Jill Blee– Brigid (1999)
This is a non-fiction novel written by Australian author, Jill Blee. Jill set off from Sydney with big plans to travel around Ireland for a month, driving in a clockwise direction and stopping off at tourist towns Dublin, Galway and Cork. But when Jill is unexpectedly accompanied by the spirit of her great aunt Brigid who makes herself quite comfortable within Jill’s mind- her plans are thrown out the window.
Her overseas holiday quickly transforms into a quest to find her roots where her great grandfather was born and retrace the steps of her ancestors. Brigid hides a deep dark secret and Jill’s curiosity drives her to get to the truth of what really happened all those years ago.
We are taken back to the 1840’s, when Brigid was a young girl and although her voice is now portrayed as bitter and guarded those defensive layers are stripped away by Jill’s prying questioning. Brigid experienced much adversity from a young age from crop loss during the renowned potato famine to threats of eviction and a daily existence of living in poverty.
When Brigid is saved from the clutches of one of the town’s villains, Ned Ryan by the infamous Eamon D’Arcy, she wonders whether this educated gentleman of the city had saved her innocence or just brought more trouble to the village folk.
Life begins to look differently for the small community when D’Arcy, later dubbed as the Angel of Mercy advocates for the rights of the villagers. We are taken on a journey of a how a small town was wiped out by politics and greed.
This image of the bitter old aunt Brigid who gives Jill a hard time, begins to soften when her past is unveiled- the poverty, the trauma, the losses. We get to know her personal story as much as she is willing to share. Jill tells her story in a genuine honest way that evokes curiosity and empathy.
This is not a story full of action but typical of a traditional travel narrative which reveals itself at a consistent pace and draws you into the history of Australia’s ancestors who migrated from Ireland. If you like a good travel story and have a strong interest in history then pick up Brigid and take a trip to Ireland with her.