Launch of Treasures of the Strokestown Famine Archive virtual exhibit.

With Dr Jason King of Irish Heritage Trust at the new National Irish Famine Museum at Strokestown Park House

It was a real pleasure to be back in Strokestown Park House on Saturday for a very special event ‘Archive to Arts’ which marked the launch of Treasures of the Strokestown Famine Archive Virtual Exhibit.

Strokestown Park’s collection of records and documents is a real treasure trove with over 50,000 documents and items which will help provide huge information about the parallel lives of tenants of Strokestown and its landowners, the Mahon family during a turbulent and tragic time in Irish history.

As a writer I often spend a huge amount of time researching and using archives so it is great to mark the start of an exciting project which will over time make parts of the collection with its valuable letters, petitions and eviction and emigration lists available digitally to all those with an interest in Strokestown Park House and the Great Irish Famine.

It was also a great opportunity for me to see the redesigned National Famine Museum which only recently reopened after a huge upgrade and tells the Strokestown Story in a hugely immersive way. Set in a bright new airy space with a lovely café it is well worth visiting.

The day was spent discussing the varied aspects of artists using archives to inspire their work, be it in theatre and performance, literature or art or music and how using archives can not only inform us but be a catalyst for something new. Other speakers included Anne -Marie O’Sullivan of Enchanted Croi Theatre, Professor Mark McGowan, Professor Kevin Whelan and singer and writer Declan O’Rourke.

With Anne-Marie O’ Sullivan, Declan O Rourke and Carolin Callery of Strokestown Park House

                    Archives to Arts 

It is a real treat to be invited to return to Strokestown Park House and the National Famine Museum in Roscommon and to take part in  a very special event focused on Archives to Arts and Bringing the Strokestown Archive to life on Saturday 24th September.  

The Museum itself has only recently reopened with a new look after having a wonderful five million euro upgrade during the necessary Covid closedown, with an international panel of Famine experts overseeing the project.

To have an archive of over 50, 000 documents available that provide an insight into the parallel lives of tenants and the landlord is a real treasure for all of us with an interest in the past. As a writer having access to archives is invaluable and plays a huge part in the creation of my work and enriches it often sparking new ideas and stories and books that I simply have to write.

Among the panelists are singer and writer Declan O’Rourke and Anne-Marie O’ Sullivan of Enchanted Croi Theatre and there will be a screening of ‘Treasures of the Strokestown Famine Archive in the National Library’ presented by Professor Mark McGowan.

Death of my Publisher Michael O’Brien

MICHAEL O’BRIEN

It was with great sadness that I heard of the sudden death of my friend and publisher of more than 33 years Michael O’Brien on Sunday 31st July 2022. A giant in Irish Publishing, his death is huge loss to the Irish Book World. 

I first met Michael over 33 years ago when filled with nerves and trepidation I went to meet him in his office in Victoria Road, Rathgar to talk about my first book ‘Under the Hawthorn Tree.’ Sitting there surrounded by paintings and art he told me how much he loved the book and wanted to publish it. When I told him that I was huge bookworm and growing up and had loved all the books with chapter illustrations, he  decided that  ‘Under the Hawthorn Tree’ should have them too and went on to commission artist Donald Teskey to design the book cover and illustrations.

From the beginning I think we both realised that it was a very special book.  He then asked me what my next book was about… I hadn’t the nerve to tell him I hadn’t thought of a next book yet, but blurted out about writing about the Irish in America…the little maids who worked in the big houses. He looked a bit surprised at the subject but ‘Wildflower Girl’ came next

So began a long and happy time working with Michael and my editor Ide ni Laoghaire and all the great team in O’Brien Press in Dublin. Michael took my books to the book fairs in Frankfort and Bologna and sold rights in translation across the globe in my work. He had a vision for Irish Children’s Books believing that a ‘good book’ will travel and deserves to reach young readers across the world.

Ide’s offices were in the garden of O’Brien Press and I just remember working there with her and Michael coming in to see how things were going.  Every July Michael held a garden party for writers and staff, translators and agents, Michael in his straw hat greeting everyone and keeping the party going long after the sun went down.  I always enjoyed spending time with him, whether it was at work or lunch or travelling for a book fair or event.  He was always full of ideas and plans and campaigning to try to safe guard and grow Irish Childrens Writing and Publishing. 

Over the past few months we were back working together again on ‘Fairy Hill,’ my new children’s book with Michael full of plans for it and getting a good cover!  I find it so hard to believe he will not be there to see it in print.

However O’Brien Press is safe in the good hands of his sons Ivan and Eoin and the wonderful O’Brien Press Team.  He will be terribly missed by all of us who had the good fortune to know him.

My thoughts are with his family Svetlana, Ivan, Eoin, Dara and Ferdia, his grand- children and everyone in O’Brien Press at this time.

In Michael’s memory read a good book!

Celebrating 25 years since the publication of ‘Under the Hawthorn Tree’ with Michael O’Brien and Dr Pat Donlon at Party held in Smock Alley.