Dave Jenkinson is a professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba and the author of the “Portraits” section of Emergency Librarian.
Set in 1917 Halifax, Irish Chain cleverly tells a trio of interlinked
stories, with all three being related by 13-year-old Rose Dunlea, whose
five siblings range in age from four to seventeen.
The first story involves Rose’s problems in her Catholic girls’
school, where she has twice been held back because she cannot read.
(Today, Rose would be identified as dyslexic, but in 1917, she was
simply labeled “slow.”) Since Rose’s age peers have all been
promoted, she finds herself teased at school and socially ostracized.
Rose compensates for her inability to read by becoming very proficient
at memorizing what she hears. In particular, Rose recalls the stories
that are connected to an Irish chain quilt whose pieces are linked to
family members who experienced the great 1845–51 potato famine in
Ireland and then immigrated to Canada. These quilt-connected stories
become the book’s second narrative. Finally, Rose’s school problems
are set aside as the third story element begins on December 6, 1917,
when the collision of two ships in Halifax Harbour causes an explosion
that devastates the blue-collar area in which Rose’s family lives and
Much of the remainder of Irish Chain deals with Rose’s search for
surviving family members and her guilt at believing that God’s answer
to her prayer (not to have to return to school) was the Halifax
explosion. A brief closing author’s note provides historical
information, a link to a teacher/student resource page on the explosion,
and two black-and-white period photos. As Haworth-Attard did in Flying
Geese, she concludes this work with the book-related quilt pattern.