Stitch and Bear

A long-running Irish blog with reviews of the best restaurants in Dublin and throughout Ireland. Some wine and cocktails thrown in for good measure!

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Walking People - Mary Beth Keane

This is an impressive debut novel from talented writer Mary Beth Keane. The story moves through the different eras and settings with panache and ease, capturing the moods of the times and the characters perfectly.

Ireland in the 1950's was rampant with emmigration and many young people left their homes to seek work and fortune abroad. Gretta and Johanna Cahill, along with Michael Ward leave Ballyroan, a decaying village in the far West of Ireland to find work in New York.

Gretta is regarded as a "goose" by her family, a little distracted, but she is sent to America in the company of her more able elder sister. Michael is a member of the travelling community (or one of the Lucht Siúil, or Walking People) who does not want to live the life of a travelling gyspy any further. In Ireland, he would find it hard to live as a settled person, but America offers new opportunities.

It is in America that the roles of the Cahill sisters reverse as they make their new lives for themselves.
The book moves from the beginning of their lives in the late 1950s through to the end of their working lives in the late 2000s. The secrets that this trio share will echo throughout their entire lives culminating in the final scene of the novel.

Although I did not life the initial opening scenes of the novel, I rapidly found my opinion changing as I continued to read. Keane's writing style captivated me and drew me into the lives of her characters. Keane does a magnificent job in capturing different facets of Irish culture. She interweaves the Irish disaspora with the traditional disdain for the travelling community as well as presenting a story of family secrets. An excellent read.


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