My paternal grandmother was an Irish Callahan from County Clare. My maternal grandmother's family came to America through Ellis Island. With those deep Irish roots, writing a story set in Ireland might seem predictable. But I never set out to plot such a story. Too many other story ideas were floating in my head.
That is until I went to Ireland and those roots came to life.
On my first trip in the early 90s, the joy sparkling in the eyes of the Irish people I met danced with the elation bubbling through my veins. If you have even a drop of Irish blood and ever go to Ireland, you'll understand what I mean.
Ireland is magical. The sights and sounds call to deep kinship and connections.
As I drove through the lush, green countryside and poked about in pubs and shops, everyone I encountered felt like family. I felt I'd come home.
Pubs are my favorite places to visit whenever I'm in Ireland, especially on seisiún night. I find I can't help but hum along or tap my foot.
Seisiún is Gaelic for an informal gathering where traditional Irish music is played. In Claiming Annie's Heart, Annie plays in seisiúns at Murphy's Pub.
Until my travels on the island, I never realized the difference between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Talking with the old timers, I quickly learned about Irish history.
The cliff note version is the island started as a separate entity with its own parliament until it became part of the United Kingdom.
After bitter fighting and political maneuvering between those who wanted an independent state and England, the island was partitioned into Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State or Republic of Ireland in 1920. The Irish call their fight for independence The Troubles.
I've discovered strong feelings linger about a united Ireland. When you intertwine that desire with Orangemen's yearly 'marching season', to commemorate protestant William of Orange's defeat of Catholic James II, tensions run very high.
Heavy violence erupted again in the 60s and continued through the 90s. The ceasefire of 1994 and the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, along with the rebranding of the Orangemen parades, mean only a few pockets of dissention occur today. Still, the history remains fresh and after a few Guinness, pub discussions can become heated.
My husband's job took us to Northern Ireland often. Once while in Belfast, we toured the Peace Walls with all their haunting murals.
I realized with a deep sadness how much The Troubles dramatically continued to touch Irish lives. The idea for a future story conflict was planted.
On another trip in 2006, I visited an Irish girl's boarding school in County Connemara (Republic of Ireland). Talking to the girls and walking the grounds, I had one of those writer moments where a character sprang fully formed into my head, commanding me to tell her story.
Annie Foster, the heroine of Claiming Annie's Heart, practically leapt from the pages as I wrote.
I wanted to use the location for the book's setting. Unfortunately, when I discussed my plan with the Mother Superior at the school, she denied my request. This meant I had to rethink the story.
Annie was not happy. Neither was I. For years, she and I wrestled with how to tell her story and abide by the Mother Superior's decree.
Finally, in 2013, I came up with a new plot to blend the story Annie wanted told with a suspense element based on The Troubles.
Best of all, the heart of the new story remains about one young woman's hard choice between the man she'll always love and her promise to her fiancé's young daughter.
Annie and I are pleased with the final product. I hope you enjoy reading Claiming Annie's Heart as much as we did creating it.