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Stones, Swans, and Castles

December 3, 2021

Since my books are set in Ireland and I live in Vermont, being able to travel and spend time in the settings where my books take place is pretty essential to my writing process. My last trip to Ireland was in 2019, when I spent some time in West Cork, the setting for The Drowning Sea, out in June, 2022. In February of 2020, I brought my two youngest children along on a Long Island research trip for A Distant Grave. It would be the last trip we would take for a long time.

During the first months of the pandemic, I felt so fortunate that I'd been able to do both of those trips. The research I'd done allowed me to write both A Distant Grave and The Drowning Sea, but I knew that I would need to spend some more time in Ireland in order to write the fourth Maggie D'arcy mystery. I just wasn't sure when I could do it.

Finally, as the fall went on, things seemed to be looking better in both Ireland and the U.S. I was able to get a booster shot and Ireland opened up again to vaccinated American tourists. The time was right! In early November, I spent ten days researching settings (and seeing friends) in Dublin and then driving around Meath, Clare, Offaly, Tipperary, and Kildare, getting inspiration for future cases for Maggie.

It was so good to be back. Highlights of the trip included finally getting to Newgrange, one of the best-known of the three Irish neolithic passage tombs at Brú na Bóinne. The tombs were likely used for burial and worship and, of course, on the winter solstice, sunlight famously shines directly into the roof box above the entrance to Newgrange and illuminates the chamber. They weren't letting visitors into the chamber because of Covid, but I was able to look inside and I found it moving to think of the humans who, five thousand years ago, built a temple to celebrate the light.

Another highlight of the trip was visiting Leap Castle in County Offaly. It is frequently referred to as "the most haunted castle in Ireland" but I got a warm welcome from Sean, who lives in the castle and has been restoring it. He told me all about its long history and then let me explore on my own.

I explored the world of high stakes horse racing and breeding in Kildare, gorgeous Lough Derg and the Slieve Bloom Mountains, and I also spent a couple of days in Maggie's boyfriend Conor's home county of Clare. Here's a picture of the area around the spot where I imagine his parents' sheep farm is located, which will be familiar to readers of A Distant Grave.

As always, I took so much joy in exploring new corners of Dublin. I won't say too much about Maggie's fourth, as yet untitled, adventure, but here are a few images of the Portobello neighborhood where it's mostly set. With everything going on now, I feel so incredibly grateful that I was able to do this research trip safely. It meant so much to me to reconnect with friends and to walks the streets that Maggie walks in my imagination. I can't wait until I can go back.


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