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.

‘Under The Hawthorn Tree’ – The Stage Tour

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On stage with the cast- Maeve, Adam, Frankie, Julia, Conor, Colette and Philippa   

What a great few weeks it has been as Cahoots wonderful stage production of ‘Under the Hawthorn Tree’ returned to the Mac Theatre in Belfast for a sold out run, before  travelling  to  a wide variety of theaters across Ireland.

The stage play was adapted from my book by the  great Charles Way and is blessed with an amazing talented cast and was directed by the incredible Paul Bosco McEneany with Garth McConaghies’s haunting, original music.

I couldn’t help but be blown away at seeing the reaction of audiences both young and old as I attended just a few of the shows in Cork Opera House and Wexford Opera House and The Pavilion Theatre in Dun Laoghaire.

It is really sad to say a final goodbye to all the cast and crew as the show ends its month long sell-out tour in The Market Place Theatre in Armagh. Thank you so much to everyone for all your hard work bringing ‘Under the Hawthorn Tree’ to life and staging it in such a magical and memorable way

 Charles Way, Marita and Paul Mc Eneaney,     With some fans at the National Opera House .    The Cahoots cast and crew of  ‘Under the Hawthorn tree 2020. 



St Brigid’s Day and Herstory!


St Brigid’s Day on 1st February has always been a special day as here in Ireland we celebrate the first day of spring and new life and fertility and creativity.   I usually try to follow tradition and get my hands on some rushes or reeds to make a simple St Brigid’s cross, our national emblem. However St Brigid’s Day and the coming days will have special focus with the launch of HERSTORY, as all across Ireland from Dublin to Derry, Wexford to Kerry as buildings and monuments will be illuminated over the weekend with portraits of inspirational Irish women, who have left their mark in history, along with a wide variety of events all across the country.


Marita  with Caroilin Callery

Attending the launch of HERSTORY in Dublin’s Epic Museum it did my heart good to hear about this fantastic new creative project founded by Melanie Lynch of HERSTORY and RTE, Dublin’s Epic Museum and Underground Films, all of them coming together to finally bring recognition of brave intelligent women from all strands of life, science, art, dance, aviation, medicine who have made an invaluable but often over looked contribution to the world.


Melanie Lynch, Jessica Traynor,  Dee Forde and Dr Norah Patten  

This is all part of an exciting new project  which is spearheaded with the launch of RTE Television’s  HERSTORY , a six part documentary about incredible Irish women , many who have been forgotten which starts on Monday 3d February. RTE Junior will also show six animated films for younger viewers about inspiring Irish women. ‘Blazing a Trail’ an exhibition about many of these amazing heroines is running at Epic.

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Skibbereen – The Hungry Road Book Launch


Marita with Philip O’Reagan 

What a treat to have a very special launch for my new book The Hungry Road in Skibbereen, the place where my new book is set.

I felt a bit overwhelmed and emotional when I arrived at The Uilinn West Cork Arts Centre to find such a massive crowd there to welcome me and join in the celebrations.  My mum came from Skibbereen and I still have cousins living there, so it was great to have some family and friends there too.  Philip O Reagan from Skibbereen’s Heritage Centre launched the book as he has been so kind and helpful to me as I researched this epic story of The Great Hunger and its terrible effect on the people there.

West Cork people sure love their books and bookshop owner Cathal O’ Donovan was kept busy as I signed so many books! Afterwards we headed for The West Cork Hotel to continue the night. The hotel is literally across the road from The Old Mill where the soup kitchen was held.

Thanks so much to everyone at the West Cork Arts Centre and Fiodhna Ni Ghriofa and Jamie O’ Connell for arranging another great launch for The Hungry Road.

What a great crowd !                       Marita and Cathal O’Donovan.