BY JOHN FITZGERALD
Invaders will be launched at Keogh’s pub at 8 p.m. on Friday, October 6th.
Kilkenny City and County feature prominently in the novel, which is set in the turbulent mid 17th century, though Waterford, Dublin, Wexford and other parts of our strife-torn island also figure in this historical drama.
It tells the tale of how a small band of warriors defied the most powerful army on earth.
Central to the story is the role played by my own town of Callan. Locals already know well the tale of heroism that unfolded when Oliver Cromwell arrived at the town walls in 1650. The main garrison walked away after the military governor lost his nerve, but Captain Mark McGeoghegan and his men fought valiantly to repel the invaders.
Callan became a battlefield, with Skerry’s Castle in West Street serving as a great bastion of freedom that held out to the last.
Other towns had run up the white flag, but Callan said NO to a tyrant whose name still evokes horror and loathing even today, more than three-and-a-half centuries after his departure from Ireland.
The novel is based on those earth-shattering episodes of local and national history. It’s told from multiple viewpoints; the main characters including the captain and his “warrior wife”, an Augustinian friar, a school boy, a publican, and a Cromwellian solider.
The long road to publication
The novel didn’t come about overnight. I’d dreamt of penning an adventure yarn or historical epic since early childhood when I read comic-book versions of classics like like Treasure Island, the Three Musketeers, and the Man in the Iron Mask.
Stories of dashing heroes and distressed ladies desperately in need of rescue fired my imagination, and, at the age of ten, I thought I could replicate the efforts of the writers who’d bequeathed those great classics to the world.
I quickly learned how silly such notions were and that, if I wasn’t careful, I’d be getting a lot of funny looks. A fellow pupil helpfully pointed out to me that the stories I attempted to write were so direful that I’d never hear the end of the ridicule that would erupt within and beyond the classroom if another pair of eyes ever fastened on my embarrassing and unbelievably feeble efforts.
The main story I’d attempted to write revolved around the tale, as related by a misty-eyed teacher, of a brave captain who’d refused to surrender when Oliver Cromwell and his army, reputedly the most powerful on the planet, arrived at the walls of Callan.
Though not terribly fond of school- nobody liked it back then- I’d been smitten by the electrifying delivery of the teacher who’d recalled how, against all the odds, this humble captain and his warrior wife had held out for three days against a ferocious attack that involved a crushing bombardment followed by a massive infantry attack.
I liked this because it chimed with the superhuman grit and valour and of my own fictional heroes in the so-called illustrated classics. Forget Ivanhoe and Long John Silver, I thought…here’s a story of real-life warriors, right here in Callan.
Having such notions about immortalizing those who mounted that brave if close to suicidal defence of Callan way back in 1650 was fine, but it hadn’t occurred to me that putting it into words might prove a daunting challenge.
In those days creative writing wasn’t encouraged in schools, unless I’m mistaken, and most pupils were no more tolerant of such flights of fancy than their elders and supposed betters would have been.
In later years I wrote a few articles about the Cromwellian siege of Callan, but at the back of my mind the idea still niggled…why not eulogize those heroes and heroines of that strange and terrible phase of our history with a novel, a story that, while it might never become a classic like the ones I’d read so many years before, would at least serve to etch the name of those brave men and women in Callan’s Roll of Honour?
I kept putting off the project. But then Covid intervened. Being under virtual house arrest for months gave me plenty time to scribble out those words and storylines that had never quite vacated my mind.
If nothing else, I thought, I’d get all that jumble of battlefield scenarios and vague militaristic musings down on paper to distract me from the oppressive State curfew that confined us to our homes sand almost drove us all mad before it ended.
I came close to throwing away the notes and scribbling once the Covid crackdown eased, but I opted to leave those pages alone …just in case I felt differently about it later.
A few months after this, I returned to the long fermenting literary dream, and did quite a lot of research into life in mid-17th century Ireland and the Cromwellian era. I kept revising and amending the thousands of words until they began to resemble something like a coherent script.
The result was Invaders.
The book can be ordered for 14 Euro on Amazon…or can be had for 12 Euro at the book launch.
Everyone’s welcome at the launch. It’s in Keogh’s pub, Callan. Time: at 8 pm. Date: Friday, October 6th. Joe Kennedy of Callan Heritage Society will officially launch the book.
I don’t know what readers will make of it. All I know for certain is that, at long last, I’ve completed this project that I started at the age of ten!