Nineteen-year-old Nell Flynn is training to be a nurse and planning to marry her boyfriend, Liam Connor, when her mother dies, leaving her younger sisters destitute. To save them from the workhouse, Nell returns to the family home - a mere two rooms at the top of a condemned tenement.
Nell finds work at a biscuit factory and, at first, they scrape through each week. But then eight-year-old Róisín, delicate from birth, is admitted to hospital with rheumatic fever and fifteen-year-old Kate, rebellious, headstrong and resentful of Nell taking her mother's place, runs away.
When Liam finds work in London, Nell stays to struggle on alone - her unwavering devotion to her sisters stronger even than her love for him. She's determined that one day the Dublin girls will be reunited and only then will she be free to follow her heart.