A US-based author has written a novel loosely based on the tragic story of a real Clonakilty family.
The Lockwoods of Clonakilty is a sequel to Lieutenant and Mrs Lockwood. Both books are loosely based on the lives of two historical people, a Lt William Faithful Fortescue and his wife Honora Fortescue O’Brian, says writer Mark Bois.
The Chicago-born writer is of Belgian and Irish ancestry, and became fascinated with the First Battalion of the 27th Foot, an Irish regiment, at the Battle of Waterloo. During research for a Master’s degree in history, he studied the Inniskilling Regiment of 1815.
While doing his thesis research in Kew, he came across a heart-breaking letter from Honora Fortescue of Clonakilty begging for a pension after her husband’s death.
‘It was that letter that prompted both novels, but I changed things around for a fictionalised family and some happier outcomes,’ he said.
‘Thus, much of the first book, and nearly all of the second book, is set in Clonakilty. I’m curious to see how well people over there think I did on setting and phrasing. I really tried to avoid any ‘stage’ Irish, and I hope I gave a fair accounting of the multi-layered history.’
In the letter from Honora Fortescue, seeking the payment of her husband’s pension, she writes: ‘I am the unfortunate widow of William Faithful Fortescue, late of the 3rd Veteran Battalion, and of the 27th Regiment of Foot, I was married to him in the year of the Rebellion, when he served in the Westmeath Militia, and I flatter myself with credit to himself and his affectionate family … he went with the 27th Regiment to the plains of Waterloo, where he received two wounds … his health he never recovered, but as he was so near getting his company and promotion, he ran all risques and went out with the regiment to Gibraltar where he remained for more than a year in a wretched state of health until his colonel wrote to his family to beg they should pressure on him to exchange into a veteran battalion which he did, after his misery and twenty years servitude, to put an end to my sad story, he departed this life at Mallow on the 22nd of the month after suffering more than words can tell, and leaving his wife and five children, three daughters and two sons, with no other provision but their claim on government.’
Seeking to secure any money from the British government, she went on: ‘I shall no longer trespass on your time, but to request you would favour me with a few lines to let me know, to whom I am to send my certificates
and what steps to follow … Honora M. Fortescue.’
She finishes by naming her five children, their ages and places of birth: ‘Susan C, Fortescue, born at Naas, age 19; Honoria Fortescue, born at London Derry (sic), age 17; John C Clermont Fortescue, born at Tullemore (sic), age 15; William T Neynoe Fortescue, born at Enniskillen, age 13; Mary Anne, born in Clonakilty, age 8 going on nine’.
Mark says that in an internal letter debating the pension claim, the Castle stated: ‘And I am in answer, directed by His Excellency to state, for the information of the Secretary at War, that the Certificates in question (herewith returned) appear, on inquiry to be authentic, but that Lieutenant Lockwood is a Protestant, and Mrs Lockwood a Roman Catholic.’
This revelation really shocked author Mark: ‘It appears the Castle delayed the pension for months, evidently stuck on the question of religion. It was the War Office that finally authorised the pension.’
However, for Honoria, it was too late: ‘The last letter in the file was from Honoria Fortescue, Honora’s daughter, explaining that her mother had died while waiting for the pension,’ explained Mark.
The letters struck such a chord with the American, that he chose to loosely base a novel on the story of the Clonakilty family. ‘I’ve only been to Clonakilty once, but I loved it,’ he said.
Like Lt Lockwood, Mark is the father of five, and has been happily married for more than thirty years.
•The book is now available on Amazon.