Lilly and Ceily Carney are only seven and twelve when their mother is cruelly taken from them, leaving them at the mercy of the Church and the authorities.
This is a terrifying prospect in 1950s Dublin, where it is likely that the girls will end up in one of Ireland’s notorious Magdalen laundries – a fate they are determined to escape.
When Father Flitters and the ‘Cruelty’ people arrive to take the children into care, Lilly and Ceily resist, and a riot breaks out. The girls are helped by kind Mister Mullins and his daughter Delia, but events lead to further tragedy and Lilly is left to fend for herself on the dangerous streets. Heartbroken, hungry and vulnerable, she looks like easy prey and it seems there will be no safe haven for her to find.
On hearing that Jackser, her childhood abuser, is seriously ill, Martha is elated, thinking that finally she will be able to watch him suffer. But in the hospital she sees a frightened, lonely old man and realises with a shock that he seems to regret his earlier actions.
During her vigil, she is joined by Charlie, her beloved little brother, then the ma and some of her other siblings. All of them have suffered greatly and it is clear that no one connected to Jackser has escaped unscathed.
But as she sits with him during his dying days, other memories of Jackser come back to Martha – fleeting moments of concern and kindness, and a sense of closeness as he recalled his own tormented past in one of Ireland’s industrial schools. It is a vicious cycle of cruelty and loss that has played out, from which only her own tenacity and wit has provided an escape.
Poignant, ribald, poetic and defiant, with its resolution of many unanswered questions about her life this is Martha at her best.
After a failed suicide attempt and recovery in the mad house, Martha is heading for France to be reunited with the one true love of her life.
Father Ralph Fitzgerald rescued her from the streets when she was sixteen and was the first person to show Martha true love and affection. But their relationship threatened his vocation and he eventually fled to Africa to take up missionary work.
Martha never got over losing him and now, after nearly twenty years, he has made contact again. She sets off on a mission to find him and uncover his motives for getting in touch. Does he still love her? Has he left the priesthood? Is he now free to marry her? She needs to know what the future is going to hold.
Martha is now in her thirties. Her daughter has left home and she is lonely and vulnerable. The hard knocks have taken their toll on her health, and as she looks into the years still lying ahead of her, she shakes her head, feeling she hasn't the heart or the strength to go on.
As she teeters on the brink of a nervous breakdown, a phone call summons ghosts from the past. She discovers that one of the family is dead and the others need her help. Martha returns and when she comes face to face with the evil, psychotic Jackser, she can no longer suppress the nightmares of her childhood.
A suicide attempt sees her admitted to the 'mad house', where a hunger strike takes her even nearer to death. But finally she sees a chink of light at the end of the tunnel. Could love in an unexpected form pull her back from the brink?
At 16, Martha collapses on the streets, suffering from starvation and exposure. She has reached rock bottom, but after Martha is taken to hospital, Lady Luck smiles kindly on her and she is given the opportunity to get off the streets for ever.
Before long, Martha is on the way to leading the normal life she has so long dreamt of. She makes friends, begins to put the misery of her past behind her and even experiences her first taste of love.
For her, love is a powerful feeling. She has never experienced real affection before and is now plunged into the complex world of love between a man and a woman. The intense emotion consumes her, for this is a forbidden love that can never be requited. After all, Ralph Fitzgerald is a priest, and he will never break his vow of chastity. This love brings heartbreaking consequences and changes the direction of Martha's life for ever . . .
In this latest instalment of Martha Long's real-life account of abuse, deprivation and cruelty at the hands of her mother's partner and the establishment, Martha is now 16 and her time at the convent school is up. In Ma, It's a Cold Aul Night an I'm Lookin for a Bed, she leads us through her first months of freedom.
With no home to go to, Martha leaves the convent carrying her suitcase and a burning ambition to shake off her impoverished past. Hungry to become a person who will blend in with the middle classes, Martha yearns to be accepted as someone who can be loved, respected, and one day have a home of her own where she will be safe. But this is 1960s Dublin, where poverty is rife and the Church works together with the Irish government to keep the poor and the ignorant in their place.
Martha first finds work as a home help with a loving, lively family, which leads her to a job in a shop, an Italian fish and chip café, then as a skivvy in a miserable household where she is reminded of the terror Jackser brought into her life. Chance meetings with brothers and old friends from the convent lift Martha's spirits, but soon she is back on the streets searching for work and a warm bed to call her own.
Martha is not often deterred when fate deals her a blow. 'Life is a bowl of cherries!' she reasons. But heartache awaits as people turn her away and predators lurk in the shadows.
Aged thirteen, Martha is rescued by the courts from the clutches of her evil stepfather, Jackser, and her feckless mother, Sally. After numerous arrests for shoplifting, a judge rules that she is to be sent to a convent school with the instruction that she is to get an education.
Her initial relief at escaping the abuse and neglect she suffered at home is, however, short-lived, as she soon realises that there are many forms of cruelty in this life. As she says, 'You can have a full belly, but your heart can be very empty.' Ostracised by the other children for being a 'street kid' and put to back-breaking work by the nuns, she leads a lonely existence, her only joy coming from the books she devours and her mischievous sense of humour.
Desperate for love and a little place where she feels she belongs, despite all that she has suffered Martha retains her compassion for others and still continues to hope for a brighter future when she will be free to make her own way in life.
Born a bastard to a teenage mother in the slums of 1950s Dublin, Martha has to be a fighter from the very start.
As her mother moves from man to man, and more children follow, they live hand-to-mouth in squalid, freezing tenements, clothed in rags and forced to beg for food. But just when it seems things can't get any worse, her mother meets Jackser.
Despite her trials, Martha is a child with an irrepressible spirit and a wit beyond her years. She tells the story of her early life without an ounce of self-pity and manages to recreate a lost era in which the shadow of the Catholic Church loomed large and if you didn't work, you didn't eat.
Martha never stops believing she is worth more than the hand she has been dealt, and her remarkable voice will remain with you long after you've finished the last line.