The Copper Beech

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Carved on the trunk of the mighty copper beech that embraces the school yard in Shancarrig are declarations of love, hope, and identity - the youthful dreams of the children who played there. Now grown, yet shaped by their years in the schoolhouse, they lead different lives. The Copper Beech is about eight of these dreamers. From Ryan's Hotel to Barna Woods, where the gypsies came each year, from Nellie Dunne's sweet shop to Father Gunn's church, the tenor of life in this small Irish village is outwardly placid ...
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1993 Mass-market paperback Very Good. The book has been read, but is in excellent condition. Pages are intact and not marred by notes or highlighting. The spine remains ... undamaged. Text in English, Spanish. Mass market (rack) paperback. Glued binding. 400 p. *****PLEASE NOTE: This item is shipping from an authorized seller in Europe. In the event that a return is necessary, you will be able to return your item within the US. To learn more about our European sellers and policies see the BookQuest FAQ section***** Read more Show Less

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Carved on the trunk of the mighty copper beech that embraces the school yard in Shancarrig are declarations of love, hope, and identity - the youthful dreams of the children who played there. Now grown, yet shaped by their years in the schoolhouse, they lead different lives. The Copper Beech is about eight of these dreamers. From Ryan's Hotel to Barna Woods, where the gypsies came each year, from Nellie Dunne's sweet shop to Father Gunn's church, the tenor of life in this small Irish village is outwardly placid and uneventful. Some, like Nessa Ryan, in search of passion, would say deadly dull. But behind the calm exterior, serenity fades into unexpected drama: Maddy Ross has a secret love; Eddie Barton, a surprising friendship; and the Darcys, the glamorous newcomers, find a curious partner in poor Maura Brennan. In Shancarrig, where the river runs around the great rock for which the town is named, human life flows in all its variety. Lives intertwine just as names crisscross on the trunk of the copper beech. At the cottages where the Dunnes live in poverty; the grand house of Leo Murphy; the Kellys', near the school; Dr. Jims's, on The Terrace - nothing is as it seems. With humor, warmth, and a ruthless eye for the ironies of self-delusion, Maeve Binchy uncovers the secrets hidden in each person's heart, showing us that extraordinary stories can be found anywhere, if only one knows where to look.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Binchy Circle of Friends; The Lilac Bus is a consummate storyteller with a unique ability to draw readers into her tales of Irish life. Here again she mines sources rich in plot and character to produce a captivating narrative. The eponymous copper beech is a huge tree that shades the tiny schoolhouse in the village of Shancarrig. For generations, graduating pupils have carved their initials on the massive trunk, and the book examines what has become of some of them. Though each of the 10 chapters offers the perspective of a single character, Binchy adroitly indicates the ways in which their lives intersect. Thus, the allegedly stolen jewels that are discovered and stolen again in one early chapter become significant in later chapters. Long after two adulterous characters sneak into a Dublin hotel, it emerges that they were spotted by a small soul from Shancarrig, who passes on the information--with unforeseen consequences. A priest's dalliance with the sweet young schoolteacher is shown to have been been suspected by others in the village. The result is a charming and compelling series of interlocking stories about ordinary people who are given dimension through Binchy's empathetic insight. While this book is more fragmentary in structure than some of her previous novels, it should leave Binchy's fans wholly satisfied. BOMC main selection. Nov.
Denise Perry Donavin
So familiar is the style of this tale, it could be called another trip on The Lilac Bus, Binchy's last collection of interrelated stories set in Ireland, except that the townsfolk stay home this time. Focusing primarily on a 1960s graduating class from the village school of Shencarrig, Binchy's tales open with a school fete and move on to cover the joys, worries, and adventures of Maura, Leo, Nessa, Niall, Eddie, and others as they graduate, consider leaving their home town, or look about for employment or other constructive activity. Other figures--the town priests, teachers, and doctors--are also given a chapter in order to develop the histories of the place and the schoolchildren. Romances bloom, some are crushed, and an aura of mystery hovers faintly until resolved in a final chapter. Binchy's characters are fresh and their fates intriguing in this episodic tale.
Anne Tolstoi Wallach
Ms. Binchy writes with a journalist's disciplined simplicity, strong narrative drive and knowledge of human behavior. She tells the sort of tale that's almost impossible to abandon. Even if you guess what will happen next, you keep right on reading to make sure....The Copper Beech is an airport book with a difference: you read it for pleasure, but you probably will not leave it in your seat. Instead, you'll take it home to lend to your best friend. And what best friend wouldn't welcome the new Maeve Binchy, knowing it will never disappoint?
New York Times
From the Publisher
"The Copper Beech finds author Maeve Binchy at her Irish storytelling best!"—The Plain Dealer, Cleveland

"The Copper Beech is as soothing as a cup of tea."—People

"Binchy makes you laugh, cry, and care. Her warmth and sympathy render the daily struggles of ordinary people heroic and turn storytelling into art."—San Francisco Chronicle.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780440295259
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/28/1993
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 400

Meet the Author

Maeve Binchy

Maeve Binchy was born and educated in Dublin. She is the bestselling author of The Return Journey, Evening Class, This Year It Will Be Different, and The Glass Lakes. She has written two plays and a teleplay that won three awards at the Prague Film Festival. She has been writing for The Irish Times since 1969 and lives with her husband, writer and broadcaster Gordon Snell, in Dublin.


If storytelling is an art, then Maeve Binchy is unquestionably one of today's master artists. After all, Binchy was born, educated, and lives in Ireland, a land well known for its great storytellers. Firmly grounded in the Irish storytelling tradition, Binchy has earned a sizeable following of enthusiastic fans for her 11 novels and 4 collections of short stories. I had a very happy childhood, which is unsuitable if you're going to be an Irish writer," Maeve jokes. Perhaps that happy childhood is why Binchy did not publish her first novel until she was 43 years old. But there's no doubt that once she did she proved herself to be an immensely talented, multiple New York Times-bestselling author. her name.

Binchy was introduced into the joys of storytelling at an early age. Her mother, Maureen, and father, William, a prominent Dublin barrister, encouraged Binchy and her three siblings to be avid readers as well as to share stories at dinner and, as her brother William admits, nobody loved telling stories more than Maeve.

Growing up in the quiet seaside town of Dalkey, located about 10 miles south of Dublin, Binchy also found herself dreaming of escape. "I love Dalkey now," she says, "but when I was young, I thought it was somewhat like living in the desert." Her desire to escape led her first to the big city, to the University College in Dublin, where she studied history and French. After graduating in 1960, she taught Latin, French, and history in a Dublin grade school and was able to indulge her love of traveling during summer vacations. She proved so popular a teacher that parents of her students pooled their money to send her on a trip to Israel. Her father was so impressed by the letters she wrote describing Israeli life that he typed them up and sent them to the Irish Independent newspaper. That's how Maeve returned home to find, quite to her surprise, that she was now a published writer.

Using her newfound interest in journalism, she got a job on The Irish Times as the women's editor, an unlikely role for her, she jokingly acknowledges, given her hopeless lack of fashion sense. In the early 70s, she shifted to feature reporting, and moved to London. The move was motivated only in part by her career. Making the kind of bold life-altering decision that many of her characters are prone to, Binchy decided to take a chance and move to London to be with the man she'd fallen in love with during a previous visit—Gordon Snell, a BBC broadcaster, children's book author, and mystery novelist.

The risk, as it often does in her novels, paid off big time. Maeve married Gordon in 1977, and the two remain happily married to this day. In 1980, they bought a one-bedroom cottage back in Binchy's old hometown of Dalkey. Struggling to make mortgage payments on their new home, Binchy, who had published two collections of her newspaper work and one of short stories, decided to try to sell her first novel, which she'd managed to write in between her newspaper assignments. When her publisher told her that Light A Penny Candle would likely be a bestseller, Maeve remembers her sense of shock. "I had to sit down," she recalls. "I had never even had enough money to pay the telephone bill."

Maeve and her husband still live in that same Dalkey cottage, where they share an office, writing side by side. "All I ever wanted to do," she says, "is to write stories that people will enjoy and feel at home with." She has unquestionably succeeded with that goal. Light A Penny Candle was followed by such bestselling works as Circle of Friends, which was turned into a major motion picture starring Minnie Driver, and Tara Road, an Oprah Book Club selection. Binchy is consistently named one of the most popular writers in readers' polls in England and Ireland, outselling and rated higher than James Joyce. Of this success, Binchy comments with her typical good humor, "If you're going on a plane journey, you're more likely to take one of my stories than Finnegan's Wake."

In addition to her books, Binchy is also a playwright whose works have been staged at The Peacock Theatre of Dublin, and was the author of a hugely popular monthly column called "Maeve's Week," which appeared in The Irish Times for 32 years. A kind of combined gossip, humor, and advice column, it achieved cult status in Ireland and abroad.

Author biography courtesy of Penguin Group (USA).

Good To Know

In our interview, Binchy shared some fun facts about herself with us:

"I am a big, confident, happy woman who had a loving childhood, a pleasant career, and a wonderful marriage. I feel very lucky."

"I have been lucky enough to travel a lot, meet great people in many lands. I have liked almost everyone I met along the way."

"I have always believed that life is too short for rows and disagreements. Even if I think I'm right, I would prefer to apologize and remain friends rather than win and be an enemy."

"I live in Ireland near the sea, only one mile from where I grew up -- that's good, since I've known many of my neighbours for between 50-60 years. Gordon and I play chess every day, and we are both equally bad. We play chatty over talkative bad Bridge with friends every week."

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    1. Hometown:
      Dublin, Ireland, and London, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      May 28, 1940
    2. Place of Birth:
      Dalkey, a small village outside Dublin, Ireland
    1. Education:
      Holy Child Convent in Killiney; B.A. in history, University College, Dublin, 1960

Read an Excerpt

Some of the younger children, dressed in the little white surplices of altar boys, stood ready to lead the procession up the town.

The sun shone mercilessly. Father Gunn had prayed unsuccessfully for one of the wet summer days they had been having recently. Even that would be better than this oppressive heat.

The Bishop seemed interested in everything he saw. They left the station and walked the narrow road to what might be called the center of town had Shancarrig been a larger place. They paused at the Church of the Holy Redeemer for His Grace to say a silent prayer at the foot of the altar. Then they walked past the bus stop, the little line of shops, Ryan's Commercial Hotel, and The Terrace where the doctor, the solicitor, and other people of importance lived.

The Bishop seemed to nod approvingly when places looked well, and to frown slightly as he passed the poorer cottages. But perhaps that was all in Father Gunn's mind. Maybe His Grace was unaware of his surroundings and was merely saying his prayers. As they walked along Father Gunn was only too conscious of the smell from the River Grane, low and muddy. As they crossed the bridge he saw out of the corner of his eye a few faces at the window of Johnny Finn Noted for Best Drinks. He prayed they wouldn't find it necessary to open the window.

Mattie the postman sat laconically on an upturned barrel. He was one of the only spectators since almost every other citizen of Shancarrig was waiting at the school.

The Bishop stretched out his hand very slightly as if offering his ring to be kissed.

Mattie inclined his head very slightly and touched his cap. The gesture was not offensive, butneither was it exactly respectful. If the Bishop understood it, he said nothing. He smiled to the right and the left, his thin aristocratic face impervious to the heat. Father Gunn's face was a red round puddle of sweat.

The first sign of the schoolhouse was the huge ancient beech tree, a copper beech that shaded the playground. Then you saw the little stone schoolhouse that had been built at the turn of the century. The dedication ceremony had been carefully written out in advance and scrutinized by these bureaucratic clerics who seemed to swarm around the Bishop. They had checked every word in case Father Gunn might have included a major heresy or sacrilege. The purpose of it all was to consecrate the school, and the future of all the young people it would educate, to God in this Holy Year. Father Gunn failed to understand why this should be considered some kind of doctrinal minefield. All he was trying to do was to involve the community at the right level, to make them see that their children were their hope and their future.

For almost three months the event had been heralded from the altar at Mass. And the pious hope expressed that the whole village would be present for the prayers and the dedication. The prayers, hymns, and short discourse should take forty-five minutes, and then there would be an hour for tea.

As they plodded up the hill Father Gunn saw that everything was in place.

A crowd of almost two hundred people stood around the school yard. Some of the men leaned against the school walls, but the women stood chatting to each other. They were dressed in their Sunday best. The group would part to let the little procession through and then the Bishop would see the children of Shancarrig.

All neat and shining--he had been on a tour of inspection already this morning. There wasn't a hair out of place, a dirty nose or a bare foot to be seen. Even the Brennans and the Dunnes had been made respectable. They stood, all forty-eight of them, outside the school. They were in six rows of eight, those at the back were on benches so that they could be seen. They looked like little angels, Father Gunn thought. It was always a great surprise the difference a little cleaning and polishing could make.

Father Gunn relaxed, they were nearly there. Only a few more moments then the ceremony would begin. It would be all right after all.

The school looked magnificent. Not even Mrs. Kennedy could have complained about its appearance, Father Gunn thought. And the tables were arranged under the huge spreading shade of the copper beech.

The Master and the Mistress had the children beautifully arranged, great emphasis having been laid on looking neat and tidy. Father Gunn began to relax a little. This was as fine a gathering as the Bishop would find anywhere in the diocese.

The ceremony went like clockwork. Monsignor O'Toole's chair was placed just to one side. The singing, if not strictly tuneful, was at least in the right area. No huge discordancies were evident.

It was almost time for tea--the most splendid tea that had ever been served in Shancarrig. All the eatables were kept inside the school building, out of the heat and away from the flies. When the last notes of the last hymn died away Mr. and Mrs. Kelly withdrew indoors.

There was something about the set line of Mrs. Kennedy's face that made Father Gunn decide to go and help them. He couldn't bear it if a tray of sandwiches fell to the ground or the cream slid from the top of a trifle. Quietly he moved in, to find a scene of total confusion. Mr. and Mrs. Kelly and young Madeleine Ross stood frozen in a tableau, their faces expressing different degrees of horror.

"What is it?" he asked, barely able to speak.

"Every single queen cake!" Mrs. Kelly held up what looked from the top a perfectly acceptable tea cake with white icing on it, but underneath the sign of tooth marks showed that the innards had been eaten away.

"And the chocolate cake!" gasped Madeleine Ross, who was white as a sheet. The front of the big cake as you saw it looked delectable, but the back had been propped up with a piece of bark, a good third of the cake having been eaten away.

"It's the same with the apple tarts!" Mrs. Kelly's tears were now openly flowing down her cheeks. "Some of the children I suppose."

"That Foxy Dunne and his gang, I should have known. I should have bloody known." Jim Kelly's face was working itself into a terrible anger.

"How did he get in?"

"The little bastard said he'd help with the chairs, brought a whole gang in with him. I said to him "all those cakes are counted very carefully.' And I did bloody count them when they went out."

"Stop saying bloody and bastard to Father Gunn," said Nora Kelly.

"I think it's called for." Father Gunn was grim.

"If only they could have just eaten half a dozen. They've wrecked the whole thing."

"Maybe I shouldn't have gone on about counting them." Jim Kelly's big face was full of regret.

"It's all ruined," Madeleine Ross said. "It's ruined." Her voice held the high tinge of hysteria that Father Gunn needed to bring him to his senses.

"Of course it's not ruined, Madeleine. Get the teapots out, call Mrs. Kennedy to help you. She's wonderful at pouring tea and she'd like to be invited. Get Conor Ryan from the hotel to start pouring the lemonade and send Dr. Jims in here to me quick as lightning."

His words were so firm that Madeleine was out the door in a flash. Through the small window he saw the tea-pouring begin and Conor Ryan happy to be doing something he was familiar with, pouring the lemonade.

The doctor arrived, worried in case someone had been taken ill.

"It's your surgical skills we need, Doctor. You take one knife I'll take another and we'll cut up all these cakes and put out a small selection."

"In the name of God, Father Gunn, what do you want to do that for?" asked the doctor.

"Because these lighting devils that go by the wrong name of innocent children have torn most of the cakes apart with their teeth," said Father Gunn.

Triumphantly they arrived out with the plates full of cake selections.

"Plenty more where that came from!" Father Gunn beamed as he pressed the assortments into their hands. Since most people might not have felt bold enough to choose such a wide selection they were pleased rather than distressed to see so much coming their way.

Out of the corner of his mouth Father Gunn kept asking Mr. Kelly, the Master, for the names of those likely to have been involved. He kept repeating them to himself, as someone might repeat the names of tribal leaders who had brought havoc and destruction on his ancestors. Smiling as he served people and bustled to and fro, he repeated an incantation--"Leo Murphy, Eddie Barton, Niall Hayes, Maura Brennan, Nessa Ryan, and Foxy Bloody Dunne."

He saw that Mattie the postman had consented to join the gathering, and was dangerously near the Bishop.

"Willing to eat the food of the Opium of the People, I see," he hissed out of the corner of his mouth.

"That's a bit harsh from you, Father," Mattie said, halfway through a plate of cake.

"Speak to the Bishop on any subject whatsoever and you'll never deliver a letter in this parish again," Father Gunn warned.

The gathering was nearing its end. Soon it would be time to return to the station.

This time the journey would be made by car. Dr. Jims and Mr. Hayes, the solicitor, would drive the Bishop and the two clerics, whose names had never been ascertained.

Father Gunn assembled the criminals together in the school. "Correct me if I have made an error in identifying any of the most evil people it has ever been my misfortune to meet," he said in a terrible tone.

Their faces told him that his information had been mainly correct.

"Well?" he thundered.

"Niall wasn't in on it," Leo Murphy said. She was a small, wiry ten-year-old with red hair. She came from The Glen, the big house on the hill. She could have had cake for tea seven days a week.

"I did have a bit, though," Niall Hayes said.

"Mr. Kelly is a man with large hands. He has declared his intention of using them to break your necks, one after the other. I told him that I would check with the Vatican, but I was sure he would get absolution. Maybe even a medal." Father Gunn roared the last word. They all jumped back in fright. "However, I told Mr. Kelly not to waste the Holy Father's time with all these dispensations and pardons, instead I would handle it. I told him that you had all volunteered to wash every dish and plate and cup and glass. That it was your contribution. That you would pick up every single piece of litter that has fallen around the school. That you would come to report to Mr. and Mrs. Kelly when it is all completed."

They looked at each other in dismay. This was a long job. This was something that the ladies of the parish might have been expected to do.

"What about people like Mrs. Kennedy? Wouldn't they want to . . . ? Foxy began.

"No, they wouldn't want to, and people like Mrs. Kennedy are delighted to know that you volunteered to do this. Because those kinds of people haven't seen into your black souls."

There was a silence.

"This day will never be forgotten. I want you to know that. When other bad deeds are hard to remember this one will always be to the forefront of the mind. This June day in 1950 will be etched there forever." He could see that Eddie Barton's and Maura Brennan's faces were beginning to pucker, he mustn't frighten them to death. "So now. You will join the guard of honor to say farewell to the Bishop, to wave goodbye with your hypocritical hearts to His Grace whose visit you did your best to undermine and destroy. OUT." He glared at them. "OUT this minute."

Outside, the Bishop's party was about to depart. Gracefully he was moving from person to person, thanking them, praising them, admiring the lovely rural part of Ireland they lived in, saying that it did the heart good to get out to see God's beautiful nature from time to time rather than being always in a Bishop's Palace in a city.

"What a wonderful tree this is, and what great shade it gave us today." He looked up at the copper beech as if to thank it, although it was obvious that he was the kind of man who could stand for hours in the Sahara Desert without noticing anything amiss in the climate. It was the boiling Father Gunn who owed thanks to the leafy shade.

"And what's all this writing on the trunk?" He peered at it, his face alive with its well-bred interest and curiosity. Father Gunn heard the Kellys' intake of breath. This was the tree where the children always inscribed their initials, complete with hearts and messages saying who was loved by whom. Too secular, too racy, too sexual to be admired by a Bishop. Possibly even a hint of vandalism about it.

But no.

The Bishop seemed by some miracle to be admiring it.

"It's good to see the children mark their being here and leaving here," he said to the group who stood around straining for his last words. "Like this tree has been here for decades, maybe even centuries back, so will there always be a school in Shancarrig to open the minds of its children and to send them out into the world."

He looked back lingeringly at the little stone schoolhouse and the huge tree as the car swept him down the hill and toward the station.

As Father Gunn got into the second car to follow him and make the final farewells at the station, he turned to look once more at the criminals. Because his heart was big and the day hadn't been ruined he gave them half a smile. They didn't dare to believe it.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 23 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 23 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 7, 2000

    Binchy Does it Again

    I was sucked in, entertained, a unwillingly pushed back into reality. I truly lost myself in this story. Better than Tara Road

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2000

    Another Home Run by Binchy

    This book is classic Binchy: heart-warming with characters that you truly care about and want to embrace. The book's format also appealed to me; one chapter per character going into their life in detail. Everyone is intertwined in everyone else's life and each chapter is like solving a bit of mystery about that person. This is a well-written, fast read, perfect for vacations and summer-time!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2013

    Coppers Story part 2

    Copper sighed. I will never find Gold & Dusty. They left me. She thought. She started crying as she thought why they could have left her. She fell into a trobled terrible sleep filled with nightmares and sorrow. "Ahh." SHe woke up when in her nightmare a fox had caught Gold & Dusty in its blood stained teeth. It nearly got her but he woke up just in time. Whooo whooo. She heard an owl fly over head. She started whimpering scared that Gold, Dusty and herself would never be reunighted again. She ran into a hollow under a tree. She stared up of the hollow. Glistening eyes shined in the endless darkness. I am stong. I can get though this. She tought over and again. Right before a musky scent driffed over to her. "Yuck." She said. The scent got stronger. Copper backed as far as she could into the hollow. A big red face poked into it. All copper could see was the black nose and red muzzle. Its a fox. Its a fox. She thouggt as the long blac claws reach in. Trying to grab her. Its just like my dream. But this is no dream its real life. Gold , Dusty help me. She thought. PART THREE COMING SOON!

    1 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2014

    Loved this book.

    Once again the author has given us characters that we come to love and care about. I always love it when she gives us a follow up on their lives and we are happy that almost everyone is happy and doing well.

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    Posted March 22, 2014

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    Posted October 30, 2008

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    Posted July 8, 2011

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