WHEN IRELAND FELL SILENT takes the reader back to 1845-1849 to County Mayo in a gripping, suspenseful story that reveals the true causes of the Great Irish Famine as told through the eyes of a fictional family named Reilly. Eighteen-year-old Liam Reilly has no idea that his world is about to be shattered. He cherishes County Mayo with its beauty and close family even though life is hard. As tenants, all the Reilly’s crops go to the English landlord as rent while they eat mainly potatoes. Few Irish realize that the English are planning a great change and want to get rid of farmers to create pasture. Unaware, Liam still hopes for rights and a better life, especially when he meets the beautiful Colleen at a wedding in nearby Ballinglass.
Terror strikes her village when her landlord razes it to the ground to create pasture. Her family is forced to the dreaded workhouse, and thinking he sees her at a high window, Liam prays she will survive. Liam’s brother Niall accompanies friends from Ballinglass to England to earn passage to America. When he announces he too is emigrating, the devastated family prepares for his “American wake,” knowing this goodbye is forever. Six months pass without a word, and the family worries.
A partial blight occurs the year before and Liam frets as the family shares dwindling supplies with beggars. Turf cutting, harvest, and roof thatching distract Liam until one dawn in August, he hears the door open and Mother’s scream. Horrified, he rushes out to plants consumed by fungus. All Ireland’s potatoes are ruined and starvation spreads. People gather to write petitions, begging for assistance, but high government officials in London refuse to interfere and send more soldiers to guard convoys taking out food to port. Liam and his father risk arrest and organize thousands in a peaceful march to ask their landlord for mercy.
Trapped in a desperate struggle, the family pulls together with great courage. When Liam kills a large swan at Christmas, they celebrate with extended family. But the government confiscates their meager goods as tax and pushes the family to the edge. Liam and his brother Sean face constant danger from soldiers as they scavenge for food and take enormous risks for the sake of the family. Intense conflict and suspense propel the story forward until at the end, Liam must overcome great obstacles if he is to save his mother and sisters. At 10 Downing Street, 1849, government leaders argue about policy while Ireland falls silent.