An Irish Story of Love and Redemption
Based on the Novel by Monica Dougherty copyrighted 2013 and published by Sunstone Press
Contact: James Clois Smith Jr., Sunstone Press / (505) 988-4418
Log Line: Inheriting secrets, sorrows and a family ring, an Irish-American TV reporter from Chicago travels to Ireland to find the story of the ring and finds something much more.
It is a dark and stormy night in Ireland, 1847. A ferocious wind is blowing . The lightning illuminates forlorn figures huddling in ditches and struggling against the wind and rain. Inside an English garrison building there is a glowing fire over which a piece of meat is roasting. English soldiers are drinking, drying off and warming up by the fire, anticipating a nice dinner and relaxing night protected from the wretched conditions outside. In the corner stands a BATTERING RAM, read for the next morning’s work.
Outside, behind a stone fence, MICK KILROY, age 19 and JAMES KILROY, age 18, exchange glances full of anger and despair. They are dressed in ragged peasant clothing. James looks out toward the ocean as the waves crash and the storm worsens.
As the thunder crashes a boat is visible. On the deck a band is playing and men are drinking and smoking in a celebratory way. There is a crescendo of noises, a huge tearing sound, wood breaking loose, men yelling, women and children screaming in terror. And a man’s insistent voice calling, Rose! Rose! Then a piece of wood pulls up, catching the edge of a woman’s dress, a scream, then silence. The sky begins to lighten as the sun rises; we hear the sound of water lapping aback and forth; a woman’s delicate wrist, encircled by soggy black lace is revealed, half in, half out of the water. A glint of gold from the ring on her finger catches the sun.
It is the 1960s. NORA DONOVAN wakes up to the sounds of a radio announcing beautiful weather for the St. Patrick’s Day parade. She notices a bit of morning sun glinting off her ring. She realizes that the vague and haunting visions she’s been having, shrouded in the mists of consciousness between night and day, are somehow connected to the ring.
She takes it off and puts it in a tarnished music box and reaches for the bottle of valium on her night table. On a hanger over the closet door is a nurse’s uniform, ironed and more ready for the day than she is. The valium will help.
Irish music is blasting from her daughter’s room. ROSE DONOVAN, 19, is dressed in her St. Patrick’s Day attire: green sweater, shamrock drop earrings, green tights; the works. Nora tells her to turn down the radio or she’ll have her grandfather yelping at her. Nora is begrudging of Rose’s youth and joyous spirit. They live with Nora’s parents and her sister. It’s a bargain Nora made for their safety and security when her husband left. They are all trapped by the bargains they’ve made with life.
It is present day. Rose is now about 30 and is a local TV reporter. She covers the St. Patrick’s Day parade, still dressed in her gaudy finery. She and her producer, TOM WINTER, a Native American man in his 30s, are dancing around an attraction to each other. In spite of a painful past breakup Rose and Tom begin a relationship. He seems to have a depth she’s been searching for. All goes well for a while.
Rose is contentedly making breakfast for herself and Tom. She turns on the TV and hears their colleague GENE DAVIS on the morning news. He’s reporting that rights have finally been given to the owner of a scavenger boat who found the wreckage of the Lady Elgin on the bottom of Lake Michigan. Rose remembers that the wreck has something to do with the ring her mother has. The phone rings and her aunt, BRIDEY RYAN, is calling with news that her mother Nora, Bridey’s sister, is dying. And her world is again about to change.
Nora dies after a few days. After the funeral, at which she finally introduces Tom to her own tribal Irish family, Rose, Bridey and her cousin KATHY RYAN are doing the things that need doing after a death. In the process Rose and Kathy find the ring and some of Nora’s writings. They decide it’s finally time to go to Ireland, something they’ve talked about for years, and try to find the story behind the inherited ring.
After settling in at their hotel in Newport, County Mayo they meet JOE, owner of the local restaurant, the GRÁINNE UAILE, who gives them helpful information. The next morning they meet INEZ, a former New Yorker and a little person, who owns the local book store. Inez is also psychic. She sees the ring, which Rose now wears on a chain, and recognizes that it carries a story. She is able to lift the veil of time and takes us back to Ireland in the 1840s, the years of the Great Hunger.
It’s Fair Day, when the people of Newport meet in the Square to sell their wares and catch up with each other. ROSE RYAN is there with her mother, MARY RYAN and they are selling hats and cloth roses they’ve made and also eggs and cheese from their farm. Rose’s father, MARTIN RYAN is also there selling sheep and goats and a few wooden boxes he’s made for the local shopkeepers. Her brothers, SEAMUS RYAN, 19 and JOHN RYAN, 18, are helping their father, but are also roughhousing with the KILROY boys—THOMAS, 20; MICK, 19; JAMES, 18 and PATRICK, 15. Rose has her eyes on James.
English soldiers ride by on their way back to their barracks up the road. A group of the Irish men gather. Something is in the air. The brothers are still playing around and Mick accidentally falls in front of one of the soldier’s horses. It rears up and the soldier mutters something under his breath as he regains control of his horse. The boys are ready for a fight, but the men restrain them.
The men are shaken by news they’re hearing. Martin approaches his wife. “Mary, Pakie’s crop has the blight and John’s is the same. He’s there now tryin’ to salvage what he can.” They all say their goodbyes as the women pack up their carts and head for home and the men head to the pub. Rose climbs in the cart with her mother, looking back at James, dreamy-eyed. Mary is taken aback. She hadn’t seen this coming.
In the Kilroy cottage UNCLE SEAMUS is stirring up trouble, speaking of past struggles and urging the boys to do something. Their mother, MAURA KILROY is clearly upset by the talk. The landlord’s agent arrives for the rent money, which JOHN KILROY dutifully hands over. Mick and James are angry and frustrated at having to turn over all the money gained from their crops and livestock to the landlord, only being allowed a portion of the potato crop for their own survival. Seeds of discontent have surely been sown.
A few months later people are milling about the churchyard looking much worse for the wear. There’s talk of a workhouse to be built. Mick runs up holding the hand of MARY MCHALE. “She’s said yes!” yells Mick. There’s to be a wedding. Maura invites friends and neighbors to come for a small celebration that evening. Everyone contributes what they have to make things festive.
KIERAN MORAN, a known member of the Young Irelanders and a friend to the Ryan and Kilroy boys, arrives. Mary Ryan is afraid, and rightly so, that he’s stirring up more trouble. Some men are playing lively tunes on the fiddle. James asks Rose to dance. After, they go outside and sit on the stone fence in the moonlight to talk. Maura comes out to dump some water. She sees them and smiles.
A year has passed. Things have grown much worse. Mick and James must walk to the town—the horse is too weak now to pull the cart—to try to get a bag of barley each from the Relief Commission. On the way there and back they see terrible evidence of what the situation is doing to people.
Once home they are asked by a neighbor, NAN MULCHRONE, to “throw the house down” for her as her husband has died and she can’t get a certificate of relief if she has a house. Mick and James bash down her stone cottage. They return home to discover she has died and the small and sad group buries her by the rubble of her former home.
A few months later a food convoy filled to overloading with bacon, cheese, bags of barley and wheat is on its way to the harbor for export, guarded by three English soldiers. People come up out of the ditch and try to grab what they can. The soldiers push them away with the ends of their rifles. The wretched people are too weak to do more than fall back into the ditches.
On a hillside a group of Young Irelanders are in position. A shot rings out and the group rush down the hill in full riot mode. The two soldiers on horseback are killed, but the one driving the wagon is able to escape. As he drives off he looks into the faces of Seamus and John Ryan. He recognizes them from the town. “We’re marked now for sure,” says Seamus.
The next morning the Ryan brothers go to the Kilroy farm to tell them what’s happened. Mary Ryan is in a panic and wants the whole family to go immediately. She has an ad sent to her earlier from a cousin in Milwaukee, Wisconsin offering to pay passage over for carpenters. They leave taking only what they can carry. For Rose, the thought of being in the world without James seems almost more than she can bear, but it’s what she has to do.
Life continues for the Kilroys. Tom has married BRIDEY KELLY. Mick and Mary, now married, have two small children. They all try to pull together to survive. A neighbor comes and tells them the guards have come to bash in Bridey’s parents’ home with the battering ram. They all rush to help them salvage what they can. They live through the horror of watching the home and their lives destroyed. Kieran Moran joins in to help. He gives James a look of challenge. James meets his look and it’s clear he’s had enough.
The Young Irelanders meet up in a farmyard and prepare to attack the English barracks. Mick and James have joined up. Patrick has followed them to the farmyard. It begins to storm and they make their way through ferocious wind and cold, driving rain and take positions behind trees and bushes and the stone fence.
They see the soldiers warming by the fire, relaxing and enjoying a full meal. “Ah, look at them. God help us, Mick, if they weren’t wearing those uniforms they’d be no different than we. What has brought us all to this place of horror?” Kieran gives the signal and there is no turning back. Their lives—and the lives of their descendents—will forever be changed.
In the Kilroy home that same night Maura’s nightmare has come true and she is horrified at what’s been done. They, too, are marked men and must go. It will be up to Thomas now to stay and hold them together. Before they go, Maura gives James her gold wedding ring. “I’ll pray you can find Rose. She’s loved you since you were all wee ones.”
They begin their sorrowful journey to the harbor at night. A full moon highlights their desperate goodbyes. Like those before them they must now survive the trip over on what have become known as “coffin ships”. Patrick contracts cholera on the ship and makes it only to the Quarantine Hospital in Staten Island, New York where he dies a few days after arrival.
The others—Mick, Mary, their children and James—survive. They are not the only family whose first event in America is a burial. They get through the first experiences of the chaotic harbor and landing and their early days with the help of a note from Kieran Moran to the Irish Aid Society.
Mick and James are able to get work as carpenters. They join the Irish social Club and prosper. It is at an event there one evening that they receive a letter from Seamus Ryan and James now knows Rose has survived and is in Milwaukee.
Later that same evening GARRETT BARRY is introduced. He is a General in the U.S. Army and former teacher of future Civil War generals Grant, Sherman, Rosecrans and McDowell. He’s seeking men to ride with him to escort a party of Oneida people from their New York tribal lands to new treatied lands in northern Wisconsin. James signs up, grateful to find a way to Rose. He goes to the Quarantine Hospital cemetery and says his goodbyes to Patrick.
The party assembles and begins the journey to Wisconsin. Along the way James meets AQUOYIOTA, son of the Chief and begins to learn of the terrible injustices the Native people are enduring.
The Ryans receive a letter from Mick telling them James is coming. The escort party arrives to a celebratory crowd in Milwaukee, no one happier than Rose. One look tells both Rose and James that their feelings for each other have remained strong. James leaves the escort party. As they say their goodbyes, Garrett Barry tells James that as soon as the Oneidas are settled up north he is resigning his commission and will settle in Milwaukee with his wife and children. James returns with Rose to the Ryan’s shop and home.
It is now 1852 and a runaway slave, JOSHUA GLOVER, is helped to freedom by abolitionist LYMAN GOODNOW. Joshua gets a job at the paper mill and settles into a free life in Racine, Wisconsin. All is well for a time, until two paid informers alert his former owner, MASTER GARLAND, in Missouri. Garland arrives with two federal marshals and arrests Joshua. CAL, another former slave and friend of Joshua, runs to tell SHERMAN BOOTH, activist, abolitionist and editor of The Freeman newspaper.
Booth organizes a crowd who storm the jail, free Joshua and help him escape to a boat in Canada and freedom. However, the events surrounding his escape will change the course of Wisconsin history and cause Sherman Booth to be jailed. But he has gotten the population incited over the issue of slaves’ rights and many petition GOVERNOR ALEXANDER RANDALL to secede from the Union. “It’s a tempest in a teacup and will soon blow over,” says Randall.
Three years have passed. Booth is still in jail and the tempest has only increased in strength. James and Rose have married and have a son, JOSEPH, and a new baby, MARY CECILIA. They have prospered and are enjoying some time with family and friends at the Irish Social Hall. Garrett Barry, after resigning his commission becomes a businessman and a city commissioner and is then asked to lead the Union Guards, one of Wisconsin’s state militias. He reconnects with James and asks him to be a Lieutenant.
Due to growing pressure to secede, Governor Randall questions all of his militias to see who would support him if he so decides. Garrett Barry says that though he and his men are opposed to slavery, standing against the federal government amounts to treason. The Governor disarms them and they are to turn in their guns.
The next morning the Guards, under the watchful eyes of soldiers and police, turn in their weapons with controlled fury and disgust. They regroup. “We will not be made powerless again,” says Seamus Ryan.
The Guards plan an overnight family excursion trip to Chicago in conjunction with a planned visit by Democratic presidential candidate STEPHEN DOUGLAS. They charter a steamship, the LADY ELGIN. They sell tickets to members of the city police and fire departments, the German militia group, the Green Yeagers, and various other city groups. The money from the ticket price will pay for guns, some to be picked up in Chicago and arranged for with the help of CHARLES LARRABEE, a Democratic Representative.
The ship’s captain, JACK WILSON, is a man with a sterling reputation as one of the best ship captains on the Lakes. It’s a very festive event and there’s much excitement dockside as they wait for the ship to arrive. After some delays the Lady Elgin leaves Milwaukee late on the night of September 6, 1860 and arrives in Chicago at dawn.
The ship docks on the Chicago River. They are disappointed to learn that Stephen Douglas has been detained out east and will not be speaking. The Guards march in formation, leading their group to a planned breakfast at the Merchant Hotel. From there they all disperse, the women and children to shopping and sightseeing, the men to some fine cigar shops first and then to the armory.
They meet up at the end of the day for a final military parade and then a dinner under tents at Lakeside Park. They make their way back to the Lady Elgin for the return trip home. A storm is approaching.
At the Milwaukee pier a schooner, THE AUGUSTA, is loading lumber. And also cases of liquor hidden under canvas for future sale in Chicago. CAPTAIN DARIUS MALOTT is seen on the pier by his two employees accepting money. It’s his 27th birthday. He’s been drinking already and as he slips on the stairs down into the boat, first mate JOHN VORCE is disgusted. Malott lifts the canvas, and counts the cases. He pulls out a bottle of Scotch and heads for his quarters.
Vorce knocks on his door and asks if they should delay departure due to the storm. Malott angrily asks if he wants to wait another day for his pay? Vorce returns to the control cabin and informs second mate, GEORGE BUDGE that it will be up to them to get the Augusta to Chicago through the stormy night.
A wagon full of runaway slaves heading north via the Underground Railway arrives at the dock in Chicago. As other supplies are being loaded onto the Lady Elgin, the group is led to an area in the bottom of the ship. Above, in the wheel room, Jack Wilson has decided to delay leaving due to the oncoming storm.
He sees a commotion on the dock and goes to investigate. Larrabee has been notified that Governor Randall’s men are on their way. Barry tells Jack they need to leave immediately and Jack refuses due to the brewing storm. “Captain,” says Garrett, “There are guns loaded on this boat, paid for by this trip. And we both know there is other cargo loaded on. We’ve women and children here, sir, who don’t need to be caught up in this. I know you’ve gotten this ship through storms before and we will have to rely on your skill to do it once more.”
Wilson realizes he has no choice. He orders the deck hands to pull up for departure. All are surprised, none more than some of the people on the ship who were just there at Wilson’s invitation to continue visiting with their Milwaukee relatives. The boat pulls out and heads into the lake waters.
Rose and James enjoy a bit of time under the moonlight on the deck. Rose is anxious to get home to their son, Joe, left behind as he recovers from a fever. Tired she takes baby Mary down to a sleeping cabin. Many remain on deck and continue on with singing and dancing. Though still worried, Captain Wilson begins to think the storm might blow over. But he is wrong and soon orders the wheelman to steer the ship a few points off the northeast winds to keep the ship from rolling too much and to keep the passengers calmer as the storm grows worse.
The two men on the Augusta, steaming toward Chicago, are rapidly losing control of the schooner and they are now on a collision course with the Lady Elgin. Malott, roused by the storm, staggers to the deck, but it is too late. Wilson also sees the Augusta heading towards them, but they cannot maneuver out of the way in time. The Augusta crashes directly into the center of the Lady Elgin. Malott rapidly pulls his ship out with disastrous results. He almost whispers, “Are you damaged?” He knows the answer and the Augusta continues on its way.
Jack Wilson is horrified by the damage. He orders the wheelman to turn the ship west toward shore. Things happen quickly. Two lifeboats filled with only a few people drift away without oars. People aboard the ship are in a panic, some just jumping into the water. They grab what they can to keep floating. Large pieces of deck become rafts.
James runs down to try and find Rose. He calls out, “Rose! Rose!” but hears no answer. Rose hears him, but before she can answer a piece of flooring rears up, catching a corner of her dress and she is dragged under, holding the baby. James is knocked out by falling wood. He comes to just as the ship breaks apart and he’s soon in the water.
It is a long, cold night as those who were able to get onto decking or had something to float with drift towards the shore. The first lifeboat reaches land and the citizens are alerted to the shipwreck. But there are high bluffs and they can only watch as some make it close to shore and are pulled under the water by a huge undertow close to shore.
Some survive the night, but more than 400 perish, including Rose, James and Mary Cecilia, the Ryans, Captain Wilson, Garrett Barry and his son, Willie. The rescues continue throughout the day for those lucky enough to make it through that awful night.
There is a stunned silence in the bookstore. The events occurred so long ago, but they feel as if it just happened. Inez tells Rose and Kathy of some places they should visit, including the stone rubble that might have been the original Kilroy home those many years ago.
They drive to see the Famine Monument behind Croagh Patrick, and then back through the town of Newport, up into the mountain area and sit for a time in what might have been the yard of their ancestor’s home. They are changed by what they’ve learned. They go back to town and to the Gráinne Uaile and Joe to tell him the story. He gives them the name of a living Kilroy in the area. They visit her and are given a box of letters, sent to Thomas Kilroy by his brother Mick and also letters later that came from Joe Kilroy, the little boy left behind to recover, who lost his whole family the night of the shipwreck.
Dublin airport. Rose and Kathy fly home with the letters and the story. Rose sees a video playing in the airport sponsored by UNICEF about the starving children in the Sudan and she begins to formulate an idea for a film she wants to do.
Once home Rose arranges to hire the scavenger boat that found the wreckage. She gathers family members, and Tom and Gene, and they go out on Lake Michigan the night of September 8th to the area where the ship parts were found. They each throw a rose out onto the water.