I am delighted today to provide a review for you at my blog stop for Kelegeen by Eileen O’Finlan on the Great Escapes Virtual Book Tour. Scroll down to enter your chance to win the Giveaway!
Publisher: BWL Publishing Inc. (March 1, 2018)
Paperback: 433 pages
Kindle ASIN: B07B52K2TB
Meg O’Connor, daughter of poor Irish cottiers, eagerly anticipates her wedding to Rory Quinn. Her dreams of marriage and family vanish along with Ireland’s potato crop when Kelegeen’s inhabitants awaken one morning to find their sole source of food destroyed by blight.
At first Meg and Rory are able to use their skills, hers of sewing and his of wood carving, to provide for themselves and their families. But tragedy and a costly mistake end those means of survival forcing them into more dangerous ventures.
As An Gorta Mór, the Great Hunger, continues to churn through Ireland ravaging the country’s peasantry with no let up in sight, Meg is compelled to make the most difficult decision of her life. What she chooses could be the salvation of the O’Connor and Quinn families or it could separate her forever from all she knows and loves.
I love the cover, the premise, and always a good historical novel. Of course, my grandfather, bless his blatherskite heart, claimed a connection to Cork. I think most have heard of the Great Potato Famine of Ireland between 1846 and 1849, as it certainly led to a large population of immigrants to America. But that was never the whole story. There was something even darker than the blight growing in the background.
As crops failed because of the blight, people began running out of food. The potato crop meant sustenance through the ensuing winter. But failing their normal stores of food meant people scrambling to find work to buy what they could with pennies for wages. It would appear, however, that the English began a systematic effort at thinning the Irish population. They took the land and became unrepentant landlords, evicting the occupants and destroying the cottages, boycotting stores of food sent by other populations, and placing a tax which starving populations had no way of paying.
This novel focuses mainly on two families, the O’Connors and the Quinn’s, along with priest Father O’Malley. There are certainly other families playing support roles in various forms, from the family of the town drunk to the family who fails to lend to neighbors, zealously guarding anything they were able to hoard. Others became susceptible to diseases that starvation promotes and quickly the casualties of their small community. Meg O’Connor and Rory Quinn are looking forward to a wedding when the famine hits, delaying nuptials. Quinn’s family runs the worst of bad luck and soon the craft Rory was using to bring in money is squashed, literally, with his hand.
There is no light at the end of the tunnel here–the famine continues through one winter and growing season after another, soon forcing activities none would have thought capable.
The character of Father O’Malley is exceptional. He is well developed and so completely sympathetic you want to cry with him when he must perform Last Rites. He seems to have an inexhaustible fortitude and always goes out of his way to care for his parishioners. Meg is a scrapper. Seems she can manage whatever the heinous task she must perform, along with her mother who steadfastly teaches by example and holds the family together.
Along comes an English doctor. I kept waiting for his other shoe to drop. It appeared to me he was trying too hard to be accepted by the Irish in his territory and I wondered what mischief he could heap on those willing patients.
Meg eventually decides that she must go to America. There is jobs, money, opportunity and she’ll send money home hopefully to be able to reunite with Rory, which whom she is committed in a rather ingenious way, I thought.
I was left trying to figure out where Kelegeen is located. I would have loved descriptions of the town and people. The Catholic priest at the forefront commanded a great deal of philosophy and had me wanting to light a candle for him but the narrative might have been tightened or shortened somewhat, generating a faster pace. It certainly pointed out issues over-riding the major problem (that of the blight) exacerbating the tragedy (the English). It was well-plotted, highly researched, and detailed.
For the sensitive, the conclusion is emotional, wringing out all the poignant issues of pushing off to the unknown, leaving loved ones behind. I received this digital download from the publisher for this Great Escapes Book Tour. It’s powerful and recommended.
Truly a masterpiece of historical representation! War is not the only way to defeat a people. The Romans did it at Masada by isolating the Jews and starving them out. The Irish were starved and nearly wiped out by a famine exacerbated by lack of support and a naval blockade of Irish ports. An import fee was charged at the British ports even on charitable foodstuffs for the victims. Thus, we have this tragic expose of the plight of hundreds of thousands of Irish men, women, and children unfold.
A terrible attack was waged against the Catholic religion when Henry the Eighth persecuted the church and its’ clergy. Many priests and bishops were killed or exiled. Whole communities were decimated by an English aristocracy with cold and calculated barbarism. A potato famine yielded little or no food for the tenant farmers. However, the citizens had to pay a rental fee every six months for land that had been confiscated by the British. If the rent was not paid their small bungalows were destroyed following eviction. At times 10 or 12 people occupied the house with their animals and all their meager belongings.
This book chronicles the lives and trials of a young couple and their families in these tragic times. Most neighbors were happy to help others when they had the ability. Having a house with many small children and mouths to feed makes for extreme hardship. The parish priest does his best to help assuage the suffering and comfort his people. Some of the men turned to drink to help forget their inability to provide for their wives and children.
Escaping to America and Australia were sometimes the only way to help families at home. Getting the small fee for passage often took food out of the mouths of the family. The mental toll on the families and priests tasked with their spiritual well-being was beyond heartbreaking.
This book is not easy to read, but understanding of that difficult time is truly eye-opening. Prepare to love the characters and pray for the souls lost in this tragedy. 5 stars – C.E. Williams
Sign up for your chance to win one (1) print copy of Kelegeen on this Rafflecopter giveaway
Rosepoint Publishing: 4.25 of 5 Stars
About The Author: Eileen O’Finlan calls her writing “history with a twist” because she is intrigued by the unusual and little known aspects of history – the stories on history’s margins, the things rarely taught in the classroom. For her, that’s where history really gets fun.
Born in Springfield, Massachusetts, her family moved to Worcester when she was two. Four years later they moved to Holden where Eileen grew up and where she now resides with her 93-year-old mother and two cats.
Eileen holds a Bachelor’s degree in history and a Master’s Degree in Pastoral Ministry. She works full time for the Diocese of Worcester and teaches online courses in Catholic studies for the University of Dayton, Ohio. She is proud to say that Pope Francis owns a copy of her debut novel, Kelegeen. Erin’s Children, the sequel to Kelegeen, will be released by BWL Publishing, Inc. in December of 2020.
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/eileenofinlanauthor/ ;
Twitter: https://twitter.com/eileenofinlan ;
BWL Publishing, Inc. Author page: http://bookswelove.com/o-finlan-eileen/
Thank you for visiting my stop on the tour and please visit the other stops listed below!
May 21 – My Devotional Thoughts – REVIEW
May 22 – Baroness’ Book Trove – SPOTLIGHT
May 23 – eBook Addicts – SPOTLIGHT
May 24 – Literary Gold – EXCERPT
May 25 – Celticlady’s Reviews – SPOTLIGHT
May 26 – Rosepoint Publishing – REVIEW
May 26 – Christy’s Cozy Corners – CHARACTER GUEST POST
May 27 – Jane Reads – GUEST POST
May 28 – Gimme The Scoop Reviews – EXCERPT
May 29 – Ruff Drafts – SPOTLIGHT
May 29 – Escape With Dollycas Into A Good Book– AUTHOR INTERVIEW
May 30 – StoreyBook Reviews – CHARACTER GUEST POST
May 30 – fundinmental – SPOTLIGHT
Thanks to Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review this historical fiction novel!
©2020 CE Williams – V Williams