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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Ireland, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 77
1. ireland: mountains to sea book festival 2015

I used to think Dun Laoghaire in Ireland was pronounced 'dun leg hair', but in fact, you say it 'dun leery'. And that's where I went this weekend for Mountains to Sea Book Festival, along with a gorgeous gaggle of other writers, illustrators and book people, including this gang here: Oxford Story Museum's Tom Donegan, writer Judi Curtin, fellow space cadet and co-author Philip Reeve and writer Steve Cole:

But I'm so madly busy working on Pugs of the Frozen North right now (my upcoming book with Philip Reeve), that Philip kindly offered to do the blogging for me! So pop over to his blog for ALL OF THE NEWS:

***Keep reading Philip's blog here!***

Huge thanks to organiser and writer Sarah Webb for making everything go so smoothly! Also, big thanks to Oxfordshire Book Awards for making There's a Shark in the Bath your runner-up winner in the Picture Book category. Fab!

One more thing, journalist Fiona Noble in The Bookseller magazine just featured Pugs of the Frozen North as one of her top books to watch out for. Thanks, Fiona!

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2. Ireland is on the way back

As we approach the annual St Patrick’s Day celebration, the story of the Irish economy in the last five years is worthy of reflection. In late 2010, the Irish Government, following in the footsteps of Greece, was forced to request a deeply humiliating emergency financial bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Union (EU). Against the background of the recent controversy over the latest “Greek crisis”, what can be said about Ireland’s experience? Here are five relevant issues

The post Ireland is on the way back appeared first on OUPblog.

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3. Ten fun facts about the Irish Fiddle

Even though the harp is Ireland’s national symbol, the fiddle is the most commonly played instrument in traditional Irish music. Its ornamental melodies are more relaxed than the classical violin and improvisation is encouraged. The fiddle has survived generational changes from its start as a low-class instrument popular among the poor.

The post Ten fun facts about the Irish Fiddle appeared first on OUPblog.

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4. witing the generational saga

Irish curragh secured onshore at Tory Island
Glossing the new book releases and early reviews, and finding a novel that gathers up far-flung place settings of nostalgic relevance to me, loaded with topics of special interest, and all in one tidy package, seemed like an invitation to further self-discovery.  No Country, by Kalyan Ray, jumped out as promising.  The novel is a family generational saga spanning about 150 years, beginning with the mid-nineteenth century famine years in colonial Ireland, and moving to India in the years of the British Raj, before independence from England, and finally to North America--Canada and the United States.

Over that great a span of time, there are more than a few generations to deal with.  Throw in a complicating roster of intermarriage and trying to track family lines, and the average reader may feel challenged to fully appreciate the sweeping themes of a family's struggles, reversals, and successes, always at risk of being truncated into obscurity with the potential failure of any one generation.  The book is only moderately long; nonetheless, Ray moves his characters through a number of epochal historic events: the famine that destroyed perhaps a quarter of the Irish population; the pestilent voyages of coffin ships that finished off a similar number fleeing the famine to North America; the years of pre-independence revolution and terror in India faced by an Irishman who fled there, and later by his Anglo-Indian descendants; and ultimately, their immigration to the New World and the tough decades following, with the  inner tempering and annealing of spirit demanded for life in a new, industrial age unfolding there.

I enjoyed getting Ray's slant on some of the topics I felt somewhat familiar with, like the Great Hunger, An Gorta Mor.  My Irish grandparents were born shortly after the worst of those years. and left when they reached their twenties.  One can be disheartened reading about the callousness and politics that exacerbated The Great Hunger.  And be no less shocked by the callousness and politics practiced by the authorities in attempting to smother the gathering storm of Indian rebellion against colonial rule by Britain.  Ray uses the deliberate massacre of an unarmed civilian population at Jallianwala bagh to stunning effect.  One has to remember we also had our own My Lai during the Vietnam war, lest we think modern humanity has relegated all such events to the past.

One of the topics I had been interested in was Ray's take on the life of Anglo-Indian residents living in India, which was his own life growing up there.  I had worked in Pakistan (once northern India) as an engineer on a dam and had come in contact with a number of workers from the nearby mountains who stood out from their compatriots as fair-skinned, light-haired, Anglo types.  I often thought of the large number of soldiers in the British Raj Army who had been recruited from Ireland.  On holiday trips through the Khyber Pass to Afghanistan I sometimes stopped to inspect the British Raj regimental crests chiseled into the sandstone along the Pass.  Some of these seemed old enough to have been the crests of units that had participated in the British-Afghan Wars of the nineteenth century.  Whole Raj armies had been swallowed up in Afghanistan, and I wondered how many of the present day Anglo-Indian, or perhaps more precisely, Hiberno-Indian, were descendants of those soldiers who fell there.

A reader can be repulsed reading of the oppressive use of police and intelligence services, paid or coerced informers, and repressive laws, in the dying period of the Raj, and in pre-independence Ireland, designed to contain perceived threats of public dissent to political and economic interests.  That is perhaps not much different than what is practiced in many places today.

I think one difficulty with the structure of No Country is a blurring sweep of characters as the story moves through the generations.  There's not much space to become acquainted with each character.  The main progenitor, Padraig, both biological and adoptive to the cascading line of descendants, is aptly revealed in the beginning as a young man in Ireland, as well as is his best friend, Brendan. When Padraig is compelled to flee to India, the situation of Brendan and Padraig's daughter, Maeve, becomes desperate in the famine, and when there is no news of Padraig for over a year, they board one of the coffin ships for North America.  We get to know young Maeve fairly well on the voyage, and it's an endearing characterization.  After a harrowing ordeal they reach Canada, and that's about the last of expansive characterizations for any of the successive generations.

Another concern from a writer's viewpoint might be the introduction of startling coincidental material into an already ambitious plot.  One of the young woman protagonists travels to New York to seek the young man she had known in Canada, and becomes employed in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory there, the locale of a historic fire tragedy.  It was a dramatic episode in the telling, but it seems not entirely organic to the story thread.  Another coincidental element was a chance crossing of paths with a psychopathic character when a Padraig-descendant's family purchases their home from the psychopath's family, which led to diabolical consequences.

All in all, No Country is an engrossing read and is well recommended.

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5. ‘The Missing Scarf’ by Eoin Duffy

A black comedy exploring some of life's common fears: fear of the unknown, of failure, rejection and finally the fear of death.

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6. Libraries in County Clare

Last week I spent a couple of days in Clare – visited Scarriff, Killaloe, Ennis and Shannon. This time of year always reminds me of the work being done in the libraries in Ireland – and always reinvigorates my hope that we do not go the way of Britain where public libraries are being closed. Hundreds closed so far I think. In the North as far as I know, one has already been closed and ten are under threat (See http://www.voicesforthelibrary.org.uk/closures-map/).

What always strikes me in the libraries is the variety of things that happen under their roofs! Storytelling, PC training, book clubs meeting, Leaving Cert and Junior Cert studying, Summer reading challenges, drama workshops, film clubs, creative writing workshops and more!

I took a look at some of the summer activities for children in the Clare libraries, outside of the reading challenge, and they included a Sculpture Trail, a visit to the Ennis Old Friary, Story Time, crafts, jewellery making and  visit to the museum. And all free. All a public service. So … long live the libraries of Ireland and their energetic librarians !

The classes I met, from national schools and secondary schools, were great. In Ennis I had fifty girls from the secondary schools and we did some work together on the issue of child marriage. In a very short space of time they produced some beautiful poems written in the voice of a young girl who had been told she was to be married. Really excellent and empathetic writing, I am hoping they will send me copies so I can put them up on the site.

Off to Wexford and Carlow this week, then Cork next week!


In Ennis Library

In Ennis Library

On the way to Killaloe

On the way to Killaloe


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7. Throwback Thursday

This is one of the very first maps I ever did, back when I was starting out as an illustrator. It was inspired by a TOO long ago trip to Ireland. Time to go back!

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8. Dublin


Stone statues view strangely the sights below

Copper dye melts around the hallowed heads

And drips down to form pools of green.

They sit upon the ancient stones

And watch the urgency far below.

Tram tracks now covered deep.

The old ways  buried with layers of seasons past.

Dublin watches with her dons of old

Her Georgian facades hide songs of older times

She moves within her cast of sculptures; frozen.

Rusty steel arches stands proud and red above the fray

Placed over swirling Liffey, green. A path for trade and friends alike

They join her North and South.

Welcome lines hide ages in their grace.

Many crossed its spans for love or on the run.

Pillared columns stand haughty against the ages

They define the day. They fix the view.

The cut stone gates of Trinity.

The cobbled stones of streets of old.

Where iron shod feet once plied their trades.

Fanlights now illuminate the carpets thick.

In rooms where tailored suits and money meet.

The tea maids are gone. The scones are cold.

The silver set, now frozen behind the water glass.

Portraits watch with moldy eyes, from plastered walls.

Ireland April 2012 412.jpg large webNew blood moves quickly beneath her veins.

Her structure hardened by shells of old.

Her nature, pure, for all to see.

Her ancient stones laid stately, by the Norse.

Her history still defines her course.

Denis Hearn 2002

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9. Rotten fish and Belfast confetti

Winston Churchill’s Victory broadcast of 13 May 1945, in which he claimed that but for Northern Ireland’s “loyalty and friendship” the British people “should have been confronted with slavery or death,” is perhaps the most emphatic assertion that the Second World War entrenched partition from the southern state and strengthened the political bond between Britain and Northern Ireland.

Two years earlier, however, in private correspondence with US President Roosevelt, Churchill had written disparagingly of the young men of Belfast, who unlike their counterparts in Britain were not subject to conscription, loafing around “with their hands in their pockets,” hindering recruitment and the vital work of the shipyards.

Churchill’s role as a unifying figure, galvanising the war effort through wireless broadcasts and morale-boosting public appearances, is much celebrated in accounts of the British Home Front. The further away from London and the South East of England that one travels, however, the more questions should be asked of this simplistic narrative. Due to Churchill’s actions as Liberal Home Secretary during the 1910 confrontations between miners and police in South Wales, for example, he was far less popular in Wales, and indeed in Scotland, than in England during the war. But in Northern Ireland, too, Churchill was a controversial figure at this time. The roots of this controversy are to be found in events that took place more than a quarter of a century before, in 1912.

Then First Lord of the Admiralty, Churchill was booed on arrival in Belfast that February, before his car was attacked and his effigy brandished by a mob of loyalist demonstrators. Later at Belfast Celtic Football Ground he was cheered by a crowd of five thousand nationalists as he spoke in favour of Home Rule for Ireland. Churchill was not sympathetic to the Irish nationalist cause but believed that Home Rule would strengthen the Empire and the bond between Britain and Ireland; he also saw this alliance as vital to the defence of the United Kingdom.

Churchill Side Image
Winston Churchill As Prime Minister 1940-1945 by Cecil Beaton, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Loyalists were outraged. Angry dockers hurled rotten fish at Churchill and his wife Clementine as they left the city; historian and novelist Hugh Shearman reported that their car was diverted to avoid thousands of shipyard workers who had lined the route with pockets filled with “Queen’s Island confetti,” local slang for rivet heads. (Harland and Wolff were at this time Belfast’s largest employer, and indeed one of the largest shipbuilding firms in the world; at the time of the Churchills’ visit the Titanic was being fitted out.)

Two years later in March 1914 Churchill made a further speech in Bradford in England, calling for a peaceful solution to the escalating situation in Ulster and arguing that the law in Ireland should be applied equally to nationalists and unionists without preference. Three decades later, this speech was widely reprinted and quoted in several socialist and nationalist publications in Northern Ireland, embarrassing the unionist establishment by highlighting their erstwhile hostility to the most prominent icon of the British war effort. Churchill’s ignominious retreat from Belfast in 1912 was also raised by pamphleteers and politicians who sought to exploit a perceived hypocrisy in the unionist government’s professed support for the British war effort as it sought to suppress dissent within the province. One socialist pamphlet attacked unionists by arguing that “The Party which denied freedom of speech to a member of the British Government before it became the Government of Northern Ireland is not likely to worry overmuch about free speech for its political opponents after it became the Government.”

And in London in 1940 Victor Gollancz’s Left Book Club published a polemic by the Dublin-born republican activist Jim Phelan, startlingly entitled Churchill Can Unite Ireland. In this Phelan expressed hopes that Churchill’s personality itself could effect positive change in Ireland. He saw Churchill as a figure who could challenge what Phelan called “punctilio,” the adherence to deferential attitudes that kept vested interests in control of the British establishment. Phelan identified a cultural shift in Britain following Churchill’s replacement of Chamberlain as Prime Minister, characterised by a move towards plain speaking: he argued that for the first time since the revolutionary year of 1848 “people are saying and writing what they mean.”

Jim Phelan’s ideas in Churchill Can Unite Ireland were often fanciful, but they alert us to the curious patterns of debate that can be found away from more familiar British narratives of the Second World War. Here a proud Irish republican could assert his faith in a British Prime Minister with a questionable record in Ireland as capable of delivering Irish unity.

Despite publically professed loyalty to the British war effort, unionist mistrust of the London government in London endured over the course of the war, partly due to Churchill’s perceived willingness to deal with Irish Taoiseach Éamon de Valera. Phelan’s book concluded with the words: “Liberty does not grow on trees; it must be fought for. Not ‘now or never’. Now.” Eerily these lines presaged the infamous telegram from Churchill to de Valera following the bombing of Pearl Harbor the following year in 1941, which, it is implied, offered Irish unity in return for the southern state’s entry into the war on the side of Allies, and read in part “Now is your chance. Now or never. A Nation once again.”

The post Rotten fish and Belfast confetti appeared first on OUPblog.

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10. Marcus Garvey: The Irish Connection

The unqualified achievement of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities (Imperial) League (UNIA-ACL) led by Marcus Mosiah Garvey (1887-1940), the first National Hero of Jamaica, owed its success to many sources. 

One of Garvey’s main influences was Booker T. Washington, whose vision of self-help through education and economics was the main impetus behind the movement. However, Garvey’s organizational strategies for the liberation of people of African descent closely modeled the slogans and methods employed by Irish nationalists such as Padraig Pearse, Robert Emmet, Roger Casement, and Eamon de Valera.

In 1914 when Marcus Garvey returned to Jamaica from England, his heart and mind bursting with ideas for the freedom of African peoples, one of his first official acts was the creation of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities (Imperial) League (UNIA-ACL), whose slogan was “Africa for Africans at home and abroad” an echo of the oft repeated Irish slogan, “The Irish race at home and abroad.” 

Even the choice in naming of the UNIA-ACL headquarters, Liberty Hall, was a nod to “Liberty Hall, Dublin, the symbolic seat of the Irish revolution.” In The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, he repeated his conviction and alliance with the Irish cause: “Marcus Garvey has no fear about going to jail. Like MacSwiney or like Carson, like Roger Casement, like those who have led the fight for Irish freedom, so Marcus Garvey shall lead the fight for African freedom” (183).

To say that the Easter Rising of 1916 had a profound effect on Garvey would be understatement. But Garvey’s familiarity with the revolutionary struggle of the Irish people began long before that fateful week:

As early as 1910, Garvey was assistant secretary of the National Club of Jamaica, a group whose activities marked the first attempt by Jamaicans to create a nationalist political platform. The club's founder, S. A. & G. Cox, absorbed the influence of the Sinn Fein movement while he was enrolled as a student, beginning in 1905, at the Middle Temple in England…The Jamaican historian Richard Hart has pointed out that "for [the National Club's] newspaper Cox chose the name Our Own, a rough translation of the Irish nationalists' Sinn Fein."

Indeed, Garvey’s most audacious plan, the Black Star Line, which led to his imprisonment on trumped up charges brought by J. Edgar Hoover and the US Justice Department, was another symbolic nod to the Irish struggle:

RUPERT LEWIS: The idea comes to Garvey that black people need a shipping line, and he bases his idea on the fact that the Cunard family has the White Star Line and the Irish have the Green Star Line, and he says, "Why shouldn't blacks have the Black Star Line?" So it is a vision of grandeur.

Perhaps the greatest influence on Garvey’s strategies was the courage of the Irish heroes. As Robert Hill points out:

In July 1919, Garvey announced that "the time [had] come for the Negro race to offer up its martyrs upon the altar of liberty even as the Irish [had] given a long list from Robert Emmet to Roger Casement.

Yet it wasn’t only the courage of the Irish that moved Garvey. During the International Convention of the Negro Peoples of the World at Madison Square Garden, August 1-31, 1920, Marcus Garvey gave a speech to thousands of UNIA delegates from twenty-five countries and accepted the title of “Provisional President of Africa.” This was not an accident. During the Easter Rising of 1916, Padraig Pearse had been named “President of the Provisional Government” before his martyrdom on May 3, 1916.

However, Garvey’s closest personal relationship with Irish nationalism was with the Hon. Eamon de Valera. In fact, they had even arranged for a speaking engagement to share the platform:

Come and See the Irish President
Among the Speakers will be
His Excellency Hon. MARCUS GARVEY
Provisional President of Africa
His Excellency Hon. EAMON De VALERA
Provisional President of Ireland

Although the meeting did not take place, Garvey continued his relationship and emulation of de Valera:

The example of de Valera's clandestine travel between America and Ireland also became an object of emulation for Garvey. In his speech at Liberty Hall on the evening of 6 January 1921, he alluded to his impending departure for the Caribbean and Central America: "Two weeks from this I shall suddenly disappear from you for six or seven weeks," he told his audience. "You won't hear from me during that time, but don't be alarmed because we Negroes will have to adopt the system of underground workings like De Valera.

Marcus Garvey’s meteoric rise to fame and influence was due to his knowledge of the struggle for Irish freedom. From the outset of his career, Garvey recognized the kinship of the Irish and Pan-African struggle for freedom from the British Empire. Garvey’s awareness of the slogans and methods of Irish nationalists as well as his connection, personal and symbolic, with Irish revolutionaries, shaped the direction of the UNIA-ACL and provided a framework for the struggle of Africans at home and abroad. As Garvey said in his famous Chicago speech in 1919, “Robert Emmet gave his life for Irish independence . . . and the new negro is ready to give his life for the freedom of the negro race."
It is no wonder that the historian, William Ferris, would give this final summation of Garvey’s career: “the same courage which St. Patrick showed in delving the pagan gods of Ireland Marcus Garvey shows in defying Anglo-Saxon caste prejudice." Marcus Garvey's life was a testament to the kinship of Irish and Pan-African freedom fighters in the liberation of their people.

First Published: 3/17/13 6:35 AM, Eastern Daylight Time

The Coalition for the Exoneration of Marcus Garvey is petitioning President Barack Obama to exonerate Marcus Garvey: 


Thank you for your support.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

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11. Claddagh Pool main issue follow up by Pope Francis

Finally there is a new Pope who seems to want to take responsibility for the clerical abuses over the last few years. This is a huge step toward healing the horrific wounds inflicted by some members of the clergy on the innocents . He totally gets my vote.




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12. Growing up on the River Slaney in Ireland

A great RTE production about rivers in Ireland.

My river: The Slaney.

Watch it here.  http://www.rte.ie/player/us/show/10286116/


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13. Hauling Herring in the Irish Sea


Hauling Herring

Summer morning dawns softly with a low salty fog. A quietly rolling sea feels the misty clouds floating above its spirited waves.

Kilmore Quay, a small fishing village tucked away on the southeast corner of Ireland begins another day of sea life. Early risen fishermen move slowly down the pier, their mumbled words mixing melancholy in the morning air. They climb on board the sturdy trawler. Its decks still wet with drops of Irish dew.

Exhaust stacks billow thick clouds of unburnt fuel as Deidre’s big diesels cough to life and the day begins. Nets are readied on deck with orange buoys lined up like runners preparing for a race. The radios crackles into the still air and words break free, understood only by a chosen few native speakers. Yes, the southeast of Ireland still has some Irish left. The language of old, used to hinder competitive fishermen from France or Britain in their search for herring in European waters.

One by one the salty steeds glide slowly past the end of the breakwater out into the open sea. Looking southeast, the Great Saltee Island rears its rocky shape and below it the Little Saltee, with its tribes of puffins and avian divers preparing for another day of fishing.

Skipper Blake’s Deidre, steers northeast with diesels pounding in her belly. There are miles to go before the huge net will be dropped into the deep. A gas stove swinging in its gimbals springs to life as rashers hit a hot pan and eggs crack and sizzle, sending wafts of bacon scent throughout the boat. The crew settles down for an early meal together, as voices discuss the day stretching on before them.

Morning sun has burned away the fog as great sea birds wheel and squeal above the slowly moving swells. It is time to set the net. Blake charts the course, checks the depth and gives the order, “Let her go.”

Giant mounds of orange mesh roll like waves over the rounded transom and are sucked below the waves. Orange buoys line up on left and right. Well-worn otter boards fall out and take the strain. The creaking steel cables tighten and the net is set. Nothing to do now, but wait.

The twin diesels take the load and plough ahead. Deidre points northward up the Irish Sea, her well-worn props push towards fish and bigger seas. The waiting crew stands ready to man the winches and prepare the icy hold below. Some gaze north in anticipation of weather and wealth, while others go below to finish up some goey eggs with a piece of toasted soda bread.

Blake watches the sonar as he guides his big Norwegian vessel towards a blue cloud on his blurry screen. Twisted cables groan; black smoke pours out of the two blue stacks. The herring have hit. The orange net strains, capturing a shivering school and makes Deidre’s diesels earn their keep. Seagulls swarm aloft in the salty air crying for the haul to come aboard. The radio crackles. Other skippers have seen the bird-cloud. The chase begins. Keep the Frenchmen and the British out.

          Deidre’s crew grabs the winch controls and the cables begin to turn. Otter boards are stowed, and the orange net crawls back over the stern. Orange buoys now form a circle on the heaving sea, as churning fish cut the surface with their sharp fins. Knotted net is hoisted high, dripping with silver wriggling shapes and black shiny eyes. The release is pulled and herring pour onto the deck to slither below into their icy tomb. The catch is huge. Skipper Blake shouts to his crew, “Let’s do it again lads!”  Salty green water splashes on the scaly deck as the hustling crew sets the net back into the deep. The scope on the bridge reveals more clouds of herring and Deidre’s net hits the mother lode again. Her winches pull another load of wriggling life towards the surface and the waiting crew.

The late evening swells push Deidre, now laden with her load, southward  past Tuskar Rock. Its lighthouse white and sentry-like, flashing twice to warn of rocky reefs below. The setting sun sinks over the great back of Ireland and lights snap on below deck. Blake steers his prize homeward, with tired crew and holds bursting with the silver haul.

White and red markers appear to starboard. The heading is set. Deidre makes her run over ancient reefs, past kelp weeds swinging languidly in the evening tide. The muffled sound of her diesels echoes between the walls as she rounds the tightly stacked stones to tie up at the waiting bollards. Blake snugs her next to the wall as guiding hands make fast the mooring lines.

Her crew pumps the herring from her hold through a large tube, sending it down the pier to the holding tanks at the fish plant. The great hoard disappears as the hold is emptied and washed out ready for the next occupants.

In the dying light tired legs walk slowly down the pier and toward the lights of Sutton’s pub. Another Deidre’s day at sea makes for stories at the bar where salty hands wrap their day around some well-earned pints.

© Denis Hearn. 2010


Europe 2012 Sept Oct 803

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14. Death of innocents and innocence.

What next? Another Catholic Church scandal with government involvement.

RTE Report Link: http://www.rte.ie/news/2014/0610/622730-cabinet-meet-babies/

I don’t think its possible to have an independent inquiry in Ireland. The government and the church are one and the same.

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15. ‘Where’s My Keys?’ by Max Halley

Girlfriend's admirable yet futile attempt to re-enact the moment where she loses her keys, for one of my endless and futile attempts at making a short animated film.

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16. Alan Holly’s ‘Coda’ Wins Top Prize at Fest Anča

Irish filmmaker Alan Holly's "Coda"was the grand prize winner at Fest Anča, which wrapped up last Sunday in Žilina, Slovakia.

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17. Stuart Neville 3-for-2 offer



9780099535348The Twelve

I almost missed reading this book. Published in 2009 it has only just been releases here. I was reluctant to pick it up because “debut thriller of the year” gets thrown around a far bit and I am very skeptical. However in the case of THE TWELVE it is not marketing or publicity that has come up with the statement because it is more than true. This is not just one of the best thriller debuts of the last ten years; it is one of the best thrillers of the last ten years full stop.

THE TWELVE blends together seamlessly some of my favourite elements of crime fiction. It is political (without choosing sides), it is violent, it has heart and it is wickedly funny in places. It also reminds me of some of my favourite authors while being completely original. While reading the book Adrian McKinty, Ken Bruen and the DEXTER series all came to mind as well as the film THE DEPARTED and the TV series RESCUE ME.

The main character of the book is Gerry Fegan, an ex-IRA hit man who has just done a 9 and a half year stretch in Maze prison. Prison has changed him but not like you would think. Gerry is haunted by the crimes he has committed, literally. He is followed by twelve ghosts of people he has killed. He can see, hear and feel the ghosts all the time and they will not let him sleep. Even whiskey doesn’t help and Gerry is seen as a crazy drunk who talk to himself all day.

Gerry tries confessing to one of his victim’s relatives in an effort to free himself from these unwanted spirits but that only get him into trouble with his old bosses. But that’s when he finds out what his ghost want him to do, they want revenge. As Gerry counts down his ghosts, his actions threaten to tear apart Northern Ireland’s new found peace. This means he must be stopped, making this one hell of an explosive thriller.


9780099535355OK so I thought THE TWELVE was freakin’ awesome but COLLUSION takes it up another notch. The now ghost-less (but still haunted) Gerry Fegan has escaped Northern Ireland to New York but his trail of destruction and its consequences still reverberates around Belfast. Interestingly Gerry takes a backseat in this book.  We’re introduced to Detective Inspector Jack Lennon (who happens to be the briefly mentioned ex-girlfriend of one of THE TWELVE’s main characters) and we meet an even more twisted hitman known as The Traveller.

I love when a series follows a non- linear path and at first you think COLLUSION is a Jack Lennon novel. But one of Lennon’s cases has links to what happened in THE TWELVE and when he learns his ex-girlfriend and estranged daughter were somehow involved he is determined to find out what happened. When those that survived THE TWELVE start turning up dead Lennon is put on a collision course with The Traveller who has been cleaning up loose ends.

The action is again incredible and the twists are devilish. With a title like COLLUSION you have no idea which side anyone is really on. All the elements that made THE TWELVE great are still here and I am still trying to catch my breath after the ending. Seriously if you love action/thrillers you HAVE to read Stuart Neville.

Stolen Souls

9781846554520Stuart Neville is fast becoming one of my favourite crime writers. THE TWELVE blew me away and COLLUSION was an excellent follow-up and now he continues the brilliance with STOLEN SOULS.

Jack Lennon again features and he is trying to balance the pieces if his life that are left in the aftermath of the last book. But the central character is Galya, an illegal immigrant from The Ukraine who has been deceived into coming to Ireland for work but the job she has been ‘sold’ into is not what she signed up for.

STOLEN SOULS is in essence a chase novel. The book opens with Galya having just killed a ‘client’. Unfortunately the ‘client’ is the brother of a very important and ruthless man. She must now out run his revenge but ends up jumping out of the fry pan into a very vicious fire.

Meanwhile Jack is left to clean up the trail of destruction and try and figure out what is going on. Neville again mixes up unpredictable action with both flawed and despicable characters. Get on the Stuart Neville bandwagon now because this guy is going to be huge.

Grab all three books for $35.98 (rrp $19.95 each)

and don’t miss the new book in the series, The Final Silence out July 17

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18. Making “Claddagh Pool” a movie.

My next edit for “Claddagh Pool” will be a screenplay. The movie rights will be available.

Main characters:

Anne: Claire Danes.

Conor: Colin Farrell.

What do you think?



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19. Q is for Queen

Here is one of my favorites from P is for Pirate, the notorious Grace O’Malley—Irish queen & pirate captain. She was a contemporary of Queen Elizabeth I and reportedly had an interview with Gloriana (who, after all, had a soft spot for buccaneers).

Queen Grace has been the subject of songs, at least one play and even a musical. So far as I know the swashbuckling Maureen O’Hara never played her in a movie, but what perfect casting that would have been!

I show Queen Grace in an Errol Flynn pose with her ruffians behind her. In the sketch I thoughtlessly drew a baroque-looking ship like we’re used to seeing from piracy’s golden age. In the final painting I used the Mayflower—much closer in style to a ship from Queen Grace’s time—as reference. Same deal with the costumes: they’re Elizabethan. I first drew her in men’s clothes but thought she looks much cuter in a dress.

Thumbnail sketch Errol Flynn in Captain Blood Tight sketch—in a man's costume In a dress with skirts hiked up for ease of movement Color sketch IMGP1534 IMGP1535 IMGP1622 IMGP1623 IMGP1624 IMGP1625 IMGP1626 IMGP1627 IMGP1628 IMGP1629 IMGP1630 IMGP1632 IMGP1633 IMGP1634 IMGP1635 IMGP1636 Queen

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20. The real story of Saint Patrick

Everyone knows about Saint Patrick — the man who drove the snakes out of Ireland, defeated fierce Druids in contests of magic, and used the shamrock to explain the Christian Trinity to the pagan Irish. It’s a great story, but none of it is true. The shamrock legend came along centuries after Patrick’s death, as did the miraculous battles against the Druids. Forget about the snakes — Ireland never had any to begin with. No snakes, no shamrocks, and he wasn’t even Irish.

The real story of St. Patrick is much more interesting than the myths. What we know of Patrick’s life comes only through the chance survival of two remarkable letters which he wrote in Latin in his old age. In them, Patrick tells the story of his tumultuous life and allows us to look intimately inside the mind and soul of a man who lived over fifteen hundred years ago. We may know more biographical details about Julius Caesar or Alexander the Great, but nothing else from ancient times opens the door into the heart of a man more than Patrick’s letters. They tell the story of an amazing life of pain and suffering, self-doubt and struggle, but ultimately of faith and hope in a world which was falling apart around him.

Saint Patrick stained glass window from Cathedral of Christ the Light, Oakland, CA. Photo by Simon Carrasco. CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The historical Patrick was not Irish at all, but a spoiled and rebellious young Roman citizen living a life of luxury in fifth-century Britain when he was suddenly kidnapped from his family’s estate as a teenager and sold into slavery across the sea in Ireland. For six years he endured brutal conditions as he watched over his master’s sheep on a lonely mountain in a strange land. He went to Ireland an atheist, but there heard what he believed was the voice of God. One day he escaped and risked his life to make a perilous journey across Ireland, finding passage back to Britain on a ship of reluctant pirates. His family welcomed back their long-lost son and assumed he would take up his life of privilege, but Patrick heard a different call. He returned to Ireland to bring a new way of life to a people who had once enslaved him. He constantly faced opposition, threats of violence, kidnapping, and even criticism from jealous church officials, while his Irish followers faced abuse, murder, and enslavement themselves by mercenary raiders. But through all the difficulties Patrick maintained his faith and persevered in his Irish mission.

The Ireland that Patrick lived and worked in was utterly unlike the Roman province of Britain in which he was born and raised. Dozens of petty Irish kings ruled the countryside with the help of head-hunting warriors while Druids guided their followers in a religion filled with countless gods and perhaps an occasional human sacrifice. Irish women were nothing like those Patrick knew at home. Early Ireland was not a world of perfect equality by any means, but an Irish wife could at least control her own property and divorce her husband for any number of reasons, including if he became too fat for sexual intercourse. But Irish women who were slaves faced a cruel life. Again and again in his letters, Patrick writes of his concern for the many enslaved women of Ireland who faced beatings and abuse on a daily basis.

Patrick wasn’t the first Christian to reach Ireland; he wasn’t even the first bishop. What made Patrick successful was his dogged determination and the courage to face whatever dangers lay ahead, as well as the compassion and forgiveness to work among a people who had brought nothing but pain to his life. None of this came naturally to him, however. He was a man of great insecurities who constantly wondered if he was really cut out for the task he had been given. He had missed years of education while he was enslaved in Ireland and carried a tremendous chip on his shoulder when anyone sneered, as they frequently did, at his simple, schoolboy Latin. He was also given to fits of depression, self-pity, and violent anger. Patrick was not a storybook saint, meek and mild, who wandered Ireland with a beatific smile and a life free from petty faults. He was very much a human being who constantly made mistakes and frequently failed to live up to his own Christian ideals, but he was honest enough to recognize his shortcomings and never allow defeat to rule his life.

You don’t have to be Irish to admire Patrick. His is a story of inspiration for anyone struggling through hard times public or private in a world with unknown terrors lurking around the corner. So raise a glass to the patron saint of Ireland, but remember the man behind the myth.

Headline image credit: Oxalis acetosella. Photo by Erik Fitzpatrick. CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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21. Shamrock and Saltire: Irish Home Rule and the Scottish Referendum, 1914-2014

This is the centenary year of the enactment of the third Home Rule Bill, as well (of course) as the year of the Scottish referendum on independence. Yet the centenary conversation in Ireland and the somewhat more vigorous debate upon Scots independence, have been conducted — for the most part — quite separately.

While it would be wrong to push the analogies too far, there are some striking similarities – and some differences – between the debate on Home Rule in 1912-14, and the current debate upon Scottish independence. These similarities (and indeed distinctions) might well give food for thought to the protagonists within the Scottish ‘Yes’ and ‘Better Together’ camps — and indeed there is evidence that both Gordon Brown and Alex Salmond have ruminated accordingly.

One critical difference between Ireland in 1914 and Scotland in 2014 is that of militancy — Ireland on the eve of the First World War being an armed camp comprising the Ulster and Irish Volunteer movements, opponents and proponents of Home Rule, as well as the British Army. The Scottish political debate has not been militarised, and there is no evidence that it will become so (the Scottish National Liberation Army, for example, has never posed a significant threat). Modern Scottish nationalism has developed as a wholly constitutional and pacific phenomenon.

Of course mainstream Scottish nationalism has only recently, through successive Holyrood elections, emerged as a majority phenomenon. But it has never had to encounter the challenge (faced by Irish nationalism a century ago) of returning a majority of elected representatives, while being lengthily resisted in London.

One aspect of the Irish experience in 1914 was that a fraught constitutional debate, heightened political expectations, and the delaying or disappointment of those expectations (with Unionist resistance and the onset of War), combined to make a highly volatile political chemistry. The hardening expectations of change across Scotland in 2014 mean that national (as well as social and economic) aspirations may need to be quickly and sensitively addressed, whatever the result of the referendum.

Sir Edward Carson, leader of the Irish Unionist Party, inspecting members of the Ulster Volunteer Force. The UVF were founded in 1913 by the Ulster Unionist Council to resist the implementation of Home Rule. Q 81759 Imperial War Museums. IWM Non Commercial Licence via Wikimedia Commons.
Sir Edward Carson, leader of the Irish Unionist Party, inspecting members of the Ulster Volunteer Force. The UVF were founded in 1913 by the Ulster Unionist Council to resist the implementation of Home Rule. Q 81759 Imperial War Museums. IWM Non Commercial Licence via Wikimedia Commons.

One critical dimension of this militancy in 1914 was the trenchant support given to Ulster Unionist paramilitarism by the British Conservative leadership — this in part a symptom of the profound divisions in British and Irish politics and society precipitated by the debate over Home Rule. It is striking that both the Home Rule issue in 1914 and the referendum in 2014 have each attracted an unusually broad range of declarations of allegiance from a complex array of interest groups and individuals. In 1914 there was a high level of ‘celebrity’ endorsement and intervention over Home Rule: taking literary figures alone, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle came out as a Home Ruler, while Rudyard Kipling was a strong Unionist. In 2014 Irvine Welsh has declared in favour of independence, while J.K. Rowling is against. Ian Rankin provides a case-study in the complexity (and profundity) of division: he is an agnostic on the issue, but is clear that his characters would have strong opinions. So, Inspector Rebus joins the unionists of 2014 (though the actor Ken Stott, most recent of the TV Rebuses, is reportedly in the ‘yes’ camp).

The analogies between Home Rule and the debate on Scottish independence extend much further than the ‘A’ list, however. The substantial strength and challenge of Home Rule sentiment produced striking intellectual movement before and in 1914 — just as the strength of the movement for Scots independence has produced similar movement a century later.

In 1912-14 the constitutional impasse over Home Rule in fact helped to stimulate support for (what was then called) ‘federalism’ among some of the Unionist elite, including even Edward Carson. In terms of the (nearly) equally weighted forces fighting over Scottish independence, Gordon Brown has now moved to embrace the idea of a federal United Kingdom; and he has been joined or preceded by others, including (for example) the Scottish Conservative journalist, David Torrance. Discussion of a possible English parliament was broached prominently in 1911-1914 and again in 2014. Both in 1914 and in 2014 it appears that the constitutional shape of the ever-malleable United Kingdom is once again in transition — but because unionists are now shifting no less then nationalists.

And indeed some Scots Nationalists have moved towards embracing at least some of the symbols of the British connection. John Redmond, the Home Rule leader, emphasised monarchy and empire in his vision of Irish autonomy during the Home Rule era, partly through personal conviction, and partly in terms of subverting unionist arguments. In similar vein, Alex Salmond (despite a strong tradition of republican sentiment within the SNP), has embraced the ‘union of the crowns’ as SNP strategy, and has in recent years referred deferentially to the Queen (‘of Scots’), and her central place in an independent nation.

Here, as elsewhere, Ireland’s century-old debate on Home Rule speaks to the current condition of Scotland. Indeed here, as elsewhere, Ireland’s wider experience of Union chimes with that of the Scots.

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22. “23 Degrees 5 Minutes” by Darragh O’Connell

Irish animation studio Brown Bag Films released its 2011 short 23 Degrees 5 Minutes online today. Based on a story by Austin Kenny, the CG short is directed by Darragh O’Connell, who has been twice nominated for the animated short Oscar for co-directing the films Give Up Yer Aul Sins and Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty.

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23. Maggie Welcomes Thousands of Visitors Worldwide

Maggie Steele, the storybook heroine who vaults over the moon, has been attracting thousands of visitors from around the world. So many visitors, in fact, that she’s using a time zone map to keep track of them all.* People are … Continue reading

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24. Five important facts about the Irish economy

By Donal Donovan

After many years of extraordinary success the dramatic collapse of the Irish economy in 2008 was unprecedented in the history of post-war industrial countries. Who and what was responsible for the demise of the poster boy “Celtic Tiger?” What lessons can be learned form the Irish debacle and can the Tiger come roaring back?

(1) Until around five years ago, the Irish economy was the envy of the world.

During the nineties, the rise of the Celtic Tiger was one of the most remarkable post-war industrial country phenomena. A relatively poor country on the periphery succeeded in transforming itself into one of the richest countries in Europe. The key was the massive inflow of foreign direct investment, as US and other multinationals sought to take advantage of Ireland’s location and young, well-educated labour force – the only English-speaking country in the common currency euro area. To be sure, sound financial and macroeconomic policies also helped inspire confidence. Ireland experienced annual growth rates of almost 10% at times, living standards soared, and emigration — the hallmark of the Irish – turned into net immigration. Foreigners, especially from Eastern Europe, flocked to take advantage of the booming economy.

 Awaiting an upturn in the Irish economy. This section of City Quay between Moss Street and Prince's Street, surrounded by steel and glass buildings of the Celtic Tiger Era, has been saved from demolition by the severe downturn in the Irish economy. Photo by Eric Jones of geograph.co.uk

Awaiting an upturn in the Irish economy. This section of City Quay between Moss Street and Prince’s Street, surrounded by steel and glass buildings of the Celtic Tiger Era, has been saved from demolition by the severe downturn in the Irish economy. Photo by Eric Jones of geograph.co.uk. Creative Commons license via Wikimedia Commons.

(2) Things then started to go horribly wrong, although it was not recognized at the time.

Starting around 2002, the technology based export led growth began to turn into a property bubble. Fuelled by special tax incentives and unlimited funding at low euro area interest rates, the Irish banks went on a splurge of reckless lending to property purchasers and developers. Government budget expenditures soared, financed by revenues from the artificially booming property sector. House and land prices soared to levels among the highest in the world and the population engaged in a frenzy of borrowing to acquire property before it was too late…

(3) The economy started to collapse around 2008.

In 2008, following the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in the United States, the property bubble burst in a spectacular fashion. Almost overnight, prices began to plummet, eventually losing between 60-80% of their value. All the Irish banks became hopelessly insolvent, the budget deficit soared to almost unimaginable heights as the earlier surge in expenditures could not be reversed, and unemployment tripled. The fall in output was probably the largest ever experienced by an industrial country since the Second World War. Ireland quickly found itself unable to borrow on international markets and in November 2010, had to follow Greece and seek ignominious recourse to an emergency bail out from the IMF and the EU.

(4) Much progress has since been made but there is still a tough road ahead. 

Under the strict insistence of the IMF/EU, much — albeit painful — progress has been achieved in righting the financial ship of state in the last four years. The enormous budget deficit has been slowly but steadily reduced, and the massive financial problems of the banks have been addressed. But Ireland’s debt has unavoidably continued to soar, and while the economic decline appears to have bottomed out, unemployment remains stubbornly high at around 14% and large scale emigration has resumed. Moreover, it is not clear that steps are being taken to tackle decisively the major failings in political and economic governance that caused the debacle  in the first place

(5) Can the Celtic Tiger rise again?

It is very difficult to imagine a return to anything near the heady heights of the Celtic Tiger. Ireland’s economy is very heavily dependent on exports and the EU growth outlook remains very clouded. Increasingly, there are questions as to whether Ireland’s preferential corporate tax regime – key to attracting foreign investment over the years — can be sustained in the face of pressures from other countries. Still, even if real incomes in Ireland return to around their 2000 levels, this would still be an enormous improvement compared to the seventies when Ireland joined the EU as its then poorest member.

Dr. Donal Donovan is a Member of the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, Adjunct Professor at the University of Limerick, and Visiting Lecturer at Trinity College Dublin. He is a former deputy director at the International Monetary Fund with considerable experience in the area of financial crises. He is co-author, with Antoin E. Murphy, of The Fall of the Celtic Tiger: Ireland and the Euro Debt Crisis.

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25. The Night Gardener - a review

A short review today.  I rushed to finish, as I knew the kids in my book club would surely want to get their hands on it last week.  I was right.

Auxier, Jonathan. 2014. The Night Gardener. New York: Amulet.

Set in England aground the 1840s, The Night Gardener features an Irish gal with the gift of  blarney, her10-year-old brother with a lame leg and stout heart, a mysterious storyteller, and a strange family inhabiting a creepy mansion on an island in the middle of the sourwoods.

Separated from their parents and forced to flee Ireland due to famine, Molly & Kip have no choice but to accept employment with the Windsor Family, the only inhabitants of the only home in the sourwoods,

At the far end of the lawn stood Windsor mansion.  The house had obviously been left vacant for some years, and in that time it seemed to have become one with the landscape. Weeds swallowed the base. Ivy choked the walls and windows. The roof was sagging and covered in black moss.
But strangest of all was the tree.
The tree was enormous and looked very, very old. Most trees cast an air of quiet dignity over their surrounding. This one did not. Most trees invite you to climb up into their canopy.  This one did not. Most trees make you want to carve your initials into the trunk. This one did not. To stand in the shadow of this tree would send a chill through your whole body. 
Even Molly's indomitable spirit and knack for storytelling cannot shield Kip and the young Windsor children from the horrors that lurk within the shadow of the giant tree.

Historical fiction and horror intertwine in this absolutely gripping story. With similarities to Claire LeGrand's The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, The Night Gardener is the stuff of nightmares.

Coming to a bookshelf near you in May, 2014!


My Advance Reader Copy was thrust upon me by none other than the wonderfully funny, Tom Angleberger (of Origami Yoda fame), who insisted that I read it.  Thanks, Tom!

Also by Jonathan Auxier, Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, which I reviewed in 2011.

The book's cover was drawn by Patrick Arrasmith and designed by the talented Chad Beckerman, whom I had the pleasure of interviewing a while back.

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