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Jill Blee's second novel is at once a travel story and an historical novel set in modern Ireland, where Jill's first visit to her ancestral homeland is hijacked by the very real presence of her long-dead great aunt, Brigid. While Jill intends to acquaint herself with the country, the people and the history from which her great-grandparents had migrated, Aunt Brigid single-mindedly steers her back to the wind swept cliffs of County Clare, and the high Burren above the village of Ballyvaghan. Brigid has some unfinished business which quickly becomes Jill's main quest, through which she is brought into a much deeper experience of the great famine than her history books could ever give her. As she follows her aunt's story on the west coast and back to Dublin, Jill's own travel story, complete with Lonely Planet Guide, Irish pubs and Norman ruins, is told with an intense imagery which presents Ireland in her beauty and her romance as clearly as could any cinematographer. Jill Blee is first and foremost an historian, but one who uses fiction to illuminate the past.
What Brigid does best is to cast light on what the experience of the famine in a small community, Ballyvaghan, meant in emotional terms for those experiencing it. This is a compassionate novel, well-researched, a compelling read if one has an interest in what is quite recent history, a history which threatens to repeat itself in the modern world.
Jill Blee has a BA and an MA in history from Macquarie University, an MA in writing from the University of Western Sydney, and a PhD in History from the University of Ballarat. Her interests are principally in Irish and Irish-Australian history and literature and both have featured in her own writing. Over the last four years her attention has been focussed on Ballarat and the Irish migrants who settled there during and after the goldrushes of the 1850s.