Historically accurate epic of the Irish potato famine veers into gothic romance territory but keeps its eye on the Fenian prize.
Honora Keeley is swollen with pride, if nervous, to have been accepted to “the first convent allowed to open in Galway City since Cromwell.” She’s a sweet 17-year-old, not quite innocent enough not to know what’s happening when she first lays eyes on Michael Kelly—or rather, “the maleness of him—growing before my very eyes.” But Galway is no place for tender young lovers, especially not Catholic ones, when times are so hard and the Protestant masters of Ireland so cruelly bent. As long as we have “pratties” (potatoes), our heroes reason, nothing can happen to us. But then the pratties take ill, and after resisting the bad-guy landlords to no avail the young wild geese of Galway Bay take flight. They wind up in Chicago, there to become the tribe of the lace curtains. Kelly (Special Intentions, 1998, etc.) writes with deep but lightly worn understanding of Irish history and its complex strains: Celtic, Norman, Saxon, Catholic and, yes, Protestant. She evinces and elicits sympathy for people caught up in forces well beyond their control, and for those who aim to take control and change bad situations, such as the transplanted rebels who have it in mind to travel up to Canada to whip up an insurrection against the British. The pace is a bit too leisurely, each scene lasting a few beats too long, but Kelly delivers a story whose end grows from its beginning, and whose middle has plenty to keep readers occupied.
A satisfying tale, with few surprises for those who know the territory, but no false steps.