27 August 2013

The Irish Famine - Charles Egan's novel The Killing Snows

Please welcome my Tuesday Talk guest, Charles Egan, author of The Killing Snows, an historical novel about the tragedy of famine in Ireland - 
based on the true story of his own family

The Killing Snows
The book is fiction. 
The story that inspired it is not.

In 1990, I came into possession of two documents which were fascinating, and in their own way, quite savage. My father had been brought up on a small farm in County Mayo in the West of Ireland. Following the death of one of his brothers, he gave us a box of documents which, by their dates, had been stored for over a hundred years. They included a lease, a number of letters and two payrolls from the 1840s.

It was with a sense of shock that I realised what they really were. These were the documentary evidence of the Great Irish Famine in East Mayo. They were also the confirmation of the stories I had learnt as a child as to how my family survived the Famine. The two payrolls were the most horrific. They detailed the wages for gangs of men, women and children working on two roads in east Mayo in the winter of 1846. The desperately low rates of pay – as low as three pennies a day - proved that this was Famine Relief. Local research filled in more of the story, a brutal one of hunger, fever and death.

The Irish Famine had started with the partial failure of the potato crop in the autumn of 1845. In 1846 the potato failed again, and this time the failure was nearly total. The Workhouses could not cope, and so the enormous Famine Relief schemes were started, and kept running through the coldest and worst winter of the past 300 years. Hundreds of thousands of starving people were employed on roadworks, building and repairing roads all across Ireland.

Hunger killed thousands of them. The murderous blizzard of December 1846 killed many thousands more, and brought the Works to a halt all across the country. But they opened again in January 1847, and the arctic cold went on. By the time the soup kitchens took over in March, the Works were employing three quarters of a million survivors, mostly in the West of Ireland, all trying desperately to feed their families on pitifully low wages. Then, as the winter receded, a vicious fever epidemic killed hundreds of thousands of people right across Ireland. 1846 was shocking, but Black ’47 would never be forgotten.

Research also confirmed an old family tradition which I had never believed. This was the story of utterly impossible love set against the terror of the times. So in the end ‘The Killing Snows’ is much more than historical fiction. It is an attempt to understand how such a love could have happened and how the impossible became true.

"The snow lay deep and undisturbed. Many of the features of the landscape had disappeared under gentle curves of snow. The two men fought their way back to the Works without their animals. After the hedges gave out, it was almost impossible to follow the line of the road. When they arrived, there were less than twenty people there, and no fires. One man lay in the snow, face down."

"If you are looking for a nice little story this is not for you. However if you want an exciting, earthy, heart rending read following families through the famine years, this is the one."
Amazon comment

Buy Here:
Amazon.co.uk (paperback)
Amazon.co.uk (Kindle)

Amazon.com Kindle
Amazon.com (paperback)

published by: SilverWood Books


Charles Egan was born in NottinghamEngland, of Irish parents.
When he was five, the family returned to Ireland as his father had been appointed Medical Superintendent of St. Lukes, a psychiatric hospital in Clonmel, in County Tipperary. They later moved to County Wicklow.
Every summer they visited his father’s family’s farm, outside Kiltimagh in County Mayo for a month, where his grandmother and uncles spent many evenings talking about family and local history.
Charles attended the Jesuits’ Clongowes Wood College (James Joyce’s alma mater), and subsequently studied Commerce in University College Dublin, graduating in 1973.
After an initial career in the private sector, including Marubeni Dublin, (where he met his wife, Carmel), he joined the Industrial Development Authority (IDA) in Dublin. After a few years, the desire to be his own boss led him to resign and set up his own business, which has now been running for over 30 years.
Apart from business and writing, his main interests are history, film and worldwide travel. Find out more at www.thekillingsnows.com.


  1. A nice interview, and Charles has such an interesting story to tell. 'The Killing Snows' is a good read, and educates without the reader being aware of that - which is always a sign of good writing!

  2. thanks Helen for your comment on The Killing Snows - Sorry about the delay in replying, Blogger decided to hide all the comments from me! :-(

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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