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The Title is the Story

Aroon_poster

I am often asked about the title of my first published book, Aroon. Where did I get that name? What does it mean?

The answer seems, at first, mundane. But as you will see, the story takes a surprising turn. It’s not one of my plot twists. It’s—well, decide for yourself.

On my trip to Ireland in 2005, I visited a wonderful book store in Dublin. Chapters, I believe it was. In any event, it was vast and magnificent. I bought several books. It’s rare I visit anywhere that sells books and leave empty-handed, and this was that on steroids.

One was Irish Words & Phrases by Diarmaid O’Muirithe. Once I returned home, I was spending a lazy afternoon scanning the book and I came across ‘arun,’ which is Anglicized as ‘aroon.’ It stated the definition as ‘my secret’ or ‘secret love.’ While my story is not a romance, the word had significance to the plot. Plus, I liked the sound of it.

The more the word rolled around on my tongue, the more I liked it, until I locked it in as my book’s title. Ta da!

But that wasn’t the end of it. Three months ago, I contacted a local Tipperary historian who has helped me with my research, particularly for Book Two, Harps Upon the Willows. I’d bought Ed O’Riordan’s comprehensive book on Father Nicholas Sheehy, the basis of my novels, and received a signed copy. Which I treasure. My latest communication was to tell him I had finished my stories.

To my great pleasure, he responded, “I LOVE the titles and I am sure I will love the contents.”

Ed O’Riordan and his ancestors have made it their passion to honor and maintain Father Sheehy’s gravesite and keep his 250-year-old story alive. Just four years ago, eight years after my own visit to the sarcophagus, Mr. O’Riordan arranged for a new plaque for the tomb.

On it, he had etched ‘Sagart Arun.’

This couldn’t be true! I quickly clicked on Google and searched for a translation: Dear Priest.

No, Ed O’Riordan explained. That translation was too weak.

“I suggest Beloved Priest,” he wrote. “It’s a powerful title you have on your book!!”

This still raises the hair on the back of my neck. How did I scan a phrase book so long ago and come up with a title because I liked its sound, while the caretaker of the very man I was writing about used that same word on his tomb?

Coincidence? Maybe. Somehow, it feels like much more. What do you think?

conserved fr Sheehy Tombaroon

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"I Felt a Funeral, in my Brain"*





                                                                                     Photo Credit: Herr Olson

During this month of swirling dead leaves and the zombie-like stalks of once-lush corn, the days shorten in anticipation of All Hallow’s Eve, an ancient festival of the dead.
The perfect month to research archaic burial practices, right? That’s right where I am in my book, Aroon. And boy, did I find some strange customs.
 
Ghosts and ghouls reflect the age-old fear of disturbing the dead lest they unleash their supernatural powers upon us. Many practices through the years stem from this fear which, have no doubt, is still found in many people today. I’ve recently moved next door to a cemetery and have been looked at suspiciously by more than one person.
 
Medieval churches throughout Europe were charged with caring for the dead, and before the services of CSI: Miami, it was the duty of the clergy to determine whether or not the death resulted from foul play. Before Christianity took hold, burials were not to take place inside the limits of the town. It wasn’t until the year 752 that the pope authorized the establishment of a churchyard where the deceased were buried in consecrated ground.

 
                                                                                      Photo by: Dean Ayers
 
In the thirteenth century, cemeteries were ordered to be securely enclosed, so that animals could not graze there. But that did not stop them from becoming a playground on festivals and holidays. Many medieval people felt that the dead were still with them on some level and would enjoy the party, so to speak.

And party they did. Rough games, dancing, and drinking led to the inevitable brawl which too often resulted in the deaths of a participant or two. As you can imagine, there was a fair amount of damage to the gravestones as well.
According to Bertram S. Puckle (really?) in his 1926 book, Funeral Customs, “the poor Vicar of Codrington, in 1862, found people playing cards on the communion table, and when they chose the churchwardens, they used to sit in the sanctuary smoking and drinking.” Ah, remember when.
 
Puckle wrote that as far back as the Iron Age, people were buried with their feet facing east, perhaps as a custom of sun-worshippers. Later, Christians have been buried facing the same way since from that direction, they surmised, will come the final summons to Judgment.
 
Another interesting custom was that people were buried to the west, east, and south of the church itself, but rarely to the north. The only graves found there were of murderers and other criminals. This is because structure of the church, like its deceased members, also faced east. Therefore, the north or left side of the altar is the Gospel side, which calls on sinners to repent. Was anybody listening?
It could get right crowded.                   Photo by: Bogdan Mugulski 
 
Sometimes a person was interred face down. If it was a first-born child, this would prevent further children from being born in the family. A very ghoulish form of birth control.
 
Witches were often buried this way in an effort to keep their spirits from causing trouble. During a serious cholera epidemic in Hungary, they determined the cause to be a particular witch’s curses. Her body was quickly exhumed and she was re-buried face down. Oddly enough, that did not curtail the spread of the disease. They dug her up again and turned her clothing inside out. Even that didn’t work! Once again, she was brought up from the grave, this time to cut out her heart and divide it into four pieces, each of which was burned at a corner of the village. I’m assuming that did the trick.
At times, criminals and other sinners were forbidden from the consecrated burial grounds of the righteous, so they were planted at a crossroads. Apparently, this was an effort to confuse the vengeful spirit (who was hopefully directionally-challenged) and prevent him from returning home to torment family members. His heart was anchored with the ever-popular wooden stake to keep him firmly in the grave.
 
As a final effort to keep this pissed-off ghost off kilter, the funeral procession would arrive at the burial site from one direction, only to return home a different way. That ghost would have to be one smart cookie to have found his way back after all those safeguards.
This is one of my favorite old traditions. It was believed that a “newcomer” to the cemetery was to act as watchman until an even more recently deceased person showed up to take his place. In some parts of Ireland, a pipe and tobacco were left so the person could have a smoke during his watch. Always hospitable, those Irish.
 
Nobody wanted this post, so if two new occupants arrived at the cemetery simultaneously, the funeral processions would rush to get their guy into the ground first. This led to harsh words, which developed into the inevitable free-for-all, the corpse set aside until the matter was resolved. No occasion is too solemn for a good fight.
Also in Ireland, if you were plagued with warts, you need only grab a handful of dirt from under your right foot and throw it on the funeral procession. Voila! No more warts. But you might get a mighty beat-down from the mourners.
 
In Brittany, France, it was believed that once dead, you must eat as much dirt as the bread you had wasted during your lifetime. That’s one way to get the kiddies to eat their crust.
“Eat yer grub.”   
 
*Emily Dickinson, The Complete Poems
 
Photo Credits:
 
 
 
                                                        
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A Tipperary Martyr

“Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.”
–William Butler Yeats

I find Irish history overwhelming. Our entire United States history is around five hundred years long (if you start with Columbus). That’s a drop in the Irish bucket. Using The Course of Irish History as my starting point, I scanned and examined the pages discussing the 1760s, when my characters would flee the country.

The more I read, the more I wandered back into such a complex cause-and-effect maze, I quickly got lost in the millennia of events. It seemed in the number of clear-thinking years I have left, I could never fully grasp the times or what they meant.

Then on page 186, as though fated, two sentences caught my eye and attention.

“Because he had expressed sympathy with the peasantry in their distress, Father Nicholas Sheehy was convicted on a trumped-up charge of murder, in the town of Clonmel in 1766, and was hanged, drawn and quartered. His grave in Shandraghan soon became a place of pilgrimage, and his death provided later generations of Whiteboys with a patron saint.”

I had never heard of Nicholas Sheehy, the Whiteboys, or even the town of Clonmel at that point, but their story would soon weave its way into my heart and mind and take me on a journey of over four thousand miles and nearly two hundred fifty years.

My Father Sheehy research binder
I started with numerous internet searches and the wealth of information–from the tragic to the mysterious to the ridiculous–could keep me writing forever. This was where I learned the love and excitement of research.

A few teasers for future posts on this topic:

  • Father Nicholas Sheehy was either the virtuous, innocent victim of class hatred and religious fanaticism OR in cahoots with “Bonnie Prince Charlie,” the Pretender to the English throne.
  • After being hung, drawn and quartered, and decapitated, Father Sheehy’s head was posted on a spike for twenty years.
  • The man Father Sheehy was convicted of murdering was reportedly seen in Newfoundland, Canada, two years later.
  • Legend says all the corrupt jurors and the hangman met unusual or humiliating deaths.
  • The main perpetrator of the injustice against the priest, Sir Thomas Maude, was said to have grown a tail.
Hey, you can’t fault the Irish for lack of imagination. The question is: Where does imagination stop and truth begin?

RESEARCH TIP: To find the distance from my home to Clonmel, Ireland, I used a very cool site called Google Maps Distance Calculator. (http://www.daftlogic.com/projects-google-maps-distance-calculator.htm) You merely type in your starting point, then manipulate the map to find and click on your destination. The site calculates the distance in the measurement you want–miles, kilometers, even nautical miles. Great fun!

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I Want a Grogoch

Monday, I needed some Irish mythical creatures. In Aroon (see sidebar), a prominent character, Margaret, is telling fairy (or should I say faerie) stories to her little sisters. Having some Irish blood in my veins is not enough–it was off to Google to discover a beastie or two.

I searched “Irish story creatures” which led me to a lovely site, Irish Myths & Legends (http://library.thinkquest.org/C005417/). Under the heading, “Creatures,” I discovered the grogoch, a half-fairy, half-little troll of a man who runs around naked, covered only by thick, coarse, reddish hair. Who also never washes and reeks.

He (and it’s always a “he”) is harmless and helpful. According to the site, “he may even attach himself to certain individuals and help them with their planting and harvesting or with domestic chores – for no payment other than a jug of cream. He will scuttle about the kitchen looking for odd jobs to do and will invariably get under people’s feet.”

I want one. I hear Glade Plug-Insâ are pretty good. And I’ll provide plenty of cream. Plenty.

They do not like the religious, though. If a member of the clergy is in the house, they will leave. So, if my sister, the nun, wants to visit, I’m sure she can get a room at the local Day’s Inn. It’s only a block away.

This worked out great for my story, providing some cute banter between the siblings. Since I needed to read this chapter at my critique group on Tuesday, however, I wanted to pronounce the creature’s name correctly. Hence, more googling.

And then I found it: The Demoniacal, a blog dedicated to “the demons, monsters, & mysterious creatures that reportedly haunt our world.” (www.the demoniacal.blogspot.com) It even had a primitive video from YouTube of a grogogh story which showed me how to say it. View it below if you’re interested; it lasts about two and a half minutes.

Then I read the one comment on the blogpost: “in fact I think that vampires are hidden in somewhere of the earth, is only that they is not interest in attack us because they are already found a new feeding method or something like this.”

Oo-kaay. A little joke, perhaps? Um, I don’t think so.

The blogger asks on a sidebar for readers with any supernatural experiences or is one “who identifies as a Witch, Vampire, Werewolf, Fairy, Alien or other supernatural being” to contact him. Or her.

This person ain’t playin’. He’s posted about Hoodoo seventy-two times so far this year! Check the date above. It’s been only thirteen days.

Well, this shows two things. One is that you never know to what world your searches will lead you, and two–how I get stuck in the rabbit hole of the internet when I only needed ONE TINY PIECE of information. Help!