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As we enter the “decade of centenaries” that marks 100 years since many of the founding events of the Irish Republic, a whole slew of books focusing on the revolution and subsequent civil war are being published.

Fergal Tobin’s The Irish Revolution: An Illustrated History 1912-1925 is an excellent one-volume introduction to this contentious corner of Irish history. The great strength of the book is, perhaps surprisingly, not the pictures and maps — although they are extensive and very well integrated into the text — but the clear way the author sets out the shifting political world views of Irish people at the time. One of the remarkable things about this time is that the population moved from a point where the partition of Ireland was not even conceivable in 1912, to becoming the only possible solution a decade later.  Read the rest of this entry »

Emma Donoghue follows her breakout international bestseller Room with a return to her favorite terrain, the historical novel.

Frog Music by Emma Donoghue (US cover)

Frog Music by Emma Donoghue (US cover)

Frog Music is set in San Francisco in 1876. The city is wealthy after the gold rush, rebuilt after the great fire, and a melting pot with people of every nation coming to seek their fortune, but it’s also a powder keg, with ethnic tensions running high due to an influx of Chinese laborers willing to work very cheap, a long drought, and an ongoing smallpox epidemic combining to keep everyone on edge.  Read the rest of this entry »

What’s happening around Ireland in June? As usual, there are lots of great festivals.

There's something for everyone in June.

There’s something for everyone in June.

Here are a few of the best…

Ocean to City190Ocean to City: Cork’s Maritime Festival

Cork Harbour, Co. Cork – May 28-June 1

Cork has a long maritime tradition, which is celebrated in this annual week of special events, races, exhibitions, and fun. There’s plenty for all the family, from guided tours of Irish naval vessels to circumnavigating central Cork City by kayak, with great music, food and drink on hand. The highlight is An Rás Mór, the big race, in which all manner of sea-going craft compete across a variety of distances: restored curraghs, yachts, long racing boats, and tiny kayaks.

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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 »

The best illustrated histories and coffee table books about Ireland and the Irish.

It’s no secret that Ireland is a photogenic country, so there are many glossy coffee table books published every year showcasing our gilded country houses, unbelievably tall cliffs, crumbling castles, and scenic vistas. Here are a few of the ones you’ll find on my coffee table, and that visitors are always drawn towards.

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

The Vanishing Ireland series focuses on interviewing the oldest and most-experienced members of the Irish community. The reminiscences they unlock are a fascinating chronicle of how the country has changed multiple times over the last century, and the wonderful photography reminds us that a vital generation with first-hand memories of rebellion, independence, emigration, the arrival of automobiles, phones, televisions, and computers are still alive and well, and are a vibrant part of their communities.  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.)

Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Just who was Jonathan Swift, political satirist and author of Gulliver’s Travels? A new biography by Leo Damrosch paints a vivid and most compelling picture of a multi-faceted and contradictory individual.

Jonathan Swift, Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin.

Jonathan Swift, Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

Leo Damrosch’s new biography of Jonathan Swift, Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World, is clearly an attempt to write the definitive work. The previous incumbent weighed in at 3000 pages, so its approach was clearly to overwhelm the reader with detail and sheer volume of material. Damrosch is more selective, and turns the copious material of Swift’s life (letters, diaries, account books, pamphlets — acknowledged and anonymous — books and more) into a vibrant and colorful life.  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 »

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