The Keeners

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Overview

The rough beauty of County Clare is seventeen-year-old Margaret Meehan’s whole world, and it is nearly perfect. Her family is well and thriving, farming Ireland’s staple crop. She expects to marry handsome Tom Riordan, raise their children, and live in a cottage across the lane from her best friend, Kitty Dooley. She has found her calling and is apprenticed to the old keener Nuala Lynch. Together they keen for the dead, wailing the grief and pain of the bereaved in hopes of healing their sorrow. Margaret’s life ...

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Overview

The rough beauty of County Clare is seventeen-year-old Margaret Meehan’s whole world, and it is nearly perfect. Her family is well and thriving, farming Ireland’s staple crop. She expects to marry handsome Tom Riordan, raise their children, and live in a cottage across the lane from her best friend, Kitty Dooley. She has found her calling and is apprenticed to the old keener Nuala Lynch. Together they keen for the dead, wailing the grief and pain of the bereaved in hopes of healing their sorrow. Margaret’s life is full of hope, full of purpose. But the year is 1846. The potato blight has returned. Pitiful harvests rot overnight and the people are dying. Ireland is dying. And Margaret cannot keen for an entire country. Out of devastation, Margaret Meehan’s tale begins. Leaving her decimated family, the tragic Kitty, and the death of dreams behind, she flees with her husband, now a wanted man, to America. In Troy, New York, where pig iron, starched collars, and union banners herald the success of Irish immigrants, Margaret discovers something even more precious than a new life and modest prosperity. She finds the heart and soul of Ireland. And she finds it in the voice of the Keeners.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Conveying the misery that plagued Ireland during the mid-19th-century potato famine as well as the hope and opportunity that many Irish immigrants found upon docking in America, Shaw's debut treads familiar ground but offers a simple, inspiring portrait of one woman's perseverance. At the novel's outset, young Margaret Meehan and her best friend, Kitty, attend a lively May Day celebration. But the festivities come to a halt when Edward Speke, an unbelievably evil English land agent, shoots a 13-year-old boy who's hunting rabbits for food. From here, the book becomes a relentless catalogue of horrors, as Margaret, her family and her neighbors grow poorer, hungrier and more desperate, and Speke commits crime after crime against them. Relief comes only after Margaret and her beau, Tom Riordan, head to America and settle-with surprising ease-into life as factory workers in Troy, N.Y. The one connection Margaret retains to her homeland and to the old Irish traditions she learned from Nuala Lynch, a keener (i.e., professional mourner), is a rock shaped like an ancient fire goddess, which she inevitably passes on at the story's end. Though the novel can be overwrought (its repetitive scenes of starvation and death are far from subtle), most readers will come away having learned a little something about Irish traditions and the ways in which Irish immigrants have shaped the country. (Mar.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781932815153
  • Publisher: Medallion Press, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 1/8/2005
  • Pages: 278
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Maura D. Shaw has been a writer all her life, squeezing in a dozen books around the edges of her career as an editor and her life as a wife, mother, and daughter. Many of her books are for younger readers, including the historical novel Owl's Journey and the award-winning Ten Amazing People and How They Changed the World.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 4, 2005

    A story rich in history and steeped in tradition

    Maura D. Shaw gives readers a story rich in history and steeped in tradition in her new novel ¿The Keeners¿ from Medallion Press. All is blooming in County Clare, Ireland in the spring of 1846, including seventeen-year-old Margaret Meehan. She is sure the heart of handsome rebel Tom Roidan is hers and he will soon take her hand. When not practicing the ancient art of the Keeners, singing and chanting songs of lament for the dead with Nuala Lynch, Margaret dreams and plans with her best friend, Kitty Dooley, of a cottage across the road from each other and their children playing in the lane. But it is 1846, the year of the blight. The potato blight and famine will soon shatter her dreams. The devastation has her keening daily for friends, family, strangers, and her beloved County Clare. Most of her family is gone. Kitty is a broken shell. Nuala has keened her last lament. Tom¿s Rebel activities have made him a wanted man. It¿s to America for Margaret Meehan. She flees with Tom to Troy New York. With a heart that keens for County Clare and a young girl¿s dreams, she will carve a new life in a strange land with the man she loves. A gifted storyteller with a mastery of language writes a tightly paced story, and Maura D. Shaw is such a storyteller. Her knowledge of Ireland and its history, her empathy with a people she is connected to through her great grandmother, add a depth to this story that pulled me in to feel the hunger, pain, loss, fear, love, strength, and courage that take Margaret from the shores of Ireland to a new home and a new life. She captures the devastation of a land and its people through the eyes of characters that tug at the heartstrings and tie them into a forget-me-not bow. ¿The Keeners¿ is a bookshelf keeper. A book, a story, you will want to read again, from a talented author who respects her craft and cares about her readers and her subject.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    superb historical tale

    In 1846 County Clare, Ireland, seventeen-year-old Margaret Meehan thinks the world is terrific as her family farm has always done well growing potatoes and she anticipates marrying Tom Riordan. Adding to her belief that all is right in her orbit is that she is also apprenticed to the elderly keener Nuala Lynch as they provide solace to those grieving the loss of a loved one.--- However, her idyllic life collapses as the potato famine begins with people dying throughout the devastated country. Unable to cope with so much death and demand on the keeners and with her spouse condemned as a criminal, Margaret and Tom flee to Troy, New York, where many Irish have immigrated to start anew. Here Margaret finds her expatriate countrymen in need of a Keener, but can she use her gift after watching her family, friends, and nation die?--- THE KEENERS is a superb historical tale that brings to life the blight of the Irish when the crops failed in 1846 and many fled to a new world to begin again. The key to Maura D. Shaw¿s tale is the historical perspective that comes across with depth whether Margaret struggles with the nightmare of Ireland or the new optimistic beginnings in Troy. Margaret is a terrific center holding the novel together as she never forgets her roots, but wonders if she can return to keening after being overwhelmed with so much death as she suffers from a form of battle fatigue syndrome yet knows she is needed. This is a fabulous mid nineteenth century story that historical fans will cherish.--- Harriet Klausner

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