The Forgotten Secret
by Kathleen McGurl
Thank you to the author, NetGalley & Rachel’s Random Resources for the opportunity to read and review this book. The opinions given here belong to me, are my own and only mine, so help me Hermes (apparently the god of literature, amongst many other things 😉 )
The Forgotten Secret
A country at war
It’s the summer of 1919 and Ellen O’Brien has her whole life ahead of her. Young, in love and leaving home for her first job, the future seems full of shining possibility. But war is brewing and before long Ellen and everyone around her are swept up by it. As Ireland is torn apart by the turmoil, Ellen finds herself facing the ultimate test of love and loyalty.
And a long-buried secret
A hundred years later and Clare Farrell has inherited a dilapidated old farmhouse in County Meath. Seizing the chance to escape her unhappy marriage she strikes out on her own for the first time, hoping the old building might also provide clues to her family’s shadowy history. As she sets out to put the place – and herself – back to rights, she stumbles across a long-forgotten hiding place, with a clue to a secret that has lain buried for decades.
For fans of Kate Morton and Gill Paul comes an unforgettable novel about two women fighting for independence.
KATHLEEN MCGURL lives near the sea in Bournemouth, UK, with her husband and elderly tabby cat. She has two sons who are now grown-up and have left home. She began her writing career creating short stories, and sold dozens to women’s magazines in the UK and Australia. Then she got side-tracked onto family history research – which led eventually to writing novels with genealogy themes. She has always been fascinated by the past, and the ways in which the past can influence the present, and enjoys exploring these links in her novels.
Social Media Links –
Twitter: @KathMcGurl https://twitter.com/KathMcGurl
I thoroughly enjoyed this story, and will definitely look for more from this author.
So what’s it all about?
The historical element centres on the relationship between Ellen O’Brien & Jimmy Gallagher – she’s an upstairs maid, he’s a Volunteer, fighting for a free Ireland. They’ve known each other since childhood, and everyone agrees they are made for each other. While Jimmy is off fighting, Ellen moves into Carlton House as a maid, sharing a room with another girl, Siobhan. Ellen is trusted by the employer, Mrs Carlton (aka Madame) and helps the Cause by carrying messages in milk cans, as well as nursing a Volunteer friend of hers, Captain Cunningham. Cunningham fought alongside Jimmy and, once returned to good health, he leaves the house to do so again.
But soon, Jimmy & Cunningham are both forced into hiding as the Black and Tans are looking for them. Ellen is desperate to see Jimmy, and is aided by Madame to spend one last night with Jimmy before he has to flee again. During this brief reunion, Jimmy gives her his medallion by way of an engagement ring, and the two of them look forward to a time when they can marry and live happily. Once Jimmy has gone, Ellen finds out she is pregnant. She cannot work at the House anymore and has to return to her father’s home, but her conscience tells her to warn Madame of her room-mate’s betrayal. Before she can do that, Madame is captured and taken to prison.
Ellen’s father is ashamed of her pregnancy and sends her away to the Merciful Sisters – a Magdalene laundry for fallen women. She has the baby and calls him James, then the wait begins. She expects her father or Jimmy to come and collect her. When it becomes obvious that no one is coming, Ellen escapes from the laundry and goes to look for her father – leaving baby James behind to be looked after by her friend Mairead.
Her father has gone, fled Ireland, stating there was nothing to keep him there – not even her or his grandson. Ellen visits Jimmy’s family farm – Clonamurty farm – which she knows as well as her own. The place has been destroyed, turned upside down and is empty apart from a few bloodstains. She leaves the medallion and baby James’ birth certificate in their secret hiding place, hoping jimmy will find it and know she is okay and that he has a son. She heads back to collect her son, and on the way meets Captain Cunningham, who pulls her to safety when the Black & Tans march past looking for any Volunteer fighter. The captain and Ellen agree to meet in two days’ time at her father’s house, where he hopes to give her news of Jimmy and his family.
However, on returning to the laundry, she is told the baby died, and is shown a mound of earth meant to be his grave. She leaves, numb and distraught, and heads for her father’s home to await the captain.
His news of Jimmy is not good, and he takes Ellen to live with his sister. Having lost everyone who meant anything to her, Ellen has to learn to live and love again.
In modern times, Clare is married to Paul when her uncle Padraig leaves her the family farm in Ireland, Paul, who is uber controlling and most annoying, wants to sell the farm and has plans to spend the money on things that he wants. He makes no attempt to include Clare in the decision.It comes as no surprise that Clare wants to leave him, his controlling nature has finally broken their relationship. She considers starting again in Ireland, and when her sons urge her to do so, then she makes the big move. As expected, Paul is gobsmacked, he cannot believe she is going and he fully expects her to return in a few days. After all, who will cook his meals and iron his shirts? He truly is a ‘piece of work’.
In Ireland, Clare befriends the owner of the village cake shop, Janice, and the bookstore owner, Ryan. Paul still pesters her with snide messages and tells her she’ll be running back to him in no time.
She tidies up the farm and vows to fill it with items of furniture that she loves, for a change. With a hobby of refurbishing old furniture, she spots an old armchair that she feels sure she could restore. Taking it apart, she finds Ellen’s medallion and the birth certificate, which inspire her to know more about the people who lived in her new house before her family, and to trace her own genealogy.
To be honest, the story falls apart a little at this point for me, as she seems to dwell on the former inhabitants of the house, more so than her own family, only learning that Granny Irish was a spy in the war of independence. She doesn’t trace her own family any further than that and is more interested in the medallion and the birth cert.
While she is happily settling in, Paul still has other ideas and his plan to get her back is both extreme and maniacal. It is the final nail in the coffin of their marriage, and Clare realises for certain that there is no going back to being his wife.
With Ryan’s help, she manages to trace baby James – and the story that follows here is as beautiful as it is sad as we learn what happened back at the Merciful Sisters, and also how Ellen’s life panned out.
The twist at the end succeeds in misdirecting the reader. The penny dropped for me about halfway, but it was nicely hidden until the big reveal towards the end.
I enjoyed the history of this story, knowing very little about the Irish fight for independence. The whole story had a great cast of characters, aside from Paul and some evil nuns! The author handled the issues of what happened in those laundries with great sensitivity, and the controlling husband of modern days was dealt with most effectively too.
I read the whole book in short space of time, always keen to pick it up again. I felt like I was immersed in the lives of both women, living their lives and understanding their thoughts and emotions.
I would highly recommend this book, and would read more by this author in a shot.
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