In Celebration of St. Patrick's Day, Miriam Parker, with Hatchette Book Group , has set up a blog tour for Mary Pat Kelly's novel Galway Bay. I am pleased to be a part of this tour.
Grade: D - 18 and up (sexual reference, mature themes involving starvation and death)
Book Description from the publisher:
"Here at last is one Irish family's epic journey, capturing the tragedy and triumph of the Irish-American experience. In a rousing tale that echoes the myths and legends of Ireland herself, young Honora Keeley and Michael Kelly wed and start a family, inhabiting a hidden 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 one of the greatest rescues in human history: the Irish Emigration to America. Danger and hardship await them there. 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. The Kelly clan is victorious. This heroic story sheds brilliant light on the ancestors of today's 44 million Irish Americans.
In the author's colorful and eclectic life, she has written and directed award-winning documentaries on Irish subjects, as well as the dramatic feature Proud. She's been an associate producer on Good Morning America and Saturday Night Live, written books on Martin Scorsese, World War II, and Bosnia, and a novel based on her experiences as a former nun - Special Intentions. She is a frequent contributor to Irish America Magazine and has a PhD in English and Irish literature."
This book was amazingly written, I am so impressed with Mary Pat Kelly's ability to take the history of her own family and bring it to life. The characters in the book are so strong and so vivid. They come to life and you are so swept up in their story and their struggles and triumphs. Suddenly all of my complaints about life disappeared, and I found myself to be so grateful that my children and I are safe. That we have an overabundance of food to eat, and a cozy and warm house to live in through the winter. At night, when I finally had to pull myself away from the pages of this book, and back into the 21st century, I tiptoed into my children's rooms, and softly touched the rosy full cheeks, and chubby baby legs--so grateful.
The lushly beautiful scenery and culture of Ireland were also painted very skillfully in this novel. I felt that I was there, in the green, listening to the haunting and jaunty melodies played by Michael Kelly's pipes. Sometimes historical fiction can feel as if you were reading a history text book--the dates flung at you in such a way that they will never be remembered, the facts dry and uninteresting. This is not the case in Galway Bay. The history is woven so beautifully into the story that instead of feeling that a bunch of facts are being shoved down your throat, you feel that you are living in the past, experiencing it for yourself. I feel that I have been enlightened, and my knowledge of history and the world expanded through reading this book. More importantly I was able to enjoy it as this happened.
Essay by the Author:
It was an honor to write Galway Bay because through the process I met my great-great-grandmother, who kept her children alive in the most horrific circumstances and got them to America. How did she do it?
Her family faced the Great Starvation in Ireland of 1845-1849. One million died. Yes, a natural calamity destroyed the potato, the people’s food, but it was the policies of the British government that allowed the famine to happen.
The more I learned, the more impossible it seemed that anyone from the devastated West of Ireland had survived. But they did. They escaped to America in one of the greatest rescues in human history. The victims saved each other. I was alive because of the courage of this woman, yet I had no notion of the story until I started to read Irish literature in the 1970s. And even then, the famine was a kind of black hole - not spoken about.
Certainly, growing up in Chicago, I had never realized that my ancestors had suffered. I was Irish and delighted to be, but I didn’t connect that with the actual country of Ireland, nor did most Irish-Americans. We’d created an identity and prospered but I don’t think we understood how much they had to leave behind - a language spoken for two thousand years, stories that informed their lives and shaped their consciousness and because of that surely had some influence on who we were - all gone or diminished.
I only started to touch the truth in conversations with my father’s cousin, a nun who lived to be a hundred and seven and who knew my great-great-grandmother Honora in the 1880s. For twenty-five years I’ve been researching here and in Ireland and trying to imagine this young couple, Honora and Michael Kelly – married at eighteen and nineteen years old - with three little children when the blight struck. I knew Honora had a sister and I know how sisters support each other. I learned Michael Kelly was a piper, evicted from his land. I saw that in spite of all the persecution, injustice and suffering, the Irish spirit was not broken.
“We wouldn’t die, and that annoyed them.” Yes, the English had been trying to rid Ireland of the Irish for centuries, but inexplicably they held on, nourished by songs and stories and a faith much deeper than the institutional Church. Only the Great Famine defeated them, and even then they escaped and triumphed - they built America, fought the civil war and survived.
Discovering the details of the Irish story brought me closer to every immigrant’s story, and all the strong women who have somehow survived and kept their children alive.
I’m grateful for this sense of connection.
-Mary Pat Kelly
Visit Mary Pat Kelly's website
Also, don't miss hearing the author on Blog Talk Radio today at 11am EST: Blogtalkradio
See what others on the tour have to say about this book: