Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Secret of Kit Cavenaugh by Anne Holland


Published in hardback last October Anne Holland's  wonderful biography is a thrilling read and a testament to a remarkable Irish Woman. The book is written in an informal and novelistic style bringing us right into the action. It never feels overly academic and yet the research and attention to detail are meticulous. Anne Holland has done a wonderful job of bringing the story of Kit Cavenaugh to life. Born in 1667 Kit grew up in Leixlip, daughter of a farming family, her father also ran a successful Dublin brewery so although her parents may not have been high born they certainly built up respectability. Kit was given a good quality education though she generally preferred being out on the farm and horse riding. Kit was impetuous from childhood and managed to involve herself in a minor scuffle as a young woman when to rescue her mother she hit a local sergeant in the calf, she was called before the magistrate but she must have made a persuasive plea as the case was dismissed. Although he was a Protestant Kit's father fought for James at the Battle of the Boyne and although he survived that battle he was injured at the Battle of Aughrim and died soon after thus his property was seized by the Williamite government leaving Kit and her mother destitute. Not long after Kit was sent to live with an aunt in Dublin who ran a tavern. When her aunt died Kit inherited the tavern and married her servant Richard Welsh despite his being of a lower class than her. The couple had two children with a third on the way when Richard disappeared. Kit continued running the tavern and went into mourning assuming her husband was dead. It was over a year later that she received a letter from Richard and she discovered that he had been pressed into the army. Brave and impetuous as ever Kit determined to go to him. She had no desire to be a camp follower many of them ending up as whores, right from the beginning Kit was determined to be a soldier. Kit cut her hair, put on her husband's clothes and joined up. As soon as she and the other new recruits reached The Netherlands Kit began searching for her "brother" Richard Welsh. The soldiering life suited Kit and it was many years before she returned home. Anne Holland has written a lively, insightful and page turning biography of a unique woman and I urge anyone with an interest in history to read it.
Thanks so much to The Collins Press for a copy of this book for review.

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