What IS this thing about history?

[podcast version]

Recently when I opened my Facebook account, an unexpected memory awaited. It was this picture, taken in 2001 to promote a new book that was a long time in coming, and a source of pride for these three co-authors, Terry Nosho, David G. Gordon, and yeah, that’s me in the middle.

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Time has altered our faces, but not the joy and passion for that book…that book…

One day, about a year and a half before this picture was taken, a young man in jeans, mud boots and a rumpled shirt came into my office. He plopped down on our worktable a most magnificent thing: a scrapbook of enormous proportions, with a kelly-green cover nearly the size of my refrigerator door, and spiral-bound pages stacking three inches high.

“My grandfather’s an oyster grower. He’s been keeping this thing for years, sticking this and that in it,” the man said. “Newspaper articles, pictures, restaurant menus, napkins, all sorts of things. He wants to know if you can do something with it. Anyway, it’s yours now.”

Well, not mine, exactly, but the grant program for which I worked, housed with the School of Fisheries and Oceanography at the University of Washington. Our offices were repurposed student housing, a stone’s throw from Montlake cut between Lake Washington and Lake Union where the University’s famed rowing team practiced.

Our program’s educational and research support for the oyster industry, led by Terry Nosho, was well regarded as perhaps the only positive attention paid by anyone to the health and survival of oyster farming.

The whump of the scrapbook on the table was enough to draw my team from their desks: David first, being most curious; then Robyn, the graphic designer; then Susan, the webmaster. We turned the first page. I can’t speak for the rest of them but I was immediately spellbound. Those pages contained a world: not just the history of Washington state’s oyster resource, but of the farming and consumption of oysters, of their culture, and the culture of the families that made a living from them, can labels, matchbook covers, cartoons, and so much more. What could we do with such treasure?

And to me it truly was treasure, as I considered the thoughts and hands and eyes of the person who had compiled this book faithfully and consistently over the decades, the stories this book told and the stories that were never told.

On David’s thoughtful lead —he was already a published author several times over— we perused that scrapbook for different threads that we could weave into a historical look at the world of Washington oysters, complete with recipes and gorgeous photography of Washington’s iconic coast. The result was Heaven on the Half Shell, the Story of the Pacific Northwest’s Love Affair with the Oyster.

It was a powerful experience. It became an opportunity to capture its essence in an idea, grow the idea into a viable project, and then produce a book that not only encapsulates time, but also stands the test of it.

A new door had opened. The love of history and adventure ran in my veins—my favorite book as a child was Robinson Crusoe—and now I learned how to research things, what to look for, how to turn history and discovery into story, and turn story into a touchable, colorful, ink-scented book for anyone to enjoy.

It wouldn’t be long before my own history came knocking; before passion, experience and heritage merged, and I had to find out. I had to know. What happened in the lives of my ancestors? Did they actually live in…castles?  Did they suffer? Did they fight? Did they rise? The truth eludes me. The facts are veiled or nonexistent. There is conjecture. Mystery. Hearsay and propaganda.

I search through the documents, books and biographies available, and fill in the blanks as I best I can. It’s a little like prying open an oyster shell, but not as sharp. And four books later I begin again, wondering still why I love it so, this thing with history?

Last month at the Amelia Island Book Festival in Florida, I received another gift: the opportunity to chat with New York Times best-selling author Margo Lee Shetterly. If you do not recognize the name, you’ll recognize her book: Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race.

Not historical fiction, but classified as narrative non-fiction, her book required a great deal of research, and when I told her that the former journalist in me greatly admired the work she had done to create that book, we connected on the love of research.

She lamented that several of the people she’d hoped to interview for her next book had already passed away. The same was true when we were researching the oyster book. People had either passed away or were too distrusting of “government” to speak with us. I replied that, writing about the 17th century meant all my people had passed away, but fortunately in those days they wrote letters. What will happen, we wondered, when such detailed written documentation of emotion and experience is lost?

I believe we will find it still, in blog posts and videos, in personal journals, in the work of historians, archaeologists and anthropologists who will always dig for the truth.

If history infiltrates your other thoughts, usurps other interests, occupies every bookshelf, makes you the geek at parties, and so on—then it is both gift and responsibility. The study of history becomes a joyful treasure hunt that not everyone seeks or understands, but the responsibility is to give attention and meaning to a particular time and people who lived it.

With the help of inspiration, you get to share these discoveries in a way that engages other people so they get those same messages. One of my favorite responses when someone reads one of my novels is, “My God, I had no idea!”

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Happy after my first novel won gold at Florida Writers Association

Nancy Blanton is author of three 17th century historical novels, a fourth in process, and one historical non-fiction book. Visit her at www.nancyblanton.com or purchase her books on Amazon or your favorite online bookseller.

How a storm churned up a writer’s solution

Last August I was struggling with an inner dilemma that not-too-surprisingly corresponded with the arrival of an outer storm, Hurricane Dorian, that we had to deal with here in Florida.

While Dorian dallied, confused the forecasters, and battered the Bahamas, my husband and I struggled with indecision. Should we hunker down at home, or should we evacuate? We live on a barrier island that is susceptible to flooding, loss of electricity and significant wind damage in high storm conditions. Evacuation might seem like an obvious choice.

But the forecasters tend to over-state, and it takes a great deal of effort to evacuate a home even for a few days. The to-do list is three pages long: pack valuables, clothing, food and pets, money; store outside furniture and secure the house; find a decent dog-friendly hotel, inform relatives, etc. My reluctance to leave was high, but for safety’s sake we headed west. Thankfully, Dorian passed causing very little damage to our island.

Likewise, my inner storm—after much twisting and turning—resolved without too much injury.

Years ago, I set a goal for myself to complete a series of novels that illuminate the history of 17th century Ireland. I’m three books into that goal, covering the years 1634 to 1658. But there’s a gap in there that haunts me, starting with a great Irish rebellion of 1641—a brave stand against the English that started as a bloodless coup and ended in brutality, execution and massacre.

This was a complex and bloody era, without a doubt. It falls in the middle of the early modern period in history, 1534 – 1691—a time known for five major wars between the Irish and English, allegedly resulting in atrocities—rapes, murders, infant killings, massacres, starvation, genocide, and more—terrible acts of cruelty I have no wish to envision or describe. I’ve studied much about the rebellion, including the depositions taken afterward describing crimes so cold and horrendous one must question the existence of God.

 

 

Remembering first and foremost that the victors write the history, I know what was recorded as fact during that time was quite often inflated to make more useful propaganda. The English wanted to invade Ireland, and the rebellion simply gave the English Parliament—gorged with power after executing the king’s top advisor—a means by which they might justify and ignite hatred of the Irish and recruit men and support for the military invasion.

Somewhere within or perhaps between those same histories and depositions lies the truth. Modern historians are digging deeper for an honest evaluation of these incidents. Through their work I’ll find a vein of accuracy and follow it with some trepidation, knowing it could verify much of the atrocity. While some authors revel in the opportunity to shock and alarm readers with this dark realm of human history, it’s not my thing. The story, passion and purpose must always come first. I may be in the minority on this, but I still believe the author’s job is to get the reader to feel and care, not to give them deranged nightmares.

The truth must be told, I agree, often and honestly and in terms vivid enough that it will be remembered. As with the holocaust, such inhumanity must be imprinted at a global level. Memory, such that it is, provides the only insurance we have against such things happening again.

But explicit blood and gore of an incident isn’t necessary to understand unacceptable violence. Morbid detail elevates the violence to a spectacle that usurps the reader’s attention and separates him or her from the emotion driving the act. What are the causes? What’s the effect? How does it propel the story?

And there’s my inner dilemma: how do I write the truth honorably and effectively but not too graphically? The answer comes in the form of scale, the camera-lens ability to zoom in and out at will. Cruelties of man against man can be woven as truthfully as possible into a tapestry backdrop for a profound experience on an individual level.

Now then, what’s the individual experience that will serve, and whose eyes will reveal it?

As the storm raged, my research became both documentation and treasure hunt. I stumbled upon a singular event that has now become the foundation for the novel’s structure: a castle siege involving all the right bits of conflict to tell the full story in microcosm.

Within the castle are the English Protestants, holding out against those wild and savage Irish. Outside the castle walls are the Catholic native Irish, whose castle and lands were stolen by the greedy, invading English. Within that setup lies a love story: forbidden love in war time, the struggle to maintain tradition and lifestyle amid a sea of hatred, the spirit to restore and renew what was lost, and the eternal fight to survive.

There is quite a bit of violence involved, too, but observing it through the limited perspective of the characters makes it more manageable.

In this period, siege was a fairly common warfare strategy, and economical for those who lacked cannons and other artillery and could live off the enemy’s captured livestock. Some famous sieges in Ireland include the Siege of Smerwick, 1580; Siege of Kinsale, 1601; Siege of Drogheda, 1649; Siege of Derry, 1689; Siege of Athlone, 1690; and the Siege of Limerick, 1691.

 

SEIGE & BATTLE OF KINSALE, 1601 (PACATA HIBERNIA 1633)

A siege has similarities to a hurricane. Sometimes you must board up the windows against the enemy, and hope you have enough food, water and candles to see you through until the storm does its damage or passes by.

In a 17th century siege, there might not have been time to secure supplies. The external forces might make a surprise attack. If repelled by the castle forces, they wouldn’t necessarily try to break down the walls—especially not if their goal was to preserve and hold the castle. Instead they would take the sheep and cattle, corn, hay, and other stores they could find outside the castle, so that those within the castle could not feed themselves or their livestock within the castle. From the outside they might easily contaminate the castle’s water supply as well.

The siege could last much longer than a few days. The inhabitants could hold out for weeks or months, hoping for help to arrive. The longest siege in world history lasted 21 years! But in most cases, without military relief, the only choice was to surrender the castle to the siege force, or die by starvation and disease. Things tended to end badly. One inescapable atrocity of the time was that even those who peacefully surrendered were sometimes, as they say, put to the sword.

Andrea Patten on The Inner Critic Advantage

Today I am featuring an interview with fellow author Andrea Patten, who wants to help writers everywhere to overcome that crippling struggle against our inner critics.

Screen Shot 2017-05-09 at 10.43.25 AMLike many of us, Andrea has been writing books — at least imaginary ones — since she could first hold a crayon. A favorite place to play was her grandmother’s desk with its endless supply of scrap paper from Gram’s classroom projects. “I’d spend hours on my stories, adding colorful covers and carefully stapling each masterpiece together. I loved writing “by Andrea Patten” in my best version of fancy handwriting on those covers.”

So, of course, one of the places her writer’s journey frequently took her was to ghostwriting. So much for the byline, huh?

“I worked for several people whose vision was far more inspiring than their ability to share it. I’m not sure how it happened the first time, but it was never uncommon for my immediate supervisor or her boss to stop by my desk and ask me to ‘have a look’ at a speech, an article, a letter, or a memo before sharing with a wider audience.”

But those experiences helped her learn to write in different styles and voices: a CEO’s speech to motivate the staff required different writing chops than persuading legislators to provide funds for homeless teens.

“I wrote curricula and reports, financial disclosures and direct mail pieces… Brochures, classified ads, grant applications, staff bios, and company histories. It was excellent training and helped me appreciate the impact good writing can have,” says Patten.

Eventually, Andrea started to discover her voice as a writer. It’s honest, straightforward, and often funny.

“I worked in human services for a long time and wanted to continue to help people. I realized that part of that might come from sharing some of the fascinating ideas I’d picked up along the way. What Kids Need to Succeed is a book I wrote for parents, but it includes wisdom from the business world: when setting goals and making plans, start with the desired outcome in mind. Part of that book’s purpose was to help parents stop getting discouraged with day-to-day challenges and think about the bigger picture: raising future adults.”

Her latest release has similar roots. “Everybody talks about the Inner Critic, but most of the available advice doesn’t work. You can try to ignore “that voice” until you’re blue in the face but that’s not enough: the name of the game is to get it on your side…to make it an ally. You can learn to use its’ energy to your advantage.”

And, to anyone who has struggled with an Inner Critic (or Inner Editor or Inner Bully) this is very good news, indeed.

Here’s an excerpt from The Inner Critic Advantage: Making Peace With the Noise in Your Head by Andrea Patten

AndreaOutlineA few million years ago, when the inner alarm bell sounded, all stress was short-lived: prehistoric primates either responded and escaped or became part of the predator’s buffet. Period. Either way, intense stress did not last long.

Modern stress is different. It’s cumulative — and from the lizard brain’s point of view — relentless. From the jarring sound of the alarm to the gloom and doom news report that accompanies morning coffee, there’s no break. Commuting. Car horns. Caffeine. Kardashians. And that’s even before you get to work.

Most of us don’t pay attention to regular, vanilla stress. It gets stuffed because we think we should be able to handle it. We tamp it down or ignore it and assume we should be able to just power through.

Can you imagine the impact this has on the primitive part of the brain? From that perspective, we’re ignoring death threats which tends to make it cranky. Louder. More insistent. No wonder it wants to take over — you’re not paying attention and giving it relief.

Remember, the survival center’s job is to alert us to potential threats: it is NOT for deep thinking, nuance, delicate wording or high-level negotiation.

Continuing to ignore the needs of our primitive brains can lead to chronic stress, making us unreasonable and sometimes causing arguments. I don’t think that’s what it intends to do — it’s really just the old brain’s way of trying to get your attention.

To help you. When trying to get along with people at work or seeking compromise with a loved one, we need to get that thing tucked in.

Despite the problems it has caused for you, there’s much to respect and appreciate about that old brain. It:

  • loves you and wants to keep you safe,
  • is part of your hardwired survival mechanism,
  • constantly scans your environment for threats, and
  • will not back down until it has been heard.

It takes hard work and a special sort of mindfulness to turn an Inner Critic into an ally, but do you have what it takes to turn it into an advantage?

Check with your local indie bookstore for the softcover version of The Inner Critic Advantage: Making Peace With the Noise in Your Head by Andrea Patten. It is also available in e-book or softcover on amazon.com  

 

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

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

 

 

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.

 

mapofcahir_ad1599

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.

mitchelstown-caves

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
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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.

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