Irish author tackles devastating Famine tragedy in latest book

Irish author tackles devastating Famine tragedy in latest book

AUTHOR Jacqueline O’Mahony’s second book, Sing, Wild Bird, Sing, is based on a Famine-era tragedy.

Set in Ireland at the height of the Great Hunger, it was inspired by a devastating incident that transpired in Doolough, county Mayo, in 1849.

Records state that roughly 400 starving people walked 10 miles from Louisburgh to Doolough in Co Mayo, in terrible weather, to seek help from their English landlord - but when they got there they were turned away.

Many died by the banks of Doolough Lake as they made the arduous journey back home.

Today the tragedy is commemorated by a famine memorial and a walk between Louisburgh and Doolough, which O’Mahony herself recently undertook.

The Cork-born writer, who lives in London with her husband and three children, retells the tragic tale of Doolough through lead character Honora O’Neill in Sing, Wild Bird, Sing.

In O’Mahony’s book, newly-married Honora walks with the starving people of her husband’s village, barefoot across the mountainous paths of Doolough to seek help from their English governors only to be refused.

A Famine memorial located in Newport, which is part of the county's famine's walk

This week Jacqueline O’Mahony took time out to talk to The Irish Post…

What are you up to right now?

I’m taken up with sending my second book, Sing, Wild Bird, Sing, out into the world and wishing and hoping all good things for it.

Summer is here, what do you have planned for the season?

I was in West Cork in July, and then I’m in Montana this August.

My family are from West Cork, so it was a kind of homecoming for me to be there, but our house is bordered by the sea and that’s always felt like a full stop at the end of a sentence to me, whereas Montana is a big, wide, open place where I can ride my horses towards a faraway sky.

What are your goals for 2023?

I don’t have goals so much as hopes: I’m wary of setting myself goals, because the idea of a goal to me is something with a very definitive ending, and I don’t think like that.

I hope my book finds keen readers, I hope I write a perfect sentence for my third book, I hope I’m deserving of the happiness I’ve been given.

Author Jacqueline O'Mahony (Pic: Nicola Schafer)

Who are your heroes?

Artists, because it’s really hard to create something out of nothing and to keep on doing it in the face of rejection, or disdain.

What record sends a shiver down your spine?

The music that plays over the kissing montage at the end of Cinema Paradiso.

Which musician influenced you most?

Bob Dylan, because his lyrics are poetry, and he showed me how you can put words and music together in a new and strange way and make something beautiful, and meaningful.

What is your favourite place in Ireland?

West Cork, for the people, and the always changing colours of the land and the sky.

What makes you angry?

The thoughtless destruction of the natural world. I can’t bear, for example, to see a tree being cut down. It just seems like such an act of violence to me.

What is the best lesson life has taught you?

That if you want something badly enough, and are prepared to do what it takes to get it, most things are within your reach

What do you believe in?

I believe in being hard working and honest and I believe in love.

What trait do others criticise you for?

I’m very indecisive. I need all of the information before I’m willing to commit to a choice.

Sing, Wild Bird, Sing is released on August 1

Where do you live and what are the best and worst things about that place?

I live in London. It’s great for having a lively cultural life, for the restaurants, for the feeling that you’re somewhere where significant things are happening. But it often feels too big to manage and to get around. And it’s grey.

On what occasion is it OK to lie?

To save yourself, or someone you love from danger, of course lying is the least you’d do.

What do you consider the greatest work of art?

Shakespeare’s works.

What is your ultimate guilty pleasure?

I don’t feel guilty about any of my pleasures, because I think if I did, the guilt would ruin them for me, and that would destroy the pleasures, and so I’d give them up. So far, I’ve managed to pursue pleasure guilt free.

Sing Wild Bird Sing, published by Lake Union, is available now and costs £8.99