The Irish Bride is an immigrant story of sorts, featuring an accidental death, an arranged marriage, and a vengeful villain. What lifts it above the run-of-the-mill is the outstanding hero and the author’s careful use of Irish dialect and vivid settings. You’ll feel like you’re right there inside the story.
Farrell Kirwan is a young lass living in the impoverished village of Skibbereen, County Cork. To help support her family, Farrell works as a housemaid in the home of Lord Caldwell, where she endures the frequent gropings of his son, Noel. Farrell longs for the day when Liam O’Rourke will propose to her, as she believes he plans to do. Meanwhile, Farrell’s greedy brother, Michael, works for Lord Caldwell as a rent collector, burning families out of their homes when they cannot pay.
On the fateful day when the story opens, Farrell has slapped Noel and run from the manor, only to find her brother has burned the O’Rourke’s cottage and paid with his life. A fight ensued between Michael and hot-headed Aidan O’Rourke, Liam’s brother, during which Michael struck his head on a stone cairn and died. Now Farrell will likely be arrested for assaulting the lord’s son, and Aidan will hang for murder. Unless they can escape.
Aidan comes up with a plan. He’ll leave for the coast and a ship bound for America, and take Farrell with him. In order to do that, they’ll have to marry. Farrell is stunned, and enormously hurt, when Liam agrees with the plan. What about their engagement? When Liam admits he doesn’t love her enough, Farrell turns her back on Ireland and sets sail for a new world.
The journey is difficult, Aidan and Farrell are nearly destitute, and Noel Caldwell follows them to gain his revenge on them both. Eventually the two end up in Oregon City, where Aidan starts a sawmill and nearly works himself to death trying to provide for his wife and thereby gain her love. Farrell, for her part, doesn’t want to love anyone, though she comes to see that Aidan is not what she believed him to be.
The characterizations are rich. Aidan, desperately in love with his wife and completely at a loss as to how to win her, is as endearing a hero as a reader could wish for. As the story progresses and Aidan leaves his wild ways behind, one gets the feeling the this is a man just waiting for his chance to prove himself in life and make something of himself, a chance he’d forever be denied in poverty-stricken Ireland. Aidan is a wonderful metaphor for frontier America of the 1850s: fresh, untamed, and bursting with energy and potential. In Ireland, he was a handsome lad; in America, he’ll be a man.
The author wisely sets her story in a place where this can happen, far from the developed states and the clouds of the Civil War looming over the time. The Oregon Territory of the 1850s might as well have been on another continent, as far removed as it was from happenings in the East, and the story is uncluttered with the political events of the time.
Farrell fares slightly less well. For much of the book, she’s just this side of mopey, having been disappointed in love by the weak Liam. Instead of growing up and admitting perhaps he wasn’t the man she though he was, she draws into a shell of “I’ll never love anyone” and won’t let Aidan in, even though she’s increasingly attracted to him. I’d have preferred a heroine with more life and maturity to her, not to mention a sense of adventure to match Aidan’s. When they finally consummate their marriage, it’s only after Aidan has managed to provide her with a nice home, which left a bitter taste in my mouth. For the most part, Farrell is so self-absorbed that she can’t see what Aidan is doing to try and win her. Frankly, I wasn’t sure she deserved him.
And a big boohiss to the art department. The cover is about as misleading as it gets, featuring a beautifully-dressed bride who certainly never appeared in the book and in fact is totally at odds with the story.
However, The Irish Bride is undeniably good storytelling. You’ll be drawn into this romance of two desperate Irish immigrants trying to run from their past and into a new life in a new land, finding a lasting love along the way.