The very last scene of Consequences takes place in the House of Mercy on Baggot Street in Dublin, Ireland. I was fortunate to spend a week there several years ago (we even slept in an adjoining building.)
Part of our reason for being there was to help the Sisters create materials for a fundraising campaign that would fund an endowment to keep the House of Mercy open in perpetuity. One of those materials was a digital tour. I highly recommend checking it out because it gives you a better sense of the House than I ever could. Be sure to click the tabs for all four stories of the House.
I will, however, share a photo of the room in which the last scene took place and also some of my favorites.
The House of Mercy. I love this photo because it gives an idea of how big it is.
Catherine McAuley’s bedroom and also the room in which she died. This is where the last scene in the novella takes place.
A glimpse inside the receiving room.
The choir stalls where the Sisters sat in the chapel.
Me (years ago) kneeling at the Communion Rail inside the chapel.
The view of Catherine’s tomb from inside the House of Mercy. It’s in an interior courtyard of the House and dozens of Sisters are buried in the lawn around her.
If you’ve gotten to the part in Consequences where Margaret visits Catherine McAuley at Coolock house, you may be wondering what it really looks like. After all, there was only space in the story to describe the outside, the entryway and one room.
Luckily, I was able to tour it several years ago and I have pictures! Also, there is a nice video of it on Youtube. (I didn’t have anything to do with that.)
Coolock House is today a residence for the Sisters of Mercy, so there were obviously private rooms we could not see.
If you’ve read my novella, Consequences, or even just the back cover copy, you’ll notice it takes place during the life of Catherine McAuley, a woman most people, especially outside of Ireland, have never heard of.
I found out about her nearly 18 years ago when I started working at my current day job. We can trace our history directly back to Catherine and her ministry. Here’s a brief summary of her life and if you want more details, I recommend the definitive biography of by Mary Sullivan titled The Path of Mercy.
Early Life and Culture
No images of Catherine McAuley exist from her lifetime. This is believed to be the most accurate depiction of her as a laywoman.
Catherine was born on September 28, 1778, into comfortable, middle-class circumstances. But at an early age she began to notice the poor and disadvantaged who were all around her on the streets of Dublin. Crop failures destroyed the agricultural economy and caused terrible famines. Desperate people migrated to the cities to work in factories, where they suffered horrifying working conditions, and those without work often ended up in poorhouses.
It was a time of extremes in Ireland. Social and religious prejudice was pervasive, especially against Catholics like Catherine. The ruling class was Protestant and education was available only to those with property and land, both of which most Catholics did not have thanks to earlier Penal Laws (more on those in a future post) that stripped Catholics of most of their rights. Wealth and poverty sat side by side but there were few resources available to help the poor.
Catherine felt great sorrow when she observed the suffering of the poor, especially disadvantaged women and children. As a girl, her own situation offered her many comforts, although after the death of her father Catherine’s family suffered economic hardships. She felt called to change the environment in which she found herself and found supporters among both Catholic and Protestant connections.
Catherine’s Life Changes
The House of Mercy with a statue of Catherine out front.
When she was 25, Catherine was invited to live with a Quaker family, the Callaghans, at their country estate, Coolock House. She stayed with them for nearly 20 years, never marrying and taking care of them into their old age. At the age of 44, after having already created a network of services for poor people near Coolock, Catherine received a large inheritance when the Callaghans died within a short time of one another.
With that money she built a large home on Baggot Street in Dublin, bordering a fashionable neighborhood, to serve as a shelter and educational center for young women from poor neighborhoods. Skeptics called the house “Kitty’s Folly,” because her intentions were so daunting. On September 24, 1827, she opened the House of Mercy house on Baggot Street, where it stands today.
The Sisters of Mercy
A painting of Catherine made after her death depicting her as a Sister of Mercy.
The purpose of the House of Mercy was to prepare residents, nearly all women and children, for employment, self-sufficiency. Catherine’s determination and example attracted companions willing to give their time and money to help, but the Church didn’t like that they were lay women and insisted they form a religious order. In 1831, these women became the religious congregation known as the Sisters of Mercy, called “the walking sisters” because of their active involvement among the community. Thus, in an era when the cloistered life was the norm for women in religious congregations, Catherine McCauley, at the age of 52, founded not only a charity, but also a religious congregation and a new form of religious life.
Catherine McAuley believed that God intended for the poor and the sick to be loved and cared for through action, prayer and philanthropy. She never wavered from that mission in spite of the difficulties she faced. The Sisters of Mercy fought tuberculosis, cholera epidemics and the ravages of disease, prejudice and poverty. Terrible economic conditions forced many Irish to immigrate to other countries, and the Sisters extended their mission accordingly. The community expanded to 14 locations in Ireland and England before Catherine’s death in 1841.
Today the Sisters of Mercy sponsor a diverse range of ministries and professions. Their mission is to serve the poor, the sick, and the uneducated through direct service, especially for women, children and the elderly, and to advocate for changes to the systems that create poverty and suffering.
Virtue Recognized by the Catholic Church
On April 9, 1990, Catherine was declared venerable by the Catholic Church. This is the first major step on the road to sainthood and means that her life and writings were closely examined and she was found to possess “heroic virtue.” Additional inquiries into her life will continue until two miracles are declared as occurring by her intercession, at which point she will become a saint. This could take hundreds of years, especially with advances in science making miracles more and more difficult to prove. (The process is much more complex than this, but this is the nutshell version.)
You may remember a year or so ago (okay two) when I mentioned I was writing a short story for an anthology to aid survivors of human trafficking. Well, the anthology didn’t come to pass, but my story did and it will hit virtual shelves June 16 in ebook format.
It turned out to be a novella, which means its slightly longer than a short story, but by no means a novel–about 10,000 words. It should only take about an hour to read. (If you have another tablet or reader you can always download the Kindle app.)
Pre-order now.The story is free to Kindle Unlimited members and only $2.99 to everyone else.
What’s it about?
Famous for her hospitality, Venerable Catherine McAuley only ever turned away one woman who came to her for help, and that decision haunted her for the rest of her life.
This is that servant’s story.
Dublin – 1824. When a fellow maid is forced to temporarily vacate her position under scandalous circumstances, Margaret finds herself in an elevated position under the watchful eye of their master, the infamous Lord Montague. He believes in total obedience from those in his employ and when she dares to fight back, Margaret is left with no choice but to flee or face his wrath. Desperate, she seeks out a pious spinster named Catherine McAuley who is known for her charity to the poor. The decisions both women make upon meeting will irrevocably change the course of both their lives, as well as everyone in their orbit.
Based on a true story, this heart-pounding historical tale will leave you wondering just how much has really changed in the last two hundred years.
Why June 16?
June 16 is International Domestic Workers Day. Though we may think of abuse of servants as a thing of the past, unfortunately it is not. The United States is one of the few industrialized nations that doesn’t have any official national law or international compact protecting domestic workers or ensuring fair labor practices for them. Plus, thousands are trafficked every year. I chose to Consequences on this date to shed light on this terrible problem.
Trinity College Long Room, Old Library. No photography is allowed, so this is a scan of the postcard I bought in the gift shop.
Pardon me while I indulge my dorkdom.
But if I could personally design heaven, it would look exactly like the Trinity College Old Library Long Room. For me, this is heaven on earth and I’m sure my fellow bibliophiles would agree.
Built between 1712 and 1732, it houses over 200,000 rare books. Rotating exhibits line the center isle. The ones while we were there were illuminated manuscripts from various time periods, as well as artifacts from the library’s history, including the oath the library guards have to take. Word to the wise: the guards get tetchy if you lean over the ropes to get a better look at the books, even if your hands are behind your back. Really, all I wanted was to see if I could read the titles on the spines…
The library also houses the Book of Kells, Book of Armagh, the Book of Durrow and the oldest surviving harp in Ireland (you know, the one you see on Irish coins and everywhere else). But for me, the real treasure was the library itself. I actually cried while we were in the Long Room. That’s how happy I was. Somehow seeing all those books confirmed my desire to be a full-time author and also get my doctorate in history. I’m a bookworm to my core.
The spiral staircase that greets you as you walk into the library. Also a scan of a postcard.
I could kiss the person who created this: a 360 degree tour of the Long Room Library. (Put it on full-screen mode to feel like you’re there.) I think it will get me through until I can go back again, which it now appears may be sooner than I anticipated.
In all seriousness, it’s on my Bucket List to get to use one of the books housed here in my research, preferably getting to read it in the second floor reading room. Now I just have to figure out what they have that I would need and how to go about accessing it. I’ve also added visiting all the world’s most beautiful libraries to my list. Anyone want to come with me?
I could sit and look at the stacks of books, breathing in that old book smell forever. Yeah, if I was in the world of Veronica Roth’s Divergent, I’d totally be Erudite. And that’s fine by me.
What do you think of the library? Have you been there? Do places like this interest you? What places in the world take your breath away?
Grab your Snuggies and settle in. It’s time for a couch cruise to Ireland, courtesy of your friendly historical fiction writer. No passport required. For the next three weeks I’m going to share with you a little of what I saw and heard.
I was in the Emerald Isle for business, but I did get a chance to talk to some of the locals about the Irish take on the story of Tristan and Isolde, so I have no doubt that will influence the way I position book 4, when I get to it. Let’s just say I was advised to focus on the story’s mythical origins.
Most of my time was spent in and around Dublin, so I’m sorry to say I don’t have any rolling green hills to show you, but I can share a little of my trip. And yes, I took all of these photos.
We stayed in the Georgian area of Dublin, near the Georgian Mile. You can see the distinctive style of architecture in these buildings. (Do the chimneys make anyone else think of the movie Velvet Goldmine, or am I just mad?)
Grafton Street at dusk.
The main altar of St. Teresa’s Church on Clarendon Street. I highly recommend seeing this beautiful Carmelite church off Grafton Street if you get the chance.
Isn’t St. Stephen’s Green beautiful in spring? I think it’s got Central Park beat.
According to the plaque, this fountain depicts the three fates, but I see the Celtic triple goddess here. She’s alive and well in Ireland!
In case you haven’t had enough beauty, here’s Merrion Park.
Reclining comfortably (and somewhat lecherously) in Merrion Park is literary icon Oscar Wilde.
Trinity College. We went there for the Book of Kells, which is disappointing – you only get to see a replica and it’s not very exciting – but found a wonder beyond our wildest imaginations. More to come on Trinity’s breathtaking library next week.
For the armchair tourists, here are St. Patrick’s Cathedral (I didn’t get to go inside) and Kilmainham Jail (I toured that one; very important in the Irish quest for independence).
View from Howth, which is outside of Dublin. Palm trees are all over Dublin, but they’re not native to the area. I never did find out how they got there.
A peat fire, just because we were fascinated by it. For those who don’t know, the peat forms in low-lying bog areas when trees decay. On the upper levels where it’s looser, it’s peat moss, but from the lower, compact levels it’s harvested as turf. According to our host, it burns warmer and longer than wood. And it also has a better smell, slightly sweet, yet acidic at the same time. You’ll notice this end up in book 4.
Sunset over the Irish Sea. I’m almost positive I’m going to locate Isolde’s home south of Dublin (possibly far south), but this gives you and me both an idea of the beauty she’d look out over while home and long for while she’s in Britain.
As promised, next week you’ll get a short post on The Long Room of Trinity College. Or as I call it, heaven!
Questions? Comments? Do any of you have Ireland pictures to share?