Tit;e: We Were Rich and We Didn’t Know It
Author: Tom Phelan
Publisher: Gallery Books
Release Date: March 5th, 2019
Rating: 4/5 ****
Thank you to NetGalley and Gallery Books for the free eARC in exchange for an honest review
Here is the summary per Amazon:
Tom Phelan, who was born and raised in County Laois in the Irish midlands, spent his formative years working with his wise and demanding father as he sought to wrest a livelihood from a farm that was often wet, muddy, and back-breaking.
It was a time before rural electrification, the telephone, and indoor plumbing; a time when the main modes of travel were bicycle and animal cart; a time when small farmers struggled to survive and turkey eggs were hatched in the kitchen cupboard; a time when the Church exerted enormous control over Ireland.
We Were Rich and We Didn’t Know It recounts Tom’s upbringing in an isolated, rural community from the day he was delivered by the local midwife. With tears and laughter, it speaks to the strength of the human spirit in the face of life’s adversities.
The memoir covers Tom’s life from birth to when he takes off for boarding school. Similar events are organized into chapters and follow a fairly logical sequence. Minus the lack of transition between chapters, this is a smooth and enjoyable read!
The first person point of view let me feel like I was actually sitting in the kitchen with the neighbors. Phelan’s style paints such avid descriptions of people and places that I truly enjoyed it as a picture of his farm and community. A particularly descriptive part that stands out is about the crawlies in the soil and how connected they (Tom and dad) felt to the land and each other.
There are a multitude of neighbors, townfolk, schoolmates and family members who had a part in Tom’s childhood. His father and Missus Fritz were my two favorites, for their kindness and things they said when children weren’t listening!
I don’t know if I believe that they were as happy as he writes, but I feel like he didn’t know anything else. If he had known that the kids were targeting him out of desperation and jealousy instead of animosity, he would have had a better perspectie – but a portion of the moral is about hindsight and how you see things as an adult, things you regret or wish you knew.
Overall I give this a strong 4/5. Happy to recommend to anyone interested in history, Ireland, memoirs; anyone who likes to laugh at anecdotes and clever fixes; anyone into farming even would love this!