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On an unassuming road between Ballymoney and Ballycastle in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, you’ll come upon the tiny community of Armoy, which contains a slightly unusual round tower.

Armoy Round Tower. (L) the step below the door. (R) view from the inside looking out. (Photos: atriptoIreland.com)

Armoy Round Tower. (L) the step below the door. (R) view from the inside looking out. (Photos: atriptoIreland.com)

At first glance, the only unusual thing about the meticulously kept graveyard of St. Patrick’s Church of Ireland in Armoy is the fish decorating its weather vane, but as you come around the bend in the road that wraps around the church you’ll see the tiny round tower that stands beside the church’s more-modern (1869) bell tower. Read the rest of this entry »

Historian Andrew Hughes turns to fiction to tell the fascinating tale of an ordinary man in the the pay of Dublin Castle spymasters in 1841.

The Convictions of John Delahunt by Andrew Hughes (Transworld Ireland)

The Convictions of John Delahunt by Andrew Hughes (Transworld Ireland)

Judicial records note the fate of a man named John Delahunt, convicted of murder in 1841. But the historical record was silent on the reasons why this man spied on his fellow Dubliners. After further research, Hughes turned to fiction in order to fill in the gaps and bring the tale he uncovered to life. The result is his impressive debut novel, The Convictions of John Delahunt: A Story of MurderRead the rest of this entry »

Nobel Prize-winning poet W.B.Yeats is County Sligo’s most-famous son. When you visit the town you can’t miss this visually striking statue of the poet.

The statue of W.B. Yeats in from of the Ulster Bank building, in Sligo town.

The statue of W.B. Yeats in front of the Ulster Bank building in Sligo town.

Created in 1989 by sculptor Ronan Gillespie, this statue was erected outside the Ulster Bank at the corner of Stephen Street and Markievicz Road (across the Garavogue River from the equally striking Glasshouse Hotel) on the 50th anniversary of the poet’s death. Among other reasons for this location was Yeats’ remark on receiving his Noble Prize that the Royal Palace in Stockholm resembled the Ulster Bank in Sligo. The statue also looks across the river at the Yeats Memorial Building, home to The Yeats Society and exhibitions about the poet.  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 »

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.

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 »

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 »

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