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Monday Memories: Life After Retirement #5 – I Learn About the Famine

The genteman with Parkinson’s ceased attending the group. A couple of years later he came to me with plans for another book. He had been researching his ancestry in County Clare and had discovered that a female relative was among a group of teenaged girls taken from a workhouse and given an assited passage to Australia.

This took place during the great famine in the mid 1800s. Such girls were provided with a wardrobe of clothing and the ship’s captain was paid by the authorities and/or the benefactor who helped finance the scheme. The girls would find work – and in many cases a husband – among the male settlers establishing themselves as farmers in remote parts of the colony.

Patrick’s ancestor was one of the few who later returned. His discovery had sparked an interest in the famine and he had acquired a number of books about the period which he hoped to use to create his own book, for which he needed assistance. I agreed to look at his material after which I would indicate whether or not I was willing to assist.

Image shows the cover of a book titled "A Purgatory of Misery" and sub-titled "How Victorian Liberals Turned a Crisis Into a Disaster"

I found the books enlightening, Patrick’s notes difficult to read. There were many repetitions, the pattern of his thoughts difficult to follow. Nevertheless, I agreed to interpret them and add my own thoughts on the contents of the books. Later I found other sources for the real life horror story of Ireland in this terrible period. The result was A Purgatory of Misery in which I sought to provide some context for the events, based on the history, geography and culture that underlies the relationship between Ireland and its larger neighbour.

Looking in particular at the effects of the famine in County Clare I came across the story of Arthur Kennedy, who was appointed Poor Law Inspector to the Kilrush Union with responsibility for ensuring the efficient dispensing of assistance to the people suffering starvation throughout the West of the county. He discovered and exposed the practice, carried out by many landowners, of evicting families from their homes in the most brutal and inhuman fashion. A story I felt compelled to write, trying my best to imagine how a man with a background as an army officer, who would later become a senior diplomat, knighted for his serices, would respond to the conditions he found.

That book took a long time to finish, in first draft. I am now working on improving it prior to publishing some time in 2020.

In the spring of 2015 a seurity contractor began installing temporary fencing around the empty houses opposite us. Shortly afterwards I discovered that a planning application had been lodged relating to the site. I examined the application at the county head quarters where I learned that all of the site, except the ten occupied houses, had been purchased by the proprietor of the nursing home. His plan was to extend and convert the apartment block to create a second nursing home.

Image shows a single story house surrounded by shrubs.
The same view of our house as it is today, compared to the view I posted a couple of weeks ago showoing it nearing completion.

At a meeting of the occupiers later that year he explained that he also intended to enhance the landscaping of the site and to complete and sell all of the unoccupied houses. This project was fiinally completed in the summer of 2018 and we now have a retirement village, fully occupied with an active residents’ committee of which I am a member.

Monday Memories – Life After Retirement #4: More Books and a Garden.

For the first few weeks after we moved in to oiur new house, thoughout the summer of 2011, work continued around the site, although a lot of the time it seemed that it was more a matter of the two remaining employees finding things to occupy their time rather than any really useful work. The nursing home had opened in February and was gradually reaching full capacity but no more of the houses were being worked on. None, it seemed, had been purchased. By winter the two men – a father and son – had left the site, aparently made redundant.

Meanwhile I set to work creating a garden on the tenth of an acre plot. In November I uploaded Honest Hearts to Smashwords. The writers’ group published an anthology which included the first chapter of Honest Hearts and another story of mine. We secured sponsorship and held a number of fund raising events to fund the printing then sold the book with all sales income donated to the cancer support charity.

A couple of incidents that had occurred during my childhood provided the inspiration for my second book, Summer Day, which is set on a single day in the summer of 1947 and entirely in the district immediately surrounding the house in which I lived as a child.

Nothing happened on the site during 2012. In the spring of 2013 a new contractor was assigned to carry out some work tidying the site and a fresh attempt was made to market the empty houses. When that young man was killed in a traffic accident early in 2014 work came to a standstill once more.

The gardening task at the cancer support centre was made lighter by the appointment of a sccession of part-time employees on various schemes. The manager offered me the opportunity to participate in a walking programme being introduced with the support of the Irish Cancer Society.

Not long after we arrived in Ireland we visited a ruined castle on a hill close to our new home (An image of this place graces the top of the page, curtesy of Portlaise based photographer Ciara Drennan). An information board at the entrance indicated that it had once been associated with a man called Roger Mortimer. That reminded me that a man of that name had strong associations with Herefordshire.

Now I decided to investigate further and discovered that Ireland had been invaded by Norman fighters late in the twelfth century and that these fighters were led by a man who also had strong connections to the country around the Welsh border, Strongbow. The story of how a deposed Irish kinglet had offered the hand of his daughter to Strongbow in return for the latter’s help in regaining his kingdom fascinated me. What would it have been like to be that girl? That was the genesis of Strongbow’s Wife, my third novel.

I also created a website called Hereford and Ireland History in which I posted several stories about the various actors in the peculiar history of England, Wales and Ireland during the middle ages. That website was eventually incorporated into my author site. (See the tab above)

For some time I had entertained the idea that scandals like those surrounding Jimmy Saville and others were linked to the changes in attitudes to sex and sexuality that have taken place throughout my lifetime. That was the inspiration for Transgression, my third novel.

A gentleman joined the writers’ group who was attempting to compile a number of anecdotes from his life as an adviser to the agricultural industry, a bank manager, and, later, a land valuer and surveyor. It appeared that he had experienced something like an ABI and was looking for support in preparing his little book for publication. I later learned that he had Parkinson’s. Various members of the group assisted with editing, formatting and choice of cover design and, in due course, the volume was published at his own expense.

Called to Account

Fully 18 months ago I gave an update on my famine project, which consists of two slim volumes. The first was A Purgatory of Misery and the second The Poor Law Inspector. In that post I indicated that the initial draft of the first, an entirely non-fictional account of the events in British and Irish history that led up to the famine, was complete and that I was then embarking on the second, a fictionalised account of the work of Captain Arthur Kennedy in West Clare between late 1847 and mid 1850.

A Purgatory of Misery was published at the end of 2017 but work on The Poor Law Inspector stuttered on and off throughout last year. I finally reached the end last month and passed it to a first reader. At only 50,000 words it is a novella, rather than the full length novel I had hoped to create. That it is so short after such a long time is down to several factors, the main one being the difficulty of presenting the real horror of conditions in that place and time in a way that is not too depressing to read.

Suggested cover – please tell me what you think.

The opening chapters were posted to Chapter Buzz at the end of 2017. The book now has a new title, Called to Account, which relates to the fact that Kennedy and the man who came to be his arch rival were involved, in 1851, in a court case as a consequence of an insult delivered in public by Kennedy to the other, who then sued him for libel. I have now structured the book around the court case and Kennedy’s recollections of significant events in his life up to that point.

Once again, it is being posted on Chapter Buzz whilst I work on revisions, including those suggested by my first reader. Follow this link to find it. Your comments and suggestions are most welcome. You can post them there or here.

A Double Irish Rebellion

The spring and summer of 1848 saw failed rebellions in England and Ireland, both led by Irish men. And the Irish tricoleur, a symbol of peace, made its first appearance. In May, 170 years ago this month, the leaders of the Irish rebellion were sentenced to transportation.

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Daniel O’Connell monument at the southern end of O’Connell Street, Dublin. Image from Statues-Hither & Thither (permission sought)

One of Daniel O’Connell’s proteges*, Cork land-owner and lawyer Feargus O’Connor, was elected MP for Cork in 1832. Shortly afterwards he fell out with O’Connell and in 1835 lost his seat in Parliament. He then embarked on a campaign for political reform in England. Founding a newspaper, The Northern Star, he was joined by William Lovett and others.

Their People’s Charter was published – in May 1838 – as a draft parliamentary bill. It contained six points: manhood suffrage; the ballot; abolition of property qualifications for MPs; payment of MPs; equal electoral districts; and annual elections. Thousands of working people had rallied together on the basis of this charter, and hundreds of them had gone to prison for their beliefs.

In the 1847 general election O’Connor was elected MP for Nottingham. By the spring of 1848, inspired by events elsewhere in Europe, the movement was ready to make it’s mark. A petition had been raised, signed, it was claimed, by over 5 million people. A meeting was arranged for April 10th on Kennington Common just across the Thames from Parliament.

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Daguerreotype of the Chartist meeting at Kennington Common, British Library

The government were well prepared with 170,000 citizens signed up as special constabulary and army units stationed at the entrance to each of the bridges and protecting ministries and ministers’ homes. Despite an expected turn-out of 200,000, a mere 20,000 congregated.

When it began to rain heavily, most quickly disbursed. O’Connor and his henchmen crossed Westminster Bridge in horse drawn carriages and presented his petition which was found to contain only 2 million names, many of them forged, invented and duplicated. The name of no less a figure than the Duke of Wellington appeared 17 times.

Meanwhile, 1848 was a year of turmoil across Europe, with revolutions taking place in France, Germany, Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands. In February the last vestige of the French Royal family fled France never to return. Inspired by this, a Young Ireland delegation led by William Smith O’Brien and Thomas Francis Meagher, went, in April, to Paris to meet with representatives of the new French Republic.

Symbol of Peace

Whilst there, they were given a flag modeled on the French Tricoleur on which the three colours that were represented were green, the colour of Catholic nationalism, orange, the colour of Protestant unionism, separated by white to signify the desire for peace between the two traditions. Since 1922 this has been the national flag of the Irish Republic.

irish_tricolour-1

For leaders of the Confederation, the fact that the 1848 French revolution had been relatively bloodless was an inspiration and they hoped to be able to mobilise people from all strata of Irish society in a bid to return government of the Irish to Ireland. One of the ways they set out to achieve this was via a newspaper called The Nation. However, the authorities quickly took action to nip the Confederation’s activities in the bud.

The attempted English revolution descended into farce, but the authorities were alerted to the possibility of something similar occurring in Ireland. Three of the leaders of the Irish Confederation were arrested and charged with treason. In May, having been found guilty, they were sentenced to 14 years transportation. Before this punishment could be put into effect, its imposition provided the impetus for a recruitment campaign leading to a potential rebellion.

On 29th July O’Brien led the siege of a cottage in Ballingarry, County Tipperary, in which some members of the constabulary had taken refuge. One of his men was killed by a random shot fired from within the cottage and O’Brien led his men away. He was arrested shortly afterwards at Thurles railway station.

One of the men who had accompanied O’Brien to Paris in April, Richard O’Gorman, was organiser for the rebellion in Limerick. A few days after the Ballngarry incident, a group of about 200 men, supposedly acting on behalf of O’Gorman, held up the Limerick-Tralee mail coach at Abbeyfeale. They confiscated the arms and official dispatches it contained but returned private mail to the postmaster. They considered mounting a siege of the town but, when they heard the news from Tipperary decided to call a halt.

O’Gorman disappeared. Two different speculative accounts of his escape from arrest, include the possibility that he traveled via Kilrush. Indeed, two men were arrested and accused of transporting him aboard a steamer bound for the town. A less likely tale has him aboard another Kilrush bound steamer disguised as a woman.

Whatever the fate of O’Gorman and the other conspirators, there can be no doubt that the rebellion, if not quite as farcical as that in England, nevertheless fizzled out for lack of support. It did nothing to help relieve the suffering of those who had neither food nor the means to acquire it except by sacrificing what few possessions they had. On the contrary, it served to harden public opinion in England where the Irish were already being viewed as ungrateful.

This post contains extracts from chapters 11 and 12 of A Purgatory of Misery.

*For those who may be unfamiliar with the man who gave his name to Ireland’s central thoroughfare and whose statue stands at its southern end, Daniel O’Connell was the leader of a movement seeking repeal of the Act of Union which bound Ireland to the United Kingdom.

Another Connection Between Ireland and the Marcher Lords

Another entry in the Historical Ragbag’s Advent Calendar of Medieval Ruins involving Strongbow and his cohorts. I remember spending a few delightful days in Dunbrody, at a country house hotel run by one of Ireland’s ‘celebrity’ chefs. There’s a small brewery there, too, and I occasionally drink a glass of the excellent pale ale produced there.

Not that any of that has anything to do with medieval history or Strongbow! Enjoy the article. The more I read about Irish history the more I understand the fraught relationship between the neighbouring islands. I do think it’s important, for English people especially, to gain a better understanding of that relationship and how it has evolved.

via Advent Calendar of Medieval Religious Institutions: December 14th: Dunbrody Abbey

The Politics of Place Names

I suppose that by now everyone is familiar with the way the names of the Indian cities of Mumbai/Bombay and Kolkata/Calcutta, or Beijing/Pekin in China, have been returned to their local designations.

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The city of Mumbai – image via http://media2.intoday.in

Many African cities, and even whole nations, are now similarly referred to by their African names in preference to those conferred upon them by the colonial powers.

And in the former Soviet Union the names of places have changed as political upheavals evolved.

People outside of the British Isles might be less aware of the political minefield that surrounds the use of certain place names and geographical terms in Ireland.

One reader of A Purgatory of Misery recently took me to task over my use of some of the place names and geographical terms in that book.

I’ll begin with the one I just used. To me, and to many people, including the compilers of the Wikipedia entry for the term, “The British Isles” simply means the group of islands on the western edge of Europe that includes Britain and Ireland. However, in Ireland the use of the term is anathema because of the fraught relationship between the two largest members of the archipelago as documented in my book. So is any reference to the larger island as “the mainland”.

In the book’s description on Amazon I mistakenly referred to the 1845-52 famine as “the worst man-made disaster to afflict Great Britain”, forgetting that Ireland is not, and never was, a part of Great Britain. The full designation of the kingdom is “The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”. Between 1800 and 1922 it would have been “The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland”.

But my biggest mistake – and it is one I ought never to have made – was in referring to the city of Derry as Londonderry.

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The Peace Bridge over the River Foyle in Derry, N.I. Image via startacus.net

I will not go into the history of the dispute over that name, rather I will refer you to this Wikipedia entry, this report of a Judicial Review, and this news report about a debate in the city that took place as recently as 2015.

These will give you a flavour of the problem, as will this quotation from a Unionist Politician during a debate in the British Parliament in 1984: “Until the 1960s there was a happy use of both Londonderry and Derry. I am a member of an organisation known as the Apprentice Boys of Derry, and it is proud to have that name. The Protestants, Unionists and Loyalists who come from that area are happy to call themselves Derrymen. It was a matter that did not provoke excitement and it certainly was not taken as being an offensive remark to say that one was from Derry.”

No wonder the question of the border between the two parts of the island is a deal breaking issue in the negotiations over Brexit.

And the book? I’ve made the requested changes, and added a note at the beginning:

The use of the term “British Isles” throughout this book is intended as a shorthand description of the group of islands that lies at the Western edge of Europe. For reasons that will quickly become apparent to the reader, many Irish people have a deep resentment for any use of the word “British” in connection with their homeland. No offence is intended. This book is aimed at an international readership and we trust the term will be acceptable to the majority of such readers.

The same applies to the use of the expression “mainland” to distinguish the largest member of the group, including England, Scotland and Wales, from the island of Ireland.

I’m pleased to be able to report that the book continues to garner five star reviews. Even my harshest critic, in his private communication, said it was “[a] well written and extremely intelligent . . . short, succinct guide to the Famine”, and said it deserved to succeed.

There may be more good news about it early in 2018 – stay tuned!

The Birth Place of Strongbow’s Wife

This series of Advent posts about medieval buildings is proving very interesting with lots of places worth visiting, some of which I have visited myself at various times. Today’s features the Abbey founded by Strongbow’s father-in-law.

The tab ‘Hereford and Ireland History’ on the menu above will take you to lots of background material to the story, and under ‘Publications’ you will find a link to my book ‘Strongbow’s Wife’ which tells what happened in the years following his arrival.

via Advent Calendar of medieval Religious institutions: December 10th: St Mary’s Abbey Ferns.