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.

Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum has closed in U.S

Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum

It is desperately sad and disappointing to hear of the closure of Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum in Quinnipiac in the U.S , which houses the world’s greatest collection of Great Irish Famine related art and artefacts and sculptures reflecting on the greatest tragedy in Ireland’s history.

Only three years ago that ‘Coming Home’- Art and the Great Hunger’ a part of this important collection, on loan from the Great Hunger Museum and Quinnipiac University, was exhibited in Ireland.

From March 2018-to March 2019, the ‘Coming Home’ exhibition visited Dublin Castle, Skibbereen and Derry. It attracted huge crowds who crowds flocked to see this amazing collection, moved by the memorable and inspirational works interpreting our history

I was involved in a few events as part of the exhibition and was often asked why this collection was in America and why we in Ireland did not have our own Great Irish Famine collection!

Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum’s valuable collection was first created by the vision and generosity of Murray Lender and his brother Marvin and Quinnipiac’s former University President, the innovative John Lahey.  As the collection has grown and been added to over the years, Irelands’ Great Hunger Museum was opened to house and display it. However now with changes in the University’s management unfortunately The Great Hunger Museum‘s doors have finally been shut.

Robert Ballagh

The danger is that this collection will be broken up and sold, dispersed and scattered between other universities, galleries, museums and private collectors both in the U.S and across the world. A campaign to save Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum and the collection is under way.

My hope is that The Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage and Tourism and the Irish Government   will have the good sense and offer a permanent home to Ireland’s Great Hunger Collection here in Ireland.  This historic collection could if necessary be rotated and shared between the US and Ireland.

 If not it is high time Ireland and her people began to gather a lasting Great Irish Famine collection of our own for all ages to visit.

The Wild Atlantic Way

Baltimore

It felt so good to return to West Cork again for a few days, staying in my favourite spot the fishing village of Baltimore.  It does the heart and spirit good to watch the waves and the sea and visit some of my favourite places Crookhaven, Schull , Castletownshend and Clonakilty.

This time visiting Glengarriff we took the Blue Ferry over to the almost tropical Garnish Island, with its beautiful gardens. It is such a stunning place to walk around and enjoy. 

I dropped in to the Skibbereen Heritage Centre to say ‘hello’ and was delighted to hear that since it reopened so many Irish visitors have crossed its doors, all keen to discover more about the past.   

Skibbereen Heritage Centre

I also visited Skibbereen’s Ludgate Hub, the digital centre where they very kindly assisted me with the technical support I needed to take part in the launch of The National Famine Way Passport.

The Passport is for walkers or cyclists that follow the trail along the Royal Canal from Roscommon to Dublin following in the footsteps of the 1,490 tenants that were evicted from Strokestown Park House during the Great Irish Famine in 1847 and made walk all the way to Dublin to board ships that would transport them to Liverpool and Quebec in Canada.  I have written about one of those tenants – young Daniel Thighe for the National Famine Way App. Plinths with children’s bronze shoes mark the way – a reminder of all those that needed  shoes issued to them to enable them to walk.

West Cork has its own famine trails and memories and rich heritage, perhaps that is why I am so drawn to it. 

Garnish Island

Yeat’s Country

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Rosses Point

I am just back from a lovely visit to Yeat’s Country in Sligo, a part of Ireland that I had only visited briefly before. This time I was staying in Rosses Point, a place where poet William Butler Yeats and his artist brother Jack and family spent many happy holidays when they were younger. Part of the Wild Atlantic Way the views of sea, sky and mountains are absolutely breath taking and you can immediately recognise their influence on these two artists and their work.

‘ Elsinore’, the fine house where they stayed with their mother’s relations  is only a ruin now but sits overlooking the  expanse of water with  its lighthouse and Metal Man, a  place where tides and time seem to blend, only a minute or two from two golden beaches. There is a beautiful walk that takes you along the path that the Yeat’s family must have passed so often.

In Sligo itself I visited the wonderful Yeat’s Society Building , right near the river, which has a really interesting display about William Butler Yeats and his life and family and work and their links with Sligo.  For anyone with an interest in the poet… a definite must. It also has small display of some of his brother’s art work too.

Sculpture of W. B. Yeats  and Yeats Society, Sligo

We then headed out to Drumcliff, the place where Yeats wanted to be buried in the graveyard of St Columba’s, the church where his Great grandfather had been a rector.  It is such a peaceful and spiritual spot, and the poet and his wife’s grave rests under the shadow of Ben Bulben which was his express wish. He wanted no fuss and for his body to be brought home a year after he died in France for burial in Sligo but unfortunately World War 11 intervened.It would be a few years later in 1948 before Sean Mac Bride, the son of Maud Gonne, helped to make the arrangements for the return of the much loved poet’s remains to his final resting place in Sligo.

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Ben Bulben Mountain is so much a part of Sligo that no matter which direction you seem to travel in you are conscious of its gentle presence just as with Table Mountain in Capetown.

As you travel round Sligo, you soon realize just how much Yeat’s words capture the very nature, spirit and beauty of this very magical place.

                          Fairies come take me out of this dull world,

                          for I would ride with you upon the wind .

                         Run on top of the disheveled tide.

                        and dance upon the mountains like a flame.

The Land of Heart’s Desire- W.B. Yeats

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Yeats resting place in the shadow of Ben Bulben

 

                 

 

 

 

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