Tracking the Prince: Kanturk Castle

Tracking the Prince: Kanturk Castle

Today I begin a series featuring sites I visited in Ireland while researching my second novel, The Prince of Glencurragh. This book takes place in mid-17th century Ireland, when castle towers are losing their significance and the order of the day for the rich and powerful is a grand, fortified manor house that demonstrates their wealth and importance.

I had mapped out 15 locations prior to my trip, so the series will cover each of these. Readers of The Prince can follow along using the map included in the book. I ended up using nearly all of the locations in some way, whether as an actual location for a scene in the story, or to inform something else.

img_1337Kanturk Castle was my first stop after arriving in Shannon. The structure inspired my vision for Castle Glencurragh, a fictitious castle near Skibbereen, County Cork, which is the dream and ambition of the protagonist.

Kanturk Castle is situated in north County Cork, just off the N72 about nine miles west of Mallow, along the Dalua river, a tributary of the Blackwater. It is named for the nearby market village Kanturk that existed centuries before the castle. While the name sounds exotic and mysterious, it actually means “the boar’s head” (from the Gaelic Ceann Tuirc).

img_1366To me, the remarkable thing about this enormous and beautiful fortified manor house, and why I felt compelled to see it, is that it was the envy of all who saw it during construction, and yet it was never completed.

Built by Dermot McDonagh MacCarthy starting around 1609, it is rectangular with corner towers standing five stories high. It is filled with magnificent fireplaces on each floor, large mullioned windows, arched doorways and a striking main entrance with Ionic columns on each side.

img_1338(For a very detailed account of the castle with far better photos than mine, please see The Irish Aesthete.)

One legend about the castle is that all the stonemasons happened to be named John, and so originally the castle was known as Carrig-na-Shane-Saor (the Rock of John the Mason). Another story I came across was that during construction, MacCarthy needed free labor, so he and his men snagged travelers passing by, put them to work as slaves, and would not release them until they had worked on the castle for a year.

Why the castle was never completed remains something of a mystery. Some accounts claim that English settlers were concerned that the size and fortification of the castle signaled more rebellion from the Irish, and the Privy Council of England halted construction. MacCarthy was so incensed, he had the blue tiles on the castle roof torn away and thrown into a stream. Other accounts hold that MacCarthy simply ran out of money to continue.

When MacCarthy’s son, Dermot Oge, succeeded him, Kanturk and the lands around it were heavily mortgaged. Dermot and his own son were killed during a Cromwellian battle in 1652, and at the end of the confederate war Kanturk Manor was awarded to Sir Phillip Perceval, an English Protestant. Sir Phillip’s descendant, Sir John Perceval, was a successful parliamentarian, named Baron of Burton, County Cork, in 1715, Viscount Perceval of Kanturk in 1722, and Earl of Egmont in 1733.

And this brings me to a very personal connection to the story.

In 1932, Kanturk was donated to the National Trust by Lucy, Countess of Egmont, the widow of the 7th Earl of Egmont who was killed in a car crash in England. Her conditions were that the castle be kept as a ruin, as it was at time of hand-over. It is designated as a national monument.

When I visited, I saw a lovely, well-kept place where the locals walk their dogs, just as I often walk my dogs along a beautiful street with a beautiful name: Countess of Egmont—on an island more than 4,000 miles away.

NPG D2382; Catherine Perceval (nÈe Compton), Countess of Egmont; Charles George Perceval, 2nd Baron Arden by James Macardell, after  Thomas Hudson

It turns out that Sir John Perceval, the 5th Baronet of Kanturk and the 2nd Earl of Egmont, obtained a king’s grant for properties in northeast Florida during a brief period around the 1770s, when Spain ceded the lands to Britain in an exchange for lands elsewhere. Amelia Island was then called Egmont Island, where the Earl and Lady Egmont owned a large indigo plantation. The island was later renamed Amelia in honor of the daughter of King George II of England.

The portrait:
Catherine Perceval (née Compton), Countess of Egmont; with Charles George Perceval, 2nd Baron Arden; by James Macardell, after Thomas Hudson, mezzotint, published 1765, NPG D2382 

Thanks to: History from Mr. Patrick O’Sullivan’s summary on Historic Kanturk website (Kanturk District And Community Council); Britain-Ireland-Castles.com; The Irish Aesthete; and the Amelia Island Museum of History.

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.

https://books2read.com/u/4N1Rj6

http://www.amazon.com/Prince-Glencurragh-Novel-Ireland-ebook/dp/B01GQPYQDY/

Looking into Dublin Castle

The first time I visited Dublin Castle, I was just 14 years old. My family was a long way from our Florida home, and I was so consumed by the excitement of it all that now I hardly remember it. (I do remember my sister plopping me into a bathtub after I consumed way too much mead.)

OnDublinsThrone009Now I wish I’d had a better head on me, for the castle will be the primary setting for my next book. Research already had begun last month when my sister unearthed this picture of me on the throne. Is it any wonder that I’m drawn to Irish history as much as I’m drawn to write?

What tourists see today is not the Dublin Castle of my story, however. Founded by King John in 1204 for the defense of the city, the original castle had a circular tower and strong walls around a broad square that was filled with wooden structures for the business of castle daily life. But most of this was lost to fire in 1684.

The tower survived, and around it a new Georgian Palace was built to house government offices and activity, house the Lord Deputy, and host state dinners and other events.

640px-(Ireland)_Dublin_Castle_Interior_(Throne)

The throne room looks unchanged except for the rope that now keep kids like me off the velvet cushions (Wikimedia Commons)

Today the castle is quite a sprawling complex that even offers a conference center. Visitors can tour historic State Apartments, including St. Patrick’s Hall, the throne room, dining room, bedrooms, and state corridor. They can also seem some remnants of Medieval life, and much more of modern life.

640px-Dublin-Castle-Green-Park-2012

Dublin Castle, back view with garden. (Wikimedia Commons)

But I will be looking for the Castle of the 1630s and 40s, just prior to the Great Rebellion of 1641. The story I’m researching centers on the Lord Deputy of Ireland, Thomas Wentworth, the First Earl of Strafford. He was vice regent for King Charles I, and did much to fill the king’s treasury during his tenure in Ireland, but managed to enrich himself at the same time. He offended many a powerful earl in the process, and this ultimately led to his downfall and execution in 1641.

The resulting book will be a sequel to The Prince of Glencurragh, a novel published last month:

jack6.140x9.210.inddAs the son of a great Irish warrior, Faolán Burke should have inherited vast lands and a beautiful castle, Glencurragh. But tensions grow in 1634 Ireland, as English plantation systems consume traditional clan properties, Irish families are made homeless, and Irish sons are left penniless. Encountering the beautiful heiress Vivienne FitzGerald, Faolán believes together they can restore his stolen heritage and build a prosperous life. Because the Earl of Cork protects her, abduction seems to be his only option.

But Vivienne has a mind of her own; the adventure that begins as a lark takes a dark turn, and plans go awry. Faolán finds himself in the crossfire between the four most powerful men in Ireland—the earls of Clanricarde, Cork, Ormonde, and the aggressive new Lord Deputy of Ireland—who use people like game pieces. With events spiraling beyond their control, what will become of Faolán, Vivienne, and the dream of Glencurragh?

Available in hard cover, soft cover and e-book.

Sign up for the Goodreads Giveaway now through Sept. 10. Or, purchase it today and embark on the adventure!

Giveaway: The Prince of Glencurragh

Sign up today on Goodreads and be eligible to win one of six free copies of The Prince of Glencurragh, my latest novel of 17th century Ireland. This book is a fast-paced adventure filled with action, romance, intrigue and terrible obstacles. Here’s a piece from the hard cover book flap:

Is it possible to reclaim a dream once it is lost to the mists of memory?

jack6.140x9.210.inddAengus O’Daly is what every good storyteller should be: observant, thoughtful, and inspired by love. He tells the story of his best friend Faolán Burke, both valiant and true, who tries to restore the world of his father’s dreams.

Had he lived to build it, Sir William Burke’s Castle Glencurragh would have been a wonder to all who beheld it. But when he died, all that remained of the castle were a few scattered stones and the indelible image in the mind of his ten-year-old son.

But in 1634 as the boy comes of age, the real world is not the one Sir William knew. As the English plantation system spreads across the province of Munster, Irish families will lose their homes unless they accept the Protestant faith. Farms that have been in their families for centuries now are given to English soldiers as rewards for service.

Even the great stone castles, once both the bounty and protection of the strongest clans, now have fallen against the power of the siege and cannon. Aengus says, “The day of the castle already was gone, be we refused to know it.”

With his whole being, Faolán believes all can be made right again, with perseverance, his love by his side, and with the right and perfect plan.

The Prince of Glencurragh is set in 1634 prior to the great rebellion of 1641. It is a stand-alone prequel to my first novel, Sharavogue, which won first place for historical fiction in Florida’s Royal Palm Literary Awards. Both books are available on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. Visit my website for more info, at nancyblanton.com.

The Giveaway ends September 10, 2016.

Dreams and disasters in 17th century Ireland

Rife with conflict, disaster, invention and sweeping change, there is not a century in history more fascinating and remarkable than the 17th.

In the words of J.P. Sommerville, University of Wisconsin history professor, the 17th century is “probably the most important century in the making of the modern world. It was during the 1600s that Galileo and Newton founded modern science; that Descartes began modern philosophy; that Hugo Grotius initiated international law; and that Thomas Hobbes and John Locke started modern political theory.”

571b-walled-town-of-cork-c1575-823x1023

Image of a walled town from the Cork City Library

At the same time, the century produced an unprecedented synergy of disaster, as described by Robert Burton in 1638: “War, plagues, fires, inundations, thefts, murders, massacres, meteors, spectrums, prodigies, apparitions…and such like, which these tempestuous times affoord…” And all of that during the first few decades.

Some historians believe the changes and difficulties of this century resulted in part from a global climate change. The “Little Ice Age,” extending from the 16th to 19th centuries, delivered a particularly cold interval in the mid-17th century.

England in the 1630s recorded great floods, widespread harvest failure, intense cold winters, wet and cold springs, and drought in summer so excessive that “the land and trees are despoiled of their verdure, as if it were a most severe winter.” Such conditions would have been seen in Ireland as well.

These natural forces so affected human activity as to upset the existing social, economic and political equilibrium. People facing cold, famine, and grave uncertainty are likely to behave in more desperate manner.

Ireland in particular faced considerable unrest as the lands, traditional clans and centuries-old way of life were forever altered.

Life in Ireland

In 1603, Queen Elizabeth I died, leaving her throne and kingdom to James I. Her military forces in Ireland had delivered a crushing blow to end the Desmond rebellion in the southwest province of Munster.

IMG_1350

Inside a castle ruin, Kanturk, Co. Cork

The English saw Ireland as underutilized and ripe for exploitation. They sought to improve on Irish farming methods by settling their own more efficient farmers, and thereby increasing crown revenues.

The Earl of Desmond was among the Irish gentry who held castles, manor houses and vast tracts of land. They were mostly of Norman or Saxon roots, descending from distinguished families or clans who had obtained grants from Henry II in the 12th century. They resented the crown’s efforts to take control of their long-held dominions and displace their Irish tenants: typically subsistence farmers who paid rents either in food or in coin from the goods they sold. Often these tenants lived in one-room houses constructed of mud and grass, with no windows and a single door that served as both the entry and chimney.

Lord Deputy Arthur Grey seemed to defeat Queen Elizabeth’s purpose with his cruelty and scorched earth tactics. He left the province devastated, little more than a wasteland that would require years to recover, and was later removed from his position for excessive brutality—but, he had cleared the way once and for all for English settlement.

In a land already compromised by drought, the remaining Irish faced terrible famine, plague, disease, homelessness and oppression. Lands that had been owned and passed down through generations by traditional clans, especially Irish Catholic, were confiscated and granted to English military officers as reward for their service. Survival for the Irish was tenuous and choices were few. Some restoration took place in the coming years, but a fury simmered below the obedient surface.

In 1625, Charles I succeeded his father and extended his policies, filling his treasury through increased taxation and monopolies to his favorites, and expanding plantation in Ulster. When civil war erupted in England, Irish clans welcomed the distraction. They organized and rebelled again, retaking confiscated lands and ousting the English settlers, often violently.

When Parliament was victorious in the civil war, it took control of England and all of its business, and shocked the monarchies of the world by executing King Charles in 1649.

Parliamentary army leader Oliver Cromwell now turned his attention to Ireland, cutting an unrelenting swath of brutality, destruction and death across the island. Towns were leveled, people massacred, and terror wrought with full force. One estimate claims 618,000 Irish deaths from fighting or disease—an astounding 41 percent of the pre-war population.

Surviving Irish were relocated to rocky hills that served better for grazing sheep than growing crops. Some joined armies and fought in foreign wars; some became pirates. Some were sent to workhouses where they likely died; some escaped to colonies in America. Cromwell deported many to the West Indies where they perished from slave labor and tropical disease.

Irish Catholics were forced out of the Irish Parliament, while Catholic Mass and the Irish language were outlawed. Catholics were banned from holding office, Catholic clergy were expelled from the country, and Catholic landowners were stripped of their properties. An estimated one-third of the Irish-Catholic population was killed or deported.

Cromwell

Bust of Cromwell from the Cromwell Museum, Huntingdon.

 

On the heels of this work, Cromwell was elevated to “Lord Protector,” England’s uncrowned king, and he established his famed Commonwealth. Oppression of Ireland was severe and would be seen by historians as genocide. But by the time of Cromwell’s death in 1658, England had tired of his Puritan influences, and his son proved a weak successor. Charles II was brought back from his exile in France and monarchy was restored.

While somewhat kinder and more tolerant toward the Irish who had supported his return, including the Earl of Ormonde who had led the royalists in the Irish Confederacy, the plantation of Ireland continued. Known as the Merry Monarch, Charles II restored some of the gaiety that had been lost to England, and smoothed the way for new thought, invention and discovery in the latter part of the century as the Age of Enlightenment was dawning.

(Geoffrey Parker’s Global Crisis was a valuable source for this post)

jack6.140x9.210.inddThe Prince of Glencurragh is set in 1634 prior to the great rebellion of 1641. It is a stand-alone prequel to my first novel, Sharavogue, which won first place for historical fiction in Florida’s Royal Palm Literary Awards. Both books are available on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. Visit my website for more info, at nancyblanton.com.

Review: The Light Between the Oceans

I’ve finished reading M.L. Stedman’s The Light Between the Seas, on my list for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge. It is a good story well-told, Stedman’s command of language and characterization obvious from the first page.

IMG_0257The story begins in 1926, and the setting is key: Janus Rock, a lighthouse station near Perth, Australia, where the Indian and Great Southern oceans meet. Already the reader knows it is a hard place.

I was most taken by the way the two main characters were drawn. Two people, like the oceans, so compatible on the surface and yet so different beneath, and opposites do attract. Tom Sherbourne, the war-scarred, by-the-book lighthouse tender, falls in love with Isabel, his free-spirited wife who brings humor and fun back into his life.

I struggled with the premise at first. How could these two people, who find a dead man and a live infant washed up to the island, bury the man and keep the infant without even trying to discover whether she had family looking for her? These were normal, good, honest people, not the criminal type. But I began to accept that their isolation, and neediness that remained after their own infant had died, drove them to do things outside of the norms.

And of course, this becomes the crux of the conflict, especially for Tom whose conscience drives him to betrayal. They name the child Lucy, which means light.

Although one can anticipate what will happen, and it is a little like watching a train wreck, as they say, the writing is captivating, involving and tender to the end.

Personal branding: persona and positioning

And why you need both

In my book on the subject, Chapter 2 introduces you to England’s Henry VIII, the king from 1509 to 1547. He was the granddaddy of personal branding if ever there was one, and the perfect model for generating and expressing a memorable persona.

Henry-VIII-kingofengland_1491-1547Most people are familiar with the famous Holbein portrait of him standing tall, broad-shouldered, filling up the canvas in his regal robes and codpiece. An icon of strength and robust health, this king gave the people what they wanted: physical power, great wealth, cultural sophistication, grand architecture, athletic supremacy, and a direct link to God.

What you see was not always what you got with King Henry, but he lived in an age without mass communication or the immediacy of social media, so he could get away with projecting an inflated persona that suited everyone’s needs. In today’s world, authenticity rules, and you must build a brand persona you can live by.

So what is a brand persona?

It is a compilation of values, activities and interests that define a person. If you are an author, artist or business person, your work defines you to a great extent, but also the realm in which you work or the subject matter on which you focus. Add to that your activities. For instance, are you a runner? An equestrian? A motocross enthusiast? Do you love to cook, read, dance? And then there are societal interests like improving literacy, reducing poverty, protecting the environment, and so on.  What do you stay up late thinking about? Where would you invest your money to make a difference in the world? Where/how would you donate your time? What are you doing when you are at your best?

Your brand persona might not include all facets of your life and interests. Consider the top 10 that might come up in a conversation with a new acquaintance. You might only have 30 seconds with this person before you shake hands and say goodbye. If he or she is a potential customer, what would you hope might be remembered about you?

That’s how a defined persona can help, by clarifying the kernel of you and making it easier to communicate and, therefore, easier to remember. And now we come to the logical next step.

Brand positioning

Suppose this person is a fine business prospect, but knows 10 other people who do what you do? How can you not only rise to the top in this person’s memory, but also rise with distinction?

Remember that a personal brand is all about building trust with your audience. Your persona embodies all of your values, interests and drives that make you someone worth trusting and doing business with. 

Your positioning statement zeroes in on the places your persona intersects with audience  values and needs, and then shoots it to the next level by defining that which connects with and makes you irresistible to them -– capturing the essence of you that is different from (re: better than) anyone else.

Positioning statements are used broadly in brand differentiation. The secret is, you’ve got to get emotional. People make decisions on an emotional level. If you know your own core brand driver, it’s the best place to start.

A personal brand positioning statement goes like this:

For [insert target audience], [Your Name] is the [insert point of differentiation] among all [insert frame of reference] because [reason to believe].

Here’s a silly example: “For people who need dog walkers, Jane Dogmire is the most lovable and trusted of all dog walkers in the region because she is board-certified by Dogs United and comes with homemade peanut butter treats.”

Jane meets the needs of her audience because she can be trusted to do the job right, and will keep her dogs happy, too.

Now, using myself as an example: I like history and historical fiction, researching and learning about my Irish heritage, and I work hard to share what I’ve learned in an entertaining way so that others will be interested, too. I know historical fiction readers are educated, like to learn as they read, expect to be entertained, and want high-quality writing. So I wrote my positioning statement like this:

For readers of historical fiction, Nancy Blanton is the award-winning author of Irish history adventure novels, combining research skills with a passion for Irish heritage to both inform and entertain.

Note how my values and audience values converge. Words like adventure and passion help tap into the reader’s emotions. Normally, this statement would never be public, but would be used to guide me in creating advertising, marketing collateral, and online communications, and I could use the same words, or different words that do the same work.

Once you’ve invested the time to build your persona and create your positioning statement, most of the heavy lifting for your personal brand is done. These are the guiding forces for the decisions you’ll make going forward with taglines, marks, colors, and so forth.

The big thing to remember is consistency. I know that every time I go to a Starbucks and order a mocha, with few exceptions I will get exactly what I expect and, therefore, I trust Starbucks. Stay true to the elements of your persona and positioning statement. Use the same words over and over. If your persona identifies your interests as horseback riding and cooking, don’t confuse your audience by blogging or tweeting about golf and scuba diving. Be authentic, be consistent, and you will, over time, build trust. Trust brings customers.

BrandYourselfRoyallyIn8SimpleSteps_Blanton_cropMy book will guide you through all eight steps toward your own personal brand. For additional help, I can offer professional services.

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My latest novel, The Prince of Glencurragh, is set to publish in July 2016.

Oh, and…I really like dogs.

Brooklyn at last, Saoirse

Brooklyn cover imageI finally got to see the movie Brooklyn featuring two-time Academy Award nominee Saoirse Ronan, and it did not disappoint for a moment. Though quickly labeled a chick flick by the two gentlemen who were with me, one stayed for the duration and was glad he did.

In this movie, Ronan plays young Eilis Lacey who leaves her hometown in Ireland to find opportunity in America. I can’t believe Miss Ronan is only 21 years old. Her eyes are absolutely penetrating and so expressive. She had me by the throat when as Eilis she arrived by ship in New York — after the sea-sickness scene to which I can all-to-painfully relate. But her fear and discomfort in a strange place, as if she is the only fresh human among a circling pack of jungle carnivores, really took me back.

My experience was not as difficult as being an ocean away from anyone or anything she knew, but my first weeks as a freshman at college were pretty close. I felt alone, disconnected, as if everyone spoke a different language and all knew what they were doing while I knew nothing. After a few weeks, when an old friend from high school knocked on my dorm room door, he was the only person I knew in the state. I leapt into his arms.

I loved Eilis’s 1950s “costume” as they called it—those sunglasses! And her friend fixing her up for a trip to the beach with her Italian love. And especially the characterizations: the cruel and bitter old shopkeeper in Ireland; the nosy, disciplining house mother in Brooklyn; and the kind Catholic priest who reminded me just a little of my dear friend Eddie in Bandon.

And, I could not hold back the tears when the sister died. How would I feel if something should happen to my own beloved sisters? Incomprehensible.

To leave Ireland at any time must be gut-wrenching. I don’t know of any place like it: so charming, intimate and yet so wild it defies description. And yet, for some and in certain times, it must have been a relief to leave and again find hope for some kind of future.

Although Eilis returns to Ireland and suddenly it seems she can have everything she ever wanted there, she realizes it is an illusion, and she has forgotten the reasons she left in the first place. She breaks free of the bonds of the past, and chooses the new life and love. I wonder is there in everyone’s life, as there was in mine, an experience like this in which you’re given an opportunity to choose: to either hold on (like it or not) to what you know, or to embrace the new adventure.

Because I made the choice, I have ended up writing about adventures—always my dream—and in a place beyond my dreams.

SharavogueCoverIf you love adventures and particularly historical adventures, checkout my novel of 17th century Ireland and the West Indies, Sharavogue. May latest book, The Prince of Glencurragh, comes out this summer.

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Thank you for reading this blog!