The Largest Baby in Ireland after the Famine

Harry Hutchinson reviews Ann Barnett's debut novel

Ann Barnett grew up in the rural Carndaisey Glen, outside Moneymore and has launched her first novel set in the local area.

Barnett is the eldest of five children and attended the Rainey Endowed School in Magherafelt and Queen’s University in Belfast. Her previous employment was with Time Warner Bros where she travelled extensively throughout Europe and the USA. Ann, now married to Charley, has two children and lives in Belfast, where she will concentrate on writing full time.

Barnett was always interested in literature and is a keen reader of novels, which developed into a desire to express herself. The book is a love story and the impact of one woman growing up in a male dominated society. It also deals with the effects of growing up in a religiously mixed small rural society of protestant values.

The novel is set in the period of the great war, then the turning point in Irish history in 1926. Men of Ballymully, a rural town in Mid-Ulster, met at the bridge every Sunday to talk and smoke. A figure was spotted moving over the bray; a woman, when she appeared, all colour and sway, she was as far away as imaginable from a local woman. That night, Felix Campbell, a respectable lonely bachelor dreamt of purple, purple in the shape of a woman.

As Barnett explained ‘I based the book on local people and the effects that are had on them, a people knitted together and driven apart by religion and rivalry. Sarah-Ann, a catholic, captures the imagination of Felix, a bachelor of staunch protestant values.  This unsettles the community, and triggers unforeseen events.

Careful attention is paid to the description of the characters and the scene around the small farming community in Mid-Ulster. It is a mellow and thoughtful, evolving story from this debut novelist.