Eileen O’Finlan is a historical fiction writer who likes telling stories from the past that are rarely taught in the classroom. Erin’s Children is Eileen’s second novel and the sequel to her debut novel, Kelegeen.
While writing Kelegeen, Eileen said she kept seeing scenes for a sequel play out in her mind. Even though all of those scenes didn’t end up in the story, they provided her with a starting point. During her research of Erin’s Children, Eileen kept finding parallels between today’s events and those that were happening at the time of her story’s setting.
Past and present collide
“For example, the main characters in Erin’s Children are Irish immigrants who came to America to escape the Great Hunger (aka Potato Famine). Shortly after their arrival, the Know Nothing political party came to power in America. One of the main tenets of that party’s platform was ‘nativism,’ the belief that only white Protestants of British extraction should have any say in the governing of America. In fact, they wanted to force all immigrants, especially Irish Catholic immigrants, out of the country. They also wanted to free the slaves, but not for humanitarian reasons. Rather, it was in order to ship them out of the country, as well. They believed that ‘America should be run by Americans’ and saw themselves as the only ‘true’ Americans. I couldn’t help but think of the issues of immigration and race that are so important in America today. I could hardly have written a novel about Irish immigrants in 1850s America and left them out. I will leave readers to draw their own conclusions as to what we can learn from history.”
A stickler for details
Eileen said she wants her readers to know that she does everything she can to ensure that she has the historical details portrayed correctly. “What I most want readers to know is that I have made a promise to them. That promise is that when they pick up a book by Eileen O’Finlan they can be sure that I have done my very best to create a story in which they can become totally absorbed. They can get lost in it, live it vicariously, and, hopefully, wish it would never end. Those are the kind of stories I love to read so I’ve made it my mission to give that experience to my readers to the best of my ability.”
A change of venue for Erin’s Children
“I was originally going to set the story in Boston since it is well known as one of the places Irish immigrants flocked to. However, it didn’t take long for me to find out that Worcester also had an Irish population and was a destination for Famine era immigrants. In the 1830s Irish immigrants had come to Worcester to build the Blackstone Canal after having built the Erie Canal. Since I live in central Massachusetts in a suburb of Worcester, I knew I’d have a blast researching the history and decided to set the story here instead.”
A love of historical research
Eileen said that while researching Erin’s Children, she read the Worcester City documents for the entire decade of the 1850s. “These are the annual reports from the mayor and each of the City committees and departments such as the school committee, fire and police departments, or the committee for the city aqueduct. I read them cover to cover – every word. Under other circumstances this might have been a fabulous cure for insomnia, but given that I was setting the novel in Worcester in the 1850s they became a source of utter fascination to me.”
As Eileen read through the documents, nuggets of information popped out—the mention of winter coming early one year which shut down all outside work early and caused a smaller than usual harvest or the huge snowstorm that interfered with a new mayor’s inauguration. “I used these things in the story whenever I could and followed the calendar for 1850 to make sure my dates were accurate.” Eileen considers herself fortunate that one of her dearest friends is also a curator and research historian at Old Sturbridge Village. “I think of him as my own personal research historian. I don’t think there’s a thing Tom doesn’t know about 19th century New England (and most of history in general, for that matter). Whenever I wasn’t sure of something or couldn’t find the answer in my research I’d call or text him. He always had the answer no matter how obscure it might be.”
Because Eileen does much of her writing at night, those conversations often took place in the middle of the night. “I’d be in the middle of a scene, get stuck because I didn’t know something and I’d text Tom. I almost always got my answer right away. Though one time, it was followed by, ‘it’s the middle of the night – go to bed!’”
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