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The Seamstress of Fortune

O’Mahony, Terri

Dublin: Poolbeg Press


The Seamstress of Fortune

Plot Summary

After Hannah Benson’s father dies, she and her mother (Peggy) and two sisters (May and Florrie) are forced to leave their home in Glenmore to live in Limerick with Peggy’s sister and her husband. Once there, with her uncle’s help Hannah begins a small dressmaking business, catering to the upper-class women of Limerick.

As her enterprise begins to grow, Hannah becomes troubled by the economic disparities between the rich and poor of Limerick and determines to do her part to change things. She hires several girls who, as fallen women, have been relegated to doing laundry for no pay by the nuns at a local convent. Meanwhile, she catches the eye of Lieutenant Jonathan Mayhew, who has just returned from the Boer War. Though they fall deeply in love, their union is not to be; Jonathan’s sister convinces them that it would not be prudent for a man of Jonathan’s social standing to marry a seamstress of working-class origins, despite Hannah’s newfound wealth and success.

Deeply sorrowed, Hannah and Jonathan go their separate ways and marry other people. Despite the distance between them, they think of one another all the time. Hannah is kept busy with her growing business—for several years, she moves to New York to facilitate its expansion—and is constantly worrying about her sister, May, who has married an abusive young republican. Meanwhile, Jonathan becomes a successful writer on behalf of the Gaelic League.

However, Hannah and Jonathan realize that they are destined to be together when, after the deaths of their respective partners, they meet again on a ship bound for Limerick. Shortly after they marry, though, they are caught in the crossfire of the 1916 Easter Rising while on a short vacation to Dublin. Hannah, at the onset of an early labour, is trapped in a house, while Jonathan is caught out in the dangerous streets, having attempted to send a message to the editor of his newspaper in Limerick. Luckily, both survive the violence, and Jonathan manages to rescue one of Hannah’s workers. May’s abusive husband is killed. The novel ends as Hannah and Jonathan excitedly make plans for their next journey to America.

Main Characters

  • Hannah Benson

Significant Minor Characters

  • May Benson

  • Florrie Benson

  • Peter Benson

  • Peggy Benson

  • Annie Sullivan

  • John Sullivan

  • Christine O’Shea

  • James McCarthy

  • Jonathan Mayhew

  • Dr. Robert O’Shea

  • Vincent Sullivan

  • Michael Murphy

  • Madeline Deery

  • Eily Mitchell

Publication History

First published in paperback by the Poolbeg Press in Dublin (2005). This is the only publication to date. Novel is currently out of print.

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