Kilbride House by Sheila Forsey | Book Reviews | Historical Fiction

By Swirl and Thread

Kilbride House is the latest novel from Irish writer Sheila Forsey. Instilled with a passion for Irish culture and history from a young age, Kilbride House is Sheila Forsey’s debut into historical fiction. With comparisons been made to Brooklyn by Colm Toibin, Kilbride House is published by Poolbeg Press and is described ‘a story of enduring love and sibling loyalty’

Kilbride House is a novel set in the county of Kerry, one I know well, having holidayed there for years as a child and eventually marrying a local. Kerry is a wild and rugged place, situated on the south-west coast of Ireland. On the Dingle Peninsula, where Kilbride House is located, the views are staggeringly breathtaking and a sight to behold. Out around Dún Chaoin ( Dunquin) and Ventry, on the most westerly tip of the Dingle Peninsula there are numerous small townlands, many now populated with a generation who have very strong links back to the inhabitants of the Blasket Islands. These islands are set a few miles off the coast and are now just the home of the local wildlife, as the Irish Government moved any remaining inhabitants to the mainland in 1953, due to the inaccessibility and the harshness of life on the islands. For many this move was traumatic. Used to living in isolation, speaking only in the native tongue, many never acclimatised to life on the mainland.

It is from the Blasket Islands that Canice Meagher originated. Now, living in Ventry with his mother, he makes the occasional trip to England for work but when at home he will take any job available to him. When doing fence work on the land of local gentry, the Gouldings, Canice meets Victoria Goulding for the first time. The chemistry between them is instant but Canice is a Catholic from the islands and Victoria is Protestant and the daughter of wealthy landowners.

Ireland in the 1950s was a very different country to live in. A relationship between Catholic and Protestant would oft be very unacceptable in many parts of the country, as was the case in this rural community in the west of Ireland. Victoria Goulding was from a wealthy family going back generations and Canice Meagher, an island man with no money and no future secured. But love can conquer all…..or can it?

Victoria and Canice face enormous challenges from the beginning. Victoria’s mother, a force to be reckoned with, has ideas for her two daughters, both Victoria and her older sister Edith. With plans for them to marry within their social circle, she is a woman intent on success and a lowly islander is most certainly not what she had in mind for either.

2018 and Lainey has grown up under the care of her grandmother Edith Goulding. Her own mother, Catherine, is a star of the boards and has little time for either. Catherine has cut herself off from her mother, Edith, in many ways, frustrating Lainey, but also allowing Lainey’s relationship with her grandmother to blossom and grow. But now Edith has passed on. Lainey is distraught but her mother Catherine still remains cold and aloof. But on the reading of the will there is a stipulation, Edith has requested that both Lainey and Catherine have to return to Kilbride House, without any explanation, but why?

Kilbride House is a stately home, a throw back to a previous time. Now inhabited by Lainey’s aging granduncle Edward Goulding, it is but a shadow of it’s former self. Something is hidden here, some past secret that has left a shadow. Lainey and Catherine must dig deep within themselves to uncover a terrible and shameful secret that has been buried for years. With Edith after passing, the time is right to finally bury the ghost of the past. What transpired in 1954 and can the passing of time bring forgiveness to those who kept these secrets hidden?

Kilbride House is a beautiful love story, a tale of family loyalties and shocking secrets. But for me it was the very vivid descriptions of the wild landscape and the historical references to times gone past that I became so enthralled in.

‘The journey was a tapestry of scenes that made her photographic eye go into overdrive. A shifting fog gently drifted over the mountains, revealing a mystical Ireland that she had thought only existed in fairy tales. The sheer beauty of the landscape with its dramatic mountains and clear lakes astounded her. It looked like the purest place on Earth…..she remembered when she was a little girl her grandmother had told her that Dingle was the last place created – but being the last it had to be the finest, the most perfect.’ – Lainey’s words

I did have mixed feeling towards some of the characters in the novel but I had to remind myself, that when reading, I was looking back with today’s eyes and not those of the time. Sheila Forsey has a very obvious passion for the history of this island, as she weaves her tale around it’s allure but also it’s unfortunate and scandalous past. Growing up, Sheila absorbed the stories of her childhood passed on from previous generations, giving her the perfect springboard from which to write this, her debut historical fiction novel.

‘I feel haunted by the ghosts of the past. They compel me to write. During the writing of this book, I stepped back in time, into the fifties, into an Ireland that has changed so immensely that other than it’s mystical landscape, it is a different land. Ireland’s intricate past is full of different shades, and sometimes the brightest light was covered in darkness’ – Sheila Forsey

Kilbride House is a novel that looks back at the implications of poverty, class, emigration and religion on a land and on a people. Many Irish left these shores, off to make a better life working on the sites in England or searching for the dream in America. Many had success but many many more were forgotten, these emigrants who never made it back to their home, their land and remained overseas for whatever reason, ofttimes unfortunately, shame.

Kilbride House follows the path of the Goulding family, from the isolation and beauty of Slea Head on the Dingle peninsula to the lights of Broadway and the hostels of Kilburn in London. It’s the perfect read to lose yourself in, to get caught up in the romance of it all, to visualise the stunning landscapes and to feel the pain, the anguish and the suffering of generations. A very impressive historical debut, I look forward to more from Sheila Forsey in the future!

(c) Swirl and Thread

Order your copy online here.

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