Mike Connolly brings a lifetime of experiences, stories, and lessons learned on both sides of the Atlantic to this, his first novel. Murky Overhead is the story of an Irish immigrant family, the Folans, scratching out a living in the coastal city of Portland, Maine – but reflecting the larger struggles of immigrants everywhere. Step into their lives for one day. See what makes them laugh. Feel what makes them cry.
Is glas iad no cnoic i bhfad uainn. (Faraway hills are green)
Murky Overhead is a work of historical fiction that tells the story of a day in the life of a typical Irish-American working-class family, the Folans. It follows them on the streets and docks of their new American home in maritime Portland, Maine, at the turn of the 20th century.
While Coleman (Coley) shovels coal for the longshore union, his wife Mary, who is nearly full-term with their 10th child, does her best to keep the family going. Challenges abound. Coley has suffered from periodic bouts of binge drinking that have put the well-being of him and the family at risk. But presently, he is “on the wagon” and working – for the moment, at least. Mary is the stalwart rock that manages to hold things together despite the current and every-growing number of hurdles her family faces.
They both must take on each new day one at a time. The labor is taking its toll, and it remains to be seen if Mary’s eternal optimism will be enough to get them through. Some days the prospects of the Folans appear to be murky, at best.
Published 2021. ISBN: 978-1-7355660-6-1
Michael C. Connolly is a life-long resident of Portland’s Munjoy Hill. His experiences growing up in what was one of the city’s main ethnic, predominantly Irish and Italian, working-class neighborhoods greatly shaped his thinking and have had a continuing influence on his writing. He was encouraged by his parents to be the first in his family to graduate from high school, let alone college.
He earned his B.A. in Social Sciences at Florida Southern College (1973), his M.A. in Modern Irish History at University College Dublin (1977), and finally his PhD in American Immigration History at Boston College (1988). Beginning in 1984 he taught for 36 years in the Department of History and Political Science at Saint Joseph’s College of Maine. Mike retired in May 2020 and now holds the honorary title of Professor Emeritus.
His research has focused on Irish and Irish-American history and the labor movement in Ireland and America. In 2004, the University of Maine Press published his edited collection of essays, They Change Their Sky: The Irish in Maine. Along with Dr. Kevin Stoehr of Boston University, he co-edited another collection of essays, John Ford in Focus: Essays on the Filmmaker’s Life and Work published by McFarland in 2006. In 2010, the University Press of Florida published the book largely based on his Boston College dissertation, Seated by the Sea: The Maritime History of Portland, Maine, and Its Irish Longshoremen. In the summer of 2016 he completed a documentary film, Building Bridges: Connections between Maine’s Governor Joseph Brennan and Senator George Mitchell.
In October of 2016, Mike was honored by receiving the Claddagh Award by the Maine Irish Heritage Center in recognition of his long-time promotion of Irish history and culture in Maine. During each of three previous sabbatical leaves from Saint Joseph’s College, he was pleased to offer three history courses for the Semester at Sea program on its around-the-world voyages in Spring 2004, Spring 2011, and Fall 2017, and he is scheduled to sail again in Spring 2023 along with his life partner and anam cara, Becky Hitchcock. He still resides on his beloved Munjoy Hill.
“Murky Overhead reminded me of so many memories of growing up on Munjoy Hill. It actually made me feel better about myself. Mike Connolly could not have done a better job in capturing the spirit of those times, and I found that his words agreed with the long-held thoughts of my own mind.”
~ Joseph E. Brennan, former two-term Maine Governor and a longtime resident of Portland’s Munjoy Hill
“This book goes deep into the lives and into the hearts of Irish emigrants in Portland, Maine, at the turn of the 20th Century. It resonates with me, as my own family experienced many of the same triumphs and difficulties as the family depicted in this true-to-life historical novel. My father, John Walsh, emigrated from the area of Callowfeenish, on the far west coast of Connemara, the same area from where one of the main characters in this book, Coley Folan, left for America. My mother is from the neighboring area of Ros Muc. These stories of emigrants’ courage and heartache are central to the story of America.”
~ Martin J. Walsh, Secretary of Labor for the United States and former Mayor of Boston
“Michael Connolly is a renowned historian of the Irish in Maine, who has worked extensively with the Maine Irish Heritage Center to research and communicate the experience of the generations of Irish immigrants who settled in Portland and elsewhere in Maine. In Murky Overhead, he combines historical fiction with meticulous research to bring to life in vivid detail the hopes, struggles and dreams of those Irish who made their homes in this ‘next parish west of Galway.’
~ Laoise Moore, Consul General of Ireland for New England
“Coley Folan and Mary Joyce could be the ancestors of millions of Irish Americans. While the author has set Murky Overhead in the genre of historical fiction, this story of emigration from the rural west of Ireland, and from the Gaelic-speaking communities, encapsulates the reality of leaving a poverty-stricken land in the 19th Century and survival on a lowly rung in America. The focus is on Portland, Maine, but the story can be related to any city where the Irish made a home in the United States.”
~ Máirtín Ó Catháin, Chairman of the Emigrants Commemorative Center, Carna, County Galway, Ireland
“As a longtime colleague of Michael Connolly’s, and also a descendant of Irish immigrants, I am delighted to find in Murky Overhead the historian meet the novelist. Having studied extensively the story of Irish longshoremen on Portland’s docks, Professor Connolly has brought that history alive with deeply engaging characters facing the challenges of building a new life in a new world.”
~ Edward J. Rielly, Professor Emeritus of Saint Joseph’s College (Maine) and author, among many other books, of Baseball: An Encyclopedia of Popular Culture and Legends of American Indian Resistance
“Connolly enriches a familiar plot with a thorough knowledge and empathy for the Irish, a people he knows, loves, and respects. Readers will gain valuable insight regarding the cultures, history, and politics of both Connemara and Portland, as well as becoming aware of the Irish words and phrases, mythology, and stories Connolly liberally sprinkles throughout. The native Irish immigrants were a tough and tender people, and he captures their transformation from poverty-stricken immigrants to American citizens with grace, humor, admiration, and love. Connolly loves his people and readers will, too.”
~ Morgan Callan Rogers, author of Red Ruby Heart in a Cold Blue Sea and Written on My Heart
“Murky Overhead resonates with the rich speech, known in Irish as the blas, that the people of Connemara, and particularly those from Cois Fharraige and Cárna, brought with them to Portland’s dockside neighborhoods mere generations ago. The music, wisdom, and wit of the Irish come alive effortlessly in Michael Connolly’s downeast historical fiction.
~ Brian Frykenberg, New England and the Irish Language Oral History Project, Cumann na Gaeilge i mBoston.
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