Funny story: I always thought I was part Irish. My sisters and I used to talk about the red hair in my father’s family and try to find reddish hues in our own brown hair. My nephew Nathan, however, did extensive research into our lineage and guess what? We’re Scottish, not Irish, and from a warrior clan at that. I’m now drinking my tea from a thistle mug instead of a shamrock mug, trying to reconcile my pacifist leanings with my heritage.
However, by then Cally and Charlie were already telling me their stories and I couldn’t abandon them, even though Charlie does have Scottish cousins.
Having grown up in Guatemala in the midst of blatant racial prejudice and injustice on the part of the Ladinos (descended from the Spanish conquerors) toward the native Mayans, I’ve always been interested in stories of conquest and oppression. In middle school I started reading whatever I could find about the Nazi mistreatment of the Jews and other non-Germanic or “damaged” people (handicapped, etc.). Then I read Michener’s classics about Hawaii and South Africa, which took me into trying to learn about European invasions and terrible treatment of Africans.
Then there was the tragic history of South America, the Spanish conquerors, Bandeirantes and slavers in Brazil. Only recently have I been educating myself in the at least equally tragic story of the United States. Either I have a really bad memory or no one told me when I was growing up in Guatemala about Jim Crow, lynching, and all the horrible history. I hadn’t heard about the Great Migration. Forgive my ignorance, if that’s possible. I didn’t realize until recently that Martin Luther King Jr.’s work took place in my lifetime; that I was already thirteen years old when he was killed. Growing up in Guatemala, I thought the U.S. was rich, generous, and perfect. I seldom saw any Black persons until I moved from Guatemala to Missouri in high school. It’s been a steep learning curve.
And then there was Ireland. I honestly didn’t know Irish people had been cruelly treated by the British, or that they were considered an inferior race when they emigrated to the United States. John F. Kennedy was Irish. So there. The great American success story. Like the University of Notre Dame. And How the Irish Saved Civilization. And St. Patrick.
Discovering the truth about England and Ireland was a bitter pill to swallow. I was an English major in college and got to spend a summer at Oxford. I never dreamed I was consorting with the enemy. I didn’t know that the British Parliament during the Great Famine in Ireland limited aid on purpose, wanting the Irish to die so Ireland could be wholly theirs. How could I reconcile the England I loved with their actions and attitudes in Ireland, Africa, the world?
So. By the time Charlie and Cally were born, the famine was their grandfathers’ story. Strides were being made toward allowing the Irish to own their own land. Yet there was still a long, hard, and tragically bloody road to travel toward sovereignty and equal rights with their conquerors. Ireland gained independence only in 1937, more than a century after most South American countries were free, though earlier than most of Africa. Many books have been written, both historical and fictional, about the Great Hunger in Ireland and later, in the 19-teens about its achievement of Independence, its experience with the Spanish flu and other plagues, and the World Wars. But it’s hard to find much about this in-between time at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th. I hope the Cally and Charlie series will help fill that gap, both in Ireland and the United States.
One of the parts of this that hurts is that Christian religion was used, in Ireland as elsewhere, in support of tyranny. An exception, I discovered, was the attitude of the Society of Friends in Ireland; people who came to be called Quakers. That will be the subject of another post, in connection with a historical page about the Malcomson family, the backbone of my story. Linked to this blog post is the historical background that informs my fictional characters Cally and Teddy and their family, the Donnellys and McCarthys. You can find it by clicking on the Historical Links page.
A premise of Horse Thief 1898 is that God cares and is present in our lives, even when those who claim to be his people fail to represent his love and compassion. Even when we’re not aware at the time that God is acting on our behalf. A significant part of my own healing from trauma has been the discovery that he was there, walking through it with me. I hope you will be able to see that as you read about Cally and Charlie: a hint of magic and touches of grace.