Poor Farm by Ronan O’Driscoll

“I took to walking with my son Martin. He is autistic and needs a lot of outside activity. On one of our outings, we came upon a grove of wooden crosses, the only remains of a 19th-century Nova Scotia poor farm for the “harmlessly insane”. This was the spark that turned into Poor Farm. My second novel is an attempt to imagine what life would be like for somebody like Martin, at that time.” (Excerpt from an Irish Times article by Ronan O’Driscoll)

Inspiration for a novel can happen at the unlikeliest of times in the most random places. Similar to the finding of mass graves near Residential schools, the so-called “Poor Farms” and “Poor Houses” have burial sites of their former residents (or inmates). Those relegated to such places were deemed “harmlessly insane”, “paupers” as well as those escaping a past life with nowhere else to go. The author wonders how his son would have been treated on such a farm, which led him to write this historical novel.

A #ReadAtlantic book!

Poor Farm is the story of several people from the strata of society as it existed in Halifax in the late 1800s. There are those on the city council who wish to put the city’s indigent to work on farms outside of the city. Then there are those who are placed in such institutions because the family cannot care for them, or they have run away from an abusive home. Then there are those tasked with running the farm who are given inadequate funds by the city and must continually deal with all sorts of residents with special needs. One can feel the exasperation of the farm’s caretakers.

Poor Farm was a gratifying read, despite the many trials, abuses, and government meddling that takes place. As historical fiction, it is quite good, and if there is anything negative to say about Poor Farm is that it suffers from a few too many characters and the subsequent changing of scenes, which works well in a visual medium, but in a printed work, can make some characters unclear to the reader, if not a little confusing at times. However, this is a book that needed to be written, and Nova Scotia’s Moose House Publications has performed a great service by publishing it.

Originally from the West of Ireland, Ronan O’Driscoll lived in Chicago, Dublin and Japan before settling in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia with his wife and children. A software developer and educator, he has always enjoyed writing. His first novel, Chief O’Neill, pays homage to his love of history and traditional Irish music.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Moose House Publications (April 1 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 240 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1777293782
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1777293789

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James M. Fisher is the owner and editor-in-chief of The Miramichi Reader. He began TMR in 2015, realizing that there was a genuine need for more book reviews of Canadian literature. It has since become Canada’s best-regarded source for the finest in new literary releases. James has been interviewed about TMR on CBC Radio and other media sites. James works as a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Technologist and lives in Miramichi, New Brunswick with his wife Diane and their tabby cat Eddie.