How It’s New York: Kate Kerrigan’s latest book is OF New York; it’s called Ellis Island: A Novel
and she’s reading from it on the 6th, 12th and 13th in different venues. The book is about Irish people who choose to go back to Ireland after living in our fair city, and was inspired by a visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue.
How It’s Irish: Kate was London Irish, and lives in Ireland now. And of course, it’s a book about the relationship between Ireland and the US, told through the personal.
See Kate at: Paddy Reilly’s Music Bar, 6 October, 9:30-LATE
Literary and music event reading from my novel Ellis Island and performing with traditional Irish musicians to evoke the words and songs of emigration represented in the novel.
The Tenement Museum, 12 October
Kate will read from Ellis Island and present a lecture on my how her Irish heritage has influenced her work – including slide show of family pictures, interviews with her mother and taped audio of her grandmother talking about her life in Mayo at the beginning of the century.
Bookmarkshoppe Reading, 13 October
Reading and signing at cook Brooklyn bookstore
Details on events are in the scrolling calendar at right!
“It’s easy to imagine that, if you squint your eyes, perhaps you can catch a glimpse of Ellie lugging her valise as she makes her way up the avenue. Or perhaps you see your own nana, granny, or gran. The buildings may have changed, but the essential immigrant story remains the same. “
The City of Dublin hosted a book festival in early March of this year. Authors, publishers and readers took over pubs and tearooms, bookshops and libraries, even City Hall. A literary feast was spread out before me. I couldn’t wait to get started.
As I approached City Hall I came upon a jaunty looking a camper van. The back was flung open, and there stood two young women wearing neon green Dublin Book Festival vests that made them look like literary crossing guards. Indeed, they behaved like crossing guards, cheerfully guiding me into the camper van because they were sure that I’d enjoy a visit to Kate Kerrigan’s traveling parlor.
I peered in to find Kate Kerrigan herself. Kate—whose real name is Morag Prunty, but who uses a pseudonym drawn from her middle name and her husband’s surname—smiled and waved me in. Kate explained that she drives her camper van around to festivals so that people can sit down in her little bit of living room to “read a poem, sing a song, or tell a story over tea and biscuits.” What a lovely modern variation on the old tradition of the traveling bard.
In the few minutes before Kate was scheduled to appear on a panel, she revealed that her agent, Marianne Gunn O’Connor—who represents the likes of Colm Tóibín, Roddy Doyle and Cecelia Ahern—had sold her novel Ellis Island to Harper Collins USA.
This is the first in a trilogy that tracks the feisty heroine Ellie Flaherty Hogan as she crosses the Atlantic to New York City and back home again to County Mayo. Ellie only plans to stay in Manhattan for a year—just long enough to earn the money to pay for an operation her husband John needs. She covers thousands of miles to New York City, but much of Ellie’s journey in Ellis Island is an interior one. Who is she when she reaches New York if not a wife? And who is she, upon her return to Kilmoy, without the clamor of the city, her office job and her glamorous clothes? More importantly, who is she now that she’s tasted the freedom of the New World?
Not only does Kate draw parallels between the physical and emotional distances Ellie has travelled, she deftly builds her heroine’s growing sense of dislocation by juxtaposing the vivid natural world of County Mayo with the thrum of Jazz Age New York. There’s an unforgettable scene where Ellie first steps onto the solid ground of her new country, and thinks to herself: “Ireland was in my heart, but under my feet was America.”
It’s this kind of writing that might drive the curious reader to hike the same path. It’s easy to imagine that, if you squint your eyes, perhaps you can catch a glimpse of Ellie lugging her valise as she makes her way up the avenue. Or perhaps you see your own nana, granny, or gran. The buildings may have changed, but the essential immigrant story remains the same.
That immigrant story—intimate yet universal—is one that Kate is well equipped to tell. She’s lived her own version of it. Reared in London as an Irish child during the 70s when it wasn’t good to be Irish—not when IRA bombings were rocking the English capital—she spent welcome summers with grandparents at their home in Ballina, County Mayo. Irish to the English and English to the Irish, Kate has had to navigate the difficult path of belonging to two nations at once.
After a stellar career in the British magazine world, she moved to Dublin in 1990 to act as editor for Irish Tatler. Seven years ago she moved her young family west to rural County Mayo so she could be closer to her mother.
Kate can easily recall conversations with her maternal grandmother, who was born in the early 1900s and serves as a prototype for Ellie. And Kate’s mother remembers her own grandmother, so Kate has access to family stories as far back as the mid-1800s.
Like Ellie, Kate is a hearty Irish woman—a self-described “no messing, no plastic surgery, get-on-with-it woman.” This runs in her blood. A beloved family story tells of Honora Boyle—Kate’s great-great grandmother. One Saturday night in January 1839 there was a massive storm in Mayo. The wind was so strong it ripped slates and beams and rafters off the roofs of houses and sent the debris whipping through the streets. Called the Great Wind, this maelstrom was in fact a hurricane that not only unroofed houses but blew sheep off the mountains and tore thousands of trees from the ground.
During the night of the Big Wind, Honora’s husband was out playing cards with a neighbor so she was left all alone to protect her family. When the house rocked and creaked with a gale force wind, Honora climbed onto the roof and held the thatch down with her body. Sheer determination and what physical strength she possessed kept her house from being blown apart. That’s where Kate comes from, she says. “I want to write about, I want to be that sort of woman.”
Kate is coming to New York next to promote Ellis Island. There’s a series of events lined up in a variety of venues. There’s the traditional bookshop reading, a presentation at the Tenement Museum, a bit of craic during the Irish American Writers and Artists monthly salon at the Thalia Café, and a night of rousing stories and song at Paddy Reilly’s that’s sure to raise the roof. Let’s show Kate what New Yorkers are made of and give her a hundred thousand welcomes of her own.