She married and had two children, staying at home with them until they were school age, and then started teaching. She was a teacher for twenty-five years – ten of which were spent as a headteacher. During these years she and her husband bought a small farm of twenty acres (with an Iron Age fort, stone cottage and river), which they used as a holiday cottage until they retired. Inspired by this place, she began writing books after her retirement, starting with the seventeen books in the Drumshee Timeline series, which told the history of Ireland through the lives of the people who lived on the little farm, from Iron Age times right up to the present.
In 2007 she wrote her first book for adults – the first in a series of detective stories which were placed on the nearby area known as the Burren, whose history and landscape form the background to her 'Mara the Brehon' series.
Here Harrison shares some ideas about an adaptation of the series:
The Burren mysteries are set in the mid-west of Ireland bordering on the Atlantic Ocean. There are ten books so far and each feature a murder to be solved by the Judge of the area: in the case of the Burren in the early sixteenth century this was one of the O’Davoren clan, in my books it is the invented woman, Mara O’Davoren, who has qualified as a Brehon and taken over from her father.Visit Cora Harrison's website.
But if ever my Burren mysteries were to be filmed then there would be two starring roles.
The first is the landscape of the Burren; that one hundred-square-mile grey limestone plateaux dotted with lakes and spiralling mountains carved out in the Second Ice Age.
On a sunny day the place is a camera man’s dream with the Atlantic light drawing silver streaks from the stone, and exquisite tiny flowers in purples, pinks, cream and yellow from the Alpine and Arctic regions, marking the cracks or grykes of the limestone clints. A backdrop, some would say but I think of this clean, wind-swept environment as forming the character of the people who lived and farmed there and I think of it as an essential factor in the make-up of my principal character, Mara O’Davoren.
The O’Davoren law school existed right into the latter half of the 16th century and its ruins still remain on the edge of the Burren, but Mara, herself, is my own creation. I had read that there was once a female Brehon (a Brehon is a Judge and Investigating Magistrate) who had reproved a young male judge for a bad verdict and had told him that the pimples on his cheeks were the sign that inwardly he knew that he had been unjust. He reversed his judgement and the pimples disappeared. I was so taken by this that I created Mara, aged 37, divorced mother of a daughter, formidable in intellect, but possessing the female skills of ability to negotiate, tact and an instinctive understanding of human nature, attractive with black hair which she pins up behind her head, and dressing in well-fitting gowns – mostly of greens and browns which match the colour of her eyes – large hazel-coloured eyes, set beneath well-marked black brows.
I even found a model for a gown from an archaeological excavation of the area when this dress [photo left], dating from the sixteenth century, just the era that I was writing about, turned up buried deep in a bog in County Clare, not far from my stories are set.
It was perfect for Mara who, I reckoned, would always be careful of her appearance, would feel that she represented the face of justice in the area and had to earn the respect of the people in the kingdom who so willingly obeyed her decrees.
So who would I choose to act the part of Mara? Well, for that I have to go back to an icon of my youth, the film star that I desperately wanted to look like.
If I could have my dream, it would be Audrey Hepburn – I loved everything about her, her eyes, her hair, her movements and best of all, for my character of this attractive young judge who was obeyed and respected by the people of the Burren, Audrey Hepburn always seemed to be very intelligent, full of charisma and possessing a natural dignity – the sort of person that would be obeyed by others. I think that she could do the role very well.