Originally Posted at Bibliophile's Retreat by Melissa Meeks
Grand Central Publishing (February 9, 2009)
Being partial to historical novels, it is rare that I find one I truly dislike. This book is no exception to the rule though I did find it to move slowly at times due to the degree of detail involved. Set during the Irish potato famine of the 1840’s and its aftermath, this particular story focuses on Honora Keeley and her sweetheart Michael Kelly from the day they meet as she is on her way to the creek the morning of her sister Maire’s wedding to wash her hair. Honora and Michael are kindred spirits almost from the moment they first set eyes on one another and this connection of their souls on such a deep level also proves to be a severe trial for Honora when their marriage is cut short by a terrible disease.
In the course of the narrative Honora and Maire eventually decide their only option is to collect their families and risk the trip to Amerikay (as they call it) for a chance at a better life for them and their children. Life is not easy on the other side of the Ocean but the obstacles they face in America are certainly of a different variety than the previous 3-4 years they struggled in Ireland. One of Honora’s objectives in traveling to Chicago is to find Michael’s brother Patrick in hopes of fulfilling his last request of her and also with the slight promise that Patrick will be able and choose to assist them in getting settled and surviving in this new homeland. Patrick shows himself worthy of their trust yet also worries them especially as their boys grow into young men and his role as somewhat of a father figure points them into associations and endeavors that could easily end in their demise. Can Irish Patriotism and loyalty to the homeland survive a Civil War pitting brothers, neighbors and cousins against one another over the issue of owning another person? Who will survive the carnage of war and come home to tell the story or worse relay the loss of a comrade to the family waiting months or even years for word of their loved one? Will all remain faithful to the cause of a free Ireland and a homeland on this continent where their lives are their own instead of subject to a landlord or English rule and misappropriation of resources?
For an emotional adventure through a desperate period in both the history of Ireland and that of our own United States pick up a copy of Galway Bay. Though things did move a bit slow at times I found the story of Honora, Michael, Patrick, Maire and the Keeley-Kelly clan riveting for the most part and one I would suggest reading if you have a penchant for historical novels as I do. Mary Pat Kelly includes many key details that give the reader a flavor for life in Ireland during the Potato famine as well as the experience of the Irish immigrants who found themselves facing new trials in a new world and along the way to get there though they left with hopes of a better life. This better life eventually did come for some but not without many struggles, much hard work and suffering along the way for the ones that did eventually find their dreams fulfilled at least to some extent. (ISBN#9780446579001, 576pp, $26.99)