The Matchmaker of Kenmare

The Matchmaker of Kenmare

by Frank Delaney


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812979749
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/17/2012
Series: A Novel of Ireland Series , #2
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 394,179
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Frank Delaney is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel Ireland, as well as The Last Storyteller, The Matchmaker of Kenmare, Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show, Tipperary, Shannon, and Simple Courage: A True Story of Peril on the Sea. A former judge for the Man Booker Prize, Delaney enjoyed a prominent career in BBC broadcasting before becoming a full-time writer. Delaney died in 2017.


New York, New York, and Kent, Connecticut

Date of Birth:

October 24, 1941

Date of Death:

February 21, 2017

Place of Birth:

Tipperary, Republic of Ireland

Place of Death:

Danbury, Connecticut


Thomastown National School 1947-54; The Abbey School, Tipperary, 1954-60; Rosse College, Dublin, 1960

Read an Excerpt




The Matchmaker of Kenmare taught me much of what I know.

“If a giraffe isn’t weaned right,” she said once, “you’ll have to provide twenty gallons of fresh milk for it every day.”

Another morning she told me, “If you’re going out in the rain, always butter your boots. It makes them waterproof.”

She knew a terrific card trick, but she refused to teach it to me. “Big hands are for power,” she said, “not trickery.”

At our very first meeting she asked, “How can you tell whether an egg is fresh?”

If it doesn’t bounce when you drop it? In those days, I had a sardonic inner voice, my only defense mechanism.

She said, “Put it in a pan of cold water with salt, and if the egg rises to the surface it’s bad.”

You must have seen a lot of bad eggs, said my secret voice. I think I was afraid of her then.

She went on, “If you’re hard-boiling an egg, a pinch of salt in the water will stop it cracking.”

A pinch of salt, indeed.

“If you ever want to catch a bird,” she said, “just sprinkle salt on its tail.”

How useful. You just have to get close enough.

“Not too much salt,” she added.

Does it depend on the size of the bird?

Could she hear what I was thinking? “But don’t do it,” she said, “with an ostrich. Ostriches hate salt.”

Hoping to sound tactful, I asked, “Are there ostriches here in Kerry?”

“Ah, use your imagination,” she said. “They’re around here all right. But you have to know where to look for them.”

I nodded, in confusion more than agreement.

“Do you have a strong imagination, Ben?”

“I do,” I said, “but I’m not sure that I trust it.”

“There are only two words,” she said, “in which I put my trust. Magic and Faith.”

Some of her grip on me came from the conflict of opposites. Whereas I had always leaned toward the scholarly, she belonged to the demotic. For every line of Horace and Virgil that I savored, she had a snatch of cant, and from the moment we met I began to note many of her sayings and old saws. They still addle my brain; this morning, as I sat down to work, I remembered a fragment from a spelling game that she’d learned as a child: “Mrs. D. Mrs. I. Mrs. F-F-I. Mrs. C. Mrs. U. Mrs. L-T-Y.”

“Patience,” she murmured another day, “is the Mother of Science.”

I would swear that she often spoke in uppercase letters.

Since she rarely left her stony Atlantic headland, her knowledge of the world must have come from some popular encyclopedia of arcane and unconnected facts. Giraffes, ostriches, and eggs—they formed no more than an introduction. She knew about the lives of ants; how to gut a fish using a sharp stick and your thumb; training a cat to play dead; the healing properties of sour milk; the fact that honey is the only food that never goes off; where to find a stone that retains heat for twelve hours; how cloves grow; the number of bones in an eagle’s wing; why a cow has four stomachs; how long to boil the tar for caulking the hull of a boat. She was a walking, talking library of vernacular knowledge.

She loved music, but she couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. Her eye had the familiar speed of a child raised in the countryside—she could identify a bird thousands of yards away. She had a sense of color so strong that she could tell one shade of black from another. Her capacity to quote from Shakespeare suggested wide reading of him—even if some pages seemed to have been missing from her edition of the Collected Works.

Moreover, she had one specific gift that I still can’t fathom. It has never ceased to puzzle me; she used it a number of times in my company, always with astonishing results, and if it can’t be called “magic,” well, nothing can: She could find people by looking at a map. And we shall come to those moments when I saw her pull this stunt, trick, sleight of mind, or whatever it should be called.

Although she spoke three and a half languages, she had never been abroad. And however delightful in its innocence, the part of her that remained in her own homestead also made me wince, with its homespun charm, its greeting-card sentiment.

“Ben, do you know what the difference is between Friendship and Love? Friendship is the photograph, Love is the oil painting.” And she uttered it in the declarative way she had of saying things that made me hesitate to contradict her.

Her words often sounded so shallow that I dismissed them, and later found to my displeasure that her mushy sentiments had lingered and were staggering around in my mind like a drunk at a wedding. In that sense, she possessed in trumps the strange potency of cheap music, and I know that I caught some of it from her.

However, from inside all that phrase-and-fable stuff, she served up a philosophy that had an alluring power. For example, she brought into my life a belief in something that she called “Referred Passion”; I even lived by it for a time.

“Do you know what I mean by ‘Referred Passion’?” she said one day about a year into our relationship. And, as usual, not waiting for my hopeless stab at a reply, she went on. “Do you know what a referred pain is?”

Is it when I feel so stupid that I could kick myself?

“I’ll explain it,” she said. “Your shoulder is injured, but you feel it in your chest. Or you’ve hurt your spine, but your hip is carrying the ache. That’s referred pain. Well, Referred Passion is when you’re in love with one person, but you fiercely embrace another. That’s us,” she said. “That’s me and you. Friendship is a choice,” she said. “Love isn’t.”

What else can I tell you about her? She had a phenomenal passion for handkerchiefs. She kept her hair tucked behind an ear like Rita Hayworth. She taught me the words of bawdy old country rhymes, most of them too salty to repeat here. Also, she had the most peculiar recipes for things.

“If you have the hiccups,” she told me one day, “bend down, put your hands on the floor, and look back between your legs at the sun.”

My inner voice said, Is that all you’ll be able to see?—but I asked her, “And what if it’s the middle of the night?”

She said, “Then you’re in worse trouble.”

And I was—but I never picked up the warnings.

As I sat down to write this memoir, I had an opening paragraph in mind; here it is:

I wish I could tell you about the greatest friendship of my life; I wish I could tell you how it developed beyond friendship into something for which I have no definition, no terminology. But the moment I begin to tell it (and I must: I’m mortally committed to telling this tale before I die), I know that I’ll enter what I call the “Regret Cycle,” and the “What If Cycle,” and the “If Only Cycle,” and I’ll end up nowhere again.

As you can see, I abandoned those opening sentences, and the direction they proposed—yet I’m nevertheless going to write it all down for you. I’m old enough now to deal with the regrets, the what-ifs, and if-onlys, and whatever the subjective faults you may find in this remembrance, at least I can describe how I, who knew little about anything beyond my own narrow concerns, learned to become a true and deep friend to someone. It may prove important to you one day. To the both of you.

She, of course, was the one who taught me this magnificent skill—as she taught me something else extraordinary, the greatest single lesson of my life: She taught me what blind faith looks like. And blind faith is why I’m writing this account of her life, and how it affected me.

Kate Begley was her name, and she was known as the Matchmaker of Kenmare long before I met her. She and her grandmother shared the title, and Kate was as pretty as a pinup. I was twenty-nine, she was twenty-five when I met her, and she had a grin like a boy’s.

See? See what’s happening to me? Pretty as a pinup; and a grin like a boy’s—the moment I begin to describe her, all these decades later, I become sentimental about her, and I fall into language that I would never use in my ordinary life.

I who for years wrote uncluttered and austere reports of ancient countryside traditions, I who studied with joy the most powerful scholars of old Europe, I who pride myself on my unadorned simplicity of purpose—here I am, forced back into her way of thinking. And I squirm, because at these moments her greeting-card remarks will flood through me again like a maudlin old song. I’ve just heard one of those corny echoes: “You have to believe me, Ben,” she said. “Love is not a decision. But Friendship is.”

Why am I telling you all this? You’ll see why. You’ll see how she affected my life, and you’ll grasp the implications of that effect upon all of us whom this memoir concerns. You’ll see how she was the one who made the determinations; where we would go, no matter how dangerous; what we might attempt, no matter how bizarre; and yes, she decided too the balance of love and friendship between us.

I followed, and she led me into trouble so deep that my own father wouldn’t have found me. Older than she in years but younger by centuries, I’d never intended to be so commanded, but some people snag you on their spikes, and you hang there, flapping helplessly, and— I admit it—fascinated.

When I met Kate Begley, the Second World War had been under way for four years. In Ireland, we called it by a wonderful, ameliorating euphemism—“The Emergency.” We were one of the very few countries in Europe immune from the conflict, because we had taken up a position of neutrality. Controversial among our geographical neighbors, and sometimes even among ourselves, I agreed with it. Its moral simplicity suited what I like in life.

I also liked its military practicality; who were we, on our tiny island, to fight among such vast regiments? We hadn’t even replenished our slaughtered breadwinners from the previous war, in which we’d lost tens of thousands of men. Thus, we had learned to stay out of such things, or so I believed.

And yet, because I took Kate Begley at her word, because I surrendered myself to her philosophy of friendship, that is to say, Referred Passion, the war sucked me in. When it swept her from that brilliant Atlantic headland where she lived, and from her generally innocent life, it took me with her.

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Matchmaker of Kenmare: A Novel of Ireland 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 37 reviews.
Mirella More than 1 year ago
Ben McCarthy is a young man haunted by the mysterious disappearance of his beloved wife, Venetia. Although many suspect she is dead, possibly murdered, Ben searches for answers as to what happened and why. His work as a researcher/writer for the Irish government's folklore department not only keeps him travelling throughout the country in search of myths and legends, but it provides him with the cover to make his own inquiries about Venetia's disappearance. His travels soon take him to the town of Kenmare to interview a matchmaker named Kate Begley who has recently married Captain Charles Miller, an American, on a secret mission behind enemy lines in war-torn Europe. Known as Killer Miller, before her husband departs on his dangerous mission, he extracts Kate's promise that she would search for him behind enemy lines should he ever turn up missing or become listed as dead. Meanwhile, an abiding friendship develops between Ben and Kate. When the military notifies Kate of her husband's death, her intuition warns her that her husband is still alive and she convinces Ben to accompany her on a quest that not only spans years, but takes them into the heart of German camps in Europe and across the ocean to America. The Matchmaker of Kenmare is told in the first person narrative of Ben as he relays the story of his past to his daughters. The voice of Ben is presented with clarity and definition, immediately capturing the reader's interest. The parallel between Ben and Kate's search for their lost loves is a major theme throughout the novel. Their travels sweep readers into lesser known places in Ireland and later into real and eminent danger in other European countries, which provides plenty of tension and a sense of urgency to the story which keeps one engaged to the very end. Although this novel is a sequel to Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show, it is not necessary to read the first book in order to enjoy this fabulous tale of romance and mystery and its unforgettable characters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Disappointed. It was difficult to keep reading. Didn't hold my interest. Finally I finished it. The ending was so obvious.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought this book after hearing an interview with Delaney on the Diane Rehm Show on NPR. I was intrigued by the interview and curious about the setting (Ireland where I vacationed last year). I really enjoyed this book. It is an interesting story with parts that are humorous and others that are suspenseful. I found it a nice relaxing read in the evening.
mckait on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Ben MacCarthy, we first met in Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show. I thought I would have another go as I liked Venetia's story. I think perhaps I should have lt it be. Although the characters of Ben and Kate were interesting, and Ben likable if weak, I stillfelt somewhat mired in the story. To me, three stars is a good solid read. This book missed being a four star read simply due to its lag. I understand that Delaney is a storyteller, and that is different from simply being a writer. I understand that a storyteller takes longer to weave the words thatfinally, in the end, become a whole fabric and that often this is good. From Kenmare, to Kenmare. From Ireland, to France, and Germany to the United states and back around again we went. There were storiesof love, death, lies and atrocity. Somewhere in there I believe there was even a bit of humor, but bless me if I can remember. I am finished with Ben now. I don't care what happens to him. I should admire Kate, but somehow, she leaves me cold. And may I finish by saying that I am a fan of giraffes but really? Didwe need to meet one here?
TheLostEntwife on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I wasn't introduced to Frank Delaney until fairly recently, when I stumbled across the gorgeous cover of Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show sitting on the table at my local Barnes and Noble. I was fascinated by the old-style of the art-work, the catchy title and the promise of a story that was new and different to me. I wasn't disappointed by it.I was thrilled to learn that there was a sequel in the works and even more thrilled to be contacted with an offer of an advanced copy. It was with great anticipation I made time in my reading schedule for The Matchmaker of Kenmare, and I was well-rewarded for doing so.The first few pages in this book are so lyrical and moving that I savored each and every word like it was the last bite of my mom's chocolate pie. Delaney's method of describing people is superb - I called my dad more than once just to read to him the beauty of what I was seeing on the page. I found myself crying more than once as well, because it was that perfect.I'm not one of those people to write a bunch of stuff about the story that will spoil it for others before the book even is released - so I'll say this in summary. The Matchmaker of Kenmare enchanted me and has firmly solidified my "fan-girlishness" when it comes to Frank Delaney. I have a love for (and desire to see) Ireland, I get giddy when confronted with anything Irish and The Matchmaker of Kenmare filled my imagination with sights, sounds and so much more - not just of pleasant, pretty Ireland, but gritty war-time Ireland. Each side was perfect in its own way and I cannot wait to see what Delaney will do next.
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I have read all of Frank Delaney's fiction, and in particular enjoyed the first book of this saga, Venetia Kelly. It was doubly disappointing that this book is dull. The Matchmaker of the title, a young woman named Kate Begley is supposed to be an extraordinary woman who affects the lives of those in her sphere. So we are told, but in the deadly sin of fiction writing, never shown. We are told that she makes happy matches but we don't meet them. Her great love for Charles Miller is asserted time and again but in their encounters, there is no passion or even much interest. Finally, the narrator of Venetia Kelly and the narrator here, Ben McCarthy, is drawn into events for no sane reason. We are again told how Kate Begley's "extraordinariness" compels him, but his description of her is simply that of a willful neurotic. The book is tedious and unrewarding. If you have not read Delaney, start with "Ireland", then cover "Tipperary" and "Shannon" then plunge into "Venetia Kelly" but don't bother with this. Even if the foreshadowed next book about Venetia is published, you won't have missed anything by not reading this.
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bogiesmama More than 1 year ago
Great story with romance, history and excellent writing. I think most readers would enjoy this book. It would make a wonderful book club selection.
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finallyfreeSO More than 1 year ago
Have never read a book by this author before. I won't again. Seriously...they come out of a war zone, buy a giraffe and take it to Kansas....come on.
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