Belfast

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Belfast has a bright new star in writer Laurence Donaghy, whose Folk’d trilogy (Folk’d, Folk’d Up, and Completely Folk’d) is creative, gloriously weird, and irreverently funny.

Folk'd by Laurence Donaghy

Book 1: Folk’d

Laurence Donaghy’s Folk’d trilogy riffs off the old myths of the Tuatha dé Danann and transports us to modern Belfast, where Danny Morrigan has got his girlfriend Ellie pregnant, and together they are struggling to keep mind and body together as they deal with being new parents before they even took one step on the career track.

If you have any notion of the legends of the Tuatha dé, you know the Morrigan is the goddess of war, and you assume Danny’s name will turn out to be more than mere coincidence. Read the rest of this entry »

Ballymena author Jan Carson’s debut novel, Malcolm Orange Disappears is a quirky tale of a young boy whose family are slowly abandoning him.

Malcolm Orange Disappears by Jan Carson (Liberties Press)

Malcolm Orange Disappears by Jan Carson (Liberties Press)

First off, I should flag that Malcolm Orange Disappears is an incredibly creative and unusual novel. Call it magic-realist, call it quirky (to use the author’s word), or call it off-beat, it’s a very original book!

I’ll call it an episodic novel, because most chapters tell the story of a new character. Thus, we meet Malcolm and the inhabitants of a Baptist Retirement Village in Portland, Oregon, in which he finds himself marooned along with his baby brother and his silent mother, after his father abandons the family. It appears to be the first time Malcolm’s found himself stationary in his young life (he’s 11), as his restless parents have hurried the family along the highways of America for as long as Malcolm can remember.

Jan Carson is a similarly restless writer, painting minor characters with so much detail and verve that it’s easy to forget about the central plot — Malcolm’s strange titular malady: he is vanishing, piece by piece, new holes appearing in his body every day — in the face of each new chapter and its quirky characters and their gothic mis-adventures. Of course, that appears to be the point: Malcolm is disappearing, his body full of strange absences, and into these holes Carson pours stories, rich and vibrant. 
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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 »

Ireland has an active rail network between major cities, and taking the train can be a very enjoyable and comfortable way to see the country.  However, if you do your homework, you can also take a journey into the past on a vintage stream locomotive, in company of many people who share a passion for Irish history and rail travel.

#171 "Slieve Gullion." This star of the film Michael Collins is currently being restored. (Credit: E Friel/streamtrainsireland.com)

#171 “Slieve Gullion.” This star of the film Michael Collins is currently being restored. (Credit: E Friel/streamtrainsireland.com)

The Railway Preservation Society of Ireland restores and maintains steam-powered locomotives from the golden age of Irish railways. Some are fully operational and used for mainline excursions throughout the year, a couple are used for shunting and short journeys, and many others are actively being repaired and restored to their former glory. Their museum in Whitehead (near Carrickfergus) is an old train depot, where all the engines and vintage rolling stock are stored and restoration work is carried out — open by appointment only apart from “summer steam” open days in the summer months.  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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Michèle Forbes’ debut novel Ghost Moth contrasts a Belfast newly emerging from WWII, a city of possibility, with the same city twenty years later, fast succumbing to the start of “the troubles.”

Ghost Moth by Michèle Forbes

Ghost Moth by Michèle Forbes (US cover)

Ghost Moth, the first novel by Irish actress Michèle Forbes, is just magnificent. Focusing on one family and the secrets they keep, the novel jumps back and forth in time between 1949, when Katherine Fallon is about to get engaged to George Bedford, and 1969, when they are long-married with four children and living in a Belfast exploding with violence and hatred.

Katherine is pushed into a remembrance of things past when she almost drowns while swimming at the beach with her family. This causes her to withdrawn from her husband — with whom she has a companionable, if not emotionally intimate, relationship — and retreat into her memories of an affair she had with another man while being courted by George. Read the rest of this entry »