With grateful thanks to Tony Riches for publising this article on his website. @tonyriches
Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US When they meet, Jane and Annie have much in common. As young Irish women in the 1840s, they both know the value of family, home and friendship. Even more importantly, they understand the need to survive against a backdrop of famine, disease and cruel colonial rule. With Ireland crumbling around them and peril at every turn, can these tenacious women overcome the arc of history and create a better life? On writing my first novel.
By Bridget Walsh "The Great Hunger" inspired me. It is the classic history book that inspired me to write about the Irish Famine, or, as it is known in Irish, An Gorta Mór.
Cecil Woodham-Smith, née Fitzgerald, spent many years researching the causes of the Famine and how the people of Ireland suffered during the Famine years between 1845 and 1849. She published the book in 1962.
My copy is a bit battered and by now I almost know it by heart. The first sentence reads, "At the beginning of the year 1845, the state of Ireland was, as it had been for nearly seven hundred years, a source of grave anxiety to England."
The book goes on to recount the struggles between Britain and Ireland that would result in one million deaths with another million survivors fleeing for their lives to North America and England.
I began writing my first novel, "Daughters of the Famine Road" in 2012. I wanted to read a story about the struggles of women and girls in this terrible time, so I took Toni Morrison''s advice and began to write one.
What is my connection to Ireland?
My own parents had emigrated from Ireland in the 1940s, one hundred years after the Famine. Emigration had not ceased. Twentieth century emigration was to find a life where my parents could find work and marry and raise a family. There was very little employment for working class men and women in Ireland at that time.
The economy was rural based, my father had done some part-time labouring in a country house garden for a local Wicklow landowner, then enlisted in the Irish army for the duration of the Second World War.
Photo taken in Passage East, Waterford in 1978 of my mother and father and my daughter: Bill Doyle, Julia Doyle and Nancy Carnell, nee Walsh.
My mother had worked as a skivvy in another country house near her home in County Waterford until she followed her sisters to England during the War and signed up for the ATS. There were no prospects and no money for them and thousands of other young Irish women and men in mid-twentieth century Ireland.
I was the child of these immigrants and had, and still have, an abiding curiosity about the country of my ancestors. This heritage has led me to write these three novels about the Irish Famine.
Back in 2012, I wrote up the first chapter of what would become "Daughters of the Famine Road." I left the chapter in a folder because I didn't know where to go with it, or what my protagonist might do. Annie Power was the main character from the beginning. She was a young Waterford woman, as that was an area of Ireland that I was familiar with. As an adult, I had lived and worked there for twenty years. I married and raised my children there.
I continued to read about nineteenth century Ireland and discovered Jane Elgee, a historical character more famous now for being the mother of Oscar Wilde. I discovered that Jane Elgee was a poet and a Nationalist during the Famine years and knew straight away that I wanted her to be in my novel. I also researched the Young Irelanders who wanted to free Ireland from the British Empire that had colonised their country for hundreds of years.
Study, work and writing
Between 2012 and 2019, I was working full-time at a Further Education College in Northampton and that job took up most of my time and energy. I wrote some poetry in my spare time and continued my research.
Eventually I was able to retire and decided that I needed to sort out my writing skills if I was ever to finish the novel I had started. I signed up for a Masters in Creative Writing with the Open University and began. I used the first chapter I had written as a basis for my studies. One of the things I learned was that a main character needs a friend to confide in and to talk to. I created another female character, Jane Keating, and the story began with the appearance of the potato blight in 1845.
I had all the characters I needed, both Jane and Annie had families and both young women would both come into contact with the middle class nationalists in Dublin through Jane Elgee, (or Speranza, the pen name she used). I had my cast of characters. The novel felt as if it needed a further instalment, to complete the story so I decided I'd go for broke and write a trilogy.
I self-published my first novel in March, 2022. At first, while I was still studying and writing assignments on the Masters’ degree, I submitted the novel to various publishers and agents. Unfortunately, no-one wanted it.
I got to the point where I felt that I had wasted a lot of time submitting. I was convinced that all my hard work would stay on my lap-top if I didn't try to get it published. I then looked at self-publishing as a way to get my story out into the world. At the time, I was working on the second novel, "Daughters in Exile".
I began to research how to self-publish a novel. I found Reedsy Free Book Editor (www.Reedsy.com) and uploaded my Word doc. Reedsy is a free online writing tool that allows authors to format and create professional ePub and print-ready files. With my files ready, I then signed up to a free KDP account (https://kdp.amazon.com/) and uploaded both to create a paperback and an e-book version of my novel. I decided to invest in a professionally designed cover and chose Latte G. on Reedsy's Marketplace. I uploaded my beautiful cover and was ready to publish. My story is out in the world, I published the second in the trilogy, Daughters in Exile, in October 2022. I am now working to publish the final story, "Daughter of Éireann". I feel that I have done some justice to the many women and girls who left Ireland, with nothing, to make a life for themselves over the last almost two hundred years. One of them was my dear mother, Julia Doyle, nee Heffernan, from Passage East, County Waterford, Ireland. Bridget Walsh # # # About the Author Bridget Walsh is descended from Irish immigrants in Leicester, England, and says, "I was steeped in Irish Catholicism and surrounded by my Irish uncles and aunts, my father’s siblings, who had followed him over to find work in England when there was none to be had in Ireland. As a second generation Irish woman, I have always been fascinated by the complex relationship between Ireland and Britain over many hundreds of years. I read about Democracy, Empires and Colonialism. I read lots of non-fiction about An Gorta Mór, the Irish Famine, but I was particularly interested in how women and their families managed in this terrible time.'
When Bridget retired from full-time work in Further Education, she gained a Masters degree in Creative Writing, and began her Irish Famine Trilogy. Find out more from Bridget's website https://www.bridgetsjournal.com/ and find her on Twitter @bridgetw1807