Book Tour - GALWAY BAY by Mary Pat Kelly

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Galway Bay
Mary Pat Kelly
576 pages, Grand Central Publishing, ISBN-10: 0446579009
About the Book

In the bestselling tradition of Frank Delaney, Colleen McCullough, and Maeve Binchy comes a poignant historical family saga set against the Famine.

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 American

Letter From The Author

The bones of Galway Bay come from my own family history, a story I discovered slowly over decades of research. In the beginning tracing my roots meant cranking through reels and reels of microfilm in a fruitless search. To access the U.S. Census records I needed the address where the Kelly’s first lived in Chicago, which I did not have.

Then I realized my father’s first cousin, Sister Mary Erigina, BVM might know. She did. Born Agnella Kelly in 1889, she had in fact lived with her great grandmother Honora Kelly. Agnella lived to be 107, her mind sharp and her interest keen.

Now I found the right reel. Here were the names of Honora’s children, their ages, but nothing about where they came from in Ireland. Finally I followed the trail to Galway and discovered at last the record of the birth of Honora Keeley, September 15, 1822. And the place? A fishing village right on the shores of Galway Bay. The cottages were gone but the Bay was the same. I stood on the beach looking out, and could almost see my great-great-great-grandfather John Keeley setting out in a pucán, guided by a knowledge of winds, currents, and the patterns followed by the fish themselves that he’d learned from past generations. I went to the site of the fish market in Galway City and imagined Honora and her mother selling the catch under the Spanish Arch, bargaining and trading, handling money. Rare for women of that time. How did that shape their character?

I found that after Honora married Michael Kelly, they moved. Spidery handwriting in the church register recorded the births of each of their children, including my own great-grandfather, Patrick Kelly, and gave the name of their townland, a farming area in the hills above Galway Bay. I found the actual acres they had rented from the landlord and knelt down and touched this special piece of earth. Then I wondered how they’d coaxed a living from the stony ground. I knew the wheat and barley they raised went to pay an exorbitant rent. They relied on potatoes as their staple food. I now understood the songs that praised the wonder of the potato. The rich might have disdained the pratties, but the nutrients in these humble vegetables, unknown at the time, allowed my ancestors and their neighbors to thrive. Large healthy families were common, until the blight came and the inherent injustice of the system meant over one million died. And yet two million escaped, one reaching back for the next—the Kellys among them. Gone to Amerikay.

As I continued my research, American history came alive for me as well. The Civil War—brother against brother—a description I’d often heard. But when I found a descendant of the Mulloy family who had shared land with Michael Kelly in 1840, I began to really understand. Eugene Mulloy’s ancestors had lived in Nashville for generations. Had the sons of these Irish neighbors fought against each other in the terrible war?

I think all those who explore their family tree find that the experience changes them. History is not presidents and generals, battles and dates, it’s us! In these difficult times knowing what our ancestors survived is soul-sustaining. Think of it—wars, famine, genocide, the middle passage, slavery—and get here we are. I felt inspired by my ancestors and profoundly grateful for the life their endurance gave me. I hope Galway Bay inspires you to celebrate your own heritage.

The Internet has transformed the process of genealogical research. I have listed here some sites I find very useful. You can find more information on my research for GALWAY BAY at

If you’re of Irish heritage, do go to Ireland—I suggest you knock on doors in the area that your family came from. You may not find a relative, but I can guarantee you’ll meet a friend and be offered a cup of tea.
The Statue of Liberty - Ellis Island Foundation
Newberry Library (Chicago)
U.S. National Archives
Ireland has done an amazing job of computerizing their genealogical records.
Here’s a way to connect to the County Genealogical Centers
Tourism Ireland has a helpful guide called Tracing Your Ancestors in Ireland. Visit their website: Tourism Ireland - for more information.

Also, Author Mary Pat Kelly will participate in a Blog Talk Radio interview at 11 AM ET TODAY! Click here for more information.

This book tour brought to you, courtesy Hachette books!

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3 People said

  1. I adored this book. Just stopping by as part of the tour.

  2. Hi there Just stopping by on the tour. Michael and Honora vowing that their children will live is just the most power part of this book. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

  3. This was such a great book. The fact that it's based on the author's real-life ancestors makes it even more special.

    Diary of an Eccentric


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