Some Experiences of an Irish R.M. was the first volume of a series of stories by Somerville and Ross, written for the monthly Badminton Magazine and speedily published as a book in 1899.
These exuberant and skilful tales are narrated by Major Sinclair Yeates, the resident magistrate, whose misfortune it is to attract calamity. With his gallant wife Philippa, he lives at the centre of a vigorous and wily community as the tenant of a dilapidated demesne, Shreelane, which he rents from a well-to-do rogue, Flurry Knox.
The eccentricities of the populace contribute to innumerable confusions involving collapsing carts, missed meals, sinking boats, shying horses, and outraged visitors. Yet few of the stories are merely farcical, and some have a sombre echo.
Of all the collections of sketches and stories for which nineteenth-century fiction is famous, Some Experiences of an Irish R.M. remains foremost for its combined anthropological and comic value. With an ear for native dialogue that some have claimed to be second only to James Joyce's, Somerville and Ross portrayed the lives of the people of the west of Ireland at a time when the entire country was on the verge of serious historical change.
This collection provided the last few chuckles for the ruling Anglo-Irish Ascendancy class that a new national order would soon supplant. These hugely successful quasi-stories, narrated by an epitome of British authority called the R.M. (Resident Magistrate: a justice of the peace), display an extraordinary capacity for joking in the face of disaster. Some Experiences of an Irish R.M., remarked one bemused reviewer of the time, is a book "no self-respecting person could read in a railway-carriage with any regard to decorum."
The partnership of Somerville and Ross was regarded as a "literary miracle." While they were cousins who shared a mutual great-grandfather, they did not meet until they were in their twenties. Edith Oenone Somerville (1858-1949) was from Castletownshend, County Cork; Violet Martin (1862-1915) was from much further north in Connemara, County Galway, where she managed the sixteenth-century family estate of Ross, which gave her the nom de plume by which she is better known. Their work was so intimately embedded in their actual lives, backgrounds, and surroundings that many of the almost Dickensian caricatures of Some Experiences of an Irish R.M. were based on their friends.