I must admit up front that I'm not usually a fan of these sorts of memoirs.I find the tragic tales of mistreatment to be generally depressing and upsetting and I don't usually take pleasure in reading them. That aside, there is a big market for this category of non-fiction and Maureen Coppinger's book is well written and touching and she tells her story with little sense of self-pity.
Taken to an industrial school by her 'mother' in 1933, aged just three years old, Maureen tells of her early days at the hands of her supposed carers. With the innocent voice of a child uncertain of why she is even in this institution and with the hindsight comments of a mature woman she recognises the impact that the nun's treatment was having on her and her friends. She is fourteen before she ever leaves the premises of the orphanage to holiday for the first time for a holiday with her 'Mammy' in Mullingar, and sixteen when she leaves the orphanage for good to start a new life.
But this departure is bitter sweet. the only family she has had in her short life are her friends in the orphanage and leaving them is painful and emotional. With revelations still to come and new experiences as she leaves Ireland, this was a story that drew me in, however reluctant I was at the outset. It is a story that portrays sadness; in particular the shameful mistreatment of orphans in 1930s and 40s Ireland. But it is also one of ultimately overcoming hurdles that are set in our way. Despite Maureen's deprived start in life, she proves to be a survivor and faces up to set backs, finding new places to live, new jobs, new friends and, ultimately, a new country.
Annie's Girl is published by Mainstream Publishing.