Galway Bay
by Mary Pat Kelly

Grand Central Publishing, 2009. ISBN 978-0-446-57900-1.
Reviewed by Doris Anne Roop-Benner
Posted on 05/06/2009

Fiction: Historical

Two million Irish people escaped the Great Starvation, then reached back for the ones who came after, forty-four million completely American but always Irish people. They saved themselves, helped only by God and their strong faith. Galway Bay is the story of how they turned the tragedy of exile into triumph by simply surviving.

This historical novel comes from stories handed down from Kelly's great-great-grandmother; and, though it's fiction, it is rooted in research done over a period of thirty-five years in Ireland and the United States.

Two sisters—Honora and Maire—both widowed in their early twenties—do not conform to the usual stereotype of nineteenth-century Irish women. They pulled together and defied the odds as they traveled with their children on a boat from Ireland to Chicago by way of New Orleans. Their parents stayed behind, believing they were too old to start over and wanting to finish their days by Galway Bay.

Kelly tells a wonderful love story with a history lesson—especially for those connected in some way to the Irish. Her novel gives the reader an appreciation of what they went through to save their way of life. The potato famine that we've all heard about becomes real when you read about those that lived to tell how horrendous it was. And they had songs, stories, communal celebrations, faith, and family life to bring them happiness. And just like any mother, they feared for their boys who were saved from the Great Starvation in Ireland and then marched off to fight each other in the Civil War in America.

The sisters and their offspring were Americans and they were Irish, but their descendants had no notion of Ireland—an inheritance that was lost to them.

It's far away I am today
From scenes I roamed a boy
And long ago the hour, I know
I first saw Illinois.

Tis all the Heaven, I'd ask of God
Upon my dying day
My soul to soar forevermore
Above you, Galway Bay.

Life is circles and spirals—as carved into the great stones of Ireland—to show that nothing really ends.

Mary Pat Kelly has published a novel, Special Intentions, and five nonfiction books. She's written and directed documentaries, as well as the feature film Proud, and has a Ph.D. from the City University of New York. Born and raised in Chicago, she lives on Manhattan's Upper West Side with her husband, Martin Sheerin from County Tyrone. Visit her website.

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