Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Kavanagh Clan and the elusive Leprechaun

P&E Reader Poll, Best Young Adult Novel of 2016
J.C. Kavanagh Books We Love author page
It's the day before St. Patrick's Day, more commonly known as St. Paddy's Day to the Irish and all wanna-be's. Here's some advice to ensure you don't insult the Irish folk: make sure you say Paddy, not Patty. The Gaelic name for Patrick is Padraig, thus the 'd.' And Patty is the abbreviated form of Patricia. There now, you're prepped for St. Paddy's Day!

In keeping with the Irish celebrations in March, I did a little research into another well-known but completely fabricated (?) sprite, the leprechaun. I had a little help from me mather, who hails from Dublin, Ireland and says, by the way, that I am a descendant of the Irish Kings of Leinster.


"Does that make me a princess?" I ask.

"Wellll," me mather says, "once upon a time, in a land far away, where the snakes never roam and the leprechauns hide, you might have been."

"Well then, where's my crown and my castle and my land?" I could really use one, or all of them right now. Selling books is hard.
The remains of a Kavanagh-clan castle in Leinster,
circa 1100 AD

A strange look comes over me mather's face and I could tell from her gaze that she is transported back in time... back to the 12th century when Domhnall Caomhánach (Kavanagh) the illegitimate son of Dermot McMurrough, was crowned King of Leinster. The McMurrough-Kavanagh clan owned all the lands in the south-east, ruling under Irish law. Unfortunately, internal power struggles over the next 400 years, including poisoning, murderous scheming and adulterous affairs - all similar to the plotlines found in the TV show Game of Thrones - weakened and divided the clan. The treachery simmered and then boiled over when the English invaded and successfully 'occupied' the land in the 17th century. The turmoil was so great that the clan slowly began to unravel. The final nail in the coffin came when the English demanded that the Kavanagh clan surrender their lands to the Crown, or be forcibly removed. Recognizing that their survival hinged on the decision, they reluctantly handed over the land. Then, with backhanded benevolence, the Crown re-granted the land back to the clan, with restrictions. The Kavanagh's could build on the land, work the land, but not own it. An annual tax, or 'ground rent' was imposed and paid to the Crown or to the English baron who, in recognition of his allegiance to the Crown, was gifted the surrendered land. This imposed tax carried on for centuries and is now slowly being dismantled.

"I remember Daddy discussing the 'ground rent' dues with his brother," explained me mather in a soft voice. "It was during World War II and there was no extra income. I don't know what they did."

Borris House, the ancestral home of the
McMurrough-Kavanagh's, Kings of Leinster.
Through plagues and wars, the McMurrough and Kavanagh clans had grown from their kingly start in 1166. It was only after the English occupation stripped all the clans of land that the title of 'King' or 'Queen' or even 'Princess' became moot. The entitled Kings were entitled no more, learning to work the land in order to put food on the table. Alas, there may be blue blood in my veins but there is no golden tiara.

Recovering from this bombshell news, I asked me mather, "Why didn't you share this history with me years ago?" She shrugged. "We're in Canada now." I guess it doesn't really matter because this new knowledge of my ancestry deserves further research - more to come!

But back to the sprites.

The rolling hills and mountains around Leinster - excluding Dublin and the major cities - are home to Ireland's other famous attraction: the leprechaun. The wee fellows, and there are only fellows, stand about two feet tall and are known for their mischievous ways and aversion to regular folk. They are talented shoe-makers (only the Irish would conjure up a tradesman fairy) and love to dance so much that they wear out the soles of their shoes. True! If you are able to outsmart a leprechaun and catch him, you may be able to find his pot of gold. He will grant you three wishes in order to be released but since he has magical powers and can disappear in an instant, the chances of having your wishes granted are slim.

If you scoff at the idea of actual leprechauns dancing around the Irish countryside, scoff no more. Under European Law, leprechauns are an endangered species. Don't laugh, it's true, I'm not uttering one single dollop of Blarney. In 1992, the European Commission declared that a forested area in County Carlingford be officially protected land for the 200+ leprechauns that live there. This land is under the European Habitats Directive.

Oh, those Irish!

Hope you enjoyed reading a wee bit of Irish history and folklore. If you love a good tale, then you'll love my book, The Twisted Climb. I'm at the Chapters store at the Toronto Eaton Centre on March 18. Come on by and say helllloooooo!

J.C. Kavanagh
The Twisted Climb
BEST Young Adult Book 2016, P&E Readers' Poll
A novel for teens, young adults and adults young at heart.
Twitter @JCKavanagh1 (Author J.C. Kavanagh)