In observance of Fathers’ Day, I investigated the role of fathers in my novel, Irish Firebrands.
Nothing about the novel was planned, but fatherhood turned out to be one of the themes whose threads run throughout the story.
Using my trusty PDF document search, I looked for references to the concept of fatherhood:
- The word father occurred 60 times, in reference to both biological and spiritual fatherhood (including the fatherhood of God and the form of address for a Catholic priest).
- The Irish diminutive form of address Da occurred 7 times (including the variant “Da-dee”).
Because male main character Dillon Carroll had been raised by his grandparents, I looked for the grandfather relationship, too:
- The word grandfather occurred 1 time.
- The word grandpa occurred 1 time.
- The word granddad occurred 8 times.
- The Irish form of address for a grandfather, Daideo, occurred 18 times.
These add up to 95 events. In a text 532 pages long, that averages out to a reference to fatherhood happening every 5.6 pages.
Female main character Lana Pedersen is a professional genealogist, so ferreting out fathers in family histories is her business. She learns from Dillon a tradition about the founder of his family:
Lana placed blank forms and empty envelopes into the box of documents. “To get you started, I’ve provided forms and envelopes for each family on your first pedigree chart, plus a couple of extras.”
“Thank you, very much. Where can I get more forms?”
“I have extras – but you can photocopy them – or get them off the Internet.” She wrote some web addresses inside the lid of the box. “How many do you think you’ll need?”
“I don’t know. How many generations to a century?”
“About three, on average.”
“So, for sixteen centuries … at least a dozen, on the Carroll line–”
Her chin dropped. “Did you say, ‘sixteen centuries’, or ‘the sixteenth century’?”
“You heard right – sixteen centuries. That’s what my grandparents told me. And that’s just historical times – once you go back before Niall Noigiallach there’s another fifteen generations or so, but they’re a bit dodgy – you’re getting into myths and legends, then.”
“Niall of the Nine Hostages. The first Ard Rí – the High King. The Carrolls of Meath are out of his great-grandson, Diarmait mac Cearbhall, the last pagan Ard Rí of Tara and the southern Uí Néill.”
“But – didn’t your family come from Connemara?”
“Only because Cromwell drove them out there – ‘To hell or Connacht,’ he said. That’s why Daideo hopped on the chance to be a colonist – it got us back to the lands of our ancestors.
“Diarmait mac Cearbhall was Ard Rí in the middle of the sixth century. He was the last High King to perform the pagan ban-feis, meaning that he married the sovereignty goddess of Tara – Medb, called Lethderg because she wore her long, red hair loose at her sides, down to her heels. They also called her ‘The Intoxicating One’ because the marriage would be consummated under the influence of mead.”
Dillon’s face lighted as he warmed to his subject. “Now, in Brehon Law the badge of the Ard Rí was a golden collar. One was made for Diarmait, with his name engraved upon it, and after mating with the goddess, she’d fasten it round his neck to show that he was now the king.
“The proxy for the goddess would’ve been the Druid high priestess, but she fell ill and died, so the Druids kidnapped a beautiful virgin to take her place – which sounds like a brilliant opportunity for a peasant girl, except that the job description included bedding all the Druids after the ban-feis. That way, if she had a baby, it would belong to the gods, and not be a pretender to the throne – for the High King must have a dynastic marriage, as well.
“Well, to be Ard Rí a man must have a perfect body – so of course, after making love with Diarmait the girl didn’t much care to be gang raped by a bunch of hairy old Druids, and she persuaded him to help her escape. When her baby was born, he looked just like the king, with a mane of black hair and deep blue eyes. She called him Cearbhall – ‘the warrior’ – and that’s what he grew up to be. His tuath was somewhere in this neighbourhood, and as a chieftain he’d have founded his fortress on the high ground. So Daideo called this farm Drumcarroll– ‘Warrior’s Ridge’.
“But Diarmait was a doomed king. He it was who decided the world’s first copyright case, when he confiscated the book St Columba copied, saying, ‘to every cow its calf and to every book its copy’, and starting a war that ended in Columba’s exile. He took many wives, and he violated the right of sanctuary, abducting and murdering those who’d fled to the church for haven, for which sacrilege St Ruadan of Lothra cursed Tara.
“And then Diarmait had a dream, in which two angels took away his golden collar and gave it to a stranger, which the Druids said meant that he would lose his kingdom. When the stranger arrived, he was none other than St Brendan, who took away the golden collar and gave it to Cearbhall, the true heir – for at the ban-feis there’d been a priest disguised as a Druid, who’d solemnised the marriage to protect the virgin’s chastity, making her Diarmait’s only true wife.
“The magic circle of protection Diarmait sought from the Druids failed, he was defeated in battle and the mystical Threefold Death was prophesied for him. And so, cursed by saints and Druids alike, Diarmait was murdered – crushed, drowned and burnt. His sons by his polygamous pagan marriages were local kings, and their descendants were named for their fathers. Generations passed before there was another Ard Rí. Tara was left desolate.
“But the descendants of Diarmait’s son by the lovely virgin were named for him – and then the Anglo-Normans came, and we took the surname Uí Cearbhaill, ‘grandson of Cearbhall’. And yet, by the fourteenth century the poet Ó Dubhagain could say, when listing the clans of Ireland,
Ó Cearbhaill over the south of Tara;
The land of the men has gone under bondage,
These people have not clung to their birthright.
“During the Ascendancy, people started spelling the name ‘Ó Carroll’, and after the Great Hunger, it was said of us, ‘Their history is unknown; they sank into obscurity at an early period.’ And finally, we even dropped the ‘Ó’.”
Lana was enchanted by the epic. “So, does this mean you’re the long-lost High King of Ireland?”
Dillon laughed. “I doubt it! Niall Noigiallach had eight sons, and they say he’s got two or three million descendants worldwide – second only to Genghis Khan. At least twenty percent of the men in County Donegal, alone, have O’Neill DNA. I don’t stand a chance!”
~ Irish Firebrands, Chapter 7
But his ancestry is not Dillon’s only interest – he desperately wants to become an ancestor, himself . . . .
Text © 2012-2018 Christine Plouvier. All Rights Reserved.