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Monday, May 27, 2013

Monday Musings - The Irish Lady

I just finished reading The Irish Lady by Jeanette Baker. It is really two stories in one, which merge together as it heads toward the final climactic courtroom scenes.

For someone like me who is of Irish descent, I thoroughly enjoyed the history and backdrop.

It follows Meghann McCarthy's extraordinary journey from the day Protestants attacked her Catholic neighborhood and left her an orphan. The family who took her in had sons who turned to the Irish Republican Army and then to Sinn Fein. One of them, Michael Devlin, was her first love and her great love, a man she turned her back on because she could no longer remain in the very troubled region of Belfast. She moved to England, where she became a successful attorney. But when she is called back to Belfast to defend Michael against the murder of a prominent British politician - a murder he didn't commit - she is forced to confront the demons of Northern Irish history and come to terms with both her past and her future.

Interspersed with Meghann's story is the story of her ancestor, Nuala O'Donnell. Nuala's story haunted me. It takes place during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, a time in which fiefdoms ruled Ireland, a time in which the regions' religions were directly tied to its politics and its future as Mary Queen of Scots struggled to take the crown from Elizabeth. It is the dying of a way of life that had existed for centuries and which, under Elizabeth's strict rule, is facing its final, desperate moments. When Nuala marries Rory at the age of fifteen and makes his castle her own, she has no idea that within ten years' time she will give birth to and lose nine children and give birth to a tenth who belongs to the man who captured the castle while Rory fought elsewhere. It is a time when a woman has no rights of her own but is her husband's possession. A time in which, because her husband decreed it, she must give up her tenth and only surviving child to the man who raped her.

This is the first book I've read by Jeanette Baker, but it certainly will not be the last. She is from Irish heritage herself and obviously knows the country and her subject very well. Because I have distant cousins still in Ireland, it was particularly moving. Both stories are gripping and as they converge during the climactic courtroom battle to save Michael's life, it is one I could not put down.