By Frank Delaney

1,685 ratings - 3.94* vote

In the summer of 1922, Robert Shannon, a Marine chaplain and a young American hero of the Great War, lands in Ireland. He still suffers from shell shock, and his mentor hopes that a journey Robert had always wanted to make—to find his family roots along the banks of the River Shannon—will restore his equilibrium and his vocation. But there is more to the story: On his retu In the summer of 1922, Robert Shannon, a Marine chaplain and a young American hero of the Great War, lands in

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Book details

Hardcover, 384 pages
February 10th 2009 by Random House

(first published 2009)

Original Title
1400065259 (ISBN13: 9781400065257)
Edition Language

Community Reviews

Laura Leaney

This novel reminded me, very pleasantly, of the historical fiction I used to read when I was a teenager - the kind of book that you slid into your handbag just in case you got stuck in line somewhere and could sneak in another three minutes to read.

As I am planning a trekking trip to the Irish countryside in June, I thought I'd read fiction set in Ireland rather than the dry crumbs offered by guidebooks. I'm glad I did, as Frank Delaney's book is laced with interesting legends and fascinating facts about the island. This novel is, naturally, mostly about the area surrounding the Shannon River but the post-World War I climate applies to the whole country. Somewhere mid-journey, the central character Robert Shannon (RC priest and veteran chaplain of Belleau Wood) comes across a man weeping bitterly on a bridge, his head bent to the rail. The crying man had heard that Michael Collins had been killed. The scene moved me.

The style of this novel is traditional, but the writing is good - downright beautiful in spots. The way of it reminded me of Colleen McCullough's books (which I once ate up like an insane person). Frank Delaney loves Ireland, that's for sure. The description of the countryside and the characterizations of its people are full of that love.


Frank Delaney has proven to be a very consistent author. While not perfect, Shannon proved to be just as satisfying as his other recent works, filled with rich details about his home country and the quirks of its people.

Like with his previous books, Ireland and Tipperary, Delaney crafts a complex and realistic character, and almost uses him as an excuse to explore the natural beauty, history, mythology, and politics of Ireland; the country itself tends to serve as the protagonist in Delaney's works. This time around, however, the story is considerably darker; the narrative follows Catholic priest and WWI veteran Robert Shannon, a victim of profound Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that was triggered first on the battlefields of France and again within the secret corners of the church after the war, as he travels along his namesake river in Ireland in an attempt to find his family's history. Though he makes the journey as a fragile innocent, attempting to heal his own shattered psyche, the reader learns that the trip might have been masterminded by powerful men in the church, and that the cause of his shell shock relapse might be more dangerous (to both those same powerful men and to himself) than he realizes. As Robert wanders like a sleepwalker through a nation troubled (unbeknownst to our war-weary traveler) with the beginnings of its own war, he is followed, guided, hunted, and protected by people who have various stakes in the success of his mental recovery.

That synopsis makes the story sound exciting, and with this book being a considerably slimmer volume (just under 400 pages) than Delaney's other books, I somewhat expected the story to move fast and focus more on the main narrative than on the enchanted Irish setting. This, however, proved not to be the case; Delaney tells the story with what I am beginning to recognize as his signature style, by setting a deeply conflicted character loose into a lush, fully realized, and lovingly painted landscape, and letting the story happen organically through the character's detailed observations of the land and people around him. This can make for slow going in terms of plot, but once again I found myself so enthralled by the colorful anecdotes, rustic characters, and political machinations of Delaney's Ireland that I didn't at all mind the leisurely pace of the story. The narrative eventually evolves into a poignant love story, if somewhat awkward and curiously solemn and light on actual passion, that is actually reminiscent of the main story of Tipperary. While the last third of the book threatens to descend at turns into mawkishness and gloom, the ending maintains a surprising level of suspense and finishes on a quietly satisfying note, with all loose ends neatly tied up and (importantly, in my mind) the protagonists finding some of what they want/need while preparing to continue the fight for the rest.

Characters are given histories and depth through various flashbacks that detail the paths which led them to their current roles in the story. Things are a little hit and miss here; I found Robert to be a fascinating character, and was sympathetic to and curious about him from the very beginning. Ellie Kennedy, a figure from Robert's wartime past that ends up playing an important part in his current journey, is also an interesting and likable character. However, I think more time than necessary was spent on Robert's bombastic mentor in the church, and while details on the story's shadowy antagonist are important, a lot of them seemed somewhat irrelevant, if interesting. Some of the bit players in the story seem almost like stereotypes in their simplicity, though every one is certainly charming and enjoyable to read about.

Shannon seems almost like an experiment for Delaney; it feels like a step away from his previous atmospheric works, and an attempt at integrating that successful style into a more cohesive and engaging story. However, it retains most of what makes Delaney's stories so recognizable and interesting: the layered characters, the detailed (and entertainingly told) snippets of Irish history and mythology, and the tendency to make Ireland itself the real hero of the story. This clash of setting and plot threatens to be discordant every now and again, but it ultimately works. As with Delaney's other books, I would highly recommend this to anyone with an interest in Irish history or historical fiction, and most especially to those interested in both.


I can't get through his books in one or two sittings because the content is rich and full of history. He must love his native Ireland very much because he takes the reader on a journey around the island similar to that in his other book Ireland. It makes it very hard for me to know where to start should I ever make at trip there! However the journey in this book is very different because it shows the effect of war on soldiers and the people. It is outside the usual for me to read because of this aspect. The main character is trying to find his ancestral roots and I related to this, since I too would like to know more about my family tree. It's not quite the easiest thing to do and we see his frustrations along the way. Delaney also gives us a peak into the world of priests and their political machinations, this is another aspect of the book of which I don't have much reading experience. It may be a commentary on his own thoughts on the men who take up the cloth for to God.

Kiwi Begs2Differ ✎

At the end of WWI, in 1922, Robert Shannon, an American shell-shocked Catholic chaplain on his road to recovery, decides to trace his ancestors’ roots in Ireland. The Shannon is the longest river of the Emerald Isle. Robert’s journey begins at Tarbert, the river’s mouth, and then proceeds up its banks exploring the origins of his name in order to find his “people”, his ancestors.

As he wanders the countryside, he encounters many locals who will share with him the history of the land, ancient legends and their own stories. The trip is not idyllic however, Ireland is in the midst of a civil war, armed bands of nationalists roam the beautiful countryside, but the biggest danger comes from home, the Archdiocese of Boston is attempting to cover scandals at the high level and Robert is a threat.

Even if it the novel not a mystery per se, quest of the protagonist poses questions for the reader and there is a level of suspense throughout the book, what secrets does Robert know? flashbacks reveal both Father Robert painful past as well as the troubled life of a dangerous man named Vincent Patrick Ryan who is following him.

The plot takes many delightful detours into Irish folklore and reveals the background of various side characters, I didn’t mind that. This is a lovely novel, with a slow rhythm narrative, that allows the reader to be absorbed in the atmosphere of Ireland recent past and its beautiful scenery. Recommended. 3.5 stars

Fav Quotes:

Francis Carberry said, “My hunch is that we don't know the half of what we do. And we spend the rest of our lives getting over what we've done.”

“I come from New England.” “Badly needed,” called somebody, and many cackled, realizing he meant that the world needs a “new” England since the “old” England has so much wrong with it.


Robert Shannon, a Catholic priest has traveled to Ireland in search of his family roots. All he knows about his family is that his family's name came from the famous Shannon River. Robert is suffering from shell shock and it is hoped that this journey will help in his recovery.

As Robert journeys through Ireland, he meets all types of people. They help him heal as they kindly take him in and feed him, but he helps them in return. He meets a man named Francis who has lost his wife--an army nurse--during the war. As Robert and Francis speak of his wife's early death, Robert asks him how much the loss hurt. Francis says that many days he doesn't want to live, that he doesn't want to breath. "I have no soul left. My soul is gone."

"Maybe," said Robert, "maybe your soul has just changed in shape...Are you kinder now than you were? A better teacher?"

Francis Cutberry smiled and nodded. He thought for many seconds and said, "Yes, I am. Yes, I think I see what you mean."


This is a gem! I have read his other novels and thoroughly enjoyed them, but this one is outstanding. You can actually feel the pain the soldier and nurse are experiencing. He made his characters so real. And the plot that includes action, mystery, adventure, well it has it all!Unforgettable.


This book has similar themes as The Odyssey and Cold Mountain in that it is the story of a soldier returning from war. Instead of Ancient Greece or Civil War era America, this journey follows an American chaplain, shell-shocked from WWI, trying to trace his Irish roots in order to regain his balance and ability to cope with the horrors of war. Robert Shannon is a sympathetic character, heartbreaking in fact. What he has seen on the battlefield in France, not to mention some problems within the hierarchy of his beloved Catholic Church, has scarred him deeply and caused him to lose his soul. In order to regain it, he undertakes a pilgrimage along the River Shannon. As he travels, he encounters many warm Irish people and some unsavory ones as well, including participants from both sides of the Irish Civil War centered in Limerick in 1922. His healing is a slow process and Frank Delaney writes it with wonderful empathy. There is a sinister subplot that adds an intensity that makes the book hard to put down. In addition to the Irish history it covers, it includes tons of Irish folklore, which to me is just delightful. I felt as though I was back in Ireland. I loved it.


This beautiful book called to me and I am so glad I listened. ( I read the Large Print version which almost reached 600 pages.) This masterful novel tells the healing story of Robert who is suffering from shell shock (PTSD) from when he served as a chaplain in the American Army in France (WWI). With his return to Boston, his colleagues have the brilliant plan to send him to Ireland where he can travel the Shannon River searching for the roots of his surname, "Shannon". We journey along with him and it is absolutely entertaining as he meets interesting characters along the way. There is also the drama of the civil war. And much much more. The book is broken down into 6 sections: A rough divinity/The benefits of the past/A quiet, watered land/The shy advance of dawn/The pool of knowledge/The magic of choice. The writing throughout the book is as rich as these titles. The author translates Irish turns of phrase so we understand what they mean. Irish mythology and spirituality, history and lore are deftly woven into the story. Ireland is presented in all of its glorious beauty. However, and I appreciate this, the dysfunction and warts are also highlighted. Two favorite quotes in the book:
p. 315 Irish people are very respectful of a curse.
First page Author's note: Much of our power comes from our past.


Robert Shanon is a chaplain with the US army sent over to Europe in WWI. He makes it his mission to save as many of his comrades as possible at Belleau Wood but the bloody reality of war leaves the father with shell shock and he is sent back home to recover, but he ends up doing this in Ireland.
It was a bit surprising to find Robert Shanon's adventures in Ireland mixed with tales and intrigues of the catholic church. I personally did not care for this part of the intrigue but Delaney managed to integrate it subtly enough among the regales of civil war stricken Ireland of the 1920s and what seemed to be a faithful insight into the mind of a PTSD suffering soldier on his way to recovery.
It was a compelling read and though I found the fiction to be naive at times it struck a cord with me.


I had never read any of Delaney's books so "Shannon" was a first. It appealed to me in part because of the location of Ireland but also because of it's subject of shell shock (now referred to as PTSD). I learned much about the condition and cried over how debilitating, unpredictable, and devastating it can be not just in the person experiencing PTSD but family, friends and caretakers.
Mr. Delaney has a decent writing style although I found the book meandered like a river and wondered if that was intentional. The transition from one character to another, from current to past time, was a bit difficult to adjust to.
The story, despite its subject, was inspiring and educational. I was delighted with the ending and will probably read other books by Delaney.