or was he assassinated? Was Liam O'Riada involved? Dermot has many questions to answer, but the process of finding the answers could cost him -- and Nuala -- their lives. The situation becomes even more precarious when he and Nuala discover from Nell's diaries that there may be a fortune of gold hidden nearby. Dermot reflects on his discoveries:
"1. There was a fortune of gold in the mountains of Connemara.
"2. A shadowy, extragovernmental group had been plotting, perhaps for decades, to reunite England and Ireland. For some ** reason the CIA, as I presumed, wanted this group busted up.
"3. The death of Michael Collins was probably connected with either my first point or my second point or both.
"4. The reason my grandparents had fled, perhaps suddenly and most likely under the threat of death, was connected with one or all of the three previous factors."
Mr. Greeley has written a first-rate adventure story with the love interest interwined in the mystery. Dermot comes across as a pleasant man with considerable moral fiber, while Nuala, who is intentionally patterned after Dermot's beloved "Ma" (is Nuala a reincarnation?) carries the fire and passion, all done in an Irish brogue. As is usual, there is humor, gentle deprecation of the conservative aspects of the Catholic church, and yes, oh horrors! -- passion.
Mr. Greeley has apparently done his research and obviously enjoyed his subject matter a great deal. In a postscript he writes: "as for Nuala and Dermot, God willing, they will appear in subsequent stories to be titled Irish Lace, Irish Linen, Irish Stew, and maybe even Irish Whiskey. . . . Does the title Irish Lace suggest wedding garments? Ah, that would be telling now, wouldn't it?"
Barbara Samson Mills writes from Monkton