Mastodon The Writing Desk: Guest Post by by Kevin O'Connell, Author of Two Journeys Home: A Novel of Eighteenth Century Europe (The Derrynane Saga Book 2)

20 February 2018

Guest Post by by Kevin O'Connell, Author of Two Journeys Home: A Novel of Eighteenth Century Europe (The Derrynane Saga Book 2)

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

It’s 1767. As the eagerly anticipated sequel to Beyond Derrynane begins, Eileen O’Connell avails herself of a fortuitous opportunity to travel back to Ireland. In Two Journeys Home, the O’Connells encounter old faces and new—and their lives change forever.

The History behind Two Journeys Home

The history behind and involved in writing Two Journeys Home - indeed, in varying degrees, the entire Derrynane Saga - is complex, in some ways contradictory, and, in no small part, painful. As with any work of historical fiction, there are actually two strains of history with which I have had to work:

The history of the period, of the setting, encompasses that of Ireland, Austria and France, the tensions, stresses and romance of places on the verge of significant - in the case of France, turbulent, violent - change. Though I have liberally woven my stories into its fabric, to the overall history I have stayed true. Though fictional or largely-fictional characters join actual ones in populating the settings and living out their lives in actual historical locations, and during certain actual events, I have not altered this history in any significant or material way. 

The premise for much of the story related in the books of the Derrynane Saga arises out of what was, in effect, the occupation of the island of Ireland by the British - known locally then (well before Diana Gabaldon popularised the term) as the Sassenach, literally, "strangers", a usurpation that, though the precise length is hotly-debated, predated the eighteenth century by several hundred years.

During virtually all of this time, there existed in England an at least at times wholly-reasonable fear of a successful invasion of Ireland by the French and Spanish, which, it was felt, would lead to a direct one of Great Britain itself.

In an effort to secure Ireland against what was feared could be a massive assault, during the Sixteenth and the Centuries, the English monarchy and Parliament laboured mightily and were ultimately able to attain effective dominion over the island of Ireland through a series of confiscations of Irish Catholic-owned property, and the subsequent colonisation of this land by settlers from England and Scotland, this process became known as the "plantation" of Ireland.

In the horrific aftermath of Oliver Cromwell's brutal invasion of Ireland in 1649 a series of statutes, collectively referred as the "Penal Laws" - which Edmund Burke characterised as being "a machine of wise and elaborate contrivance, as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement in them of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man." - were enacted, as further plantation was underway.

Though by the years covered in the Derrynane Saga the laws were being unevenly, in many instances arbitrarily, applied and enforced, they remained nevertheless cruel, the sole purpose of them being the continued suppression and disenfranchisement of the native Irish Catholic population who by the mid-Eighteenth Century controlled but 10% of Ireland's land - the rest being in the hands of "planters" and the descendants of planters. 

By the period related in Two Journeys Home the occupiers' goals of pacifying a tumultuous people, whom most referred to as the "mere Irish" had been large achieved, the vast majority of the Irish people by then being landless, impoverished and illiterate.

The nexus of the histories of Ireland and Catholic Europe, France and Austria, which plays a significant role in the story, lies in the fact that, in addition to many young Catholics being sent abroad for schooling (the native Irish Catholics being forbidden by the Penal Laws to learn to read and write) there had, since the early Seventeenth Century, been a steady drain of members of the Gaelic Aristocracy, to serve in the armies and at the courts of Catholic Europe, to France, Austria and Spain . . . indeed, as far as Russia. Thus, the significant Irish presence in Vienna which greeted Eileen and Abigail on their arrival there in 1762.

It was, however, James II's vanguishment by the forces of William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne in 1689 and the subsequent defeat of General Patrick Sarsfield at Limerick in 1691 that resulted in what has become known as the "flight of the Wild Geese". This term is applied to the soldiers who, having been loyal to James's cause, who were permitted to leave Ireland as a relatively-intact, albeit defeated army, to follow the Stuarts into exile in France - this led to the formation of the famed "Irish Brigade of France", which plays an increasingly-important role in Two Journeys Home and even more so as the Saga continues.

All of this said, the history of the characters, on the other hand, is perhaps more complex and has been the more challenging with which to deal. Virtually all of the individuals about whom I write - including the O'Connells themselves - actually lived; indeed, it is as the books continue to relate their largely-fictional lives, that the tantalisingly few facts that are historically documented about them which provide the basic sources from which the tale flows, strategic additions of numerous historical and fictional personalities and events melding naturally with both fact and fable.

Thus, whilst, for example, Eileen was "real" very little is known about her life in the period covered by the first two books in the Saga; thus, it is in her case, as well as the others' that I have relied on my imagination, believing that nothing that I have written could not have happened, and, indeed, that at least some of it actually might have occurred!

In dealing with well-known characters - such as the Empress Maria Theresa - I have taken certain liberties. From what I knew generally of her and certainly from what I came to learn from my substantial research, she was a relatively cold woman; she was also a prude. As I have written her, she is a warmer, perhaps even more "human" individual and there is no mention of her "morality squads" roaming the court and the streets of Vienna, policing the mores and activities of her subjects, both courtly and otherwise. That she is a warmer, gentler woman is the result of the presence and influence of several of my characters - so, while it is not wholly historically-accurate, it is believable.

The history of the period and the historical stories of the character I believe meld well, though, in Ireland, this was not without challenge. In writing of the socio-political situation in Ireland in the mid-to-late Eighteenth Century, I have, I trust successfully, largely avoided unfairly "demonising" the British occupiers. I was aided in this effort by being well aware that some small percentage amongst the scattered remnants of the old Gaelic order had, in as many ways as one could imagine, arrived at some measure of understanding, reached some degree of compromise with the Sassenach, amongst the most successful of these families being, significantly, the O'Connells at Derrynane.

Fictionalised depictions of the relationship between the family and the King's men in several places in Two Journeys Home and the other Derrynane books, depict the uneasy calm of such an arrangement.

In much the same way, the on-going interaction of the O'Connells and others with their Protestant neighbours is set out in some detail and accurately depicts more than a few Protestant landowners, no matter the origin of their land's acquisition, to be kind, decent and accommodating individuals. Indeed, the O'Connells themselves could not have maintained their own - still largely illegal - land ownership absent a significant degree of cooperation of some of their Protestant neighbours entering into with them unrecorded deeds, subleases and trust instruments.

As I have said, the history about which I have written, into which I have woven my characters and against which I have told their stories, is, indeed, complex, in some ways contradictory, and, in no small part, painful. Yet, for these very reasons, I have found it also to be a fertile, albeit rough, ground, out of which, I hope, have leapt and will continue to emerge rich, vibrant, exciting and moving stories.

Kevin O'Connell
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About the Author

Kevin O’Connell is a native of New York City and  holds both Irish and American citizenship. An international business attorney, Mr. O’Connell is an alumnus of Providence College and Georgetown University Law Centre. A lifelong personal and scholarly interest in the history of eighteenth-century Ireland, as well as that of his extended family, led O’Connell to create his first book, Beyond Derrynane, which will, together with Two Journeys Home and the two books to follow, comprise the Derrynane Saga. The father of five children and grandfather of ten, he and his wife, Laurette, live with their golden retriever, Katie, near Annapolis, Maryland. Find out more at Kevin's website

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