Kathleen Kavanagh, an Australian journalist, receives a letter from an Irish legal firm informing her that Fionnbharr Kavanagh, a distant great-uncle, has bequeathed his vast fortune and estate to her. However, there are conditions she has to meet before she can claim the inheritance. This news leaves Kathleen puzzled, since Fionnbharr has children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of his own.
The history of Kathleen’s family is a bloody one. In 1865, Kathleen’s great-grandfather, Cormac Padraig Kavanagh, brutally murdered his wife along with her lover. Aggie Muldoon, the mother of the slain young man, placed a curse on Cormac Padraig and his descendants for robbing her of her youngest son.
Arriving in Wexford, Kathleen settles into a Bed & Breakfast. To her horror, she discovers her host, Mrs Doherty, is a descendant of Aggie Muldoon. She meets one of the guests, Josh Abbott and they become good friends.
Kathleen quickly finds new accommodation run by a local woman, Mrs Whelan. On the first evening, Mrs Whelan raises the subject of the curse of Aggie Muldoon. As the old woman elaborates on the subject of the curse, the lights go out just as lightning strikes. Mrs Whelan, sustains terrible injuries later resulting in her death. To Kathleen’s astonishment, Sean Muldoon, the Inspector of Police assigned to Mrs Whelan’s case, is the son of Aggie Muldoon Doherty. As the story progresses, Sean Muldoon becomes both a friend and a foe to Kathleen.
The relatives in Ireland contest the will, and a legal battle develops. During her stay in Wexford, the only person who is compassionate towards Kathleen is Donahl Kavanagh, the youngest of the great-grandchildren of Fionnbharr Kavanagh.
So begins Kathleen’s chaotic journey, which gradually unfolds a world of secrets, passion and deceit, against a backdrop of the Celtic lore of shape-shifting and werewolves.
A carved slab nailed on Fionnbharr Kavanagh’s bleak and unwelcoming door read ‘SIOTHCHAIN AGUS FAIRSINGE’. Later, I established this Gaelic motto meant ‘Peace and plenty’. Ironic, considering the brutal history of the inhabitants of the dilapidated mansion for over a century.
Wrapped in my favourite scarlet coat and struggling against the fierce wind and rain, I fumbled through my cluttered handbag. Finally producing the key, I opened the ten-foot hardwood door.
‘Damn,’ I muttered under my breath as I inserted the unpolished key in the keyhole. I chastised myself for not organising the keys while in the comfort of my warm rental car.
The downpour of rain totally saturated me; it was so cold that it felt as though someone had massaged my entire body with a bundle of icicles.
That travel agent lied. She said the southeast of Ireland enjoys more sunshine than elsewhere in the country. Just my luck this rule doesn’t apply today. For God’s sake, who the hell secured this latch? There’s no one living here.
With considerable effort, I pried open the latch. My hands ached from the hard work. At least, I had to be thankful I had a flashlight with me, as I took the first step into my ancestral home.
A chill went through me as I walked headlong into a cobweb. ‘Ugh. Christ Almighty! Oh, yuk.’ I jumped back, working fiercely to remove the creature’s tattered snare from my face. I hate spiders with a passion.
This sentiment was hardly surprising since I’d grown up in Sydney. After all, Australia is home to some of the world’s most venomous arachnids.
Casting a dim light, the torch I carried guided me down the dark hallway and I tiptoed into the first room on my right. At a glance, I hazarded a guess that generations of Kavanaghs would’ve congregated in this sitting room. These Kavanaghs were the side of the family whose unenviable reputation hardly ranked high in my father’s esteem.
The first thought that entered my mind was to question my sanity, or as the case may be, my insanity to venture out here on my own. To think I was game enough to enter a house that for almost 150 years people considered haunted.
The reason for my lack of caution was my insane need for adventure. My family and friends, on the other hand, found it hard to understand this insatiable need and often said they wished I just led a secure, ordinary existence.
I admit I enjoyed the rush of adrenaline coursing through my body.
A few weeks ago, descending hair-raising cliffs to photograph Nepalese honey hunters doing their dangerous work was my main preoccupation. The likelihood of plunging down to a sure death was far greater than a swarm of bees stinging me.
My partner of four years, Dylan Turner and I are freelance photographers and were on assignment in Nepal. I’m a journalist by profession and Dylan is a first-class photographer. We make a good team. Dylan’s incredible passion for his work, not to mention his artistic flair and my journalistic background, land us in some amazing places and give rise to some astounding experiences.
I met Dylan in England just over four years ago, when I was on a much-needed holiday. At the time, the pressures of the cutthroat world of journalism in my hometown, Sydney, stressed me so much I decided to tour the English countryside. As a fan of Jane Austen, I’d always wanted to visit the quaint villages so lovingly described in Austen’s novels.
Dylan intrigued me from the day we met at an art gallery in Southampton where his photography was on display. I knew from the first moment I struck up a conversation with him he was the right man for me.
At this moment, however, all I felt was disappointment. Dylan didn’t even offer to accompany me to Ireland to solve the family curse, which has passed down from generation to generation. I made excuses for him, such as the pressure of his creative work consuming him, and I shouldn’t entertain such selfish notions that he should’ve been with me. Deep down, though, I knew things weren’t right between us.
I shrugged and thought it was best not to deal with that issue now. I should only think about solving this family mystery. It beats me why have they chosen me for this impossible task. I’m a journalist, not an amateur sleuth.
Three weeks ago, on September 12, a letter arrived when I was in the middle of writing up an article for the assignment we undertook in Nepal.
Someone had addressed the envelope to me, sealed, and stamped it “highly confidential”. It had come to my office, which is above Dylan’s studio. The postmark on the envelope read Kildare & Co., a legal firm in County Wexford, Republic of Ireland.
I wasted no time and opened the envelope with the aid of a solid 18ct gold, ivory-handled letter-opener, a sentimental reminder of my maternal great-grandfather who had lived for a number of years in the prolific greenstone belt of West Africa making pots of money excavating gold.
The letter was brief. It simply stated that I, Kathleen Kohar Kavanagh, was the sole heir to my Great-Uncle Fionnbharr Kavanagh’s fortune and estate. He’d died suddenly in the first week of July, at the grand old age of ninety-six.
A Mr Ambrose Kildare, undoubtedly one of the partners of the firm, had signed the letter with great flourish. He urged me to make a trip to Ireland. He stated there were legal requirements and certain conditions set that I would need to satisfy, before I could receive the inheritance.
Baffled, I sat there for a while wondering. Why am I the one to inherit all this fortune? After all, Great-Uncle Fionnbharr has children, grandchildren and even great-grand-children of his own.
To make matters even more complicated, I’d never set eyes on my apparently pugnacious great-uncle. My only link to him was my limited knowledge of his eccentric reputation and the fact that he was my great-grandfather’s second-generation cousin.
I wasn’t exactly next of kin to Great-Uncle Fionnbharr, so I’d certainly never expected he would leave his entire wealth to me.
I read the letter six times before it dawned on me this was not a simple matter. There was much more to this bizarre request than was expressed in this otherwise ordinary legal letter. Frankly, I didn’t care to have any part of his estate or his fortune.
Nevertheless, my usual curiosity overtook my senses and won the battle against my better judgment and here I was, three weeks later, flashlight in hand, walking through a haunted house.
When I arrived in Dublin three days ago, I wasted no time in hiring a car. I drove on Route N11, 90 km to northwest of County Wexford.
This was Kavanagh country and we were most proud of it. For centuries, the “Coamhanachs”, the Irish Gaelic name for Kavanagh, have dominated the nobility, politics, the military and the arts in this county.
It’s no wonder my father is proud of not only being Irish, but of having come from such a distinguished lineage. The only grey area that worried my father was Great-Uncle Fionnbharr and the transgressions of his side of the family.
Trouble had struck the Kavanagh family a few hundred years ago, when Cormac Padraig Kavanagh, a prominent and respected merchant, had lost his heart to a pretty and highly flirtatious young woman named Honora O’Rourke. She had been twenty-five years his junior and had the reputation that many men of her county admired her.
After a brief courtship, they had married and had four children, three boys and a girl. They had named the eldest boy Muiris, followed by Tiarnan; the girl they had called Ursula and the youngest boy was Cailean. They were handsome children except for the youngest, whose dark and brooding looks and nature were vastly different from those of his siblings.
The year was 1865. On a stormy day, Cormac Padraig Kavanagh had made haste to return home to his young family when tragedy had struck; he had been away at sea for three months, to establish a successful trade route.
Upon his unannounced return to his estate, he had discovered his wife, whom he had adored, in the arms of a young gangly man not much older than herself.
When he had witnessed their treachery and deceit, the story goes, Cormac had stirred to such heights of despair that, in a moment of madness, he had slaughtered them both.
The young lovers had died with their faces distorted so horribly by the frenzied attack of a wronged man that they had been almost unrecognisable. Although the public had pitied Cormac Padraig Kavanagh – for he had been a man driven to this gruesome act for reasons of crime of passion – the law had found him guilty. A few months later, they had sent him to the gallows.
Because of that fateful evening, townspeople had gossiped and the house of Cormac Padraig Kavanagh never saw peace. The tortured souls of the young lovers had stayed on to haunt ensuing generations of Kavanaghs.
To make matters worse, according to the story passed down through time, Aggie Muldoon, the mother of the gangly young man whom Cormac had murdered, upon hearing of the senseless death of her youngest son, had placed a curse on Cormac Padraig Kavanagh’s family and his descendants.