Love and Hate with the Earl of Strafford

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Can you love a person and despise him at the same time? Can you admire someone for his sense of honor and his intellect, and abhor his dispassionate cruelty and greed?

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Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford, after Anthony Van Dyck. National Portrait Gallery

Such was the conflict encountered while researching and writing about the infamous Earl of Strafford, Thomas Wentworth (1593 – 1641), for my latest novel, The Earl in Black Armor. Here was a man who stirred people’s passions to one extreme or the other. In his brightest hour, as chief advisor to King Charles I of England, he was loved by some and deeply hated by others. And yet, one is likely to feel respect for him, if not true admiration.

In my latest novel, protagonist Faolán Burke spies on Wentworth at Dublin Castle, where he meets the alluring Denisa Dumalin. Denisa, a personal assistant to Wentworth, spies on the man also, but for very private reasons. Faolán is soon likewise torn—by his allegiance to his clan, his love for Denisa, concern for his daughter’s future, and his sense of honor and admiration for Wentworth.

Born on April 13, 1593 to a wealthy, respected family in York, Thomas Wentworth became a man of ambition, responsibility and high standards, generally acknowledged by his peers as a wise and effective administrator. He became a member of the English Parliament at just 21 years of age. He soon exhibited his ideals and determination, willing to go to prison with many of his peers rather than pay to the king what he considered a forced loan. In 1628, Wentworth was one of the authors of The Petition of Right, a constitutional document to define and protect the people’s liberties against such things as forced loans and forced billeting of soldiers in people’s homes.

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King Charles I (1600 – 1649) after Anthony van Dyck. Wikimedia

He made perhaps his first and worst enemies when he accepted a position at court offered by King Charles. To his fellow parliamentarians, it appeared he was betraying them and selling out to the king. But Wentworth aspired to a court position, believing in the divine right of kings. He believed he’d have greater influence to advance reforms if he worked within the king’s court, rather than outside of it.

Wentworth demonstrated his capabilities so well, that soon colleagues urged him to accept the position of Lord Deputy of Ireland, to replace Lord Falkland, whom the king had recalled. Those colleagues may have had darker motives, wanting to remove Wentworth from consideration for the more lucrative position as the king’s treasurer in London. And, there is some suggestion that King Charles admired Wentworth’s abilities but also saw him as a threat. Wentworth accepted the Ireland post in 1632, eager to please the king by filling the treasury, and perhaps to earn a coveted earldom.

Arriving in Ireland in 1633, he established himself quickly as a man of fairness and action, by stopping the piracy that strangled trade, restoring law and order, and—by his policy of “thorough”—rooting out the corruption that lined the pockets of the wealthy at the expense of the poor. This policy made him rather unpopular with powerful nobles who had used their positions for personal gain.

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View of Dublin Castle, 1828

The same and other nobles also feared Wentworth’s plans to expand the English plantation system in Ireland, displacing Irish clans, destroying traditions, and eliminating the Irish way of life—including the Catholic religion that remained strong in the western counties.

Wentworth’s demeanor did not help, for he was intimidating, quick to anger, and his occasional cruelty caused many to hate him.

Haven’t we all experienced, or at least known of, such a person? A few modern examples come to mind. The beloved storyteller Walt Disney, for example, became the king of animation. He was greatly admired for his creativity and vision, and yet he was known to be an obsessive perfectionist and tyrant. The same might be said of Steve Jobs, a king of the microcomputer revolution, who was brilliant but also ruthlessness and cruel on a personal level. Anna Wintour, on whom the movie The Devil Wears Prada was likely based, became queen of the fashion industry, and yet was feared by her staff, made impossible demands, and gained a reputation of being rude to almost everyone.

In their defense, however, they managed under enormous pressures to help build major industries that employed millions of people—people who stayed with them because of their vision and power to succeed.

Wentworth succeeded on several levels to improve conditions in Ireland while earning the king’s favor. He made dozens of enemies along the way including the Earl of Cork, who was featured in my previous book, The Prince of Glencurragh. In time, Wentworth received his earldom, and much more. But King Charles was not the stalwart figure one hopes for in a monarch. Though Wentworth was the king’s chief advisor during the Bishops Wars, his advice often was not taken, and some of his recommendations may have been misconstrued. Did he, or did he not, suggest the king should use the Irish Army against his own people?

Faolán’s objective as a spy is fulfilled when the wars end at Newburn in 1640, but now he faces fierce inner conflicts and realizations about his own past that threaten to destroy him, just as the Earl of Strafford faces a bitter fight for his life.

As the author, I felt equally plagued by inner conflicts, influenced by historical writers on whose research I depended. I used several sources to study Wentworth and the events from 1633 to 1641, including C.V. Wedgwood, Elizabeth Cooper, Hugh Kearney, and more. Wedgwood and Cooper in particular exhibited mixed feelings about Wentworth. Wedgwood first wrote Wentworth’s biography when she was 25, then depicting him as a brave and able man. However, when new sources became available 30 years later, she revised it to produce “A Revaluation,” recognizing Wentworth’s greediness and tendency to apply laws to others but not to himself.

But Wentworth was not alone in this, and was probably not the worst of them in a time when corruption and the king’s favor were the best, if not the only paths to advancement. Wentworth is remembered as a tyrant and a statesman, but his contemporaries in Parliament have much worse to answer for.

This post was originally published on the award-winning UK blog, Myths, Legends, Books and Coffee Pots.

Blanton_Nancy_CoverThe Earl in Black Armor is available now in paperback, hard cover, and e-book formats.

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Romeo Butler & Juliet Preston

Romeo Butler & Juliet Preston

A match made in Ireland

Shakespeare’s tragedy of Romeo and Juliet finds a happy ending in the 17th century story of James Butler and Elizabeth Preston. These two members of feuding Anglo-Irish families were actually cousins, and made an unlikely couple until events shifted, ultimately allowing a marriage of choice rather than arrangement.

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King Charles I, public domain

During the reign of King Charles I (1625-1649), normal practice in society required parental control over a marriage arrangement. It was nothing more than family discipline, considered the best guarantee of public order, and in King Charles’s court, order was paramount.

From the time that a child was born, parents began calculating potential marriage matches that would improve the family’s bloodline, elevate their social status, increase their wealth, solidify a mutually beneficial business alliance, consolidate or expand real estate holdings, and preferably all of the above. Both the bride and the groom were expected to bring something to the table.

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Wikimedia Commons

In the 17th century, land ownership was power. Historically, the Butler family held the Earldom of Ormonde, controlling a huge tract of land in Ireland, basically from Waterford to Limerick. The FitzGeralds (known as the Geraldines) held even more land, with two branches bordering on each side of Ormonde: the Earldom of Desmond, roughly including the modern-day counties of Cork and part of Kerry, and the Earldom of Kildare, on the east side of Ormonde and adjacent to the Pale, the area surrounding Dublin.

Disputes over property lines and ownership waxed and waned at least from the 14th century, the two neighboring earldoms fighting one another in skirmishes and outright battles. Many schemes attempted to heal the feud, from the famous handshake through a hole in a door at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1492, to the marriage of Joan, the widowed Countess of Ormonde, to Gerald Fitzgerald, the 15th Earl of Desmond, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. But the feud roared up again when Gerald had a dispute with Joan’s son, Thomas, the 10th Earl of Ormonde.

A famous quote is attributed to Gerald after being wounded on the field in the Battle of Affane in 1565. While being carried from the field on the shoulders of Ormonde soldiers, an Ormonde commander triumphantly asked, “Where is now the great Lord Desmond?” And Desmond is said to have given his quick reply, “Where but in his proper place, on the necks of the Butlers?”

After the Desmond Rebellions, which by 1603 had left all of Gerald’s male heirs either dead or attainted, the Desmond earldom was extinguished. But it was not the end of the story.

Thomas, the 10th Earl of Ormonde, a great uncle of James, sought a suitable marriage for his only daughter Elizabeth. Rejecting a suit by the second son of the fourth Earl of Thomond, he brokered a more lucrative match with Richard Preston, a Scot and a court favorite with King James I. When Thomas died in 1614, the king saw it as an opportunity to settle the long-term feuding and so, when they married he named Preston the first Earl of Desmond, third creation, and awarded most of the Ormonde estate to Elizabeth. Since properties belonged to the husband upon marriage, thereby he combined the estates of Desmond and Ormonde.

But that only produced another problem, because Thomas had no surviving sons, and had named his nephew Walter, James’s grandfather, to inherit the Ormonde earldom and estate. Walter began a series of complaints and legal actions to regain the land he believed was rightfully his, and the proper inheritance for his own son Thomas, who should have been the next earl of Ormonde. Walter’s disputes annoyed the king and landed him in prison for eight years.

About the same time, Walter’s son Thomas had married and James was born, but this Thomas drowned in a shipwreck on the Skerries, a series of rocky islets off the shore of Wales (and also off Northern Ireland), when James was quite young. The titles that should have gone to Thomas would now pass to James.

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Henry Rich, 1st Earl of Holland, by Daniël Mijtens, Public Domain

A few years after James was born, Richard and Elizabeth Preston had their first child, a daughter also named Elizabeth. Richard betrothed her to a nephew of another court favorite, the powerful and wealthy Duke of Buckingham. But, by strange coincidence she was also orphaned in 1628 when her father drowned in a shipwreck on his way from Dublin to England (probably also on the Skerries), and in the same year Buckingham was assassinated. The king placed young Elizabeth in wardship with the Earl of Holland.

Her father’s death meant that Elizabeth was now an heiress who could choose her own husband. However, she was just fourteen years old. Lord Holland got busy trying to arrange a lucrative match for Elizabeth that also would benefit him – one of the happy consequences of having a royal wardship.

Elizabeth first met her cousin James at London court when he was studying the Irish language and living with his aged grandfather who’d been released from prison. James was 18 years old and, according to all accounts, immediately fell in love with her. The affection was returned, but Lord Holland stood in the way.

Somewhat in the role of Shakespeare’s Friar Lawrence, Scottish kinsman Patrick Wemyss, who managed Elizabeth’s estates, arranged secret meetings for James and Elizabeth in her home or in London churches, where James arrived disguised as a peddler.

In order to court her openly, James, now known as Viscount Thurles—a courtesy title that had been his father’s—had to clear his way with a bribe of £15,000 to Lord Holland.

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James Butler, 12th Duke of Ormonde, National Portrait Gallery

The couple wed with the king’s consent in 1629, and all of the Ormonde ancestral lands were returned to the Ormonde earldom. Their union put an end to the long-term feud by creating a strong family alliance. When Walter, the 11th earl, died in 1633, James became the 12th earl of Ormonde.

Instead of drinking a death-simulation potion like Romeo and Juliet, they must have found instead a love potion, for they had 10 children, five of whom survived to adulthood. They also became a very powerful couple. James the Earl became leader of the Confederate forces against the Parliamentary army after the Great Irish Rebellion of 1641.

After Parliament executed King Charles I in 1649 and Oliver Cromwell ascended to power, Ormonde lived in exile in France, in service of King Charles II and his family until the monarchy was restored in 1660. It was Elizabeth, however, who returned to Ireland to save the Ormonde family estates.

For his loyalty and service to Charles II, the king named James Butler as the first Duke of Ormonde in 1680. Both highly respected and revered, Elizabeth died in 1684, and James in 1688.

The portrait of James Butler graces the cover of my second novel, The Prince of Glencurragh, as a symbol of the 17th century ideal, a man of honor, grace, wealth and nobility, and a true statesman.

Note: There are numerous and conflicting accounts of this story, with possibly some confusion arising from the two Elizabeths and two Thomases. I’ve made every effort for accuracy but if you see something that seems incorrect, please comment with source information. Thank you!

TPOG_Cover2017The Prince of Glencurragh is an award-winning novel of hope during the sweeping change preceding Ireland’s Great Rebellion of 1641. Available on amazon, B&N, and other online retailers.

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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.

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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.

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Sir Humphrey Gilbert, half brother to Sir Walter Raleigh

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

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

An excerpt from The Prince tells the story:

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

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

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

Part 1 – Kanturk Castle 

Part 2 – Rock of Cashel 

Part 3 – Barryscourt 

Part 4 – Ormonde Castle

Part 5 – Lismore Castle

Part 6 – Bandon, Kilcolmen

Part 7 – Timoleague Friary

Part 8 – Castle Freke, Rathbarry, Red Strand

Part 9 – Coppinger’s Court

Part 10 – Drombeg and Knockdrum

Part 11 – Liss Ard, Lough Abisdealy

Part 12 – Skibbereen

Part 13 – Baltimore

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

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

HARDCOVER
PAPERBACK
E-BOOK

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

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Tracking the Prince: Baltimore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 1 – Kanturk Castle 

Part 2 – Rock of Cashel 

Part 3 – Barryscourt 

Part 4 – Ormonde Castle

Part 5 – Lismore Castle

Part 6 – Bandon, Kilcolmen

Part 7 – Timoleague Friary

Part 8 – Castle Freke, Rathbarry, Red Strand

Part 9 – Coppinger’s Court

Part 10 – Drombeg and Knockdrum

Part 11 – Liss Ard, Lough Abisdealy

Part 12 – Skibbereen

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

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

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E-BOOK

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

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Tracking the Prince: Liss Ard, Lough Abisdealy

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

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

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

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A lakeside tree for Mr. Eames

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

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

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

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

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Entrance to the Sky Garden

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

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

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

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

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

Part 1 – Kanturk Castle 

Part 2 – Rock of Cashel 

Part 3 – Barryscourt 

Part 4 – Ormonde Castle

Part 5 – Lismore Castle

Part 6 – Bandon, Kilcolmen

Part 7 – Timoleague Friary

Part 8 – Castle Freke, Rathbarry, Red Strand

Part 9 – Coppinger’s Court

Part 10 – Drombeg and Knockdrum

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

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

HARDCOVER
PAPERBACK
E-BOOK

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

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Tracking the Prince: Drombeg and Knockdrum

Part 10 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.

The hills and bluffs of southwest Cork are not only beautiful, but also magical. It seems at every turn you may find something ancient to fascinate you. Just a short distance from Coppinger’s Court along the Glandore Road, we parked on a narrow dirt road to climb the grassy hill to Drombeg Stone Circle.

img_1545This place had interested me from afar. I didn’t intend to use a stone circle in The Prince of Glencurragh, but this one happened to sit along the travel trajectory and, despite several earlier trips to Ireland, I had never actually visited a stone circle.

I wonder if everyone who visits them secretly hopes to have some kind of mystical experience? Perhaps not of “Outlander” proportions where the novel’s heroine is transported back 200 years, but at least some kind of physical or spiritual sensation. I wonder how many actually do? For me there was just the simple thrill of being there, touching something so old and at one time sacred, and imagining the people upon whose footsteps I walked.

img_1537Also known as “The Druid’s Altar,” archaeologists say this 17-stone circle was in use 1100 to 800 BC. The stones slope toward its famous recumbent stone that seems to align with the winter solstice. Depressions and a cooking area (fulacht fiadh) may have been in use until the 5th century AD.

But I’ve got news for archaeologists: visitors to this site are using it still, based on the tokens and offerings they leave behind. Countless prayers must have been uttered here, and it feels almost intimate, the circle small and cloaked within a soft Irish mist. We were there in June, but had we been there at sunset in December, I’m sure we would have heard the spirits singing…

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img_0684From there we passed Glandore where we would later eat a spectacular dinner at a waterfront restaurant, and Union Hall where I saw the view of the harbor that has enchanted people for ages (and is captured so creatively by the artists in the book, The Old Pier, Union Hall, by Paul and Aileen Finucane).

But my destination now was Knockdrum Fort, a few miles farther west. Knockdrum is one of Ireland’s many Iron Age stone ring forts, but this one was reconstructed in the 19th century. It has massive stone walls four to five feet high, arranged in a ring to provide protection as well as a 360 view of the surrounding area. Historians say that while it looks like a defensive fort, its purpose may have been sacred instead. The standing boulder just inside the entrance is inscribed with a large cross.

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Eddie stands within the central house foundation at Knockdrum, within stone outer walls

img_0670Through my research I learned the fort had a souterrain with three chambers cut from solid stone, one having a fireplace and flue. One source said the underground passage went all the way down to the sea.

If this was so, I would indeed plan to use this site for a scene in my book. On paper it seemed the perfect location for a pursuit, a setup, a trap, and then a wily escape through the souterrain. And this is why actual site inspection is so important for an author.

Especially for historical fiction, readers want to learn something of the history as they read, and so, while characters and their actions can be fictional, readers expect a high level of accuracy in locations and historical events. I could not portray the location truthfully and still use it in the story because it was set high on a promontory, creating an unnecessary and unrealistic difficulty for the characters. And, if the souterrain was used for the escape route, it would have been quite a long way almost straight down to the sea, with the only advantage being if you had a seaworthy vessel waiting at the bottom.

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View over Knockdrum’s outer wall to the sea: it’s a long way down!

The souterrain was gated off so I could not see inside it, but I had seen enough to know that, while a remarkable site to explore, it would not serve the story well. Perhaps it will find a home in another story one day. The fort’s impressive size and appearance, and the view from all sides, is unforgettable.

Looking northeast of the site as we left it, we saw the “Five Fingers,” or rather three of them. These are megalithic stones jutting from a hill, looking like the skeletal fingers of a giant reaching for the sky—a high five for our explorations that day.

But I still needed a location for that scene in my story. And for this, the Liss Ard would serve quite nicely; coming up next week.

Thanks to Megalithic Ireland, Exploring West Cork by Jack Roberts, Irish Archaeology, abandonedireland.com, Irish Archaeology, The Old Pier, Union Hall, by Paul and Aileen Finucane.

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

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.

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

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