Ireland

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The recent Rugby World Cup reminded me how much I love rugby, and used to enjoy attending international matches at the old Lansdowne Road stadium in the pre-Celtic-Tiger days of the mid-1980s.

IRFU LogoA bus-load of teenage rugby players would head up to Dublin and be released somewhere in Ballsbridge for a day. We’d sneak off for a pint or two at Crowe’s Pub (removing our school ties and tying our crested uniform jumpers around our waists in order to look a little less underage — or just huddling under a thick jacket if the weather was cold), usually meeting up with older brothers and other past pupils also going to the match. Then we’d stroll towards the stadium along the Dodder, and enter through what now seems like very low-tech turn-stiles. Read the rest of this entry »

What if politics wasn’t such a cynical business, dedicated to perpetuating power dynamics and maintaining the status quo, while talking ceaselessly about progress and change? That’s the situation Sean Moncrieff dares to dream up in his fascinating novel The Angel of the Streetlamps.

Angel of the Streetlamps

The Angel of the Streetlamps by Sean Moncrieff

A woman falls to her death from a high window on a Dublin street, as she falls her foot knocks an election poster from a telephone pole, which then lands on her broken body, thus ensuring it’s in all the news coverage. A junkie runs from the building, leaps into a taxi, and flees the scene. The politician whose poster this was becomes tarnished by association, and the party consider her unelectable. A passing priest become a media celebrity after he gives the dying woman the last rites. These characters are a powerful canvas on which Moncrieff paints a perceptive portrait of contemporary Ireland. Read the rest of this entry »

Lorna Sixsmith’s second book, How to be a Perfect Farm Wife, is an excellent follow-up to her 2013 debut, Would You Marry a Farmer? 

HTB Perfect Farm WifeThis time, she looks at the transition from being carefree and single to being a farmer’s spouse. (The book mainly looks at women from outside the farming community marrying farmers, but Sixsmith says her advice should work as well for men marrying into a farm — however, they might want to pass on the patterned wellies.) It appears to be a change akin to marrying somebody who speaks a different language, and How to be a Perfect Farm Wife attempts to be a tongue-in-cheek primer to understanding your farmer. Read the rest of this entry »

Jessie Ann Foley’s The Carnival at Bray is an award-winning young-adult novel set in Ireland during 1993, when grunge played on every teenager’s Walkman.

Carnival at Bray

The Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley

Maggie Lynch is a sixteen-year-old girl in Chicago, growing up working class amid hard-working and hard-partying Irish-American stock. When her mother falls in love with an Irish guy, the family moves to Ireland, to the seaside town of Bray, south of Dublin, where Maggie and her younger sister, Ronnie, try to find their place in a new culture.

Life is not all roses for Maggie, however. The family don’t have much money, she’s beginning to understand that her beloved musician uncle is a drug addict, and her mother falls in an out of love with regularity, so Maggie suspects they’ll be back in Chicago before she can blink. But, against her expectations, Maggie begins to feel at home in Ireland. She soon acquires a boyfriend, a surrogate father figure, and a sense of herself. It’s one of those brief periods in your teens when you start to think you might be figuring life out — before fate dumps on you.

Rock music is Maggie’s crutch, her refuge. She listens to Pearl Jam and Nirvana over and over, and considers her musician uncle, Kevin a wise sage. Kevin takes her to see Smashing Pumpkins, urges her to go see Nirvana live, and generally makes life seem exciting and vital. Kevin however has his demons. Still living with his mother, he drifts from bar band to bar band, never accomplishing much, and not fighting very hard against a serious drug addiction.

Kevin inspires Maggie to embark on a crazy trip to Italy to see Nirvana play on their 1993 world tour, so she basically runs away from home with her boyfriend, Eoin. Naturally, many things do not go according to plan. In a sense, this is a classic quest novel, wherein our heroine must make a journey in which she grows and learns much about herself. In another, it’s a coming-of-age story where the protagonist discovers what she cares about and how she wants to be in the world. And, of course it’s an illuminating fish-out-of-water tale of a big-city girl moving to a small Irish town where everybody knows everybody, and all their relatives back through the generations.

I came across The Carnival at Bray randomly at my local library. Though I work in the book trade, I had not heard of this novel and was intrigued by the premise: an American teen moves to Ireland with her family in 1993, during the heyday of grunge and the birth of generation X. I lived in Ireland during those years — although I was a little older — loved that music, and frequently wonder how my teenagers might handle life in Ireland if we moved back before they’ve grown. I don’t often get the chance to read a novel I genuinely know nothing about, as I’m too close to the hype machine in my work. So, I checked it out, and am very glad I did.

The author, Jessie Ann Foley, is from Chicago, and is married to an Irishman, so she is able to write about Ireland with both an outsider’s perspective and local knowledge. She understands what it was to love music as a teenager, to live and die in your CD collection, and she visceral thrill of seeing your heros perform live. There’s a real authenticity to the writing that I feel contemporary teens would be able to relate to. Of course, I loved the same bands and lived in Dublin during the period the novel is set, so I’m biased. I remember seeing Nirvana live, I remember where I was when I heard Kurt Cobain was dead, and I remember people gathering in the Phoenix Park and elsewhere to mourn him — all of which take place in this novel.

The Carnival at Bray is more than just a coming-of-age story, it’s a hymn to the vital importance of rock music during the teenage years, a poem about the joy of finding your tribe or at least a kindred spirit. It’s about taking chances and learning that a few bad decisions won’t kill you. And, is one of those occasional novels that I feel both young and adult readers will enjoy.

 

Notes

Other powerful young-adult novels (by Irish authors) I’ve read or reviewed recently include Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours (review) and Sarah Bannan’s Weightless.

 

In Ireland or the UK, you can purchase The Carnival at Bray here…

Belfast has a bright new star in writer Laurence Donaghy, whose Folk’d trilogy (Folk’d, Folk’d Up, and Completely Folk’d) is creative, gloriously weird, and irreverently funny.

Folk'd by Laurence Donaghy

Book 1: Folk’d

Laurence Donaghy’s Folk’d trilogy riffs off the old myths of the Tuatha dé Danann and transports us to modern Belfast, where Danny Morrigan has got his girlfriend Ellie pregnant, and together they are struggling to keep mind and body together as they deal with being new parents before they even took one step on the career track.

If you have any notion of the legends of the Tuatha dé, you know the Morrigan is the goddess of war, and you assume Danny’s name will turn out to be more than mere coincidence. Read the rest of this entry »

Books IrelandThe May/June issue of Books Ireland magazine appeared in my mailbox the other day, and by midnight I’d read all but a couple of reviews (of books I’m planning to read).

That got me wondering, why don’t we review magazines routinely? Maybe not every issue (that would get ridiculous in the case of something published weekly) but we could occasionally write something a little more in-depth than a tweet about how we loved or hated this week’s New Yorker short story? Read the rest of this entry »

White Feathers is a suspense-filled new novel about mis-matched lovers separated by the horrors of WWI.

White Feathers

White Feathers by Susan Lanigan (O’Brien Press)

Susan Lanigan’s debut novel White Feathers opens in 1913, as 17-year-old Eva Downey escapes her suffocating family to attend a finishing school for one year. Eva is full of the passions and principles of adolescence, and has been getting involved with the suffragettes, much to the horror of her deeply conservative family. Her family are Irish; her father a relatively well-to-do accountant who has moved the family from Cork to London escape both scandal and the sadness of Eva’s mother’s death. Read the rest of this entry »

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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