The Hungry Road is a novel by Dublin author Marita Conlon-McKenna detailing the plight of the Irish at the time of the potato Famine.
Downloaded digitally from the Library, with my Covid brain I initially baulked at the 88 Chapters. There was no need for trepidation: this was an easy read.
The story opens optimistically enough in June 1843 as crowds gather for the Monster Repeal Meeting in Skibbereen in West Cork to hear their hero speak. Here we are introduced to our protagonists – farmers Mary and John Sullivan, Dr Dan Donovan, and local priest Father John Fitzpatrick – and each have a separate story reflecting their changing Ireland.
Life in Skibbereen quickly plummets with the arrival of potato blight which after successive years results not only hunger, poverty and disease but the death of millions.
The hard working Sullivans are eventually turfed off their plot for non payment of rent and like millions of Irish before them take the arduous voyage by ship to New York in search of a better life.
Interestingly, Dr Donovan was a real-life character who became medical officer at the workhouse in Skibbereen in 1839. His notes from that period appeared in several publications in Ireland and England in the 1840’s as Diary Of A Dispensary Doctor which helped to shine a light on the suffering of the people of West Cork. The author weaves information from his writings into her story making the retelling of the appalling living conditions in Ireland at the time all the more authentic.
This book could have been better marketed as Class 101 : A Guide to the Irish Famine Without The Politics and is highly recommended for Young Adult readers. Personally, I’m happier to retain all the history regardless of how unpalatable. Hopefully it is then something we can learn from.
About The Author
Marita Conlon-McKenna (born 5 November 1956) is an award-winning author best known for her Famine era historical children’s book Under The Hawthorn Tree. A prolific writer she has published over 20 books for both young readers and adults. No stranger to West Cork, her mother’s people came from Skibbereen and her grandmother is buried in Abbeystrewery cemetery, which also contains a mass grave where some 9,000 coffin-less Famine victims are buried.