A beautiful story of life – the lives of the migrant and those left behind. Helen Townsend found a collection of letters belonging to her great grandfather, William Irwin – an Irishman who escaped from poverty and made something of himself in his new home. These letters inspired the author to write an imaginative story of how her great grandfather’s life was starting from his migration to Australia.
William Irwin was just eighteen years old when his family sent him away to what they hoped would be a better life. Well educated by his village’s standard but otherwise quite naïve. He found life in the colony fascinating, hard-going, yet better than what it was at home. Of course, he missed home, his parents, and siblings especially his little sister, Eliza.
As life did not go the way he wants, he and a friend decided to risk all and join the goldrush. In time, he became a successful businessman (a ‘hotelier’) in Ballarat. He never returned to Ireland and he rarely wrote – although he still pines for the Ireland that was. I found this quite saddening yet true to the feelings of migrants in general (being one myself).
William Irwin lived through the times of change – having to learnt some changes himself. He was involved in the goldrush, saw the Eureka Stockade, debated on democracy, and was torn between religions (Protestants vs. Catholics). This last bit I found fascinating, being not Irish myself and set in my faith yet being brought up in today’s supposedly tolerant society, here they (Irish migrants) are in a new world away from home yet it was still a very big issued; it was a balancing act for William -torn between family and religion.
The story was told from two perspectives: William Irwin and that of his sister, Eliza Irwin. William led a life full of love, laughter and children yet his cup was also full of trouble, loss, and sadness. Eliza led a life of firstly dissatisfaction and then learnt contentment. All in all, this story is about life, real life.
I felt let down with the ending and again I’ll remind my readers that I’m just an emotional rating but I will just note that it is what it is and that’s life…