Angry Heavens: A Trilogy of Short Stories

Part I: THE BAILEYS OF IRELAND

My Motivation as the Author

After I finished writing Angry Heavens, I realized I had to cut out much of the introduction that told the history of two families destined to be intertwined a hundred and sixty years later.  The Baileys, a staunch Irish Catholic family from Charleston. And the  Merriweathers from Richmond, Virginia, longtime members of the Protestant Anglican Church…

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As the epic story of Angry Heavens‘ opens, Matthew Conroy Bailey is feverishly working to grow the natural remedies business inherited from his father, James Patrick Bailey. His wife, Lauraleigh, is, on the other hand, focused on building connections that would assure that their youngest daughter Mary Assumpta would one day be accepted into proper Charleston society. Unfortunately for Lauarleigh, Mary Assumpta had no interest whatsoever in the Charleston debutante scene. However, she was very interested in the medical practice of her oldest brother, the very successful surgeon and medical researcher, Dr. John Bailey…

A few hundred miles north in Richmond, Virginia, another, more traditional medical practice was also thriving. Dr. Winston Arthur and Beatrice Elizabeth Merriweather were the parents of six children. Their oldest son, James Edward, had followed his father’s footsteps to the University of Virginia Medical School, and after apprenticing with his father for a few months, he was ready for a change. On attending Charleston physician John Bailey’s lecture on the advances in surgery and antiseptics, James knew where he wanted the next step in his profession to be.  Soon after, Matthew asked and was accepted by Dr. Bailey as his apprentice, and after a year, his partner…

As James Edward Merriweather’s medical skills grew, so did his love for John Bailey’s” younger sister, Mary Assumpta, who served as his “surgery nurse.” Pregnant and planning to marry the Protestant James against her Catholic mother’s wishes, Mary Assumpta fled from her family home—rejected and disowned by her mother….

Mary Assumpta’s father, who accepted the relationship, provided a future for the newlyweds that would keep them close—a workable, but in disrepair, farmstead across Charleston Harbor on Horlbeck Creek. The move required a life-altering decision from James and Mary Assumpta. James would have to give up medicine for farming. The decision was simple—for Mary Assumpta and their soon-to-be-born son, he readily agreed. Mary Assumpta would not see her mother again though she often tried to no avail…

James willingly grew into his new roles as farmer and father until on a mid-April morning when he heard what sounded like a pre-dawn thunderstorm moving across Charleston Harbor. What actually he heard were the Confederate cannons of Charleston’s Battery firing on the Union soldiers manning Fort Sumpter. The first cannonade of the war caused a battle within James Merriweather’s conscience. He was philosophically and religiously opposed to slavery, but he was a loyal son of the South and he was still a physician. After many conversations with his wife and letters to his father in Richmond, his heritage and his calling won out. In July 1861, Dr. James Edward Merriweather rode north to enlist in Medical Corps of Army of Northern Virginia. Mary Assumpta had her own battle raging over his enlistment. She did not relish the potential of raising their child by herself. Nonetheless, James would leave Horlbeck Creek Farm with her waves and shouts of well-wishes with his soon to be eight-year-old son, Colin, at her side.

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In this Part I of the trilogy, we trace the story of the Baileys to Ireland in 1690 and the War between Catholic King James of Scotland, Ireland, and England, and the Dutch Protestant William of Orange. You will meet Ulrich Bailey, patriarch, and Bridget O’Flaherty Bailey, matriarch of the Charleston Baileys.  

The Baileys of County Clare were people of the land, and stories of the freedom fighters of old were passed down from father to son. 

The Charleston Baileys never forgot the feeling of forced servitude.

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Ireland 1690

1 The Lineage

While the casualties of the battle were relatively small, the victory of the Williamites was large in continuing the ongoing conflicts between Catholics and the Protestants of Ireland. While the Catholics represented, by far, the larger of the two groups, the Protestants of the Church of Ireland and the Church of England represented the wealth and landholdings, much of it held by absentee landlords who lived in London.

Ulrich Bailey, who turned 18 just days before the battle, would return in retreat from County Heath to County Galway, and on Christmas day, 1690, marry Bridget Clodagh O’Flaherty.

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As Ulrich Bailey grew to manhood, he had two future choices; join the ranks of the seamen who sailed the North Atlantic from Galway or to work with his father on the tenant farm owned by Robert Doyle, who lived in Galway proper. His father eked out an existence growing potatoes in the fertile loamy soil that bordered the River Clare five miles west of where the river emptied in Lough Corrib, two miles from the ancient County Galway village of Baile Chláir na Gaillimhe, and six and a half miles, as the crow flies, northeast of Galway.

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Ulrich joined the Jacobite Army in February 1690 with little fear and great joy to be away from the back bending work on his father’s farm just ahead in the spring to come. He kept his commitment to the Jacobites through winter and spring and fought well at the River Boyne, but defeat did not suit him well, and after the hasty retreat from County Heath, he gladly returned to his father’s farm to tend the summer crops and prepare for the fall potato harvest. Besides, during his brief Jacobite Army career, he had missed Bridget more than he thought possible.

2 Young Decisions

Bridget O’Flaherty’s father owned his 200 acres of farmland that he devoted to raising milk cows. Aiden O’Flaherty, a distant descendant of the prominent O’Flaherty family, was not rich except in comparison to the tenant farmers who surrounded his farm. However, his manner toward his fellow farmers indicated that he saw his station as significantly different. In practical terms, he was a farmer who experienced fewer headaches than his tenant neighbors because of his land ownership and prospered in ways that only he considered important.

Aiden O’Flaherty was glad when Ulrich Bailey made it known that he was enlisting with Jacobites. O’Flaherty knew that Ulrich and Bridget, a year his junior, were in the awkward throes of young love, and Aiden had plans to introduce the copper-haired Bridget to the sons of several Galway merchants to whom he sold milk from his farm. Though he did not wish it, he would not have been grief-stricken had Ulrich been one of 1500 that died in the Battle of the Boyne. However, Ulrich returned intact and Bridget, who had at best tolerated her father’s springtime matchmaking, was clearly overjoyed.

Ulrich had wiled away the hours between skirmishes contemplating his future that was not complicated as he had only two choices as he saw it. He concluded that when faced with the prospect of life at sea and long stretches away from the ochre-haired, blue-eyed Bridget, Ulrich decided that he was better suited to farm life in its knowable monotony than to the unknown treacherousness of life on a fishing vessel. On the day in late August when he intended to make his decision known to Bridget, he met her for a late afternoon picnic under the massive oak that sat squarely with expansive branches spanning the fieldstone fence that separated the farms of their fathers.

When he told Bridget of his decision, she eased her head from his shoulder and kissed him. “Ulrich, you have made me jubilant this day,” she said tenderly. “I don’t know how I could have borne the worry for your safety had you chosen to go to sea.” 

Amid this second part of her declaration of joy, tears streaked Bridget ‘s face. Ulrich knew she cried as much for her favorite uncle who had been lost at sea as she did for his decision, and he kissed her tears away and soothed her.  “I understand. You need never worry about me.

“I, on the other hand,” he said with a smile in his voice, “Do worry greatly about what your father will say when he hears that today, I asked his daughter to marry the son of a tenant farmer who loves her beyond any measure he thought possible.”

“Ulrich Bailey,” Bridget squealed, “If you are asking me to marry you, the answer is yes!”

After the kisses and fumbling with buttons and lovemaking that followed such a poorly delivered question and enthusiastic reply, the young lovers spent the last hour before dusk planning how they would break the news to Aiden O’Flaherty.

3 Christmas Mass and a Wedding

The annual midnight mass Christmas homily delivered by Father Joseph Campbell, leader of the Abbey in the small farming community of Baile Chláir na Gaillimhe, had an added element on Christmas Eve of 1690 – the marriage of Ulrich Bailey and Bridget O’Flaherty. The ceremony was small, but because Bridget and Ulrich were the firstborn children of each family, the holy sacrament of marriage took on a special significance for the Baileys and the O’Flahertys and the other local families who had gathered for the midnight event.

Ulrich and Bridget Bailey returned as husband and wife from the midnight Mass to the Bailey home. He had reluctantly agreed with her that the only reasonable living arrangement for them for the near future was with her family and not his. His pride gave way to common sense. He knew that one more mouth to feed for his mother was a significant obligation in a household of six.  For Bridget ‘s mother, her household would now be four instead of three since Bridget was an only child – her younger sister having died five years earlier of an early winter pneumonia that had held on until springtime before she quietly gave up the desire to live another day.

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The annual post-midnight Mass Christmas dinner at the O’Flaherty home this year included Ulrich’s family – his father, Declan, his mother, Fiona, and his twin sister and brother, Darcy and Niall.  The twins, who had been born thirteen years earlier, were more than a bit antsy as their only goal for the evening was to return to be tucked in and await Santy to leave simple gifts at the foot of their bed. 

The atmosphere of the Christmas Eve meal at the O’Flahertys could best be described as congenial if not familial. Bridget and Ulrich, although intimacy was not unfamiliar to them, nonetheless were anxious to experience each other’s gifts in the comfort of their own bedroom and the feather bed that awaited them. Hurried and secret lovemaking in haylofts and beds of clover, while exciting, left much to be desired and experienced. So they, like Ulrich’s siblings, were rather inattentive to the conversation, or its lack, across the Christmas Eve table.  

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On the farms of the River Clare, Christmas and marriage quickly gave way to daily routines.  

Ulrich left before daylight each morning and walked the half-mile to his father’s tenancy that bordered the O’Flaherty farm on the southwest quadrant where he would prepare for either planting or harvesting or weeding. It seemed to him that farming could be reduced to those three activities. He did not loathe it; neither did he relish the sameness of each day that soldiered on into each season.   

Bridget continued what she had always done to help her father with the cows. She rose, gathered the cows, helped with feeding and milking, returned for breakfast with her father and mother, then helped her parents in whatever way they needed her until the afternoon when she repeated the process.

The difference now for them both, and it was an altogether lovely distinction, was that each returned every day at dusk, they shared a meal together and then shared themselves with each other in blissfulness that removed all traces of the drudgery of the day.

4 Ever for the Catholic Homeland

In the early summer of 1691, Ulrich was again fighting with the Jacobite Army. With a lack of understanding that politicians decided when wars were concluded, eighteen-year-old Ulrich assumed that his days of combat had ended with the retreat with other Jacobites from the River Boyne.   So certain was he that, had he thought otherwise, he would have delayed his marriage to Bridget rather than risk her becoming a young widow.  

He was wrong.

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After the defeat at Boyne in July of the previous year, the Jacobite Army had indeed retreated west behind the River Shannon into Connacht Province, but only to set up defensive positions facing eastward using the River Shannon like a giant moat.  Around the Province, the Jacobites created strongholds at Sligo, Athlone, and Limerick. As the days grew on with no contact from the Williamites, members of the Jacobite brigade with farms in the west around County Galway were permitted to return to their land in preparation for harvesting. 

However, there was no pause in the minds of the army of William III who took the time to plan a flanking maneuver they believed would end the Jacobites’ plan for a Catholic King once and for all. 

And it did. 

Rather than attempting to cross the River Shannon at the center of Connacht, the Williamites breached the northern defenses at the town of Athlone, less than 20 miles northeast of Aughrim. This breach effectively split the Jacobites position with the Jacobite strongholds of Sligo, 40 miles further to the north, and Limerick, 60 miles to the South. 

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Ulrich was in the thick of the fighting at Aughrim as one of about 200 musketeers stationed in castle ruins northeast of the main Williamite force. Led by Colonel Walter Burke, the musketeers’ objective was to cover the approach of the enemy as they crossed the causeway into the town of Aughrim.

An exceptional marksman, Ulrich was relatively protected by the fallen walls of Castle Aughrim and the musketeers’ position on the higher ground aiming down toward the causeway that crossed the bog below. He had never shot at an enemy soldier where the odds were high that he would do anything other than have his musket ball fall short into the dirt yards away from doing any damage. Today, however, his enemy was only forty yards away, and well within the range of Ulrich’s musket. He had killed rabbits often at that distance. But a rabbit was not a man.  

As the English Cavalry charged across the causeway, the musketeers rained volley after volley of musket rounds on the enemy causing significant casualties, forcing the English to withdraw and regroup. In one of those illogical acts of fate on which battles often turn one way or the other, as Ulrich and his mates opened new cases of ammunition readying themselves for the next English Cavalry charge across the causeway, they found, not French musket balls, but English musket balls that would not fit their French-made weapons. As a result, they fired anything from buttons to pebbles to wooden ramrods – anything that would fit down the barrel of their muskets. As the Williamites stormed practically unopposed across the bog causeway, and with defeat imminent, the musketeers withdrew to join the Irish Cavalry just west of the town of Aughrim.

In a defensive plan, the Irish Army positioned its forces for a frontal attack. However, because the English Cavalry arrived from their rear flank, the Irish had no time to change positions, and the town of Aughrim and the Jacobite’s vision of a Catholic Ireland united by King James of Scotland were lost.

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Unlike his experiences at River Boyne, where the casualties were light, Ulrich’s experiences were much different at the Battle of Aughrim.  Never before had he experienced the coppery taste of the blood of a comrade next to him when a musket ball exploded his head. Neither had he smelled the stink of decaying bodies nor seen crows and vultures feasting on human dead. 

The casualties were high on both sides. The Jacobites lost almost a quarter of their forces and the Williamites about 15 percent of theirs. Ulrich escaped with only a through and through wound to his calf that he closed by cauterizing the bullet hole on each side by pouring gunpowder into the wound and igniting it. With the fighting done and his injury painful, but not debilitating, he returned to the farm and Bridget. 

5 Harsh Realities, Hard Won

Two years after the Battle of Aughrim, with pressure from their landlord and the government to convert to Protestantism or lose thier tenancy, Ulrich’s parents and brothers converted to the Church of Ireland. 

Ulrich, however, was neither of a like mind nor of like experiences. Perhaps it was that he was not tied to the land at the same emotional level as his father. It would be many years – basically beyond his ability at his young age to even fathom – before he would inherit his father’s right to farm the land that was not really even his own. 

He loved his Ireland. The flowing streams, the sheer cliff sides at the ocean’s edge, the game that roamed freely, feeling deep inside that this was God’s gift to his Celtic ancestors, although admittedly hard won. He wrestled hard with the question of staying and becoming a Protestant or leaving the only land that would always be his home. He prayed. Hard. But God, as Ulrich had often experienced Him, placed the decision squarely back on his broad shoulders. He talked to his mother. His father would not even entertain a discussion.  His mother was sympathetic, listening but not telling. In her heart she did not want the same life for Ulrich and Bridgett that had been her life, but she reserved those thoughts to her keeping.

Their first child, the great grandfather of James Patrick Bailey, patriarch of the Charleston, South Carolina Baileys, was conceived in steerage aboard the Galway Hooker somewhere in the mid-Atlantic and was born in their humble hut on December 8, 1694 on the shores of Chesapeake Bay. 

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Coming—Part II: THE MERRIWEATHERS OF ENGLAND

Meranwyrthe was a tiny community even by seventeenth-century standards. Fifteen miles from the English Channel, its population was about a hundred people depending on births and deaths on any given day. The residents did little more than survive. Better in the summer. Worse in the winter. Spring and fall more like winter than summer. 

During the reign of Charles I, in 1625, in the small village of Meranwyrthe, in County Kent, on a colder-than-usual mid-April day near, but not yet, dawn, Alyce, wife of Wyllm (the) Merchant, gave birth to a boy to be named David Merchant of Meranwyrthe. 

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