Friday 30 April 2021

A-Z Blogging Challenge - Z is for Zack

To complete my A-Z blogs, here’s a teaser from my recently completed novel ‘Family Secrets’ (I’ve no idea yet when/if it will be published – so watch this space!)

Seamstress Betsy Roberts meets John Hughes, a mariner with the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company, on a Liverpool street one freezing January night in 1844. Attraction sparks between them, but neither is aware of the huge obstacle in the way of their courtship.

John is the son of Dottie Hughes nee Butler, and Betsy’s mother is shocked when Betsy tells her that John wishes to court her. She explains the reason:

‘Listen, Betsy, you must never tell your pa I’ve told you this, but you need to know so you’ll understand. You’re right about him not liking sailors—’

Betsy sighed. ‘Aye, because he always says they’re only interested in getting drunk or seducing young girls, but they’re not all like that, are they?’

‘No, but hear me out, will you?’ Sarah took a few seconds to compose herself. ‘Your pa had a younger sister he was very fond of. There was only about a year between them. Eliza, she was called. Anyhow, she fell in love with a sailor, but as soon as he got her in the family way, he abandoned her. Poor Eliza was so ashamed of bringing disgrace to her family, she – well, there’s no easy way of saying this, but she jumped into the Salthouse Dock and drowned. She was only seventeen.’

Betsy’s face creased in dismay. ‘Oh, Mam, how awful. No wonder Pa is so bitter about sailors.’

‘You want to know what makes it worse? The sailor was Dottie’s brother, John’s uncle.’

Her mouth agape, Betsy stared at her mother. ‘No, surely not!’

‘Yes, Zack Butler. I never met him because it happened before I married your pa, and Zack went off to Australia. But that’s why your pa won’t say a good word about sailors, and why he’s refused to speak to any of the Butler family ever again.’

Not an ideal scenario for Betsy and John’s courtship, is it? How can her father ever accept the nephew of the man who caused his sister’s death?

I've no front cover to show you yet, but here's a picture of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company boat, Ben-my-Chree, which John (my g-g-grandfather) captained in the 1850s.

Well, that’s the end of the A-Z Blogging Challenge for this year. I hope you’ve enjoyed my posts!


Thursday 29 April 2021

A-Z Blogging Challenge - Y is for Youngsters

Several of my novels feature youngsters i.e. children under 10.

In Changing the Future, single mum Lisa has a four-year-old son Nicky, who gets quite a surprise when he eventually learns who his father is.

Veterinary surgeon Luke Sullivan, in Irish Intrigue, has two young children, Melissa aged 6 and Toby aged 4. His wife left him when Toby was a baby but now she has married a rich American, she is trying to claim custody – so Luke has a fight on his hands. Melissa also manages to ‘sneak’ into three other novels! In Irish Deceptions, she is one of the dancers in Ellie’s ‘dream team’ in the school musical show; in Irish Secrets, she finds the evidence which leads to the identity of a criminal gang leader, and in Irish Shadows, she tells Liam about the runaway horse she has seen in Clifden. Quite a busy young lady!

Dan Nicholas, in Irish Deceptions, has ten-year-old twin nieces, Grace and Leah, his brother’s daughters. Dan is trying to keep his real identity a secret, so it’s quite some time before Ellie realises the twins in her dancing class are related to him.

The ‘youngster’ in Irish Secrets is the baby, who grew up to become Kara’s mother. When Kara eventually manages to trace Margaret, the baby’s mother, she learns of her heartbreak when Margaret was forced to give up her baby for adoption.

Here is Margaret’s description of what happened:

“When Aileen was ten months old, I was summoned to Reverend Mother’s office, and she said I had to sign some papers. I knew what they were, because the other girls told me, and I refused. She said, You must sign, and I begged her to let Aileen stay with me. By this time I was down on my knees, crying, but she pulled me up by my hair, pushed the pen into my hand, and said, Sign it, girl.”

Kara winced. “She must have been completely heartless.”

“Indeed she was. She went on about me having to be punished for the sin I had committed, but, of course, that was drummed into us from the minute we set foot in the home. We were moral degenerates who could not be allowed to keep our children. Then came the ultimate emotional blackmail, about how selfish I would be to condemn my child to a life of poverty and deprivation, instead of letting her go to a family who would give her far more than I could.” Margaret shook her head. “I couldn’t argue against that, because it was true. I had no job and nowhere to live, and so I signed the papers.”

“And was that the day when Aileen was taken away?”

Margaret’s face creased. “It was. I ran up the two flights of stairs to the nursery, although I could hardly see through my tears, and as I got to the door, Sister Ursula came out carrying Aileen. While I was in the Reverend Mother’s room, they’d dressed her in a lovely pale blue coat and bonnet, with white socks and little blue shoes—things I’d never seen before, and she held out her arms to me and smiled and said Mama. Sister Ursula let me hold her for a minute, and I was crying as I hugged her and kissed her. I kept whispering, I love you, I love you, please remember I love you. Then another nun came to the door, and she held me from behind, pinned me by both my arms, while Sister Ursula took Aileen from me and set off down the stairs. I struggled, even elbowed the nun’s bosom, and managed to break free but by that time they’d reached the bottom of the stairs, and the last I saw of Aileen was a wee glimpse before they turned into the corridor. Then I fell on the floor in a heap and broke my heart.”

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Wednesday 28 April 2021

A-Z Blogging Challenge - X is for Xtras

Again, not an easy letter when you’re trying to feature names of people and places in your novels. I don’t have any Xerxes, Xanders or Xanadus, so today’s blog is about Xtra characters (and thanks to Carol for this suggestion!)

By extra characters, I don’t mean the secondary characters who you know will be an essential part of the story from the start, like the main character’s best friend, or boss, or some relative. In this case, I’m talking about the ‘extra’ characters who sometimes sneak in and take you by surprise – like Wasim, my Nile-singing boatman in ‘Her Only Option’ (see yesterday’s post)

When I start writing a new novel, I usually have what I call a ‘vague idea’ in my mind. I know where and when the story starts, I (sometimes) have a fair idea where it will end, but as I write, the story takes on a life of its own, and various characters ‘appear’, each with their own contribution.

There are several of these in ‘Irish Inheritance’.

In earlier posts, I told you about two ‘extra’ characters, Peter Stones and Tom Keating. Both had small but important roles in this story, and both appeared in later books in the series.

Another extra character was Maeve O’Connor. The Dublin lawyer who is dealing with Helena Keating’s estate calls Guy to tell him that Maeve, a friend of Helena, would like to meet them and has some information she would like to share. At that point, I had to stop and think what information Maeve was going to give my characters, and in fact she proved to be a useful addition – especially at the end of the story when she … but no, that would be a spoiler!

Suzie was another character who played a bigger role than I anticipated. To begin with she was simply a name i.e. Guy’s ex, an American actress who had left him with a somewhat jaundiced view of actresses. I definitely did not anticipate Guy rushing off to Los Angeles to rescue Suzie when he discovered she was homeless and penniless! Neither did Jenna who, needless to say, wasn’t happy and assumed she had been dumped. But I did enjoy working out the small, but necessary, side-track into Suzie’s story.

Brendan O’Casey was the art expert from Galway, who came to value the 19th century portrait at Mist Na Mara. Guy was not impressed, especially when the painting was valued at far less than he had anticipated. But was Mr. O’Casey who he claimed to be? Again, this was part of the story that I didn’t anticipate when I first started writing it!

And of course there was Steve, who was the assistant manager at the hotel where Jenna’s friend Charley was organising a theme night event. But you’ll have to read Irish Intrigue, Book 2 in the Mist Na Mara series, to find out what happened to Charley and Steve.

These ‘extra’ characters are one of the main reasons I am a ‘pantser’ (i.e writing by the seat of my pants!) and not a plotter. To me, plotting in advance is a sterile exercise which doesn’t spark my imagination. I need to be ‘in there’, living the story with my characters and letting them develop it. I know the ‘plotters’ won’t agree with me – but there is no right or wrong way to write a story, and I know what works for me! 

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Tuesday 27 April 2021

A-Z Blogging Challenge - W is for Wasim

Late one night (because that’s when I often write!), I was up to Chapter 3 of my story set in Egypt. Ross has invited Neve to visit one of the Pharaohs’ tombs in the Valley of the Kings. I needed to get them across the Nile from where the cruise ships are moored at Luxor, and thought they would simply take one of the motorboats that go back and forth across the river, and off they’d go into the Valley.

Instead, I wrote this:

At the end of the gangplank, Ross turned and held out his hand to help her onto the uneven stone steps. His touch sent delicious tingles to her nerve-endings. Part of her wished she could leave her hand within his firm grasp. Instead, self-consciously, she withdrew it when they reached the quayside path.

“How are we getting across to the West Bank?” she asked.

“I always use the same private motorboat. Elvis should be moored along here.”

“Elvis? Is that the name of the boat?”

Ross laughed. “No, the boat owner. His real name’s Wasim, but he sings Elvis songs all the time—and I do mean all the time.”

When they reached the white motorboat with its green awning, Neve grinned at the name on the bow: Heartbreak Hotel.

Ross shook hands with a slim Egyptian whose dark hair was gelled into Elvis’s unmistakable quiff. “So what are you going to sing for Neve this afternoon, Elvis?”

The young man considered for a moment. “I think I have good song for Miss Neve.”

He helped her onto the boat, and she sat on the cushioned bench at one side, facing Ross. Wasim gunned the engine into life and turned the motorboat towards the West Bank. Then he started to sing Elvis’s “Teddy Bear”.

She smiled at Ross. “I’ve never been serenaded on a Nile crossing before.”

He grinned back. “There’s a first time for everything.”

Her heart raced, and she drew in a deep breath to steady herself. This was stupid. Just because he had a captivating smile was no reason for her to react like some love-struck teenager. She had to control her unwanted response to his male attractiveness before she made a complete fool of herself.

When Wasim finished the song, she applauded. “That was great. You really do sound like Elvis.”

Ross laughed. “Oh, now he’s your friend for life.”

Wasim brought the boat parallel to the stone quay on the West Bank. “Shukran, Miss Neve. I try to get job at hotel as Elvis singer but no one want me.” He turned to Ross. “What time for return, Mister Ross?”

“Five o’clock, Elvis, no later. Neve’s ship sails at six.”

“I be here.”

I think it was at this point that I stopped and blinked, and actually said out loud, “Where on earth has he come from?” I had no intention of creating a Nile boatman who sang Elvis songs, but there he was! He kept popping up in the story as a minor character, and in the end, I liked him so much, I decided to give him a larger role in solving the mystery that formed the main sub-plot – or maybe he’d already decided that, and was simply waiting for me to find out his later role in the story!


Neve Dalton loves her job as a tour guide on a River Nile cruise ship as much as she values her independence. She isn’t ready to settle down with her Egyptian boyfriend, despite his repeated proposals and his father’s desire to see him married.

Nor is she ready to meet Ross McAllister, a compelling and fascinating archaeologist. She struggles against her growing attraction to him until she can no longer ignore what her heart is telling her.

When she starts receiving cryptic messages, and Ross’s work in the famous Valley of the Kings is threatened, Neve has to make a heart-breaking and life-changing decision which she feels is her only option.

Can they discover whose enmity is forcing them apart before it’s too late?

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Monday 26 April 2021

A-Z Blogging Challenge - V is for Valley of the Kings

 As a history teacher for over 25 years, I taught modules about Ancient Egypt to various age groups, and usually included the amazing discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb with all its treasures. In the early 1990s, I saw many of these in the museum in Cairo, but a visit to the famous Valley of the Kings remained on my bucket list for another twenty years. In the autumn of 2010 (only about 3 months before the ‘Arab Spring’ led to protests, unrest and violence in Egypt), a friend and I booked a Nile cruise from Luxor to Aswan.

On the first day, my dream of visiting the Valley of the Kings finally came true, and exceeded all my expectations (which were already pretty high!). Not only the amazing splendour of the tombs of the Pharaohs with all their wall paintings, but also walking down the steps into Tutankhamen’s tomb, and finally standing in the tomb itself.

I knew then that I would have to write a story set in Egypt. During the rest of the cruise, different ideas flitted through my mind. At the end of the week, I was relaxing on the sundeck of our cruise ship and idly wondering whether it would be possible to vault across the short gap between our ship and the one moored next to it. Not that I had any intention of trying, you understand! But what if my hero and heroine were on different cruise ships and first met by the rails of the sundecks? However, at the end of the 5 or 7 day cruise they would go home, so I needed find a way of basing them both in Egypt. In that case, how about a cruise ship tour guide, and an archaeologist working in the Valley of the Kings?

On a flight from Luxor to Cairo, I read an article in the flight magazine about an archaeologist who had explored a hidden tunnel leading from the burial chamber of one of the Pharaohs' tombs in the Valley – and decided something similar would be the perfect scenario for 'my' archaeologist.

Thus my novel was ‘born’ – but of course, that was only the beginning. A lot more thinking was necessary to sort out the complications and conflicts that would threaten to tear my characters apart!


Neve Dalton loves her job as a tour guide on a River Nile cruise ship as much as she values her independence. She isn’t ready to settle down with her Egyptian boyfriend, despite his repeated proposals and his father’s desire to see him married.

Nor is she ready to meet Ross McAllister, a compelling and fascinating archaeologist. She struggles against her growing attraction to him until she can no longer ignore what her heart is telling her.

When she starts receiving cryptic messages, and Ross’s work in the famous Valley of the Kings is threatened, Neve has to make a heart-breaking and life-changing decision which she feels is her only option.

Can they discover whose enmity is forcing them apart before it’s too late?

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Saturday 24 April 2021

A-Z Blogging Challenge - U is for Uncle

Not the easiest letter, mainly because I can’t find any names or places beginning with U in my novels. However, with a bit of lateral thinking, I finally found a sub-plot concerning an uncle and nephew!

In Irish Shadows, all Rose Finlay knows is that her great-grandfather fell out with his cousins because of something that happened during the Irish Civil War in the 1920s.

Seemingly unconnected (to begin with) is a family story told by Tom Keating (see yesterday’s post) about how his grandfather Michael Keating and another man planned to blow up a railway bridge not far from Clifden in 1922. However, a few hours before the intended act of sabotage, Michael was arrested, and later claimed he had been betrayed by someone called Joe.

Rose discovers her great-grandfather was Joseph O’Malley, and is shocked to discover from a report dating from November 1922 that “Captain Edward Andrews said he had received information from Private Joseph O’Malley, which implicated Michael Keating in a plot to blow up the railway bridge at Athry Lough on the night of the 20th.”

More research shows her that Joseph O’Malley was, in fact, the son of Michael Keating’s sister. In other words, Joseph had betrayed his own uncle, who as a result was jailed in Galway for six months.

In the words of one of the Keating family: “The rest of the family never forgave Joe O’Malley for squealing to the authorities about his Uncle Michael.” Another member of the family also says: “If anyone showed up now saying they were related to Joseph O’Malley, I doubt they’d get a very friendly reception from us.”

But did Joe O’Malley betray his uncle – or did he save his life?

You’ll have to read Irish Shadows to find out! 

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Friday 23 April 2021

A-Z Blogging Challenge - T is for Tom

Tom Keating is another ‘recurring’ character in my Mist Na Mara novels, and features in nearly all of them.

In Irish Inheritance, Jenna and Guy have inherited a house near Clifden in Connemara from a woman named Helena Keating, who had been born in County Galway in 1920. They discover that Mist Na Mara house was left to Helena by her father William Keating. This leads them to visit Tom Keating, an elderly man living in Clifden, who gives them more clues about William and the Keating family.

Tom also gets a mention in Irish Intrigue when he takes his dog to the veterinary clinic, but he has a bigger role in Irish Deceptions. When Finny (see my F post) stops attending school, and it becomes apparent he and his mother have left the house where they were living, Ellie discovers he is still walking Tom’s dog every morning. She arranges to visit Tom early one morning, but Finny runs off when he sees her there, so she is no wiser about where he and his mother have moved to.

In Irish Shadows, Tom has another significant role to play when he puts an end to a family feud which began during the Irish Civil War in the 1920s. Last but not least, in Irish Echoes, it turns out that Tom’s ancestor, Padraig Keating, originally came from Kilcreggan, one of the villages which was abandoned during the Potato Famine in the 1840s and whose location has remained unknown until Elliot finally manages to trace it.

Little did I realise when Tom Keating first appeared in Irish Inheritance that he would insist on appearing in my other novels!

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Thursday 22 April 2021

A-Z Blogging Challenge - S is for Skelleen

 Skelleen is a village in Connemara, County Galway. Well, no, actually, it isn’t – because I invented it, originally for my Irish Intrigue story, although it also had a few mentions in Irish Secrets and Irish Shadows.

However, it wasn’t a complete invention. In fact, it’s an amalgam of a couple of Irish villages. Although I knew where I wanted Skelleen to be situated, I needed it to be somewhat larger than the village in that position which has a population of only about 200. So I ‘combined’ it with another larger village (actually in County Mayo).

The advantage of doing this, of course, is that you can ‘move’ buildings around to suit your story! By the time I finished Irish Intrigue, I had a clear picture in my mind of ‘my’ village, even though it was drawn from two different sources. The pub (Connolly’s) in my story came from the Galway village, the church from the other. The ‘Now and Forever’ house in the story was a figment of my own imagination – but the idea came from The Quiet Man cottage in the Mayo village, where we saw Maureen O’Hara’s signature in the guest book (and if you’ve read Irish Intrigue, you’ll understand the significance of that!).

Blending factual places with your own imagination can be useful because you have carte blanche to add/delete whatever you wish. For instance, I added a children’s playground at one end of the village, and the children’s school wasn’t anything like the schools in either of the villages. But there was a bridge spanning the point where a small river reaches the head of the lough, which I called Skelleen Lough.

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Wednesday 21 April 2021

A-Z Blogging Challenge - R is for Ross

Here’s my imaginary interview with Ross McAllister, the archaeologist hero of my novel, ‘Her Only Option’, set in Egypt.

Professor McAllister, can you tell us more about the work you’re doing in the Valley of the Kings?

We’re exploring a tunnel leading from the tomb of Senhotep the First. It leads from the burial chamber and was first discovered about forty years ago, but after they’d opened up about a hundred metres, they couldn’t get any further.

Why not?

They were heading in the wrong direction.

What makes you think you’re heading in the right direction?

We weren’t sure until we found 52 steps leading into a lower part of the tunnel. We’ve also unearthed some funerary figures and a stone fragment with Senhotep’s name.

What are you hoping to find at the end of the tunnel?

We know the sarcophagus in the burial chamber was empty, but we have no idea where the Pharaoh’s remains are. The tunnel may have been intended to fool the tomb robbers, or it may lead to another chamber, or it may simply represent the king’s route through the underworld. We won’t know until we reach the end. If we reach the end.

I understand you have some problems with financing your work, since Stephen Lingard withdrew his funding. Can you tell us why?

I’m sure you’ve read the gossip columns. Stephen’s daughter, Sophie, and I ended our engagement a few weeks ago. A mutual decision, I assure you, but unfortunately her father blamed me and said I’d publicly humiliated his daughter.

And you have no alternative source of funding?

We’re putting out various feelers at present, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

In the meantime, you’re about to take a trip up the Nile on one of the cruise ships. Why?

Why not? (Hollow laugh from Ross). Actually, this trip was supposed to be part of my honeymoon. I could have cancelled it, but I’ve given my team two weeks’ leave, and I haven’t had any break in the last three months, so I thought I might as well spend a relaxing week on the Lady Amirah.

Maybe you’ll meet someone else with a rich daddy who can finance your work?

Oh no, I’ve absolutely no intention of getting involved with another woman, end of story.


Could those be ‘famous last words’ for our hero – and the beginning of a new romance for him?

"I couldn't put this book down. The knowledge and research shown by the author made you feel as if you really were sailing down the Nile and visiting the Valley of the Kings. Paula paints a vivid picture of the place and with her well-drawn characters. There was romance, intrigue, mystery, and enough twists in the story to keep you guessing until the end."

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Tuesday 20 April 2021

A-Z Blogging Challenge - Q is for Quinn

Quinn, as in Elliot Quinn, is the only place or person name I’ve been able to find in my novels which begins with Q.

Elliot is the ‘hero’ of Irish Echoes, but in fact he started off in a completely different story. Originally, he was a medieval historian, researching the 15th century and, in particular, what happened to Francis Lovell, one of Richard III’s closest friends. Maybe one day I will continue that story, but after writing about three chapters, I changed course and decided to make Elliot the hero of my 6th Mist Na Mara novel. That meant relocating Elliot to Ireland, and giving him a different area of expertise. Thus he became a history professor at Trinity College in Dublin, and an acknowledged expert in the history of the ‘Great Hunger’, particularly in the western counties of Galway and Mayo.

Here’s the introduction to the story:

Rachel Pearse and Elliot Quinn had been deeply in love—until Rachel made a huge error of judgement which deprived Elliot of the acclaim for discovering a long-lost famine village in Ireland. Elliot denounced this as a deliberate attempt to betray him and ended their relationship.

Seven years later, they meet unexpectedly when Elliot turns up at Mist Na Mara Arts Centre in the west of Ireland for a week-long conference which Rachel has agreed to manage as a favour to a friend.

New tensions mount when it becomes apparent Elliot isn’t prepared to forgive and forget, even though they are both aware of the revival of their feelings for each other.

Surrounded by the echoes of their own past as well as those of Ireland’s Great Hunger, how will Rachel and Elliot resolve their problems and find their way back together?

And here, seven years after the disastrous break-up of their relationship, is their first meeting at a wedding reception,:

As Rachel reached the swing door, she was about to push it when it was pulled open from the other side. She would have toppled forward and landed in a heap on the floor if two firm hands hadn’t grasped her arms.

‘I’m so sorry,’ a man said. ‘Are you okay?’

She looked up, straight into Elliot Quinn’s clear blue eyes. A fire of embarrassment rushed to her cheeks. In the same moment, he jerked his hands from her arms, almost as if they had been red-hot to touch.

‘Yes, I—’ Her tongue seemed to be stuck to the roof of her mouth. ‘Yes. Yes, I’m grand, thanks.’

She didn’t know where to look, but Elliot stepped sideways and held the door open. ‘After you.’

‘Thank you.’

And that was it.

She walked past him and he went out of the room. No smile, no nothing. They could have been total strangers.


Needless to say, they will meet up again – very soon!

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Monday 19 April 2021

A-Z Blogging Challenge - P is for Peter Stones

I wonder how many of readers recognise that name? Peter Stones is a ‘recurring’ minor, but often significant, character in five of my novels. In a sense, he is similar to the local policeman or postman in soap operas, who appear from time to time. In my stories, he is a director of stage and TV dramas.

Peter’s first appearance was actually in ‘Fragrance of Violets’ (published in 2011 but currently no longer available), when he was directing a West End production of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ and asked the heroine of the story to step in when one of the other actors had an accident.

In Irish Inheritance, Jenna is an out-of-work actor who auditions for a part in a TV adaptation of ‘Jane Eyre’. The auditioning panel consisted of the casting director, his assistant, and the director. Without even thinking about, I decided the director was Peter Stones, and then had to check back to remind myself of his appearance - a man with receding dark hair and black-rimmed glasses. After asking Jenna some difficult questions, he shows an interest in Jenna’s ancestor, a Victorian actress who disappeared without trace in the 1890s. At the end of the novel, Jenna informs her friend Charley that Peter Stones wants to make a 2-hour biopic about the actress, which would be filmed at Mist Na Mara.

Three years later, in Irish Intrigue, Charley returns reluctantly to Ireland to complete the filming of a 1930s drama at Waterside Hall. The director, of course, is Peter Stones.

In my fourth ‘Mist Na Mara novel, Irish Deceptions, the hero is Dan Nicholas, an actor who shot to stardom (and whose dark eyes enthralled millions of women) in ‘The Whelans at War’, a TV drama set during the Irish Civil War. The director was – yes, you’ve guessed it – Peter Stones. He also makes a brief appearance at the end of the story with some amazing news for Finny (see my ‘F’ blog!)

Peter even manages to sneak in (briefly) in Irish Shadows.

Now I’m wondering if, when, and how he will find his way into any of my future novels!

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Saturday 17 April 2021

A-Z Blogging Challenge - O is for O' Irish Names

Surnames beginning with O’ are fairly common in Ireland. The O’ derives from the Gaelic Ua, meaning grandson or descendant of.

The ‘hero’ of Irish Secrets was Ryan O’Neill. His surname means descendant of Néill, a male name derived from the old Irish word niadh, meaning warrior or champion. Since Ryan was an undercover police officer, masquerading as a taxi driver while he tried to find evidence of a stolen goods racket in Connemara, he could be considered as a champion of law and order!

A variation of O’Neill is O’Neal, and this name appeared in Irish Intrigue with Rory O’Neal, the owner of an Equestrian Centre where Charley, the heroine of the story is enchanted to watch a foal being born.

I’ve also used the name O’Brien twice. It comes from the Irish Ua Briain, descendant of Brian. One theory is that the name is based on ‘bre’ meaning hill and thus means ‘eminence’ or 'exalted one'. In Irish Secrets, Sister Gabriel reveals that her name is actually Bernadette O’Brien, and in Irish Echoes, Patrick O’Brien is the owner of the Irish Historical Review. He eventually has to apologise to the novel’s hero, Elliot, for publishing an article that had been stolen from Elliot.

In Irish Shadows, Rose’s assistant and friend is Caitlyn O’Connor. Her surname comes from O’Conchobhair, which possibly derives from a legendary 10th century king of Connacht. Also in the same novel, Rose discovers that her great-great-grandfather was Joseph O’Malley. The origin of this name is obscure but may come from the Gaelic word maglios meaning prince or chief. Rose, however, is embarrassed and ashamed to find out that Joseph betrayed his uncle during the Irish Civil War in the 1920s.

Last but not least, Brendan O’Casey is a minor character in Irish Inheritance who comes to Mist Na Mara to value a painting. His surname is a variant of Cathasaigh, meaning vigilant, but in this case, it’s Guy and Jenna who need to be vigilant when it appears Mr. O’Casey is not all he claims to be.

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Friday 16 April 2021

A-Z Blogging Challenge - N is for Neve

 My imaginary interview with Neve, the heroine of ‘Her Only Option’, set in Egypt.


I’m now on the Lady Nadia cruise ship, waiting in the lobby to interview tour guide Neve Dalton. Ah, I can see her now, running down the stairs – oh dear, she doesn’t look very happy …

Has something upset you, Neve?

I’ll say it has! I went up to the sundeck for some peace and quiet until my next tour group arrives, and next I know, I’m being chatted up one of those cruise ship Casanovas – you know, the smooth-talking posers who think female tour guides are an easy target. And this one had the nerve to say tour guides churn out half-baked facts from inaccurate guide books!

I take it you weren’t impressed?

Well … (Neve blushes) … he was rather good-looking, with amazing blue eyes - but then he tried to claim he was an archaeologist. Huh! Probably one of those dilettantes who think they can make the discovery of a lifetime without any effort. Anyway, enough about him. I’m only thankful he’s on the Lady Amirah and not the Nadia, although I don’t envy my friend Joanne having to put up with him on this week’s cruise.

Er – how did you meet him if he’s on a different ship?

Oh, haven’t you been up to the sundeck? The Nile cruise ships have to be moored 3 or 4 abreast because there are so many here in Luxor, and they’re built to the same design, so the sundecks are level. Joanne and I often meet up to have a chat over the rails.

Let me ask you more about yourself and Joanne. I believe you’re both Cambridge postgraduates, so why did you decide to become Nile cruise ship guides?

We both felt we needed a break from the academic life. This job with the Rahman cruise line has given me the opportunity to return to Egypt where I grew up, and to share my passion for Ancient Egypt.

I understand you’ve been dating Malik Rahman.

(Neve narrows her eyes) I hope you’re not going to make some derogatory comment about me dating the boss’s son?

I wouldn’t dream of doing that!

I like Malik, he’s –well, as Joanne has said, he’s good-looking, charming, worships the ground I walk on, and he’s filthy rich, but—

But you’re not in love with him?

I can’t be, can I? Otherwise I’d have accepted his proposal.

So he’s asked you to marry him?

Oh yes, several times. But, between you and me, I think the only reason for his proposals is because his father won’t give him any senior role in the company until he’s ‘settled’ - which to Sabry means married with a whole brood of sons to inherit the Rahman empire. And I’m not ready to settle down as a wife and mother. Anyway, if you’ll excuse me now, I need to go and warn Joanne about that annoying self-styled archaeologist she’ll have to put up with on the Lady Amirah this week. Bye!


I wonder if Neve will change her mind about that annoying self-styled archaeologist? 

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Thursday 15 April 2021

A-Z Blogging Challenge - M is for Mist Na Mara

Mist Na Mara house is a product of my imagination. It was the house Jenna and Guy jointly inherited in Irish Inheritance, and from the moment I started the novel, I could see it in my mind.

Here’s the heroine’s first view of the front of the house:

Built of grey stone, Mist Na Mara House had a central doorway, flanked on both sides by long sash windows and, at each end of the frontage, large square bay windows on the ground and upper floors.

I knew roughly where the house was situated (near Clifden in the west of Ireland) but had to ignore the fact that this area only has a few isolated stone cottages, and some modern white bungalows. This was where I wanted my house to be, so I put it there anyway!

And this was the view from the front of the house:

Jenna turned and let her eyes take in the panoramic view. Not only did they overlook the narrow bay and the low green hills on the far shore, but they were high enough to see another stretch of water beyond and some larger hills. On their left were the peaks of the Twelve Bens, and to their right, broken by a few rocky islets, was the vast grey expanse of the Atlantic Ocean.

The inside of the house was sharply focused in my mind, too:

Once inside, she stared around, hardly able to take in the elegance of the large hallway with oak wainscoting and polished parquet floor. In the centre stood a rosewood pedestal table on an ornately carved column, and a crystal chandelier sparkled in the sun’s rays through the arched fanlight above the door. On each side of the hallway were two solid oak doors, much broader than modern doorways. Ahead of them, a wide wooden staircase curved upwards, with a brass handrail and wrought iron balusters, and a corridor at the side of the stairs led to the back of the house.

And, of course, there was the bedroom which had been locked for over 70 years, and my hero and heroine were the first to see it, but I won’t post any spoilers here about that!

Originally I called the house Sea Mist House – but then  discovered there was a hotel with that name in Clifden. One of my friends in Dublin (thank you, Ellen Brickley!) came to my rescue, with the half-English, half Irish name of Mist Na Mara – meaning ‘mist of the sea’.

The house has played a part in all my Irish novels, as it became an arts and drama/dance centre, and gained a large extension, a restored cottage, and also a barn conversion. I am now so familiar with the place, I find it hard sometimes to remember it is not actually a ‘real’ place.

Imagination is definitely a wonderful thing! And one comment by a reviewer was especially pleasing: The description of the old house, Mist Na Mara, was excellent. I walked around the house in my head, I could picture the bedrooms, the kitchen, and even the drive up to it.

It’s great when something you have invented captures someone else’s imagination!

By the way, I’ve never (yet) found a photo of a house that matches my vision of Mist Na Mara, so maybe it really is a ‘one-off’!

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Wednesday 14 April 2021

A-Z Blogging Challenge - L is for Luke

Luke Sullivan is the ‘hero’ of my novel ‘Irish Intrigue’ –and I decided he was a veterinary surgeon in the west of Ireland.

I probably know less about veterinary work than I do about volcanoes (one of my other heroes’ speciality). I think I visited my local vet less than half a dozen times when I had a cat (which was over 20 years ago). I also remember watching a popular TV series here about a vet in Yorkshire, but that was set in the 1930s and 1940s, and obviously things have changed a lot since then. Therefore I had a lot of research to do for this story.

That included spending the whole one Sunday afternoon watching YouTube videos of foals being born.

Here’s the scene that resulted from the YouTube videos:

Charley followed Jan into an inner office where a bank of black and white screens covered one wall. Jan pointed to one of them. “That’s Duchess in her birthing box. She’s very restless, so I don’t think it’ll be long now.”

Charley caught a glimpse of Luke running experienced hands around the mare’s swollen belly before he disappeared out of camera range. Soon afterwards, he came into the office, followed by Rory.

“Best to let her get on with it now,” Luke said. “I don’t want her holding on to the foal because we’re standing there watching her.”

“Could she do that?” she asked.

“It’s quite common. In fact—” He peered at the screen. “If I’m not mistaken, she’s started to expel the birth sac. See, she was waiting for us to leave her alone.”

They all watched as the mare rose clumsily to her feet and walked a few steps. When she turned, the white sac was visible.

Rory peered at the screen. “Come on, Duchess,” he whispered.

“You can see the foal’s hoof now,” Jan said.

They bunched around the screen, and Charley held her breath as the foal’s forelegs appeared.

“This was when things went wrong last time,” Luke whispered in her ear. “The head was positioned wrongly, and she couldn’t push it out.”

The tension in the office was palpable as the mare strained, until with one heaving contraction, the foal’s head started to appear.

Luke blew out his breath. “Whoa, almost home and dry now.”

When the head was fully out, he raised his clenched fist in triumph, and Rory punched the air.

As well as horses, I researched medical problems of sheep, cats and dogs, and even a goldfish with a cyst on its eye! I also consulted the ‘experts’, with a visit to a local veterinary clinic. When I explained the reason for my visit, the receptionist and nurse couldn’t have been more helpful and we chatted for over half an hour. Mind you, they did exchange glances when I asked them about their policy and practice concerning controlled drugs (an essential part of my novel) and I had to reassure them that I had no intention of breaking in and stealing any drugs!

If I had only written about ‘what I know’, I would have missed the fascination of discovering a lot of interesting information about veterinary work. Although the research can take time (often many hours), in the end it can actually prove more satisfying than only writing about what you already know.

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Tuesday 13 April 2021

A-Z Blogging Challenge - K is for Kara

 Kara is the lead character in my novel ‘Irish Secrets’.

I had no ideas for my third Irish novel until a character in the second novel, ‘Irish Intrigue’ handed the idea to me!

In this excerpt, Charley and Luke are talking to Nick, a well-known screen writer, about his next project:

“What kind of movie are you envisioning?” Charley asked. “A romance, or mystery, or what?”

“Maybe a mixture. You’ve heard of the Magdalene laundries?”

Luke grimaced. “Not one of the best aspects of our Irish history.”

“Not only Ireland, Luke. Other countries had them, too, where unmarried mothers were forced to give up their babies. There’ve been a couple of movies about mothers trying to find their children later in life, but I’d like to concentrate on one of the babies. A girl adopted by an American family learns about her birth mother, comes to Ireland, but meets a wall of secrecy.”

From that, the idea began to germinate in my mind of an American girl coming over to Ireland to find her birth mother. I read many heart-breaking accounts of the babies who were forcibly adopted trying in later life to find their birth parents, as well as stories of mothers trying to trace what happened to the babies which were taken from them. Occasionally, you hear of a ‘success story’ when mother and child are reunited, but for thousands more, a wall of secrecy surrounds the adoptions. The film ‘Philomena’ is one example of such a mother, and the book it is based on gives more detail of the son who was taken from her. ‘The Magdalene Sisters’ shows the appalling and inhumane treatment of three unmarried mothers in the 1960s in one of the Magdalene laundries.


Because of timing and ages, I decided to have Kara’s mother as the baby who was adopted by an American couple in the early 1960s. When Kara discovers this, she embarks on a quest to find her mother’s family, but soon realises it will not be an easy task.

Here’s an excerpt from Irish Secrets describing Kara’s visit to the Convent:

The elderly nun who opened the door of the Convent of the Sisters of Calvary didn’t even smile as she snapped, “Good afternoon. Can I help you?”

Kara’s heart sank. Judging by the severe expression on the nun’s angular, lined face, she didn’t hold out much hope of getting any help from her. Still, it was worth a try.

She mustered a friendly smile. “Hello. I’m Kara Stewart, and I’m interested in any information you may be able to give me about my mother who was born at the Ballykane home for mothers and babies.”

“Who told you to come here?”

“Erm—no one. I—” Taken aback by the nun’s sharp question, Kara faltered before rushing into an explanation. “I’ve spoken to Sister Mary Teresa in the hospital, and she suggested I write to Sister Augusta, but I already did that and didn’t receive a reply, so when I saw the sign pointing here to the convent, I hoped I may be able to speak to Sister Augusta in person.”

“Sister Augusta doesn’t receive visitors.”

“But how can I find out anything more about my mother’s birth when she didn’t answer my letter?”

“If she didn’t reply, it means she hasn’t found any records relating to the name you gave her.”

The nun, whose name badge showed her to be Sister Gabriel, started to close the door, but Kara persisted. “Sister, if your mother had been born at one of the mother and baby homes, wouldn’t you want to know more about her, and about her mother? Especially if the child was taken away from the mother and sent to adoptive parents in America.”

Sister Gabriel remained stony-faced. “We have a duty to uphold our guarantee of confidentiality to the mothers, many of whom were in their teens when they committed the mortal sin of bearing a child out of wedlock. They were given the opportunity to put their unfortunate experience behind them, and any revelation now of their guilty secret may disrupt, even destroy, the lives they have made for themselves since then.”

“I see. So even if Sister Augusta traced my mother’s birth, she probably wouldn’t reply to me, because she has to protect the unmarried mother. Is that what you’re saying?”

“It is. Now, will that be all, Miss Stewart?”

“I guess so. Thank you for your time, Sister Gabriel.”

 It’s only with the help from undercover detective Ryan Brady that Kara is eventually able to trace her birth-grandmother, but more problems arise when Kara’s mother is not interested in what she has discovered.

While working at Mist Na Mara Arts Centre, Kara Stewart embarks on a search for her mother’s birth parents; she’d been adopted in the 1960s by an American couple. Kara soon realises the task is not as simple as she’d anticipated when she’s met with a wall of secrecy surrounding Irish baby adoptions.
Ryan Brady is hiding the secret of his real identity, but when he offers to help Kara trace her Irish family, his attraction to her is undeniable.
As the mystery unravels, secrets drive a wedge, not only between Kara and her mother, but also between Kara and Ryan.
Can Kara and Ryan find a way to heal the rifts created by all these secrets and find love?

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Monday 12 April 2021

A-Z Blogging Challenge - J is for Jenna

Jenna is the ‘heroine’ of my first ‘Mist Na Mara’ novel, Irish Inheritance. At the beginning of the story, she is an out-of-work actress, working in a coffee shop to make ends meet, and sharing a house in London with three friends. All I really knew when I started writing this book was that she inherited a house in the west of Ireland from someone she had never heard of, and her co-inheritor was also someone she’d never heard of!

Here’s the start of Chapter 1:

“A house in Ireland?” Jenna Sutton stared over the mahogany desk at the lawyer. “Someone I’ve never heard of has left me a house in Ireland?"

The white-haired lawyer peered over his steel-rimmed spectacles. “A half share of the house, Ms. Sutton. Along with a half share of what, at current exchange rates, amounts to approximately fifty thousand pounds.”

Jenna shook her head and swiped several strands of her hair back behind her ear. “I don’t understand, Mr. Moore. Why would this Helena—what did you say her name was?

“Miss Helena Keating.”

“Why has she left me a house and twenty-five thousand pounds? How does she even know about me?”

“Ms. Sutton, I can only give you the information passed to me by the law firm of Daniel McGrath in Dublin. We were instructed to find any descendants of James Oliver Sutton—"

“My grandfather.”

“Yes, and as far as we can ascertain, you are his sole descendant. I understand your father died in an automobile accident about twenty years ago. My condolences.”

“Thanks, but I was six when he died and only have some vague memories of him.” She frowned. “Do you know what the link is between this woman and my grandfather?”

“That wasn’t part of our instructions.”

“Have you any information about her?”

Mr. Moore pushed his glasses back up his nose and flipped through the papers in the blue manila folder on his desk. “Miss Keating was born in 1920 in County Galway, Ireland, and died last year in Dalkey, near Dublin, where she has lived since 1940.”

“So she was—” She did a quick calculation in her head. “About fifteen years older than my grandfather.”

The lawyer picked up another sheet of paper. “Yes, he was born in April, 1936.”

“I wasn’t aware he knew anyone in Ireland, and I’m pretty sure he never went over there. He lived his whole life in a small village in Kent.”

She couldn’t imagine her grandfather being anyone’s toy boy either. He’d been devoted to her grandmother. So what on earth was his connection with this Irish woman?

Another thought occurred to her, and she looked at Mr. Moore again. “You said I had a half share of the house and the fifty thousand pounds.” Even saying the words seemed surreal. She hadn’t yet wrapped her mind around what the money meant. “Who gets the other half?”

“I’m sorry, Ms. Sutton. I don’t have that information. The Dublin law firm is dealing with the estate. Our job was simply to—”

“Yes, okay, to find the descendants of my grandfather.”

“I’m sure Mr. McGrath will be able to tell you more when you meet him in Dublin.”

“When I meet him in—whoa, who says I’m going to meet him?”

“Mr. McGrath has suggested an appointment at two-thirty on May 10th, to be followed by a visit to the house the next day.” 

So what will Jenna discover about the house, her unknown benefactor, and her co-inheritor when she goes over to Dublin?

Irish Inheritance is currently FREE on Amazon

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Saturday 10 April 2021

A-Z Blogging Challenge - I is for Iceland

Write about what you know, they say – but I broke that so-called ‘rule’ twice in my novel ‘Changing the Future.’

How? Because Paul, my hero, was a volcano expert, and because a volcano in Iceland seemed to be emerging from its dormant phase.

Originally, the hero was a Geography teacher, but I decided I needed something more high profile for him. At the time I was writing the story, the Icelandic volcano with that unpronounceable name (Eyjafjallajökull) was erupting and causing huge disruption to air travel with an ash cloud that led to the closure of Northern Europe airspace for several days.

So I decided my hero should be a volcanologist. Only one problem with that – all I remembered from my schooldays was that volcanoes erupt from time to time. Hence I spent many hours researching volcanoes, how they’re formed, why they erupt, and the resulting effects. I probably only used about 5% of what I learnt, but hopefully it was enough for Paul to sound like an expert. I also gave the volcano a more pronounceable name!

Here’s an excerpt when Lisa is watching Paul on television:

Paul was being interviewed at Manchester Airport. “Yes, Mount Lakuda’s providing us with some interesting developments at the moment. There’s been quite an increase of activity this past week.”

“And when you get to Iceland, what are the main things you’ll be doing?” the interviewer asked.

“I’ll be working with the scientists at the Iceland Volcano Research Centre. I was out there a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been in close contact with Dr. Kristjan Dagsson, the head of the Centre.”

“There are reports of a bulge on the side of the volcano. How significant is this?”

“On its own, a swelling wouldn’t be considered serious. Plenty of volcanoes develop these bulges, which indicate the movement of magma, often several miles below the surface. We’re more concerned about the heightened level of seismic activity and sulfur dioxide levels.”

“I understand there have been several earthquakes in the last few weeks.”

“What we call an earthquake swarm, yes, a lot of small tremors, but none with a magnitude higher than three. Scientists at the Centre have been working around the clock analysing and interpreting the data from all the sensory equipment on Mount Lakuda, and I’ll be joining them.”

“Is this the build-up to a full-scale eruption?”

“Not necessarily.” Paul smiled. “It’s being monitored carefully but it’s very difficult to predict whether this activity will lead to any major eruption.”

The interviewer persisted. “If it does erupt, is there likely to be an ash cloud like the one which caused such major disruption to air traffic?”

“The ash cloud was due to a combination of factors, mainly linked to the jet stream, none of which are present in the case of Mount Lakuda.”

“Thank you, Dr. Hamilton.” The interviewer turned to face the camera again. “Dr Paul Hamilton, a leading authority on volcanoes, was talking about Mount Lakuda in Iceland.

 I also had to research Iceland, because I’ve never been there. From basic information such as the name of Iceland’s main airport (Keflavik) and the distance from there to Reykjavik, to more detailed facts about the roads and off-road terrain in Iceland, the scenery, and the geographical location of Iceland’s volcanoes. I studied maps and hundreds of photos and videos. Google Earth proved very useful, and also Streetview, which enabled me to ‘drive’ along some of the roads in Iceland.

In the end, I think (hope!) I gave a fairly accurate portrayal of Iceland in my novel. At least no one has told me (yet!) I’ve made any howling errors, but I did keep my descriptions fairly brief, just in case!

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Friday 9 April 2021

A-Z Blogging Challenge - H is for 'Hunger' Memorials

Although the memorials in Ireland commemorating the tragic consequences of the potato blight in the 1840s are usually known as Famine Memorials, I am using the word Hunger here. Not just because it fits with H in the A-Z Challenge, but also because the Irish words ‘An Gorta Mór mean The Great Hunger.

Without going into all the politics of that time, suffice to say there was actually plenty of food in Ireland even when the potato crop failed for two consecutive years. However, foodstuffs were still being exported from Ireland to England during this period, and the price of any available food increased beyond the means of the poorest section of the population.

Landowners (often English) evicted non-payers of rent, who were then faced with the choice of entering the already crowded (and disease-ridden) workhouses, doing public work such as building roads for a pittance and relying on soup kitchens, or emigrating.

There are memorials to this tragic period in hundreds of towns and villages in Ireland. Sometimes they consist of a plaque showing where a workhouse once stood, or a Celtic cross in a graveyard, or by mass graves/burial pits where thousands of victims were buried.

In my novel Irish Echoes, historian Elliot Quinn is commissioned to write an article about some of the most evocative memorials. Professional photographer Rachel Pearse agrees to accompany him, despite the contentious issues between them. Here are some of the memorials they visited.

This sculpture on Customs House Quay in Dublin shows ragged and starving people trekking along the quay to board one of the ships which would take them to Britain, or to America, Canada, or Australia. Sadly, many of them did not survive the voyage.


Elliot and Rachel’s first stop was at Athy in County Kildare. The original workhouse there is now a hospital, and at the entrance is a sculpture carved from bog oak, named Famine Family. It represents a final hopeless embrace, since they knew they would not see each other again once they entered the workhouse.

The workhouse in Kilkenny has been converted to a shopping centre but in the Famine Memorial Garden outside the centre is a bronze sculpture. It shows two young brothers, John and Patrick Saul, who were abandoned by their parents at the docks in Dublin. They decided to walk back to their home in Clonmel, but after trekking over 70 miles, they sought refuge in the workhouse in Kilkenny.


The Ennistymon memorial was erected in 1995, in memory of the victims of the Great Hunger. It is located across from a deserted workhouse, where an estimated 20,000 Irish people died, and a mass graveyard for children, who perished and were buried without coffins.

The two grey stone slabs depict workhouse doors with large iron hinges. In front of one is a sculpture of a small barefoot boy with his hands raised as if imploring to be admitted. On the other is the head of his anguished mother, two clenched hands, and an inscription.

The inscription contains the words from a note that was pinned to the torn shirt of a barefoot orphan boy, who was left at the workhouse door on the freezing cold morning of February 25, 1848.

On the shore of Clew Bay in County Mayo is the
National Famine Memorial, which depicts a “coffin ship” with skeleton bodies in the rigging. Coffin ships was a term used to describethe horrendously overcrowded boats which left Ireland with emigrants fleeing the famine in dire and unhygienic conditions 

A rough stone cross in the Doolough Valley in County Mayo commemorates a tragic event in in 1849 when people in the town of Louisburgh were starving. It was rumoured that if they walked 12 miles to Delphi Lodge where the council guardians were, they would be given food. The malnourished people set out on March 30th, 1849, in atrocious weather conditions, with wind and freezing rain, many walking barefoot and with only blankets or shawls for protection. When they eventually reached Delphi Lodge the next morning, they were told the guardians could not be disturbed while they were having their lunch. When they eventually did see them, the people were sent away empty-handed and it is estimated that more than 400 people died on the fatiguing journey back through that night and into the next day.

Every year, a memorial walk from Louisburgh to Doolough is held, and often members of the Choctaw tribe take part – which brings us to this  memorial:


Kindred Spirits in County Cork is a memorial to the Choctaw tribe of Oklahoma, who in 1847 raised $170 from their meagre resources to send to the Irish famine relief fund. Sixteen years earlier, they had taken part in their own 500-mile ‘Trail of Tears’ when they were forced to move from their ancestral lands in Mississippi to Oklahoma. Thousands died from starvation, exposure, and disease.
Their donation to the Irish only came to light in the 1980s, but since then the links between the Choctaw and the Irish have grown, with exchange visits. Last year, the Irish contributed the majority of the $3 million raised for the Navajo/Hopi tribes who were suffering a devastating outbreak of the Covid virus.

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