Handel & Mrs Cibber

I have been working on this novel for a few years now, and I am not sure yet whether I am half way, two thirds or what! It’s not just about word count – while I have about 55K on ‘the page’ and I am aiming for a 80K finish line ( not my usual >100K work – apparently no-one wants the longer form nowadays, which is fine with me!) so that would make it – quick check of the calculator – about 70% through! Ha ha ha ha – wouldn’t that be great! But none of that takes into account the editing, the restructuring, the editing, the rewriting and the fiddling diddling about…. But this is not the first or even second year that one of my New Year’s resolutions has been ‘FINISH the work!’.

This year (2023) I have not even put it on the list – what I decided on my brief but very sweet New Year’s visit to the Central West was to recover my lost tai chi forms – two swords and one ‘real’ tai chi – one of the Chen long forms. It might be called Heaven & Earth but then I think they all are called that!

But I know that Handel is waiting for me to to finish it. And since he wrote everything very fast – very fast – massive operas and oratorios coming together in three to four weeks – during disciplined times away from the London scene, from the public work of putting on the show – he must be wondering what the hell / heaven and earth is going on!

Anyway this is my way of saying hello to any interested viewers/readers… and here is a pic of Mrs Cibber.

Author Talk was a great conversation!

Christine Brennan, the superb Events & Marketing Manager at Randwick City Library, actually hails from Co Tipperary so what a great conversation we had about my book, The Country of Our Dreams. When we were having our tech run through a few days before, she said, let’s not get too deep into the conversation about the book before the live talk, because we don’t want to lose the freshness.

No chance! We could have talked for hours!

Fortunately for you guys, it was held to one hour by the technology! So much thanks to Christine and to her team, and to all the people who zoomed in to watch and to all the people who asked questions and all the people who sent emails afterwards. Goddess bless you all!

Watch the talk here.


Coming up soon – I’ll be sharing The Country of Our Dreams on 7 July via Randwick City Library!

Diarise now – we have a date with Michael Davitt and friends – on Wednesday 7 July 6.30pm to 7.30pm – Author Talk – this will definitely be Zoomed and recorded but hopefully it will also be in a physical room with people at Margaret Martin Library in Randwick shopping centre. Yaay! I’m very excited to be sharing this book which is set in contemporary Coogee and Randwick (as well as Ireland) with the locals!

Special 2020 Deal for Book Clubs! and people with lots of reading friends…

Dear People

Here is my special 2020 promo offer for “The Country of Our Dreams”. and you don’t even have to be in a bookclub – just order 4+ copies of this great read to get this fantastic price with signed copies and FREE postage. … after all it’s getting near to Christmas…take care everyone!

and if you loved this book, why not let others know…

Remembering Fanny Parnell

On this day 20 July 1882 the Irish poet and political activist Fanny Parnell was found dead in her bed, at her mother’s family estate in Bordentown, New Jersey. She had died from heart failure, at just 33 years of age. News of her passing sent shock waves of grief throughout the Irish world, for Fanny was famous for her passionate poetry and prose attacking landlordism and protesting the suffering of the Irish rural poor. She had also co-founded  the Ladies Land League in New York and was busy coordinating massive fundraising efforts by that swiftly growing global organisation. Her younger sister Anna was leading the women of Ireland in unprecedented political action and speech. 

Fanny’s most famous poem “Hold the Harvest” called on struggling Irish farmers to not pass on any harvest earnings to their landlords, (ie a rent strike) and to militantly resist eviction, “make your harvest fields your camps, or make of them your graves!” The stirring poem which claimed that “God is on the peasant’s side, the God that loves the poor” had become almost a national anthem and was widely disseminated through the global Irish diaspora media networks.   Fellow land activist Michael Davitt called it ‘the Marseillaise of the Irish peasant’. 

And now this beautiful brave outspoken young woman – an archetype of Irish feisty feminine courage – was dead. And just as swiftly moved into another realm of archetype and myth – death and the maiden. A fascinating struggle ensued over who owned her body; her family or the aspiring nation state. Her brother Charles believed that people should be buried where they died. But many in Ireland wanted to bring her body home, to bury their patriot poet with full honours, to stage a magnificent unifying political show of strength and grief, part of the continuing drama of the Irish nationalist struggle. Personally I think Fanny would have loved that.

In the end the compromise after some weeks of negotiation was a massive funeral procession in the eastern states of America , in fact a series of them, in Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. Her casket was transported on a hearse pulled by six white horses, attended by 18 pallbearers. Thousands lined the streets of the great cities.  Irish flags intertwined with American flags were part of every scene, with diaspora newspapers writing about the event in ‘tear-jerking detail’. At some points, it is said, the coffin was opened for viewings. Perhaps it was lucky her body wasn’t raided for relics. 

Fanny’s body was eventually placed in her mother’s family (the Tudors) vault at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Boston. For many decades afterwards, it was a tradition in Boston for Irish Americans to make a pilgrimage to Fanny’s grave on Memorial Day, with speeches, floral tributes, and a general demonstration of grief. Today let’s remember a brave literary woman.

You can find out more about the wonderful Parnell sisters and the tumultuous  and thrilling years of the Irish Land League  in my historical novel, The Country of Our Dreams.

Remembering Michael Davitt

Remembering Michael Davitt

30 May 2020

Michael Davitt, father of the Irish Land League, protector of the poor, saviour of the starving. Child of the Great Famine, his family evicted from their small Co Mayo landholding due to rent arrears, Michael was maimed further by the dark satanic mills of Lancashire. Yet Davitt turned his life and his country around – leading an unarmed revolution of the poor, the dispossessed, labourers and farmers, women and men in a land rights struggle against the landlords, who had put profit and prestige above the lives of people. Sounds familiar anyone? The Irish Land War of 1879-1882 is a hugely under-told story, a vital and inspiring part of our collective history – our search for social justice and harmony, and of resistance to greedy & dehumanising elite systems. On this day, the anniversary of his passing – we remember Michael Davitt.

The Country of Our Dreams a novel of Ireland and Australia – explores the heroism of the 19th century Land War through the eyes of the 21st century (& mildly dysfunctional) Sydney descendants. It’s a great read. Order through your local bookstore or online. Book clubs, please contact me for special deals. Contact@maryoconnell.com.au

Anna Parnell – the forgotten Irish leader

Posted 13 May 2020

On this day – 13 May – in 1852 Catherine Maria Anna Mercer Parnell was born into a prosperous landowning family in County Wicklow, Ireland. The tenth of eleven children of John Henry Parnell and Delia Tudor Stewart, Anna, as she came to be called, could have expected to lead a life of supervisory domestic duties, with some time for crafts and arts, the odd hunting ball and genteel good works amongst the surrounding impoverished Irish communities. Instead she would join her older brother and sister, and occasionally eclipse them, in a leadership role of one of the most astonishing cross-class revolutionary social movements of the nineteenth century. 

In my historical novel about the Irish Land War of 1879-1882, and its impact on 20th and 21st century Irish diasporas – I know , sounds terribly worthy but in fact The Country of Our Dreams is a GREAT read! – I came to learn more about Anna and her amazing and wonderful fierce courage. She was 28 years old when she led, cajoled, organised, defended and yes, sometimes patronised a rising people. She was the living example of what a generation later, a famous Irish republican leader would call “the bravest and most unmanageable revolutionaries” – ie women! She was tough, astute, relentless, and beyond brave but she was not, perhaps, the skilled politician her brother was. His politics outwitted her passion. Plus he controlled the money.

Still Anna Parnell gave us her brilliant best and some of my favourite chapters in ‘The Country of Our Dreams‘ are those with her in them. Happy birthday to Ireland’s Joan of Arc!

About Me

I am a Taranaki born, Sydney based writer, editor, historian and community arts organiser, with particular interest in matters of spirit.

My latest book is The Country of Our Dreams – a novel set in 19th century Ireland and 21st century Australia, exploring the Irish Land War of 1879 -1882, the complex inheritance of the Irish diaspora, the luminous figure of Michael Davitt, and the historically more obscured figures of Anna Parnell and the incredibly courageous Ladies Land League. The novel also explores the lives of the 21stC descendants, the Ryans of Coogee as they deal, like so many Irish Australians, with their complex inheritance. See here for more info and for some amazing reviews,

You can order ‘The Country of Our Dreams’ from Amazon, Book Depository or Booktopia, or Sydney bookshops – the fabulous Berkelouws of Leichhardt, the marvellous Harry Hartog’s of Bondi Junction, or the excellent UNSW Bookshop on campus.