In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, this month we’ll give a nod to the wearin’ of the green with a series of stories featuring Irish characters and settings. For as the old Irish saying goes:
“Always remember to forget
The friends who proved untrue
But never forget to remember
The ones who stuck by you.”
And what friend is better than a great book? So raise a glass of green beer to your current favorites, and may you find new ones in the list that follows!
Although all of the books touch on The Great Hunger, the Irish potato blight that began in 1845 and was responsible for the death of over a million Irish men, women and children and the migration of two million more, we’ll begin with the stand-alone by Michael Grant, IN THE TIME OF FAMINE.
Featuring an upstairs-downstairs interaction between the families of the landlord, Lord Somerville, and one of his tenant farmers, Grant’s book unveils the struggles from two very different social perspectives. Michael Ranahan, the tenant’s son, dreams of a new life in America and escape from being yoked to the land. But when the blight strikes, his family needs his strong arm—and the passage money he’s saved—to survive. Unlike some of the Anglo-Irish overlords who see the blight as God’s judgment upon the unworthy Irish, Lord Somerville has compassion for his tenants and does what he can to help their situation, sometimes to the indignation of his peers and even that of his rebellious daughter, who scorns the Irish as “bog runners.” With evocative scenes of love, betrayal, sacrifice and survival, Grant’s book paints a vivid picture of the times.
We move on to a reader’s delight: two multi-book series that follow the lives of Irish families at home and after migration to America. The first book of Ann Moore’s Gracelin O’Malley Trilogy, GRACELIN O’MALLEY introduces us to the title character whose life and loves are featured in each of the three volumes. Named by her father for “the light of the sea that shone in her eyes,” Gracelin’s happy childhood is interrupted when tragedy strikes. Their circumstances continue to worsen, and at age 16, to keep her family from ruin, Gracelin must put away her dreams of love and marry the son of the local landowner. Though she does her duty by her erratic husband, Bram Donnelly, Gracelin never loosens her tight bond to the family from which she came. With desperation wrought by the famine and political insurrection in the air, she courts danger by secretly aiding the Young Irelanders, the insurgent group her brother Sean has joined, and their dynamic leader Morgan McDonagh. Full of courage, hope, passion, and heartbreak, Moore’s first volume leaves readers eager see what happens next in Gracelin’s journey.
Volume Two of the trilogy, LEAVING IRELAND, has the heroine fleeing her native home with her young daughter. After a harrowing transatlantic voyage on a “coffin ship,” Gracelin finds New York less a haven than a challenging new environment she must master, rife with crime, corruption and prejudice against the Irish newcomers. To her delight, she is reunited with her brother Sean, as well as the compelling man she’d thought never to see again. Her fierce desire for fairness and equality draws her into friendship with a runaway slave and involvement in the abolitionist movement. But acquaintance with the rich and powerful in America is no more a guarantee of justice for those she loves than it was in Ireland
The trilogy concludes with ‘TIL MORNING LIGHT, which finds our heroine leaving New York for post-Gold Rush San Francisco. Making yet another arduous journey with her two children, Gracelin intends to meet at their destination the sea captain who has proposed to her. But upon their arrival, she is unable to find her prospective husband, and finds herself without funds or friends in a wild young city ruled by gangs and filled with former soldiers and professional gamblers. Determined to make a new life for her family, she takes a job as a cook for a prominent local doctor, continues to search for her brother, and hopes for a life and love that will make her secure forever.
In her four-part (more novella than novel-length) Irish Family Saga series, Jean Reinhardt weaves her own family’s history into stories that explore Ireland in the grip of famine and poised on the brink of revolution. A POCKET FULL OF SHELLS introduces us to fisherman James McGrother and his wife Mary. As famine takes hold and friends and family flee abroad, James and Mary choose to remain in their homeland. Though James ekes out a living from the sea, the couple and their young daughter must draw on their love for each other to weather poverty, illness, and separation.
Their story continues in A YEAR OF BROKEN PROMISES. The Great Famine is over, but life continues to be difficult in a slowly-recovering Ireland. Broken promises, involvement with a sly solicitor, the local constable and a secret underground organization complicate James and Mary’s efforts to live a simple life together.
In A TURNING OF THE TIDE, Reinhardt’s characters are challenged again as, amidst political turmoil, James is drawn by friendship and old loyalties into circumstances that could put him and his family’s safety at risk from an old enemy.
The final volume, A LEGACY OF SECRETS, features James and Mary’s grown-up daughters. Secrets from the past pit Catherine against her sister and force her to make agonizing choices between the two people she loves most, while her husband Patrick dreams of changing society to make life better for their children.
Are you saying “Erin go Bragh” yet? Whether you are Irish by blood or Irish by inclination, here’s hoping you will find a tale that immerses you in the magic of Ireland well past St. Patrick’s Day!
About Julia Justiss
Real, intense, passionate historical romance
After twelve years as a vagabond Navy wife, an adventure that took her from Virginia Beach, VA, to Monterrey, CA, to Tunis, Tunisia to Oslo, Norway and back, Julia Justiss followed her husband to his family’s East Texas homeland. On a hill above a pond with a view of pasture land, they built an English Georgian-style home. Sitting at her desk there, if she ignores the summer heat, she can almost imagine herself in Jane Austen’s Regency England.
In between teaching high school French and making jaunts to visit her three children (a Seabee in Gulfport, MS, a clothing buyer in Houston and a mechanical engineer in Austin, TX) she pursues her first love—writing historical fiction.
Series: Regency Silk & Scandal | Hadley’s Hellions | Ransleigh Rogues
Leader of Hadley’s Hellions, a group of outsiders who bond together at Oxford vowing to reform Society, Giles Hadley wants nothing to do with the earl, his father who banished him, or his stepbrother George, who is the bane of his existence. But he’s curious about the woman rumor says George is to marry, daughter and political hostess of prominent Tory Lord Witlow.
For her part, Lady Maggie finds angry rebel Giles far more fascinating than George—so fascinating, that though she has no intention of risking her heart after losing her beloved husband, she might just be tempted into an affair…