Christmas in 17th Century Ireland

(Reblogged from my guest post on Mary Anne Yarde’s Myths, Legends, Books & Coffee Pots)

Could it be possible that anyone would actually cancel Christmas, the most wonderful time of the year? Considering the tumultuous nature of the 17th century, perhaps it’s no surprise that the celebration of Christmas would also have its ups and downs—so much so that at one point Christmas truly was banned.

file1661263317004In Ireland, Christmas first began as a pagan celebration around the time of the winter solstice, the shortest and darkest day of the year and the beginning of a new cycle. From these ancient times came the custom of decorating homes with holly, with its evergreen leaves suggesting the magical power to protect against the winter.

Another pre-Christian ritual that survives is the Wren Boys Procession. You can perhaps still see this event on the Dingle Peninsula and other towns on Ireland’s west coast. Taking place on St. Stephen’s Day, December 26, obviously it has taken on some Christian significance. Boys and young men dress, perhaps birdlike, in full suits and conical hats specifically made of oat straw. Historically, it was a day to hunt the wren, a bird of omen to the Druids, and blamed as well for the betrayal of Christian martyr St. Stephen. The killed birds were bound to the end of sticks and carried from house to house, where the carriers demanded money with the chant, “Give us a penny to bury the ‘wran’”. The money was then used for the celebration. (Read more about the wren and its mythology here.)


King Henry II, public domain image

The English king, Henry II, is credited with bringing the first Christian Christmas to Ireland in 1171. He hosted celebrations in a palace built specifically for him the year after Dermot MacMurrough and Strongbow(Richard de Burgo) took control of Leinster and most of Ireland’s east coast. Here Henry entertained Ireland’s leaders in high royal fashion:

“The feast of Christmas was drawing near, very many of the princes of the land repaired to Dublin to visit the King’s court, and were much astonished at the sumptuousness of his entertainments and the splendour of his household; and having places assigned to them at the tables in the hall, by the King’s command, they learnt to eat cranes which were served up, a food they before loathed.”
~ Giraldus Cambrensis, Welsh Chronicler

The Christmas season would have followed the Catholic liturgical calendar starting with the 40 days of Advent, then Christmas Eve on December 24, and ending January 6th, the feast of the Epiphany, also known as Twelfth Night. Some believe the December 25th date for Christmas came from the Romans who used that date for the solstice festival. The date also falls nine months from the Annunciation, the Christian celebration of the day the angels told Mary she would conceive and give birth to Jesus. It is a topic of great controversy with many other dates suggested as being more likely.


King Henry VI, public domain image

King Henry VI proclaimed Christmas a public holiday in 1448, and the feasting, festivals, nativity plays, caroling and gift giving became solid traditions in both England and Ireland. But some thought Ireland took the feasting to an extraordinary level. Fynes Moryson was a propagandist traveling in Ireland during the early 17th century when it was useful for refined English nobles to think of the Irish as no better than savages. His description, to be taken with a healthy dose of salt, feeds that notion:

Yea, the wild Irish in time of greatest peace impute covetousness and base birth to him that hath any corn after Christmas, as it were a point of nobility to consume all within those festival days. They willingly eat the herb shamrock, being of a sharp taste, which, as they run and are chased to and fro, they snatch like beasts out of the ditches.”

Times and traditions were soon to change.

In the 16th and early 17th centuries, Ireland was predominantly of Catholic faith, but the plantation of Munster and Ulster under Queen Elizabeth and James I, new Protestant settlers, Protestant government officials, and the implementation of anti-Catholic laws altered that demographic.

The king of England was also the king of Ireland and supreme head of the Church of England, after all. Anyone who did not attend Protestant church services was fined as a recusant. In extreme cases, to celebrate Catholic Mass was an act of treason for which people could be arrested, fined, and imprisoned or executed. To devout Catholics in Ireland, it seemed equally risky to denounce their faith and face excommunication and damnation.


King Charles I, public domain image

Meanwhile, Puritanism was marching to a powerful majority. King Charles I began to press his own form of Protestantism, leading to the Bishops Wars with Scotland. Then came the Great Irish Rebellion of 1641, and the English Civil War of 1642. Finding the lavish celebrations for Christmas and other holidays vulgar and imprudent, in 1644 the Puritans made sure that Christmas was banned entirely. By 1650, soldiers were sent from house to house to enforce this ban and arrest any revelers.

And yet, people would not give up their beloved religious celebrations. Catholic households willing to host secret Mass would place a candle in their window just before it was to start, as a signal and call to other Catholics. To people not in the know, the candles seemed like nothing more than a modest decoration.

Ultimately, the English Parliament executed King Charles. Oliver Cromwell crushed the Irish rebellion with excessive cruelty. Protestants took possession of properties confiscated from Irish Catholics, and the religious majority shifted. Cromwell ascended as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth, the uncrowned Puritan king of England. By the time he died in 1658, English subjects were eager to restore the monarchy.


King Charles II, public domain image


King Charles II did indeed bring back Christmas celebrations in 1660 as part of the Restoration, and he became known as “the merry monarch.”

Today, Christmas celebrations in Ireland are similar to those of the U.S. and other countries, with decorated trees, shopping and gifting, caroling, dancing and feasting. You may still see the holly wreaths on doors and windows, and the welcoming candles in the windows. Each symbol has its history.

Irish Christmas traditions

In closing, here are some continuing Irish Christmas traditions to adopt for your own:

  • Put up your Christmas tree after December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. And go shopping on this day, with all the family along.
  • Place candles in your windows, a sign of welcome and safety.
  • Make Christmas pudding the traditional way, a rich fruit mixture with animal fat, wrapped in muslin and steamed.
  • Celebrate “First Footing” on New Years Day, when visitors to the homes of friends and family bring a bag holding a lump of coal, a piece of cake and a coin, with the wish that the family may never be cold, never be hungry, and always be prosperous.
  • And on Twelfth Night, January 6, celebrate Mother’s Day Off, traditionally the only day of the year when mothers were freed of their responsibilities. Thank goodness that has changed!


Buy someone a PRINCE for Christmas this year!

TPOG_Cover2017The Prince of Glencurragh is a four-time award winner, set in 1634 prior to the great rebellion of 1641. Read more about this and my other books at, Or purchase now on Amazon, B&N or your favorite online bookseller.

Have a great holiday season!




Royal Branding: Henry VII, the Dark Prince

Continuing my research on the monarchs of old, who give us the first examples of effective personal branding, I came across one writer who claimed that personal branding began with Henry VIII, the 16th century, larger-than-life king of England himself. While Henry makes a powerful image even today, the truth is that the origins of personal branding reach back all the way to the ancient Egyptians in the 15th century BC. And England’s monarchs took their cues from Greek philosophers like Plato, Aristotle and others more than 400 years BC.

Plato’s great work, The Republic, advised that the ruler should be a “philosopher king,” to be learned, thoughtful and make his decisions on what he believes is best for his people. Aristotle argued instead that the ruler should do less thinking, but take counsel from those around him, making decisions for the populace based on consideration of gathered information.

henry7sittow1By the 15th century AD, we come to Henry VII—father to Henry VIII and founder of the Tudor dynasty. He ruled almost a quarter century, 1485 – 1509. As Aristotle recommended, he surrounded himself with close advisors as well as a wider circle of nobles who could expand his awareness of the needs and opportunities in his realm. His reign was a time of transition, when violent feuds ended and the age of renaissance and reformation awaited.

But Henry VII had a challenge in creating his personal brand when he first took the throne. Exiled for most of his youth, he was 28 when he finally had the support he needed to fight for the kingdom. He returned to England, defeated and killed Richard III in the battle of Bosworth Field, and was crowned Henry VII on the spot. The House of Lancaster had defeated the House of York. The war of the roses was finally ended. Or was it?

The situation was messy. Henry was the last of the Lancastrian bloodline after Edward IV had killed all the others, including the weak Henry VI and his heir. But detractors said he was really only half-royal, descending illegitimately from a queen’s dalliance with a charming Welsh (Tudor) chamber servant. The two direct heirs, sons of Edward IV, had disappeared (the famous princes in the tower), but Edward and his wife had 10 children. Might there be another heir lurking about? How could Henry strengthen claim and stamp his royal boot once and for all on England?

Values based brand

After years of exile, instability and mistrust, what Henry valued most was stability in all things: familial, financial, legal, administrative and religious.

To begin, he needed to establish himself quickly and firmly in the minds of the people. First thing’s first: he not only declared himself king, but established his start date two days before the battle at Bosworth Field so that, by law, anyone who had fought against him or supported Richard was guilty of treason. That alone had people praising his virtues forthwith. Check.

Next, he dealt with the questionable bloodline issue. He married Edward IV’s eldest daughter, and in one stroke he combined two lines of royal blood, and unified Tudor and York. To confirm it, he quickly set about begetting an heir (Arthur) and a spare (Henry), establishing the Tudor dynasty.

He had artists and scribes illuminate parchment rolls, coats-of-arms, badges and portraits merging red rose (Tudor) with the white (York), and depicting him as the true successor to Edward IV. Check.

But that was just the beginning for Henry VII. He claimed his new reign would bring a “Golden Age” to his kingdom, a concept borrowed from Plato and first described by the Greek poet Hesiod:

“…And they lived like gods without sorrow of heart, remote and free from toil and grief. Miserable age rested not on them; but with legs and arms never failing they made merry with feasting beyond the reach of all evils. When they died it was as if they were overcome by sleep, for they had all good things…They dwelt in ease and peace upon their lands with many good things, rich in flocks and loved by the blessed gods.”

And Henry looked and acted the part as ruler of this rich kingdom. In 1497, Italian ambassadors meeting him at his summer palace in Dover admired the many heraldic devices and rich tapestries in the house, the elegant robes and trimmings on the nobility, and the king himself—(quoting from biographer Thomas Penn) “in a long violet, gold-lined cloak and, around his neck, a collar comprising four rows of ‘great pearls’ and many other jewels. On his head he wore a black felt cap studded with a pear-shaped pearl.” Another 17th century expert claims Henry VII spent the equivalent of £3 million on clothes. Check.

Conquering fear with formality

Henry’s great fear was civil war, and so he set up his kingdom with rigid adherence to due course and order of laws, with swift and decisive action to snuff out potential troubles. He focused on collecting the revenues due him to avoid a tax levy in peacetime. And he placed symbols of his royal authority everywhere, from statutes and proclamations to newly minted coins and the pope’s blessings.

The royal household reflected the same order. Services were below stairs and unseen. Public rooms were opulent. Access to the king was via succession of chambers, from the halls to lobbies, antechambers, closets, and galleries. And to maintain complete order, he established a French-style security force of 300—the yeomen of the guard—and placed spies in noble houses to root out suspected traitors.

His greatest political capital was in his two heirs, eldest son Arthur and second son Henry. Arthur was named for the legendary King Arthur. Henry insisted he be born in Winchester Castle, the ancient seat of King Arthur’s court, and claimed his son’s coronation was prophesied by Merlin himself. He named Arthur’s three-year-old younger brother Henry, Duke of York, thereby taking back the title from the Yorkists and establishing the child as a powerful leader.

Arthur’s wedding to Catherine of Aragon validated Henry VII’s rule by confirming an alliance between England and Spain. The wedding was two years in the planning, borrowing from every great ceremony on record to confirm and claim the most powerful English traditions, and took place in the larger and more magnificent St. Paul’s Cathedral (instead of Westminster), so that as many people as possible could attend, experience, and therefore take ownership as a part of the great occasion.

The Legacy

King_Henry_VII_from_NPGHenry VII was not loved, he was feared. It’s said that Shakespeare wrote no play for this king because era was just too painful, which may be true, but I would add that the story is so complex you need a full series to explain it. (Enter Starz and their series, The White Princess, based on Philippa Gregory’s novel.)

Henry VII’s reign was fraught with protests, uprisings, pretenders, and conspirators. He wanted to be thought of as a great man, but his focus on money overshadowed this persona. He intended to be known as a wise ruler, but surrounded himself with thug-like administrators and money collectors. One ambassador said Henry did not play by the rules people expected, but instead tried to change them to suit himself.

With quiet reserve he made sweeping changes to traditional English government. Outwardly, he showed the face of a strong, confident and knowledgeable ruler, astonishing foreign ambassadors by seeming to know everything before they reported it. Inwardly, however, he was suspicious and paranoid, willing to do anything to protect his hold on the throne. Eventually, his fear turned his personal brand into something far from what he had envisioned.

Arthur Tudor died suddenly at just 15 years of age, so that when Henry VII died from tuberculosis in 1509, he was succeeded by his second son, Henry VIII.

Gems from the Crown:

  • In times of change or instability, establish your identity quickly and firmly
  • First impressions are critical. Look the part of your of your persona every time you represent your business. Clothing might seem an extravagance but it is an important business investment.
  • Well-planned public events can make a solid and lasting brand statement. The marriage of Arthur and Katherine was in the planning for two years, and the roles of each participant carefully designed.
  • Make decisions based on values, not fears. Otherwise your brand will be distorted and possibly lost.
Thanks to: Tracy Borman via the Daily Mail; Thomas Penn, The Winter King; John Dillon, Plato and the Golden Age; and the Creative Commons / Public Domain for images.

Create your own royal brand:

BrandYourselfRoyallyIn8SimpleSteps_Blanton_cropBrand Yourself Royally in 8 Simple Steps gives you lessons learned from some of the strongest royal brands, and walks you through the process to create your own unforgettable brand, including vision and mission statements, persona and positioning, colors and tagline, and much more, plus communications planning to put your new brand into action. Available in soft cover and ebook.



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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.


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.


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


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


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


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.


Thanks to C.L. Adams, The Ancient Castles of Ireland, 1904;; 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?

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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, 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, 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

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Learn more and sign up for  updates via my newsletter at

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.


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.

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.


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.

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

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Tracking the Prince: Rathbarry and the Red Strand

Part 8 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. 

Sometimes, though sand and water wash away the past, research and imagination still can resurrect it.



From Timoleague, Clonakilty is nearly a straight shot west along the R600. Heading south from there are rolling hills, green bluffs and marshy expanses leading toward Dunnycove Bay. On most driving and tour maps you’ll see a notation for Castlefreke.

Built by Randall Oge Barry in the 15th century, the fort was lost to the English after the Battle of Kinsale, was besieged and later burned during the Rebellion of 1641. A tower house was built on the site in 1780, which was remodeled in 1820, burned down in 1910, and at the time of my visit it was being remodeled as an event venue. However we did not visit Castlefreke itself, because it was not my destination. Instead, I wished to see Rathbarry Castle, the Red Strand, and just a little farther west, Coppinger’s Court.


Wall of old Rathbarry

Featuring characters from the Barry family in The Prince of Glencurragh, I sought locations where they might have met or slept. I was to find little remaining of the castle, but enough to stir my imagination, and even more so, the illuminate larger forces that had been in play in the region.


Thanks to my friends Eddie and Teresa, who introduced me to their friend Pat Hogan, I was able to visit and learn much about Rathbarry, and it became a landmark in the book, near the cottage of the mysterious healer Pol-Liam.

img_1519The castle Rathbarry existed on the site of what is now Castlefreke, bearing the family name of Freke for the current owners. Far out on the roadway, the gateposts marking the entrance to the castle grounds with their large spherical tops were said to be true remnants of the 17th century. Just one wall of the ancient stables and carriage house remained, and a new stable house had been built within it remodeled as a private residence. We were treated to a peek inside this structure to get a feel for what home life was like there.

img_1503From the upper wall of the ruin, crumbling stone stairs led down to an ancient watergate, a stone passage leading directly from the castle to the water, where boats would have come to deliver food and supplies. But, except for a small, enclosed pond, there was no water. From the top of the steps I could see the bay, maybe half a mile distant. How, I wondered, could the castle have been served from such a distance?



Estimated distance and travel times for Lisbon tsunami (NOAA, public domain)

As Mr. Hogan reminded me, the landscape had changed dramatically since the 17th century, and events at the global level could have affected Ireland’s coastlines. In fact, in 1755 the Great Lisbon Earthquake and tsunami are believed to have done so. Considered one of the deadliest earthquakes in history, it is estimated to have hit the 8.5 to 9.0 range on today’s scale of magnitude, killed thousands of people and nearly devastated Lisbon. The tsunami’s impact was far-reaching.

“Tsunamis as tall as 20 metres (66 ft) swept the coast of North Africa, and struck Martinique and Barbados across the Atlantic. A three-metre (ten-foot) tsunami hit Cornwall on the southern English coast. Galway, on the west coast of Ireland, was also hit, resulting in partial destruction of the “Spanish Arch” section of the city wall. At Kinsale, several vessels were whirled round in the harbor, and water poured into the marketplace.”
~ Charles Lyell, Principles of Geology, 1830

img_1485Gigantic waves were reported as well in the West Indies and Brazil. Could these environmental events have shifted sands and reshaped Ireland’s coastline? Undoubtedly.

Almost within view of Rathbarry was another site I wished to visit: the Red Strand. Also likely to have been altered by the tsunami, this sandy beach was called “red” because the sand contained fossilized sea creatures or “calcareous matter,” which was believed to have a healing effect and also promote fertility. As late as the 19th century the sand was being collected for use in fertilizing crops some 16 miles away.

The only red I saw during my visit was in the clumps of seaweed washed ashore; still, the strand fascinates, bounded on one side by stones, and on the other by bluffs and stream. The strand and the story behind it served my imagination for a deadly scene in the book.

Next time: Coppinger’s Court.

Thanks to: Library Ireland, Exploring West Cork by Jack Roberts,, Pat Hogan, Eddie McEoin, Wikipedia and other sources.

Part 1 – Kanturk Castle 

Part 2 – Rock of Cashel 

Part 3 – Barryscourt 

Part 4 – Ormonde Castle

Part 5 – Lismore Castle

Part 6 – Bandon/Kilcolman

Part 7 – Timoleague

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.

Tracking the Prince: Barryscourt

Tracking the Prince: Barryscourt

Part 3 in a series featuring sites I visited in Ireland while researching my second novel, The Prince of Glencurragh. See Part 1 and Part 2.

img_1420Excitement was to be replaced by disappointment when I first reached the gates of Barryscourt Castle in Carrigtwohill, County Cork. Driving solo from Cashel, I got a bit lost in the vicinity—often there are not good signs, if any, to indicate castle locations—but a petrol station attendant smiled and told me I was just a few blocks away. When I parked, two workmen told me the castle was closed for renovations, but the owner was in the adjacent house and I could tour the gardens briefly if I liked.

As of this writing, the Heritage Ireland website says the castle is closed “until further notice,” so if you want to see the interiors, you may have to rely on other visitor photos, such as the ones in this TripAdvisor site.

img_1431Consequently, there is no scene in The Prince of Glencurragh that is set in Barryscourt Castle. I circled the great Norman tower twice as if hoping to find a secret passage, and then focused on the magnificent garden. Plaques were placed about so that I could identify the plants within the castle walls, a feature that is extremely helpful to an author who lives in another country and manages best with the silk plant variety.

img_1423The original castle was built in the 12th century, and the structure I saw was dated for about 1550. The architecture is described as a typical tower house with courtyard and outer bawn or curtain wall, and a “drop-the-prisoner-in-from-the-top” type of dungeon. From the grounds, the castle has the look and feel of the ancient and romantic. I could almost feel the long courtly gown about me, sense the workers bustling in the yard, and imagine stepping through the great wooden door and then ascending a stone stairway to a room in the tower warmed by fire.

img_1439Here had been the seat of the noble de Barry family, to whom King John in the 12th century awarded baronies in South Munster province in return for service in the Norman invasion of Ireland. In this time, English landholders often intermarried with the Irish and relished their autonomy, so far removed from the king’s influence. In later years, when Henry VIII wanted to exert his authority, the Barrys supported the Desmond Rebellions. In 1680 they set fire to Barryscourt themselves rather than see it captured by Sir Walter Raleigh and his English troops. But the Barrys later submitted, and Queen Elizabeth pardoned them after the rebellions were suppressed. Barryscourt was repaired, but external walls still bear the scars of cannon fire.


David Barry, 1st Earl of Barrymore, 1636

In The Prince of Glencurragh, my focus is on David, the first earl of Barrymore, who fell to obscurity after the Desmond wars, and was rescued from it by the Earl of Cork who saw a noble-blooded match for his young daughter, Lady Alice. David would later build Castle Lyons, a reputedly beautiful castle that became the Barry seat in 1617, but burned down in 1771. In the novel, this earl has promised to support the protagonist, narrator, and two Barry relatives in their abduction of an heiress for the protagonist to wed.

The Barrymore titles in Ireland became extinct after the death of the last earl in 1823. But the name is not extinct at all to Americans, who are familiar with the names if not the theatrical careers of Maurice, his children Lionel, Ethel, and John, grandson John, and great-granddaughter Drew. While they might have owned castles, these Barrymores are not descended from the Irish clan. Born in British India, Maurice Blyth took his stage name Barrymore as his surname when he immigrated to the United States from England in 1874.

brianborustory_pageproxy-aspxPerhaps as consolation for not getting to tour Barryscourt, in my research I stumbled across this site,, which is digitizing the national folklore collection of Ireland. It’s not an easy browse for gems, i.e. no photo gallery, but you can find handwritten accounts of people, events and places from Ireland’s own. I downloaded part of a story about Brian Boru, the famous Irish king of the 10th century, written by a schoolgirl, and realized even her cursive handwriting is a treasure, soon perhaps to go the way of tower house castles, and my mother’s shorthand.

Thanks to C.L. Adams’s Castles of Ireland, Castlelyons Parish website, Heritage Ireland, and Wikipedia. 

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.