An Irish-American author's new historical fiction novel offers a fascinating insight into life on the Aran Islands in the late 19th century and life in the immigrant communities of New York during the Gilded Age.
"Irish Eyes" by Hope Tarr follows the story of 18-year-old Rose O'Neill, who emigrates from her home on Inishmore following the death of her older brother during the Spanish-American war of 1898.
Rose, who has promised to marry an American soldier who served alongside her brother, arrives in New York alone at the turn of the century.
Abandoned and alone, Rose must survive the infamous New York tenements and poor working conditions to forge a life in the US.
The book, which begins on the Aran Islands in 1898, takes readers through the tumultuous events of the early 20th century from Rose's perspective, including the outbreak of the First World War and the Easter Rising in Ireland.
It also takes readers through the Gilded Age, when the US experienced a rapid economic boom, and finishes in the Jazz Age of the 1920s.
The book explores the struggles and successes of the Irish-American community in the early 1900s, focusing on the Tammany Hall machine and the Irish dominance of the fire department.
Tarr told IrishCentral that she was keen to focus on historical events that had a direct impact on the immigrant community in New York at the time instead of generic historical events. As a result, the book offers an insight into the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of March 1911, which left 146 immigrant workers dead. Meanwhile, the book only includes a passing reference to the assassination of President William McKinley, which had a much smaller impact on immigrant communities in New York's tenements.
Tarr also revealed that she undertook extensive research of life on the Aran Islands in the 19th century to faithfully recreate Rose's home in Inishmore. She said she drew on the writings of Irish writer JM Synge, who spent several summers studying the culture of the Aran Islands at the turn of the 20th century.
She said Synge kept a diary that provided such vivid descriptions of the islanders that it was like "looking through someone's family photo album".
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Tarr, who has written more than 20 books during her career, described "Irish Eyes" as a highly personal project.
The author, whose ancestors emigrated to the US aboard coffin ships during the Great Hunger, said she was inspired to write the story while looking out at the Aran Islands from the Cliffs of Moher during a trip to Ireland in 2008.
"I remember looking out from the vantage point and seeing the trio of Aran Islands. Suddenly, the story of my protagonist started forming in my mind," Tarr told IrishCentral.
She described the book as a 15-year project that was almost published on several occasions in the past and said it is "enormously satisfying" to see the book released.
Irish Eyes is the first of a three-book series entitled the American Song Book Series, with each book named after an iconic song from American history. All books will follow Rose and her descendants, with the second book in the series - "Stardust" - set to follow Rose's granddaughter in Nazi-occupied Paris during the Second World War.
Irish Eyes will be released on December 7 and will be available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and all good bookstores. Click here to pre-order a copy now.