Brian Boru began life as the son of a minor regional king, but he ended it as the first High King of Ireland from outside the Uí Néill dynasty. 2014 marks the 1000th anniversary of his death, and a great many events and exhibitions are planned to commemorate the battle.

The Battle of Clontarf by Hugh Frazier, an example of the battle as nationalistic propaganda. (source: wikipedia commons)

The Battle of Clontarf by Hugh Frazier, an example of the battle as national propaganda. (Source: wikipedia commons)


Fin Dwyer, creator of the excellent Irish History Podcast, calls the Battle of Clontarf “the most-famous and most-misunderstood battle in Irish history.” It’s easy to see why. During the many centuries of rebellion and resentment against the English occupiers, the Battle of Clontarf was held up as a great example of the Irish throwing off their occupiers (in this reading, the sole enemy was the Vikings) — indeed, while I was at national school in the 1980’s it was very much the official line. (Witness High Frazier’s romantic depiction of the struggle above.) Modern historians have largely rejected this simplified interpretation. The Battle of Clontarf was fought to put down a rebellion against Brian’s authority, not expel invaders.  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

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 »

Billy Keane (The Last of the Heroes) returns to our bookshelves with The Ballad of Mo & G, a dark comedy set during the post-boom hangover.

New Irish FIction: The Ballad of Mo & G

The Ballad of Mo & G by Billy Keane (Liberties Press)

Mo and G are friends from college. She (Mo) is very bright but lacking in confidence after growing up in one of the worst part of the city. He (G) is also clever, but as he’s a physically small and unassertive man, he can never be one of the lads – in fact, he doesn’t even seem to deserve a full name! They love each other, but he never has the guts to tell her that he’s in love with her. Predictably, she ends up pregnant by a criminal psychopath (Dermo), married to him, and living in ‘the compound,’ his family’s sprawling rural hideaway – a “muddy yard like a bombed convoy.”  Read the rest of this entry »

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield has become the most-famous astronaut of his generation through a bunch of quirky videos from the International Space Station and now his bestselling memoir. One of his retirement projects has been a newly released series of videos highlighting parts of Ireland.

Ireland from space

Inishowen peninsula from the ISS on St. Patrick’s Day 2013. (Photo credit: Chris Hadfield/Twitter)

An Astronaut’s Guide to Hurling

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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 »

The Undertaking by Audrey Magee is a highly anticipated debut novel by an Irish journalist about a German couple who marry, sight unseen, during WWII.

The Undertaking by Audrey Magee (Atlantic Books). The Brandenburg Gate.

The Undertaking by Audrey Magee (Atlantic Books). The Brandenburg Gate.

Right off the bat I should say that I am fascinated by WWII, always have been, and I’ve read more books about the conflict than I care to remember. So, I was impressed that Magee found an angle on the conflict — the experiences of two ordinary Germans who marry during the war, are together for about 3 weeks, before he returns to the Russian front — that hasn’t been overly exploited and told many times before. Read the rest of this entry »

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! The new novel by Roddy Doyle, The Guts, has just been released in the US, and it’s a treat comparable to hitting the town for Paddy’s Day drinks — but without the sore head in the morning!

The Guts by Roddy Doyle (US hardcover: Viking)

The Guts by Roddy Doyle (US hardcover: Viking)

One of the best antidotes to homesickness for the recently (or not-so-recently)  emigrated Irish person is a Roddy Doyle novel. Told almost entirely in dialogue, reading Doyle is like stepping into your local for a quick one (or at least into a local in Dublin) the sights and sounds of messy, noisy Dublin life surround you, and you can hear each voice distinctly.  Read the rest of this entry »

Lovely little video that captures so many of the great things about Ireland in a couple of minutes:



A few more inspiring videos that showcase Ireland…


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 »

Celtic scholar Juliene Osborne-McKnight’s novel Song of Ireland is a very enjoyable dramatization of the arrival of the Celts in Ireland and their clash with the Tuatha de Danaan.

Book Review: Song of Ireland by Juilene Osborne- McKnight

Song of Ireland by Juilene Osborne-McKnight (paperback, Tor)

To start off, Osborne-McKnight does a wonderful job of drawing the ancient Celts as a people with a nomadic spirit, moving around Europe and as far as Egypt as mercenaries, attracting respect and riches wherever they went. The life of Amergin, son of warrior king Mil, is vivid and she gives a real sense of their beliefs, social, and religious structure. As a founding myth, the idea of the Irish being fundamentally nomadic in our core puts a more positive spin on decades of emigration, and is a valid reading of our history.  Read the rest of this entry »

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