Celebrating 30 years of ‘Under the Hawthorn Tree’

Marita talks about  Under the Hawthorn Tree

It’s time to celebrate 30 years of ‘Under the Hawthorn Tree.’ It only seems like yesterday that I took out a pad and a pen and began to write a story for my daughter Mandy which was set during the dark days of Ireland’s Great Famine.’

After hearing about the discovery of three small skeletons from famine times buried under a hawthorn tree in a school field, images began to fill my head. So I began to write about three children -Eily, Michael and Peggy and their epic journey as they set off on a quest to find their grandaunts, across a famine ravaged land.

Thank you to all my readers here in Ireland and all across the world, both young and old, and to all the wonderful teachers who have introduced my work to their students.

Special thanks to all the librarians and libraries, and children’s book organisations who have year in year out supported my books and done so much to promote the joys of reading. Thank you to all schools, colleges and universities and book fairs and festivals that have made me so welcome over many years, in so many places.

Thanks to my agent, my translators, my talented illustrators Donald Teskey, Anne Yvonne Gilbertand PJ Lynch, and of course my publishers both here in Ireland and  overseas and to all those who have adapted my work for use on stage, radio, and film. Huge credit is due to all the amazing booksellers, distributors and printers who bring books and readers together.

I will always be grateful to the wonderful team at O’Brien Press here in Ireland, my editor Ide Ni Laoghaire, and publisher Michael O’Brien for first reading and publishing ‘Under the HawthornTree’ and for being part of this very special journey.


National Famine Commemoration 2020


National Famine Commemoration 2020

This year’s National Famine Commemoration was held in a very peaceful St Stephen’s Green in Dublin instead of the planned much larger scale commemoration in Donegal. Like so many other special events across the country with Covid 19 constrictions the annual commemoration had to be changed and instead took place in Dublin.

However watching Josepha Madigan T.D., Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and Chair of the National Famine Commemoration Committee speak in front of sculptor Edward Delaney’s famine figures, she perfectly captured the resonance between past and present during this public health emergency.

This was a quiet and dignified commemoration and I found it a moving reminder of famine times.  Just as all funerals are currently limited to only a few mourners, only a small handful of people attended the commemoration.

The Minister spoke of those who in trying times both now and then have come to the aid of their fellow man. The unselfish care provided by nurses and doctors to those stricken with fever during the Great Famine, with the same unwavering qualities of care and commitment to others being shown by healthcare staff today as they help the sick.

I was really pleased as talking about Famine Heroes she gave a great mention to Doctor Dan Donovan of Skibbereen, a man who is very much one of my heroes and played such an important part in my new  book

The Minister quoted from Ireland’s great female poet, Eavan Boland’s poem ‘Quarantine’, which is set during Ireland’s Great Hunger, where a man lifts his weak and dying wife onto his back and carries her. The recently deceased poets’ words speaking of man’s ability to help those in need of lifting during troubled times.

In 2021 the National Famine Commemoration will take place in Buncrana in Donegal.


 Edward Delaney’s Famine Memorial – 1967,  St Stephens Green, Dublin  

Thirty Years of ‘Under the Hawthorn Tree’

under the Hawthorn Tree Irish covers

It is hard to believe that it is thirty years since the publication of ‘Under the Hawthorn Tree’.  I still remember the feeling of excitement and nervousness as after working with my editor Ide Ni Laoghaire, the book was sent off to be printed.

It was published in the month of May, a very special time as all across Ireland the hawthorn trees are covered with white snowy blossom. I always consider the hawthorn (the fairy tree) a lucky tree!

My publisher Michael O’Brien of O’Brien Press had commissioned the artist Donal Teskey to not only design the book cover but also the chapter head illustrations. Book covers are so important and I am so fortunate that Donald not only illustrated ‘Under the Hawthorn Tree’ but also my other books in The Children of the Famine series-‘Wildflower Girl’ and ‘Fields of Home.’  Donald Teskey is now one of Ireland’s most renowned artists with his incredible evocative landscapes.

dONALD TESKEY COVER ORIGINALThe book surprised us, as young readers not only here in Ireland but all around the world lost themselves in the story of Eily, Michael and Peggy’s fight to survive during Ireland’s Great Famine. Following  eviction the three children must leave their cottage and set off on a courageous journey across a ravaged countryside to find their aunts.

Since then the book has been read by so many readers and is often used in schools here and overseas to help children understand the tragedy of Ireland’s Great Hunger.

In 2002 a new cover was designed by British illustrator Anne Yvonne Gilbert, best known for her beautiful illustrations of classics; The Frog Prince and Robin Hood and Night of the White Stag.

Then my publishers commissioned Belfast born P. J. Lynch, the award winning illustrator to design new covers for the three books.  P.J. is best known for his amazing art work for ‘The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey’, The Snow Queen’ and many other children’s classics. He brought a totally new look to the cover of ‘Under the Hawthorn Tree.’

And so ‘Under the Hawthorn Tree’ continues, as new readers discover the story of Eily, Michael and Peggy’s courage and spirit as they fight to survive during the Great Irish Famine.