Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Life of Eileen O'Connell - Guest Post by Kevin O'Connell, Author of Two Journeys Home: :A Novel of Eighteenth Century Europe


Since Two Journeys Home’s predecessor volume, Beyond Derrynane, was first published, now some eighteen months ago, Eileen O’Connell has captured the attention of virtually everyone familiar with the story. Whenever people – critics, readers, friends – have spoken and/or written about Eileen, or for that matter asked me about her, her courage and/or strength are mentioned as frequently as – or even more than – her arresting physical presence.

 Of less focus has been what was Eileen’s quiet yet continuing struggle between being strong and courageous and the realities of being an Eighteenth-Century female, not to mention an aristocrat – even of a “fallen” aristocracy – in that period, in a time when and especially in a social setting in which, women were expected to do as they were told, to be meek, pliant and gentle. As became quickly apparent in Derrynane Eileen proved to be none of these.

 As a child bride, in Beyond Derrynane, she initially accepted the reality of being, as one character observes “sold like a fine horse” to an extremely wealthy man of advanced age, whom she’d never met – solely to benefit her family’s largely-illegal commercial interests. When she was unexpectedly confronted by violence, she reflexively responded to it with her own even more extreme measures, showing herself to be not at all reluctant to employ the use of firearms, in retribution as well as in her on-going defence.

That she did so virtually insured her continued safety – perhaps even more importantly, it permitted her to create the kind of life largely unimaginable to one such as herself. In addition to being the spouse of a wealthy and powerful individual, as intended by the O’Connells, she achieved a remarkable degree of autonomy, power and control over her husband and her life.

 Widowed within months of her marriage, Eileen (albeit through her brother, as the head of her family – women, of course, would not speak of such things publicly!) would customarily be expected to make it be known that she was seeking another advantageous marriage. Rather, provided with an alternative, she struck out on an entirely different path, one that took her far from home into what must have seemed, even to her at the time, as at least something of a daunting environment, albeit one in which she came to thrive – in no small measure because of her strength and courage.

As the Saga continues, so too does Eileen “chart her own course”, drawing from this inner strength to sustain herself in difficult circumstances – even those in which she would probably not have found herself had she “behaved properly”.

 Considering the singular nature of this complex young woman, one must reflect on whether, and if so how, her independence, courage and strength may have impacted her in the world of the Eighteenth Century.

 I believe it is fair to say that the structure of the O’Connells of Derrynane very much reflected the overall ethos of the period: Like Eighteenth Century Europe itself, it was largely male-dominated, raucous, untidy and, at times, dangerous. (I say “largely” because – at least according to the old tales and as my own stories are written – Eileen’s mother appears in many ways to control the inner workings of the world that was Derrynane – the largely self-sufficient, heavily-guarded remote sanctuary at the tip of County Kerry, which the family called home.) She may have perhaps been something of a “model” for Eileen, though even Maire speaks of herself as “being just a woman, a weak woman”.

Eileen is obviously intelligent – indeed, “’brilliant,’ the priests say,” she reflects at one point.

As one character observed early on in Derrynane, speaking in part about Eileen, “(T)he O’Connells, they are unusual people. They are frighteningly intelligent; one is able to see and hear this in the girl herself. From merely a few moments spent with and near her . . . , I am able to say that her Latin puts the damned priests to shame, her French is near flawless and – though she is still a mere girl, a child, and only just beginning to grasp the reality of who and what she is – even at this juncture she is as poised as a woman twice her age, and more regal than most I have ever encountered in Dublin, indeed in London as well.

“These O’Connells are arrogant and prideful, yes . . . they see themselves as somehow benighted, even though they are mere graziers and smugglers and thieves and cattle-rustlers, and God knows what else in addition.

 “They live down there at the very end of Kerry, protected by their mountains and their own cunning and by what appears to be a strange combination of fear and awe that they have somehow managed to instil in their good Protestant neighbours, so as to keep them in thrall. They lie hidden in their glens, nourished in many ways by the ocean that they treat as their own; they journey to Spain the way we may go to London . . . They are singular, indeed, like it or not, and many, many in Ireland do not!

 “Despite the fact that the O’Connells may be disliked by many—indeed hated by some—. . . they do not appear to care what anyone thinks . . .”

Standing six feet and an inch, perhaps two feet tall, and broad shouldered, Eileen is not only an imposing figure but a strikingly beautiful woman – with thick, waist-length blue-black hair, the deepest of blue eyes, a husky, almost sensual voice. It is with a remarkable degree of cunning, that she rarely hesitates to employ either or both of her appearance and courage to her advantage, the general result of which, for good or for ill, she finds is that she is intimidating to most men . . . and virtually all women.

Though her physical and personal attributes largely serve her well as the stories progress, one does wonder if being “intimidating to most men . . . and virtually all women” might leave this young woman feeling isolated and alone in the complex, at times dangerous, worlds in which she comes to dwell.

I think not – perhaps the most significant reasons for this conclusion being that, despite her gender and (save to some degree for her older sister Abigail, with whom she first went to Vienna), unlike all of the six other still-living sisters Eileen embodies, and indeed (unlike Abby) fully embraces, the O’Connells’ reputed attributes: In addition to being “frighteningly intelligent,” she is arrogant and prideful, and one can only assume that, with significant exceptions, she cares very little about what most individuals with whom she may come in contact think about her.

This having been said, it would relatively simply to conclude dismissively that Eileen was or could easily be viewed as little more than a snobbish bore.

To do so would be an unfortunate conclusion, for she comes to move easily amongst the grandeur and the personalities at the Habsburg court, beloved especially by her youngest charge, her Little Archduchess, Maria Antonia, and greatly respected by the Empress Maria Theresa herself – no easy individual with whom to get along if the history books are accurate.

It is precisely because of her courage and strength of character that Eileen proves to be successful in Vienna. She does so because she is able reconcile these attributes, and the further fact that she is extremely well-educated, with the reality that she is very much an Eighteenth-Century woman. She readily defers to the Empress, and deftly – and respectfully – manages her relationships with lesser courtiers, virtually all being superior to her. She is conservative in her views, a firm absolute monarchist – her disdain for English rule in Ireland notwithstanding.

To say that Eileen O’Connell is a strong personality would be an understatement – I say this as I have “experienced” her strength. Hearing her stories from an early age, I have “known” Eileen virtually all of my life, and, for reasons unbeknownst, have always felt some mystical, numinous connection with her. Interestingly, Beyond Derrynane began as a family chronicle, focusing on the youngest O’Connell child, Hugh. Though the opening scenes involved Eileen’s return to Derrynane, they primarily introduced the little boy. Within a matter of days of writing, however, Eileen had somehow managed to push and elbow her way into my imagination, indeed, thoughts, story-lines, actual scenes and dialogue “appeared” as if by magic – and from that point the Derrynane Saga has largely become Eileen’s story.

Like her life as a whole, she has made it her own.

Publisher: Gortcullinane Press
Pub. Date: November 1st, 2017
Pages: 310
Book Series: The Derrynane Saga (Book 2)
Genre: Historical Fiction

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.

Her vivacious personality matched only by her arresting physical presence, Eileen returns to Derrynane this time not as a teen aged widow but as one of the most recognised figures at the Habsburg court. Before returning to Vienna she experiences a whirlwind romance, leading to a tumult of betrayal and conflict with the O’Connell clan.

Abigail lives not in the shadow of her sister but instead becomes the principal lady-in-waiting to Empress Maria Theresa.

Hugh O’Connell leaves behind waning adolescence and a fleeting attraction to the youngest archduchess when he begins a military career in the Irish Brigade under Louis XV. But more royal entanglement awaits him in France…

Author Kevin O’Connell again deftly weaves threads of historical fact and fancy to create a colourful tapestry affording unique insights into the courts of eighteenth-century Catholic Europe and Protestant Ascendancy–ruled Ireland. Watch as the saga continues to unfold amongst the O’Connell’s, their friends and enemies, at home and abroad.

Praise for Two Journeys Home

"O’Connell is a fantastic storyteller. His prose is so rich and beautiful it is a joy to read. The story is compelling and the characters memorable – all the more so because they are based on real people. . . I am Irish but I did not know about this piece of Irish history. It is fascinating but historical fiction at the same time . . . Highly recommended for historical fiction lovers!"- Beth Nolan, Beth’s Book Nook

"I enjoyed the first part of the Saga awhile back . . . (and) couldn’t wait to continue the story of Eileen and her family . . . this author really does have a way with words. The world and the characters are so vivid . . . Overall, I was hooked from page one. I honestly think that (Two Journeys Home) was better than (Beyond Derrynane) – which is rare. The characters and world-building was done in such a beautiful manner . . . I can’t wait for the next one . . ."- Carole Rae, Carole’s Sunday Review, Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell

"Two Journeys Home: A Novel of Eighteenth Century Europe . . . is a gripping story that will transport the reader back in time, a story with a strong setting and compelling characters . . . a sensational romance, betrayal, family drama and intrigue . . . The plot is so complex that I find it hard to offer a summary in a few lines, but it is intriguing and it holds many surprises . . . great writing. Kevin O’Connell’s prose is crisp and highly descriptive. I was delighted (by) . . . how he builds the setting, offering . . . powerful images of places, exploring cultural traits and unveiling the political climate of the time . . . The conflict is (as well-developed as the characters) and it is a powerful ingredient that moves the plot forward . . . an absorbing and intelligently-crafted historical novel . . . ."- Divine Zapa for Readers’ Favourite


Buy the Book


About the Author

Kevin O’Connell is a native of New York City and the descendant of a young officer of what had—from 1690 to 1792—been the Irish Brigade of the French Army, believed to have arrived in French Canada following the execution of Queen Marie Antoinette in October of 1793. He 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.
To learn more about Kevin and his writing visit his website and Amazon profile page, and connect with him on Facebook.


Novel Expressions Blog Tour Schedule

February 19th

Spotlight Layered Pages

February 20th

Guest Post -The Writing Desk
Guest Post – Blood Mother Blog

February 21th

Book Review - A Bookaholic Swede
Book Excerpt – Kate Braithwaite
Guest Post – A Literary Vacation

February 22nd

Interview & Review – Flashlight Commentary
Book Excerpt – Just One More Chapter
Book Review –Impressions In Ink

February 23rd

Book Review – Lock, Hooks and Books
Book Review – before the second sleep

March 5th
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