The protagonist, Robert Mountbellew, was a fun one to create. It’s nice when you get the chance to play God with people. But characters on a page have a funny way of dictating to the author the things they can or cannot do.
Robert took on a life of his own, the minute he sat down in his plush red velvet chair and felt that crescent moon shaped scar on his cheek. He was a mixture of many men, some real; others were characters of literary fiction; complex, intriguing,and aloof men that lived in regret of dark secrets, and who didn’t have a a few of those back in the mid 1800’s?
Sadly, Robert Mountbellew never existed. I wished he had, but he didn’t. And maybe by the time he leads me to the end of book two, Stained Glass, I will wish he hadn’t existed either!
William Smith O’ Brien and Thomas Francis Meagher, both of whom are mentioned in this story, were the initial inspirations for Robert Mountbellew. I was infatuated at the time with these two historical political activists of the 1800’s in Ireland. And if truth be told here, Robert is also an amalgamation of Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre, Ross Poldark from the Poldark book series, and Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights.
William Smith O’Brien owned Dromoland Castle in County Clare. He was a protestant landlord, well educated, in England of course, but he was one of a few unique individuals who sympathized with their Irish tenants.
Thomas Francis Meagher, or Meagher of the Sword, came from a well to do Irish family and was educated at schools his father deemed supportive of a free Ireland. Meagher’s upper crust English accent often brought ridicule, but he was a great man for talking and rebel rousing. His life was one of adventure, fighting, and I could go on about Meagher, but you wouldn’t believe me. All I can tell you is that Thomas Francis Meagher lived the life and died the death!
Charles Stewart Parnell, and his unrequitted love for Kitty O’Shea, and the great speech by Daniel O’Connell on the hill of Tara inspired me too. O’Connell was the first Irish Catholic to be elected to English Parliament. He was a great speaker, with supposedly a booming voice that shook the listener to the core. Whenever I heard the voice of the older RTE news reader Maurice O’ Doherty, I imagined that this is what O’Connell must have sounded like.
Although Mountbellew never existed, I wanted to create a kindly landlord, unlike the last Earl of Clanricarde; I didn’t want to rewrite history, but re-imagine, if you will, what it might have been like in the summer of 1843 in Ireland. The imaginings led me on all sorts of mental journeys, and the book and characters took on a life of their own.
The story idea came to me when I discovered that some workhouses in Ireland had stone baskets to the side of the entrance doorways where girls with illegitimate children would leave the babies, ring the bell, and then disappear. Giving up a baby is a difficult decision, even today, but in Ireland during the famine years, handing a child over to the workhouse must have been devastating.
The beautiful Jacobean castle in Portumna, Co. Galway, my hometown, was also hugely influential in helping me develop this story. The castle burned to the ground by accident in 1826. I didn’t want to rewrite history, but I thought that it didn’t have to be this way.
The Irish appreciate fine architecture as much as anyone else. The last Earl of Clanricarde was so hated and despised that wouldn’t have shocked me if the tenants headed to the castle with lit torches and took matters into their own hands one night in 1826. So I created Robert Mountbellew in The Foundling.
Robert Mountbellew’s story does not end here. I hope you’ll join him again as he and Mairead, along with Miss Walsh, try to make a new life together in America in the next book in this series, Stained Glass.