Checkmate Clans and CastlesThere have been a lot of comments about the cover of Checkmate: Clans and Castles. Eye-catching and unusual, reviewers and contest judges have been keen to connect the dots between all the different elements, leading to this post on the thought that goes into a cover.


The background is a photograph of fire, inspired by the fact that “all of Ulster was burning.” The fires began in Derry, bordered by the River Foyle to the east and County Donegal to the west, set by the last Gaelic Irish King of Ireland, Cahir O’Doherty, and his men at the same time as O’Doherty killed Derry’s Governor, Sir George Paulet.


William Neely and others that had sworn allegiance to King James were a scant group against O’Doherty’s more powerful and numerous forces and as the sun set, Wills asked, “What day is this? I am afraid I do not even know the date.”

BattleThe men thought for a moment. “April 19,” Tomas said finally. “A Tuesday, it is.”

They fell silent then, each with his own thoughts, as the last vestiges of the sun descended beyond the horizon. It was odd in a way, Wills thought; he could not recall a single day in which it had not rained. Even on the most beautiful of mornings with naught a cloud in the sky, there was always rain by afternoon. It was the hide of the beast, being on an island such as this with nothing to stop the clouds as they blew over the Atlantic. And it was the reason, he knew, for the varied shades of green; for the forests that sprang back up even after they had been trampled down or burned out; for the lush vegetation that stubbornly grew amidst the rocks and the limestone. And yet on this date—Tuesday, April 19, 1608—as Derry was torched and burned to the ground, not a single drop of rain had fallen to douse her flames.



O’Doherty would rally all of Ulster together, joining clans that had traditionally fought against one another, in a brazen attempt to regain Ireland and drive the English and Protestant Scots from their island, depicted on the cover as soldiers on horseback within the outline of chess pieces:


Medieval WarriorAll of Ulster was burning.

Colonists flooded the tiny settlement of Fort Stewart in the ensuing days; each questioned regarding their village, its inhabitants and possible identification of clans involved. They came from the east and west, north and south, all with the same tale: surprise attacks, civilians ordered out of their homes before they were torched, and men killed when they fought back. They came in overwhelming forces flying flags of a dozen or more clans and in each instance they were urged to return to their native countries. It appeared as if the Irish were expelling the immigrants and there was nothing and no one to stop them.

Some simply passed through on their way to Donegal and a ship to carry them back to their native country. Others were en route to Dublin, where they believed they would be safer. Outside of Ulster, there was unrest but nothing like the uncertainty of attacks and rebellion they faced here.

From the fields, he could watch the water on Drongawn Lough and his eyes would inevitably wander to the land mass on the other side of it; O’Doherty property, it lay like a silent sentinel, waiting, waiting.


The chess outlines were inspired by this scene that included an altercation between Cahir O’Doherty and George Paulet:


Chess PiecesCahir made a move for the sword he carried across his back, but Phelim held him steady. “Not here,” he said, the pressure on Cahir’s shoulder visibly increasing. “Pick your place and time.”

After an awkward moment, Cahir glanced meaningfully at the chess board and said, “You have allowed yourself to become flanked.” With that, he reluctantly shifted his eyes away from Paulet and slowly continued toward the door. When Wills turned back to the bar, he found three mugs waiting and Fergus had joined his side.

“I’ll just be taking these two,” Fergus said, his large hands grasping two mugs.

As Paulet returned to his chair, he shouted, “Serving wench! Where is that disgusting bint? Bring me another ale. Someone has absconded with mine!”

Wills made a move to point out Paulet’s mug but Fergus moved into his line of vision. “Don’t,” he said. “Stay out of it.”

“I am afraid,” Paulet’s chess partner stated, moving his bishop to capture Paulet’s king, “that the ruffian was quite correct. I flanked you, dear George, and now your king is finished. Checkmate.”

 Checkmate Clans and Castles

Usually, only one of the elements would have been used on the cover: the fire, the men or the chess pieces. But the book is non-stop action and adventure as William Neely seeks to find his fortune and his future in Ulster, only to be caught up in O’Doherty’s Rebellion. The Neely family had originally lived in Ulster, ironically in and around the Inishowen Peninsula that the O’Doherty family ruled for over a thousand years. They left in the 13th century for Scotland, and William returned in 1608. As O’Doherty’s Rebellion broke out, he had a choice: to remain loyal to King James I of England or switch sides and fight alongside men that might have been his distant cousins.


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