‘Under the Hawthorn Tree’ on Stage at the MAC Theatre in Belfast

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I am getting very excited as it is only a few week to go until  the stage production of  ‘Under the Hawthorn Tree’ opens in Belfast’s Mac Theatre.  It is the first ever Irish stage production of the book!!

I went up to Belfast to meet the cast and crew and sit in on rehearsals.   I found it a bit strange and emotional at first to watch actors playing characters that I have created and care about so much on stage.

However I feel my book is in very good hands as Cahoots Northern Ireland is a world class children’s theatre company, who have produced some truly original and innovative theatre.  The brilliant Paul Bosco Mc Eneaney is directing the play, which was adapted for stage by Charles Way. There is a stirring original score by Garth Mc Conaghie with some amazing songs which really added to the story.

I do hope lots of young fans and older fans of the book will come along to see the show at THE Mac Theatre in Belfast.

The show opens on Thursday 27th September and runs through until Saturday 7th October 2018


Helen Dillon’s Beautiful New Garden


Helen Dillon’s Beautiful New Garden

What a treat on a sunny August Saturday morning to go and visit renowned gardener Helen Dillon’s beautiful new garden in Monkstown in County Dublin.

It is hard to believe that Helen has created this stunning new garden in only a short two years.  From every angle, colour, shape and design fill this beautiful granite walled garden which is only a stone’s throw from the sea at the end of the road.



Helen Dillon and Marita in the New Garden

Lush flower beds filled with roses, cosmos and dahlias flourish in the sunshine as Helen enthuses about the challenge she undertook designing this very new garden. From clearing everything from the bungalow’s original old garden, re-designing the original house, to digging deep to find a well to supply water to the new garden ( which has given water all through this summer’s long drought), before filling it up with totally new topsoil which gave the garden a fresh new growing spurt. Nothing was overlooked as Helen began to plant and lay out borders and beds and levels which integrate a garden that combines old and new in a perfect harmony of design.

There are wonderful eye- catching flourishes, tropical plants and overseas favourites, two green houses and an aviary for her canaries. There is even a courtyard which is full of colour.

Every way you look there is something to catch the eye and delight the soul.

Helen was justifiably proud as she showed us around every section of this new garden and dealt with so many questions about planting and plants, dispensing good advice to us all.


Moving house and leaving her world famous show garden in Sandford Road in Ranelagh must have been a huge step, but it is clear that she and her husband Val have embraced the change  and now not only have  a truly wonderful garden but an amazing house, with wrap around views of her work.

It was a delight to meet this passionate gardener who encouraged us all to go home and dig out plants that we no longer wanted and take a chance on growing something new!


‘Children and the Great Hunger in Ireland’ Book Launch


‘Children and the Great Hunger in Ireland’ Book Launch

I was very happy to help launch ‘Children and the Great Hunger in Ireland’ at the opening of this year’s Famine Summer School in Stokestown.

The book is edited by famine experts Christine Kinealy, Jason King and Gerard Moran and examines all aspects of children’s lives during and after the Great Irish Famine. I was honoured to be asked by Prof Christine Kinealy to write the foreword for the book which looks at a topic very close to my heart. It is great to see academics, historians and famine experts turn their attention and provide new insights and research into these forgotten children.  It is published by The Great Hunger Institute at Quinipiac University Press.

Roscommon TD Eugene Murphy warmly welcomed everyone to Roscommon and Canadian Ambassador to Ireland Kevin Vickers officially opened this year’s Famine Summer School which is held in Strokestown Park House, the National Famine Museum in Roscommon. He spoke of the huge Irish emigrant population that are part of Canada and of our shared history.

The scale of this emigration was highlighted by Mark McGowan of Toronto University and in a powerful documentary film made by Kevin Moynihan The Famine Irish and Canada’s First Responders

IMG_2755The next day before leaving I strolled around the large walled gardens of Strokestown House, which are well worth a visit.  An outdoor sculpture exhibition by pupils of local schools is currently on display there.






Brilliant Readers in Strabane


Brilliant Readers in Strabane!

I had a wonderful visit to Strabane in Northern Ireland, where I got to meet lots of brilliant readers from a number of local schools at St Catherine’s P.S in the town and afterwards at St Mary’s P.S in Cloughcor.

Special thanks are due to Bridget Wilders the principal of St Catherine’s School and to all the other teachers who arranged this very special Multi -School visit.

I just couldn’t resist these three figures from the special Under the Hawthorn Tree display in St Catherine’s .



Listowel Writer’s Festival

I am just back from a trip to Kerry to the famous Listowel Writer’s Festival. It is one of Ireland’s most popular arts festivals and it is held in the home town of the renowned writer, playwright and raconteur John B Keane, with the Keane Family still involved.


Deh8GnkWsAABDBHThe sun was shining and The Listowel Arm’s Hotel was packed to the gills for the busy opening night celebrations and awards ceremony with writer Edna O’Brien receiving a life time achievement award for her work, and Paul Lynch winning the Kerry Group Fiction book of the year award for his novel ‘Grace’.

This year’s Children’s Programme had a sea theme inspired by the art work of Steve McCarthy, and Listowel Park and Community Centre were transformed by the work of local artists groups. DehA3zCXcAABQpm

I talked  to a big group of local schools and  later that day took part in  a very interesting  ‘Bold Girls’ event  chatting with authors Sarah Webb and Sheena Wilkinson about the women and girls in history and books and all around us that inspire and encourage us to be bold , brave and strong…