The Island of Atlantis. The Headless Horseman. The Loch Ness Monster. The Lone Ranger. For generations, legends have inspired authors to pen many wonderful stories. Legends are classic tales abounding in drama and tragedy, romance and comedy, ghosts and gods and fairy folk.
I’ve tapped legends from Celtic folklore more than once while writing stories set in Ireland. The latest, an adult contemporary romance called The Rosewood Whistle, came to life on Achill Island, a stunningly rugged region of Ireland’s County Mayo. Because my husband hadn’t yet dared to drive on the “wrong” side of the road, we took a bus tour along winding cliff roads to visit ancient sites and charming pubs warmed by flickering turf fires.
The bus driver knew his legends well. Most impressive to me was his tale about the Irish seer, Brian Rua Uí Cearabháin (Red Brian Carabine), who lived nearly four hundred years ago, in Cromwell’s time. As a young man, Brian Rua came across a heartless landlord evicting a widow unable to pay her rent. Brian Rua paid it for her. When he awoke the next morning, he found a jewel on his sleeve that let him envision the future. One of his prophecies foretold that messages would be sent over the tops of poles from Dublin to Blacksod Bay faster than a hawk could fly. Another said the day would come when the fruit of the earth would turn black.
The driver told us more about Brian Rua when we arrived at Kildavnet Cemetery, which contains the remains of the drowning victims of the Clew Bay sailing disaster of 1894. The “tattie hokers,” or potato pickers, were on their way from Achill Island to Scotland to work for the summer when their boat capsized. The transport of their bodies back to Achill on the train’s maiden run fulfilled the first half of another of Brian Rua’s eerie prophecies: Carriages on iron wheels blowing smoke and fire would carry corpses on their first and last journeys to Achill. Decades later, the corpses of several young tattie hokers who burned to death in Scotland rode back to Achill on the train’s last run.
The Rosewood Whistle, partially set on Achill Island, features Brian Rua and his magic jewel, along with traditional Irish music in the local pub, humor, drama, and, of course, romance.
Surrounded by Ireland’s music and myths, a widowed American writer meets a tour guide leery of love…
On her own at the end of a long and difficult marriage, Gemma Keenan still hears the critical voice of her husband taunting her from his grave. To foster her independence, she schedules a summer vacation in County Mayo intending to write her first book, and she’s counting on Ireland for inspiration. An idea presents itself when she tours Achill Island with a silver-tongued tour guide whose good looks prompt her to write more than her high-minded novel: she transcribes her years of longing in a steamy fantasy no one is meant to see.
Years have passed since an accident claimed the self-absorbed wife who scorned Ben Connigan and his music. Since then, the former tin whistle ace has avoided marriage, though he never lacked for female companionship before he traded his high-tech career for the slow-paced life of a hometown tour guide. Ben has accepted the end of his run of discreet affairs, until he takes Gemma touring. Her passion for Ireland impresses him. Her love of Irish music soon compels him to dust off his whistles. Knowing she’ll leave at the end of the summer, he sees no harm in keeping her company—until he dares to dream of spending the rest of his life with her.
But he knows it can’t be, not while the ghosts of their partners still haunt them. Not unless the music and myths of Ireland can help them find their way…
Excerpt (Gemma fixes Chicken Piccata to thank Ben for his tour of Achill Island):
They talked about Irish legends and lined up day trips to visit ring forts and ancient stone circles. She wanted to go back to Achill Island, stay for a few days and nose around to get a better sense of the place. By the time she’d put the kettle on and started putting things away, he’d loaded most of the dishes into the dishwasher.
He dried his hands, and when he turned, she stood before the fridge, holding the butter dish, staring at it with the strangest smile on her face. “Is something wrong, Gemma?”
“It hasn’t said a word all night.”
Had she had more to drink than he’d thought? “The butter?”
“No. The butter dish.” She hurriedly stowed it in the fridge. “I read about bog butter. I might include it in my story. Do you know about bog butter, Ben?”
Why had she changed the subject? Her writer’s mind at work, no doubt. “I know about everything,” he said, contentedly mellow and comically cocksure.
Her carefree laughter chimed through the kitchen like carillon bells. “Is that so, Mr. Know-It-All?”
“’Tis. After half a century, my head is full of such tripe. The science folks have found butter as old as the sixth century in the bogs. No Chicken Piccata, though.”
Still laughing, Gemma reclaimed her seat at the island. She tucked one leg beneath her and patted the stool beside her. “Come here and tell me more. I’ve read about how old the butter is, how the people put it in bogs to preserve it, but I can’t help wondering if they did it as a bog god ritual of some sort. They were really superstitious back then.”
“They still are.” He sat beside her, close enough to touch her anywhere he chose, watching her face to gauge her feelings. “I doubt we’ll ever know. Could be they were making offerings to bog gods. More likely, they simply put the butter there to keep it fresh. The turf would have kept it from spoiling.”
“Yes, though that was no doubt an accident. Things get lost in bogs. The people either misplaced some of their butter or abandoned it when they moved on or fled to escape attack. In 1681, a fella named Dinely wrote that our ancestors seasoned wicker baskets of butter with garlic and buried it in the turf to let the flavor develop in time for Lent. It’s possible they had different types of butter for different holy days. If so, the custom undoubtedly had its roots in pagan times.”
“Just happened to know all that, did you?” She sounded so matter-of-fact, so calm, yet a hint of challenge stiffened her smile and smoldered in her eyes.
His heart shouldn’t be so high in his throat. He swallowed. Hard.
She pursed her glistening lips. “What else do you know?”
He sprang from the stool. It crashed to the floor, though he barely heard it, so focused was he on Gemma. Seizing her waist, he pulled her to him, turning her, kissing her, letting the weight of him trap her against the island. She made no objection, but tugged him closer, pressing her hips and thighs to his as she parted her lips and grabbed hold of his neck. Their tongues entwined, and he jammed his hands beneath her shirt, spreading his fingers over her back, caressing and kneading until he knew by her whimpers and moans that he’d clinched the rest of the evening’s agenda.
You can find The Rosewood Whistle in paperback and on Kindle at Amazon. com
Massachusetts native Pat McDermott writes romantic action/adventure stories set in an Ireland that might have been. Glancing Through the Glimmer and its sequel, Autumn Glimmer, are young adult paranormal adventures featuring Ireland’s mischievous fairies. Both books are “prequels” to her popular Band of Roses Trilogy: A Band of Roses, Fiery Roses, and Salty Roses. The Rosewood Whistle is her first contemporary romance.
Pat is a member of the New Hampshire Writers’ Project, Romance Writers of America, and Celtic Hearts Romance Writers. Her favorite non-writing activities include cooking, hiking, reading, and traveling, especially to Ireland. She lives and writes in New Hampshire, USA.
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