Recently I spoke to Mark Eyles, the author of ‘Marys Ireland’, the first in a trilogy about Mary Cannon, a young woman working in a pub in nineteenth century Ireland when she meets and falls in love with a Polish sailor Walenty or ‘Nikodo’.
The novel is set when Poland is under Russian occupation which is juxtaposed with Ireland under British rule. Life is difficult for Mary and her family losing two sisters, one in infancy and another in early adulthood, the latter along with her mother, passing away from common illnesses of the time. There is the constant panic to keep everything spotlessly clean to prevent the spread of germs leading to illness.
The family has little materially but there is plenty of fun and sparring in their home. As is to be expected in an Irish family the characters are colourful, including the neighbour Mrs Shannon who like the river is able to seep into the very fabric of the family.
A mixture of Catholicism married well with superstition co exists in Mary’s Ireland. The family are staunch church goers which helps them through their difficult times, as Mark says during our chat ‘illness and faith’ often go together. Even in this religious environment Mary still holds belief in curses such as that perceived from the local police officer Griffin.
Although political themes run through the book it is ultimately a love story, of love for family and country and for Mary love for her Polish beau.
There are some lovely expressions from Mary describing her reaction to the sailor such as ‘’you have given me a tummy full of bumble bees and dragons’. An expression suggesting both lightness and fiery passion.
We some slightly politically incorrect humour from one of Mary’s brothers when he attempts to describe Mary’s beaus steadfastness and nationality to Mrs Shannon.
When he says “Nikoda will not be rushin’ anywhere because he is standing still, …because he is a Pole”.
This is a novel of both tragedy and joy and the triumph of faith and love. Mark Eyles has done a fantastic job also in recreating the authentic dialogue of the time.
Mary’s Ireland is out now published by Aurora House