Last August I was struggling with an inner dilemma that not-too-surprisingly corresponded with the arrival of an outer storm, Hurricane Dorian, that we had to deal with here in Florida.
As children we learn how to connect the dots to reveal a complete picture. That skill stays with us and can apply in some unexpected ways. Recently while watching a documentary about Hitler, I heard the narrator say that in 1941, certain events revealed weaknesses in his regime that helped encourage the United States to join the fight and ultimately help crush the Nazis.
The “41” arrested my attention because I am researching events in 1641 that led to the Great Irish Rebellion, when the Irish rose up against the English settlers who displaced them from their traditional clan properties. This rebellion started out to be a bloodless coup, but ended up a bloody and terrible defeat.
No matter the outcome, the rebellion stands for me as one of many examples when the human spirit rises for liberty against formidable if not impossible odds. And as we all know, the Irish never gave up. In 1919, the Irish Republic was declared.
But what else happened in a ’41 year? Is there a traceable pattern? Going back as far as the 13th century, history does indeed suggest ’41 as a year for freedom-seekers.
At the Battle of Cameirge in Ulster, the Milesian Irish—a Gaelic tribe from the Iberian Peninsula—defeats the ancient Tuatha De Danann. Whether this clash is reality or myth, a new history begins: the O’Neill dynasty is established in Ireland.
The Byzantine civil war breaks out, with the lower and middle classes fighting against the aristocracy. The war rages for seven years, ultimately devastating Byzantium and reducing its power and territories.
John Calvin returns from exile to Geneva to reform the church doctrine. Calvinism brings new freedoms, aims to protect the rights of ordinary citizens, and supports democracy versus absolutism.
The Irish Catholic gentry attempt a coup d’état at Dublin Castle to force the Protestant English administration to make concessions for Catholics. The coup is betrayed, violence erupts, and the conflict evolves into the Irish Confederate Wars—the Irish Catholics vs. the English and Scottish Protestants.
Slaves and poor whites in the British colony of New York plot the Conspiracy of 1741, to revolt and level New York City with a series of fires. Some 200 are arrested and tried, 100 are hanged, burned or exiled.
The principality of Guria revolts against the Russian Empire over duties and taxes on peasants. In United States v. The Amistad the Supreme Court rules that the Africans who seized control of the ship had been taken into slavery illegally. Frederick Douglass speaks at an Anti-Slavery Convention in Nantucket, Massachusetts.
The occupied Netherlands starts the “February strike” against German deportation of Jews in Amsterdam. In Yugoslavia the anti-axis army exiles pro-Hitler Prince Paul and elevates 17-year-old King Peter II. At the Acropolis in Athens, two young men tear down the Nazi swastika and replace it with the Greek flag. Prominent Nazi Rudolph Hess flies solo into Scotland.
Just out of curiosity, I did a quick Internet search to find the numerological meaning of the number 41, and it confirms the freedom idea:
“The numerology number 41 is a number that tends to express its innate sense of personal freedom with building a secure foundation for the future. The number 41 is conscientious. The number 41’s sense of personal freedom generally leads it to focus on establishing financial, physical, and emotional security.” (affinitynumerology.com)
And going a step further with that idea, I found the dominant Biblical meaning of 41 is “separation,” as in Israel’s separation from Egypt.
While the struggle for freedom is a prominent theme throughout all human history, the number 41 offers a focused lens that allows us to see the hammering drum of its repetition over the centuries.
I wonder if one could find similar threads of other topics by choosing any year and following it through the centuries. It is fascinating to consider, and also could provide the basis for a saga for an ambitious author, or provoke ideas about what might happen in 2041. A fan of George Orwell’s might use the author’s approach to his novel 1984, by looking at conditions in 2014, and then mirroring them in a dark and imaginative way in a novel entitled 2041.
Wishing everyone a happy 2018!
For more information about my books and events, and to sign up for my quarterly newsletter, please visit nancyblanton.com
When people ask me about my favorite book, I scratch my head and wonder. There are so many that I love, choosing one is nearly impossible. For the purpose of this post I’ll focus on a book that has special meaning for me, but start with the first runner-up.
My mother always made a point of taking my sisters and me to the public library. She never directed us, but let us roam freely until we found something that interested us. She, by the way, was doing the same. One day I found what was to be my first novel, in a pink cloth cover. It was a Victorian story about a woman named Cassandra who gives a young girl a jewel necklace she calls The Wishing Star. The gem is intended to give the girl confidence until she realizes she has it within.
I have not been able to find the book again because there are several with The Wishing Star title. I loved it and did not want to return it to the library when the due date came. I checked it out several times just to have it. This book was my first introduction to historical fiction, and my first real love of story. But it is not my all-time favorite book, because my heart was stolen by another: Margaret Mitchell’s 1939 novel, Gone with the Wind.
I am sure I join a long line of readers in choosing this book, especially since it was brought to life on screen by David O. Selznick and Victor Fleming, and all the magnificent actors: Vivienne Leigh, Clark Gable, Leslie Howard, Olivia de Havilland, Hattie McDaniel, Butterfly McQueen, Everett Brown and so many more.
The book was bursting with interesting characters and dialogue that became classic (“As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again” or “I can’t think about that now, I’ll think about it tomorrow” and of course “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”)
The lead character, Scarlet O’Hara, became one of my heroes in life. I loved her strength, her spark, her resourcefulness and hopefulness. She was real, human, made mistakes and suffered from her flaws and bad decisions. She never quit, never gave up.
But something very special makes me choose this book. It was the first time I went to my mother for advice about what to read. I was bored, I suppose. She led me to the bookshelf in our living room, which was fairly jammed with volumes. She was an avid reader, always having a novel or two on her reading table. She scanned the shelves for just a moment before pulling out the fat book in its blue cardboard cover.
I don’t remember what she said exactly, but something about that book keeping me busy for a while (it did), and that she thought I would like the lead character, Scarlet O’Hara (sure enough). I loved the adventure I had with this book. It remains one of my greatest treasures. And, it cemented my love for historical fiction. My mother knew that, but I don’t think she took credit where it was certainly due. Since then I have never been bored.
The reason this former journalist now writes historical fiction is because all of my reading over the years gave me the confidence to do it myself. The love of historical fiction is, in fact, my wishing star.
Powered by Linky Tools
Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…
Part 15 in a series featuring sites I visited in Ireland while researching my second novel, The Prince of Glencurragh. See previous posts listed at the end.
While traveling through southwest Ireland, I took a side trip from my planned itinerary to see the Mitchelstown Cave. I’d noticed a sign along the M8 roadway between Cahir and Mitchelstown and thought it worth a look. It was to satisfy my own curiosity because I’d never been inside a cave before. I hadn’t intended to use a cave in The Prince of Glencurragh, but as I’ve said before, you never know from where inspiration will come.
Caves can conjure several kinds of images: the womb-like comfort that sheltered our cave-dwelling ancestors from the elements; the mystical and magical hiding places of wizards, faeries, dragons and the like; and a toothy, cavernous mouth with an endless throat to swallow you into hell.
I ended up using a deep, dark cave similar to what I saw at Mitchelstown in a scene where a ruthless killer has taken our heroine, the heiress Vivienne. Readers will, I hope, grant me license for the reference to Mitchelstown Cave. This is a beautiful and dramatic cave that has been explored extensively since it was discovered in 1833, when a Michael Condon accidently dropped his crowbar into a crevice while quarrying for stone.
The explorers who came after him found long, low corridors, cathedral-like chambers, and dramatic stalactite caverns. But, if these explorers remain correct, no one could have accessed the caves in 1634, when my story takes place:
“…no bones, either of existing or extinct animals, have as yet been found within the cavern; nor indeed is it likely that any such will be discovered; as, until accidentally perforated through the quarry, it would appear to have been altogether impervious, and therefore inaccessible as a den or place of shelter…”
~ Prof. Apjohn, Dublin Geological Journal, 1834 (from Dublin Penny Journal)
However, there are many caves in Ireland that probably were accessible to humans and animals, the deepest in County Fermanagh, and the longest in County Clare. (Photographer and blogger R. Mulraney offers some stunning images by County.) Apparently there is another cave near Mitchelstown that was called “Desmond Cave” because the Earl of Desmond may have taken refuge there during the Desmond rebellions. This cave is not open to the public because it is too dangerous, but it and others like it could have served for the fictional scene.
The public tours of the Mitchelstown caves provide great exposure to the dark and strange cave interiors, their sparkling beauty, their enormity, and their treacherous pathways. No one could have prepared me for the chill that ran up my spine when my tour guide had everyone turn off his/her lights. Even in a room full of tourists, it is an eerie kind of darkness. In 1895, the Rev. Canon Courtenay Moore, Mitchelstown Rector, described the cave this way:
“There is no foulness or tumult in its straight and silent street; only the strength of rock and the finished setting of stones grey with the age of countless centuries. Then a stillness as of death itself pervades the place, which is almost painfully oppressive to ears accustomed to the constant and varied sounds of life in the world above, which you have only quitted so recently.”
To put the size of some of these caves in perspective, the largest chamber of Mitchelstown Cave is called Tir Na Nog (meaning “land of the young”), measuring 61m × 49m and 18m high, making it more than twice as large in floor space, and its ceiling three times as high, as King Charles I’s Banqueting House at Whitehall, London. In other words, you could almost fit a 747 jet in there. The largest column, called Tower of Babel, is nearly 30 feet high.
It seemed there was nothing that could compare to the dramatic setting of a cave like Mitchelstown for a frightful and deadly scene in a book.
Thanks to Journal of the Cork Archaeological Society, 1894; mitchelstowncave.com; showcaves.com; Caves of Ireland; The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Volume 1, 1872
Part 1 – Kanturk Castle
Part 2 – Rock of Cashel
Part 3 – Barryscourt
Part 4 – Ormonde Castle
Part 5 – Lismore Castle
Part 6 – Bandon, Kilcolmen
Part 7 – Timoleague Friary
Part 8 – Castle Freke, Rathbarry, Red Strand
Part 9 – Coppinger’s Court
Part 10 – Drombeg and Knockdrum
Part 11 – Liss Ard, Lough Abisdealy
Part 12 – Skibbereen
Part 13 – Baltimore
Part 14 – Mallow Castle
An 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.
OR, try this universal link for your favorite ebook retailer: books2read.com
Learn more and sign up for updates via my newsletter at nancyblanton.com
On 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.
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.”
One 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.
It’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.
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
My 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.
An 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.
See all of my books and other information at
Part 5 in a series featuring sites I visited in Ireland while researching my second novel, The Prince of Glencurragh. See previous post links below.
In The Prince of Glencurragh, the spectacular Lismore Castle in County Waterford is the setting for three emotionally-charged scenes. The grand drawing room and the ancient towers provide dramatic backdrops that help fortify the story.
Taking its name from “lis” meaning fort and “mor” meaning great, the castle is situated on the right bank of the River Blackwater in County Waterford. One story has it that when King James II visited the castle, he backed away from the grand window overlooking the river, startled by the sheer drop to the riverbank when the entrance to the castle is on ground level. The window was ever-after called King James’s window.
Sources differ as to the date of construction, but sometime between 1179 and 1185, Lismore was built on the site of the ancient abbey of Mochuda.
“This fine castle was originally founded by the Earl of Moreton, afterwards King John, in the year 1185, and is said to have been the last of three fortresses of the kind which he erected during his visit to Ireland. In four years afterwards it was taken by surprise and broken down by the Irish, who regarded with jealousy and fear the strong holds erected by the English to secure and enlarge their conquests.”
— LibraryIreland.com, the Dublin Penny Journal, Volume 1, Number 43, April 20, 1833
The castle was later rebuilt as an Episcopal residence (one source says it belonged to the earls of Desmond), until in 1589 when the manor and lands were granted to Sir Walter Raleigh. Sir Walter fell from grace after the death of Queen Elizabeth, and sold the estate to Sir Richard Boyle, the first Earl of Cork. Raleigh was later executed by King James to appease the Spanish, who saw Raleigh as a plundering pirate.
Lord Cork made extensive improvements to the castle for use as his primary residence. Outbuildings were added, and interiors embellished with fretwork plaster ceilings, tapestry hangings, embroidered silks and velvet.
“The first door-way is called the riding-house, from its being originally built to accommodate two horsemen, who mounted guard, and for whose reception there were two spaces which are still visible under the archway. The riding-house is the entrance into a long avenue shaded by magnificent trees, and flanked with high stone walls; this leads to another doorway, the keep or grand entrance into the square of the castle. Over the gate are the arms of the first Earl of Cork, with the motto, “God’s providence is our inheritance.”
— LibraryIreland.com, the Dublin Penny Journal
Some of the outbuildings were destroyed in the rebellion of 1641 when the castle was closely besieged by 5,000 Irish, and defended by Lord Broghill, the earl’s third son.
The Cavendish family acquired the castle in 1753 when the daughter and heiress of the 4th Earl of Cork, Lady Charlotte Boyle, married William Cavendish, 4th Duke of Devonshire, who became Prime Minister of Great Britain & Ireland. The 9th Duke, Lord Charles Cavendish, married Adele Astaire, the sister and former dancing partner of Fred Astaire.
Lismore is now an exclusive accommodation and event venue, and even offers culinary packages. The famous gardens are open to the pubic. The upper garden is a 17th-century walled garden, also briefly featured in my book.
Thanks to C.L. Adams’s Castles of Ireland, LibraryIreland.com, celticcastles.com, lismorecastle.com.
An heiress, a castle, a fortune: what could go wrong?
The Prince of Glencurragh has won the Royal Palm Literary Award for historical fiction. It is a story of 17th century Ireland, in a time of sweeping change prior to the great rebellion of 1641. Available in ebook, soft cover and hard cover from online booksellers.
See all of my books and sign up for my newsletter (published only 3 or 4 times a year) at nancyblanton.com
Rife with conflict, disaster, invention and sweeping change, there is not a century in history more fascinating and remarkable than the 17th.
In the words of J.P. Sommerville, University of Wisconsin history professor, the 17th century is “probably the most important century in the making of the modern world. It was during the 1600s that Galileo and Newton founded modern science; that Descartes began modern philosophy; that Hugo Grotius initiated international law; and that Thomas Hobbes and John Locke started modern political theory.”
At the same time, the century produced an unprecedented synergy of disaster, as described by Robert Burton in 1638: “War, plagues, fires, inundations, thefts, murders, massacres, meteors, spectrums, prodigies, apparitions…and such like, which these tempestuous times affoord…” And all of that during the first few decades.
Some historians believe the changes and difficulties of this century resulted in part from a global climate change. The “Little Ice Age,” extending from the 16th to 19th centuries, delivered a particularly cold interval in the mid-17th century.
England in the 1630s recorded great floods, widespread harvest failure, intense cold winters, wet and cold springs, and drought in summer so excessive that “the land and trees are despoiled of their verdure, as if it were a most severe winter.” Such conditions would have been seen in Ireland as well.
These natural forces so affected human activity as to upset the existing social, economic and political equilibrium. People facing cold, famine, and grave uncertainty are likely to behave in more desperate manner.
Ireland in particular faced considerable unrest as the lands, traditional clans and centuries-old way of life were forever altered.
Life in Ireland
In 1603, Queen Elizabeth I died, leaving her throne and kingdom to James I. Her military forces in Ireland had delivered a crushing blow to end the Desmond rebellion in the southwest province of Munster.
The English saw Ireland as underutilized and ripe for exploitation. They sought to improve on Irish farming methods by settling their own more efficient farmers, and thereby increasing crown revenues.
The Earl of Desmond was among the Irish gentry who held castles, manor houses and vast tracts of land. They were mostly of Norman or Saxon roots, descending from distinguished families or clans who had obtained grants from Henry II in the 12th century. They resented the crown’s efforts to take control of their long-held dominions and displace their Irish tenants: typically subsistence farmers who paid rents either in food or in coin from the goods they sold. Often these tenants lived in one-room houses constructed of mud and grass, with no windows and a single door that served as both the entry and chimney.
Lord Deputy Arthur Grey seemed to defeat Queen Elizabeth’s purpose with his cruelty and scorched earth tactics. He left the province devastated, little more than a wasteland that would require years to recover, and was later removed from his position for excessive brutality—but, he had cleared the way once and for all for English settlement.
In a land already compromised by drought, the remaining Irish faced terrible famine, plague, disease, homelessness and oppression. Lands that had been owned and passed down through generations by traditional clans, especially Irish Catholic, were confiscated and granted to English military officers as reward for their service. Survival for the Irish was tenuous and choices were few. Some restoration took place in the coming years, but a fury simmered below the obedient surface.
In 1625, Charles I succeeded his father and extended his policies, filling his treasury through increased taxation and monopolies to his favorites, and expanding plantation in Ulster. When civil war erupted in England, Irish clans welcomed the distraction. They organized and rebelled again, retaking confiscated lands and ousting the English settlers, often violently.
When Parliament was victorious in the civil war, it took control of England and all of its business, and shocked the monarchies of the world by executing King Charles in 1649.
Parliamentary army leader Oliver Cromwell now turned his attention to Ireland, cutting an unrelenting swath of brutality, destruction and death across the island. Towns were leveled, people massacred, and terror wrought with full force. One estimate claims 618,000 Irish deaths from fighting or disease—an astounding 41 percent of the pre-war population.
Surviving Irish were relocated to rocky hills that served better for grazing sheep than growing crops. Some joined armies and fought in foreign wars; some became pirates. Some were sent to workhouses where they likely died; some escaped to colonies in America. Cromwell deported many to the West Indies where they perished from slave labor and tropical disease.
Irish Catholics were forced out of the Irish Parliament, while Catholic Mass and the Irish language were outlawed. Catholics were banned from holding office, Catholic clergy were expelled from the country, and Catholic landowners were stripped of their properties. An estimated one-third of the Irish-Catholic population was killed or deported.
On the heels of this work, Cromwell was elevated to “Lord Protector,” England’s uncrowned king, and he established his famed Commonwealth. Oppression of Ireland was severe and would be seen by historians as genocide. But by the time of Cromwell’s death in 1658, England had tired of his Puritan influences, and his son proved a weak successor. Charles II was brought back from his exile in France and monarchy was restored.
While somewhat kinder and more tolerant toward the Irish who had supported his return, including the Earl of Ormonde who had led the royalists in the Irish Confederacy, the plantation of Ireland continued. Known as the Merry Monarch, Charles II restored some of the gaiety that had been lost to England, and smoothed the way for new thought, invention and discovery in the latter part of the century as the Age of Enlightenment was dawning.
(Geoffrey Parker’s Global Crisis was a valuable source for this post)
The Prince of Glencurragh is set in 1634 prior to the great rebellion of 1641. It is a stand-alone prequel to my first novel, Sharavogue, which won first place for historical fiction in Florida’s Royal Palm Literary Awards. Both books are available on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. Visit my website for more info, at nancyblanton.com.