Galway Bay

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Here at last is one Irish family's epic journey, capturing the tragedy and triumph of the Irish-American experience. In a rousing tale that echoes the myths and legends of Ireland herself, young Honora Keeley and Michael Kelly wed and start a family, inhabiting a hidden Ireland where fishermen and tenant farmers find solace in their ancient faith, songs, stories, and communal celebrations. Selling both their catch--and their crops--to survive, these people subsist on the potato crop--their only staple food. But when blight destroys the potatoes three times in four years, a callous government and uncaring landlords turn a natural disaster into The Great Starvation that will kill one million. Honora and Michael vow their children will live. The family joins two million other Irish refugees in one of the greatest rescues in human history: the Irish Emigration to America. Danger and hardship await them there. Honora and her unconventional sister Maire watch their seven sons as they transform Chicago from a frontier town to the "City of the Century", fight the Civil War, and enlist in the cause of Ireland's freedom. The Kelly clan is victorious. This heroic story sheds brilliant light on the ancestors of today's 44 million Irish Americans.

In the author's colorful and eclectic life, she has written and directed award-winning documentaries on Irish subjects, as well as the dramatic feature Proud. She's been an associate producer on Good Morning America and Saturday Night Live, written books on Martin Scorsese, World War II, and Bosnia, and a novel based on her experiences as a former nun - Special Intentions. She is a frequent contributor to Irish America Magazine and has a PhD in English and Irish literature.

Customer Reviews:

  • Galway Bay
    My grandmother was among other things a big reader and a history buff. She loved history. She knew all kinds of stuff, random stuff, stuff no one else seemed to know. She collected facts like some collect bottle caps or stamps. She knew her stuff. And she knew where she came from and made sure that I did too.

    I am a mutt, like most Americans I expect. Among many, many different ethnicities, I am Irish. Best I can tell, my ancestors came over well before the potato famine, but the famine did not go ignored by them. Although she was born after the famine, Mama knew all about that as well. And she had a healthy, shall we say, `non-appreciation,' for the English. So I came to Galway Bay with an excitement to learn more about my history and with the expectation to put a human face on the tragedy I had heard so much about. Mary Pat Kelly delivered that and so much more.

    Galway Bay is the fictionalized story of Mary Pat Kelly's great-great grandparents and their struggle to survive not only the Irish potato famine, but also the move from their beloved Ireland to America. We meet the young Honora Keeley and Michael Kelly by the shores of Galway Bay. It's love at first sight. They wed and start a family and their farm. They find solace from the troubles of their world in each other, their children, their faith, songs and stories of Ireland. These stories are shared, passed down generation by generation; and remains a theme throughout the book - the passing down of history by the ones who came before. Years of famine and abuse by the English government wear down on the family until; finally, they make the heart wrenching decision to move to America.

    I won't tell you any more. I don't want to give too much away. But this tale to two sisters, their amazing strength, perseverance and faith is heartwarming, heartbreaking, and inspiring. The author did an amazing job of telling these stories of her ancestors and of Ireland. I highly recommend it. Even if you aren't Irish, I think you'll enjoy it. ...more info
  • It was an honor to read this..
    We meet Honora Kelley as she's preparing to enter the sisterhood, something that has been planned for her to do since she was a young girl. Instead, though, she sees a man who appears to be drowning in Galway Bay. This man is Michael Keely, and they fall in love at first sight. Despite many challenges, they eventually marry. Galway Bay is the tale of one Irish family's quest for survival, despite the many tragedies that come their way. One can't help but feel enlighten and encouraged by the Kelly family's triumphs and dedication to the future and survival of their family. The characters were strong, well rounded and unforgettable. Mary Pat Kelly, a descendent of the Kelly family, definitely has a great talent for writing. Her research and passion for her descendant's history is evident. Her portrayal of the Kelly family experience was never sugar coated, it was always true to history. It was an honor for me to be able walk with this family and learn about a part of history that is not often detailed. Galway Bay touched my soul like no other book has for some time. If you haven't picked up a copy of Galway Bay, do it now. You won't be sorry.
    ...more info
  • Triumph by Surviving
    Two million Irish people escaped the Great Starvation, then reached back for the ones who came after, forty-four million completely American but always Irish people. They saved themselves, helped only by God and their strong faith. Galway Bay is the story of how they turned the tragedy of exile into triumph by simply surviving.

    This historical novel comes from stories handed down from Kelly's great-great-grandmother; and, though it's fiction, it is rooted in research done over a period of thirty-five years in Ireland and the United States.

    Two sisters--Honora and Maire--both widowed in their early twenties--do not conform to the usual stereotype of nineteenth-century Irish women. They pulled together and defied the odds as they traveled with their children on a boat from Ireland to Chicago by way of New Orleans. Their parents stayed behind, believing they were too old to start over and wanting to finish their days by Galway Bay.

    Kelly tells a wonderful love story with a history lesson--especially for those connected in some way to the Irish. Her novel gives the reader an appreciation of what they went through to save their way of life. The potato famine that we've all heard about becomes real when you read about those that lived to tell how horrendous it was. And they had songs, stories, communal celebrations, faith, and family life to bring them happiness. And just like any mother, they feared for their boys who were saved from the Great Starvation in Ireland and then marched off to fight each other in the Civil War in America.

    The sisters and their offspring were Americans and they were Irish, but their descendants had no notion of Ireland--an inheritance that was lost to them.

    It's far away I am today
    From scenes I roamed a boy
    And long ago the hour, I know
    I first saw Illinois.

    Tis all the Heaven, I'd ask of God
    Upon my dying day
    My soul to soar forevermore
    Above you, Galway Bay.

    Life is circles and spirals--as carved into the great stones of Ireland--to show that nothing really ends.

    by Doris Anne Roop-Benner
    for Story Circle Book Reviews
    reviewing books by, for, and about women...more info
  • Galway Bay Is An Unforgettable Story
    Not knowing much about Irish history, and only knowing that in the 19th century there was something called the potato famine, I looked forward to reading Galway Bay by Mary Pat Kelly. I learned an enormous amount about Irish history and the horrors of the potato famine.

    Galway Bay is the story of the Kelly family starting in the "before times", that time before The Great Starvation. The inhumanity shown the Irish by the English, the landlords, and the agents, during the potato famine is incredible, treating the Irish as less than human. But the Kelly family vows to survive, and survive they do--on less food than many of us throw away in one day. As more and more Irish die of starvation, the English have great plans for taking over the land left idle and so begin evicting those who remain. With nowhere to go, the Kelly's make their way to America, first to New Orleans and then Chicago.

    This is a marvelous sweeping family saga told with an ear to the Irish bent to storytelling. The story swept me in and held my attention with every page. Honora Kelly, the main character telling the story, was actually a real person, the great-great-grandmother of the author. She is perhaps the strongest woman I have ever read about, surviving unbelievable hardships all the while loving and raising her children and making her way in America. This is a woman I will long remember.

    If I had one complaint, it would be that the story of their time in New Orleans and Chicago was not long enough. I wish the author had added another 100 or so pages and made this time longer. The description of the life and times of early Chicago was just fascinating and I would have loved to read more. But that is a small complaint compared to the grand scope of this story and the wonderful characters portrayed.

    I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Irish history or anyone with Irish ancestors. If I could award half stars, I would definitely give this book 4-1/2 stars.
    ...more info
  • Great Epic Novel
    This is a must read for those who had Irish ancestors that came over during the Great Famine. The story made me appreciate my ancestors tenfold for the path they made for the current generation. The characters are of great strentgh and perservance. The depiction of them is so realistic with their obstacles and joys in their lives. Love and faith is what sustains this remarkable family. I couldn't put this book down. Don't let the amount of pages deter you from reading this. It was a great read....more info
  • History at its best
    Reviewed by Irene Watson for Reader Views (5/09)

    The story begins during The Great Starvation, a famine in Ireland resulting from a potato blight between 1846 and 1851 when a million people starved to death. During this time about 2 million Irish refugees immigrated to the United States, including the main characters in this story.

    Hardship, domination, poverty, and suffering are themes that run through "Galway Bay" by Mary Pat Kelly. However, the characters also discover happiness, faith, family connections, and cause for celebration. The two main characters, sisters Honora and M¨¢ire, although having different characteristics and beliefs, aren't the typical nineteenth-century Irish women. They complement each other in the plot while expressing their beliefs about their sons' going to battle in the Civil War. The story is heart-wrenching, yet joyful. The character development is so great the reader is fully drawn into the story and becomes the character themselves.

    I particularly enjoyed this book because of the Irish ancestry, span of generations, and the reality of the plot. Although "Galway Bay" is a novel, much of it is based on truth. Being a buff in family history research, I became more familiar with the Irish lines.

    Mary Pat Kelly is a master at writing. Her knowledge and research of Ireland, the Irish-American culture, and her understanding of family life during the era is impeccable. "Galway Bay" is one plot that will stay with you for a long time....more info
  • Great Irish Family Saga
    In this enthralling saga of the Irish experience in 19th Century Ireland and then America, Mary Pat Kelly draws from her own family oral history, putting the story of her ancestors' struggles into novel form.

    As the story opens, Honora Keeley is about ready to enter the convent as Ms. Lynch's star pupil to honor her family. But enter Michael Kelly, the charismatic wanderer who turns up one day as she is washing her hair in the local stream. It's love at first sight. Michael and Honora convince her family that she will make a better wife than nun. You'd think this would be the beginning of a wonderful life for the two, but remember this is an Irish story and what would a good Irish story be without tragedy and grief, with a little bit of martyrdom thrown in?

    Although I think it would be unfair to the reader to detail the story and tell too much, suffice to say it is a struggle as they deal with English landlords, then the blight and subsequent starvation and illness. Eventually the families make their way to Amerikay but with poverty and then the civil war looming over them, their struggles are far from over.

    Liberally sprinkled with Irish stories and legend, this is a family saga spanning the time from the 1830s to 1893, and it isn't all doom and gloom. The family ingenuity and strength does win out in the end. But what is in between is as good as it gets. The author should be proud of her work telling her family's story. The original Honora Keeley Kelly would be pleased.
    ...more info
  • I loved this book.
    Amazing!! History and character and love and grief. Just a perfect book. Mary Pat Kelly has given us an epic story of the Irish famine and a true picture of the people who suffered. A beautiful book. ...more info
  • Captivating read
    It's not every day that a book of this caliber comes along. I read for a living (I'm an editor) so I tend to be pretty picky about the books I read during non-office-hours.

    Having always had a love of all things Irish, I picked up Galway Bay on a whim and was sold when I read Frank McCourt's glowing review (Angela's Ashes is one of my top 10 favorites of all time.) Needless to say, I wasn't disappointed.

    Kelly's writing is incredibly unique--it's a magical blend of poetry, stream-of-consciousness, and mythical storytelling. I could feel the myst rolling over the hills, see Michael Kelly coming out of the sea, hear the sound of Jamesy's tin whistle. I felt like I was back in Ireland--and I almost bought a plane ticket!

    The most remarkable aspect of this book is the way Kelly conveys the resilience of the Irish. They suffer through sorrow after sorrow but they never let go of hope.

    This is a wonderful portrait of an unflappable people, and I would recommend it to anyone who loves Ireland, strong heroines, or exceptional historical fiction. ...more info
    I highly recommend this book if you are looking for richly drawn characters and a compelling story.

    Author Kelly relates the saga of her great, great grandmother, Honora Kelly. After losing her husband to the famine in Ireland, Honora journeys to America with her five children and settles in Chicago.

    Kelly's descriptive writing captures what life in 19th century Ireland and Chicago must have been like.

    For lovers of historical fiction and the telling of a good tale, "Galway Bay" is a must read.

    ...more info
  • Show of courage, strength, and endurance
    What a pleasure to be in the audience for Mary Pat's appearance at Women & Children First bookstore in Chicago. Although not even a bit of Irish, I was captured by her storytellling and started reading her epic the very same evening. To use her favorite phrase, I took up "residence" in her words. I think that the story of the Kelly family is a show of courage, strength, and endurance for anyone who is feeling the stress of our times. Thanks to Mary Pat for that telling....more info


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