My Favorite Book: GWTW

When people ask me about my favorite book, I scratch my head and wonder. There are so many that I love, choosing one is nearly impossible. For the purpose of this post I’ll focus on a book that has special meaning for me, but start with the first runner-up.

My mother always made a point of taking my sisters and me to the public library. She never directed us, but let us roam freely until we found something that interested us. She, by the way, was doing the same. One day I found what was to be my first novel, in a pink cloth cover. It was a Victorian story about a woman named Cassandra who gives a young girl a jewel necklace she calls The Wishing Star. The gem is intended to give the girl confidence until she realizes she has it within.

GWTWpromopicI  have not been able to find the book again because there are several with The Wishing Star title. I loved it and did not want to return it to the library when the due date came. I checked it out several times just to have it. This book was my first introduction to historical fiction, and my first real love of story. But it is not my all-time favorite book, because my heart was stolen by another: Margaret Mitchell’s 1939 novel, Gone with the Wind.

I am sure I join a long line of readers in choosing this book, especially since it was brought to life on screen by David O. Selznick and Victor Fleming, and all the magnificent actors: Vivienne Leigh, Clark Gable, Leslie Howard, Olivia de Havilland, Hattie McDaniel, Butterfly McQueen, Everett Brown and so many more.

The book was bursting with interesting characters and dialogue that became classic (“As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again” or “I can’t think about that now, I’ll think about it tomorrow” and of course “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”)

The lead character, Scarlet O’Hara, became one of my heroes in life. I loved her strength, her spark, her resourcefulness and hopefulness. She was real, human, made mistakes and suffered from her flaws and bad decisions. She never quit, never gave up.

GWTW

Cover taped and pages yellowed, this is one of my greatest treasures

But something very special makes me choose this book. It was the first time I went to my mother for advice about what to read. I was bored, I suppose. She led me to the bookshelf in our living room, which was fairly jammed with volumes. She was an avid reader, always having a novel or two on her reading table. She scanned the shelves for just a moment before pulling out the fat book in its blue cardboard cover.

I don’t remember what she said exactly, but something about that book keeping me busy for a while (it did), and that she thought I would like the lead character, Scarlet O’Hara (sure enough). I loved the adventure I had with this book. It remains one of my greatest treasures. And, it cemented my love for historical fiction. My mother knew that, but I don’t think she took credit where it was certainly due. Since then I have never been bored.

The reason this former journalist now writes historical fiction is because all of my reading over the years gave me the confidence to do it myself. The love of historical fiction is, in fact, my wishing star.

Happy reading!

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Tracking the Prince: Adare

Part 16 in a series featuring sites I visited in Ireland while researching my second novel, The Prince of Glencurragh. See previous posts listed at the end.

And so we have arrived, like the last point on an itinerary for a grand adventure, at the last entry in this series. Appropriately, it is Adare. The name comes from the Irish “Ath-daar,” meaning a ford of the oaks, perhaps a coming together of things. And though Adare did not make it into The Prince of Glencurragh as a scene setting, a visit to Ireland is not complete without setting foot here.

adarethatchedcottagesIf you are traveling north from Cork to Limerick or Shannon Airport, you’ll find Adare just before the N20 and N21 converge. It is called “Ireland’s Prettiest Village,” and though there are so many pretty villages in Ireland it would be hard to pick just one, if you look at the images you’ll probably have to agree.

To walk along the road in front of several quaint thatched cottages, you might believe you are in an ancient neighborhood, and perhaps wish that you were. Definitely shop here. And at the end of the cottages the beautiful Adare Park invites you for a rest.

I first visited Adare at the age of 14 when traveling with my family. It was the night before we would catch our flight home at Shannon, and we stayed at Dunraven Arms Hotel. It was a splurge for us at the time, and I recall especially the splendor of the bedding. I returned as a college student and was equally impressed. My father had made a point of visiting every year, either at Christmas time, or to ride in a hunt, or to select from Ireland’s famous hunter-jumpers in the area. Once he actually shipped one home.

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Hunters Bar, from the Dunraven Arms Hotel website

My most recent visit was at the end of this research trip in 2015. My father had passed away years before, but the owner and Maître de remembered him. He had always stayed in the same room, they told me. And once during Christmas time, when a violent storm had cut off the hotel’s electricity, he joined them in the Hunters Bar and by the light of the fireplace they all sang Christmas carols – my father’s was one of the strongest voices, but I think a considerable amount of Irish whiskey was involved.

The biggest attractions here are Desmond Castle (also called Adare Castle), the Adare Manor Hotel and Golf Resort, the Trinitarian monastery, and the thatched shops. The Adare Heritage Center is always packed with tourists but you can get snacks, buy tours and souvenirs, and go through the heritage museum so it is worth a visit.

Desmond Castle dates from the 12th century, though artifacts found at the site go back to the Norman Conquest. Sources conflict over who may have been the original builder, but agree that in the 13th century the Kildare family owned it.

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Desmond Castle, Adare. Copyright Peter Craine and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons License

The beauty, fertile land and location on the banks of the River Maigue must have been especially desirable, for many battles were fought for this castle over the centuries. In 1329, Edward III granted the lands and castle to Sir John Darcy, stepfather to the Earl of Kildare, and at this time the castle was described as having “a hall, a chapel with stone walls and covered with thatch, a tower covered with planks, a kitchen covered with slates, and a chamber near the stone part covered with thatch.”In the 16th century the castle passed from Kildare to the Earl of Desmond. In 1578 it was taken by the English Sir Nicholas Maltby after a siege of eleven days, and then was garrisoned.

“Desmond made every effort to recover the castle in 1580. He resorted to several stratagems, one of which was to send a beautiful young woman to the constable, by whose means he hoped the castle might be betrayed. But upon hearing from whence she came, the officer tied a stone around her neck and threw her into the river.”
~C.L. Adams

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Painting in heritage center museum depicts medieval life in Adare, the castle in the foreground, left, and the abbey in the background.

Many battles ensued with many changes of ownership until the end of the Desmond Rebellion. Ultimately Cromwell’s soldiers ruined the castle in 1657. (The ruins can be visited only via tours from the heritage center.) It passed through the hands of 10 families until Thady Quin purchased it in 1669, and later constructed the first section of the Adare manor house. His descendent, Valentine Richard Quin, became the first Earl of Dunraven.

Adare Manor

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interioradaremanorIn 1785, this earl made major additions and changes to the manor house, which received praise as “a very noble structure with fine and extensive demesnes.” The second earl converted it into a large, three-story Tudor Revival manor fine enough to entertain the royal family. In 2015, Limerick businessman J.P. McManus purchased the manor, and the site is now an exclusive 840-acre hotel and golf resort.

5276_dunraven_arms_hotelWould that my budget had allowed a stay there. The interior of the manor is nothing less than sumptuous. Instead, I followed my father’s footsteps to the Dunraven Arms Hotel. Built by the Earl of Dunraven in the 19th century, it is also sumptuous, to a somewhat more affordable degree. Run by the Murphy family, it is comfortable, well maintained and has many wonderful places to relax and read, as well as activities and conference rooms.

The Abbey

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Adare Trinitarian Abbey. Copyright Peter Craine and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons License

The Adare Trinitarian Abbey is a beautiful site just a block away from the hotel. Built in the 13th century, the abbey was dissolved in 1539. Ownership passed through a couple of hands before the 2nd Earl of Dunraven, Wyndham Quin, gifted the abbey ruins to Catholic Parishioners in 1824. He also began the restoration that was continued by his heir. The abbey is noted for its fusion of medieval and 19th century Gothic Revival architecture.

Adare and Desmond Castle may yet find their way into my writings, because they will remain in my thoughts. Somewhere near, along the banks of the river, my father’s ashes were scattered. Adare would always be the place where he was happiest in his later years, in the county of our ancestors. I know I will always feel closest to him, and to them, when I visit Adare and stand upon that rich Irish soil.

Thank you for joining me on this adventure with The Prince. Though this brings an end to one particular series, as always there is more to come. Baaaaaaaaah.

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Thanks to C.L. Adams, The Ancient Castles of Ireland, 1904; britainirelandcastles.com; Monastic Ireland; Adare Manor Hotel & Golf Resort; Dunraven Arms Hotel; Wikipedia; Creative Commons.

Part 1 – Kanturk Castle 

Part 2 – Rock of Cashel 

Part 3 – Barryscourt 

Part 4 – Ormonde Castle

Part 5 – Lismore Castle

Part 6 – Bandon, Kilcolmen

Part 7 – Timoleague Friary

Part 8 – Castle Freke, Rathbarry, Red Strand

Part 9 – Coppinger’s Court

Part 10 – Drombeg and Knockdrum

Part 11 – Liss Ard, Lough Abisdealy

Part 12 – Skibbereen

Part 13 – Baltimore

Part 14 – Mallow Castle

Part 15 – Mitchelstown Cave

jack6.140x9.210.inddAn heiress, a castle, a fortune: what could go wrong?

The Prince of Glencurragh is available in ebook, soft cover and hard cover from online booksellers.

HARDCOVER
PAPERBACK
E-BOOK

OR, try this universal link for your favorite ebook retailer: books2read.com

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Tracking the Prince: Mitchelstown Cave

Part 15 in a series featuring sites I visited in Ireland while researching my second novel, The Prince of Glencurragh. See previous posts listed at the end.

 

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Map of Cahir, 1599

While traveling through southwest Ireland, I took a side trip from my planned itinerary to see the Mitchelstown Cave. I’d noticed a sign along the M8 roadway between Cahir and Mitchelstown and thought it worth a look. It was to satisfy my own curiosity because I’d never been inside a cave before. I hadn’t intended to use a cave in The Prince of Glencurragh, but as I’ve said before, you never know from where inspiration will come.

Caves can conjure several kinds of images: the womb-like comfort that sheltered our cave-dwelling ancestors from the elements; the mystical and magical hiding places of wizards, faeries, dragons and the like; and a toothy, cavernous mouth with an endless throat to swallow you into hell.

I ended up using a deep, dark cave similar to what I saw at Mitchelstown in a scene where a ruthless killer has taken our heroine, the heiress Vivienne. Readers will, I hope, grant me license for the reference to Mitchelstown Cave. This is a beautiful and dramatic cave that has been explored extensively since it was discovered in 1833, when a Michael Condon accidently dropped his crowbar into a crevice while quarrying for stone.

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Mitchelstown Cave entrance

The explorers who came after him found long, low corridors, cathedral-like chambers, and dramatic stalactite caverns. But, if these explorers remain correct, no one could have accessed the caves in 1634, when my story takes place:

“…no bones, either of existing or extinct animals, have as yet been found within the cavern; nor indeed is it likely that any such will be discovered; as, until accidentally perforated through the quarry, it would appear to have been altogether impervious, and therefore inaccessible as a den or place of shelter…”
~ Prof. Apjohn, Dublin Geological Journal, 1834 (from Dublin Penny Journal)

However, there are many caves in Ireland that probably were accessible to humans and animals, the deepest in County Fermanagh, and the longest in County Clare. (Photographer and blogger R. Mulraney offers some stunning images by County.) Apparently there is another cave near Mitchelstown that was called “Desmond Cave” because the Earl of Desmond may have taken refuge there during the Desmond rebellions. This cave is not open to the public because it is too dangerous, but it and others like it could have served for the fictional scene.

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Map of Mitchelstown Cave from Dublin Penny Journal, 1834

The public tours of the Mitchelstown caves provide great exposure to the dark and strange cave interiors, their sparkling beauty, their enormity, and their treacherous pathways. No one could have prepared me for the chill that ran up my spine when my tour guide had everyone turn off his/her lights. Even in a room full of tourists, it is an eerie kind of darkness. In 1895, the Rev. Canon Courtenay Moore, Mitchelstown Rector, described the cave this way:

dublinpennyjournal_mitchelstown“There is no foulness or tumult in its straight and silent street; only the strength of rock and the finished setting of stones grey with the age of countless centuries. Then a stillness as of death itself pervades the place, which is almost painfully oppressive to ears accustomed to the constant and varied sounds of life in the world above, which you have only quitted so recently.”

To put the size of some of these caves in perspective, the largest chamber of Mitchelstown Cave is called Tir Na Nog (meaning “land of the young”), measuring 61m × 49m and 18m high, making it more than twice as large in floor space, and its ceiling three times as high, as King Charles I’s Banqueting House at Whitehall, London. In other words, you could almost fit a 747 jet in there. The largest column, called Tower of Babel, is nearly 30 feet high.

It seemed there was nothing that could compare to the dramatic setting of a cave like Mitchelstown for a frightful and deadly scene in a book.

Thanks to Journal of the Cork Archaeological Society, 1894; mitchelstowncave.com; showcaves.com; ‪Caves of Ireland; The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Volume 1, 1872

Part 1 – Kanturk Castle 

Part 2 – Rock of Cashel 

Part 3 – Barryscourt 

Part 4 – Ormonde Castle

Part 5 – Lismore Castle

Part 6 – Bandon, Kilcolmen

Part 7 – Timoleague Friary

Part 8 – Castle Freke, Rathbarry, Red Strand

Part 9 – Coppinger’s Court

Part 10 – Drombeg and Knockdrum

Part 11 – Liss Ard, Lough Abisdealy

Part 12 – Skibbereen

Part 13 – Baltimore

Part 14 – Mallow Castle

jack6.140x9.210.inddAn heiress, a castle, a fortune: what could go wrong?

The Prince of Glencurragh is available in ebook, soft cover and hard cover from online booksellers.

HARDCOVER
PAPERBACK
E-BOOK

OR, try this universal link for your favorite ebook retailer: books2read.com

Learn more and sign up for  updates via my newsletter at nancyblanton.com

Tracking the Prince: Mallow Castle

Part 14 in a series featuring sites I visited in Ireland while researching my second novel, The Prince of Glencurragh. See previous posts listed at the end.

img_1663Massive and beguiling, the ruins of Mallow Castle claim a grassy rise above the Blackwater River, about a 30-minute drive north of Cork City on the N20. Misshapen now from centuries of decay, it still resonates with legend and power. I found it on a dark rainy day, but another photographer captured it in the sunlight that highlights its beauty.

interior_mallow_castle_co-_corkBearing signs of Tudor architecture over the remains of an earlier fortress, one source has the great castle passing from the Roche family to the FitzGeralds of Desmond at the end of the thirteenth century. The Tudor structure most likely was built by the 14th Earl of Desmond, James FitzGerald, the Lord High Treasurer of Ireland who died in 1558.

img_1673The castle stood three stories high with octagonal corner turrets at the front, one in the middle for the entrance, and another for the stair. It has large mullioned windows, loopholes for muskets, and fireplaces in each room that stir the imagination. Who once warmed their hands or dried their clothes there, and what did they think about?

In The Prince of Glencurragh, Mallow Castle is the English-owned and pivotal meeting place where in 1634 Faolán Burke pleads to the Earl of Clanricarde for marriage to Vivienne FitzGerald and an appropriate settlement of her inheritance. Clanricarde is visiting the castle to hunt the famed herd of unusual white fallow deer (a gift to the castle park from Queen Elizabeth years before). At this time, the castle belongs to English General William Jephson.

Two Desmond Rebellions

In 1584, however, the castle belonged to the 15th Earl of Desmond, Gerald FitzGerald, and was inhabited by his brother John, military leader of the clan. The Desmonds, who had long enjoyed distance and autonomy under England’s rule, rebelled against the exertion of control by King Henry VIII, a policy furthered and fortified by his daughter, Elizabeth I.

sir_humphrey_gilbert_compton_castle

Sir Humphrey Gilbert, half brother to Sir Walter Raleigh

Elizabeth had imprisoned both Gerald and John in the Tower of London for an illegal quarrel with her cousin, Thomas Butler, the Earl of Ormonde. In their absence, a military leader James FitzMaurice FitzGerald led a bloody rebellion in the province of Munster that succumbed to English terror and scorched earth tactics led by Sir Humphrey Gilbert in 1573.

When Elizabeth released the FitzGerald brothers from the tower allowing them to restore their devastated territories, resentment grew across the land under England’s brutal suppression tactics. Another rising erupted in 1579, complicated by famine and plague. In 1583, Gerald was hunted down in the mountains near Tralee and murdered. But before that, John was killed as a result of betrayal.

An excerpt from The Prince tells the story:

Faolán reined his horse, stopping in front of us. “Vivienne, Lord Cork has withheld from you your own history. Mallow Castle once belonged to the FitzGeralds. Sir John lived here. It was he, the Earl of Desmond’s brother, who led the men into battle during the great rebellion.”
     “What became of him?” Vivienne asked.
     “He was cruelly betrayed,” he said. “The FitzGeralds fought the English for control of their own clansmen and lands, and John was known for uniting the clans against them. One day he set out on this very road, but he and his men were surprised by a band of English horsemen. They tried to escape, but one man among the English—once Sir John’s own servant—recognized Sir John and shot him in the throat. He died as they carried his body back to Cork, and they chained it to the city gate.”
     Vivienne turned pale, her lips parted. “And what of the earl?”
     Faolán jutted his chin at me. “Tell her, Aengus.”
     “He was betrayed as well. A local farmer took a thousand silver pieces in exchange for the earl’s location in the mountains near Tralee. When the English soldiers found him, crippled and broken in the corner of an old cabin, they murdered him and sent his head to London as a trophy for the queen.”
     “Aye, and that’s not the end of it, Aengus,” Faolán said.
     I nodded. “On a dark November night in the glen where he was killed, you’ll see a company of horsemen and the great earl, wearing his silver brocade and riding a white horse. And if a lad asks to shoe his horse, the earl will toss him a purse with a thousand silver pieces.”
     Vivienne sat stiffly, looking toward Mallow. “Now I’m afraid to enter this castle.”
     Faolán shook his head. “On the contrary, love. You are a FitzGerald. The Desmond spirits will rise up and rejoice when you set foot on the stones. It is just.”

img_1666A new rebellion and Irish Confederate War started throughout Ireland in 1641. Mallow Castle withstood attacks by Lord Mountgarret in 1642, but it was severely damaged after being captured by Lord Castlehaven in 1645. In 1689 the castle burned. The Jephson family built a new 12-bedroom manor house on the foundation of the old castle stables. In 1928 the castle became one of Ireland’s national monuments. The last Jephson, Commander Maurice Jephson, sold the castle to the McGinn family of Washington D.C. in 1984.

Thanks to http://www.britainirelandcastles.com, Ancient Castles of Ireland by C.L. Adams, Wikipedia and various other sources. Interior image of castle by The Speckled Bird, Creative Commons. Gilbert image is public domain. Other images belong to the author.

Part 1 – Kanturk Castle 

Part 2 – Rock of Cashel 

Part 3 – Barryscourt 

Part 4 – Ormonde Castle

Part 5 – Lismore Castle

Part 6 – Bandon, Kilcolmen

Part 7 – Timoleague Friary

Part 8 – Castle Freke, Rathbarry, Red Strand

Part 9 – Coppinger’s Court

Part 10 – Drombeg and Knockdrum

Part 11 – Liss Ard, Lough Abisdealy

Part 12 – Skibbereen

Part 13 – Baltimore

jack6.140x9.210.inddAn heiress, a castle, a fortune: what could go wrong?

The Prince of Glencurragh is available in ebook, soft cover and hard cover from online booksellers.

HARDCOVER
PAPERBACK
E-BOOK

OR, try this universal link for your favorite ebook retailer: books2read.com

Learn more and sign up for  updates via my newsletter at nancyblanton.com

Tracking the Prince: Baltimore

Part 13 in a series featuring sites I visited in Ireland while researching my second novel, The Prince of Glencurragh. See previous posts listed at the end.

From Skibbereen in County Cork, a 15-minute drive southwest along the scenic R595 will bring you to the town of Baltimore. On the 17th century Down Survey map, Baltimore sits on the tip of a peninsula reaching toward the sea—a perfect location for fishing, boating and a bucolic agrarian lifestyle.

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In the early 17th century, it was an English settlement pursuing exactly such industry:

“In Southwest Munster, where planters both introduced inshore ‘seine’ netting and invested considerable sums in shore-based facilities for salting and barreling the catch, the export of pilchards rose significantly, at least in the 1620s and early 1630s. The industry was characterized by small-scale plantation-type development, and the trade, which was based on Kinsale, Brookhaven, Baltimore, Bantry, and Berehaven, was dominated by English and continental shipping.”
~ F.X. Martin, F.J. Byrne, A New History of Ireland: Early Modern Ireland, 1534-1691. Oxford Press, 1987.

On the same map, just above Baltimore is a notation for Rathmore, meaning large fort. This is the name I used for the Earl of Barrymore’s fictitious coastal castle in my book, The Prince of Glencurragh. It is to this castle that the book’s main characters are going, so that Barrymore can take them under his wing and negotiate a suitable marriage settlement for Faolán Burke and Vivienne FitzGerald. Today, a bed and breakfast by that name offers a gorgeous hilltop view at the mouth of the River Ilen.

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On a more recent map, you might see Old Court, a site at which I believed there was an ancient castle. I’d hoped to explore it, because this is where I’d imagined Barrymore’s castle would be located. If you go there today you’ll see a boat building and storage business, but it is indeed set among the ruins of a castle or fort, and a stone window still looks out over the water. We found it on a cool, rainy day in June, and so instead of ancient stones beneath our shoes we had a bit of mud that only served to make the experience its most authentic.

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American readers will recognize the name Baltimore and maybe even Old Court. The City of Baltimore, founded in 1729 in the state of Maryland, started as and English colony in 1661, displacing the Piscataway tribe of Algonquians who had inhabited the lands for centuries. The city was most likely named for Lord Baltimore of the Irish House of Lords, Cecil Calvert, and his family’s Baltimore Manor in County Longford. Maryland was considered a safe haven for Irish Catholics hoping to escape religious persecution, and Calvert had obtained permission from the king to establish the colony.

This Baltimore has enjoyed a high percentage of Irish in its population because it drew a large number of Irish escaping Ireland’s famine of 1845-1853. They settled in southwest Baltimore and found work on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Today, on the Baltimore Metro Subway, you can catch a ride to Old Court Station on Old Court Road in Lochearn, Maryland.

But the Ireland Baltimore has a much more troubled history. In my last post I mentioned that the town of Skibbereen gained population and importance when settlers moved inland from Baltimore to escape Algerian pirates. A terrible raid in 1631 devastated Baltimore, as described in detail by Des Ekin in his book, The Stolen Village.stolenvillage

The site of Baltimore had been purposely chosen for an English settlement because of its remoteness, allowing greater religious freedom. It also had a reputation for smuggling, especially when it was in the hands of the O’Driscoll clan.

“In would come fine wine and brandies, silks and spices, tobacco and salt. Out would go wool, linen, leather goods…and the occasional fugitive fleeing the hangman’s noose.”
~ Des Ekin

But such remoteness also had its vulnerability, and on a dark June night of that year, three ships arrived carrying Algerian pirates who stormed ashore, killing two of the town’s residents and capturing 107 men, women and children. These captives joined 17 French captives already aboard the ships, and then all were taken to Algiers to be sold as slaves. A French priest observed:

“It was a pitiful sight to see them put up for sale. For then wives were taken from husbands and children from their fathers. Then, I declare, they sold on the one hand the husbands, on the other the wives, ripping their daughters from their arms, leaving them no hope of ever seeing each other again…”
~ Father Pierre Dan

Most of these poor souls were never seen again, because the ransoms were too high, and though King Charles I was petitioned for relief, his councilmen advised against paying, stating that it would only encourage the pirates. And to make matters worse, rumors circulated that the town had been set up for the raid by Sir Walter Coppinger, who wanted the settlers removed so that he might have the land and the lucrative pilchard business for his own (for more about this see my post, Coppinger’s Court).

The terrible event remains a stain on Baltimore’s past, but the town has revived as a summer haven for fishing, swimming and sailing, and as a base for exploring Cape Clear, Sherkin Island and Lough Hyne, Ireland’s first marine nature reserve. And you can rent a 4-bedroom cottage called Old Court at Skibbereen.

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Thanks to Eddie and Teresa MacEoin, Trinity College Down Survey, Des Ekin’s The Stolen Village, Irish Central News, Irish Railroad Workers Museum, Old Court Boats, and Wikipedia. Except for the map, all images belong to the author.

Part 1 – Kanturk Castle 

Part 2 – Rock of Cashel 

Part 3 – Barryscourt 

Part 4 – Ormonde Castle

Part 5 – Lismore Castle

Part 6 – Bandon, Kilcolmen

Part 7 – Timoleague Friary

Part 8 – Castle Freke, Rathbarry, Red Strand

Part 9 – Coppinger’s Court

Part 10 – Drombeg and Knockdrum

Part 11 – Liss Ard, Lough Abisdealy

Part 12 – Skibbereen

jack6.140x9.210.inddAn heiress, a castle, a fortune: what could go wrong?

The Prince of Glencurragh is available in ebook, soft cover and hard cover from online booksellers.

HARDCOVER
PAPERBACK
E-BOOK

OR, try this universal link for your favorite ebook retailer: books2read.com

Learn more and sign up for  updates via my newsletter at nancyblanton.com

 

 

Tracking the Prince: Skibbereen

Part 12 in a series featuring sites I visited in Ireland while researching my second novel, The Prince of Glencurragh. See previous posts listed at the end.

Of all sites visited along this journey with The Prince of Glencurragh, the one I’ve feared to write about most is this, the town of Skibbereen. How would I ever do justice to a town so sunny-gold in my memory, and yet tarnished gray by events in history? Refuge for settlers, home for fishermen, famed as of one of the worst affected by The Great Famine, Skibbereen survives and thrives in its colorful, splendid way. Each time I visit, it looks like some familiar place I’ve never seen.

skibbereenarrival

mapIn the far southwest corner of County Cork, Skibbereen lies where the N71 meets the River Ilen (pronounced like “island”), just a few miles northeast of Baltimore. In fact, Skibbereen began to gain importance after Algerian pirates raided Baltimore in 1631, and survivors moved upstream for safety. Before that, Skebreen (as it is spelled on 17th century maps) was mostly overlooked by cartographers of the time, though it was at the center of three castles held by the powerful MacCarthy clan.

The fate of the castles is not clear, though they may have been lost during the Nine Years’ War against English rule in Ireland, or after the Battle of Kinsale. Today, north of the river and west of the town center is a residential area known as Glencurragh, with nice family houses along Glencurragh Road. In my book, this is where I sited Faolán Burke’s home, among the ruins of his father’s Castle Glencurragh. It is always sunny there, in my mind, with only the occasional soft shower at the most appropriate times to keep the lush foliage a proper shade of green.

Which is not to say The Prince knows only happiness. His adventures are fraught with danger, frustration, and heavy rain. But home is home, and this is where his dreams are rooted, and where he hopes to raise his family. I think readers will like it there as well.

Originally I imagined the castle to be north and east of the Ilen Street Bridge near the present-day site of an old railway station, but my friend Eddie explained that the ground there was too marshy to support a castle. It’s fiction, you might say, so who cares if it is too marshy in reality? Eddie and I cared, wanting the book to be as real as possible. You never know when actual events might come into play in historical fiction. If the site had come under attack, the marshy ground would have played a role.

Glencurragh was better suited and would have been the choice of actual builders, and the name itself inspired me. Coming from the Irish meaning ‘a place for boats,’ I imagined a mullioned window overlooking the commerce along the river.

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The beautiful River Ilen at Skibbereen, County Cork

Coming south to us from the Mullaghmesha Mountain, she lay in bronze repose with her misty veil close at her surface. She was the very river who nourished every fox and sparrow from above Bantry and all the way out to sea at Baltimore. At Skebreen she abruptly turned west as if she’d simply changed her mind, and then south again as if to wrap a gentle arm about us. Sometimes flowing narrow and peaceful, she was our meandering ribbon of sweet dark nectar yielding trout in the spring and salmon in summer. With the winter rains she swelled at her seams, as anxious and irritable as a new mother; and, yes, wasn’t the earth at her flanks the most fertile?
~ Description of the River Ilen from my novel Sharavogue

Mostly a small and quiet town, in the mid-17th century Skibbereen had fewer than 150 residents as counted by the census. By 1841, that number had slowly climbed to 5,000. But soon that would change.

The Great Irish Famine wiped out about 8.5 million people in Ireland between 1846 and 1851, and more than a million more people emigrated for a chance of survival. Skibbereen was among the areas hardest hit.

“The average population loss in the Poor Law Unions of Cork was 24.2% but Skibbereen Poor Law Union came in with the highest loss in all of Cork, losing 36.1% of its people. It is therefore not surprising that Skibbereen became synonymous with The Great Famine, featuring prominently in its historiography.”
~ Tim Kearney, The Great Famine and Skibbereen

The nightmarish stories of suffering and death are too numerous to report here. Kearney’s article is a fine detailed overview, and I also highly recommend The Great Hunger by Cecil Woodham-Smith. This book brought me to tears and fury. The good news is that the situation in Skibbereen also attracted numerous writers, journalists and historians, and because of the resulting coverage the town “played a pivotal role” in affecting relief efforts.

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Skibbereen town center with The Maid of Erin memorial

There are several famine memorials in Skibbereen, and at the town center The Maid of Erin commemorates those who suffered in the famine as well as the heroes who fought for freedom in the Irish rebellions. Another memorial is inscribed with lyrics from the song, Dear Old Skibbereen, that Eddie taught me years ago and I’ve never forgotten:

Oh son, I loved my native land, with energy and pride / Til a blight came over all my crops, my sheep and cattle died / My rent and taxes were to pay, I could not them redeem / And that’s the cruel reason why I left old Skibbereen.

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A used book store I found, loved, and hope is still there.

Thankfully, my memories are of happier times. When I first visited Skibbereen and stayed with Eddie’s family, I remember walking to the local hotel for dinner to celebrate his mother’s birthday: the raucous bantering of six brothers and sisters, everyone full of excitement and cheer, Mrs. MacEoin’s coy smile. Then the breakfast in the warm kitchen, the laundry drying on lines across the high ceiling above us; the squabbling over the tin of fresh scones; and quiet Mr. MacEoin escaping the noise and frenzy by tending his beehives in the back yard.

Sometimes I could kick myself for not taking more pictures and recording every detail in my journal, but frankly it was all too much fun to write.

Thanks to Eddie and Teresa MacEoin and family; Dear Old Skibbereen; Journal, Skibbereen District and Historical Society, Vol. 7; and http://www.technogypsie.com. Images of the town belong to author and are several years old. 

Part 1 – Kanturk Castle 

Part 2 – Rock of Cashel 

Part 3 – Barryscourt 

Part 4 – Ormonde Castle

Part 5 – Lismore Castle

Part 6 – Bandon, Kilcolmen

Part 7 – Timoleague Friary

Part 8 – Castle Freke, Rathbarry, Red Strand

Part 9 – Coppinger’s Court

Part 10 – Drombeg and Knockdrum

Part 11 – Liss Ard, Lough Abisdealy

jack6.140x9.210.inddAn heiress, a castle, a fortune: what could go wrong?

The Prince of Glencurragh is available in ebook, soft cover and hard cover from online booksellers.

HARDCOVER
PAPERBACK
E-BOOK

OR, try this universal link for your favorite ebook retailer: books2read.com

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Tracking the Prince: Liss Ard, Lough Abisdealy

Part 11 in a series featuring sites I visited in Ireland while researching my second novel, The Prince of Glencurragh. See previous posts listed at the end.

liss-ard-estate-gallerysizediska007-jpg2Just west of Castletownshend and less than four miles from Skibbereen, there once was a ring fort high on a hill. All but gone now, the place still bears the name, Liss Ard, meaning “high fort.” Turning off the main road, instead of discovering a ruin you’ll come to an attractive high-end resort near the tranquil waters of Lough Abisdealy.

Here, along its lush banks, I found the very tree I needed for an exciting scene in The Prince of Glencurragh. It is here that protagonist Faolán Burke sets his trap for the bad guy who stalks him, Geoffrey Eames. Eames ends up tied to the tree, his feet at the water’s edge, and is left to his own devices to get himself free. Appropriate, perhaps, because by at least one source Lough Abisdealy means “lake of the monster.”

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A lakeside tree for Mr. Eames

maploughabisdealy-copyOn a map, the shape of Abisdealy looks to me like a giant sperm whale with its tail flipped up. While the lake is a favorite spot for some who fish for pike or carp, it has also produced sightings of another kind of monster, the conger or horse eel—giant eels in the likeness of the Loch Ness monster, as described in another location:

When the normally gushing waters linking lakes and rivers became reduced to a pathetic drizzle a large horse-eel was discovered lodged beneath a bridge by Ballynahinch Castle. The beast was described as thirty feet long and “as thick as a horse.” A carpenter was assigned to produce a spear capable of slaying the great creature but before the plan could be carried through rains arrived to wash the fortunate beast free.
~ Dale Drinnon, Frontiers of Zoology

And in 1914 at Lough Abisdealy, author Edith Somerville reported sighting “a long black creature propelling itself rapidly across the lake. Its flat head, on a long neck, was held high, two great loops of its length buckled in and out of the water as it progressed.” 

I saw no snakes, eels or monsters when I visited the lake, but what I did see was a visual feast of trees, their forms twisted, curved and swayed as if they were dancing.

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Entrance to the Sky Garden

If you have an extra €7,500,000 handy you can pick up the estate for your very own. The real estate sales listing describes the “truly remarkable” 163-acre residential estate as a pleasure complex with Victorian mansion (6 bedrooms), Mews House (9 bedrooms) and Lake Lodge (10 bedrooms), plus tennis court, private 40-acre lake, and the Irish Sky Garden designed by artist James Turrell where you might “contemplate the ever-changing sky design.”

While it is not from the 17th century when my novel is set, the location does have some history to it:

“The Mansion house was built by the O’Donovan Chieftain of the O’Donovan Clan circa 1850 and a summer house, a moderately large house, was added to the estate circa 1870. This Summer House now referred to as the Lake Lodge.”

From the lake, the characters in The Prince… are just a few more miles from their destination, Rathmore Castle at Baltimore, and an important meeting with the Earl of Barrymore.

Thanks to Eddie and Teresa MacEoin, Dick Raynor, Exploring West Cork by Jack Roberts, Dale Drinnon and the Frontiers of Zoology, Liss Ard Estate.

Part 1 – Kanturk Castle 

Part 2 – Rock of Cashel 

Part 3 – Barryscourt 

Part 4 – Ormonde Castle

Part 5 – Lismore Castle

Part 6 – Bandon, Kilcolmen

Part 7 – Timoleague Friary

Part 8 – Castle Freke, Rathbarry, Red Strand

Part 9 – Coppinger’s Court

Part 10 – Drombeg and Knockdrum

jack6.140x9.210.inddAn heiress, a castle, a fortune: what could go wrong?

The Prince of Glencurragh is available in ebook, soft cover and hard cover from online booksellers.

HARDCOVER
PAPERBACK
E-BOOK

OR, try this universal link for your favorite ebook retailer: books2read.com

Learn more and sign up for  updates via my newsletter at nancyblanton.com