He still has a distinct Irish accent. However, Freeporter and Irish author, Tom Phelan says every time he travels to his hometown, Mountmellick, a town in the north of County Laois, Ireland, his friends and family say he sounds American. Phelan has lived in Freeport for the last 27 years and while he’s been a jet-setter and traveled a bit of everywhere, Freeport is home.
“I came to the U.S. for hopes of a better life and I found it,” Phelan said. “So, here I am.”
Though he never quite intended to become a writer and his focus was to raise his twin sons, Joseph and Michael, the writing was always something he wanted to pursue. Years later, once the boys were grown up, he decided to revisit writing. Writing 900 pages of stuff, as he calls it, he reached out a friend in the publishing business in New York City. His friend candidly told him his initial manuscript was not publishable, but that he had promise as a writer. He was only 50 years old when he published his first novel, “In the Season of the Daisies” in 1993 Now, 76 and with six books under his belt, he’s waiting for the final reviews from an agent on two more novels and preparing to write the ninth.
“I found my voice in the last 300 pages of the first 900 pages I wrote,” Phelan said.
In spite of launching his career as an author at an age most people would say it’s time to retire, Phelan has stamina. His first book “In the Season of the Daisies” released in 1993 and chronicles the 1921 IRA murder of a young boy and its devastating effect on the victim’s twin brother. His second novel a “whodunit” about a former priest and a crime he has festered in for years, published in 1995.
Phelan’s novels have been published in English, French and German.
“It was exciting to get published,” he said. “I’ve gotten very good reviews.”
By the release of his third book, Phelan says getting published was still surreal to him. His third novel, “Derryclone” released in 1999 and told the stories of the Irish countryside in the 1940s—stories he affectionately refers to as the “fanfare to the common men and women of my childhood.”
Throughout the years, Phelan continued writing and eventually started contributing to publications like Newsday, the Irish Echo and the Recorder, the journal of the American Irish Historical Society. For the Irish Echo, he penned memoir pieces about growing up on the farm in Ireland. By his fourth book, "Nailer," Phelan began writing historical fiction pieces that highlighted life in Ireland during the early 1940s and 1950s.
Perhaps his most critical claim to fame novel was the historical fiction and fifth novel, “The Canal Bridge” which was a book he says he dedicated to the World War I veterans from his hometown that fought in the war but never got a proper homecoming. After the war, he says he saw the community outcast the veterans. Inspired by their stories, Phelan wrote
“I got the most response in Ireland from this [The Canal Bridge] book,” he said. “See on the inside of the book, I wrote the names of the guys that I knew that I grew up with that had been in the first war. It sounds like a long time ago, but I was a child then.”
With a smile, Phelan shared that people in Mountmellick responded immediately to his book and an interest in learning about the family’s history during that period increased. He soon found out his hometown was preparing a WWI monument to dedicate to the veterans.
“After the launch of my book people were coming up to me saying they didn’t know they’re grandfather [uncle or another relative] had been in World War I,” Phelan said. “They built a monument for the veterans because of my book. That was the best response I’ve ever gotten from my books.
His latest book, “The Lies the Mushroom Pickers Told" released in 2015. The part comedy, part mystery novel tells a story about a village keeping secrets. Throughout the summer he spent some time participating in readings and sharing his books with Long Islanders. On Sept. 30 he will do a reading of the book in the Hudson Valley Irish Fest in Peekskill.