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Galway Bay    by Mary Pat Kelly order for
Galway Bay
by Mary Pat Kelly
Order:  USA  Can
Grand Central, 2009 (2009)

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* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

Released just in time for St. Patrick's Day, Mary Pat Kelly's Galway Bay is an epic novel about the Great Starvation in Ireland and the emigration to America that ensued. Yeah, yeah. I know. It's been done before. But this one grabbed me and held me in thrall as I lived the lives that Irish people lived. Before the potato famine, their existences were unimaginable by today's (at least Western) standards. When the potato blight hit, bad went to worse. What indomitable spirits. To suffer the losses they did and to have the little they had taken from them in brutal circumstances.

Honora Keeley, about to enter a convent, meets Michael Kelly emerging from the sea after a swim. Their destiny is unavoidable. Their struggle to provide for their growing family is tempered by concern for the rest of their kin and their neighbors. When the potato blight hits, if one household in that small region on Galway Bay has any food, it's shared with others. In that manner they do keep a fair number of people from emigrating or dying. But when their homes are tumbled down and they are forbidden to stay on their land, they have no other option but to take to the roads - and end up eating grass. Help from the British government (sparse and quixotic) depends on an official doling out meager bags of corn and flour.

I won't go into any more of the story. Discover for yourself what happens to this brave and caring family. I knew of the covert rebellion that ensued in Ireland but was unaware of the recruitment of Irish in America at that time including the part the Irish played in the Civil War on American soil. Frank McCourt declares Galway Bay to be 'Laughter and tears and pure magic.' It's a magnificent book, wonderfully researched and written, that makes me proud to have Irish heritage.

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