But that morning will change the course of Honora's life. Out of the sea, fresh from an early swim, walks a beautiful young man, tall, dark haired. Michael Kelly. Within the space of an hour there is no going back, fate has brought them together and they are determined to be married.
There are obstacles. Michael is not a fisherman, has no land or money. But, despite the problems, they are wed and they are happy. Maire is not, she is quickly widowed and then is forced to become a servant to a tyrant landlord. She is the one bleak spot in the otherwise happy life of the Kellys. They have a small farm at the top of a hill overlooking the Bay and, though the work is hard and the rent high, they manage to feed their growing family and find joy together.
"I was used to the give-and-take of a large family, where one broke in on the other, splintering sentences, bouncing thought away from meaning. But Michael and I listened to each other, each waiting as the other found words for what we'd never said before, never even thought before, giving shape to dreams and to fears. I'd no idea I was such a worrier - the ifs and buts that flowed out of me. Michael teased them away."
And then the unthinkable happens. In 1845 the potato harvest, the staple of the Irish peasant diet, is blighted and rots in the ground. The hunger and suffering that winter is terrible. When the potato crop fails two out of the following three years, the result is millions of deaths. The landlords and the British rulers do not care and attempts to help are mired down in bureaucracy and are ineffectual.
Honora watches her children starve, her neighbors die, and she dreams of finding the means to escape, to buy passage to another place where her family can live and grow: America. She is far from the only one, the ships are filled with Irish immigrants trying to find a better life. The voyage is dangerous and many die before they even reach North America. But some make it and they send back the means for the next one to escape. An entire race of people, trying to rescue each other.
She does escape, with her family and Maire's. Not without losses and terrible grief, but Honora has strength of spirit, strength of character, strength of will to sustain her loved ones and find a place where they can prosper.
All great historical fiction is rooted in fact and Galway Bay is no exception. Mary Pat Kelly is the great-great-granddaughter of Honora Keeley Kelly. The author has followed the great Irish storytelling tradition and created this fictionalized account of her own ancestors, an epic saga of one family's journey through one of the darkest hours in human history. It is a story of faith, of family lore and ancient tales, of great suffering and the triumph of the human spirit.
I am, as so many Americans must be today, part Irish. This book brings home the terrible destruction of the Great Hunger in a way that has never been clear to me before. Because it is personal story, one family's struggle that could be any family from that place and that time. Fiction, maybe, but with the weight of truth behind it.
Read Mary Pat Kelly's inspiring letter, visit her blog and her website. There you will find more about this book, plus information and inspiration for looking into your own family story, your ancestry.
Please join us at 11 AM Eastern Time on Tuesday, March 17th for a live St. Patrick's Day interview with Mary Pat Kelly on Blog Talk Radio!
See what everyone else on the blog tour thought about Galway Bay: