Juilene Osborne-McKnight,
I Am of Irelaunde:
A Novel of Patrick and Osian

(Forge, 2000)

Juilene Osborne-McKnight blends legend, history and mythology into I Am of Irelaunde, a powerful and moving first novel about St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland.

The novel begins with Patrick's early ministry in Eire, or, as he calls it, Hibernia. He is a dour, joyless and angry man, still bitter over the six years he served as a slave in his youth and even more bitter at the persistent vision which insisted he return to convert the people to Christianity. He calls himself Magonus Succatus Patricius, but the Hibernian brothers he has managed to gather to him call him Padraig, a name he resists and resents.

So he is not in the most receptive mood when a golden-haired stranger on a white horse appears at the edge of the woods. Still, when the rider dismounts and collapses, Padraig is driven to help him. To his surprise, the man on the ground is incredibly aged, and he calls himself Osian, son of Fionn Mac Cumhail, one of the greatest heroes of Eire who has been dead for about 200 years.

Padraig doesn't believe that Osian is who he claims to be, but he takes Osian into his monastery nonetheless. What he doesn't realize is that he is not merely offering hospitality and charity to what he perceives as a doddering old man. He is on the cusp of a marvelous transformation.

Oisin, living for the past 200 years in Tir Nan Og with his sidhe wife Niamh, has followed a summons to return to Eire to teach Padraig the old stories and ways and to help him understand the people he seeks to convert. Osian tells Padraig and the brothers stories about his father Fionn and the other Fenians, and Padraig is drawn into the power of Osian's tales in spite of himself. Following Osian's example, he becomes a storyteller and gradually comes to understand that he can choose to convert the populace through fear and force, but it would be far better to win them over with joy and love.

It is hard to believe that this is Osborne-McKnight's first novel; it is polished to the brilliance of an emerald. Her characters are well-developed and appealing, and the story she tells is engrossing and emotionally satisfying. The first person narrative is lively and immediate, and Padraig's all-too-human personality develops convincingly. The reader understands his anger and his stubbornness and revels as much as Padraig does in his transformation.

In true storyteller tradition, Osborne-McKnight takes the old stories and sources and makes them her own. Her view that Padraig's ministry was a gentle, joyful outgrowth of the old ways rather than a brutal replacement is convincing and thought-provoking. She also includes a historical note and a list of sources for those interested in pursuing the stories further.

For a richly-written, compelling and utterly triumphant tale, reach for I Am of Irelaunde. You'll be glad you did.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]



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