The stories of the goddess Brigid and the later St. Bridget are so intertwined as to be nearly inseparable. The ancient feis of Imbolc was co-opted as St. Bridget’s Day, one of the most-popular saints days in Ireland and the Irish diaspora.

Saint Bridget  (Photo: St.Joseph Catholic Church, Macon Georgia)

Saint Bridget
(Photo: St.Joseph Catholic Church, Macon Georgia)

Bridget’s Early Life

Born c.451 near Faughart in Co. Louth, Bridget was the daughter of Dubtacht, a druid, and Brocca, who was either his wife or a slave, and possibly a Christian.  Bridget eventually became a Christian (probably after absorbing druidic teaching from her father) and founded a number of monasteries, including the famous one at Kildare. It’s possible she entered religious life after losing the sight in one eye (although some stories hold that she put her own eye out rather than enter into an unwelcome marriage, and once the marriage had been called off — Celtic tradition would not allow one to marry somebody disfigured — she put it back in and was miraculously healed).  Read the rest of this entry »

Imbolc (celebrated January 31-February 1) is an important feast day in the Celtic tradition.

Here comes lambing season!  (Photo: Nicola Stathers via cc license on Flickr)

Here comes lambing season!
(Photo: Nicola Stathers via cc license on Flickr)

The mid-point of winter having been passed at the winter solstice (Dec 21), the days are now slowly growing brighter. Imbolc is often called the “rekindling of the solar hearth” and celebrates the returning sun, the promise of spring, and the steadily improving weather. It’s a very important time for farmers, who depend upon the whims of the weather. Tradition holds that the weather on Imbolc is a predictor of the year to come: too cold/wet/stormy and a bad year is predicted (although in typically pessimistic Irish fashion, if the day is too nice that’s thought to presage even worse conditions!). Weather that’s just a little better than expected is thought best, promising a mild conclusion to winter and a fertile year.  Read the rest of this entry »

Keith Ridgway’s fifth novel, Hawthorn & Child, is set in a London milieu of criminals and detectives that seems superficially familiar by virtue of decades of TV drama. His novel, however, is far more interesting and unpredictable.

Hawthorn & Child by Keith Ridgway (US cover: New Directions)

Hawthorn & Child by Keith Ridgway (US cover: New Directions)

Hawthorn & Child has attracted great acclaim from other writers. While it’s always better to be suspicious of any positive praise from one writer to another, in this case the blurbing writers highlight the main thing that makes this novel great: its glorious strangeness. Zadie Smith calls it “idiosyncratic and fascinating;” Ian Rankin declares it “brilliantly weird.” Both are absolutely correct. Hawthorn & Child is one deliciously weird confection.  Read the rest of this entry »

Vikings, the History Channel’s entertaining rival to Game of Thrones, returns to our screens in late February. This is another show filmed in Ireland and displaying the country to good affect.

Vikings LogoPerhaps surprisingly, both seasons of Vikings have been almost entirely shot in Ireland. I say surprisingly because one doesn’t necessarily think of Ireland when one thinks of immense mountain vistas. However, the producers found some awesome locations in the Wicklow Mountains that didn’t take much camera trickery to make look enormous and majestic. Read the rest of this entry »

Trim Castle, the largest Norman castle in Ireland, is often known as King John’s Castle. The story behind this “honorific” title is not what you might expect.

King John's Castle, Trim

Trim Castle on the banks of the River Boyne
(Photo: infomatique via cc license/Flickr)

When the Normans arrived in Ireland in the late 1100s they claimed the best land in Meath and Dublin, and made Trim the center of their administration north of Dublin. Responsibility for the area was granted to Hugh de Lacy in 1172, and construction began on a fortress on a high point overlooking the River Boyne (which, at that time, was navigable as far as Trim). The castle on the site today, one of the largest in Ireland, was largely built by De Lacy and his son, Walter, and is officially known as Trim Castle. However, many people refer to it as King John’s Castle. Read the rest of this entry »

The Brú na Bóinne World Heritage Site is made up of three major passage grave sites: Newgrange, Dowth, and Knowth. I’ve written about the first two already, so it’s time to explore the most-complicated of them all, Knowth: quite literally, a city of the dead.

Knowth passage grave

One of the satellite tombs at Knowth.
(Photo by Photolifer/Marc Gautier via cc license/Flickr)

Constructed contemporaneously with Newgrange, the Knowth site consists of a cluster of 18 smaller tombs around one huge central tomb. When I was a child, I used to peer through the gate to the site at the huge network of rectangular pits that marked the excavation that continued for decades before the site was finally open to visitors. It took the archaeologists five years of digging to discover the entrance to the first passage, and then another year before they found the second one. Eventually, archaeologists would spend over 40 years excavating Knowth, and the story they discovered was extremely complex.  Read the rest of this entry »

As you can tell from this website, I read a lot. Generally, I only write about the Irish authors here, but I read a lot more than just Irish books. I recently learned about the reading challenge issued by Laura at circleofpinetrees.com, to read a book a month and write about it; so, I decided to take her up on that, and invite others to participate as well. I’ll try to interpret this as one non-Irish book a month, but we’ll see if that sticks.

My first “Year in Books” read is Hild, by Nicola Griffith, which I already finished and loved, so I’ll try to write a review within the next week. Read the rest of this entry »

Anakana Schofield takes a lot of risks with her debut novel, Malarky, telling the story of one woman’s midlife crisis and sexual adventures.

Malarky by Anakana Schofield review

Malarkey by Anakana Schofield (Biblioasis)

In Malarky, a rural Irish mammy discovers her college-age son is gay (by blundering across several of his assignations with other men — which she then can’t bring herself to stop watching — and then struggles to come to terms with it. (A not uncommon struggle, I have no doubt.) At the same time, a woman comes up to her in town and describes how our protagonist’s husband likes to have sex, in great detail. So, “Our Woman” must come to terms with her son’s homosexuality and at the same time she must decide if her husband is actually being unfaithful with the town madwoman. Read the rest of this entry »

Diarmuid Ó Conghaile’s debut novel Being Alexander raises a curtain on the world of the economists and bureaucrats who operate behind the scenes of Irish business.

celtic tiger lit

Being Alexander by Diarmuid Ó Conghaile

Set in the boom-times of 2003/04, Being Alexander follows an unambitious economist, Alexander Vespucci, as he wanders through a familiar pattern of steady but undemanding work and an unexciting love life. Alexander is the usual everyman character, but his day job, managing the government’s economic advisory council, ensures he’s drawn into the machinations of far more ambitions people.

[The economic council's] “role is to utter pieties from a business perspective… as part of an orchestrated national debate, in which all of the insiders get some of what they want.” Read the rest of this entry »

Colin Barrett’s Young Skins is the latest debut short story collection from Stinging Fly Press to garner a lot of attention and plaudits. And once again, Stinging Fly has launched a young writer well worth reading.

 

Review of Young Skins by Colin Barrett

Young Skins: Stories by Colin Barrett

Young Skins opens with two guys in a pub, and most of the stories in this collection revolve around a similar dynamic. Sharing pints makes individuals reflective and these stoic, silent men open up as much as they can, which is very little, over a few drinks. The type of character that inhabits these stories is the twenty- or thirty-something small-town Irish Catholic male, the guy who didn’t have the points to go to college or the guts to flee to Australia, the man who stayed where he grew up because he had few other choices or else was deathly afraid of change. Colin Barrett knows these people inside out. Read the rest of this entry »

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