Love and History on the Emerald Isle
Under the Emerald Sky
It's 1843 and the English nobleman Quinton Williams has come to Ireland to oversee the running of his father’s ailing estate and escape his painful past. Here he meets Alannah O’Neill, whose Irish family is one of few to have retained ownership of their land, the rest having been supplanted by the English over the course of the country's bloody history. Finding herself drawn to the Englishman, Alannah offers to help Quin communicate with the estate’s Gaelic-speaking tenants, as much to assist him as to counter her own ennui. Aware of her controlling brother’s hostility towards the English, she keeps her growing relationship with Quin a secret – a secret that cannot, however, be kept for long from those who dream of ridding Ireland of her English oppressors.
Among the stark contrasts that separate the rich few from the plentiful poor, comes a tale of love and betrayal in a land teetering on the brink of disaster – the Great Famine that would forever change Ireland's history.
On average, an acre of land could yield about eight tons of potatoes, which was enough to feed a family of six for a year. This was why thousands upon thousands of people across Ireland, including tenants who rented tiny plots of farmland and labourers who were dependent on garden plots or conacre for their sustenance, had taken to farming potatoes almost exclusively, with the nutritious—though monotonous—harvest able to sustain its dependents year after year. But while few people were dying of hunger, most Irish were wretchedly poor, and being solely reliant on one harvest for their survival meant that worry over crop loss and spoilage accompanied each mouthful, with the knowledge that there was little or nothing else to fall back on.
And crops had failed before. Most farmers had experienced occasional crop damage or loss caused by agricultural hazards such as heavy rains, frost or drought. Fortunately, the effects of these losses tended to be localised and neutralised by local relief efforts, which meant that, on the whole, the Irish people tended to have enough to eat—although not much else.
This became quite clear when I asked Mrs Murphy if we might have a look around. She nodded and showed us what there was to be seen in the yard—not much besides a small pile of turf—before leading us into the cabin. This was stuffy and gloomy, lit only by the wavering light of a single oil lamp hanging from the wall. Once my eyes had adjusted to the darkness, I could make out a rickety three-legged stool and an oblong box that seemed to be used for storage and seating, as well as a small ancient-looking loom. Besides these three objects, the cottage contained no furniture. The family slept on the hay that covered the floor, evidently sharing this space with their animals, as emerged when a sudden heave in the corner revealed a medium-sized black pig that I hadn’t noticed in the gloom.
“Cú Chulainn,” the little boy piped up excitedly from the dooryard, pointing to the pig.
I laughed, and Quin gave me a questioning look.
“Cú Chulainn is the name of a famous Ulster hero. According to legend, he is the incarnation of the god Lugh come to Earth, who single-handedly defended his people against Queen Medb of Connacht, before going on to become a fierce warrior who fights from his chariot drawn by horses.” “Rather a difficult feat for a pig to replicate,” Quin said, smiling at the little boy.
“He is also known for his monstrous battle frenzy, in which he knows neither friend nor foe.”
“That sounds rather more like pig behaviour, at least when it comes to dinnertime.”
We laughed together, and Mrs Murphy, who evidently hadn’t understood our exchange, smiled shyly, looking proudly at the pig, which was sniffing at her feet, curly tail wiggling back and forth. She explained that Cú Chulainn was being raised for sale, not as food for the family, and that she had high hopes that he would grow big and fat on the potatoes that he shared with the family and bring a decent income.
“Well, that explains how they pay the rent,” Quin said after hearing my translation. “I didn’t think it was possible to make enough money off the potatoes they’re able to grow on this tiny plot of land. Not if they also want to eat and have clothes on their backs.”
Juliane Weber is actually a scientist. She holds degrees in physiology and zoology, including a PhD in physiology. During her studies she realised, however, that her passion lay not in conducting scientific research herself, but in writing about it. Thus began her career as a medical writer, where she took on all manner of writing and editing tasks, in the process honing her writing skills, until she finally plucked up the courage to write her first historical novel, Under the Emerald Sky. The book is the first in The Irish Fortune Series, which is set in 19th century Ireland around the time of the Great Famine.
Juliane lives with her husband and two sons in Hamelin, Germany, the town made famous by the story of the Pied Piper.