Book Review: The First Time I Said Goodbye by Claire Allan

‘Would you hold on tighter if you knew you were saying goodbye forever?

In 1959 Factory Girl Stella Hegarty finds herself falling unexpectedly for the charms of a handsome US Marine based in Derry. Caught up in a whirlwind of romance, Stella finds herself planning a new life in America with her beloved Ray. But when tragedy steps in, both their lives are thrown into turmoil and they come to realise that they may have said their first and last goodbyes.

In 2010, Stella’s daughter Annabel, reeling from the loss of her father, agrees to accompany her mother back to Ireland to meet her family for the first time. In Derry they both start to realise that sometimes you have to say goodbye to what you thought you always wanted, in order to find out what you have needed all along.’


Hearing Claire Allan talk about her book at the wonderful launch, it’s clear that it’s a book that it very special for her. It will be for you, too. It’s a many-faceted love story that spans two very different generations. Usually I’m not sure a story incorporating 1950s Ireland would draw me, but it’s so personal a story. The 1950s-60s creep in in the desires, wishes, clothing, and responsibilities that surround young Stella, making the story all the richer.

I could relate to Annabel in many ways, she’s lost and hurt, doing her best. She never has the right thing to wear! She was always a Daddy’s girl, and facing what feels like a betrayal from her mother after his death, she struggles to understand. The rebuilding of the relationship between mother Stella and daughter Annabel is fascinating and delicately depicted.

Young Stella and Ray’s story is just breathtaking. I’m not sure I’ve ever read about such a sincere and true love. It isn’t soppy or far fetched. Really gives you something to hope for and aspire to. Prepare for your heart to be broken. Claire had the idea for this book after conducting an interview with an unlikely couple. Avril and Bob were actually at her wonderful vintage book launch and Claire’s speech was so eloquent, and her presentation to Avril had everyone sniffing and staring at the ceiling. True love is out there, everyone! Myself and my friend Caoimhe saw Avril and Bob leave, walk around the corner and put their arms around each other, and keep walking.

Vintage cupcakes and teeny chocolate books!  Chocolate Manor is amazing

I really loved the descriptions of family life, coming from a big family myself. Even across the 60 or so years I recognised traditions and sayings. I especially enjoyed the Christmas scenes. They were so magical and comforting.

I shed a few tears, mostly for love and the selflessness of Stella.

There’s some great laughs too. Annabel and her newly found cheeky Irish cousin Sam create a wonderful duo who bounce off each other.

Claire speaking at her launch, at the site of the old Corinthian Ballroom, now the lovely Sandwich Company.
Claire speaking at her launch, at the site of the old Corinthian Ballroom, now the lovely Sandwich Company.

My own city of Derry gets shown off, I always get a thrill from recognising and spotting places in Claire’s books. You may find yourself wanting to visit. So apt in the City of Culture year. The city is looking brilliant, and with the new open spaces around the Quay you can imagine it buzzing with handsome Marines and gorgeous girls.

This is a gem of a book, and so easy to get lost in. It will break your heart, and yet fill it with hope. Claire’s seventh book is her strongest yet – and really worth snuggling up with. Let me know what you think!

Check out Claire’s website and her previous books.

Me getting all Vintage at the launch.
Me getting all Vintage at the launch.

Author: Fiona

One thought on “Book Review: The First Time I Said Goodbye by Claire Allan”

  1. Brilliant review – I’m convinced, I’m going to buy and read…it sounds like a great premise, rooted in the real history of the city. By the way, the vintage look suits you!

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