THE LEAVING COAT is an elegantly written, historical fiction novel by Irish author Margaret Mulvihill. In today’s post, Margaret explores her inspiration and the historical background for this Irish emigrant saga of the American frontier.
THE LEAVING COAT tells the story of a newly-arrived Irish emigrant to New York in 1895. Searching for her lost sister, who unexpectedly stopped writing home from America, Norah Doolan’s journey takes her across America to Montana, on a quest for freedom, fulfillment, and truth. Along her way she learns to live and to love in the New World.
A truly scenic novel the reader is transported from the wilds of Ireland’s western shores, to the streets of New York, to the big skies of pioneering Montana. Norah Doolan is an Irish emigrant to be admired. A dauntless survivor, Norah’s innate strength and determination make her a charming, captivating heroine.
THE LEAVING COAT is a sweeping tale of peril and providence, self-discovery and revelation, and a truly credible love story. Margaret Mulvihill’s writing is warm and inviting, with a deeply authentic insight into the Irish character.
In Margaret’s own words …..
“THE LEAVING COAT begins with the departures of the women who wear it, first Lizzy Doolan and then her sister Norah. They are fictional female Irish emigrants and if they weren’t living – in my imagination – in the 1890s, some sort of disclaimer might be called for: “any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.” As it happens, any resemblance between the story of Lizzy and Norah Doolan, and the actual experience of some of those many thousands of young females who left Ireland for America in the last decades of the nineteenth century, is entirely deliberate.
Lizzy Doolan sees herself as a cut above the steerage-class girls in their lumpy outfits and as a schoolmaster’s daughter – and a fictional character! – she does have more options. She’s dreaming of the bright lights of America at a time when artificial light was as phenomenal as it was urban, and the reality, for most female emigrants, was pretty dismal.
While the men were making it heroically, in gangs, the women were on their own. They disappeared into kitchens and factories, evolving in due course into the stereotypically slovenly, simple-minded or (at best!) stalwart Biddy. The tragedy and sheer embarrassment of stories like Typhoid Mary’s is, perhaps, one reason why it is still not widely appreciated that, in the final decades of the nineteenth century, as many women as men – in some years more women – emigrated from Ireland to America.
These colleens were braver than they knew and they deserve better than the condescension of posterity. They had heads as well as hearts and wombs. THE LEAVING COAT is not a thesis: I made it all up. But I don’t think it’s too much to imagine that, like Norah Doolan, many a “true-life” female pioneer discovered for herself that blood isn’t necessarily thicker than water, and that people, good or bad, are fundamentally the same all over.
Few emigrants lived long or prosperously enough to become “returned Yanks”, regaling the folks back home with their largesse and their adventures. Usually, for the friends and relations left behind, the emigrant’s farewell was like a funeral, the last time they would see that person in the flesh. For the leavers, of course, the sadness was leavened with the promise of a new life, and a chance to shake off all kinds of shackles. These days, when there is little or no premium, when it comes to employment and visas, on youth and rude health, that freedom is enviable.”
Born and raised in Ireland, Margaret Mulvihill studied history at University College Dublin and Birkbeck College in London, where she settled and still lives. Until the mid-1980’s she worked as an editor and copy-writer of illustrated magazines and family reference books, before becoming a novelist and freelance writer.
A big thank you to Margaret for sharing her novel with us today. It is available in Kindle and electronic format from Amazon.com. You can also follow Margaret’s writings on her blog, aptly named The Leaving Coat.
Slán agus beannacht leat!
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes. I do not receive payment for my book reviews. My first responsibility is to my readers and I am committed to honest reviews. All opinions given are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”