Naomi Watts, who I see as Ceilidh O'Malley

Character Review — Ceilidh O’Malley

Consider Ceilidh O’Malley, One of My Original Characters

Who is Ceilidh O’Malley?

The main character in The Real Hub of the Universe series is someone I originally thought of as “a plucky Irish scullery maid”. But then she grew and changed. And I like her better now. Readers seem to love her, too. To get truly technical and formal, this character is Ceilidh Aisling O’Malley Barnes Radford.

Oh, and her name is pronounced Kay-Lee, and her middle name, Ashling. Dance and dream.

Where Did Ceilidh O’Malley Come From?

The name came to me first. Because the idea behind Real Hub was to marry science fiction with the Victorian Era, the perfect character to observe the goings on would be in the serving class. With a story that goes from the serving class to the Boston Brahmins and back again, she could be there for all of it.

The Past is Prologue — Backstory for Ceilidh O’Malley

Considered an old maid in her tiny home village of Ballyvaughan, Ceilidh, her sister Maeve, and her mother are starving. The crops are unreliable, and the entire village is barely on the right side of grinding poverty. And that even includes the most powerful family in Ballyvaughan, the Barneses.

Ceilidh has stayed away from the men in her village. She’s a cousin of some degree to near all of them. But it’s more than that. She’s just plain not interested in them.

A part of this is because she (and one of the Barnes sons) is the best student in the one-room, multi-year schoolhouse. The teacher? Her father. But by the time she’s in her teens, her father has died of what was likely food poisoning. Things are not looking good.

And so, even though Maeve likes him, it’s Ceilidh who’s married off to the middle Barnes son, Johnny. When Johnny attacks her, she flees the country and the story begins, as does the Real Hub of the Universe series.


Extremely pale, yet with the map of Ireland on her face, Ceilidh is semi-unique looking. But not so much that she should seem out of place. What I didn’t want was a stereotypical redheaded, freckle-faced Irish Colleen.

I decided Ceilidh would resemble Naomi Watts, an actress I like a great deal, particularly because she doesn’t seem to be afraid of looking her age.

Naomi Watts (as Gertrude in Ophelia) - looking a bit like Ceilidh O'Malley
This is Naomi Watts (as Gertrude in Ophelia) – looking a bit like Ceilidh O’Malley but probably too well-dressed and not as young as I’d like


Ceilidh’s original motivator is getting away/lying. When she leaves Ballyvaughan, it’s essentially under false pretenses. But she can’t stay.

Her struggle to not only survive, but to turn her life around, is at the heart of the series.

Quotes (Ceilidh is talking to Dr. Devon Grace, who speaks first)

“And so you left?”

“Yes. I packed and my cousin was still in the village but he was leaving. So I went with him. He took me to Kinvara and I got passage on the Atlas because Captain Underwood took pity on me. We stopped in Cornwall and I met his wife and befriended her. She agreed to be the go-between for me and my mother and sister. Helen has kindly forwarded letters and even money to them for a few years now. She has exceeded my expectations a thousandfold.”

“And your mother and sister know nothing of your whereabouts?”

“That’s correct. They don’t even know I’m in America.”


Ceilidh, like many characters, is well-defined by her relationships in life. Friend, family member, and employee—and eventually employer—she does it all.


A true, understanding friend, Ceilidh feels it’s important to help her friends whenever she can.

Frances Miller Ashford

Ceilidh’s first friend in the states is fellow scullery maid, Frances Miller. In fact, Frances makes it easier for Ceilidh to pass a test to be able to work at the Edwards House. To return the favor, Ceilidh works to bring Frances’s admirer, plumber’s assistant Gregory Ashford, to the house more often so the two can get to know one another. The two women are so close that they are in each other’s weddings.

Shannon Duffy

Shannon is a strange creation of mine, essentially a colony of tiny cells which, together, make up a form of collective intelligence. The colony chooses her by vote, as they choose virtually everything else. When they meet, it’s almost by random. Shannon, at the time called Levi Altschuler, is being chased by a number of bullies in the Boston Public Garden. Running from them, Shannon runs directly into Ceilidh and knocks her down. But when the bullies catch up, Ceilidh rises to defend Shannon, even though they have never seen each other before.

Shannon helps her in several different ways (trying to avoid too many spoilers here!), including helping Dr. Grace to save her life.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

This very real figure from history is initially snobbish and somewhat mean to a mere serving girl. But they grow on each other, and he takes the place of her father in some ways. As he ages, he slows down, and suffers what we would recognize as a form of senile dementia, possibly Alzheimer’s disease. She cares for him whenever they are in the same room together, and mourns him when he dies.

Dr. Devon Grace

Devon is Ceilidh’s originally stern and mysterious employer. He likes her discretion and company, and she, initially, enjoys bouncing ideas off him. In that way, he’s also something of a father surrogate to her. She accepts his faults, smooths out at least some of his rough edges, keeps his secrets, and they both make each other better.

Devon’s greatest gift to her is given in Ireland.

Ellen Remy Grace

As Ellen lives in somewhat genteel poverty, Ceilidh can relate. And when Ellen’s employment prospects are nearly zero due to her having an illegitimate child, it’s Ceilidh who gives the semi-starving woman a sandwich. And it’s Ceilidh who treats Ellen like a friend and not a pariah. In her own way, Ceilidh also realizes Ellen is in mourning and has lost a great deal more than just her reputation.

Judge John Lowell and the Other Members of SPHERE

SPHERE, the secret society at the heart of the story, is the source of several relationships for Ceilidh.

Apart from Winthrop Edwards, all the members of SPHERE are real historical figures. Lowell is Ceilidh’s second employer. He treats her well and gives her responsibilities she would normally never have gotten. He and his wife treat her fairly.

Henry Adams is mainly aloof, but in the third book, he confides that he and a woman he corresponds with are involved in what we would nowadays call an emotional affair. George Weld had been a yachtsman, but by the time Ceilidh knows him, he’s becoming disabled (possibly due to a stroke). Much like with Emerson in his later years, Ceilidh fetches him tea, helps him up and down stairs, and otherwise treats him with special care. Alexander Graham Bell joins later, and he’s initially suspicious that a woman could possibly be a good confidante. She wins him over, in a way—but lets Mrs. Lowell speak up when Bell argues at a party that women should never be working.

When Emerson dies, Ceilidh turns to SPHERE member Bronson Alcott to take his place as the father figure in her life. Delighted, Alcott makes her promise to keep in close touch.

Finally, Winthrop Edwards is her Ceilidh’s first employer in the US. Snobbish and very private, we get to know him better in the second and third books than we ever do in the first.


Ceilidh’s family relationships are complex, mainly due to the tininess of her home village (so she’s related to pretty much everyone) and her immediate family’s grinding poverty. Her beloved father dies when she is young, and so her mother, her, and her sister are forced to fend for themselves. And it does not go well at all.

Mam (Mary O’Malley)

When the first book starts, Mary has been backed into a financial corner. She and her family are members of the cottier class, a kind of tenant farmer. But when the crops fail too many times in a row, Mary knows that Maeve in particular probably won’t survive for too much longer. As a result, Mary surveys her valuables and essentially “sells” one of them—Ceilidh—for more food for all of them.

For the time, Mary’s actions are justifiable and even kind. Giving up Ceilidh to the Barnes family means her elder daughter will never starve. And it also means that the meager rations she, Maeve, and Ceilidh have been living on can instead be split among two people. Furthermore, a connection to the Barnes family means occasional meals or at least allowances to be late with the rent. Jack Barnes is already Mary’s cousin. But handing over Ceilidh strengthens that.

When we finally meet her in Book Two, Mary is a doting grandmother but still starving, giving her share to her grandsons even if that means it could eventually kill her.

Maeve O’Malley Barnes

With Maeve, things are complicated. But that’s understandable. Much like in the Old Testament story of Rachel and Leah, it’s Maeve who’s originally pledged to Johnny. But things go south when the family goes through yet another bad winter. And Johnny doesn’t want to wait for what at the time was called ‘wifely duties’.

Mary is cognizant enough of Maeve’s ill health to offer up Ceilidh instead. Ceilidh is about twenty, an old maid pretty much anywhere. Maeve is fifteen, and technically old enough to wed. After Ceilidh flees Ballyvaughan, Johnny and Maeve take up anyway. And when Ceilidh, Jake, Shannon, and Devon go to Ballyvaughan in the third book, Ceilidh discovers Maeve is living in her cottage. Ceilidh’s cottage, that is.

Yep, like they say on Facebook, “it’s complicated”.

People Ceilidh Doesn’t Like

While technically Johnny Barnes should be here, he belongs in the next section. These people aren’t necessarily enemies, per se. But they’re not pals with Ceilidh all the same.

Margery Cabot Edwards

Like in many wealthy American households of the time, it’s the lady of the house who is in charge of the servants. Mrs. Lowell is fair and smart, running her house like a business. Margery Cabot Edwards, on the other hand, is a snobby, spoiled rich girl, more than happy to treat all of her household help like dirt. But her maltreatment is a catalyst to get Ceilidh to find work elsewhere, with the Lowells.

Gerald Price

The lesser of the two louts working for the Lowell House, Gerald is a sexist, but that was par for the course at the time. This stable hand is a bit too nosy for his own good, but otherwise he and Ceilidh mainly stay out of each other’s way. Ceilidh’s semi-revenge is to hire Gerald in Book Three.

Gerald has his name because I’ve been in more than one working situation where a guy named Jerry was just the biggest jerk. My apologies to those who love people named Jerry (and hey, how about Jerry O’Connell?)! But I will often name a jerk in my writing Jerry, and that’s the case in the Time Addicts trilogy as well.

Donald Smith

This character got his name due to the election of the 45th president, a person who has never impressed me.

In the books, Donald is the gardener to not only the Edwards and Lowell Houses, but really to all or most of the Boston Brahmins. Talented and hard-working, he turns that on its head and uses his good qualities to get away with a lot. As a result, he has a girlfriend in nearly every house he works in, and most if not all of those relationships are sexual in nature.

With Ceilidh, he’s rough and nasty. Jealous of her education and her position with Devon, he’s also sexually attracted to her. He calls her Duchess, and he’s not trying to be flattering.

Donald’s comeuppance happens in Book Three (if you’ve only read the first two, trust me, it’s coming), and I spent a lot of time trying to come up with what would punish him the most. Did I succeed? You tell me.

Romantic Relationships

Johnny Barnes

The first time we see Johnny, he’s attacking Ceilidh for having the audacity to try to bring him home after he’s been on a multi-day bender. Most women of the time would have accepted his treatment, although a lot of Irish villages and towns would have held a shivaree.

While Johnny’s behavior is far from defensible, some of it stems from marrying the wrong sister. In some small way, he loves Maeve, but he doesn’t treat her much better than he does Ceilidh. But at least with Maeve, he ostensibly provides care for her and their sons. Well, kinda.

Jacob Radford

Their meeting is far from auspicious, as they first see each other at the Charles Street Jail, on opposite sides of bars. But there is something about Jake. Originally, he’s just her handsome, pleasant, polite suitor. And when he learns the truth of her marital status (covered in her quote, above), he’s all set to do the honorable thing and bow out. But when he learns why she’s in America, he takes up her cause, and is a large part of proving her case in the annulment hearing.

When they wed, he reveals real heat under his manners and Southern charm, and their sex life is certainly more active and consensual than it was for a lot of women at the time. But the time they truly grow close is when he reveals his secrets to her about his service in the Civil War. And when both of them see a possible future for themselves, he includes her in the decision-making, treating her far more like an equal than most husbands did in the 1870s and 1880s.

Conflict and Turning Point

Ceilidh experiences several turning points within the series, and the first one happens in the first scene. Wwhen the series starts, it’s 1876. In this time period, most women would have accepted abuse as their lot in life. But not Ceilidh. She’s not going to continue pretending everything is fine.

In the second book, I tackle more of her marriage to Johnny. The abuse is just the cherry on a nasty sundae.

Without giving away too many spoilers, Ceilidh changes with major upheavals in her life. This is whether they’re from the start or end of relationships, or from external factors like trouble with the law. And, of course, the main change in her life is by aliens.

Continuity/Easter Eggs

Second Harrison Gray Otis House, Mount Vernon St., Boston
                                                                                               Ceilidh lives in two separate houses when she gets to the states. The first is at 85 Mount Vernon Street (the second Harrison Gray Otis House, pictured above). The other one is at 60 Beacon Street. Both are on Beacon Hill in Boston, and are exceptionally expensive properties.

Future Plans for Ceilidh O’Malley

I don’t necessarily have a lot of plans for Ceilidh, because I have already finished the trilogy. But people love her, and I suspect her early life or her future could be of interest to readers. So, I may not have seen the last of her.

Ceilidh O’Malley: Takeaways

For a character whose first appearance is a beating, Ceilidh O’Malley grows to become a somewhat middle class. She grows to become a certainly respectable member of Boston society.

And she ends up with powerful friends, a great love, and a promising future. Her happy ending is the kind any of us would wish for.

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