Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Irish Milliner by Cynthia G. Neale - #review

It is New York City and the Civil War is brewing. Norah McCabe, an Irish immigrant who escaped the Famine as a child, is now a young widow with a daughter. She is a milliner, struggling to survive in tumultuous times. Norah meets Abraham Lincoln, befriends the extraordinary African-American woman Elizabeth Jennings, and assists the Underground Railroad. She falls headlong in love with Edward M. Knox, son of the famous hat-maker Charles Knox, but he is lace curtain Irish and she is shanty Irish. Edward joins the 69th regiment and leaves for battle. Can their love endure through class differences and war?

This is a story of survival, intrigue, romance, as well as, exploring the conflict of Irish immigrants thrust into a war that threatened to destroy a nation. It is about an Irish-American woman who could be any immigrant today, any woman today, seeking to create beauty and make sense of her life.

Suddenly the Civil War seems very relevant and Cynthia Neale does a great job of focusing on the role of the Irish in the conflict. And it’s great fun to be in touch with her wonderful character, Norah McCabe, again!” ~Mary Pat Kelly, author of Galway Bay and Of Irish Blood

This timely novel spans centuries to bring to our attention to a topic as old as yesterday, as expedient as tomorrow⎯emigration. Neale’s work, written with love and insight, reminds us that our neighbor is all mankind.” ~Tim Pat Coogan, Irish broadcaster, journalist, writer and author of 1916 The Easter Rising, Michael Collins and The Famine Plot



Why, oh why must I come late to a series with such a strong character as Norah McCabe?!?  It's impossible to say "Ah, I knew her when...," when you don't know her history.  Of course, there is a certain charm to knowing the 'present' and then digging into the past.  The Irish Milliner works very well as a standalone, but if I come across an interesting story, I often wonder anyway about 'what happened before and/or after, or what's the whole story?'

Stories (fiction or not) that involve the differences and struggles among different socioeconomic classes have become a favorite of mine.  There are at least three such conflicts in The Irish Milliner:  race (and Nora's involvement with the Underground Railroad), social class (lace curtain vs shanty Irish) and religion (Catholic vs Protestant).

I have a new appreciation for the struggles my ancestors must have face, criss-crossing the Atlantic.  Today we complain about an hour's delay in a flight.  Back in those days, the travel took days if not weeks.

The struggles faced and bested by Nora, considering who, where and when she was serve to highlight her strength of character.  The person who cannot pull for her has a cold heart indeed.

I know I will be reading The Irish Milliner at least another time.  You guessed it, just after I go back and pick up The Irish Dresser, Hope in New York City and Norah.



Cynthia G. Neale is a native of the Finger Lakes region of New York and now resides in New Hampshire. She has long possessed a deep interest in the tragedies and triumphs of the Irish during the Great Hunger.

This is Ms. Neale’s fourth novel. She also writes plays, short stories, and essays, and holds a B.A. in Writing and Literature from Vermont College.

For more information, please visit Cynthia G. Neale’s website. You can also find her on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.




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(Disclosure:  I received a copy of this book from the author and publishers, via the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.)


  1. LuAnn, Thank you for your stellar review of my novel, The Irish Milliner. I'd love to have you read and review the other novels in the series. I can send you a complimentary copy of Norah if you wish to give me your address. Also, could you please put your review on Amazon and Goodreads, etc. It really does help sales!

    Thanks, Cynthia Neale

    1. Sure, Cynthia, I'd love to! I'll send you my addy in an email.