Today I’d like to introduce to you all a woman who knows more than she usually tells, but today is making an exception. Her author, Kevin O’Connell, kindly permitted her to come by and chat with us. Let’s take a look at Kevin’s bio and then we’ll find out more about Eileen. Ready? Here we go…
Kevin O’Connell was born in America and holds both Irish and US citizenship; growing up in an old Irish family with a long history and a powerful sense of its past, he learnt a great deal of Irish, British, and European (especially French) history from an early age. He is descended from a young officer of what had, from 1690 to 1792, been the Irish Brigade of the French army, who arrived in French Canada sometime following the execution of Queen Marie Antoinette in October 1793. At least one grandson subsequently returned to Ireland.
Mr. O’Connell’s Beyond Derrynane, Two Journeys Home,and Bittersweet Tapestry (each subtitled A Novel of Eighteenth Century Europe) have received positive critical reviews, in the United States, the UnitedKingdom and Europe.
His Derrynane Saga has been described as being “a sweeping, multi-layered story, populated by an array of colorfully complex characters, whose lives and stories play out in a series of striking settings. Set against the drama of Europe in the early stages of significant change, the books dramatize the roles which have never before been treated in fiction played by a small number of expatriate Irish of the fallen Gaelic Aristocracy at the courts of Catholic Europe.” It is with Bittersweet Tapestry that O’Connell has again focused in greater detail on their lives in English-occupied Ireland.
He is currently at work on the fourth volume in the Saga, continuing to devote full-time to his craft, following a forty-plus year career as an international lawyer.
Author Social Links: Facebook | AuthorsGuild
Note: Eileen O’Connell was born at Derrynane, County Kerry, Ireland in 1744. At the time of her interview she is widowed, residing at Rathleigh House in County Cork, the estate of her late husband, Captain Arthur O’Leary, an officer of the Hungarian Hussars of the Imperial Armies of Maria Theresa.
Betty: How would you describe your parents?
Eileen: “Perfectly matched”! My father, Donal Mór Ó Conaill was once said to be “a big man content to be somewhat submissive to a petite wife.” My mother is indeed a very strong woman, her name “Maire ní Dhuibh” “Mary of the Dark People”, originates from her own colourful family, the ‘Fighting O’Donoghues of Glenflesk’, whose home is known as ‘Robbers Glen.’ I shall leave the rest to your imagination! Mama oversees the household and the farms, the tenants and keeps a complex system functioning, such that Derrynane is virtually self-sufficient. My Papa, assisted by my older brothers, focused on all aspects of our ‘commercial interests’ – more correctly and more commonly known as our very successful and prosperous smuggling operations!
Betty: Who taught you to tie your shoes?
Eileen: Since I live in the Eighteenth Century, as a member of an aristocratic family (albeit the Gaelic Aristocracy has ‘fallen’) I do not own tied shoes, rather I wear sturdy buckled brogues, perhaps even more so well-made tall riding boots. When the weather is fine, and indoors, I wear simple silk slippers –made with but a thin sole, they are totally impractical but very comfortable.
My sister Abigail taught me to tie a bow knot – it is used in many women’s dresses and undergarments.
Betty: Do you know how to swim? How did you learn, if so?
Eileen: Growing up on the (very chilly!) Atlantic shore of County Kerry, and given that it was assumed that, as had my older siblings, I would at times travel with my father aboard our vessels on ‘trading trips’ to France, Spain and Portugal, I learnt how to swim at an early age. My mother taught both Abby and me at the same time.
Betty: What do you think is your greatest failure? Why?
Eileen: Without a doubt, it would be my unsuccessful attempt to kill the man who had murdered my husband.
As to ‘why?’ even as he was being waked the night of his slaying, I had promised Arthur that I would obtain revenge for him – and I failed in this effort. I believe I feel this as exquisitely as I do because, in reality, I had formed no rational plan, just a wild scheme, born of my grief, fuelled by my rage and hatred for the detestable murdering Morris. Indeed so blinded was I to the menace, indeed the peril in which I had placed myself, my situation did not become apparent until I was already at the murderer’s residence. As I rode slowly towards the man’s house, I was shocked to see an array of armed men near the house. Appalled, my only thought was, ‘Of course he would have guards, why would he not, you stupid, foolish girl!’
I was almost immediately met by several murderous rounds of rifle fire. Even as I fled for my life, a pair of horsemen pursued me, though by doing so they provided me with my only sense of satisfaction in that I killed both of them. I am very fortunate to be alive.
Betty: What is the most wonderful thing that has happened to you?
Eileen: Meeting and marrying Captain Arthur O’Leary – the seven years of our marriage, and the births of our two sons, made for the most wonderful time of my life.
Betty: If you could change the past, what would you change?
Eileen: ‘Tis said that in the 12th Century, one Dermot MacMurrough, also known as ‘Strongbow’, who was the king of Munster ‘invited’ the English to come. Though it is an oversimplification, it did, in effect, eventually result in King Henry II of England invading Ireland in 1171, and the ensuing establishment of English rule in Ireland.
I wish this had never happened – had it not, 700-odd years of much pain, tragedy, suffering and loss by the people of both Ireland and Great Britain would have been avoided.
Betty: What’s your greatest fear? Who else knows about it?
Eileen: I have never thought about this . . . if I have any genuine fear, it is probably being left truly alone. I am largely detached from my family, I know my lads will grow quickly. I have no desire to seek a new husband, so I could indeed find myself quite alone. If I were to tell anyone, it would be my sister, Abigail, who remains in Vienna.
Betty: What’s your favourite game to play?
Eileen: I learnt to play tennis whilst at the Habsburg court – I should say it would be far easier if one did not have to play it in voluminous dresses! People in Scotland play a game called ‘golf’ which intrigues me, but I have never played it.
Betty: Do you have a favourite sibling? Who?
Eileen: Out of my fourteen siblings (my mother having birthed twenty-one of us in total), it would (despite that I have a twin, Mary) have to be my dearest sister, Abigail; she is but a few years older than I and we have always been close. It was she who was, in part, responsible for my spending not-quite ten remarkable years at the Habsburg court in Vienna. She eventually became principal lady-in-waiting to the Empress Maria Theresa, whilst I had the fascinating experience of serving as governess to the Empress’s youngest daughter, the Archduchess Maria Antonia, with whom I became very close, such that she addressed me as ‘Mama’.
Betty: If you could live anywhere, where would you live?
Eileen: I have never considered this possibility. You may know that I have lived in three places in Ireland – Derrynane, followed by Ballyhar, the lands of my first husband, in my native County Kerry, and now Rathleigh, the ancestral home of the O’Learys in Cork. I spent ten happy years in Austria, where I loved life at court. All of this said, upon reflection I believe that, were I to live anywhere other than Ireland, it would be Austria, though not at court.
Betty: How do you like to relax?
Eileen: I adore books, and I love to read. I try to take a solitary ride with my beloved Frisian stallion “Bull” each day. I enjoy the company of my sons, my sister-in-law Catherine O’Leary, Arthur’s sister, and a small group of friends.
Betty: What genre of books do you most enjoy reading?
Eileen: I love history! I love all of Master Shakespeare’s works – and I must confess to liking naughty books, such as Tales of a Woman of Pleasure, referred to in your time as Fanny Hill. As well as a variety of French works, including some rather deliciously wicked novels!
Betty: How do you like to start your day?
Eileen: I typically awaken very early and, after saying my prayers, I enjoy several cups of strong, dark Viennese coffee and fresh, warm bread.
Betty: What kinds of friends do you have?
Eileen: Whilst I have many acquaintances my true friends are few. I would say that they are a rather eclectic group: my dearest friend is Anna Collins – we first met in Vienna in 1761 when she was Anna Pfeffer and was my lady’s maid! We were both in our teens then, so we literally grew up together and, in the process, we became the closest of friends. When she whom I referred to as my ‘wee little archduchess’ departed Vienna for France, Anna came to Ireland with us. Perhaps a year later she wed John Collins, a handsome, kind squire, and is now a neighbour! Also in the neighbourhood are the Reverend and Mrs. McGee of the Church of Ireland, both of whom are good friends; we talk religion and current affairs.
Since Arthur’s death I find myself in an awkward situation – as a relatively young widow in my time and place, I am expected to seek a new husband, out of the bachelors and widowers in our vicinity. In all honesty, having been wed at sixteen, widowed before my seventeenth birthday, after which I spent almost a decade at the Habsburg court – in the process of which I met and married the love of my life – I feel no desire to labour at making yet another match.
This has rather limited my social life as it is the custom, at the horse races and hunts, the parties, balls, weddings and, yes, wakes, that I would be seeking a husband. As I have made it clear that I am not, the invitations continue to dwindle.
I do have a dear friend, a gentleman I have known since my earliest days in Vienna. He is now General, the Count Wolfgang von Klaus, scion of an ancient Austrian noble family – we became very good friends and, in all candour, lovers for a time before I met Arthur. He has continued to be a gentle presence in my life since Arthur was killed, indeed journeying from Vienna to Cork with Arthur’s belongings, uniforms, our correspondence and the like. He has returned every Summer since then. By inquiring of me, ‘It is not a bad thing for friends to wed?’ he has offered me a standing proposal . . . he is such a dear, gentle man, my boys have grown fond of him . . . so . . . I may well at some point consider becoming the Countess von Claus.
Betty: Who would you like to meet? Why?
Eileen: Without any hesitation, it would be Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots – she has always fascinated, perhaps even more so perplexed me.
I would very much want to discuss how a seemingly strong, brilliant, not to mention beautiful woman of the long line of Stuarts, who was nevertheless, albeit at a very young age and then for only a relatively brief period, the Queen of France, could have made the tragic decisions she did whilst Queen of Scots.
When her ne’er-do-well husband, Lord Darnley, was murdered, why did she not act immediately to determine, capture and punish the perpetrators?
One partial answer to this question raises another troubling one: Was it because of her involvement with the Earl of Bothwell?
If so how, could she be so foolish to actually wed Bothwell, the individual widely said to have instigated Darnley’s death?
After being compelled to abdicate, why did she not consider alternatives to seeking sanctuary in England?
As Bittersweet Tapestry, the third volume of Kevin O’Connell’s continuing Derrynane Saga opens, Eileen O’Connell and her husband, Arthur O’Leary, an officer of the Hungarian Hussars, have departed Vienna – where she served for almost a decade as governess to Maria Theresa’s youngest daughter, now Marie Antoinette, Dauphine of France. Their life in Ascendancy-ruled Ireland is in stark contrast to what they left behind, as well as to that of Eileen’s brothers, officers in the Irish Brigade of France, her youngest one, Hugh, now wed to the French Princess Royal. The Irish story evolves into a dark, violent, and bloody tale – ultimately involving an epic tragedy – which results in what has been called, “The greatest poem written in (Ireland and Britain) in the whole Eighteenth Century”.
You’ve lived quite an interesting life, Eileen. Thanks so much for stopping by on your interesting journey to chat with us!
Award-winning Author of Historical Fiction with Heart, and Haunting, Bewitching Love Stories
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