A Passion For Local History Inspired Author Jim McComish To Write The Reluctant Rapparee

WRITER Jim McComish has a passion for history, ancestry and a love of fiction. Therefore, it was only a matter of time before the Belfast author put it down on paper.

The story of The Reluctant Rapparee begins in 1731 in the townland of Drumgooland close to the majestic Mourne Mountains.

Although the main plot is fictional, Jim has taken inspiration for some of the characters from people who existed in the 18th Century.

Jim said: “The story mainly takes place in 1743 near fledgling town Banbridge. At the time of the book Banbridge would have been little more than a few houses and a market gathered around the bridge over the river Bann, on the main highway between Belfast and Dublin.”

The main character in the story is reluctant rapparee Shane McGrogan, a County Down farmer evicted from his home and farm. After he and his brothers were proclaimed “outlaws at large” they begin to meet others in the same situation.

Author Jim McComish

Author Jim McComish

“Rapparee was the name given to irregular Irish soldiers operating in small bands during the Williamite wars, many of whom remained in Ireland following the treaty of Limerick and the flight of the Wild Geese to France” explained Jim.

“The term is believed to have been derived from the word rapoire, meaning a half pike. Over the ensuing decades, people who were being pursued by the law for various reasons had been known to join up with rapparee bands.

“Due to the heavy militarisation of Ireland and the draconian measures instituted in the form of the penal laws, it is widely accepted that there was little realistic chance of the rapparees ever managing to liberate the country, although their actions may have served to bolster the morale of the beleaguered population.”

In the story, main character Shane McGrogan had served several years abroad fighting with the Irish Brigade in the service of King Louis of France. On his return he persuaded the enigmatic Eugene O’Cahan to return with him and assist the rapparees in their work.

Cast into an extraordinary landscape where the physical world overlaps with the realm of spirits, the rapparees dare not trust their own senses let alone one another.

For Jim, The Reluctant Rapparee began to come to life as he traced his own family ancestry from Belfast to Banbridge.

He said: “My main influences for the story come from the works of William Carleton (Redmond Count O’Hanlon, The Irish Rapparee) and John Heron Lepper (A Tory In Arms).

“I became interested in local history around 1998 when I took a local history module as part of my degree in Management and Business Studies at Queen’s University.

“This in turn inspired me to research my family tree, which I traced back as far as the 1780s, Banbridge.

3Dcover“During this research I read The History of Banbridge by Sir Richard Lynn, where I found that the McComish’s were a generous Protestant family who contributed to the building of the Catholic church in Banbridge in 1829.

“This got me thinking as to how people did not necessarily behave in the way we assumed them to, in terms of only interacting with others of their own religion. My fascination with rapparees came about after reading about Naiose O’Haughan, the Cavehill Highwayman in Cathal O’Byrne’s As I Roved Out.”

In 2009 Jim completed a Masters Degree in Irish Cultural Heritages, culminating in a dissertation entitled Irish Tories, Rapparees and Highwaymen.

It is due to this research that he was able to accurately depict many of the characteristics of the people, areas and political landscape of where the book is set. However, he admits that on some occasions artistic licence was used for a better story.

“I chose to write my novel based around the adventures of these fascinating people and placed them roundabout Banbridge due to my ancestral connections to the area” said Jim, adding: “Although this novel is intended as a work of historical fiction it explores themes relevant to today such as bullying and prejudice, and how incidents of inter community violence can quickly escalate.

“I have taken some liberties with historical facts in order to make the story flow more freely. For instance the characters converse entirely in English despite the fact that most of the population would have spoken Irish as a first language back then.

“The reader may wish to assume that the rapparees are speaking Irish when talking amongst themselves and switching to English when addressing other characters.

“The South Downe Militia was not formed until the 1760s, and of course Banbridge would actually have been a much smaller town than the one I have described in the book at the time the story took place.”

Published by Excalibur Press NI, The Reluctant Rapparee by Jim McComish is on sale now.  Signed paperback copies can be purchased via www.excaliburpress.co.uk/store/products or on paperback and Kindle on Amazon HERE

About the Author

Tina Calder
Journalist, commentator, author and content creator specialising in showbiz, entertainment, business, trade, human interest and lifestyle.