The Irish R.M., E.O. Somerville & Martin Ross
I bought a copy of this many years ago, under the influence of the TV series starring Peter Bowles that ran on Masterpiece Theater (actually I was rather taken with the actor playing Flurry Knox). As often happens, I discovered that the book is quite different from the TV version, and I'm not sure I ever actually read the whole thing. At some point in clearing out the bookshelves, I decided it wasn't a book I needed to keep, so off it went to the library book sale. But I recently read a post about Somerville & Ross that made me want to read this again, and I was lucky enough to come across a used copy (along with another of their books, In the Vine Country).
If I ever read this book, I had forgotten most of it, and what I did remember was more from the TV series than the book itself. Re-discovering it was an complete delight, and a perfect antidote to the stress of packing and moving. The Irish Resident Magistrate in question is Major Sinclair Yeates. I had not remembered that the familiar Penguin edition reprints three volumes of stories, all narrated by Major Yeates. Originally published between 1899 and 1915, the stories are loosely connected, with a familiar cast of characters, rather than novels with an overarching plot. In the first story, Major Yeates has just arrived in the small town of Skebawn, in the west of Ireland, to take up his post as Resident Magistrate, which he hopes will eventually allow him to marry his fiancée Philippa. He rents a rather ramshackle house from the local Master of Hounds, Florence McCarthy Knox, "a fair, spare young man, who looked like a stableboy among gentlemen, and a gentleman among stableboys." Flurry is also a consummate horse dealer, and something of a con artist and a trickster, and I found him just as alluring in print.
Many of the stories recount the Major's adventures with Flurry and later with Philippa, and they reminded me of P.G. Wodehouse in their energy and hilarity, though Somerville & Ross don't have his sublime gift of language. Major Yeates is often the victim, of mishaps and of practical jokes, and sometimes of his own kind heart, but like Bertie Wooster he seems incapable of holding a grudge or resisting a friend's plea for help. Quite a few of the stories take place on the hunting field, with breathless chases that at times take the hunt to cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. I know that I appreciated the hunting stories more from having read Anthony Trollope, who I think would have enjoyed them and their Irish setting. When Flurry goes off to fight in the Boer War, the Major take his place as Deputy M.F.H., where he and the hounds almost come to grief more than once. There are also domestic dramas and farces set in Shreelane, the house he rents from Flurry, and in visits he and Philippa pay around the countryside. A few stories are set at the magistrates' court, where Flurry sits on the Bench as well and occasionally makes mischief.
The final volume of these stories was published in 1915, a year before the Easter Rising brought the start of great changes to Ireland, but no shadow of trouble hangs over these stories. They are are not political - I noted only one reference to Home Rule - nor are they sectarian. Like Wodehouse, they are almost outside of time, though the constantly cold wet weather adds a touch of reality. I will not be sending this copy to the library sale, and I've already added another of Somerville & Ross's books to the TBR stacks. I was sold on Through Connemara in a Governess Cart by the title alone.