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.
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?
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
Beppie 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.