It all started with a song. Music inspires my creative Muse, and the writing doesn’t entirely flow until I’ve settled on a soundtrack. This time, however, it wasn’t a soundtrack that got me dreaming of characters and the story that would become Rebel’s Knot. It was one particular song.
I’ve been a fan of the Irish band The Pogues for years, but one day, I ran across a song of theirs I had never heard before called Young Ned of the Hill. The Pogues had based their song an old folktale about an Irish Robin Hood figure named Éamonn Ó Riain (Edmund or Ned O’Ryan), an outlaw who was active in late seventeenth-century Tipperary, during the struggle to restore the dispossessed Catholic James II and overthrow the crowned Protestant monarch William II.
The Pogues improvised on the story and placed their Ned earlier in the seventeenth-century during the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland. In their version, Ned became a rapparree after the English killed his family and confiscated his land. One line always stood out for me: “Noble men with wills of iron who are not afraid to die.”
In the mid-seventeenth century, these Irish soldiers were referred to as Tories, from the Irish Tóraidhe, or pursued men (the term rapparees, meaning a bandit or irregular soldier, was more common later in the century). These Irish brigades employed strike-and-run tactics to wear down the English and were quite successful at evading the enemy. They knew the landscape and used it to their advantage, such as losing their pursuers by slipping into bogs. The local populace also supported these troops with shelter and valuable information. Despite being mostly cut off from other Irish brigades, they all doggedly fought the English until they could no longer.
An image formed in my mind of such a character, a man of iron who was not afraid to die. I had just finished writing my second novel, Severed Knot, which started in Ireland when English marauders seized a manor after killing the lord and taking his family prisoner. I imagined the heroine’s brother, an Irish soldier, coming by to check on his family and instead finding his uncle and aunt killed and his sister and the other women gone. I pictured him seeing the charred remains of a byre and a single cairn in the centre of a courtyard and facing an empty manor house. I could taste the fear he had for his missing sister and the rage as he viewed the destruction. Niall O’Coneill then vowed to tear apart Tipperary looking for his sister and avenge himself on the English responsible for the tragedy.
It didn’t take long for the heroine to take shape, the only survivor of the attack. Áine Callaghan is a dairymaid in the uncle’s household. She keeps to herself, and the other maids in the household consider her strange with a touch of the fey. In fact, being a loner and spending time on her own is the reason she kept hidden from the English and survive the attack.
Now I had both main characters and a tragedy to bind them together. To find out what happened next, be sure to pick up a copy of Rebel’s Knot.
In the meantime, here is the song that inspired my story. Enjoy!
This was originally posted on Let Us Talk of Many Things on November 9, 2021.