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Anna Sweeney’s novel Deadly Intent is an atmospheric murder mystery set on the Beara peninsula in Co. Kerry.

downloadThe story opens with an unconscious woman found on an isolated path in the country. The woman, Maureen, is a guest at a high-end guest house run by Nessa, a former journalist from Dublin, and her husband Patrick, a political refugee from Malawi. Although the initial suspect is Maureen’s husband, an unstable man named Dominic, the case gets complicated quickly as there is a suggestion that she may have been having an affair with another guest, the rich industrialist Oscar Maldin, who has now vanished. Read the rest of this entry »

I’ve slowed down, nay almost stopped blogging over the past two weeks. The reason is unusual and unfortunate: a tree fell on my house.

tree 2Yep! We had a 120+ year-old cherry tree behind our home — Grandma Cherry we called her. I’d been concerned about having a tree of this size too close to the house, but held off on doing anything too drastic because our kids loved the rope swing we’d hung from her many years ago. I just pruned deadwood and removed some limbs that overhung the house.

Long story short: we came back from a weekend camping trip to find the tree had split, and half of it had crashed down onto the roof. Read the rest of this entry »

Yesterday, U2 unexpectedly dropped a new album, Songs of Innocence, on the world, and released it for free to anyone with an iTunes account.  But, is it any good?

U2's surprise album, Songs of Innocence. Free on iTunes until mid-October!

U2’s surprise album, Songs of Innocence. Free on iTunes until mid-October!

I say they released the album unexpectedly because although there has been chatter about a new album for years, we’ve grown accustomed to U2 taking a long time in the studio. They certainly don’t need the money, so they go to great lengths to get the songs right before releasing anything.  At the same time, there’s been a general sense over the last couple of albums of a band growing middle-aged and questioning whether they still have what it takes to create new music. Everyone changes, but U2 have clearly been asking themselves “Why are we doing this? Do we what to keep making music?” At a time when younger bands are coining it in on the nostalgia circuit and making no attempt to record new material, surely the temptation must be to take the easier road of touring a greatest hits show and reveling in past glory?

Songs of Innocence shows that any thoughts the band might have been entertaining about taking that road have been banished unceremoniously! Read the rest of this entry »

Wicklow is a great corner of Ireland if what you love is rugged scenery and outdoor pursuits. The mountains are picturesque, windswept, and just crying out to be the backdrop for your own romantic adventure. Helen Fairbairn’s Dublin & Wicklow: A Walking Guide will ensure you don’t get lost on your trek, nor (if you follow her advice) will you find yourself hopelessly out of your depth.

Dublin & Wicklow: A Walking Guide by Helen Fairbairn

Dublin & Wicklow: A Walking Guide by Helen Fairbairn

Beginning in Dublin, the routes Fairbairn details take you more-or-less gradually further and further into Wicklow, which is useful if you intend to follow the Wicklow Way for several days, or string a couple of paths together for a longer hiking experience. (Note on jargon: Americans go hiking, the Irish go walking. I use them interchangeably.) Each walk is graded for difficulty, so you can quickly find hikes appropriate for your party’s fitness level. Read the rest of this entry »

Darragh McKeon’s All That is Solid Melts Into Air is simply one of the best novels I’ve read this year. Using the Chernobyl meltdown as a prism through which to view the collapsing Soviet society of the late 1980s, McKeon weaves an incisive and deeply humane tale of powerless people dealing with corruption and change to the best of their abilities.

Two story lines converge in the shadow of a shattered nuclear plant. Dr. Grigory Brovkin is a rare honorable man amid a society of widespread corruption. He still cares for his ex-wife, Maria, a former-journalist now working a dull job in a factory. Maria wrote some articles in underground newspapers, and although supposedly anonymous, she lost her job and was forced into a divorce in order to protect Grigory’s career. While Grigory is whisked off to Chernobyl to treat the dying, Maria remains in Moscow, dealing with her precarious legal limbo. Read the rest of this entry »

For the last few years, parts of rural Ireland have been convulsed by arguments over fracking, a process of extracting shale gas from bedrock after fracturing that rock by pumping water and chemicals underground, allowing the gas to escape back up the borehole.

Endangered IrelandThe technique has created the appearance of a financial boom in the US, as it taps hard-to-reach gas deposits, but the damage the technique appears to cause is hard to dismiss (although politicians are too quick to do so). I say the “appearance” of a financial boom, because the companies are not responsible for cleanup or pollution as a consequence of fracking, expenses which local communities may have to deal with for decades after the fracking companies have left town. The frequency of earthquakes around fracking sites rises alarmingly, methane and other chemicals can pollute drinking water sources, such as rivers and wells, and there are simply no long-term studies of the environmental effects of the chemicals they use. For a country dependent on agriculture and tourism, fracking represents a major threat to Ireland’s long-term economic future in return for a short-term — and likely largely off-shore — gain, to say nothing of the threat to rural communities which could be left with poisoned streams, decimated bird and fish populations, and contaminated drinking water. Read the rest of this entry »

If you want to go off the beaten path in Ireland and wow your friends with spectacular photographs, you need to find the Dark Hedges.

dark hedges lighterOne of the most-photographed, yet least-visited, places in Ireland is an avenue of beech trees along the Bregagh Road near Ballymoney in Co. Antrim, known fancifully as the Dark Hedges. Planted over 200 years ago, the trees were originally intended to enhance the avenue leading to the Georgian splendor of Gracehill House, owned by the Stuart family. Whoever had the original idea was a true visionary, as the full glory of a beech avenue would not be visible in their lifetime because the trees take so long to grow. Read the rest of this entry »

The most quintessentially Irish experience you can have is not posing with an over-priced pint in Temple Bar, nor wearing an aran jumper in a futile attempt to block out an Atlantic gale, it’s one you can run into any evening of the year just a few miles outside any Irish town or city: getting stuck behind a herd of cows coming in from the fields.

Rush hour, Irish style.

Rush hour, Irish style.

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The Giro d’Italia came to Ireland this summer, and you can still trace its path through various parts of the country by the way everything was painted pink.

McCollam's Restaurant and Pub went completely pink for the Giro d'Italia, and hung a lot of bicycle wheels on the building for good measure.

McCollam’s Restaurant and Pub went completely pink for the Giro d’Italia, and hung a lot of bicycle wheels on the building for good measure.

The village of Cushendall in Co. Antrim, was every excited about the Giro, and appears to have gone out of their way to get in the appropriate spirit. While other communities made do with a few posters and the odd splash of pink, Cushendall went all out, painting buildings, cars, and bicycles, and hanging pink bunting everywhere. Read the rest of this entry »

August kicks off with a (usually) balmy bank holiday weekend, and the events keep coming throughout the month.

FleadhCheoilSligo-Logo2-461x335

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