In 1875 a young man, Jack Brennan, from a large and impoverished Catholic family refuses to be pushed like his brothers into the priesthood and runs away from home to become a teacher.
Jack falls in love with Eliza Hewlett, but his dreams and plans are thwarted when his landlord's daughter, Mary Ellen, falsely accuses him of fathering the child she is expecting.
Rather than be forced into marrying his accuser, Jack and Eliza decide to run away to America. Just as the ship is ready to sail Jack is arrested and dragged from the ship, leaving Eliza alone en route to New York with just a few shillings in her pocket.
Will Jack be forced to marry Mary Ellen? Will he fulfil his dream of becoming a poet? How will Eliza cope alone and penniless in America? Will the lovers be reunited?