The Donegal Woman

John Throne at the Celtic Cafe

“In a season when 'The Devil Wears Prada' delivers to our cinema screens a story as slick as it is false about the exploitation of young women by capitalist industry, 'The Donegal Woman' provides an alternative exploration of that theme, and one that has the sweet ring of authenticity.” The Irish Times

From the Irish Herald:

Book recounts brutality of hard times

January 11, 2007

John Throne's mother kept a family secret as long as she could but decided that it shouldn't die with her. One day in the late 1980s, when she was in her late 80s, she told her son, in a few sentences, a horrifying story about his grandmother's life.

Throne, who was born in Lifford, County Donegal, Ireland, but now lives in Des Plaines [a suburb of Chicago, Illinois, in the US], decided the world needed to hear that story. He tells it in The Donegal Woman (Drumkeen Press, 2006), a novel that fills in all the details of his grandmother's life.

Throne will read from his book and sign autographs at The Irish American Heritage Center in Chicago on Sunday, Jan. 21.

Throne has a gift for description that makes every page come alive for the reader. It's an honest portrayal of life in an impoverished area of the world at a particularly difficult time.

Child victim
Margaret, the character who represents Throne's grandmother, was 12 years old when her father hired her out to a local farmer, a common practice among poor families at that time. By the time she was 14, she was pregnant by the farmer, who had repeatedly raped her. And her life went downhill from there before her death at 20.

Throne said that his mother probably waited so long to tell her mother's story because "she was very ashamed of what had happened. At the same time, she loved her mother and wasn't able to condemn her mother. She was trying to struggle in her own mind with that contradiction that she thought her mother was the greatest person in her life. At the same time she'd been told by all the institutions that what her mother did was a sin -- being pregnant and having a baby without being married.

That sense of shame hasn't vanished. Throne noted that only one of his four sisters has attended his book signings in Ireland.

The author also had an impoverished childhood. He left school at the age of 16. "At that stage, you had to pay for school," he said. "Every year, I used to hear my mother complain about how hard it was to raise the money.

"I went to a lot of other schools after that," Throne added. "The schools of the street and of the politics in Ireland."

Throne immigrated to Canada when he was 20, where he joined the merchant navy. In the mid '60s, he lived in this country for a short time and was "influenced by the civil rights movement in the U.S. Then I went back to Ireland and became part of the developing civil rights movement there. I've been active in Labor and Socialist politics ever since."

Moving on
About a decade ago, he moved to this country. "I began to get more connections with the union activists in the United States. I began to help them and they helped me, too," Throne related. He decided to stay here after marrying an American woman.

Throne has done a lot of political writing and he edited a left-wing newspaper in Dublin for a half-dozen years, but "The Donegal Woman" is his first novel.

It was a book that Throne felt he had to write. "I realized there are tens and tens of thousands of women out there in Donegal and other parts of Ireland who are in the same situation," he said. "I resolved that I was going to write this for my grandmother and also for all the other women. And also for the men as well who went through that hiring fair system and that brutal life."

Book signing with author John Throne. Irish American Heritage Center, 4626 N. Knox Ave., Chicago. 2-4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 21. Free. (773) 282-7035 or


More reviews from the Irish press:

“The story is relentless in its savagery and the misery of the child tears at your heart, but he also has a wonderful lyrical quality to his writing which shows that there is a good writer at work here.” Jennifer Johnston, Irish writer

“Hiring Fairs have inspired acres of print space, some telling it like it was, some hopelessly romantic, but none as harrowing as John Throne’s The Donegal Woman. . . . it does not make for easy reading but it must be read.” Frank Galligan, The Donegal Democrat

“An unadorned, searing tale that reclaims from the often brutal and brutalizing conditions in remote rural Ireland the buried history of one woman’s struggle to survive and rear her children. The Donegal Woman pulls no punches. It is a just memorial to courage and perseverance, shot through with sunbursts of innocence, love and natural beauty. A disturbing, unforgettable portrait.” Gerald Dawe, Irish poet

“It shares the MacGill’s grimness but also his depictions of ordinary men and women of unconquerable spirit, of humor and generosity against the most appalling odds." Pat Smyth, Foreign Editor, The Irish Times

“…it is a compelling book, thanks to its powerful subject matter and Throne’s gift for storytelling. A social history, but much more, it is a powerful story of a victim who gradually overcomes misfortune and finds happiness and independence.” Irish Times


Front Cover for
The Donegal Woman
Author John Throne