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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 »

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 »

Musician Danny Ellis’s memoir of growing up in Ireland’s notorious Artane Industrial School, The Boy at the Gate, is a triumph of forgiveness over bitterness.

boy at the gate

The Boy at the Gate by Danny Ellis (US cover, Arcade)

Growing up in Ireland, I was very aware of the The Artane Boys Band. It was famous throughout the country, called upon to play at every important occasion: St. Patrick’s Day parades, state occasions and football finals. But the school that formed the band — the Artane Industrial School, an infamous orphanage run by the Christian Brothers — had been closed since 1969, its history largely forgotten. The band endured after the school was shut down. In his book, The Boy at the Gate, local author Danny Ellis refers to the Artane Boys Band as “a diamond forged in the fires of hardship and misfortune,” an example of how music helps people through troubled times. Read the rest of this entry »

Nuala Ní Chonchúir excels at the difficult form of short fiction known as flash fiction. Her new book is a collection of these ultra-short pieces, Of Dublin and Other Fictions.

Of Dublin and Other Fictions by Nuala Ní Chonchúir (Tower Press)

Of Dublin and Other Fictions by Nuala Ní Chonchúir (Tower Press)

Nuala Ní Chonchúir’s new collection of short stories comes out this week, and it’s a little different from the norm: both in terms of her previously published work and the conventions of the short story market; Of Dublin and Other Fictions is a chapbook of flash fiction.  It’s not that Ní Chonchúir hasn’t published flash fiction before — in fact, that’s what she’s known for, having picked up a prize or two for her frequently profound and funny stories — but a collection of flash fiction by a single author is practically unheard of. So, my initial thought was, how to approach the book; is reading a collection of flash fiction more akin to reading a poetry collection or a collection of short stories? Read the rest of this entry »

Since the turn of the millienium, love locks have become frequent sights around the world. In Dublin, you’ll find them all over the Ha’penny Bridge.

Love Lock on the Ha'Penny Bridge (photo by Sean O'Donnell, via cc license from Flickr)

Early stage love lock infestation on the Ha’Penny Bridge (2011). (photo by Sean O’Donnell, via cc license from Flickr)

What is a love lock?

Well basically, courting couples write their names or initials on a padlock and attach it to an immovable object, before throwing away the key, and thus (they hope) making their love affair as enduring as the building to which it is now securely attached. (Altogether now: “Awwww!”)

Where did the idea for love locks come from?

The origin of the trend is contested, but it appears to have started in the Far East, in China or Korea, before being spread by travelers — a bit like the bird flu. (And, as far as Dublin City Council are concerned, about as welcome.) Read the rest of this entry »

I’m reading Graham Robb’s fascinating new book about rediscovering the ancient roadways of the continental Celtic world (it’s called The Discovery of Middle Earth in the US, and The Ancient Paths in Ireland and the UK) and I’ll review it soon) and interviewing another author for an article I’m going to post next week, so time is short right now. Here are some links to interesting new archaeological discoveries relating to Ireland and the ancient Celtic world in lieu of a longer post to get the week off to a good start.

County Kerry Snails: Early Immigrants from Central Europe

Cepaea Nemoralis (Wikimedia Commons, Photo: Michael Gäbler)

Cepaea Nemoralis (Source: Wikimedia Commons, Photo: Michael Gäbler)

Geneticists studying Irish snails have discovered a species in Co. Kerry which is directly related to snails in Europe. Cepaea nemoralis or Grove Snails, are not related to any other snail found in Ireland, but instead hail from the Pyrennes, and seem to have first appeared in Ireland 8000 years ago, along with the first continental Europeans. It’s thought these snails were deliberately brought as a delicacy, rather than being accidental passengers. This would have been before the land bridge connecting Ireland to Europe at the end of the last ice age was submerged and washed away. We Irish have rather lost the taste for snails since then.

Read more at Archaeology.org…

Read the rest of this entry »

International travelers to and from Great Britain are traveling in increasing numbers via Dublin. One reason is the congestion at Heathrow makes flying via Dublin just as fast or faster, but a more-powerful reason is that it can be much cheaper to travel via Dublin. The culprit is Air Passenger Duty (APD), a tax charged by the British government on all flights into or out of the UK. The tax is higher on long-haul flights, so the savings in APD coupled with the cheap fares on offer between Ireland and the UK can pay for a weekend stopover in Dublin. While some travellers are enjoying the cost savings, others are taking full advantage to add on a weekend of partying in the Irish capital.

Here are my top six inexpensive (or free) things for families to do in Dublin to protect your APD savings.


Once St Stephens Green

Stroll around St. Stephen’s Green

A massive park with duck ponds, fountains and scenic spots aplenty, St. Stephen’s Green is right in the center of the city, adjacent to most of the shopping and culture attractions of Dublin. Grab some sandwiches and enjoy a low-cost lunch in the park people-watching, or feeding your crumbs to the ducks. St. Stephen’s Green is free, but weather dependent…



Once PosterTake the self-guided Once Walking Tour

When you’re in the vicinity of St. Stephen’s Green, fans of the Oscar-winning film Once can retrace the route through Dublin City Center taken by characters in the film. From watching buskers on Grafton Street, to checking out the quirky art on sale in George’s Arcade, to testing the instruments at Walton’s iconic Music Store, you can go slightly off the tourist trail to experience the real city of Dublin and get some exercise at the same time (essential after — or before — a long-haul flight!).


Visit Dublin, Ireland with childrenTour Dublin Castle

The Dublin Castle complex was the heart of British rule for centuries, and is still used by the Irish government. The lavish state apartments were shut up and neglected for decades after independence, when they were regarded with distaste by the Irish. In recent years they have been restored and are now used for ceremonial occasions, such as when Ireland holds the EU Presidency. When not in formal use, tours take visitors through the history of the Castle and explain its modern role.

There is a small fee for the tour, but visitors with very young children or those needing to stay within a tight budget, can stroll in the gardens for free. Many of the buildings in the castle complex have been redecorated in modern style, and others have been built, giving the Dublin Castle complex a decidedly modern and artistic appearance. Opinion is mixed as to whether this is an eyesore or visionary architecture, but it tends to be a love-it-or-hate-it proposition.


Day trip to Brú-na-Boinne

Newgrange EntranceIf you hire a car, you can visit the Brú-na-Bóinne complex of passage tombs a short distance away in Co. Meath. These mysterious tombs are fascinating for the whole family — especially children, as there are some tunnels that only the kids are small enough to crawl into — and the complex is one of the most-famous sites in Ireland. Or, for around the same price, you could join in a small-party private tour and get the benefit of a knowledgeable tour guide and the luxury of being driven around (recommended for those nervous about driving on the left.)


Ireland with kids, vacation in IrelandDay at the Zoo

One of the world’s oldest zoos, the Dublin Zoo is a great day out for the whole family. Spread over a huge site, the zoo was modernized a lot during the Tiger years and will keep the kids occupied for hours. You can also keep tabs on your favorite critters by webcam before you go…


Visit the Science Gallery

Trinity College DublinAt the back of Trinity College, beside the Pearse Street train station, you’ll find Ireland’s newest and most-innovative museum, The Science Gallery. Unlike regular museums, the Science Gallery does not have a resident collection; instead it hosts a series of special exhibitions on all aspects of cutting-edge art and science. Admission is free, and whatever the subject of the current exhibition, there’ll be something for the whole family to enjoy. Check their website before you go to see what their latest exhibition is…


Whatever you do, watch out for over-priced pints in trendy city-center pubs. Those will cancel out your APD savings in a hurry!


Editorial note: I take forever to get around to writing book reviews. This is because of many factors: I like to let a book sit and marinate (metaphorically) for a while; I have paid work to be getting on with; and sometimes I just need to read a book a second time to have anything interesting to say about it. I also read many more books than I ever review for the simple reason that many/most [delete according to how cynical you’re feeling] are pretty vanilla and impossible to remember a week after reading (even if you enjoyed them at the time). Now, I’m not knocking vanilla — it’s my go-to flavor when I fancy an ice cream — a well-told story is often a joy to read, but when I sit down to write a review a month or so later, the details of the vanilla story tend to have melted away. That’s partly why I don’t review more than one book a week.

A great new Irish novel: YOU by Nuala Ni ChonchuirBook review:

One novel I really want to highlight is Nuala Ní Chonchúir’s You. For the record, I think Nuala Ní Chonchúir is an amazing writer, mostly known for her short and flash fiction. I’ve read several of her short-story collections, and was blown away each and every time (check out Mother America, if you want to know where to start), but I’ve never reviewed her, so I need to begin putting that right.

You is Galway-writer and poet Nuala Ní Chonchúir’s debut novel. While Ní Chonchúir offers a few historical cues to ground us in the year 1980 (the Olympics, Kate Bush on the radio, The Elephant Man, etc.), the story she tells is quite timeless. (You could be forgiven, glancing at the back of the book, for fearing that You might be a bit vanilla — the publisher’s try not to give too much away in the description. But, believe me, it’s anything but!) On the surface, You is a coming-of-age tale, narrated by a 10-year-old girl being raised by a single mother in poverty. Thankfully, those bare facts are as near to Angela’s Ashes-territory as we get, because for our 10-year-old narrator the family’s life is on-the-whole a happy one, their home a safe space. The father has left his wife and now lives in a Corporation flat with another woman, with whom he has a new family. In contrast, the mother, the narrator, and her siblings live in a small house by the river, with friends nearby, wild places to explore, and the girl feels the ineffable something, the spark, the charge of being alive that comes from being around a river. (The grown-ups, of course, fear it, fear change, and the violence of nature.) In contrast, the girl finds her father’s flat stifling, and is unsettled by the wildness and unpredictable danger of the gangs of local children who roam the estate.

The novel is told in the second person. We never learn the narrator’s name, her family mostly using the nickname “little Miss Prim,” but the second person has the effect of drawing us into her confidence, sharing her world-view. Unlike some novels that use child narrators to ironic effect, relying on adult perception to mock the child’s perspective as painfully naive, Ní Chonchúir’s narrative strategy makes the reader feel like a co-conspirator in her narrator’s interpretation of the world; an interpretation that makes Little Miss Prim feel uncomfortably disloyal to her mother and father, whose actions she is beginning to find wanting.

The narrator’s mother is depressed, and bounces between being a loving parent focused on her children, and resenting them, making rash choices to pursue a little fun at the expense of leaving them to their own devices. It’s an impulse that any parent can relate to, and we easily feel the narrator’s tension rise as her mother falls in thrall to a showy boyfriend who’s not good parental material. Thankfully, her mother has a network of supportive friends, and I detected a mild reproach in the author’s contrast of the slightly-striving discontent of the flat dwellers with the essentially decency and spirit of camaraderie among some of the residents of the terraces by the river.

There’s a central tragedy in the novel, that motivates the narrator into drastic action. It’s perhaps better to say little about this in order to maintain the surprise and suspense for the reader, although the novel is not about shocks or surprises (but you will turn the pages of the second half in somewhat breathless haste). The central pleasure is the exquisitely drawn narrative voice, the viewpoint of the child developing an adult self-awareness, while retaining the innocent impulse to do the right thing even though she can’t think through the consequences.

You is a quiet, surprising novel, that captures a young girl’s growing perception of the world quite beautifully. And, even when you know the twist, this is a novel you’ll enjoy rereading.



Nuala Ní Chonchúir’s You does not have a US publisher (shame!). It can, however, be ordered (w/ free international shipping) from Kennys.ie or the Book Depository <affiliate link> (I have used both many times, so can recommend their services.). I scored my copy in the fabulous Winding Stair Bookshop in Dublin.

Readers can learn more about Nuala Ní Chonchúir on her website…



If you haven’t seen it, Once is a brilliant film about a guy and a girl who have been disappointed in love and are at a kind of lay-by on the road of life. It was shot on the streets of Dublin on a micro budget, and was a huge worldwide hit, winning stars Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova the  Best Song Academy Award for “Falling Slowly.”

For me, the film is a vivid reminder of my life at one point, as most of the shooting locations were part of my daily life when I lived in Dublin. I wasn’t a musician, but a young writer, so busking to make ends meet wasn’t an option for me. But, I had many musician friends who did, so I knew that scene well. Watching Once for the first time brought me right back to my early years after college, and the bustle of Dublin in the movie is the next-best thing to being there.

vacation in Dublin, Ireland

Grafton Street


Nearly all the locations in the movie are easy to visit, so it’s surprising that nobody is offering a “Once Walking Tour” of Dublin yet. In lieu of giving you my own personal tour, here’s a virtual walking tour and map I put together. Read the rest of this entry »

First, I have to say that Leap Year is a crime against geography and my 5th-grader has a better grasp of map reading than whoever wrote the improbable screenplay. Despite all that, Leap Year is a strangely charming romantic comedy, and has become a favorite over the years.

The Rock of Dunamase, which provides part of the location for "Ballycarbery Castle" in the film Leap Year.

The Rock of Dunamase, which provides part of the location for “Ballycarbery Castle” in the film Leap Year.

Amy Adams and Matthew Goode play the cliched mis-matched personalities falling in love through adversity, and mostly get away with it because the scenery is breath-taking — the music’s pretty good, too. Read the rest of this entry »

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