Ireland: A Landscape Built in Dreams

The Lagan, near Belfast after a rain

All my early books about Ireland were written looking from my window at the rain-parched landscape of central Texas. If ever I needed an inner eye, an active imagination, it was when Caylith and her immigrants first walked on the soil of Éire–when they embarked from their little skin-clad currachs from the bay where today stands the city of Belfast at the juncture of the Irish Sea and the lovely Lagan River.      

From there, I needed to envision the lush rolling hills, the green bogland, the cattle-dotted land between the coast and the huge Lough Neagh, Ireland’s largest lake. And the home of Father Patrick, the famous hill of Emain Macha, had to be not just distinctive but awe-inspiring–the place where the faith of a whole nation was born through the dedication of a man and his ever-widening ministry.

A panoramic view of the Hill of Macha, showing a modern roundhouse on the top
The Foyle not far from Derry

On the hill of Macha I set a large clay-and-wattle roundhouse and a perpetual bonfire, a reminder by Patrick to the people of Christ’s immortality. Even though that fire was my own creation, still it seems a logical fixture in the place where the later saint started his ministry.

Once Caylith and the pilgrims made their inland trek north to Derry, the settlement they built along the River Foyle, she naturally sought out the swift river and the large rocks imbedded along the bank and in the water itself. There she could fish for salmon and trout as she lay on a large rock, daydreaming as the cold, flashing currents swirled and leapt their way to the lake beyond, and from there to the northern sea.

The mighty Foyle, swiftest river in Éire

Many of my visions were mental ones. Writing that first romance, Storm Maker, I did not know how to navigate the web, how to instantly call forth the photos I show today. I’m surprised now, in retrospect, how close my imagination came to reality. And in some locales, I’m shamed at the disparity between the site and my inner perspective of the place.

One view of Trawbreaga Bay, Inishowen

Never mind.  The sites are vivid to me each time I re-read the passages where, for instance, in The Wakening Fire Caylith and Liam stopped on their way to Limavady and conceived their first-born under a red-berried holly. Or the winding bay, the lovely Trawbreaga Bay in Inishowen, where the two of them washed off the stench of their captured enemy in Storm Maker; and where later, in Fire & Silk, a future king established his first domain.

As the books continued and my ability on the computer improved, I was able to see actual photos of the treacherous Tory Island that figured so prominently in Captive Heart, the pyramidal Mt. Errigal with its rose-quartz color at sunset, the fingers of lightning that plague the north coast of modern Donegal, and much more, in Fire & Silk.

A rocky strand on Trawbreaga Bay

And yet, even with photos in front of me, I still needed to walk the land and sift the soil between my fingers. I needed to see the broken-knife shapes of the rocks on Tory and imagine them as resurrected warriors. I needed to see through the eyes of a future king the hill fort overlooking the Swilly River, and much more.

And so, even though these photos capture part of the spirit of my books, I can honestly say that my imaginary landscape is lovely and compelling too.

Mt. Errigal seems to reflect its color back to the clouds.

I’ll leave this flight of fancy with my imaginary waterfall on Mt. Errigal, as Mariana saw it:

She stood under a tall, rough escarpment, one that lay at an angle that would shield this low ground from the force of the prevailing wind. And then her ear was caught by a growl so continual and insistent that it took her several seconds to understand that a waterfall flowed from the bluff, hidden by a line of nearby tall pines. Enthralled, she walked toward the sound.

Emerging from the trees, she stood openmouthed. She had never seen a waterfall before. This one arched from the highest part of the bluff, catching the sunlight in its crystal sprays, tumbling and singing down the side of Errigal like a jeweled ornament. She soon understood the roar as a series of sounds—the rush of the water itself, the pounding of waves on rock, the echo it made as it tumbled and fell from Errigal’s thighs. Yes, she agreed with Flann. Errigal was a woman. She was a wanton, a beguiler, a siren, and a summoner of men. For the first time, she began to form an idea of Flann’s attraction to this place. 

As far as Flann goes,

He was walking into [a] recurrent dream. He wanted Mariana to see his mountain, his waterfall, through his eyes. Would the myriad diamonds of the cascades reflect back in her eyes? Or would the flashing brilliance of her eyes jump and swirl in his waterfall? He ached to find out.

Please come with me to ancient Éire and experience the landscape for yourself–both the real one and the one conjured in my dreams.

“Baylor’s Teeth” on Tory Island

The Dawn of Ireland Trilogy http://amzn.to/2pxBRGY
Storm Maker
The Wakening Fire
Captive Heart
Fire & Silk… To be re-released

The Iron Warrior trilogy
Warrior, Ride Hard
Warrior, Stsnd Tall…
Warrior, Come Again

Stag Heart (sequel to Warrior, Come Again), set on the sacred Hill of Tara, site of mischief and mayhem:

  https://is.gd/bQK5lo  (all links, reviews, #explicit #excerpt)


Kindle US https://is.gd/G6elnN  

Kindle UK https://is.gd/ocon0O  

SeaToSky https://is.gd/MrfeiG  (pdf or epub)

Smashwords https://is.gd/vU7yxi  (epub)




Treacherous Beauty of Tory Island

Much of the action of Erin O’Quinn’s Captive Heart –now making its debut–centers on the wild, desolate island of Tory some nine miles off the northern shore of modern Donegal.

Tory island was the subject of a 2005 BBC spotlight by correspondent Kevin Connolly. He introduced it as “a rocky sliver of land stuck out in the wild Atlantic–just beyond the point where Ireland sits with County Donegal like a shoulder hunched up against the ocean winds.”

Tory is a heap of forbidding, jagged rocks on the perimeter, lashed by such turbulent currents that to this day, the island can be reached by ferry only seven months out of the year. Through the harsh winter, it is accessible only by helicopter. The high cliffs boast stretches of wild grasses and the world’s sparse remaining population of Corn Crakes, a small pheasant-like foraging bird. And the island itself–a crescent roughly three miles long and a mile wide–is torn incessantly by winds so high that flying insects do not even live there. Connolly observed that he never saw a tree there higher than a large bush–and that one was blessed by its location in a church yard!

Imagine this forbidding place, then, as the destination of a group of fifth-century travelers whose only transportation was currachs–light, wickerwork boats stretched with animal skin and buoyed by animal bladders.

Caylith’s group of intrepid men and women have made their way to Tory for a single high purpose–to rescue about a dozen women who are being held there in secret by what is supposedly a horde of Pictish slave-mongers and freebooters. The captors know well how to navigate the perilous shores of Tory, and their expertise as currach sailors is what has given them a safe haven from the retribution of the law of Éire.

I have usually tried to be historically accurate in my Dawn of Ireland series, but I depart a bit in the story of Captive Heart. The slaves seized by the raiders would have been considered legally held in these dark days just as St. Patrick began his ministry; and even for centuries after, men and women seized from foreign shores were considered by the Brehon Law to be the lowest on the rung of society.

In the novel, I have postulated that the current High King Leary has made it illegal for citizens of other countries and other formerly free people to be seized and held as slaves. It is the one piece of “fantasy” I have woven into the story, and for a good reason. I want the men and women of my novels to aspire, like all people should, to a life of freedom and happiness.

One may be astonished to learn that today, Tory Island is the haven of a group of Irish artists whose work is sought by dealers and private buyers throughout the world. Their population varies from about sixty to ninety, and they are allowed by special dispensation to elect a King of Tory every year from among their rank.

Apparently, even for a non-artist such as I, to stand high on Tory is to stand on the crest of the most beautiful interplay of sea and rock ever seen. The artists have an eternal paragon of beauty to interpret. As Connolly stated in his conclusion:

Tory is like a granite kaleidoscope where the shifting patterns of light in the seas and skies produce a curious ephemerality, as though the cliffs and beaches somehow change every time you look away.

Captive Heart, the conclusion of the Dawn of Ireland trilogy, is now available at  http://www.bookstrand.com/captive-heart