Anne Hailes Review: Martha’s Girls

Martha’s Girls
Alrene Hughes
Blackstaff
£8.99

It’s late summer 1939 when the youngest, Sheila finds her father dead in the chair.

A Belfast shipyard carpenter he brought in poor money but essential for his growing family, Martha and his four daughters. Suddenly, without the meager income, with talk of war and unrest between Catholic and Protestent, life changed for the Gouldings in their Joanmount Gardens home. But this is a resourceful family and reading of their growing up and the challenges each one faces is fascinating and often harrowing.

Sheila, the sensitive one searches out a part-time job after school, Irene works in the linen mill hand painting the tablecloths, Pat who’s in Shorts and blessed with a beautiful singing voice, and Peggy serves in Goldstein’s music shop on Royal Avenue. Their individual characters are soon established, love affairs, secret adventures, visits to the Plaza dance hall and then coming together as the singing Golden Sisters who join the Barnstormers to entertain the troops – with a surprise visit from Mr. Churchill to their RAF Aldergrove concert!

Historical facts are accurate, air raids vivid and horrifying, the late Joe Kavanagh’s ‘I Buy Anything’ shop in Smithfield, clandestine meetings in Whites Tavern, the luxuary of Robbs department store, this book is a delight to those who remember and an education to those who don’t.

It’s inspired by a family scrapbook of concert programmes and newspaper cuttings about the actual Golden Sisters, Alrene Hughes’ mother and aunts.

Anne Hailes

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Post Author: Belfast Times

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