Two estranged sisters, living in their ancestral home set in the beautiful Irish countryside – a touching tale of coming to terms with secrets from the past
A country mansion in Ireland for which it is almost impossible to keep up the maintenance and two sisters living in a situation both would give anything to avoid, a nice romantic novel, I thought. Instead, it is a tale of Ireland’s history filled with delicious cakes but most of all with a Catholic past Ireland is stills struggling with. Ann O’Loughlin tells us about shameful secrets of forced adoptions, of (unmarried) pregnant girls sent to convents to give birth who were forbidden to even hold their babies or say goodbye to them. The majority of these mothers kept grieving for their lost babies all their lives. Their ‘little’ stories together tell a powerful tale of love, betrayal, secrets, grief and loss.
This is no simple love story as we find ourselves in the Irish countryside town of Rathsorney where we meet Ella and Roberta O’Callaghan, two elderly sisters living in the old degraded Roscarbury Hall that has known better times. They are lonely and scarcely make ends meet and, above all, the sisters are not on speaking terms: they communicate with notes. Such a sad situation and we only learn how long this has been going on and why at the end of the book. The novel entwines the story with flashbacks to earlier days. The flashbacks give insight and make us understand why Ella is still grieving all those years, for her husband Michael and her little daughter Carrie.
We see old grudges staying strong and get a glimpse of what they are about, mostly, however, we experience the feelings of despair both Ella and Roberta feel. A stranger walks into their lives, it is the American Debbie Kading who helps out with the blooming business of the café in Roscarbury Hall where the old ballroom is reinstated as a beautiful place to enjoy homemade cakes with coffee or tea. In coming to Ireland, Debbie brought her own story with her. She is dying and wants to reconnect with her birth mother who gave her up for adoption years ago. Hers is a sad story, Debbie’s mother walked out on her and her father when she was just a little girl.
After having finished the story I was shattered and my heart ached for all those subjected to the cruelty of giving up their babies and having a hole in their hearts for the rest of their lives. With every page in the book, more secrets are revealed as we witness the mixed emotions of all of those involved in these sad stories, from feelings of ache and guilt to love and care. Somehow, most learned to live with the pain, knowing that Ireland abandoned the unmarried girls who cried out for help when no one would listen. I was fully drawn into the story, that has the date and time clearly set for each chapter as to not confuse the reader about when the events take place. It is a romantic and touching story and, above all, a tale in which the cries of those unmarried girls and their children have been given a voice.
About the Author
As a leading journalist in Ireland for nearly thirty years, Ann O’Loughlin has covered all major news events of the last three decades. Ann spent most of her career with Independent Newspapers, where she was security correspondent at the height of the Troubles and was a senior journalist on the Irish Independent and Evening Herald.
She is currently a senior journalist with the Irish Examiner newspaper; covering legal issues. Ann has also lived and worked in India. Originally from the west of Ireland, she now lives on the east coast of Ireland with her husband and two children. The Ballroom Café is her 2015 debut novel followed by The Judge’s Wife (2016).
|Publisher||Black and White Publishing (18 Jun. 2015)|