In order to explain how things are the same, but different in my world, I need to go a bit farther back in time than the 19th century.
What difference does magic make in Irish history? In some respects, very little. This is a world where magic is everywhere, in everything. Not everyone has enough magical ability to cast spells, but those who do are relatively prevalent and come from every race, culture, and ethnicity. So just because the native Gaels (and the later Norse settlers in the port cities on the west coast) had magic, that would not be a huge deterrent against an invading force who also had it.
And that’s what happened during the Norman Invasion in the 12th century. In the real world, the invaders were better organized, built castles, and had the backing (money and supplies) of the Catholic church. In my world, shared magic brought the Gaelic clans under High King Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair (anglicized as Rory O’Connor) together in a more tightly-knit society than the somewhat antagonistic and shifting relationship the Irish kingdoms had in reality. So they were also better able to hold and maintain the lines between Gael and English.
There is no Catholic church in my world, but there is a magic-governing body called the Magisterium that promotes a particular way of using magic and relationship to the magical world, eschewing all other ways as less worthy. Their patron god is an all-father type, militaristic and jealous of his followers’ praise. He is not an exact equivalent with the Old Testament God, but he’s pretty close. Opposed to the Magisterium is the Academe, who follow a more relaxed view of magic. Their patron god and goddess are more compassionate and empathetic, but still strong-willed and not easily cowed. But the Gaels and Norse followed neither of those paths. Instead, they followed their own gods (roughly equivalent to our real-world Celtic and Norse mythology), and their own ways of doing magic. So there is a similar element of the Magisterium wishing to gain a strong foothold in Ireland in my world’s Norman Invasion.
Which they did, just as the Roman Catholic church did. In fact, in my world, the Magisterium leaders were the true “winners” in the conflict over the invasion. They converted many of the Gaels away from their gods and goddesses and naturalistic ways of doing magic, and established hundreds of magic schools, building Conclaves (great buildings, similar to cathedrals, for casting magic) over the most powerful leylines and restricting access to those who swore fealty to the Magisterium and their god.
Then came the Tudor Conquest in the 16th century, and everything changed again. The fragile peace between the now-primarily Magisterium-following Gaels and the English degraded as the English claimed not just the southeast but the whole country, imposing their language, magical practices, and law on everyone. Even the “Old English” who had been in the country for several hundred years were often against the Tudors, who—despite a brief period following the Magisterium under Mary I—were primarily in favor of the Academe.
The Irish rose up against the “New English,” but eventually they were overwhelmed by settlers, laws restricting their ability to keep arms, and policies that surrendered clan land to the Crown, which was then re-granted with English titles. The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 (“Remember, remember, the 5th of November”) was, in my world, a mix of magic and explosives, and although it failed, it had lasting repercussions for anyone who followed the Magisterium in Britain and Ireland. They could no longer vote or hold public office, though those in power retained their lands.
In the mid-17th century, the Irish, both Gael and Old English, rose up against the New English with the support of the Spanish and the Magisterium. This, along with several other factors including the Stuart monarchy’s refusal to follow the Academe, caused the Civil War, Cromwell’s rule, and later the reinstatement of the monarchy and finally the Glorious Revolution in 1688 that brought Danish William and Mary to the throne of England.
**That’s an important point in history that will be a big deal in the next book, so don’t forget it!**
But for Ireland, it meant that almost all of those who were Gaelic, Norse, or English from the original Norman Invasion, were supplanted by new lords and settlers from England, Scotland, and Wales.
Unrest continued throughout the 18th century, with land acts, oppression, heavy taxation, and high rents forcing many to immigrate to the colonies. Then the potato blight caused the country to implode. Masses of Irish left for America and Australia and elsewhere, and millions starved and died.
This is the point at which I began yesterday’s blog, although I felt like I needed to jump back quite a bit farther today.
Just as in the real world, a revolt was staged in the 1840s that failed, and its leaders also escaped and formed the Irish Republicans. This is a change from the Irish Republican Brotherhood, because in my world, women, especially witches, are often as powerful or more powerful than men. So the Irish Republicans accept both men and women into their ranks, and some of their leaders are witches.
But they follow a similar cell-organizational structure, with an “Alpha” leading each circle. Under him or her are several Betas, and under the Betas are anywhere from a half-dozen to a dozen Gammas.
Ronan McCarrick starts as a Beta under his mentor, Donn, who is an Alpha already when they meet in 1884. This is soon after the dynamiting/magic attacks in London, promulgated almost entirely by the Fenians from America. The entire organization is at risk because of a new police force out of Scotland Yard commissioned entirely to track them down. So they turn to even more clandestine practices and secrecy. Ronan runs cons, a ring of thieves and pickpockets, and helps spy on the English in Dublin. He helps find blackmail material and enforces retribution on those who refuse to help the Cause—sometimes lethally.
By 1896, the Irish Republicans are beginning to fracture. Some want Home Rule, and some are staunchly nationalistic. Some want a violent uprising. Some want a peaceful negotiation. Ronan hasn’t been in the thick of things for a while. He has been an Alpha of his own cell for several years, and primarily works in shipping and smuggling, raising funds and ferrying goods for the Cause. When A Theft of Magic begins, he has accepted a lucrative courier commission from the Duchess of Fay to retrieve several objects secretly from her Clan Seat on the Isle of Skye.
He thinks it will be easy money, barely a wave in the calm sea of his life.
So he isn’t prepared when he steps into Sorcha Fay’s trap, not for the magic, or the woman. What happens next will make him question everything about his life, and everything he wants for the future.
To find out what happens when Ronan meets Sorcha, get your copy of A Theft of Magic from any of these fine retailers:
And if you haven’t started the series yet, Essential Magic is on sale until the end of this month (October 2016) for $0.99 on Amazon!