Eilis Lacey is a young Enniscorthy woman who has never dreamed of leaving Ireland. Friary Street and Castle Street, the square and the cathedral: the grey co-ordinates of her small County Wexford town will doubtless always be with her. But this is 1950s Ireland, in which there is 'no work for anyone . . . no matter what their qualifications'. Eilis's father is dead. Her three older brothers have already left for England. Her sister, the glamorous, golf-playing Rose, holds one of the few good jobs in town, working in the office of a local factory. Eilis must make do with a Sunday job in a grocery, until an Irish-American priest, home on holiday, suggests that she move to his parish in Brooklyn. Father Flood will sponsor her passage and find her a job. If Father Rossiter in Colm Tóibín's second novel, The Heather Blazing, 'hated to see people emigrating', Father Flood is all for it. He wants to see Eilis working in an office, not wasting her youth in a corner shop. A girl like Eilis, he is sure, will get ahead in New York. She will also feel right at home. 'Parts of Brooklyn,' says Father Flood, 'are just like Ireland. They're full of Irish.'
LRB 25 June 2009 | PDF Download