A Memorial to Michael O’Brien at the Dublin Book Festival

Michael O’Brien President Michael D.Higgins

It was a great honour to be asked to take part in the memorial tribute for my friend and publisher Michael O’Brien in Dublin Castle as part of The Dublin Book Festival. Friends and family and colleagues from the book world gathered in the Print Works to remember this extraordinary man who had done so much to grow and develop Irish publishing over the years. He was involved in setting up so many organizations that would encourage reading, writing and publishing.

O’Brien Press growing from the small beginnings of just two people working there to becoming one of Ireland’s foremost award winning publishers. Michael had huge energy and drive and a vision for Irish publishing that he lived to see fulfilled. His achievements in terms of publishing were enormous as found gaps in the Irish book market and set about filling them as well as regularly attending the huge book fairs and selling translation rights to so many books by Irish authors.

His son Ivan O’Brien and Editor Ide O’Laoghaire and designer Emma Byrne all shared their memories as a montage of  photographs of Michael’s rich life was shown on screen.

I told of my first meeting Michael in O’Brien Press in Rathgar in 1989, when he gave me the good news that he was going to publish my book ‘Under the Hawthorn Tree.’ This was the start of a long friendship which stretched over many years, with O’Brien due to publish my new children’s book Fairy Hill in spring 2023.

Playwright and author Frank McGuinness was a long -time friend of Michael’s but unfortunately at the last minute was unable to attend but Ivan read out his words about the high regard he had for Michael O’Brien.

President Michael D Higgins also spoke of their enduring friendship over many years and how he looked forward to meeting Michael and the lively discussions that ensued. Michael was always an innovator, full of ideas ready to try new things.

Michael O’Brien was huge figure in Irish publishing and will be missed by all of us who had the good fortune to know him. However he has left an abiding legacy and O’Brien Press continues to thrive under the good care of his sons Ivan and Eoin O’Brien and all the publishing team there.

Dublin Castle with Ivan O’Brien and the wonderful Alice Leahy

                    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.

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