Top ‘o the mornin’ to ya! (Or evening, or whatever time of day you might be reading this.) In celebration of St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow, here’s an Old Favorite out of Ireland: The Flight of the Doves, by Walter Macken.
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Finn and Derval Dove live with their stepfather “Uncle” Toby after the death of their mother. Although he looks very round and jovial, Uncle Toby is not a nice man. He expects Finn to do all the cooking, cleaning and other chores around the house, along with looking after Derval. If Finn doesn’t do a good enough job, he gets slapped, or locked in the coal bin. Finn lives with this, because he knows that he and his sister have no where else to go.
Until the April afternoon when Uncle Toby threatens to slap seven-year-old Derval, and Finn feels his world change.
Finn is reminded by Uncle Toby’s “bad Irish blood” comment that they DO have other relatives. Finn hasn’t seen them since Derval was a baby, but their mother had a grandmother and even some brothers in western Ireland. He doesn’t know their address (Uncle Toby burned all their mother’s letters after she died) but he does have the memory of a family visit with them when he was six or seven, and the diary he had kept then. There’s not a whole lot of information about the trip (he was just learning how to write, and wasn’t big on details) but Finn is sure that he’ll be able to find his Granny O’Flaherty. Derval needs love, Finn decides, and he’s going to make sure that she gets it. So he trades his most valuable possessions for enough money to buy train tickets, bundles his little sister into every item of clothing she owns, packs his own schoolbag, and they set out for the train station.
The first part of their journey goes well; but they have no idea what’s happening back at the home they just left. When Uncle Toby discovered that they were missing, his first reaction was to let them go; he really doesn’t care about them all that much. But on the heels of discovering their disappearance, a lawyer comes to the house with a letter. It seems that the children’s mother has been left an inheritance–because she has already died though, the large sum of money will go to the children, with their guardian being the one with access to the money. And Uncle Toby gets very, very greedy. He goes to the police and tells them the story of his poor, impressionable step-daughter, dragged away in the night by her bad big brother, a chronic runaway. He has the police put up posters and even goes on television in his search.
Finn and Derval are taken by surprise. Instead of the simple train journey from England to Ireland Finn had planned, they’re suddenly fugitives. With their descriptions all over the news and even on “Missing” posters, they must disguise themselves. They definitely can’t take any form of public transportation for fear of recognition. Finn is still determined to evade Uncle Toby and get Derval to Granny O’Flaherty, but now they’re stuck trying to cross the country on foot, trying to escape notice, trying to avoid people. When Uncle Toby sobs on camera about his ‘poor, lost children’ and offers a large reward for their return, Finn realizes that he and Derval can’t trust anyone.
As they cross the Irish countryside and meet people along the way, Finn survives on his wits, with some help from Derval’s innocence and sweet face. Will Finn and Derval manage to escape from Uncle Toby’s clutches? Can he get his little sister to their grandmother? Will the police Inspector on their trail find them before they get there? Does Granny O’Flaherty even know they exist, and will she want them if they show up on her doorstep? Will the flight of the Doves end in success or in failure?
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The Flight of the Doves originally came out in 1967, so the media outlets were not quite as prevalent as they are now. Still, Finn has quite a chore to travel across hundreds of miles on foot, all the while avoiding attention! I loved this book because of Finn…he’s so determined to do the right thing for his sister; he doesn’t even think of himself.
The book was very popular when it came out, and was even made into a movie in 1971, starring Jack Wild and Ron Moody (from Oliver!). It’s a great story of survival; the people and countryside of Ireland in the 1950s/1960s comes to life in the vivid descriptions. It also makes a good read-aloud…my fifth-grade teacher read us the first few chapters. (She would always stop after five or six chapters, and tell us to find the book and finish it on our own, which just isn’t right in my book!)
So if you like survival stories, or stories about brothers and sisters who would do anything for each other, or you simply want a story based in Ireland to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, you should try The Flight of the Doves. Pick it up today, and see!