Mark Bois Interviews James Lockwood The Lockwoods of Clonakilty
An Evening with the Lockwoods
Lieutenant James Lockwood and Brigid O’Brian Lockwood are the central characters in two novels, Lieutenant and Mrs. Lockwood and The Lockwoods of Clonakilty. I can easily imagine sharing a bottle of wine with them in a snug pub, discussing their lives, and life in general. We join them in 1821, in the south of Ireland.
Q: It is such a pleasure to speak with you both. I wonder if I might first ask where and when you were born, please?
Brigid: (laughing) You are fortunate, sir, that I am not yet grown concerned about my age. I was born in March of 1781, here in Clonakilty.
James: (grinning) I must confess that I, for one, am very concerned about my age, but my dear wife’s frankness has shamed me into sharing the correct date. I was born in June of 1780, in Malahide, at Lockwood House.
Q: And you met here in Clonakilty, I believe?
James: Yes, I was an ensign in the Westmeath Militia, posted at the town barracks ̶
Brigid: He was exceedingly handsome. Tall, strong, and he cut such a dashing figure in his red coat and gold braid. All the local girls were mad for him.
James: I do wish I had realized that at the time; I might have played the Lothario. As it was, I was rather a puppy. Eighteen years of age, fresh from school in England ̶ Richmond House Academy, a miserable place ̶ new to the town, new to military life, and then to fall madly in love with the prettiest girl in Munster ….”
Brigid: (smiling, to James) Such tribulations. It is a wonder, sir, that you managed to reach your nineteenth year.
Q: If my addition is correct, you met in the year of the Rebellion, then?
James: Yes, 1798.
Q: And your regiment, the Westmeaths, was engaged at the Battle of Shannonvale, sir?
James: It was, sir. Just a few miles from Clonakilty two regiments of His Majesty’s forces were engaged by upwards of two thousand rebels, and were victorious only by the narrowest of margins. There are doubtless men who fought on the rebel ranks who walk past my door every day; it is an unusual notion.
Brigid: The ’98 was a fit of agony for all of Ireland, and it was perhaps an unfortunate time for us to choose to be married. Even before the rebellion it was unusual for a Protestant gentleman to marry a Catholic woman.
Q: And not just any Protestant gentleman, but a British officer.
Brigid: Precisely! When the rebellion broke out, it split the nation into two halves. There was black, and there was white, and there was little tolerance for those who might attempt to bridge that gap. I was eyed with great suspicion by many Protestants –
James: (bitterly) Including my family.
Brigid: ̶ and James was in turn disliked by many of my friends, and most of my family. Our children have had difficult moments in their lives. Our three youngest, two boys and a little girl, are at school in England, where an Irish accent is seldom appreciated. How I miss them! Our eldest daughter, Mary, is married, living in France, and very happy. I am fortunate to have our second daughter, Cissy, still at home, but she is finding life at odds with her expectations.
Q: Please tell me about your families. You come from very different backgrounds.
Brigid: My parents, Martin and Helen O’Brian, died rather young. They had a small farm west of town, lovely country, there. I shall show you later, if you have time. I have two sisters, Anne and Margaret, who both live close by. Anne and I are very close, but sadly Margaret and I are estranged, as she does not approve of my choice of husband. But still, I have Aunt and Uncles and cousins aplenty. You can hardly swing a cat by the tail without hitting an O’Brian, an O’Leary, or a McCarthy who I might I call cousin.
Q: And your education?
Brigid: Oh, my mother was a great one for education. My sisters and I were sent to Miss McCarthy’s School, who was so good to us girls, as she taught us so much more than stitching and deportment. Even now I read everything I can get my hands on.
James: (smiling) Do not get her started on Rousseau….
Q: And you, please, Lieutenant Lockwood?
Brigid: (to James) Oh! Oh, please, may I break the news, a grah? I shall burst if I do not say it aloud.
James: (smiling) The final paperwork is still pending, but I should not care to be the cause of your bursting, dear. Pray, do share our news.
Brigid: James is to be a captain! We have both so looked forward to this. He has worked so very hard, seen such service, Badajoz, Waterloo, and now he is finally to gain his step. I am so proud. A captain!
Q: Congratulations are in order, then, Captain Lockwood.
James: I thank you. After twenty-odd years as a lieutenant, to finally attain my captaincy means a great deal to me.
Q: I beg pardon for my ignorance, but how was it that you finally managed the promotion? Is it all based on seniority?
James: A full examination of the topic of promotion in the British army would require hours, and several bottles of wine. Suffice it to say that length of service plays a role, but if one is in a regiment that sees little combat, that seniority does little for you. There are men who serve as lieutenants for their entire careers, grey beards who answer to captains half their age, which is a pity.
Brigid: In James’s own regiment, the Inniskillings, there are several such men, I am thinking of Tim Borne and Joshua Hart, honourable men with sterling records, who will doubtless one day retire on a lieutenant’s half-pay.
James: Danny Waite, as well. No, seniority helps, and influence plays a role, believe me, but the true engine of promotion is money. My promotion from lieutenant to captain cost £950, which you may understand is an impossible sum for a married man with five children, one whose daily pay is five shillings eight pence per diem. It was only fate that changed that. Damned old fate.
Brigid: (reaching over to place a hand on James’s arm.) Ge milis am fìon, tha e searbh ri dhìol. The wine is sweet, the paying bitter.
James: Damned bitter. You see, my father and elder brother were both opposed to our marriage, and so for years we saw precious little from my family. But a fire earlier this year at Lockwood House claimed them both, as well as my sister-in-law, Elizabeth.
Brigid: His father and brother were … difficult … men, but Elizabeth was a dear. What a loss!
James: And so, in the end, your question about my family was attached to the discussion of my career. The estates are not what they once were, but we are certainly more comfortable than in years previous. But I should gladly return to the life of a scrimping lieutenant if ever I was given a chance to reconcile with them.
Q: This is such a horrid question, but I shall beg your pardon and ask it: Money must certainly have changed how you live your lives, but do you see it as changing who you are?
Brigid: (laughing, in a haughty voice) I believe a queen of some small country once said: “I have been rich, and I have been poor, and I can assure you: rich is better.”
James: (rolling his eyes) For all her jokes, my wife is perhaps the most practical person in Ireland. We have splurged a bit on new uniforms for me, and some new clothes for her, but we agreed to keep our lives much as they were.
Brigid: Clonakilty is not exempt from the poverty that haunts all Ireland, and for the first time we have been able to offer significant support to some local charities. The Little Sisters of Mercy are especially capable of making even modest contributions do a great deal of good.
Q: One cannot speak of Ireland without addressing the inequities of its society. Your backgrounds and current positions in society may be unique. Incidentally, Mrs. Lockwood, your Irish is lovely, even if I don’t understand a word. But by attempting to bridge the two halves of Ireland, how do those two halves treat you?
James: I have spent so much time away, on foreign service, it is perhaps best for Brigid to explain….
Brigid: Honestly? Sometimes I am just at a loss. Many of the wealthier families, the Protestant families, put on a polite face, but just for my husband’s sake. Only a few, I think, truly count us as friends. And the Catholics are just as bad; courtesy for the sake of my father’s family, but some of them frankly loath me. But the difference is that the Catholics must, knowingly or not, fear us. We are seen as friends of the landlords, and can see them destitute with the stroke of a pen.
Q: Tell me about the incident at Leamaneh.
James: It was unfortunate; several lives were lost.
Q: How did it come about?
James: My father’s agent on that estate was a brute, and a fool. When the extended family gathered at Leamaneh for some hunting, some tenants rose up, poor, desperate fools, and one night assaulted the house, which is great hulking place, ideal for defense. What a bloody waste.
Q: And Mrs. Lockwood, you were there, as well?
Brigid: I was. You know, if my life had gone just a bit differently, I might well have been one of the people outside the house, rather than inside it. I had never seen, never been a part of, anything like that before. (long pause) I killed a man there.
Q: I am sorry, I was unaware of that.
Brigid: I carry that with me. I fired a pistol to save the lives of my husband and daughter, but that memory, that terrible sin, clings to me, and does not fade.
James: There is no sin in killing to save others. All soldiers learn early, the difference between killing and murder. (to Brigid) Pray, do not cry, my love.
Brigid excuses herself, and we continue with Lieutenant Lockwood.
Q: You were wounded at Leamaneh, I think, sir?
James: (distracted) Yes, a pike in the leg, and a knock on the head. I bled a bit, but they were not very serious.
Q: But you were badly wounded at Waterloo. What was it like?
James: I was shot in the chest, and the wound plagued me for some time, but all that is past. The battle itself was exceedingly unpleasant, more severe than any other I had seen, but one does one’s duty. The men ̶ my men ̶ behaved so very well. I do regret that so many of them ̶ (he pauses, drains his glass, and shifts in his chair) ̶ so many of my men were lost there, and so many more hurt.
Brigid returns, collected and smiling.
Brigid: James, a grah, Mr. O’Flynn is in the yard with the carriage, and is in a tearing hurry to see us home before the rains come. (Turning to us) Won’t you join us, please? We shall make a party of it.
James: (smiling) Oh, yes, do. We shall whip up some toasted cheese, and we have a dozen of Madeira begging to be opened. Those storms will be rolling in soon, but storms do not seem so bad, once you’re snug at home.
Mark Bois is of Belgian and Irish ancestry. It is perhaps natural, then, that he would develop a fascination with the First Battalion of the 27th Foot, an Irish regiment, at the Battle of Waterloo. He would eventually return to school to earn a Master’s degree in history, writing his thesis as a social history of the Inniskilling Regiment in 1815.
Amongst the dusty rosters and letters in the British National Archives, and then in the artifacts and records of the Inniskilling Regimental Museum, he found what he needed to write his thesis, but he also discovered the fascinating personal stories that provided the basis for Lieutenant and Mrs. Lockwood and its sequel, The Lockwoods of Clonakilty.
Many actual experiences of the men, officers, and families of the 27th Foot were pulled from those sources, and their stories were then woven into the complex history of early 19th century Ireland.
Like Lt. Lockwood, Mark is the father of five, and has been happily married to their exceptional mother for more than thirty years. When not working, writing, or reading, he trains for indoor rowing regattas, where he enjoys only moderate success. He also builds furniture and remodels his house, though he is increasingly devoted to weekend naps.