In the month of September 1929, Howard was reading the works of Donn Byrne. For several months now, Howard had become increasingly interested in Celtic folklore and civilization. Most of his stories were now featuring characters that were either Irish or of Irish descent. The reading of Byrne's Destiny Bay was the occasion for him to comment on Byrne's "Orange leanings" in a letter to Harold Preece:
In his next letter to Preece, written a few days later, Howard refined his opinion on the question of the Irish and the Normans: "I don't remember saying anything against the Fitzgeralds. Why should I? …. I wear a Norman name myself and I am as proud of my close kinship with the Norman-Irish Martins of Galway as I am of my kinship with the Dano-Irish O'Walsers and the pure Gaelic Ervins, Colliers, and O'Terrals." Howard may very well have been "as proud" of his Norman name as he was saying, but the fact remains that most of his fiction had been peopled for several months now by Costigans (several Steves, a Stephen, a few Mikes) and that he had adopted the name Costigan for his alter-ego's name in his semi-autobiographical novel Post Oaks and Sand Roughs. Surely there was more than mere coincidence behind this.Byrne can't give the native Irish justice. He has to drag in the Scotch or the Normans, or the Phoenicians or God knows who else. In Crusade, who did he glorify? Why, the O'Neills - God knows they're as true and fine a pure Irish family as ever lived BUT he made the hero half Norman and why did he pick the O'Neills? Because they're Ulster stock; maybe the reason why a just God hasn't blasted Ulster long ago. And he can't even give the O'Donnells of Donegal justice. Aborigine, he calls them and all other native Irish families. Oh well - you said he's half d'Arcy, didn't you? I've gotten so I'm suspicious of all Celtic seemings. I expect to find a Fitzpaul or a Fitzgerald lurking under every straightforward Costovan and O'Brien. Oh well - I've nothing to say against the old Norman-Irish families. But I like to see justice done to the original Irish… America with her mixing of strains gave me an English name for a joke, with just a mite of Norman-English blood, and a little broader strain of Scotch - but mostly I'm South Ireland, thank God, and The Boyne Water puts my teeth on edge in spite of myself.
If Howard only realized the full extent of his interest in things Celtic, and more particularly Irish, in December 1928, it seems that it took him another nine months to accept that he was not of "pure" Irish stock. It is interesting to note that a few months after this exchange with Preece, Howard began a series of tales centered around a half-Irish, half-Norman character, on which the influence of Byrne was evident: "Son of a ruthless Northman adventurer on one hand, and a fierce Irish clan on the other, Cormac FitzGeoffrey had inherited the passions, hates and ancient feuds of both races" (from the unfinished story published as "The Slave-Princess"). Slowly, Howard was acknowledging his Norman heritage and incorporating him in his fiction. Norman by his name, Irish by his leanings, Howard had a lot in common with Cormac.
When Howard was detailing his "close kinships" to Preece, he was in fact
giving names that can be traced to his particular ancestry: Ervin was his
mother's maiden name and she was the daughter of a Sarah Jane Martin. I
have been unable to find any Colliers in Howard's ancestry, but Howard
mentions the name in several letters. As to the O'Terrals, Howard's great-great-grandfather
Jim Henry married a Anna O'Tyrrell.
The reference to the O'Walsers, the first time Howard ever mentioned the name in print, is of course a reference to his Walser ancestors. Howard's genealogical knowledge at this time seems to have been particularly meager: two names are incorrectly spelled, and when Howard was writing he had "purely Gaelic" or "Dano-Irish" ancestors, he was undoubtedly referring to the origin of the names, not to any specific researches he may have undertaken about his genealogy.
As it would take several months between Howard's realization of his Norman heritage and the first writings dealing with the subject, it would take as much time for Howard to articulate his connection to a Nordic heritage. A connection that was entirely imaginary…