Tracking the Prince: Skibbereen

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

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

skibbereenarrival

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

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

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

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

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

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The beautiful River Ilen at Skibbereen, County Cork

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

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

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

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

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

skibbereentowncenter

Skibbereen town center with The Maid of Erin memorial

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

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

skibbereenbookshop01

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

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

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

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

Part 1 – Kanturk Castle 

Part 2 – Rock of Cashel 

Part 3 – Barryscourt 

Part 4 – Ormonde Castle

Part 5 – Lismore Castle

Part 6 – Bandon, Kilcolmen

Part 7 – Timoleague Friary

Part 8 – Castle Freke, Rathbarry, Red Strand

Part 9 – Coppinger’s Court

Part 10 – Drombeg and Knockdrum

Part 11 – Liss Ard, Lough Abisdealy

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

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

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Tracking the Prince: Bandon and Kilcolmen

Part 6 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. 

oliver_plunkett_street_bandon_west_cork_-_geograph-org-uk_-_212040

Oliver Plunkett Street, photo by Brian Abbott, CC BY-SA 2.0 wikimedia commons

My research for The Prince of Glencurragh truly gained momentum when I visited Bandon in County Cork. Here I saw the place where my story began, and realized my reconnection with an old friend was the key that would allow the story to unfold.

Known as the gateway to West Cork, the city of Bandon lies 27 km (not quite 17 miles) west of Cork City. Established in 1604 as part of King James I’s Munster Plantation, it was a planned settlement English Protestants in Ireland. The famous stone bridge dates back at least to 1594, connecting people on either side of the Bandon River to facilitate trade. A timber bridge had existed even earlier, built by the O’Mahony (Oh-MAY-hon-ee) clan in 14th century.

When Richard Boyle, the first Earl of Cork, acquired the lease for all the properties of the town, he began a five-year project to enclose 27 acres within a wall nine feet thick and from 30 to 50 feet high in some places. On the heels of the Desmond Rebellions, this was intended to protect the peaceful settlers within against the wild Irish without.

Protection was needed against the unrest the settlement itself had created. Bandon lands had belonged to the O’Mahony and McCarthy clans, and the displacement left Irish families homeless and their sons without inheritance, sowing seeds for an even greater rebellion than the Desmonds could muster.

For the story in The Prince of Glencurragh, Bandon’s wall is critical, because certain local laws were enforced by a sheriff within the town’s walls, but did not extend beyond them. When the would-be “prince” Faolán Burke abducts his heiress from a rectory situated outside the town walls, technically he has broken no laws.

In preparation for my travels, my research uncovered a near-perfect model for this rectory, the Kilcolmen Rectory just east of where the walls of Bandon would have reached. To my surprise and delight, my dear friends and guides Eddie and Teresa actually live in Bandon (I had thought they still lived in Templemore).

I met Eddie when I was 19 or 20, visiting Ireland for a summer study program, and had the privilege of staying with his family in Skibbereen for a few days. We had not seen each other in decades, and so the reconnecting was gratifying and emotional.

img_1449Eddie knew of the rectory and was able to take me straight there. Though it is now a private home, Eddie chatted with the resident—she was leaning out of the upstairs bathroom window where she’d been bathing her children—while I looked about the house and grounds. We did not go inside, but Eddie sent me some interior photos he happened upon when the house went on the real estate market months later.

screen-shot-2015-10-26-at-6-56-41-amThis rectory is much larger and finer than the one I had imagined, but served quite well to give me an authentic feel for the place. The front door is opposite the stairs, and on either side are doorways to the parlor and the dining room. I loved the enormous windows of the place, and the high ceilings. The bedroom is where the character Vivienne would have pushed her bed beneath a window to wait for St. Agnes to reveal the image of the man she would marry. The road outside would have been a dirt carriage path instead of a nice, clean paved drive.

screen-shot-2015-10-26-at-6-57-10-amEddie later showed me that Bandon’s town walls are mostly invisible now but for some crumbling remnants. Still, the wall sets the town apart and Bandon is a member of the Irish Walled Towns Network.

Upon seeing these things, the story became real to me and I could tell it with sincerity. But the truth is I would never have found or seen the places I was looking for without Eddie and Teresa. It is one thing to look at a map and draw circles and lines, and yet another to actually find your way around a mostly unmarked and unfamiliar region. They took me everywhere I wanted to go, for they knew each place already, and even more than that, they had personal history with some of them, a love of exploration, and an often unspoken but clear reverence for the land and its history.

They showed me a ruin not on my list, but beautiful and fascinating: Castle Bernard. Where once there had been a medieval castle belonging to the O’Mahonys, in 1788 the first earl of Bandon, Francis Bernard, built a beautiful mansion with tall windows and soaring castellated towers.

By the time it was inhabited by the 4th earl, James Francis Bernard, a new and modern rising came from the IRA. In June 1921, while the earl hid in the cellar, IRA soldiers set fire to the castle and captured the earl as he tried to escape. Now mostly swallowed up by the woods and vines, the magnificence and inaccessibility of the ruin spur the imagination.

From Bandon we would travel for three spectacular days to uncover the rest of Faolán Burke’s trail.

As a side note, my friends in the Pacific Northwest might like to know that Bandon has a twin city agreement with Bandon, Oregon. In 1873, Lord George Bennet founded the city and named it after his hometown in Ireland. Bennet is known for introducing the lovely-flowering but highly troublesome gorse to the American landscape.

Thanks to: Irish Walled Town Network, Heritage Bridges of County Cork (Cork County Council), Castles.nl, Wikipedia and other sources.

Part 1 – Kanturk Castle 

Part 2 – Rock of Cashel 

Part 3 – Barryscourt 

Part 4 – Ormonde Castle

Part 5 – Lismore Castle

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

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

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

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

 

The Prince Of Glencurragh: The Backstory          

tpogawardsOn October 22, the Florida Writers Association bestowed the coveted Royal Palm Literary Award on my second novel, The Prince of Glencurragh. This is an enormous honor and a great thrill. I worked harder on this book than anything before, loved the story and characters, and I’m gratified that the judges loved it, too: first place for historical fiction, and first runner up for book of the year across all genres in its category.

So here’s the backstory: why I wrote it, what it’s about, and some themes that I hope will come through for readers.

This book is actually the prequel to my first novel, Sharavogue (also a Royal Palm award winner in 2014). It is about that protagonist’s father, Faolán Burke. I had originally intended to write the sequel, but at the time several readers urged me to tell what had happened before, and how Elvy Burke came to be in her troubled situation. So I focused instead on 1634, the year Elvy was born, and found the time rich with change, struggle, and growing discontent that would lead to the great Irish rebellion of 1641.

About the title

The Prince refers to the protagonist in the story, Faolán Burke, who aspires to be a leader among his people, and to build the castle that was his father’s dream. The gentleman on the cover is not a prince; he was James Butler, the 12th Earl of Ormonde, and later the first Duke of Ormonde, who embodied all the princely attributes of his day – he is the ideal, what Faolán would hope to become.

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National Portrait Gallery

Ormonde was one of the largest landholders in Ireland at the time, and land was power. He ascended to the earldom at just 24 years of age, when his grandfather died, because the first heir, James’s father, had been lost at sea. This ceremonial portrait was a great inspiration to me: I was fascinated by the pride and strength in his face, the long golden curls, and the magnificent robes. He was admired by almost everyone in his day; he was a statesman of his time.

Biographer C.V. Wedgwood describes James Butler as a “high-hearted” nobleman: “Handsome, intelligent and valiant, he was also to the very core of his being a man of honor: loyal, chivalrous and just.”

ormonde_handcrop_edited-1One little quirk you might notice on the cover, if you look at Ormonde’s right hand holding the lance. He appears to be missing a finger! In later portraits the finger exists, so this must be a mistake (or perhaps intentional) by the artist.

Glencurragh
 comes from a residential section of Skibbereen, a town in southwest County Cork (in the book I use the old spelling, Skebreen). When I visited there last year, my friend of many years helped me find the most likely place where my fictitious castle might have been located. Glencurragh means “a place for boats,” and the castle would’ve protected the commerce up and down the River Ilen. At one point in time there were three castles along the river at Skibbereen, but all have crumbled away.

mapIt’s because of my affection for this friend and his family that both novels are set, at least in part, in their beautiful hometown, Skibbereen.

So what’s the story about?

It’s about a young man chasing down a dream in the worst of times. Faolán Burke, son of a famous Irish warrior, is not a great catch. He should have inherited vast lands and the beautiful Castle Glencurragh. But the English lands confiscated the land, the castle of his father’s dreams was never built, and Faolán will try almost anything to make his lost heritage a reality.

In the opening scene, Faolán falls a bit short of his ideal. He’s abducting an heiress for his bride. There was no law against abduction at this time, and while I won’t say it was common, it did occur. Once abducted, women were considered soiled goods, the family could no longer negotiate a lucrative marriage settlement with a wealthy suitor, and usually would try to make the best of it with the family of the abductor.

In this case the heiress was under protection of an earl, and earls could generally exert their own law. So Faolán with his lady must run for cover until they have the protection and support of someone equal in power that can help negotiate the settlement.

But in 1634, the real world has changed. As the English plantation system spreads across the province of Munster, Irish families lose their homes to new English settlers. Lands that have been in their families for centuries now are given to English soldiers as rewards for service. Even castles, once both the bounty and protection of the strongest clans, now are vulnerable to the siege and cannon.

Moreover, knowledge and beliefs are changing. In the 17th century, Galileo and Newton founded modern science; Descartes began modern philosophy; Hobbes and John Locke started modern political theory. Science for the first time has greater influence than religion in decision-making. And people can own books. They become a symbol of wealth, and the bookshelf is invented to display them

Climatically, this was the middle of The Little Ice Age. The 1630s recorded great floods, widespread harvest failure, intense cold winters, wet and cold springs, and drought in summer.

Some scientists say even one degree of climate change can cause changes in human behavior. Faolán finds himself in the crossfire between the four most powerful—and irritable—men in Ireland, each with his own agenda.

THEMES:

Dreams: A young man trying to realize the dream of his father. Everyone has awakened from a dream so beautiful they want to hold onto it, but the longer they are awake the faster it recedes. From another perspective, many of us have seen the sacrifices our parents made and then tried to live their dream for them, only to realize later in life that it does not satisfy. We have to follow our own dreams.

Friendship: The relationship between best friends from childhood. Faolán interacts with his best friend Aengus O’Daly, who narrates the story. I am blessed to have known deep and lasting friendships of this kind that informed this story in ways I didn’t even realize until the end. I am truly grateful to my dear friends for that.

Hope. In great difficulty, when you have no power to change a circumstance that gives you pain, hope is what we rely on to get through, and it is the most human part of us.

Next: A Thorough Undoing

WentworthMy next book picks up where this one ends, with events that occur between 1635 and 1641. Among English and Irish nobleman alike, hatred grows for the Lord Deputy of Ireland, Thomas Wentworth, and they set out to destroy him. In service of the Earl of Clanricarde, Faolán is charged to find the evidence that will strip Wentworth of his power.

And now, a gentle request:

If you like what you read in The Prince of Glencurragh or any of my books, please take a moment to go online to Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes and Noble, or even Facebook, and write a quick review.

People buy books based on their friends’ recommendations, and book sales help authors pay for the editors, proofreaders and artists who help make the books the high quality you expect. Your words help authors with our words.

Thank you!

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/

See all of my books and other information at

nancyblanton.com