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.
On Saturday as Dublin sweltered, it was straw hats and sunshades for The Bloomsday Garden Party at Aras an Uachtaran, where everyone got a warm welcome from President Michael D. Higgins and his wife Sabina. There were bands playing as everyone mingled and chatted and strolled around the magnificent gardens, with plenty of entertainment as we lolled under shady parasols.
Then it was full afternoon tea served in the marquee on the lawn as we listened to Joycean inspired opera and readings including a brilliant section of Ulysses read by the president’s wife Sabina. There was more poetry, prose and music with the President joining in with a poem of his own. The Stunning set everyone’s feet hopping before heading back outside.
Afterwards we dallied listening to some mellow jazz in that most beautiful of gardens.
Sunny Dublin was at its very best this week and I was over the moon to get along to the Hans Zimmer concert in the 3 Arena.
Zimmer is an extraordinary composer who creates such mood and atmosphere and tells story with his music and film scores. He talked about his work, the directors he has worked with, and the inspiration for many of his projects. He and his incredible musicians, orchestra and choir gave us everything from Gladiator to The Lion King, and Batman to Interstellar. A packed audience of all ages gave a well- deserved standing ovation to one of the greatest composers of modern times.
On Bloomsday itself I was at ‘The Dalkey Book Festival’ where in the Big Marquee overlooking the water, North Korean writer Hyeonseo Lee talked with Michael Breen about the difficulties of growing up in North Korea. She talked candidly about her family and the day to life they lived under a harsh regime where everyone is under suspicion and watched. A wonderful writer and speaker she explained to the large crowd about the title of her book, ‘The Girl with Seven Names’- which is how she has somehow managed to try to protect herself and her relations from the regime as she escaped to China and eventually to South Korea.
The national famine way walkers crossing the gangplank.
Well done to The National Famine Way Walkers led by Caroilin Callery who completed their 150km long journey from Strokestown Park House to Dublin’s Eden Quay on Thursday 1st June. They were walking to commemorate the 1490 evicted tenants of Strokestown Park House, who were being sent by their landlord on assisted passage to Canada in late May 1847.
These men, women and children led by the bailiff and his men followed the path of The Royal Canal as they walked all the long way to Dublin. Although tired and exhausted, I’m sure hope and excitement must have filled their hearts as they saw the River Liffey and boarded the ships that would take them to Liverpool. From there the group would begin the long sea voyage across theAtlantic to Canada.
Many already weak would not survive the poor conditions at sea; others on their arrival in Quebec would die in the crowded fever sheds of Grosse Isle. For those that survived, Canada offered an opportunity for new life, a new beginning and a freedom that they had not known before as they began to settle and create a new life away from Ireland.
The national famine way walkers in Dublin City.
As the walkers appeared wearing famine costume and crossed Dublin’s busy city street a hush fell among all of us gathered to greet them.
They walked slowly along the cobbles by Rowan Gillespie’s haunting bronze famine figures, real and imagined mingling, as they continued on to the Jeanie Johnson ship which is moored nearby on Spencer Dock on the quays. Crossing the gangplank on to the ship some gave a small wave as one by one they boarded. Their faces and movements symbolised all those that must have boarded such ships during the dark days of the Great Irish Famine.
Watching them it felt like the ghosts of the 1,490 had returned to Dublin and walked our streets once more.
Thank you to everyone involved for bringing this important part of our history to life
Caroilin Callery and Famine Way Walkers with President Michael D. Higgins.
President Michael D. Higgins came to Cloondara to celebrate and mark the Two Hundred Year Anniversary of the opening of The Royal Canal, which has been restored and is an important part of our waterways. He also launched the National Famine Way Walk which follows along the Royal Canal from Cloondara in County Longford to Dublin.
The National Famine Way commemorates the 1490 evicted tenants forced by landlord Denis Mahon of Strokestown Park House in Roscommon to walk to Dublin to board ships that would take them to Liverpool and then on to Canada in May 1847. Many unfortunately perished on the arduous journey.
Young and old, women and children, the evicted tenants, who were being escorted by a bailiff, had to be given shoes to help them walk as they did not even possess any of their own.
President Higgins spoke movingly to the large crowds about The Great Irish Famine and all those who were forced to emigrate. He unveiled a sculpture of a bronze pair of child’s shoes to represent the 1490 tenants, before sending The National Famine Way Walkers off on their five day journey.
The Famine Way Walkers with Jim Callery of Strokestown Park House
I found it strangely emotional to watch The Famine Way Walkers as they are a grim reminder of all those who footsore and hungry had to make such journeys during Ireland’s Great Famine.
The walkers include Caroilin Callery of Strokestown Park House and a number of Irish Famine academics and experts who set off in torrential rain on their long 155km walk from Richmond Harbour in Cloondara, County Longford to Dublin’s Eden Quay.
I am hoping lots of walkers and walking clubs, schools and students and history lovers will come out to join them on their way.