The Two Kings of Ireland – Foreword.


This book is a novel, but the characters and situations have been faithfully interpreted according to historical facts. I have chosen to present the story as a record, written by Charles Bianconi, of the life of his friend Daniel O’Connell.  During the record, the greater part of Bianconi’s own life emerges too. In fact Charles Bianconi wrote no such record, but he was a close friend of O’Connell’s.

My object has been not simply to tell the story of two of the greatest men in 19th century Ireland, but to paint a picture of the times in which these two great men lived. So we see fly-boats which offered a passenger service faster than a coach, sailing packets giving way to the steam ships, coaches giving way to trains, the atmospheric railway which ran for ten years from Dun Laoghaire to Dalkey without an engine to pull it, the squalor of 19th. century Dublin and the beauty of Kerry, the price of meat and the fees of a barrister, duels and gaslight, menus and the theatre.

The last two centuries have seen huge changes everywhere, but in Ireland there is the added inconvenience for the writer of name changes. Dun Laoghaire was Kingstown in 1865 (and was Dunleary before 1830!). Portlaiose was Maryborough, County Offaly was King’s County, and so on. O’Connell and Bianconi would drink in Bumpers, or Post up to Dublin, or pay in shillings and pence, ha’pennies and farthings. Apart from name changes,  there are a number of instances where 19th. century customs and services like drinking toasts in bumpers or travelling post may not be familiar to the reader. So, unusually for a novel, I have included notes at the end to explain some of the more arcane references.

Finally, my sources, for with one exception all key events in this book are factual. Of more recent publications, I owe a debt of gratitude to Charles Chenevix Trent for his history “The Great Dan” (1984), and Dennis Gwynn for his “Daniel O’Connell” (1947). Apart from these two, most of my sources are from 1900 and before. O’Connell’s letters are voluminous, especially those to his wife and to Patrick Vincent Fitzpatrick, his aide and confidant in Dublin. I have read hundreds, perhaps thousands, of them, and found them invaluable.

The exception is Bianconi’s trip as a boy through Switzerland. I have been unable to trace a record of his journey, save that he started heading north up the Chiavenna pass (presumably to avoid Napoleonic armies in northern Italy and southern France), he was heading for London, and arrived in Dublin. So he must have gone through Switzerland, and probably sailed down the Rhine, that great highway of Europe before trains and aeroplanes. His companions are factual, but the detail of the trip is speculative, and based chiefly on “The Rhine” by Victor Hugo,  “Travels in Switzerland” by William Coxe, 1789, and “Voyages and Travels” by John Pinkerton, 1809.

Chapter 1.   1775 − 1793.

My name is Charles Bianconi, but I was born Carlo, eleven years after the Liberator. It is now 1865.  I am 79, and have reluctantly stopped working in my business, the largest transport business in Ireland. It’s time I stopped anyhow, I suppose, but the decision has been forced on me by an accident and I am confined to a wheel chair.

I have long thought that someone should write the story of Daniel O’Connell, the man who brought Emancipation to Irish Catholics and became known as the Liberator. He was, in my estimation and that of many other people, a truly great man. He was also a good friend of mine, and so I dedicate this work to his memory.

The Liberator was always extremely flaithiúlach (pronounced fle-hoo-lich) as they say in Ireland, generous to a fault, often with money he did not have. As a result he was often in financial trouble. Whereas I have always been extremely careful with my money, prudente as we say in Italian, as befits a Lombard. The Liberator was also a vain man, as I am sure he himself would have admitted freely. He reminded me often of what I had learned of Cicero all those years ago from my Uncle, that scholarly old gentleman. Vain, but justifiably so. As the Marquess of Anglesey put it, after their meeting following the Clare election: “My firm belief is that O’Connell is perfectly sincere. I should be laughed at for my gullibility, but I repeat that I believe him sincere. That he has a good heart and means well and means indeed always what he says, but that he is volatile and unsteady and so vain that he cannot resist momentary applause.”

A lot of this account, especially the earlier chapters, is based on what the Liberator would have called “hearsay evidence”. I wasn’t even born until he was eleven, as I’ve already said. Many of my friends, in particular the Liberator’s children, have told me so many stories, shown me so many family letters – I have even been able too to see and to copy some of the hundreds of letters he wrote to his lovely wife Mary, and she to him. From 1830 or so, I knew him personally and well. All the same, I have had to fill in the huge gaps in my own personal knowledge of him with this “hearsay evidence”. And I have taken some liberties with conversations, thoughts, and the like, where I have sometimes written what I think a character would have said or thought in the circumstances, especially the conversations of O’Connell with his wife, from my knowledge of them both.  My opening paragraph is a good example – Dr. Moriarty was the family doctor, the times and locations are accurate, but the detail of the scene is imagined.

My own story will emerge from that of Daniel O’Connell as we go on, for there is a little vanity in all of us, and I would like to be remembered as I see myself, and not as others remember me after I am gone.

But this is chiefly the story of Daniel O’Connell.

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