Harry Robinson – grew up among a large family of strong protestant women. His mother, and her many sisters have guided him throughout his life. His mother, Agnes, worked hard to ensure that he has a college education. She now works as a real estate agent. This at a time when it was uncommon for women to work outside the home.Niamh Kilgariff – arrived in New York after a dreadful voyage in steerage. She and her younger brother Patrick have come to America because of an arranged marriage planned by her Catholic parents. The day she finally lands in Pennsylvania she is married to Martin Gill, a man several years older than her. A man of whom she knows very little. The overriding reason Niamh did what she did is in the hopes of securing a brighter future for her beloved brother Patrick. Niamh is desperately home-sick for her family in Galway. She works hard and stretches what little provisions she has to feed and care for her new husband, her brother, and seven male boarders. All of the men who live in her house work either as coal miners, or at the coke ovens. They work ten hours a day for only two dollars. Dangerous, mind-numbing, back-breaking work. And it wasn’t just the men, it was the boys as well. Children as young as seven years old were employed.
When Harry meets Niamh by chance, he immediately falls for her. However, she has three strikes against her. 1)She is MARRIED. 2)She is Catholic. 3)She is Irish.
After Harry gets his college degree he begins working in the office of the mine boss. In his free time he tutors Niamh’s young brother Patrick. Then, there is a tragedy at the mine…
Set in Pennsylvania’s coal country in the late 1800s. A time when coal was coveted to fuel the lucrative Pittsburgh steel industry, to cook food, and to heat homes. Coal made the wealthy richer, and the mining of it sickened and even killed many of the penurious workers. Safety measures at the mines were almost non-existent. Toxic gases and mine collapse were a constant threat to their working lives.
“Powerful men sacrificing weaker men for profit.”
The immigrant experience is eloquently described here. The desperate plight of the poor souls newly arrived in the United States with little more than the clothes on their backs. The vast courage it must have required to leave home and loved ones behind to start over in a new country among strangers.
The prejudice against the Irish and other ethnic minorities was abundantly evident. The dire lives of the mine workers and their families were saddening to read about. Filthy living conditions, little food, fewer pleasures, and the never-ending debt to the ‘company store‘.
The denouement takes place almost fifty years after the events in the bulk of the novel and is written almost like an epilogue. Historical fiction laced with a love story, this novel has a poignant ending.
I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from Blank Slate Press (an imprint of Amphorae Publishing Group) via Edelweiss – at my request, for my own reading enjoyment and the writing of this review.
ISBN: 9781943075690 – ASIN: B08X4YHDB6 – 220 pages
Deborah Lincoln is the author of the award-winning historical novel AGNES CANON’S WAR and its sequel, AN IRISH WIFE. She specializes in fictional re-tellings of almost-lost stories from her own family’s past, with characters both well-known and obscure. She and her husband live on the Oregon Coast.