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Thy Tears Might Cease

Farrell, Michael

New York: Alfred A. Knopf


Thy Tears Might Cease

Plot Summary

This semi-autobiographical novel, which was edited by Monk Gibbon and published after Farrell’s death, begins at the turn of the twentieth century in Glenkilly. Orphan Martin Matthew Rielly spends his youth moving back and forth between Catholic boarding school and the homes of various members of his extended family, many of whom pass on before he finishes high school. Much of his childhood is spent wondering about the identity of his parents. By the time he leaves school, he has become strongly anti-clerical.

Much to the chagrin of his middle-class family, by 1916 Martin has begun to court Millie Bannon, a young girl of the Dublin working-class. The two are dallying on the streets of Dublin when the Rising breaks out, and they struggle to find a place to sleep. After the Rising, Martin’s political stance becomes increasingly nationalistic and, when his friend Seumas begins to ask him to run various errands for Sinn Fein, he is glad to help. Slowly, he becomes more and more involved, until he eventually finds himself in a flying column.

About to attack in Rodesbridge, Martin learns that his best friend from school, Norman Dempsey, has joined the fight and will be part of the same column. In the ensuing violence, Martin saves Seumas’s life and goes in frantic search of Norman. When he finds his wounded friend, he rows him downriver to a doctor he knows in a nearby community, but it is too late; Norman’s wounds are fatal, and he dies. Meanwhile, Millie has grown tired of waiting for Martin to tire of the Volunteers, and has decided to marry someone else.

Before long, Martin realizes that it is no longer safe for him to remain in Ireland—his work with the Volunteers has made him a target for the authorities—and he decides to go to France. Before he can leave, however, he is caught, imprisoned, and tortured for information. In prison, though, he is finally able to read the letter containing information about his mother’s identity, which has been hidden from him since childhood: it reveals that his mother was British, and his father Irish. The novel ends while Martin is still in prison, contemplating his past actions in the new light of his half-British identity.

Main Characters

  • Martin Matthew Rielly

Significant Minor Characters

  • Aunt Mary

  • Aunt Kathleen

  • Miss Peters

  • Mullins

  • Norman Dempsey

  • Long Dick

  • Millie Bannon

  • Seumas Conroy

  • Dan Murphy

Publication History

The novel was first published in hardcover in January 1963 by Hutchinson & Co. (London). That same year, Hutchinson released the book in an American edition. In January 1964, it was published again in hardcover, this time by Alfred A. Knopf (New York). The novel was published in paperback in January 1965 by Signet Books (New York). In April 1984, the novel was published by Arrow Books. It was last published in paperback by Charter in 1999 and is currently out of print.

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