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

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.

Beautiful West Cork

I am just back from sunny West Cork and a wonderful holiday in my favourite spot- beautiful Baltimore, a fishing/sailing village which is part of the Wild Atlantic Way.

After a very busy year of work and writing and Zooms with so many wonderful young and not so young readers, it was great to just sit in the Cove and chill, dream of new books and ideas, and not even turn on a computer or laptop and barely glance at my phone.

We saw the home place where Michael Collins the great patriot and young leader was born in Clonakilty and also visited the Michael Collins Museum in Emmet Square in the town which is very close to his statue. This year marks the hundred year anniversary of his death in an ambush in nearby Beal Na mBlath on 22nd August 2022.

I am always a little sad leaving Skibbereen and heading back to Dublin, but feel relaxed and re-energized after such a great break.     

National Famine Commemoration 2020

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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.

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

‘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.