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Galyway Bay (2000)

by Mary Pat Kelly(Favorite Author)
4.09 of 5 Votes: 2
review 1: I enjoyed this book about Irish farmers who were forced to come to America after the great potato blight in Ireland. However, I kept getting confused with the dialect that is patently Irish; I did not discover until the end that there is a glossary in the back. Duh! At any rate, I did feel that once the family was in America, the story dragged a bit, and I found it harder to complete the novel. I'm going to give this another read in the hopes that I'll have a better time with it.
review 2: This is one of those wonderful multigenerational family sagas steeped in Irish history that spans six generations, a story of joy, sadness and heroism. Honora Kelly is a young girl living with her brothers and sisters in a small Irish village on Galway Bay where farming a
... morend fishing are the mainstays of life. Every farmer and fisherman pays exorbitant rent to both the landlord and the agents who sell their produce and catch, so despite backbreaking work they are forced to live on the edge of poverty. But they are a people, determined to be happy with what they have and work hard to make a life for themselves. The story begins when Honora Kelly, barely sixteen and on the threshold of entering the convent to become a nun, meets Michael Kelly and in a one defining moment decides to change her vocation to that of wife and mother. Kelly is a wanderer, horseman, and blacksmith. He attempts fishing but fails because he cannot stomach the high seas, so instead he becomes a farmer so he can marry and support his new wife. The story follows Honora as she and Michael celebrate the first years of their happy marriage blessed with three children. When the potato crops are mysteriously hit by a raging blight three out of four seasons, “the bad times” come with a vengeance. Many die as their staple food and main means of income vanishes. Thousands die, either from starvation or fever. The dead are quickly buried, many in mass graves although some do not even get into the ground before they are ravaged by wild dogs. Those on the brink of starvation but strong enough, emigrated to the United States.This is a great tale of a people determined to survive against all odds. Despite hardship and oppression they create a place for themselves steeped in the values of their time, a time that included loyalty to family, strict religious rules and the art of story telling. Prayer, religion and ritual play an interesting part in this tale. Strict religious edicts whose interpretation was often determined by individual priests sometimes caused great sorrow but it was also the one thing many turned to when there was nothing else to hang on to. Honora and her sister Maire have very different values and beliefs but they are very close and support one another through life’s difficulties and challenges, vowing to survive with their families. Their relationship is an interesting one as the characters are well drawn and believable and the lives and that of their children are intertwined throughout the book.I learned a good deal about Irish history from this volume. Honora Kelly was a true person and indeed a great, great ancestor of the writer. Meticulous research enhances the story’s authenticity as it mirrors the true story of thousands who suffered through “the Great Starvation”. The calculating inhumanity of the landlords during this period is not only incredible but despicable. The Irish were treated as if they were not human, and as they died off the English claimed ownership of their land, ignoring contracts and deeds. When there were only a few farmers left, they were forcefully evicted and their homes burned by soldiers. Meanwhile the badly needed stocks of food were leaving the docks in the bay, bound for other markets.This story is not short (550 pages), but is well written and easy to read. There are many Irish words in the text, which at first I found distracting and I was constantly running to the Internet to get their meaning. It was only after about one hundred pages that I realized that there was a small glossary tucked in at the back of the book. It would have been nice if they’d mentioned that somewhere in the beginning. I don’t naturally go to the back of a text before I start it.When you look at the fact that at least one million died during the famine, another two million escaped from the country to save themselves and that these immigrants and their descendants now number about forty four million, you can only shake your head in wonder. A tale of triumph, of survival over adversity and the power of determination and strength to survive in the face of horrific circumstances.A really great book. less
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I occasionally had trouble keeping the multitude of characters straight, but otherwise a good book.
One of the best books I've read in a long time.
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