Beppie Harrison: Two Rings for Christmas

Donegal, where my Christmas novella Two Rings for Christmas takes place, is as far north and west as you can go on the island of Ireland. It’s very beautiful but stark and harsh land there: making a living from the land has always been hard. It was hard in 1817, the time of this story, and always has been. The land is mountainous and rocky, with generous peat bogs but not much in the way of arable land. Most of those who live there now—or who lived there before the terrible Time of Hunger in the middle of the 19th century—were not there by choice. But the ancient aristocracy of Ulster, defeated in the Nine Years’ War in Ulster in 1603, escaped to the continent, hoping to rally Spanish support for the Catholic cause. They died in exile.

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Their lands were therefore defaulted to the British government, who took the opportunity to establish their Plantation Scheme, in the course of which the Catholic Irish tenants and owners of the land were displaced and Protestant settlers, primarily from Scotland but some from England, were given their land. The Catholic Irish fled west to Donegal. Even some of the Donegal land was given as plantation land to the Protestant incomers, but they found the effort of farming there too difficult and retreated east.

The time of Two Rings for Christmas is two centuries later, but the challenge of making a living in that hard and infertile place was as difficult as ever. The time of the great Irish potato famine had not yet come—that was 30 years in the future—but even then many of the young men of Donegal were heading west across the Atlantic Ocean to find some way of earning a living in America.

Fergus, a strong young man from Donegal, emigrates to Boston with the goal of earning enough money so that he can return and marry his sweetheart, Jenny. Three long years he works, until he can pay for his passage back, has some coins in his pocket, and a golden ring for Jenny. But when he returns to Donegal for Christmas, is Jenny still waiting for him?

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About Two Rings for Christmas

Two Rings for Christmas is the story of a young Irishman, Fergus, unable to find work in Donegal, who emigrates to Boston to make some money so he can return and marry his true love, Jenny. Three long years he works, until he can pay for his passage back, has some coins in his pocket, and has bought a golden ring for Jenny. But when he comes home to Donegal for Christmas, will Jenny still be waiting?



“Could not wait for me, is that it?” His voice rang out now, a challenge.

“And how was I to know that you remembered me?” Jenny snapped.

“Did not I write you letters?”

She tossed her head, and her rich brown hair lifted and then resettled on her shoulders. “Letters. Well, yes. Three letters in three long years—and the last of them more than six months ago.”

Oh. As he remembered, there had been more, but she might have the right of it. He was not good at writing letters. Somehow all the things he wanted to say ran away from his pen before he got them down to paper.

“’Twasn’t enough, you know. Six months without a word, and me mam going on at me about how you were off to Amerikay and never would come back.”

“I’m here now.”

She closed her eyes and held her hands to her temples. “Aye, you’re here, right enough. Why could you not have written to tell me so? Why could I not have known two, three weeks ago? ‘Twas only then that Daniel Beatty came and me mam said he was my last chance and—and—”

And damned if she was not crying. Jenny crying, with the ring of Daniel Beatty around her neck. What was he to do now?

His heart went soft on him. “Jenny, sweet Jenny, I wanted to surprise you. I had a ring for you, Jenny my love.”

He pulled it out of his pocket and held it in his hand.

About the Author

BeppieHarrisonPHOTO copyBeppie Harrison had the great good sense to marry an English architect, and consequently has lived a trans-Atlantic lifestyle. They now live in Michigan between trips to the old country and Ireland (which she despaired of during the years of the Troubles) and she remains fascinated by the complicated relationship between England and Ireland. Their four children have grown up and left the nest but two indignant cats remain—as good an allegory for England and Ireland as she can imagine.

Beppie Harrison: Two Rings for Christmas

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I don’t know exactly why I fell in love with County Donegal.

Well, I don’t know why I fell in love with Ireland! I’m married to an Englishman, and during a considerable part of the recent Troubles we were living in Ireland, and both sides, using religion to cudgel each other, exasperated and irritated me. It all seemed so medieval to be battling—actually killing each other—over what brand of Christianity you preferred.

It wasn’t until much later that I came to Ireland and found that I loved the place. For one thing, it is so green. That’s what everyone says, but the amazing part is that it’s true. Look around you and a seemingly endless variety of greens are there. Bright, fresh new greens and weathered, comfortable greens that have been there for generations. And the people! Probably what you notice first is that they love to talk about anything—mainly in that most Irish of institutions, the pub. The pub is sort of the family room of Ireland. That’s where you go to meet your friends and family, from silent old geezers with bulbous noses testifying of years of cheerful drinking to families with young children who bounce around the pub meeting friends and chattering, the young mothers with babes in arms, young men and girls eyeing each other. All are welcome. The food is usually plain and good, served on thick pottery plates. Most memorable of all are the stories. If you look as if you have time, you’ll hear the stories. So sit down, pull up a chair or a stool, be at your ease, and wait for the stories to start.

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My stories are set in various parts of Ireland, but my Christmas novella, Two Rings for Christmas, is set in Donegal, which I think now is my favorite bit of Ireland. It is the far northwest piece of the Republic. Donegal, which had always been part of Ulster, was not included with the six counties who chose to remain part of Great Britain, but its narrow connection to the Republic of Ireland is at one point only five miles wide, the Atlantic Ocean to the west and Northern Ireland to the east. Donegal is a beautiful stretch of Ireland, with a spectacular Atlantic coastline and stark mountains. The people make their lives in valleys with more peat bogs and hills than fertile ground. The people of Donegal are a tough and stubborn population who have lived in the country they’ve loved for generations, even if the land was never really suitable for growing much besides potatoes and oats and no great quantities of them. They don’t give up easily, and like many people who have lived on the edge of subsistence for generations, they have astounding generosity in sharing what they do have.



Jenny was soft and fragrant, so close to him. Fergus had known that fragrance before, but only distantly. Even that day when he had held her in his arms for the first time they stood on the quay it had not been like this. The smells of the sea and of the wet wood of the ship and the dock and the jumbled cargo being carried aboard had nearly masked the scent of Jenny, but he had known it was there. Now it was overpowering.

“What are we to do?” he asked.

She pulled away from him, slowly and reluctantly. “Things are as they are.”

“But this cannot be!”

“It is. We can share the blame alike. You did not write to me and I lost faith. So here we are. I am to be the wife of Daniel Beatty. It is as it is.”

“You cannot.”

They were standing separate now, facing each other. “What else can I do? I agreed. I took his ring.”

About the Author

BeppieHarrisonPHOTO copyBeppie’s books are on the warm and friendly side, although they deal with all the pain and anger that existed over the long centuries—almost a thousand years—when Ireland was ruled by England. But the people there, both the Irish and the English, had their moments of reaching across the gulf and being confronted with its reality. Beppie writes about those moments.


Other books by Beppie Harrison:

The Heart Trilogy

The Defiant Heart