‘Galway Bay,’ coming out in paperback, an Irish treat

Get ready for a wave of Irish fiction, we are nearing St. Patrick’s Day after all.

Frank Delaney’s "The Matchmaker of Kenmare" is already out and Maeve Binchy’s "Minding Frankie" hits shelves March 1. (Expect to find reviews of both here at a later date.)

But for those not wanting to fork over hardback prices, Mary Pat Kelly’s “Galway Bay” comes out in paperback next week.

Fans of Delaney and Binchy should enjoy “Galway Bay,” but another demographic that should embrace this novel are fans of Diana Gabaladon, author of the Scottish Highlander series “Outlander.”

Much like Gabaladon, Kelly blends her historical fiction with romance and family drama, creating a novel that teaches as well as entertains.

Kelly bases much of the story on her own family history, and it’s as much a tribute to her kin as it is to all Irish immigrants.

Set in 1839 Ireland, the story follows young Honora Keeley, who becomes smitten with and weds Michael Kelly. They set up their household near Honora’s parents and sister and begin creating a family of their own.

“Galway Bay” follows the clan through the Great Starvation, telling how they have to drink nettle tea and horse blood to survive after the potato crops are destroyed by blight. The government ships all healthy crops and livestock to England, leaving the Irish to starve while being preyed upon by greedy landlords, some forced to convert from Catholicism or die.

Fearing for the lives of their children, Honora and her husband decide to risk the trip to America, a dangerous journey, in hopes of finding a better life. Some of their neighbors and relatives already have left Ireland, and Honora wants her parents and sister to join her in settling in Chicago. Some will go, some will stay.

Honora and family dive into the sea of refugees heading for America, and the book follows their journey up through and beyond the Civil War.

It’s truly a fascinating read. Anyone who has Irish roots, and for Americans that’s a lot of people, it’s interesting to put a face to stories in the history books. “Galway Bay” describes the determination of the Irish to survive famine, their unity in the face of discrimination in America, and especially how they helped to save others from the death that was plaguing Ireland.

Kelly opens the prologue with the words of her great-great-grandmother, Honora Keeley Kelly:

We wouldn’t die, and that annoyed them. They’d spent centuries trying to kill us off, one way or another, and here we were, raising seven, eight, nine of a family on nothing but potatoes and buttermilk. But then the blight destroyed the potato. Three times in four years our only food rotted in the ground. Nothing to eat, the healthy crops sent away to feed England. We starved. More than a million died — most of them in the West, which is only a quarter of the country, with Ireland itself just half the size of Illinois. A small place to hold so much suffering. But we didn’t all die. Two million of us escaped, one reaching back for the next. Surely one of the great rescues in human history. We saved ourselves, helped only by God and our own strong faith. Now look at us, doing well all over the world. We didn’t die.

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