Sunday, January 18, 2009

Galway Bay

Galway Bay, on the western coast of Ireland, has been home to fishermen as long as history has been recorded. It is also the title of Mary Pat Kelly's wonderfully rich new novel. This story of one Irish family's life in the village of Bearna, and their decision to leave the land they love for Amerikay leads the reader through just about every emotion possible. Laughter and enjoyment in marriages, births, and celebrations, sadness at the loss of loved ones, bewilderment when potato crops turn rotten over night, horror and outrage at the treatment of the Irish by the British government and landlords, and despair and fear when the potatoes rot again. Galway Bay is a rousing Irish family story told in the engaging tradition of Gaelic folklore.
Adapted from the publisher:
Honora Keeley and Michael Kelly marry and start a family, inhabiting an Ireland where fishermen and tenant farmers find solace in their ancient faith, songs, stories, and communal celebrations. Selling both their catch--and their crops--to survive, these people subsist on the potato crop--their only staple food. But when blight destroys the potatoes three times in four years, a callous government and uncaring landlords turn a natural disaster into The Great Starvation that will kill one million. Honora and Michael vow their children will live. The family joins two million other Irish refugees in the Irish Emigration to America. Honora and her unconventional sister Maire watch their seven sons as they transform Chicago from a frontier town to the "City of the Century", fight the Civil War, and enlist in the cause of Ireland's freedom.

I was drawn into the story by the knowledge that although this is a work of fiction, it is rooted in historical facts, as well as Mary Pat Kelly's own family history. Honora Kelly, the narrator of Galway Bay, was Ms. Kelly's great-great grandmother, who emigrated to Chicago during the Great Potato Famine. Locations and government officials named are all true places and people. Being partially Irish myself, as well as an English and Social Studies teacher, I loved the historical legends told by Granny to the younger generations, and this practice grows to include sharing stories with the Ojibwa tribe when in America . Honora tries to carry on that tradition with her own children and American grandchildren, which is so important to a people whose culture the British attempted to erase.Honora and her older sister Maire are unusual women for their time and place. Educated by the daughter of the local landowner, they can read and write in English, as well as speak their native Gaelic. They work with their mother, selling their father's fishing catch outside the Spanish Arch in Galway City, giving them a slightly larger perspective on the world than the daughters of farmers. Maire shows her strength when widowed young by sacrificing herself for her sister and family, and stays in a heart-wrenchingly brutal life to protect her children. Honora, preparing to enter the convent meets Michael Kelly, a wandering piper and blacksmith and the two fall instantly in love. Michael ends his wandering and joins Honora's family as a farmer, building a strong family and farm while also breeding horses. Until the day the fog rolled in . . . I knew about the Potato Famine, of course, being a history person, but not some of the details of how the government handled things. Mary Pat Kelly is a scholarly historian, with two non-fiction books about Irish heritage published, as well as non-fiction on other topics. The details of the cruel and ignorant laws that made the famine worse would be seen as laughable, if they weren't actually true. I also enjoyed reading about the Molly Maguires, the Ribbonmen, the Irish Brigade, the Fenians, and all the other groups I had heard about, but didn't know how they had begun. Patrick Kelly, elder brother of Michael is the elusive rebel leader moving in and out of Honora's life without notice, usually in the dark of night. His farming skills set Michael and Honora on the right path, and his many connections provide food, money, and jobs that keep the family alive and for the Kelly family to eventually prosper in America.I never went to see the movie Titanic, because I knew how it would end. I knew, pretty much, how this book would not only end, but how it would flow. {happy family life - famine strikes - journey to America - eventual stability} Knowing this, I still stayed up late in the night trying to find out what would happen to individual characters in the family, and learning about life for the peasants of Ireland as well as the roots of rebellion, life on the crossing and upon first arrival in the new land, and establishing an Irish-American culture in Chicago, where they still dye the river green for Saint Patrick's Day!
I had only two disappointments in this book, and they have nothing to do with the writing or the story. When I read a novel that talks about specific places, I like to have a map to which I can refer. Although I use an atlas when I read, the names are often different due to history, so those nice maps that are specific to a book that are sometimes in the front are something I really do use. Also, although I knew of many of the true figures who are mentioned in the story, I'm sure many people wouldn't get all the references, so a listing of "true" characters would have been nice, including Honora's family. I can definitely recommend Galway Bay as compelling, and strong historical fiction with a little adventuring, warfare, and clean romance!

15 comments:

AnNicole said...

This looks really interesting Elizabeth. I'm reading Eat, Pray, Love right now, but I may want to read this after. Thanks!

Smilingsal said...

I saw this title at Hachette, I think, but I have so many others to read that I passed on it. It sounds lik a good read.

Chris said...

I can tell, you really love this novel, a great post about it.

Thank you for giving me the letter "M" I loved doing that post.

Hugs,
Chris

Lynne said...

This book sounds terrific! I love stories about Ireland. It's going on my wish list immediately.

Have you ever read a trilogy by Ann Moore - Gracelin O'Malley, Leaving Ireland, and 'Til Morning Light? All good books. Also a 4-book series by Brock and Bodie Thoene - The Galway Chronicles (Only the River Runs Free, Of Men and of Angels, Ashes of Remembrance, and All Rivers to the Sea). Another great series.

Ronda's Rants said...

That sounds wonderful...I love all things Irish! I wonder have you heard of the Heretic's Daughter?
I am considering that for next month's read however my daughter is reading it now and can't stop crying... it is fictional but based on the Salem Witch trials...
I will look for this book... as I enjoy historical fiction.

Justine said...

This totally doesn't sound like my kind of book, but after reading your post I can see that this book really touched you. I may just have to look for it in the library and give it a try. Sometimes it's nice to expand on the kind of books I read.

Justine :o )

Carolyn (Harbor Hon) said...

Elizabeth,
Thank you for the review. I'm going to have to get this book right away. Sounds right up my alley. I also got some good ideas from your other readers too. You really know your stuff girl! xxoo

Helen said...

I love to read and really appreciate this post. I am currently reading "The Master" by Colm Toibin and then have Michael Lee West's "Mermaids in the Basement" waiting ......

jeanne said...

Elizabeth, Your preview of this book was compelling. I will try to find this book at the library. I am part Irish and English with some German in the mix. My maiden name is Coulter.

Hugs...Jeanne

The Muse said...

Definitely one I want to relish!

Shelia said...

Evening, Elizabeth! Oh, you're fabulous at giving a wonderful account of a good book! This sounds very interesting. Thanks for the visit and be a sweetie,
Shelia :)

Pink Ink said...

I love the book cover.

My sister just married an Irishman this past December, so I have a lot of interest in Ireland right now :-). Thanks for the heads-up.

Mary said...

My daughter went to university for a semester in Galway. I'm going to pick this one up for her and then read it when she's finished. Thanks for reviewing it!

The Quintessential Magpie said...

This looks like something I would throughly enjoy! Thanks!

XO,

Sheila :-)

Lisa said...

I want to read this book now.