I thoroughly enjoyed my return to Ballycashel, where the first two books of the series take place. And it was great fun to expand upon that small, wind-swept village in the west of Ireland. Among other things, I added a ruined church, a graveyard, and a mass rock.
During the 17th and 18th Centuries, the ruling British imposed penal laws on the people of Ireland. According to one of those laws, the Catholic religion was forbidden and priests caught conducting Catholic mass were subject to arrest.
A mass rock (Carraig an Aifrinn) was a rock used as an altar to perform Catholic mass. Often the rock would be taken from a ruined church in the area and relocated to a more secluded spot. Often, but not always, a simple cross would be carved on the top of the rock to denote its purpose. Since the masses were not scheduled, the people relied on word of mouth.
By the late 17th Century, worship moved to thatched Mass houses, but mass houses can still be found in Ireland today.
Here’s an excerpt from Everlasting, when my melancholy hero, Liam Collins, remembers when he first learned about the mass rock near Ballycashel:
Liam ran his hand over the cool, rough surface of the rock, searching through the thick carpet of moss.
Ah, there it was! His fingers traced lovingly over the faint outline of the cross.
Memories flooded through his brain in great waves, and a surge of emotion came with them. His eyes filled with tears. He blinked, and he was ten years old again.
Da pulled him down to the soft turf and lowered his tall, lanky frame beside him. He reached out with one big hand and pulled aside the veil of moss shrouding the big gray stone.
“’Tis still there, lad. Untouched by time, cherished by the people.”
“What is it?”
“Look close, lad. Do ye see what’s been carved there?”
“Is it coddin’ me ye are? Sure, ‘tis just an old rock.”
Paddy Collins smiled with an air of mystery. “Ah, but ‘tis not, at all. Look closer, boy-o.”
Liam looked again. He glanced up at his father, then frowned down at the rock. Da had run his fingers over its surface. Now Liam did the same.
He touched two simple, intersecting lines. A cross?
“Why would someone carve a cross on an old rock?”
His father smiled, covering Liam’s fingers with his own and tracing the outline of the simple cross. “Do you know about the Penal Laws, lad?”
Liam puffed out his chest. “Of course I do.”
“Oh, do ye now?” Da reached out to ruffle his hair. “And what do you know of them then?”
Liam frowned with concentration. He wasn’t sure why, but suddenly it seemed terribly important to tell his father every single thing he’d ever learned about the Penal Laws. “I know we were forbidden an education, or the right to vote, or to own land. We couldn’t serve in the army or hold public office.” Whatever that meant. “And we couldn’t celebrate Mass…” His voice trailed off as awareness dawned.
“Aye, we were forbidden that most basic right. The right to worship our own God.” His father scowled, his gray-green eyes snapping. “And so we had to hide in order to celebrate our faith. Like this little place right here.” He gestured to the tiny stream, the little hazel wood hidden from the main road. “This is a Carraig an Aifrinn, Liam, a Mass Rock, taken from the ancient church in the village. And the priest carved that cross on its surface so the people would know where that secret place was, and remember it.”
“I remember, Da.” Liam caressed the rock. It felt cold to the touch, despite its blanket of furry moss. “I remember everything. But in the name of God, there’s times I wish I didn’t. Times I wish I could forget.”
Meet & Connect with Cynthia Owens
I believe I was destined to be interested in history. One of my distant ancestors, Thomas Aubert, reportedly sailed up the St. Lawrence River to discover Canada some 26 years before Jacques Cartier’s 1534 voyage. Another relative was a 17thCentury “King’s Girl,” one of a group of young unmarried girls sent to New France (now the province of Quebec) as brides for the habitants (settlers) there.
My passion for reading made me long to write books like the ones I enjoyed, and I tried penning sequels to my favorite Nancy Drew mysteries. Later, fancying myself a female version of Andrew Lloyd Weber, I drafted a musical set in Paris during WWII.
A former journalist and lifelong Celtophile, I enjoyed a previous career as a reporter/editor for a small chain of community newspapers before returning to my first love, romantic fiction. My stories usually include an Irish setting, hero or heroine, and sometimes all three.
I’m the author of The Claddagh Series, historical romances set in Ireland and beyond, and The Wild Geese Series, in which five Irish heroes return from the American Civil War to find love and adventure.
I’m a member of the Romance Writers of America, Hearts Through History Romance Writers, and Celtic Hearts Romance Writers. A lifelong resident of Montreal, Canada, I still live there with my own Celtic hero and our two teenaged children.
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Cynthia-Owens/e/B003DQ1V2E/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1