What was in a name for Patrick O’Brian?


Sir, – Frank McNally writes about Stephen Maturin, one of the two principal characters in Patrick O’Brian’s famous sequence of naval novels (“An Irishman’s Diary”, December 12th).

Maturin, supposedly of mixed Catalan and Irish Catholic ancestry, has the surname of an Irish Protestant family of Huguenot descent – the surname indeed of three Church of Ireland clerics listed in the Dictionary of Irish Biography. Still odder was O’Brian’s choice of the surname Palafox for an 18th-century Irish Protestant character in his little-known novel The Golden Ocean (1956). Palafox was the Aragonese general who defended Saragossa during the Peninsular war – a man with no links with Ireland, still less with Protestantism. – Yours, etc,