It’s 1767. As the eagerly anticipated sequel to Beyond Derrynane begins, Eileen O’Connell avails herself of a fortuitous opportunity to travel back to Ireland. In Two Journeys Home, the O’Connells encounter old faces and new—and their lives change forever.
Her vivacious personality matched only by her arresting physical presence, Eileen returns to Derrynane this time not as a teen aged widow but as one of the most recognised figures at the Habsburg court. Before returning to Vienna she experiences a whirlwind romance, leading to a tumult of betrayal and conflict with the O’Connell clan.
Abigail lives not in the shadow of her sister but instead becomes the principal lady-in-waiting to Empress Maria Theresa.
Hugh O’Connell leaves behind waning adolescence and a fleeting attraction to the youngest archduchess when he begins a military career in the Irish Brigade under Louis XV. But more royal entanglement awaits him in France…
Today I’m excited to share news of a new historical novel from author Kevin O’Connell, and tempt readers with this excerpt from Two Journey’s Home…
Having served at the court of the Empress Maria Theresa for almost six years, Eileen O’Connell is returning to her home in County Kerry, Ireland for a brief visit. Though she had last departed the O’Connells’ sanctuary at Derrynane as a teenage widow, she returns as one of the most recognised figures at the glittering Habsburg court. As the family’s ship, the Will o’ the Wisp, approaches the secure harbour at Iskeroon, Eileen experiences a strong sense of place – and reflects on some of the events of her years in Vienna:
Within moments, it was the whistling trill that heralded the sudden leaping arrival of a pair of dolphins, their joyful presence—especially as they would remain on the port side of the vessel for the duration of the passage to Derrynane—reminding Eileen that no dolphins had been in evidence at the time of her most recent departures and arrivals. So perhaps the smiling dears herald something special, she reflected. As she watched them cavorting even as they swam, she could not help but smile, returning, she felt, the warm gestures the animals seemed to be directing to her.
Leaning against the ship’s rail, noticing the sun’s orb as it continued its struggle to make itself more fully evident in the still-dull heavens, recalling briefly her gentle awakening, Eileen spoke aloud to the wind, and to herself, “These years, these not-quite six years . . . They could have all been a dream . . . could they not have? Yet to me, all of it has actually happened . . .” A panoply of places and events—and people, so many people! —raced vividly through her mind, as if it were all unfolding as a moving panorama before her.
With the coming of the spring of 1761, General O’Connell’s skilful orchestration of arranging opportunities at the court of the Empress Maria Theresa in Vienna for Eileen, now twenty-three, and her ebullient, slightly older sister, Abigail, having borne fruit, it was the Countess Maria von Graffenreit, at the time and for a number of years prior the primary lady-in-waiting to the empress, with whom Eileen and Abby had corresponded, in preparation for their journey to Vienna.
It was also the countess who had greeted them warmly on their arrival at court in October of the same year, following their five-weeklong journey from Derrynane, seeing to it that Eileen was presented to her new charges—Their Imperial Highnesses, the Archduchesses Maria Carolina and Maria Antonia of Austria and Lorraine—and Abigail to her own new mistress, the Empress Maria Theresa herself, as well as choreographing a lengthy series of both formal and informal introductions to key persons at court.
In the years that quickly followed, as the sisters flourished at the apex of the glittering Habsburg court and society, Maria von Graffenreit was daily, quietly in their lives. More so, during the same period, the attractive, quietly elegant widow had grown ever closer to the never married general, such that the two had wed quietly, early in the current year.
It was with, or so it seemed to Eileen, an almost-dizzying speed that immediately following their marriage, the countess had yielded her lofty position as head of the empress’s household to Abigail O’Connell O’Sullivan, herself wed less than a year to Major Denis O’Sullivan, an officer in the Hungarian Hussars.
During the ensuing bitterly cold, unusually snowy Vienna winter of the current year, Eileen had experienced what she had come to refer to as the winter of my own discontent, marked significantly by the departure from Vienna of her dear friend and lover, Major Wolfgang von Klaus, for an extended tour of duty at the Imperial Russian court at St. Petersburg, an event that had resulted in Eileen unexpectedly sensing herself unsettled, uncertain.
Though in the interim she had become less disconcerted, her state of mind remained such that when in early June the general and the countess announced a late-summer trip to Ireland, Eileen had met the news with an unexpected but profound desire to return to Derrynane herself, if only for a time. Whilst she indicated to the couple that her motivation lay in a simple desire to see the rest of her family, Eileen acknowledged to herself that seeing the O’Sullivans and, more recently, the general and the countess all well-wed—and, she somewhat reluctantly admitted, von Klaus’s departure for Russia—had left her feeling to some not insignificant degree uncertain as to what life might next hold in store for her. She felt that some time spent at what she had always felt the powerful sanctuary that was Derrynane might help her clarify her life’s future direction.
Though she realised it might be awkward for the newlyweds, Eileen quietly inquired of them if she might accompany them to Ireland, phrasing it lightly, “With the dragoons I shall gladly ride.” The general had no doubt that she was, in fact, more than willing to make the trip on horseback rather than intrude on the couple’s privacy in a coach. They immediately and graciously acceded to her request, and Eileen rode in the coach.
Kevin O’Connell is a native of New York City and the descendant of a young officer of what had—from 1690 to 1792—been the Irish Brigade of the French Army, believed to have arrived in French Canada following the execution of Queen Marie Antoinette in October of 1793. He holds both Irish and American citizenship.
An international business attorney, Mr. O’Connell is an alumnus of Providence College and Georgetown University Law Centre.
A lifelong personal and scholarly interest in the history of eighteenth-century Ireland, as well as that of his extended family, led O’Connell to create his first book, Beyond Derrynane, which will, together with Two Journeys Home and the two books to follow, comprise the Derrynane Saga.
The father of five children and grandfather of ten, he and his wife, Laurette, live with their golden retriever, Katie, near Annapolis, Maryland.
O’Connell is a fantastic storyteller. His prose is so rich and beautiful it is a joy to read. The story is compelling and the characters memorable – all the more so because they are based on real people. . . I am Irish but I did not know about this piece of Irish history. It is fascinating but historical fiction at the same time . . . Highly recommended for historical fiction lovers! (c) Beth Nolan, Beth’s Book Nook
I enjoyed the first part of the Saga awhile back . . . (and) couldn’t wait to continue the story of Eileen and her family . . . this author really does have a way with words. The world and the characters are so vivid . . . Overall, I was hooked from page one. I honestly think that (Two Journeys Home) was better than (Beyond Derrynane) – which is rare. The characters and world-building was done in such a beautiful manner . . . I can’t wait for the next one . . . (c) Carole Rae, Carole’s Sunday Review, Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell
Two Journeys Home: A Novel of Eighteenth Century Europe . . . is a gripping story that will transport the reader back in time, a story with a strong setting and compelling characters . . . a sensational romance, betrayal, family drama and intrigue . . . The plot is so complex that I find it hard to offer a summary in a few lines, but it is intriguing and it holds many surprises . . . great writing. Kevin O’Connell’s prose is crisp and highly descriptive. I was delighted (by) . . . how he builds the setting, offering . . . powerful images of places, exploring cultural traits and unveiling the political climate of the time . . . The conflict is (as well-developed as the characters) and it is a powerful ingredient that moves the plot forward . . . an absorbing and intelligently-crafted historical novel . . . . (c) Divine Zapa for Readers’ Favourite