Evelyn by Evelyn Doyle

I’ve finished reading Evelyn by Evelyn Doyle. It is based on true life events. The story is told through the eyes of a small child, who looks back on extraordinary events that occurred in her young life. It is set against the backdrop of Dublin in the fifties.


Evelyn grew up in a family of five in very poor circumstances in Fatima Mansions. It was a housing complex in Dublin that was built in the fifties to house people who’d heretofore been living in inner-city tenement slums that author Sean O’Casey in the 20s wrote prolifically about in his trilogies.

Evelyn introduces readers to life in Fatima Mansions and a kind neighbour who sometimes fed her siblings and herself despite having thirteen more mouths of her own to feed. The reason for this was because her mother would go off gallivanting and her father was out at work. The children got up to all sorts of tricks in order to stave off the hunger, that included selling off empty tea-chests that a kind shop-keeper gave them because he felt sorry for their obvious neglected plight.

A bombshell is dropped. The mother decides to disappear with a close relative on Christmas Day of all the days of the year. The father becomes frantic and breaks down as he does not know what to do with the children on his own as he has to work. He finally gets in contact with the social services, who sort out situation by getting them committed to industrial “schools.”

Evelyn is sent to High Park, Drumcondra, Dublin, whilst her brothers are destined to go to St. Joseph’s in Kilkenny. There is anxiety about them going to the dreaded Christians Brothers when they reach the age of ten, which was what occurred to boys in mixed institutions. So the thought of getting them out of the industrial *school* system was ever to the fore with the father.

Evelyn seems to fare not too badly in High Park. Her father stipulated to the nuns that her hair was not to be cut. His request was fully met and Evelyn became the object of pride by other children. In other words she was a pet. The child is also given a minder called Siobhan who is very protective of her. She’s allowed to have dolls and shares them with her new-found industrial *school* friends. She does however tell the reader that she was forced to sleep with her hands crossed on her chest. Her mother came to visit her. She brought her a doll and other toys. She even took her out for the day. She then vanished into thin air. She’d eloped to England with her first cousin.

In the interim Evelyn’s father too went off to Scotland. He was recommended to a woman with a pub for digs. The woman was getting a hard time from her husband. The two of them finally come back to Ireland and go and live with Dessie’s cantankerous grand-father.

Dessie falls in love with Jesse, and he has plans to try to get his children back from the system, with the help of his ‘housekeeper’.


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