Michael C. Connolly poses at Portland’s Fort Allen Park, not far from where he set his historical fiction novel “Murky Overhead.” Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

A Portand resident who spent 36 years teaching history to students at St. Joseph’s College has released a book of his own history.

In May, Munjoy Hill native Michael C. Connolly released “Murky Overhead,” a historical fiction novel that tells the story of a day in the life of a young Irish couple living in Portland during the turn of the 20th century.

“Their life is hopeful, but murky,” he said of the novel’s protagonists Coleman Foley, a longshoreman, and his wife, Mary, who is expecting the couple’s 10th child. “There are challenges all around them, just like immigrants coming to America today.”

A book launch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 10 at the Maine Irish Heritage Center.

This is Connolly’s first novel. He has, however, worked in nonfiction, writing “Seated by the Sea,” a 2010 book on Portland’s maritime history and its Irish longshoremen. He also edited “They Change Their Sky,” a 2004 book about the Irish in Maine and “John Ford in Focus,” a 2007 book of essays about Ford, an American film director and Portland native.

“Murky Overhead” tells the fictionalized story of a day in the life of a young Irish couple living in Portland during the turn of the 20th century. Contributed / Michael C. Connolly

While his other books have been more academic in nature, getting into fiction has always been a goal for Connolly, who retired from Saint Joseph’s College in May 2020.

“I’ve had this book in my head for 30 to 40 years. It’s a combination of stories I’ve heard from my parents and my grandparents and from the years I spent (studying) in Ireland,” said Connolly, who spent a year at Trinity University and three years at University College, both in Dublin.

The book also includes research on what life was like in Portland and what was going on in the city on Jan. 31, 1900, the day the novel takes place.

“Once I had the idea in my mind, pulling the chapters together went relatively quickly,” he said.

Mary Anne Hildreth, managing editor of Tower Publishing in Standish, which published the novel, said she enjoyed working with Connolly to help fulfill his dream of writing a novel.

“Because he is from a second-generation Irish family, he knew the characters so well,” Hildreth said. “The book is full of intimate experiences of this Irish immigrant family and friends. Mike wove a story based on true people and stories, which made Munjoy Hill and Portland in the 1900’s come alive.

“The back stories Mike told while we worked together on different sections of the book made the story even more real.  As I walked the streets of Portland with these characters, I totally recognized so many landmarks and historical events that occurred in this timeframe.  I’m sure each reader will come back with an ‘aha’ moment of – “I know that place!”

Connolly is already working on his next novel that tells of an Irish-Catholic from the city who meets a Yankee protestant from rural Maine in the 1930s and 1940s.

“Murky Overhead” can be purchased through the Maine Irish Heritage Center or Tower Publishing.

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