Nessa O’Mahony

The Branchman

ISBN: 9781851321896

The Civil War may be over, but there’s no peace, not by a long chalk, and we need a very special type of man to be its guardian. In this complex political thriller set in Galway in 1925, Detective Officer Michael Mackey of the newly-created Special Branch has been sent to the Garda Barracks in Ballinasloe on a mission to root out subversives. Soon he has a murder to solve, stolen arms to recover, and a lost love to rescue. But who can he trust? This novel offers a timely, irreverent view of a young, febrile Irish Free State from the perspective of its newest police force, An Garda Siochana. The Branchman is Irish writer Nessa O’Mahony’s debut crime thriller.


A taut, absorbing thriller, and a lucid and fascinating account of a riven and fragile young state. Brilliantly done.

– Donal Ryan

‘A complex political thriller, that is at once historical and deeply emotional.’ – Eoin Colfer

Poet Nessa O’Mahony publishes her debut crime novel with The Branchman (Arlen House, €15), which opens in 1925 with Michael Mackey, a detective officer in the newly formed Garda Special Branch, sent to the Garda barracks in Ballinasloe “to root out subversion”. Mackey, a veteran of numerous conflicts, isn’t fooled by the beauty of rural Galway: “It all looked innocent enough, but who knew what old animosities were lurking in those green fields?” There’s enough animosity to deliver a murder, certainly, and Mackey quickly discovers himself investigating the theft of a cache of stolen arms. O’Mahony is particularly strong on the everyday detail of a stranger negotiating a hazardous landscape – the character of Mackey is loosely based on her own grandfather, Michael McCann – and delivers a series of brief, intense chapters which generate a ferocious pace. Most fascinating, perhaps, is O’Mahony’s evocation of the wider political backdrop, that fragile, imperfect peace that took hold in the wake of the War of Independence and the Civil War. – Declan Burke, The Irish Times

There’s not a word out of place, nor one too many, in this pacy, dialogue-led historical thriller set in small town Galway in 1925. We are kept on the edge of our seats as we watch the aftershocks of Ireland’s recent bloody history pulse. No-one is to be trusted and little is as it first appears. O’Mahony successfully interweaves the complexity of allegiances with the venality of the full cast of this gripping tale. The honourable exception is our high minded hero, Mackey, detective with the newly formed Special Branch who fought with the British in WWI before changing sides in the War of Independence. The wounds of the Civil War are still open, much blood is spilled and moral standards are put to the test before Detective Officer Michael Mackey finally rides out of town. –

‘Nessa O’Mahony’s novel offers a timely, irreverent view of a young, febrile Irish Free State from the perspective of its newest police force, An Garda Síochána. In this world, loyalties shift from minute to minute and guns are easily got – and freely used – throughout the country. Memories are as long as they are bitter, everyone knows something about everyone else and everyone suspects everyone else – but are they right?’ – Lia Mills

Set in the aftermath of the Irish Civil War, Nessa O’Mahony has written a novel as historically important as Frank O’Connor’s ‘Guests of the Nation’. Set in 1925, Detective Michael Mackey of the Special Branch travels to East Galway to root out subversives hell-bent on scuppering the fledgling state. He finds himself caught up in a murder, a spider’s web of old grudges, loyalties and unrequited love. –

This police thriller is unusual for several reasons: it is beautifully written by a poet. The chapters are very short and pithy. Unlike most thrillers, there is no total black and white, but it is full of very confusing and historically based shades of grey, showing how the course of history keeps shifting the sands of what and who are considered good and bad. It is pragmatic, not clearcut, messy, just as life can be messy and confusing. –

The Branchman is award-winning poet Nessa O’Mahony’s debut into fiction. The Branchman of the title is Detective Michael Mackey sent to Ballinasloe from the recently created Special Branch headquartered in Dublin Castle to identify and sort out the vein of corruption running through the recently formed Garda Síochána police force in the townland. This is a gripping political thriller set in 1925 when the Irish Free State was in its infancy. The shadows of the split in the Treaty and the atrocities of the Civil War reach long fingers into this world where memories are long, slights kept in mind, allegiances fragile, ammunition hoarded and guns loaded and used with impunity. The pace of the story doesn’t falter and throughout we are introduced to a veritable cast of characters: care-worn Briget Daly, her scared son and husband; Superintendent Hennessy of the flushed face who spends more time in the local snug than his office; Annie Kelly who has a coquettish way about her and is a former girlfriend of arch-crook Richie Latham who is back in town to collect what he considers to be rightfully his. The story cracks on at a great pace until its unexpected ending. O’Mahony’s writing has more than a touch of the poetic about it and she creates not only a sense of place but a sense of the times and the era with attention to domestic details, clothes, attitudes. I look forward to meeting Detective Michael Mackey again … – Patricia O’Reilly

I read this book in two sittings and thoroughly enjoyed it. I have recently discovered a love for detective stories and this is a welcome addition to my collection of the likes of Ann Cleeves, Ian Rankin and Colin Dexter. Also, it’s a right atmospheric trip through the complications, the shadows and shades, left over from Ireland’s Civil War. Great all-in-one historical fiction and detective story. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough! – Nicola Pierce