Review

Galway Bay

by Mary Pat Kelly

When he first laid eyes on Honora Keeley, Michael Kelly thought
she had to be a mermaid. When she initially saw him, she thought he
might be one of those gypsies her folks had warned her against.
From the magical moment they met, Honora's plans to enter
Presentation Sisters Convent were forgotten for grander life plans,
and the rest was history. And there is truly no better word for
GALWAY BAY by Mary Pat Kelly than "history."

In the fashion of the cadre of great epic novels that preceded
it (think ROOTS, think GONE WITH THE WIND), GALWAY BAY traces the
fate of an entire nation of people by telling the story of one
family in 19th-century Ireland. Against the desires of her family,
Honora marries the handsome Michael, and they start a family in a
community of fishermen and potato farmers. What happens next is no
surprise to anyone who knows the fate of the Irish population
during The Great Starvation, more commonly referred to as the
Potato Famine. Three times in four short years, blight devastates
the crop Honora's people live on; what survives is confiscated by
landlords of the farms. The end result is the death of a million
Irish folk, and Honora and her family are forced to make a
life-changing choice in order to save their own lives. They decide
to make the dangerous trip to "Amerikay," where life will be
better.

After two months of travel, Honora, her brood, her sister Maire
and her family enjoy their first American meal --- biscuits and
milk --- in New Orleans before finally making the trip to Chicago,
where they hope to locate Michael's brother, Patrick. What they
find instead is further hardship --- their sons are tempted to join
the Hickory Boy gang, Maire considers work in a brothel when no
other job presents itself, and 10 family members crowd into a few
rooms.

But then the tide turns. Maire accepts a job as a clerk in a
store, working her way up until she finds herself working closely
with Marshall Field, a familiar department store name. Patrick
surfaces and becomes a provider and patron saint to the family,
sharing stories of growing up with Michael, getting the grown boys
jobs and giving them money to move into larger quarters.

Throughout everything Honora and her family experience, the
history of the Irish people is front and center. Mary Pat Kelly
tells Honora's story -- which, it turns out, is the tale of the
author’s family --- in great Irish tradition, with the flair
of mythology and lyrical language. The Irish are a strong lot, and
the Kelly family exhibits that resilience in abundance. One can't
help but root for the Kellys and hope they are one of the success
stories of the great Irish Emigration. If Mary Pat Kelly and her
skill for historical fiction is any indication, they survived to
tell another great tale of the willful and independent Irish who
would not be undone by tragedy.

Reviewed by Roberta O’Hara on January 22, 2011

Galway Bay
by Mary Pat Kelly

  • Publication Date: February 9, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 0446579009
  • ISBN-13: 9780446579001