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As a young woman, Roseanne McNulty was one of the most beautiful and beguiling girls in County Sligo, Ireland. Now, as her hundredth year draws near, she is a patient at Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital, and she decides to record the events of her life.

As Roseanne revisits her past, hiding the manuscript beneath the floorboards in her bedroom, she learns that Roscommon Hospital will be closed in a few months and that her caregiver, Dr. Grene, has been asked to evaluate the patients and decide if they can return to society. Roseanne is of particular interest to Dr. Grene, and as he researches her case he discovers a document written by a local priest that tells a very different story of Roseanneas life than what she recalls. As doctor and patient attempt to understand each other, they begin to uncover long-buried secrets about themselves.

Set against an Ireland besieged by conflict, The Secret Scripture is an epic story of love, betrayal, and unavoidable tragedy, and a vivid reminder of the stranglehold that the Catholic Church had on individual lives for much of the twentieth century.

(Image and story synopsis from goodreads)

In June my husband and I went on vacation to Ireland. This was a trip that we had been planning on and hoping for since we first visited Dublin 12 years ago. We were finally able to come to a point in our lives where it was possible. This trip was one that allowed us to explore more of the country than we had been able to before. We rented a car and, using a travel agency, stayed at different B & Bs throughout the trip. However, besides staying at the B & Bs, we did also stay in a couple hotels towards the end of our travels. One of the hotels we stayed at was the Sligo Clarion Hotel.

The picture above is the one I took when we returned to the hotel from dinner in town. As you can see, the exterior of the building is fascinating and there is obviously a history to it. Strangely though, there is no placard or sign anywhere around the hotel telling of the history of the building. Because of this I obviously turned to Google to find out what I could about the building. Interestingly, and perhaps creepily?, the building was at one time Saint Columbas Hospital – once a psychiatric hospital. While I was researching the history, I came across mention of a book called The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry. Barry apparently used this hospital/hotel as part inspiration for his novel. Intrigued, I immediately downloaded the book onto my Kindle.

Barry’s novel immediately drew me in with the overlapping stories of Roseanne and Dr. Grene. Both of them have preconceived notions about the other, but as we the reader find out, they have so much more in common than they ever would have thought. Interestingly, Roseanne’s story comes out a bit disjointed because she is a woman about to turn 100 years old looking back on her life and how she got to be in the hospital in the first place. Dr. Grene is also trying to figure out the same thing and I was immediately interested in the way Roseanne’s story was revealed.

One aspect that I also found compelling in The Secret Scripture was how much the local priest became involved in young Roseanne’s life. In Ireland, there has always been a power struggle between religions and how they treated the other side. We see the influence, at this point in history, as to how the Catholic Church was trying to bring non-Catholics into the church in order to “save” them so they could be forgiven and given a “better” life. Many times this local priest interferes in Roseanne’s life and we have to wonder how things might have turned out differently for her had her circumstances and background been different. We also see how as children, we often alter our own memories to make an event easier to deal with. Through Roseanne’s accounting of her own history and difficulties and then subsequent information Dr. Grene finds out through his own search of Roseanne, the reader begins to piece together the truth to what happened to Roseanne.

While I had never heard of The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry before staying in Sligo, I’m so glad that I did some research of the hotel and came across this novel. What made it a little more fun for me was that some of the local towns and tourist attractions that were mentioned in the novel were ones that my husband and I had visited while staying in Sligo. It made staying in the hotel a little bit spookier – in a good way! – and allowed me to discover a great story. As I was reading, I would even pause to show my husband some of the mentions of history or places we had visited to my husband. Once I started reading Barry’s book, I couldn’t put it down. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction – it remains one of my favorite genres to read.