Cliona's Wave

- historical novel (1940s), literary fiction, Ireland, Cork

Cliona's Wave

Donal Minihane

One girl’s discovery of what’s buried inside us all.

Bridget, heavily influenced by her grandmother, learns the legacy of violence and suffering that surrounds her, including the dark past of her ex-IRA gunman father. Will she prevent her sister from being taken to the Magdalene Laundry. Is she strong enough to resist the Catholic Church and find out who is the father of her sister’s child? Clíona’s Wave seamlessly interweaves religion, history and philosophy and gives an insight into the new Irish State struggling with its dark past.

Clíona’s Wave was one of the winners of the 2013 Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair.

My Thoughts

Clíona’s Wave (the name is pronounced “Cleena”) is the fictional story of a family living in the (real) fishing village of Union Hall, County Cork, Ireland, and the events leading up to one of the daughters being sent to a Magdalene laundry to give birth to an illegitimate child. It is set mostly in the 1940s.

For anyone not familiar with Magdalene asylums (often called Magdalene laundries because that is the work they carried out – at a profit for those in charge, with no pay for those doing the work), they were institutions run by nuns to which “difficult” (meaning pregnant outside marriage (even if this was by rape), sexually active, sexually abused, with learning difficulties, or poor) girls were sent by their families, the Church or the State. While there – and that could be years, even the rest of their lives – they worked, were allowed no contact with their families, were controlled and quite possibly abused. Babies born to inmates at the laundry were usually put up for adoption.

The O’Donovan family – Seán and Maeve, with their daughters Bridget and Neasa and little son Seán Óg – are close-knit, but treated with suspicion by a lot of people in the village. Seán was a hard-line fighter first for the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) during the War of Independence and then the Irish Republican Army (IRA) – a hero to some but alienated from others. When Maeve married him she became estranged from her adored and adoring parents – and even though her mother ran the post office in the village, the two never spoke. But Bridget befriends the old lady and so learns her family’s history. Seán was badly let down by the Catholic Church and now has nothing to do with it, although his wife and daughters regularly attend mass. This history affects the family down through the years, but it is rarely spoken about.

The role of the Church in what happens to Neasa, when a busy-body lets the parish priest know she is pregnant, is truly shocking, and his power over Maeve while her husband is away is such that she is unable to resist his edict even though her daughter is being torn from her; the family becomes powerless in the face of such a foe. What happens after that is no doubt close to the truth for hundreds of women in Ireland throughout a large part of the twentieth century, and is only recently being acknowledged by the country. The stories that have come to light are truly harrowing. As a character in the book says, “How could such things happen?” How, indeed? It sends a chill right through me.

The sections of the book are named for the various seasons or festivals: Bealtaine, Lúnasa, Samhain, Imbolc, Solstice, and Equinox, although the main story spans about five years. The last section is called Fáinne – meaning circle. I’m quite willing to believe I am missing the point of the section names, but apart from the very last one, I couldn’t see how the divisions of the text matched the name/season/festival. I’ll correct this if someone can enlighten me.

The book brings together aspects of Ireland’s folklore, history, religion, social mores, prejudices, and the Church’s stronghold. That’s quite ambitious for a fairly short novel, but the strands are woven together pretty well.

There is a bit too much exposition, which creates some clunky paragraphs, but some individual sentences are written quite beautifully and it is easy to get inside the characters to understand their feelings and motivations. The supernatural/metaphorical elements pulled me out of a good historical story, but the bleakness of the time is well conveyed and the more shocking events, although uncomfortable reading, need to be heard and not shied away from.

I think some of the book might be a little incomprehensible to someone with no knowledge of Ireland’s dark past or knowledge of its culture, but it is a great lesson in history, made all the better by being so accessible to readers already familiar with some of the topics. I look forward to reading more from Donal Minihane – novels and short stories.

Editorial Input & Design

I think this could have done with another edit. Some sections don’t hang together all that well. There is a lot of exposition that I would suggest is turned into dialogue or events (for example, the passages where Alice is telling Bridget the history of the family, I would suggest turning the events into a “real time” first section (after the prologue), with conversation between the characters, or as a flash-back chapter later in the book). Although some sentences are quite lyrical, there are some that are a bit flat. There is some inconsistency – I got quite confused about the girls’ ages, and a couple of times I wasn’t sure if I was reading in the book’s present or its past. Some of the girls’ dialogue and actions need a little rewording – they can sound and act too young for their ages (but readers not familiar with Ireland should note that it is quite common for even adults to call their parents Mammy and Daddy).

I might suggest taking out the supernatural/metaphorical element – to my mind at least this takes away from the interesting historical realism – but that, of course, is purely subjective and others will think the story is enhanced by these parts.

I would suggest a short appendix to help readers that are not familiar with Irish history and culture, and the few Irish spellings and terms that are used. Alternatively, a small companion website (or a section on the author’s website) would be handy to go to for further information and explanation: the story left me, for one, wanting to know more about the themes in the book.

Cover: I like the cover. It is simple and effective.

Internal design: I read the paperback. It has a slightly unprofessional look, as the paragraph indents are very big and the margins quite small. There’s an eight-line song that is split causing one line to be on its own at the top of the page, and other instances of widows and orphans. Sections are well denoted by additional space, although the amount isn’t consistent. The use of italics is not consistent. Note that it is customary to put the names of ships in italics.

Book Clubs & Reviews

A good choice for Irish book clubs, I’d say. There is plenty to discuss: the power of the Church, Magdalene laundries, the parish priest, the “shame” of pregnancy outside of marriage and how it divided families (many stories are coming to light; high-profile ones are Philomena (book and film) and Daisy Asquith’s recent (April 2015) BBC documentary After The Dance), the civil war and how it divided friends and family, Ireland’s folklore and history, adopted children, village life, the choices we make.

What others are saying: Amazon UK readers give it 4.5 stars (2 reviewers); Amazon US readers give it 4.5 stars (2 reviewers); Goodreads readers give it 2 stars (1 rating).

Reviews: No reviews yet.

Buy & Author

Published by Indigo Dreams Publishing Ltd,

ISBN 978-1-909357-73-0

Available from:

Indigo Dreams Publishing Ltd (paperback £8.99 + p&p)

O’Mahony’s, Ireland (paperback €12.75)

Salmon Book Shop and Literary Centre, Ennistymon, Co Clare

Scéal Eile Books, Ennis, Co Clare

The Book Depository (€12.10, free postage worldwide)

Amazon (Kindle £2.99/$4.52; paperback £8.99/$10.37)

Follow the author:

Website (contains more writing from Donal)

Twitter @MinihaneDonal

Links of interest:

Clare Champion Interview with the author

Over to You – Comment and Share!

  • Lorna says:

    Sounds an interesting story, as you say, it was all too real for many Irish girls. I was watching Martin Sixsmith’s documentary last night on Lost Babies, it really was criminal how babies were sold to rich Americans, often without vetting them and some children ended up being abused by their adoptive parents.
    Apparently Poland is now very like what Ireland was in the 50s and 60s (so I have heard). Having children outside of marriage is frowned upon and women will leave babies by a convent, ringing a bell to signify there is a baby there.

    13 May 2015 20:28:48

  • Clare says:

    It’s horrific, isn’t it? I didn’t realise that about Poland. I hope today’s nuns aren’t as cruel as those in Ireland in the last century. I know we tend to hear only the worst stories, but that there are any stories is beyond belief.
    Donal’s book really brought home the power the priest had – to think that he could tear a family apart against the parents’ wishes, and then for the nuns not to allow the family to see the girl! From this distance it is hard to see how it was allowed to go on. There was so much unhappiness.

    13 May 2015 22:05:45

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