The Irish Upstart is pretty much a self-explanatory title, and in the seasoned hands of Shirley Kennedy, it sings. Evleen O’Fallon watched helplessly as her widowed mother fell in love with an Englishman, only to end up penniless after he ran through the family fortune. And then he had the poor sense to die in the bargain. “Never love an Englishman”, her mother warns, and it’s advice Evleen vows to heed as she stands by and watches their Dublin townhouse sold out from under them.
Fast forward ten years. Evleen, her mother, her sister, and her young brother, (the product of that ill-fated marriage) are living in a small cottage on a County Clare farm, the one piece of property left to them. Evleen has put aside her dreams of a Season and is on the verge of accepting the proposal of a local lad, when an unexpected visitor arrives and turns their lives upside down.
Lord Thomas, second son of a Marquess, has recently returned to England from his father’s sugar plantation in Jamaica. Thomas’ older brother, Montague, is a rakehell, and when Thomas announces he has no intention of returning to the plantation, his father accepts it with good grace. He does have one condition. Thomas must travel to Ireland, to look into some family properties that seem to be in trouble. And since Thomas is headed that way, he reluctantly agrees to also look in on the affairs of a neighboring earl whose disinherited son died in Ireland. And thus it is that Thomas Linberry ends up on the doorstep of Evleen O’Fallon.
Before anyone can utter a “faith and begorrah!”, it’s discovered that Evleen’s young half-brother is actually the heir to an earldom, and soon young Patrick and his sister Evleen are on their way to England on a trial basis. While Patrick gets a taste of life as an heir, Evleen will try her best to remember her mother’s advice.
This is a fast-paced story with plenty of secondary characters muddying the waters of romance. The neighbor girls want to get their hooks into Thomas, and Evleen will not be welcomed. Evleen’s contempt for the hypocrisies of the ton will land her in hot water, and Thomas can’t seem to decide what he wants. Just when it seems all will work out, a tragedy occurs and throws everything into turmoil again. This all happens in logical fashion and nothing feels forced; not an easy trick for a plot with so many people in it.
Evleen is a delightful character. Sharp, with a bit of a chip on her shoulder, she’s the perfect match for the affable Thomas, who is himself contemptuous of the Marriage Mart. Her pride in her Irish background never wavers, and influences her decisions time and again. I did wonder how an Irishwoman would be accepted into English society, and the author’s resolution of this felt a bit implausible, but this was a minor disturbance.
Thomas is an easygoing guy, astounded after all this time to find that he’s genuinely fallen for a woman, and an Irishwoman, at that. Not that it matters. He can’t keep his mind, or his eyes, off her. Maybe his dream of raising horses on his own property would be even sweeter with someone to share it. Now if he can only convince her… Thomas fumbles a bit in his attempts to establish a romance with Evleen, and this touch of vulnerability only makes him all the more real to the reader. When Thomas, not knowing how to handle his emotions, does the thing that men have been doing since caveman days, readers will nod their heads and say “Yep, just like a guy”. And so it is.
With its witty dialogue, humanly flawed but oh-so-likable characters, and brisk plot, The Irish Upstart will leave Regency lovers with a warm glow and a feeling of satisfaction. This one is definitely recommended.