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Ellie and John became friends when she was just eight years old. Two years older, John was raised by Maidy and Paud after the deaths of his own parents. Maidy and Paud were everything Ellie’s parents were not: Warm, welcoming, loving, and unconditionally supportive. Ellie’s parents were emotionally distant and did not socialize, her mother still bearing the stigma of the means by which her family survived the famine that crippled Ireland two generations earlier. Ellie’s father held an important position in the government, enabling the family to live comfortably and provide an excellent education for Ellie.

After being separated for a few years while Ellie attended school and John struck out to establish himself as a carpenter’s apprentice, they were reunited when John returned home. Their relationship was as magical as ever and, now that they were grown up, romance blossomed. But after they announced their hasty wedding to their families, Ellie’s parents disowned her. She set about making the house in which John’s parents had lived a home for the two of them. Before long, however, they were regularly joined by John’s associates — rebels fighting, like him, against the British government for Ireland’s independence. Ellie found herself regularly feeding and providing shelter to those rebels. When the fighting began in earnest, John joined the other men, but soon returned home, badly wounded. With no doctors available locally to properly care for John’s injuries and no money to transport him to Dublin for proper treatment, it looked as though John would never walk again.

But Ellie received a letter from an old school friend who had emigrated to America and was working as a maid for a wealthy New York socialite, Isobel, who was seeking additional household help. Isobel was willing to provide third-class passage to New York, and pay a salary of ten dollars per week! Ellie determined that in a matter of a few short months, she could send home enough money for John to have surgery and regain the ability to walk. Over John’s objections and promising to be gone no more than one year, Ellie set sail for America.

Ellie could never have envisioned what life in New York City in the 1920’s would be like — the way of life to which she would become accustomed, the standard of living, the opportunities. Ellie’s dreams are all coming true, except for one: She is separated from John. She pictures the wonderful life they could have together in America. They could even send for Maidy and Paud.

Will John join Ellie in America and continue their life together? Or will he refuse to leave his beloved Ireland, leaving Ellie to make the most difficult decision of her life: Whether to leave John in her past and continue the new life she has forged for herself in New York or give up everything she has worked for and her independence to return to a humble life in the Irish countryside with the man she has always loved.


Author Kate Kerrigan
Ellis Island is the first book in a trilogy from Irish author . Kerrigan knows her subject matter: The daughter of Irish parents, she grew up in London where she worked for many years as a magazine journalist and editor. But she returned to Ireland in 1991 and lives in Killala, a small fishing village. In Kerrigan’s deft hands, the Irish landscape is vividly described, as are the harsh conditions in which Ellie and John were raised. Ellie’s status as a girl from a middle class family who wears clean, crisply starched pinafores to school stands in stark contrast to the abject poverty of her classmates, some of whom come to school with no shoes and filthy clothing that they have long outgrown. Ellie is aware of her circumstances and the fact that, even though decades have passed, the townspeople have not forgotten the means used by her ancestors to survive, leaving her shunned and without friends other than John.

Ellie is bright, inquisitive, and impetuous, desperate for the love that her parents withheld from her. She idealistically pushes John to marry her sooner than he planned — before he is able to establish himself as a carpenter and set up a home for them — and then dismayed when she realizes that her parents have abandoned her altogether and John’s familial home, which has stood empty for many years, is even more meager than that of Maidy and Paud. But Ellie is also resilient and determined.

Ellis Island's Great Hall as it looks today.
John is a man of the earth, raised to love the land and all it can provide. He is also devoted to his country and his countryman — a point of contention between him and Ellie, who believes at times that John elevates his desire to see Ireland freed from British rule about her and their well-being. Devoted to the cause, John brings the two of them to near-starvation while feeding and providing for rebels who hide in their home. Ellie finally puts her foot down and insists that they return to Maidy and Paud’s farm, rather than stubbornly continue trying to eke out a living on their own. Ellie’s independent spirit and unwillingness to completely subjugate her own needs in favor of John’s goals are her defining characteristics.

Approaching Ellis Island by ferry from Battery Park.
From 1892 to 1954, Ellis Island was the inspection station through which all immigrants entering the United States in New York were required to pass. They were subjected to questioning and medical examinations; some even had their names changed for them by employees who could not spell or pronounce their actual names. If they passed the medical screening, they were permitted to enter the country. If they did not, they were returned to their homeland. Since 1990, Ellis Island has been a museum, standing in silent testament to the hopes and dreams of those who began a new life in America after passing through its Great Hall, traversing the worn marble stairway at the bottom of which was the literal door to their future. Like so many others, Ellie passes through Ellis Island.

The worn marble stairs trod by millions of immigrants prior to being reunited with their loved ones.
In New York City, Ellie is exposed to people, places, and a way of life that she could never have imagined possible. She is disturbed by the fact that she has gone from being a girl from a middle class family with means to the servant to one of America’s idle rich. Still, she quickly adapts to a life filled with modern conveniences such as showers, fine linens, and the beautiful clothing Isobel gives to her maids when she purges her own overflowing closet. Ellie sees endless possibilities for wealth, success, and happiness in America and is eager for John to see the country the way she does. That is, of course, impossible, as he remains living in Ireland in the only circumstances he has ever experienced. Ellie also fails to grasp, until their separation drags on well past the originally agreed-upon one-year limit, the depth of John’s patriotism and devotion to his homeland.

In contrast, Ellie learns to live on her own — earning and managing her own money, caring for herself and her own apartment — and develops a rich social life. Although she loves John, she struggles with the idea of returning to the backward, crude way of life they shared in Ireland in a home with no electricity, indoor plumbing or even decent flooring. She does not know if she can sacrifice the independence she has earned and enjoyed, no matter how deep her love for John. Ultimately, Ellie has to assess the quality of all aspects of her life and make a decision about where, how, and with whom she will spend the rest of it. Hers is one of the most difficult imaginable choices and her decision-making process is handled with skill and empathy by Kerrigan, whose descriptions of 1920’s New York society are as rich and vibrant as her contrasting portrait of the beautiful Irish countryside and the squalor to which Ellie contemplates returning for the sake of her stubborn husband.

Ellis Island is a story about whether or not love can endure and overcome hardships and temptations. It is also the story of one woman who desires to use her intellect and abilities in meaningful ways during a time when American women enjoyed freedoms, choices, and luxuries that set them apart from women in much of the rest of the world. It is a testament to the resilient spirit not only of America and the dreams upon which it was built, but the impact of that spirit upon all who experienced life in the heady, exciting days of 1920’s New York, especially upon one Irish woman named Ellie who loved her husband, John, with a depth, richness, and purity that enabled her to make a difficult decision and, eventually, be at peace with and happy about her choice. I highly recommend Ellis Island to any reader who enjoys historically-based fiction and am anxious to read the sequels.

I read Ellis Island in conjunction with the 2011 Read ‘n’ Review and Outdo Yourself Reading Challenges.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one copy of Ellis Island free of charge from the author in conjunction with the review and virtual book tour program. I was not required to write a positive review in exchange for receipt of the book; rather, the opinions expressed in this review are my own. This disclosure complies with 16 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Enter to Win a Copy of Ellis Island

One lucky reader, selected at random, will receive a copy of Ellis Island, generously provided by the author.

To enter, simply post a comment! Be sure to include your email address (for notification and delivery purposes). The book can only be shipped to a United States or Canadian address (no P.O. box).

The comment posted by Lisa Richards at Lisa’s Love (Books of Course) was selected at random and a copy of Ellis Island has been sent to Lisa!

Thanks to all who participated!


  1. Wow Janie – what a review! Thank you so much for taking the time and writing such a detailed and careful review……glad to know you are writing – you should be! Ellis Island was such a nerve-racker to bring out in the States – what with me being resident in ireland – lots of research – a few visits – and always the fingers crossed that I am getting it right. Ellie and her story absorbed me and carried me along and keeps me going still, but it means so much that you – and other American readers and reviewers seem to be taking to the book. Finished the sequel City of Hope and starting research on number 3 in the trilogy now. Partly set in L.A – so another trip stateside soon – who knows – maybe we’ll get to do a face to face someday? You sound like one accomplished lady!
    Thanks again, God Bless – Kate. x

  2. Margaret

    I wished I had seen Ellis Island when I was in New York but didn’t make it there. I would love to read all about. Thanks!


  3. My grandparents came to America via Ellis Island, so I’ve really been wanting to read this book since I first heard about it!

    reading_frenzy at yahoo dot com
    LuAnn Morgan recently posted..Spring for SusannahMy Profile

  4. Marjorie

    This book is on my wish list.
    My brother in law ended up in jail on Ellis Island when
    he justed ship during the war.
    A fantastic storyline and I would love to read it.

  5. Ericka T

    I’d love to win this book. I’m 1st generation. My Mother and all the relatives of that generation and previous (that weren’t killed) immigrated from Germany.

  6. Carol Wong

    I love to read immigration stories. I would love to see the island also read this book to learn about the hardships the new immigrant had to struggle with. I wonder if the author has considered writing about her own family history.


  7. I’ve also seen Ellis Island when in New York but didn’t get to go there. Would love to win.

  8. I love books with a historical background. This sounds like a wonderful book!

  9. Ellis Island sounds like a powerful book revolving around immigration and I would love to read it. The place represents a new beginning and hope, but at the same time it means leaving part of your past behind as well. Thank you for the giveaway.


  10. Would love to read this. Thanks for the wonderful giveaway

    dianad8008 AT gmail DOT com

  11. Thanks for the great review. I am glad to see that this book is the start of a trilogy. That way the characters can become friends!

  12. Although my relatives came from Ireland before Ellis Island I’d love to read about people who experienced that entry to the US – especially since it’s the start of a trilogy. Nice review!
    Mary recently posted..Maine by J. Courtney SullivanMy Profile

  13. We visited Ellis Island with our kids years ago and it was very interesting.
    mce1011 AT aol DOT com

    • JHS

      Maureen: I probably should have noted in the review that I took the current-day photos of Ellis Island. I have visited there twice: In March 2007 and again in April 2010. During the second trip, I took both of my sons with me and they enjoyed it a great deal, esp. the older one who is a history major. Seeing Ellis Island, as well as the Statue of Liberty, really makes you appreciate this country and all that our ancestors endured. It is a trip I believe every American should take. (Along with a trip to Pearl Harbor which remains one of the most moving experiences I have ever had.)

  14. Krystal Larson

    I would love to win this novel, especially because my grandpa would enjoy it so much. My parents are first generation, they like knowing more about the immigrant process as well. Thank you! edysicecreamlover18@gmailDOTcom

  15. I am always fascinated by stories of immigration and what people did to come to this country. Sounds like a great book. Excellent review.
    Amy recently posted..On Holiday: See ya soon!My Profile

  16. mamabunny13

    I would love to win a copy of this book!
    mamabunny13 at gmail dot com

  17. 😉 I absolutely want to read this one! Count me in!

    PS: You were so right about The Beach Trees by Karen White. I am so happy I read your review and won the book! It was SO good – thanks again!


  18. 🙂 Would love to win this book. Love to read books with the subjects of Ellis Island and Ireland. My grandparents came through Ellis Island around the same time as the character in the book. Although they came from Italy they probably encountered the same prejudices. Thanks.


  19. Brittany Gale

    I’d love to read this. Thanks 😀


  20. I love the premise of this book although my heart broke for John and Ellie having to be seperated so early in their marriage and by such a greta distance. There’s so much in your review that excites me about reading this book and I already have questions in my head that I want to find the answers to…such as, what’s the deal with Elli’s parents!

    Thank you for a great review! I would love to be entered in your giveaway!
    Amy recently posted..Book Review ~ A Good Hard Look by Ann NapolitanoMy Profile

  21. thanks for the opportunity to read this novel 🙂

  22. My grandparents came through Ellis Island when they came to the US. I’d love to read this and I know my mom would, too!
    mittens0831 at aol dot com

  23. Michelle C

    What a great giveaway! Thanks for the chance to win!
    mrsmchappell at gmail dot com

  24. Joyce D.

    Just attended a very Irish wedding this weekend. It was more fun than I can describe. And then I came across a review of Ellis Island. Seems like serendipity to me. 😉

  25. This book would be memorable. I enjoy all books that are profound and have a story that is meaningful and unforgettable.

  26. This book is captivating and fascinating. Love historical novels and relationships.

  27. I love historical books about families. Thanks for the chance.

  28. My father in law went through Ellis Island when he immigrated from Italy, I’d love to read this book. Thanks!

  29. Anita Yancey

    I find this book very interesting, and I would love to read it. Please enter me. Thanks!

  30. I thought this book looked like it would be good to read. After reading your review, it definitely is one I am adding to my list. Of course, it would be nice to win a copy!!! I also enjoy reading trilogies so I am looking forward to beginning a new one. Thanks for sharing!
    Brenda Spalding recently posted..WORDLESS WEDNESDAY ALMOST!My Profile

  31. Samantha

    Whoa! I srsly love historical novels. hope John moves to America where they all live happily ever after 🙂 thanks for this giveaway!

  32. Jennifer H.

    Thank you for the giveaway.
    jenhedger at hotmail dot com

  33. Thanks for the great giveaway! Sounds like a book I’d love to read

  34. I’d love to win a copy of Ellis Island. I was raised in NY and this fascinates me. Thanks, Jan Marquart

  35. Linda Kish

    I think my grandfather came through Ellis Island when they first opened.

    lkish77123 at gmail dot com

  36. I would love to win this book as I have been going genealogy for over 40yrs now and ellis island and the procedures etc have always been of interest to so please enter me to win

  37. Oh I so want to win this book.
    I do genealogy and am interested in Ellis Island
    please enter me

    amhengst at verizon dot net

  38. Pingback: Semicolon » Blog Archive » Saturday Review of Books: July 23, 2011

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