Life in Ireland

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One shouldn’t look to fiction for lessons from history, but reading the collected stories of one author across his whole career inevitably exposes the reader to the changing tides of the culture he writes about. Bernard MacLaverty’s Collected Stories displays both his genius with words, and the complexity of life in Belfast. 

Collected Stories by Bernard MacLaverty (Jonathan Cape)

Collected Stories by Bernard MacLaverty (Jonathan Cape)

MacLaverty is a meticulous craftsman, but not a showy writer. He avoids elaborate phrases that draw attention to themselves, and instead displays a sharp ear for natural dialogue. I sometimes feel schitzophrenic that I can thrill to the jagged offbeat stories of Colin Barrett one day, and be held in thrall by MacLaverty’s restrained elegance the next. Surely they’re worlds apart in focus and execution? But, while I enjoy a young whipper-snapper like Kevin Barry pushing the dialogue in his stories to heightened extremes, I know that — although I might wish they would — few people really talk like that. Barry entertains by stretching Ireland’s musical and inventive language to its limits, but reading MacLaverty, we recognize the truth of his dialogue; he catches the regional inflections, the distinctive vocal tics, and unconscious phrases that fill the Belfast air, filling his characters with immediacy and life. Read the rest of this entry »

Schools are out, the sun is shining, and July is — among other things — the season for arts festivals!

 

CastlebarCastlebar International Walking Festival

Castlebar, Co. Mayo – July 3-6, 2014

The oldest walking festival in Ireland, the Castlebar International Four Days’ Walking Festival bills itself as “the ideal opportunity to walk and talk, to discover and share the bogs, rivers, mountains and unspoiled beauty of the West of Ireland with kindred spirits.”

 

Swift FestivalSwift Satire Festival

Trim, Co. Meath – 4-7 July, 2014

The Swift Satire Festival’s organizers describe their festival in simple terms: “We try to emulate Swift’s achievements by giving satirists a platform to hold a mirror up to society.” It’s really quite a unique date in the summer festival calendar, bringing together historians, comedians, astute observers of contemporary politics, and award-winning writers, for a thought-provoking and hilarious few days in beautiful small town.  Read the rest of this entry »

Vanishing Ireland is a series of books that combines revealing interviews with some of Ireland’s oldest residents with striking photographs of the subjects.

Vanishing Ireland cover

Vanishing Ireland: Friendship and Community by James Fennell & Turtle Bunbury

There’s often not much to review in a coffee table book; featuring lots of large glossy pictures of beautiful places, things, or people, they’re only really good for daydreaming. I prefer my coffee table books to have a strong textual element, to marry striking photographs or illustrations to interesting arguments or well-structured stories. Vanishing Ireland: Friendship & Community, photographs by James Fennell and words by Turtle Bunbury, succeeds on both counts.  Read the rest of this entry »

An interesting contrast came to light last week when a new survey of Ireland’s favorite brands was announced. In contrast to the top global Irish brands, which are almost all alcohol brands, the favorite brands in Ireland are all food brands, rather than alcohol — so much for the stereotypes that the Irish are only interested in drink.

Although there are some world-famous brands (like Heinz) on the list, most are found only in Ireland!

Here’s a rundown of some of Ireland’s favorite foods — that everyone should try on their trip to Ireland — and a few helpful links to help you find them internationally. (After all, once you’ve tasted heaven, nothing else will do.)

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Bloomsday is the annual celebration of all things James Joyce, but mostly his love-it or loathe-it masterpiece, Ulysses.

James Joyce Bloomsday 2014

James Joyce, author of Ulysses

When I lived in Dublin many years ago, I noticed an annual upsurge of American grad students hanging out in the pubs around Trinity, boasting unpublished manuscripts analyzing Ulysses, and claiming to be in town for some conference or other and hoping to find a publisher. If half of them really had a book completed, it would have taken half the Amazon rain forest to print them. But, I suppose it was a measure of the cultural impact Joyce’s relatively difficult novel has had across the world.

Apparently, there were super-fans and students of the novel quite early, as Joyce mentioned a group celebrating “Bloom’s Day” in a 1924 letter. The novel had been serialized between 1918 and 1920, and the first complete edition was only published in 1922. It’s all the more remarkable that people were already acting it out because copies had to be smuggled into Ireland. Though never actually banned in Joyce’s homeland, that was only because the novel was initially not offered for sale openly.  Read the rest of this entry »

Today (May 1) is Bealtaine; happy first day of summer to you all! But, what exactly is Beltaine?

The Wishing Tree at the Hill of Tara

The May Bush/Wishing Tree(s) on the Hill of Tara.

A short perusal of online resources about Bealtaine quickly conflates every “fire festival” tradition together in an unfortunate mish-mash. I don’t claim to be an expert, but I do like to know the difference between one festival and another and the later Christian traditions that have come to replace them. So, here’s a summary of what Bealtaine is really be about in an Irish context.  Read the rest of this entry »

May is a very good month to visit Ireland. The average temperature is in the low 50s, with occasional highs into the 60s (F). Spring is turning into summer, so the magnificent landscape is dotted with new-born lambs, at least 35 of the 40 recognized shades of green are in evidence, and wildflowers are blooming in abundance. Ah, it’s grand, so ‘tis.

 

Ireland May Festival MapTo launch the summer in the best way possible, the first weekend in May is a bank holiday weekend (meaning most businesses and schools are closed on the Monday) in celebration of May Day or the ancient feast of Bealtaine.

Here are the best of the festivals and major events taking place in Ireland during May 2014. Enjoy!  Read the rest of this entry »

Irish names can appear daunting to non-native-speakers at first glance. There appear to be all those extra consonants, oodles of silent letters, and erratic capitalization. Then there’s the matter of the extra words between the surname and first names; what are they about?

Map of Irish names

The Family Names of County Cork. Detail from storymaps.esri.com

Male Surname Prefix

Let’s demystify the meaning of Irish names, starting with the male prefixes, as those are the ones more people are familiar with.

Mac — means “son of” — anglicized as Mc or left as Mac.

Ó — means “grandson of” — anglicized as O’.

I should say that Mac and Ó originally meant son of or grandson of, because today family names are usually settled and don’t change with the generations.  Read the rest of this entry »

A roundup of the major festivals and events going on around Ireland during April.

Map of April Festivals in Ireland

Where to go for the best craic in April?

Depending on who you listen to, April is either the cruelest month, the hopeful start of spring, a joyous season of rebirth, or a depressing wet period that must be endured in order to have a beautiful, lush summer. It’s not co-incidental that April is also the month that festival season kicks into high gear after the doldrums of winter. People need entertainment, companionship, and a bit of craic. There’s an incredible wealth and diversity of high-profile events and festivals going on around the country in April — particularly around Easter weekend, as Easter Monday is always a public holiday.

These are 15 of the biggest and best festivals and special events in April 2014 that both visitors and locals can get involved with and enjoy, everything from a celebration of great literature, to outstanding traditional music, testing physical races, and gourmet culinary experiences. Enjoy! Read the rest of this entry »

There’s an intriguing event taking place in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day, Monday, March 17, and it’s being live-streamed around the world.

Trailblaze: We need to talk about Ireland

“We Need To Talk About Ireland” is billed as a “90 minute creative celebration of Ireland’s past, present and future,” exploring “what it means to be Irish in 2014.” The event — which sounds like a TED-type mix of performance and talks — is organized by Trailblazery, a collective who create community events designed to spur debate and create change. “We Need to Talk About Ireland” will take place in front of a live audience in The Round Room at Dublin’s historically significant Mansion House.  Read the rest of this entry »

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