Coming in October 2014!

Mayapple Books presents:

The Paradise Tree, by Elena Maria Vidal, author of Trianon: A Novel of Royal France and Madame Royale, among other titles: The Paradise Tree grows from the maxim “in every Eden, there dwells a serpent . . . ” The year is 1887 in Leeds County, Ontario. The O’Connor clan is gathering to mourn the loss of its patriarch Daniel O’Connor, an Irish immigrant. The story of Daniel and his wife Brigit is one of great hardships, including illness, ill-starred romances, war and political upheavals, as well as undying love and persevering faith. As Daniel is laid to rest, his grandson Fergus receives a piercing insight into what his own calling in life will be.

The Paradise Tree will be available for purchase via Amazon or or at this website on October 5, 2014.

The early reviews:

“With this marvelous immigrant saga, Elena Maria Vidal reminds us why our forebears left the Old World for the New: for Faith, family, and freedom! Through three generations of an Irish clan in Canada, she invites us into their home for struggle and triumph, celebrations of joy and sorrow, music, feasting, and dancing. The Paradise Tree makes ‘the past and present mingle and become one’ for the reader’s great delight.” ~Stephanie A. Mann, author of Supremacy and Survival: How Catholics Endured the English Reformation

“Elena Maria Vidal’s latest book, The Paradise Tree, is the fictionalized true story of the author’s devoutly Catholic ancestors who immigrated to Canada from Ireland. It is filled with rich detailed history recounting the hardships and joys of the 19th century O’Connor Family. Beautifully written with great attention to historical, geographical and religious accuracy, this fascinating and moving family saga is a treasure that I highly recommend!” ~Ellen Gable Hrkach, award-winning author of In Name Only and four other novels
“Fear not, O man of desires, peace be to thee: take courage and be strong.”
Daniel 10:19

Daniel O’Connor is the hero of my next novel. They look a bit careworn, Daniel and Brigit O’Connor, my great-great-great grandparents, but then building a farm in the Canadian wilderness in the mid-19th century required ceaseless toil. The photo of them is iconic, for they are staring beyond the present world, into eternity. Eternity was something that Daniel O’Connor kept ever before him, as was typical of the old Irish, and can be seen in this excerpt of a letter to his grandchildren: “Farewell, my grandchildren, God bless you all, and keep you in his love and fear of offending Him, as my prayer for you all big and little, young and old.” (from November 8,1884 letter to Lena and Etta Flood)

Daniel was born in 1796 at Togher parish in Dunmanway, County Cork, Ireland, the son of Michael and Joanna Ronan O’Connor, one of nine children. Descended from the High Kings of Ireland and the Lords of Connaught, they were a branch of the O’Connor clan known as the “Kerry-O’Connors.” In the high middle ages they migrated from Roscommon to Kerry; some went on to Cork to aid the McCarthys, then the Lords of Munster, in their perpetual fight with the Normans. Cork was known as the “rebel county” and, at the time Daniel was born, was the site of many insurrections against the tyranny of English rule, which forbade the Irish Catholics the open practice of their religion. Due to the harsh penal laws imposed in 1695, Catholics could not own land, hold a public office, or receive an education. The O’Connors defied the laws to the best of their ability, and, according to Daniel’s daughter Ellen, he and all of his siblings received “a liberal education” in spite of the prohibitions.

The O’Connor family lived about a stone’s throw from an old tower called “Togher castle.” It had officially belonged to the McCarthy clan but according to family tradition the O’Connors lived in the castle at one point. Perhaps they held the old keep in fealty to the original owners, or perhaps resided there as in-laws, since there was a great deal of intermarrying between the two clans. At any rate, they were all thrown out of the castle by the English in 1688 and reduced to a state of servitude. Daniel was trained as a blacksmith, and since it was the blacksmiths who set broken bones in those days, I wonder if it was his skill at mending injured limbs that led him to want to be a doctor. He studied medicine under a physician in Cork City, but alas he was never certified, probably due to lack of money. There was a series of potato crop failings and famines throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, culminating in the Great Famine of the 1840’s. Many Irish Catholics found it impossible to ever get ahead.

Daniel migrated to Canada in the spring of 1821. He worked and saved his money until he was able to purchase land in Leeds County, Ontario, which he called Long Point Farm. In January of 1831 he married fifteen-year-old Brigit Trainor of County Westmeath, who had recently arrived in Kitley Township with her family. Together they faced the grueling hardship of clearing the land, building a cabin, and having babies in the wilderness. There was also a great deal of prejudice against Catholics in the new world. According to Glenn J. Lockwood in Leeds and Lansdowne: “O’Connor was rare as an Irish Catholic settler in Leeds and Lansdowne Rear, and the reason why was no mystery. He found that local settlers were very prejudiced against anyone professing the Catholic religion, and more especially if that person happened to be an Irishman.” (pp148-149, Lockwood) As one of Daniel’s daughters wrote to her niece Madeline O’Connor: “When father came to Delta one of the first salutes he got was ‘for the love of God do not tell that you are a Catholic or you will not succeed.’ He said, ’Never will I deny my faith,’ and he fought valiantly for it.”

There were few priests and Daniel often had to walk fifty miles or more in order to make his Easter duty, fending off wolves. As the children were born (they had nine) he and Brigit sought to raise them in the faith. According to the letter to Madeline:

Mother and he used to take a child a piece on horseback…when a priest had a station in Kitley which was very seldom, they rode on horseback to have their children christened….By good examples, good books, and constant admonishing to their family they kept the light of faith burning in their children. How often Protestant ministers were invited to come partake of father and mother’s hospitality in order to discuss religious questions to point out to his family the truths of our holy religion. No church, no school to send us for instruction, that, my dear, is the faith of our dear old Irish parents.

Daniel believed that a Christian was required to live as Christian, no matter what. As he wrote to his daughters Ellen and Mary:

My dear children, it is superfluous for me to admonish you as respects your moral and religious duty. For, thanks be to God, you did not neglect your instruction under your paternal roof. I pray to God to shed His grace unto your hearts to practice faithfully the duties of His religion. You will be saved not only because you are Catholic but when you are a true and pious one. Let not weak and silly minds persuade you that that this is an unnecessary thing to engage in exercise of piety….

Education as well as faith was paramount to Daniel. Donald Harman Akenson writes in his study, The Irish in Ontario: “in the rear of the township on Long Point, Daniel O’Connor, a large Catholic landholder who was recognized as the squire of the area, built a first-class stone school which became part of the common school network.” (Akenson, p.276) Daniel eventually gained the respect of his neighbors and was appointed the first Irish Catholic magistrate in the County of Leeds. While serving as juryman in Brockville, the county seat, he was responsible for abolishing customs which were prejudicial to Catholics.

Daniel died on December 8, 1886, two years after his beloved wife Brigit, of whom it was said in her obituary “her death was calm as her life had been.” According to Daniel’s obituary in the Brockville Reporter, March 1887:

Of the deceased it may be truly said that his faults were few and his virtues many….Upright and honest, a true-hearted Irishman, he leaves behind him memories which link his name to the true and trusted who have gone before. His death was more the result of the natural decay of old age more than actual sickness. And he died fortified by the sacraments of the church, in peace with himself, in peace with his fellowmen and in peace with his God.

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