There are a lot of traditions that make up the Christmas season in Ireland. Some are simply an Irish approach to an international practice, while others are definitely only-in-Ireland phenomena.

 

The Late Late Toy Show

Ryan's 2013 Christmas Sweater

Ryan’s 2013 Christmas Jumper

Christmas doesn’t start until kids stay up late to watch The Late Late Toy Show. The Late Late Show is Ireland’s oldest chat show, and at the start of every December since Gaybo was a boy they’ve devoted one show to featuring favorite and new toys. The show is hilarious as the adult host, currently Ryan Tubridy, has to deal with dozens of young children who review the various toys (some as young as five), going off-script constantly and ad-libbing to great effect. Ryan usually wears that other Christmas staple the ugly Christmas Jumper, and frequently breaks the toys, drawing pained comments from the kids. Now that social media has taken off, following the Twitter chat as the program airs is essential.

Viewers worldwide can watch this year’s Toy Show online for a few more days.

 

Jacob's USA Biscuits!

Jacob’s USA Biscuits!

Tins of Biscuits

If you visit anyone over the holidays, you bring a tin of biscuits or a bottle of something (or both, if the old employment situation is good). Tins of biscuits are something you only see at Christmas, and there are no plain biscuits in the box! Few Irish are born without a very sweet tooth!

Thankfully, tins of biscuits are easier to come by in the US these days. Don’t show up at any Irish Crimbo party without one under your arm!

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An Irish football player is a finalist for FIFA’s Puskás award, which recognizes the “most beautiful goal of the year.” But this isn’t one of Ireland’s famous footballers; the footballer fans have placed on par with Manchester United’s Robin Van Persie and Real Madrid’s James Rodriguez, is 25-year-old Stephanie Roche, star of the Irish women’s national football team, who plys her trade in the French Women’s League.

Stephanie Roche Puskas Award

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Ballymena author Jan Carson’s debut novel, Malcolm Orange Disappears is a quirky tale of a young boy whose family are slowly abandoning him.

Malcolm Orange Disappears by Jan Carson (Liberties Press)

Malcolm Orange Disappears by Jan Carson (Liberties Press)

First off, I should flag that Malcolm Orange Disappears is an incredibly creative and unusual novel. Call it magic-realist, call it quirky (to use the author’s word), or call it off-beat, it’s a very original book!

I’ll call it an episodic novel, because most chapters tell the story of a new character. Thus, we meet Malcolm and the inhabitants of a Baptist Retirement Village in Portland, Oregon, in which he finds himself marooned along with his baby brother and his silent mother, after his father abandons the family. It appears to be the first time Malcolm’s found himself stationary in his young life (he’s 11), as his restless parents have hurried the family along the highways of America for as long as Malcolm can remember.

Jan Carson is a similarly restless writer, painting minor characters with so much detail and verve that it’s easy to forget about the central plot — Malcolm’s strange titular malady: he is vanishing, piece by piece, new holes appearing in his body every day — in the face of each new chapter and its quirky characters and their gothic mis-adventures. Of course, that appears to be the point: Malcolm is disappearing, his body full of strange absences, and into these holes Carson pours stories, rich and vibrant. 
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Congrats to the European Space Agency, who successfully landed a probe on a comet yesterday!  The plan was actually to harpoon the comet in order to anchor the spacecraft. Oddly enough, the ESA scientists are not the first to think of employing seafaring tactics to snare astral bodies.

The Bosun and the Bob-Tailed Comet by Jack B. Yeats

The Bosun and the Bob-Tailed Comet by Jack B. Yeats (Photo credit: Tavistock Books)

The painter Jack B. Yeats’ short career as a children’s author has been largely overshadowed by his brother’s Noble Prize-winning poetry, but deep in the archives of a few libraries and antiquarian book shops it is possible to find copies of his children’s book The Bosun and the Bob-Tailed Comet.

At least one contemporary critic predicted great things for Yeats’ “quaint and uncommon story” (The Bookseller, 1904) — however, to my eyes this review looks more like pre-publication puffery, than an honest critical opinion. While modern academics praise the “exuberant drawing with their superbly rhythmical use of line and masterly compositions,” they tend to dismiss Jack B. Yeats’ plays and books for children for “manipulation of all the cliches of childhood adventure” and “a disturbing juxtaposition of the ebullient and the macabre” (when they’re aware of them at all). So, it’s no surprise that the books have not stood the test of time. (Quotes from Robin Skelton’s 1990 book Celtic Contraries.)

The central plot of The Bosun and the Bob-Tailed Comet concerns a sailor who encounters a “playful comet,” contrives to capture and tether himself to it, then go for a ride. Inspiration for the ESA’s comet capture? Thanks to Villanova University’s digital library, you can judge for yourselves…  Read the rest of this entry »

Des Ekin has studied the Spanish invasion of 1601 and its aftermath for years, and his new book, The Last Armada, makes a compelling case to re-evaluate what we think we know about the Battle of Kinsale.

Last Armada detail large“Too little, too late,” runs the conventional wisdom regarding the Siege of Kinsale in 1601. It’s what I remember being taught in school, and that’s almost all I could remember about this pivotal piece of history before I read Des Ekin’s fantastic book. Read the rest of this entry »

Happy Samhain, or Halloween, if you prefer. Here are a few Samhain-related or posts (or just spooky stories) from the archives.

banshee title card

 

All About Samhain

‘Tis the time of year to declare Halloween indisputably Irish and credit everything from jack-o-lanterns to trick-or-treating to ancient Celtic practices. But the evidence is sketchy, although interesting…

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‘Tis that time of year when people start making lists of potential gifts for their friends and/or family and publishers launch new books to appeal to every personality type and disposition. One of these gift books is Who’s Fecking’ Who in Irish History by Colin Murphy (with hilarious illustrations by Brendan O’Reilly).

Whos Feckin Who in Irish HistoryWho’s Feckin’ Who is the latest installment in a popular series of humorous books about all aspects of Irish life. It comprises hilarious biographies of famous and infamous figures from Irish history.

To start with, I should point out that the title is not as scandalous as the unfamiliar might think. Feckin’ is not an exact synonym for a much more-well-know and internationally used four letter word. While feckin’ is a gentle curse — one your Granny might use when discussing politicians — it isn’t used as a coarse description of the act of love. So, the title of the book does not refer to who’s getting it on with whom in Irish history — that might be a very interesting book, but it’s not this one. (With notable exceptions for Charles Stuart Parnell and Katherine O’Shea, as well as Michael Collins and Kitty Kiernan, whose stories, like their lives, are entwined.) Read the rest of this entry »

You may have come across some of Galway independent Irish-language school Coláiste Lurgan’s previous videos on YouTube, but their latest, an Irish-language cover of Lorde’s hit “Royals” (Ríoga), is becoming a bit of an internet sensation.

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Colm Tóibín returns to the Wexford of his youth for his latest novel, Nora Webster, a tale of a widow in 1970’s Ireland reinventing herself.

Nora Webster US coverI was a bit concerned when pre-publication interviews with Tóibín suggested a slightly depressing tale of emotional distance and maternal absence, but the actual experience of reading Nora Webster is completely different; it’s an uplifting and profoundly inspirational novel. Read the rest of this entry »

Last Saturday was the annual (River) Liffey Descent race in Ireland, the biggest canoe and kayak event in the country, and one I know intimately.

liffey descent 2014In my teenage years, I was a keen white-water kayaker. [Jargon alert: in the US, people tend to refer to the sport as kayaking, in Ireland they refer to it as canoeing.] I paddled several times a week and competed around the country on my school team. The highlight of the year was the School’s Liffey Descent, which takes place a week before the “real thing,” the adult race. Over the years, I’ve paddled the Liffey several times, and the river still holds a certain mystique.  Read the rest of this entry »

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