The Irish Dresser by Cynthia Neale
“God help us, Nora, we’re all poor in Ireland,” Kate says, trying to comfort me.
“But never did I see bones walking in coats,” I answer.
“Let’s be on our way before it gets too late,” Kate says, and though we are weakened from not enough food, we run the rest of the way to the O’Connors’ cottage.
Mrs. O’Connor cries out when she hears us knock on her door, “We’ve nothing in the kettle, and not even a kettle do we own now. Away from us, for we have nothing here to eat!” Mrs. O’Connor thinks that we are starving people traveling on the roads.
“It’s Nora and Kate,” I say.
The door opens and Kate and I are warmly invited in for a sup of tea. …
[Book excerpt, page 44; read more excerpts from the first three chapters of "The Irish Dresser" on Amazon.]
It’s been a while now since I finished reading this small novel about the Irish Famine called The Irish Dresser by Cynthia Neale (published 2003) but the story plays out in my mind still. It’s not just because it’s interesting to read about the famine or because it’s Irish that I like it; it’s because of the story that made that period in Irish history come alive.
The Irish Dresser is her first novel, and the sequel, Hope in New York City, will be available in mid 2007. [Update: publishing was delayed until 2011.]
Cynthia is a local writer of Irish decent, who grew up in Watkins Glen, New York and now lives in New Hampshire with her husband and daughter. Cynthia is a set dancer, too, which is how I made my acquaintance with her.
With my curiosity peaked from reading her book, I rented the only movie I know of made about the famine, The Hanging Gale. Although I enjoyed the movie, it was dark, solemn, and hopeless, perhaps appropriate for a dark, solemn and hopeless time in Ireland’s history, but Cynthia’s treatment of the subject not only described the horrific conditions the Irish lived under but also kept hope alive, even if only by a bare thread. I think this book could be made into a terrific movie and wouldn’t be surprised if it happened.
Read an “e-pinion” from a reader and a short book review. Visit the author’s website where she talks about her book and the sequel she is writing, soon to be released, a story of questioning where home is and learning that true belonging endures in the human spirit as well as in the love of family and friends. HOPE in NEW YORK CITY The Continuing Story of the Irish Dresser comes out in 2007 [update: published early 2011]. I’m looking forward to reading about Nora, the heroine in the book, who has made the journey like so many others from Ireland to America in hopes of a better life. I know, from what I know of history, that it won’t be all that she expected, but I’m not afraid to read it because there is HOPE in the title.
[Originally published by IrishThymes in 2006 - refreshed for this current blog post.]