"Tenants" begins on the eve of the Fenian uprising of 1867. We meet four young men and their compatriots as they train to confront the British and the Irish Constabulary and free Ireland -- or so they hope. There is Robert Delaney, shopkeeper and politician to be, Ned Nolan, a returning Irish-American whose hardline sympathies presage the IRS, Vincent Tully, squireen and future brother-in-law of Delaney, and Hugh McMahon, schoolteacher of Kilpeder.
But the uprising is only the beginning of their travels. After serving their time after the failed rebellion, we follow Hugh, Robert, Ned and Vincent through their lives and the history of Ireland in the late 1800s; Parnell and the Land League and the boycotts which nearly succeeded in driving the British out altogether and succeeded in breaking the backs, largely, of the Ascendency. It ends with Parnell's disgrace and downfall, and the deaths of two old friends.
Flanagan's writing has a lovely Irish flavor; it may be this, as much as the story itself, which holds so much pleasure for me.
An earlier reviewer complained that the path of one character's life too closely paralleled the more famous events which occurred in history. But rather than a flaw, I see that as the author's intent, bringing the historical events close and helping you see them from the inside through smaller characters rather than trying to put words in the mouths (not that he didn't do that anyway, to some extent) of the historical characters they represented.
Bob paralleled Parnell, rise, disgrace and fall; Vincent, the Anglo-Irish landowners whose life was disrupted for all time by Parnell's boycotts; Ned, those who found Parnell and his non-violent approach at best wrongheaded and at worst traitorous to Ireland; and Hugh stood outside it all as everyone else did, having some of the picture but not all, seeing it for us.
I bought this in an airport because I wanted something to read. It has become one of my favorite books ever.