Lewis Greene is eighty-one years old and is landlord of the Greene Hall estate near Westport in Co Mayo, Ireland. His wife, Matilda (Tilda) Greene, nee Walker, is seventy-five years old. They married in 1834 and Tilda fell pregnant soon afterwards but it wasn’t until she gave birth that it was discovered she was carrying twins. Martha, Isobel Fitzgerald’s mother, was born first but the second baby took a long time to be born. It was a boy – an heir to the Greene Hall estate – and he was named Miles.
Soon, however, it became evident that Miles was not developing like other children. He was examined by the Greene’s doctor and he was deemed to be – in the terminology of the time – a ‘simpleton’ or an ‘idiot’.
Tilda blamed herself and could not bear to even look at her son and when she claimed he was beginning to frighten Martha, Lewis made the decision to send Miles away to St Patrick’s Hospital in Dublin – an asylum where he could be cared for properly. Lewis watched his year-old son being driven away in a carriage down the drive then let it be known that Miles had died and a large funeral was held for him.
Lewis and Tilda hoped they would have another son who would inherit the estate, but it was not to be and Martha had an isolated childhood, spending most of her time in the nursery with her nanny and nursery maid and then with her governess when the nursery became the schoolroom. A few days after her twenty-first birthday, Martha ran away to elope with the Reverend Edmund Stevens, the Church of Ireland (Anglican) curate of Ballyglas Parish and her parents disowned her.
Having lost both his children, Lewis’ interest in the Greene Hall estate dwindled and, as he aged, he spent more and more time in his library with his books. Tilda had more of an interest in the estate but the land agent, Mr Dudley, took no notice because she was a woman. Mr Dudley was given a free rein and, like many land agents, became feared and hated in the locality.
When Lewis’ health began to decline, Tilda devoted all her time to caring for him. But when Lewis’ doctor informs him that he has lung disease and it will kill him, Tilda is appalled and fearful when, not only do his thoughts turn to their son, but he resolves to go to Dublin and see Miles. Tilda does not want to go – both her children are dead to her – but Lewis insists and he has Knox, his butler, make inquiries as to the whereabouts of their daughter. Martha and her children are easy to locate, especially when the notice announcing the engagement between Martha and James Ellison is published in The Irish Times.
Lewis rents a house on Fitzwilliam Square and his granddaughter Isobel spots him in the congregation in St Peter’s Church on Aungier Street on her mother’s wedding day. That evening, Lewis confesses a secret to Isobel, her husband, Will, and her brother, Alfie – one which has been kept for over forty years – his son is alive – and he wants to see Miles one last time before he dies. This presents a huge conundrum. Martha believes her twin brother died at a year old and what, if anything, has Miles been told about his parents and family? How will he react when he is told that his mother does not wish to be reunited with him but that the father who sent him away to an asylum does? Will Lewis Greene ever get his dying wish?