An Irish American story in La Cañada

If you grew up watching the soap opera “Ryan’s Hope” and still enjoy getting ensconced in a good Irish family drama, you won’t want to miss author Mary Pat Kelly’s book-signing at the Flintridge Riding Club, 4625 Oak Grove Drive in La Cañada Flintridge.

Kelly — sister to La Cañada resident and trails advocate Randy (Kelly) Strapazon — will be at the riding club at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 21 to autograph and discuss her current novel, “Galway Bay.”

The book is being received by Kelly’s readers and peers with enthusiasm and appreciation.

“As they say in Ireland, ‘Take your ease with this book.’ You’ll need time for laughter and tears and pure magic,” wrote Frank McCourt, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of the novel “Angela’s Ashes.”

Kelly is spending a few weeks in La Cañada with her sister, after completing book-signing events in Boston, New York, Washington, D.C. and Chicago. The tour was launched earlier this month in Ireland in the home of Irish Ambassador Michael Collins.

In addition to the La Cañada stop on Kelly’s tour, while in the area she will sign books at the UCLA Festival of Books and at Holy Family Bookstore in South Pasadena, before continuing the tour with events in Orange and San Diego counties and San Francisco. For more information on the tour, visit www.marypatkelly.com.

“Galway Bay” tells the historical fiction account of Kelly’s great-great-grandmother, Honora Keely Kelly, beginning with life in early 1800s Ireland and chronicling events and struggles as she and her family make their way to Chicago in the 1890s.

“Our family is from Chicago, and while we knew some facts about our relatives, Mary Pat was the first one to trace our ancestors and put it all together,” Strapazon said, adding that her father, Michael Kelly, was orphaned at 13 and he and his four sisters were reared by their Aunt Rose.

“The Kellys lost everything during the Great Depression. No one wanted to speak about those days, or what had come before, as they could hardly be considered good times,” Strapazon said.

Following one stop on the book tour, Honora Kelly was described by the Chicago Tribune as “the grandmother of Chicago politics” because her grandson, Ed Kelly, was important to that city’s history as mayor from 1932 to 1947.

Honora Kelly and her children’s characters in the book are fictionalized. “I imagined how they looked and acted and felt and yet here were real people, their descendants and my family’s, and somehow it all felt very natural. I really believe our ancestors want us to know them so we can find each other,” Mary Pat Kelly wrote in a blog on her website.

In recent years, Kelly traveled to Ireland numerous times to research official land documents, birth and death certificates, and hear oral histories from a 109-year-old relative there. That relative was born while Honora Kelly was still alive and had preserved family memorabilia, such as letters, photographs and newspaper articles.

Not only does it give a fictionalized story of the family’s history, Kelly’s book provides 19th century history of Ireland and America, Strapazon said.

“It is the story of America’s struggle to become a nation and Ireland’s desperate struggle to survive,” Strapazon added.

In addition to being thrilled for her sister’s success with “Galway Bay,” Strapazon is enthused about the value of the book for her family.

“My son, Michael, who graduated from LCHS in 2002, is named for his grandfather; and, my son Patrick, a 2007 LCHS graduate and USC student, is named for his great-grandfather,” she said, adding, “Now they can read about the lives of ancestors and appreciate the struggle they went through to provide the opportunities that we as Americans enjoy today.”


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