The Hungry Road



‘Compelling…An accessible and essential book, which does great service to Irish history and charts the courage and steadfastness of the human spirit’

The SundayTimes

‘Powerful…Conlon McKenna has assembled an excellent cast of characters… myriad small moving details help to illustrate the enormity of the tragedy’

TheIrish Independent

The Hungry Road, was inspired by true Irish heroes and is set during The Great Irish Famine, it is a story of great courage and the strength of the human spirit and a people. Having written Under the Hawthorn Tree, Wildflower Girl and Fields of Home for young readers, books of which I am very proud of and which have become my ‘Children of the Famine’ series I had no plans to write about Ireland’s ‘Great Hunger’again!

Then on holidays in West Cork and visiting Skibbereen’s Famine graveyard in Abbeystrewery where my mother’s mother Margaret Murphy is buried I kept thinking of the tragic past and inherent sadness of this beautiful place. A few days later visiting Skibbereen’s Heritage Centre with its Great Famine exhibition I found myself reading about Dr Dan Donovan, the town’s doctor, who had done so much to save lives during the terrible years of the Great Famine. He had worked in the town dispensary and was also the doctor for the local workhouse which was overcrowded with the starving and sick. I couldn’t understand how I knew so little about Dr Dan Donovan and the huge part he played in saving lives in the town and district over those tragic years.

This good man had helped to open the very first soup kitchen in the town’s mill. He had written a diary about the events of the time and the terrible things he witnessed daily and had to deal with as the town and district and Union workhouse were overrun with the starving and sick -desperate people in need of help. His ‘Diary of a Dispensary Doctor’ was published in newspapers both in Ireland an overseas and was a powerful tool in letting readers know of the terrible conditions faced by the people of West Cork and Ireland. His diary shocked people but attracted journalists and others to come to Skibbereen and report on events there which put pressure on the British government and the Queen for assistance. Reading his diary and beginning to research about him I knew I was reading the words of a true hero and got an immediate sense that I wanted to know more and had to somehow find a way to write about Dr Dan Donovan and tell his story… and so The Hungry Road began.

Three years of research would follow as a story of the tumult and terrible tragedy of a town and its people unfolded.

In 1845 Ireland’s hopes for freedom are dashed with the arrival of a deadly potato blight. Seamstress Mary Sullivans dreams of a better future are shattered as she looks out over their ruined crop. Refusing to give in to despair, she must use every ounce of courage and strength to protect her family as they fight to survive Dr. Dan Donovan is a medical officer to the Skibbereen Union. The arrival of  The Hunger soon brings starving men, women, and children crowding into the town and the workhouse desperate for assistance. Parish Priest Rev John Fitzpatricks faith is tested by the suffering that surrounds him as the town’s pleas for help to the authorities fall on deaf ears.


‘Marita Conlon McKenna has done a great service to Irish history. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I raced through it…It’s a must – add to your collection’

Ryan Tubridy,  RTE Radio1


‘Captivating…This well researched novel brings the atrocity of the famine to life’ 

The Sunday Independent


‘Conlon- McKenna writes about this period with great passion and fury, and even in the midst of tragedy, she finds a way to weave in a love story’ 

RTE Guide


‘There’s no doubt that The Hungry Road’ deserves attention: it’s a gripping read-full of mesmerising and horrifyingly visceral detail’   

Sunday Business Post

‘It’s a great read- it has the feeling of an epic film’ 

Mairead Ronan, Today FM