Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Novel: Where, When and Why

The story of the life of Matty O'Doole begins in County Leitrim in the west of Ireland for a somewhat selfish reason. The little genealogical information I have, and a bit of history I've learned suggests that Leitrim might well have been the source of my family name.  One of my favorite Irish singers, Sean Tyrrell, first told me of Tiernan O'Ruairc, Prince of Breffni.  The site of O'Ruairc's Castle, (now called Parkes' Castle) on Lough Gill in the County Leitrim presented an opportunity to set Matty's story there while concurrently doing some 'roots searching'.

So much for the 'where and why'.  But why in the first half of the 1600's?  Ireland's tumultuous history never lacked for tension, stress and turmoil, but that period offered what I determined to be the best starting point for a converging path to ultimately intersect with the Choctaw culture.  And the confusion of the period presented a challenge for Matty's coming of age.  From the plantation of protestants in Ulster to the 1641 Rebellion, to the execution of Charles I during the Civil War in England.  Matty and his family were constantly torn in terms of their allegiances to Ireland and the Catholic church.

First fighting against the king and later fighting against the king's parliamentarian enemies kept the Irish off balance.  Being allies with former antagonists ignited old clan rivalries.  Confusion and disagreement among the people about who were heroes and who were traitors continually inflamed the culture.  In a conflict where many of the leaders changed sides, the common foot soldiers had no problem justifying desertion, and it was difficult to be motivated to fight for an officer who was not a countryman, and had nothing but disrespect for the Irish.  English generals on the winning side won a bonus of ownership in Irish land.  Adventurers who financed the winning armies were also repaid with Irish land, and colonial lands in the New World..

The same confusion was evident in Choctaw history.  The native people were exploited and enslaved by the Spaniards, leading to total mistrust of any European invader.  The bribery of trade goods motivated tribes to engage in intertribal battles, and to pick sides in what came to be called 'the French and Indian War'.  Again, risking life for leaders who had no respect for you.  And the land occupied by the native people, (they had no concept of 'owning' land), was taken by 'Manifest Destiny'; A high sounding term meaning 'entitlement because you are a white Christian'; meaning really license to steal.