Norah McCabe is an Irish-American immigrant living in the Five-Points area of New York City right before the Civil War. Norah was widowed on the crossing and now does everything she can in order to support her daughter, Katie. Norah has taken to making hats for the women of Five Points, however she would love to expand her business into a department store. For extra money Norah also writes articles for an Irish Newspaper. As Lincoln takes office, political tensions arise and turmoil bubbles over into the Five Points neighborhood where the Irish and African-American's are both struggling to survive. In her travels, Norah is fortunate enough to have met and befriend Elizabeth Jennings, an African-American schoolteacher. Through Elizabeth, Norah learns about the Underground Railroad and does what she can to help. As the War surges on, Norah's fiance is compelled to join the ranks. In order to follow him, Norah takes a risky newspaper assignment following a photographer to Gettysburg and is able to see for herself the horrors that the war for herself.
The Irish Milliner transported me back to New York City right before the Civil War. Through Norah's eyes, I had a clear view of the trials facing Irish Immigrants at this point in time, the tenement living, the streets of Five Points, the working conditions, as well as what it meant to be a woman fighting for her own independence as well as an abolitionist. For a book written about the Civil War, there were many timely and poignant issues and ideas that Norah faced.
These are the women who fascinate her! No matter Irish women's skin is as pale as buttermilk, the Negro woman and the Irish woman have much in common. Hate and poverty visit all shades of skin, she thinks.
Norah's character is strong, resourceful and caring during a time in history when it would have been easier to simply try to survive and not make waves. Norah is a woman of many hats, both literally and figuratively. I absolutely loved the idea that she used her time and resources to make hats women on the underground railroad so they would not stand out as runaways. I do really wish that this storyline would have been expanded upon, especially since the title suggests that the book would be about a milliner. I would have loved to know exactly how the hats ended up helping the women on their journey and their specific fates. The book did have a very broad view, covering large swatches of time in several sentences and covering from Lincoln's speeches as a senator to the end of the Civil War. This broad view did give me a very good sense of the history and feeling of the time, but missed out on telling several detailed, smaller stories within Norah's journey that would have made her story stand out even more.
This book was received for free in return for an honest review.