Kevin O’Connell was born in America and holds both Irish and US citizenship; growing up in an old Irish family with a long history and a powerful sense of its past, he learnt a great deal of Irish, British, and European (especially French) history from an early age. He is descended from a young officer of what had, from 1690 to 1792, been the Irish Brigade of the French army, who arrived in French Canada sometime following the execution of Queen Marie Antoinette in October 1793. At least one grandson subsequently returned to Ireland.
Mr. O’Connell’s Beyond Derrynane, Two Journeys Home and Bittersweet Tapestry (have received positive critical reviews, in the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe.
His Derrynane Saga has been described as being “a sweeping, multi-layered story, populated by an array of colorfully complex characters, whose lives and stories play out in a series of striking settings. Set against the drama of Europe in the early stages of significant change, the books dramatize the roles which have never before been treated in fiction played by a small number of expatriate Irish of the fallen Gaelic Aristocracy at the courts of Catholic Europe.” It is with Bittersweet Tapestry that O’Connell has again focused in greater detail on their lives in English-occupied Ireland.
He is currently at work on the fourth volume in the Saga, devoting full-time to his craft, following a forty-plus year career as an international lawyer.
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A decade has passed since a sixteen-year-old Eileen O’Connell first departed her family’s sanctuary at remote Derrynane on the Kerry coast to become the wife of one of the wealthiest men in Ireland and the mistress of John O’Connor’s Ballyhar – only to have her elderly husband die within months of the marriage. Unhappily returned to Derrynane, within a year, under the auspices of their uncle, a general in the armies of Maria Theresa, Eileen and her sister, Abigail set off for Vienna and a life neither could have ever imagined – one at the dizzying heights of the Hapsburg empire and court.
There, Abigail ultimately became principal lady-in-waiting to the Empress herself, whilst Eileen for nine years served as governess to the Empress’s youngest daughter – during which time Maria Antonia, whom Eileen still calls ‘my wee little archduchess’, has become Marie Antoinette, dauphine of France, though she continues to refer to her beloved governess as “Mama.”
As Bittersweet Tapestry begins, in the high Summer of 1770, having escorted the future Queen of France from Vienna to her new life, Eileen and her husband, Captain Arthur O’Leary of the Hungarian Hussars, along with their little boy and Eileen’s treasured friend (and former servant) Anna Pfeffer are establishing themselves in Ireland.
Their ties to Catholic Europe remain strong; in addition to Abigail and her O’Sullivan family and General O’Connell and his in Vienna, brother Daniel is an officer in the Irish Brigade of the armies of Louis XV, whilst their youngest brother, Hugh, is studying at École Militaire in Paris, his path to a commission in the Dillons’ Regiment of the Brigade. His gentle Austrian friendship with Maria Antonia having inevitably waned, Hugh’s relationship with the strikingly beautiful young widow Princess Marie Thérèse Louise of Savoy is blossoming.
Though happily ensconced at Rathleigh House, the O’Leary family estate in County Cork, being prominent amongst those families which are the remnants of the old Gaelic order in the area, Eileen and Art find that the dark cloud of the Protestant Ascendancy hovers heavily, at times threateningly, over them.
Bittersweet Tapestry is a tale of stark contrasts – between Hugh’s life of increasing prominence amidst the glitter and intrigue of the French court and Art and Eileen’s in English-occupied Ireland – especially as the latter progresses into a dark, violent and bloody tale . . . ultimately involving an epic tragedy, which, along with the events leading up to it and those occurring in its dramatic wake, will permanently impact the O’Learys – and their far-flung circle of family and friends in Ireland across Europe.
With his uniquely-descriptive prose, Kevin O'Connell again deftly weaves threads of historical fact and fancy to create a colourful fabric affording unique insights into the courts of eighteenth-century Catholic Europe as well as English-ruled Ireland. As the epic unfolds amongst the O’Learys, the O'Connells, their friends and enemies, the tumultuously-dangerous worlds in which they dwell will continue to gradually – but inexorably – become even more so.
Bittersweet Tapestry joins O’Connell’s well-received Beyond Derrynane and Two Journeys Home as The Derrynane Saga continues – an enthralling epic, presenting a sweeping chronicle, set against the larger drama of Europe in the early stages of significant – and, in the case of France – violent change.
A Novel of Eighteenth Century Europe
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Having departed Vienna with Eileen’s former charge – her “wee little archduchess” – by then become Marie Antoinette, dauphine of France, Eileen and her husband, Captain Arthur O’Leary of the Hungarian Hussars, continue on to Ireland. They easily settle into life at the O’Leary family’s estate, Rathleigh, in County Cork and by Christmastime, 1770 they are sufficiently ensconced as members of the local “Gaelic Aristocracy” so as to join their fellows, along with many members of the Protestant Ascendancy for a night of revelry in Macroom. There, the O’Learys experience a strange tragi-comedic and unsettling confrontation with Abraham Morris, the High Sheriff of Cork:
Within the hour, as O’Leary and Eileen were quietly making their way slowly about the hall, in a continuing effort to have visited with as many of their friends and acquaintances as they were able, they found themselves unexpectedly facing a red-faced, glistening High Sheriff Abraham Morris, his eyes watery, his stance unsteady – as he suddenly set himself directly in their path.
Why . . . if iz not Ghen-eril O’Learlee himself!” the short man began, his voice combatively loud, “and, and . . . his luverley wife . . .You are Missus O’Lear-lee, mmmmh . . . Lear-ree, are you not, girl?” he slurred, looking up and gesturing towards a clearly shocked, unpleasantly surprised Eileen.
She quickly turned to her husband, hissing, “Who is this foul little man?”
Barely having heard Arthur inform her of Morris’s name and position, her carriage customarily regal, her expression as she looked down again on the squat, stout, sadly unattractive man one of disdain – bordering on contempt, Eileen sniffed audibly and turned sharply to simply walk away. Feeling O’Leary’s white-gloved hand delicately placed on her arm, she then turned back, her voice icy. “I am the Lady Eileen O’Leary . . .
Mistress O’Leary to you, sir,” she purred condescendingly, almost viciously.
O’Leary instantly regretted detaining her.
“Hmmfh,” Morris managed, visibly swaying in place, despite that his feet were flatly planted, his legs spread wide. “One would have uh mpressshum . . . from your wurvs and by your cos-soom—” smirking, he gestured wildly at Eileen with an unsteady right hand— “that you see yerself as being wurvfy of res-speck . . . of my russ-sphecht,” he again slurred, now wagging his left forefinger up at Eileen as he pounded his chest with his right. “I know nah wun reason why, nah wun bloody damme reason . . . you arr-gunt gurl, you . . . why, you slul . . . you schlutt . . . you SLUT. . . yeh . . . fuh’ing Romish SLUT . . . you, you . . . you run ‘way wiff” – snorting, he waved both hands at O’Leary, who stood uncustomarily mute – “him . . .who d’ya tink . . . you think, you . . . you . . . are, hmmm?”
By then having separated herself from O’Leary with a single step, gesturing for her husband (whose hand was on his sword-hilt) to remain back, her cheeks now bright, and, having permitted her train to cascade back onto the floor, some of it puddling in front of the broad skirts of her gown – as if to sharply separate her elegant self from this “foul little man” – her arms at her side, Eileen turned to look down yet again at the momentarily silent sheriff, his eyes now focused quite noticeably on the ample décolletage her robe provided. “You will look at me, sir . . . at my face!” she commanded and, unthinkingly, he did so – instantly, his rheumy eyes shot up, his mouth still slack.
As he did – Morris having just spread his feet as wide as possible – with a force sufficient to make a statement but not nearly enough to injure, she unhesitatingly slapped the drunken man across his face with the palm of her by-then ungloved right hand – the smack was quite audible in the hushed hall.
His body first lurched precariously forwards and back, swaying then sideways, finally managing only a shocked “You Pape-piss bisch!” – and a laughably-comical, wholly impotent parody of taking a swing at her, which evoked hilarity and mocking remarks amongst those closest to the pair – Morris swayed even more visibly, as Eileen - stifling a laugh – continued in a calm, firm voice: “I would remind you” – from this moment, in her disgust, she pointedly refrained from addressing him as sir – “that I am the daughter of Donál Mór Ó Conaill and Maire ní Dhuibh of Derrynane, County Kerry. I am the wife of Captain Arthur O’Leary, an officer of the Hungarian Hussars in the imperial armies of Austria and Hungary, of Rathleigh House, in this county. I am the proud mother of his first son, his first child; I am just returned from most of a decade spent in service at the highest levels of the court of Her Imperial Majesty, the Empress Maria Theresa in Vienna. I am well-read and travelled; I am fluent in four languages, competent in two others, I am well-spoken, whilst you . . . you are none of . . .”
Shaking her head, she caught herself, but then continued. “I am most assuredly worthy of respect in this, my country, the very same respect accorded me at what is perhaps the highest court of Europe. You shall behave accordingly!” she again commanded haughtily, “you repulsive little man.”
Pausing momentarily, her gently heaving bosom the only indication of the passion she felt, she then spoke, loudly enough to be heard by most people in the hall, “. . . and . . . should I ever learn that you have used that – or any similarly foul – word in reference to me ever again, be assured,” she paused dramatically, pointing her long, elegant right forefinger directly at him, “Be fully assured, little man, that I . . . shall . . . kill . . . you.”
People gasped; Morris’s mouth fell open. In the deadly silence, he finally managed, “Zat’s uh fret! You dare ‘fretten me?”
Laughing cruelly, Eileen condescendingly shook her head, “Indeed, not, small, foul, nauseating man, that I shall kill you I assure you ‘tis a promise . . . and I rarely break my promises,” she sneered, quite loudly.
At which point, gathering her train, she slowly, disdainfully turned and swept away . . .
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