Isn’t that a pretty cover? I just love the cover…..
A terrible plague has devastated the potato crops of Ireland, leaving many families with naught to eat. The McGilray family is fortunate; Fiona’s Da has a steady job working at Lord Conray’s flax mill and he is able to provide food for them.
But one day, Da returns with terrible news – Lord Conray is shutting down the mill because it has not brought in enough revenue. Da is losing his job.
The McGilray family still has enough food – for the present. But as week after week goes by and Da is unable to find more food, their supplies dwindle. Fiona and her siblings must go to bed hungry at night and wake up hungry again in the morning. They begin to lose their strength and will to work. Is this what starving feels like?
After Fiona’s sister Maeve dies of weakness and typhus, Fiona decides to take action. Kind people from America have sent a ship load of corn meal to the poor people of Ireland, but it is being unjustly held by the English Lords. Fiona manages to slip into the warehouse and extract a small amount of grain without being seen. She returns several times over the next few weeks, bringing Da and her brother Patrick with her. All is going well, until the dark night the guards spot Da prowling near the warehouse. They arrest him and threaten to lock up the children as well. Ma decides that it is time for Patrick and Fiona to journey to America and live with Ma’s cousin Eleanor until the whole family can join them. It breaks Fiona’s heart, but she agrees.
Will Patrick and Fiona make it safely to America? Will they be able to find their cousins? And will the McGilray family ever be united again?
I loved the close family bond that existed among the McGilray family. Rather than drive them apart emotionally, the hardships they face make them even more closely-knit together. When Patrick and Fiona travel to America it is in the hopes that they can all be re-united there and live a better life, away from the starvation and prisons. Fiona often writes and dreams about her family being together again and what a splendid time they will have when that day comes.
When I picked Fiona McGilray’s Story up, I knew that I was taking a big chance. It seems as though all of the fictional diaries and accounts of young girls who lived during the eighteen hundreds are riddled with modern attitudes and dialogue. But Fiona wasn’t. On the contrary, it was refreshingly straightforward and emphasized the values that would have been prominent at the time of the story.
The McGilray family is Catholic. Fiona prays to Mary once or twice, and she and her brother attend a midnight mass on Christmas. On one page Fiona’s father says, “God and Mary be with all in the house” and her mother replies, “And God and St. Patrick be with you.”
When Fiona’s sister Maeve dies, Fiona is made angry and questions why God would do such a cruel thing to her family. Later her brother Patrick declares that God wouldn’t choose to hurt their family and their suffering was due to man’s cruelty.
Fiona has a dream that she returned home and all of her family had turned into skeletons. This dream isn’t described, just stated.
It’s hinted that Patrick likes Peggy.
Fiona discovers that her mother put cow’s blood in their soup for extra nourishment.
Fiona and her family break into a warehouse and steal some grain which was sent from America to the poor, but which the landlords are holding illegally. It’s actually not stealing at all because it rightfully belongs to them.
My last point isn’t really a caution so much as a question of historical accuracy. Fiona comments in one place about the “Londenderry Aire” which her father sometimes calls “Danny Boy”. Londonderry Air did exist in the eighteen fifties, but the Danny Boy lyrics were not written until the beginning of the nineteen hundreds.
Also, the ending reads a wee bit like a fairy tale, not because any magic is involved, but because everything turns out very right.
Conclusion. Fiona McGilray’s Story is a story of historical worth that teaches the value of family relationships. I fully recommend it.
Review © 2013 Laura Verret