Skip to Main Content

We Were Rich and We Didn't Know It

A Memoir of My Irish Boyhood

About The Book

“You don’t have to be Irish to cherish this literary gift—just being human and curious and from a family will suffice.” —Malachy McCourt, New York Times bestselling author of A Monk Swimming

In the tradition of Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes and Alice Taylor’s To School Through the Fields, Tom Phelan’s We Were Rich and We Didn’t Know It is a heartfelt and masterfully written memoir of growing up in Ireland in the 1940s.

Tom Phelan, who was born and raised in County Laois in the Irish midlands, spent his formative years working with his wise and demanding father as he sought to wrest a livelihood from a farm that was often wet, muddy, and back-breaking.

It was a time before rural electrification, the telephone, and indoor plumbing; a time when the main modes of travel were bicycle and animal cart; a time when small farmers struggled to survive and turkey eggs were hatched in the kitchen cupboard; a time when the Church exerted enormous control over Ireland.

We Were Rich and We Didn’t Know It recounts Tom’s upbringing in an isolated, rural community from the day he was delivered by the local midwife. With tears and laughter, it speaks to the strength of the human spirit in the face of life’s adversities.

About The Author

Author Photo by Patricia Phelan

Tom Phelan had just turned fifty when his first novel, In the Season of the Daisies, was accepted for publication. Since then, Phelan has written five other novels: Iscariot, DerrycloneyThe Canal Bridge, Nailer, and Lies the Mushroom Pickers Told. Born and reared in Ireland, he now lives in New York.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Gallery Books (March 5, 2019)
  • Length: 224 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781501197116

Browse Related Books

Raves and Reviews

"You don't have to be Irish to cherish this literary gift—just being human and curious and from a family will suffice." –Malachy McCourt, New York Times bestselling author of A Monk Swimming

"Other works have been situated at the same intersection of time and place, but rarely has the tale been told with such a charming simplicity of voice plus a vividness that fully captures the distinctive sound and pulse of Irish life." –Billy Collins

"Phelan's prose has an unpretentious beauty as he describes the farm, its routine and the people he remembers... With rich detail and sensitivity, We Were Rich translates for us a rural world that has disappeared. And to assist townies like me, he appends a glossary." Star Tribune

"Plain, honest, funny, occasionally sad and rich in material detail, this wonderful memoir […] is the real thing." Newsday

"A tender recollection of growing up on a farm in Ireland in the 1940s... a captivating portrait of a bygone time." Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"[A] series of tender and earnest anecdotes of coming-of-age in the rural Irish midlands of the 1940s… Phelan’s vivid images of his life on the farm and at school provide a rich and colorful snapshot of the times that shaped him." Publishers Weekly

"An evocative memoir with echoes of Frank McCourt." Newsday

"This might seem like a grim childhood, and to be sure at times it was, but Phelan also draws on the small victories, the love of the land and of family. At a time when we have so much and are satisfied with none of it, Phelan’s story is one of grace and beauty." –CAYOCOSTA72

"In this very interesting memoir, we are drawn into a strange world from another time. One would love to sit down with the characters that are described in scintillating detail..." Irish Echo

Resources and Downloads

High Resolution Images