Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Favorite Author of Irish Historicals and My Guest Today...Kim Cates on The Penal Laws of Ireland

My guest today is the talented author Kimberly Cates (who, for historical romance also writes under the name Kimberleigh Caitlin and for historical fiction, Ella March Chase and for contemporary under the name Kim Cates). Whew! Got that?

When Kim was in third grade she informed her teacher she didn't need to know her times tables because she was going to be a famous author when she grew up. She hasn't stopped writing since, and aren’t we glad? Her Irish historical romances captured me and I have since read and reviewed many of them.

Since it’s Irish month, I’m sharing the list:

As Kimberleigh Caitlin:

As Kimberly Cates:

As Kimberly Cates, with Irish heroines, but not set in Ireland:

Only Forever (American West)
Morning Song (England)

Kim will be bringing her backlist to eBooks but meanwhile, I've linked the books to their current sources on Amazon. Crown of Mist is in eBook format already!

Her most recent release from St. Martin's is The Queen's Dwarf, a Chase novel. Crown of Mist, which opens at the siege of Drogheda and Gather the Stars, set in Scotland after Culloden Moor, are available as e-Books.  

Kim has graciously agreed to give one lucky commenter a copy of Crown of Mist…a great story…so do leave a comment and make sure I have your email.

Rahinnane Castle, a favorite of Kim's

 Today, Kim is bringing us a fascinating post on the Penal Laws England inflicted on Ireland.

 A Perilous Lesson:  Ireland and the Penal Laws by Kimberly Cates

Ireland-- land of mystery, magic, fairies and legends where heroes and harpers, poets and warriors became immortal, and the royal hill of Tara still whispers of greatness. During the Dark Ages, while all the rest of Europe was swept into chaos, saints and scholars on this small island buffeted by the Atlantic preserved the knowledge of mankind. But the time would come when Ireland's enemies would attempt to systematically extinguish the light of the native Irish for all time. The weapon: a roll of repressive laws against anyone who would not submit to England's State Religion. The result was hardly what Ireland's conquerors expected.
Rebellion. Resistance. And an often-bloody battle of wills that would stretch from the seventeenth century into the twentieth.
It began with laws barring Catholics from serving in parliament but the laws became more and more repressive through the years. Imagine yourself in this position.
What would you do if you awakened one day to discover it was against the law to educate your children? You could no longer own a horse worth more than five pounds. Professions were forbidden to you-- you could not be a doctor or lawyer. What if law banned you from living within five miles of a walled city? As for the religion you believed in—your services were outlawed. Suddenly, you had to worship somewhere hidden in the fields, with a stone as your altar. Your priests were hunted down for saying mass. If captured by professional priest hunters, the holy men would be sent to Barbados to work on the sugar plantations. If the priest returned to Ireland, on his second "offense" he would be condemned to death.
What if it was suddenly against the law to speak your own language? You were forbidden to play your own music on the instruments that had sung to your Celtic ancestors since the time of the druids. You could no longer own weapons, could not join the army or work in trade. If your child was orphaned, the guardianship must go to a Protestant, unless a ruinous fine was paid.
These laws, known as the Penal Laws, were made in the decades following 1695. Their purpose:  to totally subjugate the native Irish, to make them ignorant, impoverished, strip them of land and power and their very voices.
I discovered these laws when I was researching my first Historical Romance. I was stunned. But the laws explained a lot. I thought of generations of Irish rebels stretching even into the twentieth century, and I realized that, with these repressive laws, the English conquerors had sewn the seeds that would breed disaster. The Irish had two choices in the face of such oppression. They would have to surrender their identity, their faith, the education of their families, or they would have to become skilled at breaking English law so that they could preserve their heritage, their religion and their pride

Denied education in traditional schoolhouses, they formed what they called Hedge Schools, where contraband teachers gathered groups of scholars in hidden glens. When in danger of being discovered, the scholars would scatter, carrying their books with them. Priests were hidden in secret rooms called Priest Holes, and married, baptized, and held confession in meadows and near streams. People spoke Gaelic and taught it to their children in secret. They passed down the Bardic traditions, memorizing the poetry, legends and history that stretched back to when the Celts first set foot on Irish soil.
One could argue that repressive laws plagued Catholics in England as well during the same time. The difference is that in England they weren't the largest segment of the population and regarded as sub-human. The destruction of Ireland was deliberate—to the point of allowing the population to starve when the Great Hunger struck in 1847 during the reign of Queen Victoria.
It was true that the potato crop failed—the crop that the Irish tenant farmers subsisted on. What is seldom known is that, while the Irish starved, ships full of Irish grain and cattle the Irish tenants used to pay their rents were leaving Irish ports for England. The Irish people, who died with green mouths from eating grass could have been saved had they been allowed to eat the food they produced.
Perhaps it is true that throughout history, colonies have been treated badly by those who ruled them. England—forever under threat by the Spanish and French—doubtless feared that Ireland would provide a launching place for the invasion forces they feared. History may be woven of facts and dates and battles and we, who study it, are able to look back with twenty-twenty vision and criticize or praise whichever side we might relate to most. It is all a matter of perspective—who is right, who is wrong. Victors or victims.
Yet, when last I travelled to Ireland, I had to smile. Irish Gaelic—almost a dead language—has experienced a rebirth. Ireland's iconic white road signs list towns in Gaelic first, English in smaller print, below. The poems and histories and legends have been preserved, the sense of being Irish a triumph of spirit.
The laws enacted to crush the Irish made them even more tenacious to preserve the mystery and magic woven in the mists that swirl across hills that are forty different shades of green.
I have returned to an Irish setting time and again, when writing historical romances—never tiring of Irish raiders and rebels, castles and courage as heroes and heroines fight to reclaim what is their own. Their battle has been a long one. Interestingly enough, the last of the Penal Laws wasn’t obliterated until 1920. But the magic, the poetry, the legends and the stories Ireland has to tell will never end.

Regan’s note: Thank you so much, Kim, for bringing this poignant story from Ireland’s history to us. For those, like me, of Irish descent (and also Scottish), whose ancestors came to America for a better life, it is a privilege to recall what the Irish have contributed—and still contribute—to civilization. Your books bring this struggle of the Irish to life and all in wonderful historical romances!

Two years ago, while getting a background check, Kim discovered she has no fingerprints. Amazing! She is considering a second career as an international woman of mystery. Until then, you can find her at her website:  www.ellamarchchase.com


  1. I'm so glad Regan has introduced you to me, Kimberly! I, too, love to read of Irish history, and the mystery of why the English tried so hard to subjugate the Irish people was always puzzling to me...but perhaps, now, the reason has become a bit more clear. My paternal ancestors were Irish, Scottish and English, so a very real "melting pot" has existed in the British Isles for a long time... which only whets my appetite for more Irish lore and stories. :-) I spent only four lovely days and nights only in Southern Ireland in 1986 and would love to go back and see the western coast and Dingle Peninsula where Gaelic is still spoken. And, of course, I would love to visit the northernmost lands of Ireland, since it appears it isn't as dangerous as it was considered to be when we were in Ireland in 1986. Thanks so much to you and Regan for your post today. jdh2690@gmail.com

    1. Hi, Janice! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. You and I must talk...perhaps we might do a trip to Ireland together?

    2. Thanks, Janice! So nice to meet you! Ireland is so lovely. I hope you get back there soon.

  2. Thanks Kim for leading me to Regan's site (now added to my RSS feed and waiting for a free weekend to read through the archives).

    One of the stories that has always horrified me about the Potato Famine is that the Sultan of Turkey wanted to send the equivalent of £10000 to Ireland - but Queen Victoria asked him not to, as she'd only sent £2000. Because royal pride is, of course, more important than starving people. I didn't know most of the Penal Laws though - my research does tend to be more England/Wales based!

    I still haven't been to Ireland; I must make the fiance take me one of these days!

    1. Thanks for joining the blog, MendraMarie! Welcome! One thing that comes through in all my own research for my books is the arrogance of the English. And as you point out, had that not been the case, the Irish might not have starved as they did.

    2. Kimberly Cates here. MendraMarie, I agree! It is horrifying to read about the way the Great Famine was handled. It was the time of Ebenezer Scrooge, though, and many people agreed with him-- that there were poorhouses to deal with such problems. So many people emigrated during that time.


  3. Thank you for telling the sad and awful truth about Ireland. We are so often depicted as drunken, jolly buffoons. I do not want to scare any potential readers away. You write gripping, exciting prose and always tell an enthralling story; but you never stint on the very human side. I hope this brings you the readership you deserve.

    1. Dear Annonymous, what you say about Kim's novels is so true. It's one of the reasons I love them.

  4. Hi Kim! Thanks for giving us a little history that doesn't feel like history. Looking forward to reading your new release.

    1. Hi, Jan. Thanks for stopping by. I agree with you about Kim's post on the Penal Laws, a sad bit of history but fascinating nonetheless.

    2. Jan, welcome to Regan's wonderful blog! Please forgive the Ella March Chase tag. I am much better at researching history than I am at technology, and am fighting an accessed tooth at present, so didn't have enough brain cells operating to figure out how to switch to the Kimberly Cates name. :( Hope you enjoy the books!

  5. What a compelling tour through history here, and for those who haven't read Kim's wonderful historicals, yes, the books really do bring the history that vividly alive, through characters who live and breathe their own unique spirit.

    1. I agree with you, Anna, I loved Kim's post. The research behind my own stories is my passion. I can tell it is the same for Kim and her wonderful Irish historicals.

  6. Thanks, Anna! It's always so much fun to explore history and create people who lived through it.

  7. Just so you all know, Janice Hougland was the winner of Crown of Mist...congratulations, Janice!

  8. Ireland is beautiful and most of the people very friendly. The British acted very stupidly when they tried to crush ab and them starve out the Irish. One catches more flies and people with honey than vinegar. The 1840 famine was responsible for one of the first big waves of immigrants to USA. Maria Edgeworth , a noted Irish author, raised money to help the people of Ireland. Such was her fame that it is said school children in the USA sent her money..
    I don't see how people could sleep at night when they shipped desperately needed food away from the country. I think one part was applying Adam Smith's economic advice-. a way to cull the population by not making obtaining food easy.

    1. I assume, Nancy, they sent the food off to England in fear of what would happen if they did not. It was their rent payments.