Sunday, October 2, 2011

Ennis, Doolin, Liscannor, Ennistymon


Our last day in Ireland was spent in one of my favorite counties, Clare—aka The Banner County. We spent some time in Ennis, which is another great town for music, ducking into Custy's Music Shop, where Paddy's latest CD, Mixing the Punch, was playing on the PA system. What are the chances of that? 100%, I guess!

We had mussels again for lunch, and stopped to see the sheela-na-gig at the church in Kilnaboy, and then caromed around the Burren for the afternoon, stopping in for a drink at Gus O'Connor's pub in Doolin, quite possibly the most famous pub in Ireland.

At the seaside in Doolin, I read aloud to the group Paddy's recent poem about Micho Russell, a great whistle player and wonderful character who embodied the spirit of West Clare music. Here's a little taste:

Four years later, I went to a seaside spot
And heard his mild way of talking
Heard him hum a few notes
Saw him feeding squawking gulls
As they fluttered and pecked on the sand.
When his inky black jacket flew open to the wind
I saw a tiny tin whistle
That stood in his inside pocket
‘Faith’n,’ he said,
‘Look how they fight with the wind!’
‘Tis God’s will they fly at all.’
‘A mistake in the making.’
‘If we pluck them for cooking,
Not worth a hazel for atin’
An air might do them good
Before we leave them alone.’

And of course, no trip to Clare is really complete without at least a perfunctory visit to Saint Brigid of the Phone Box, the holy well outside Liscannor. Beside the saint in her glass case is an underground grotto filled with holy statues and rosaries and offerings for the dead.

After our final celebratory dinner together as a group at the Falls Hotel in Ennistymon, a few of us ventured out in the rain to local pub, where hot whiskey was the order of the day.

I took this photo over my head, just where the barman was preparing the lemons, slicing them carefully and studding them with whole cloves. It turned out looking like a Flemish painting, don't you think?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Clonmacnoise, Clonfert, Clontuskert


From Galway we pressed onward into the Midlands, the next thing to heaven for bog-lovers! Started out at Clonmacnoise, an early Christian monastery with many high crosses and grave slabs, and an interpretive center that imagines life there in the eighth and ninth centuries. The site looks over the River Shannon, and the fall color was spectacular—especially the currant bushes outside the entrance. Early autumn is a great time to travel in Ireland; most heritage sites are still open, and September is (statistically speaking, of course) the least rainy time of the year.

From Clonmacnoise we began to make our way over to Clonfert Cathedral and Clontuskert Priory, but our wonderful guide and driver Patrick pulled over when he saw a tower house and thought we might be interested in snapping a few photos. Paddy and I had visited this place, Clonony Castle, about seven years ago, when it was uninhabited and covered in graffiti. Now there was a large gate (closed, of course), but as we approached, a dog came out of the tower. And then a woman appeared, and asked, "Would you like to come inside?" Who could say no? Rebecca and her faithful Schnauzer Oscar, live in the tower; she's in the process of restoring it. The castle was once home to Mary and Elizabeth Boleyn, cousins to Queen Elizabeth I, lived out their lives here; their tombstone still stands on the castle grounds (it's now under the tree in the photo). Clonony was also occupied for a time in the early 17th century by Matthew de Renzi, a cloth merchant who was supposed to have created the first English-Irish dictionary.

Clonfert Cathedral is in a tucked-away little village in east Galway. It has a wonderful Hiberno-Romanesque arch, with six orders of arches featuring strange human and animal heads.Some of the faces are recognizable as individuals, and some have exaggerated features, similar to carvings from Mexico and South America. When we went inside, there was some fluttering movement, almost too quick for the eye to see. At first I thought it might be a few bats from the belfry, but it turned out to be a flock of orange and brown moths.There's also a nice little mermaid carving on the wall, below a row of angels.

Not far from Clonfert is Clontuskert Priory—you may be wondering why all these places have 'clon' in their names. It comes from the Irish word 'cluain,' which means, 'meadow.' Clonfert is actually 'cluain feartha,' which means 'meadow of the grave.' Place names in Ireland are clues to the human and natural history of a particular spot.

I like to revisit Clontuskert because it was the inspiration for the excavation in HAUNTED GROUND. Cormac and Nora are working away, sifting through earth and gravel for clues to the human habitation of the place, and Cormac asks Nora to look across the fields and tell him what she can see. What she sees is this... an ancient burial mound masquerading as a hill, out in the pasture with the cows. There's also a broken Christ figure that I put in the story. Reading from the story while we're looking out over the place that inspired that very passage always gives me goosebumps.


One of the highlights of the tour (for me!) was our visit to Locke's Distillery in Kilbeggan. It was founded in 1757, and is now a museum. The tour shows off all the old machinery and huge wooden vats, the barrel-making operation, and of course you get to sample the wares, both the un-aged clear whiskey (yikes!), and the smooth and golden finished product. There's even a challenge, to see if you can discern the difference between regular and peated whiskey (that one's a doddle!) and regular and sherry-casked. Congratulations to our friend Pat Wellingham-Jones, who won the whiskey challenge!

After Kilbeggan, we headed out to Leap Castle, which has gained a reputation as the most haunted castle in Ireland. We met Sean Ryan, the man who lives there with his family. Sean is a whistle player and storyteller, so in addition to playing a few tunes, he also gave us a bit of the castle's colorful history. Then he lit some candles and let us take them up the winding stairs to the Bloody Chapel, where one of the O'Carrolls murdered his favored elder brother, a priest, way back in the 12th century. We also heard a bit about the spirits that the Ryan family has encountered while living there over the past twenty years.

Very near to Leap Castle is a place where the road splits, and goes around a small blackthorn tree known as Saint Kieran's Bush. It's a rag or 'clootie tree,' a place where people visiting Saint Kieran's well just down the hill can make offerings or intercessions on behalf of someone who has died or is in poor health or spirits. Like other rag trees found all over Ireland, this bush is covered in bits of cloth and rags, old socks and neckties, plastic bags and key chains, rosary beads and eyeglasses and baby shoes. Each represents a wish or a prayer for some ailing person. It's a bit of pagan Celtic culture lurking under the veneer of Christianity. After seeing Saint Kieran's bush for the first time, I had to include a tree like it in LAKE OF SORROWS, which is all about the notion of sacrifice, past and present.

We arrived at our hotel (the Hodson Bay in Athlone) in late afternoon. I had cut some rushes at the cliffs at Bunglas, and after keeping them alive in bathtubs of various hotel rooms, I finally sat down before dinner and showed interested folk how to make a traditional Brigid's Cross. Many thanks to Marty Davidsohn for her scissors and yarn to tie up the ends, and to Carey Sidla McKay for sharing this photo!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Connemara, Galway City


A half day's drive through Connemara started with a trip to the coral beach outside Carraroe, Co. Galway, where we hunted for shells and studied tidal pools. It's a magical place, one I always imagine as a spot where a selkie might come ashore.

Found a perfect, intact scallop shell that opened just like a mermaid's compact. The beach itself is not sand, but bits of coral that feel and sound like crushed bone beneath your feet. A great spot for beachcombing and just communing with nature. You can hear the sound of the water at this beach in a short video I shot in April 2011. I think everyone loved this place.

The landscape of Connemara is one of my favorite places on earth, probably because I spent a bit of time there in my youth, going to Irish school for a few weeks in Carraroe. The blue and purple colors of the stone, the blooming heather, the dark green bracken ferns bring it all back. We saw some beautiful Connemara ponies about, and whenever you're in Connemara, there's usually an opportunity for a great shot of a white cow in a stony field. On that score, our trip did not disappoint!

We made our way to Roundstone (a bad English translation; the place is actually 'Cloch na Rón,' or 'Seal Rock' in Irish). There we visited Malachy Kearns, Ireland's preeminent maker of bodhráns, the traditional Irish goatskin drums. We had a bite to eat and visited with Malachy and his wife Gifty, and then had a look around at the workshop, where goatskins were being dried and stretched before being nailed to round wooden frames.

On the way back into Galway, we stopped off at the grounds of the Ballinahinch Castle Hotel, to walk the labyrinth made out of stones from the sea. It's a peaceful, meditative exercise, walking the concentric circles of the labyrinth until you reach the center. The site is open to the public, just part of the parklands around the hotel. Fly fishing seems to be the real ticket there. A lovely spot.

After our day trip, we had a little time off, so we walked around Store Street in Galway City, looking at all the marvelous medieval buildings. After perusing some great shops and pubs, and we ended up having dinner at the King's Head, built in 1612, and so called because the place was supposed to have been granted in payment to the Galway man who beheaded Charles I of England in 1649. Mussels, fish and chips, Irish coffee, beer, and a bit of bloody history. What more could a body want?

We had a little time to visit the statue of Oscar Wilde in the city centre, and poke our noses into a few pubs just as the music was starting. Galway is a great town for traditional music, but the sessions usually don't begin until 9:30 or 10 pm.

Mayo and Galway


We started the day with a look at a lovely crannóg (fortified man-made island) and a few swans in the middle of the lake, and tried to visit the Knockranny court tomb in the woodland across the lake from the castle. Unfortunately the wet summer had done a number on the path up to the tomb, so it was closed for construction. Undaunted by signage, we tried heading into the woods, but ankle-deep mud sent us back to the carpark after about 100 yards. Even wellingtons were no match for it.

You can see a photo and a short video of the court tomb (with fantastic birdsong and bluebells in the woods) from my April 2011 trip here.

Our second stop was Ceide Fields, a Neolithic field system on the north coast of County Mayo that lay buried under bog for thousands of years, only discovered in the 1930s. The site is the most extensive Stone Age monument in the world, including fields, dwellings, and megalithic tombs. The stone-walled fields, extend over thousands of acres, and are almost 6,000 years old, making Ceide Fields the oldest known agricultural site in the world.

Turning south towards Castlebar in Mayo, we spent some time at the Museum of Country Life (part of the National Museum of Ireland), which has great exhibits of folkways and folklife, including seasonal celebrations, traditional crafts and foodways and trades like thatching and barrel-making, along with clothing and decorative arts of the countryside. There are cradles and hen houses and mattresses all made from hay rope; lobster pots made from heather. The ingenuity of it all, just using natural materials at hand, really quite astounding. There are also examples of the various types of houses, including wattle and daub, dry stone construction, various thatched roofs. I love this place! 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Stone Age to Iron Age in One Day

On Sunday morning we headed north to visit Brú na Bóinne (The Boyne Valley), the home of Newgrange and Knowth, a couple of very fine Neolithic temples/passage tombs. Last year's group visited Knowth, which is a group of 18 (1 large and 17 smaller passage tombs). This year we got to see Newgrange, built around 3200 BCE, and known for the lightbox that allows a beam of light to enter the very center of the tomb on the shortest days of the year. I had heard that visitors weren't allowed inside the tomb any more, but I was wrong! Each small group goes through the narrow passage into the central chamber. Once everyone is inside, the guide switches off the lights, showing what happens in the chamber at sunrise on December 21. It's amazing and quite moving, being cast back 5,000 years into the past.

Heading west to Longford, we visited the Corlea Trackway Centre, a road constructed from more than 300 oak trees felled and split during one season in 148 BCE. The excavation of the roadway was carried out by a team headed by the late Barry Raftery, professor of archaeology at UCD in Dublin, and the person who related the true story of the red-haired girl from the bog that became the basis for my novel HAUNTED GROUND. It's a fascinating site, with an 18-meter stretch of the roadway preserved in the visitor center and museum (and the rest still out under the bog!), and home to a wonderful display about the excavation and scientific investigation, and what those things can tell us about life in Iron Age Ireland.

We stayed overnight at the Kilronan Castle Hotel (a 19th-century estate, formerly known as Castle Tennison), a lovely place on the shores of Lough Meelagh, near Ballyfarnon in Roscommon.

Monday was our day trip to Donegal. After stopping at Drumcliff Churchyard to see the grave of poet W.B. Yeats, we headed north through Sligo into Donegal, and visited the cliffs at Bunglas, also known more widely as Slieve League—the highest sea cliffs in Europe, almost 2,000 feet. It's also the seal-breeding area that Cormac Maguire visits several times in FALSE MERMAID. On the way back from the cliffs, we passed the house of Kitty Sean Cunningham, a local singer and all-around great character who makes a cameo appearance in the novel...

We continued to the Glencolmcille Folk Village, a sort of outdoor museum with replicas of typical Donegal cottages, a shop, school, and traditional fishermen's homes. Very like the place I imaged as home to the Heaney family from FALSE MERMAID, even down to the cast iron bed. Had a great time chatting with the Margaret Cunningham, a singer with the traditional group Na Dorsa, who works in the shop/office at the Folk Village. One reviewer said of Margaret that she "has the voice of a mermaid." Have a listen and see if you agree.

After a quick stop to take pictures of turf-cutting (as if one can ever have enough pictures of turf), we ended up at Triona Designs in Ardara, a traditional handweaving studio run by the family of Dennis Mulhern, a sixth-generation weaver. Dennis and his wife Ann had prepared some Irish coffee for us, which was welcome on this rather blustery Donegal day. I asked Dennis what runs through his mind when he's at the loom, and he said, "You can be miles away." Then he told about hearing his father lilting tunes as he worked. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Holy Ground Once More...

Posting from just outside Ballyfarnon, County Roscommon. This year's tour group couldn't be a nicer bunch of people, and we are having excellent adventures so far!

Our first day in Dublin (despite a bit of jet lag), we took in a city tour, the Book of Kells exhibit at Trinity College (where you can see two open folios from the Book of Kells, along with one each from the Book of Armagh and the Book of Durrow). Once again, the beauty and exquisite detail of the ancient manuscripts astonishes. Such life and texture in the words and creatures, even after all these many centuries.

After all that, a short rest, dinner at the hotel, and a few of us even managed to stay awake for An Góilín, the traditional singers' session held every Friday night in the Teachers Club at Parnell Square. We heard a huge variety of singers and songs, everything from beautiful sad love songs in Irish, to rowdy sing-alongs and American ballads about the banks of the Rio Grande, and even a recently-composed comic song of praise about the Dubs' great victory in the All-Ireland football championship!

A visit to the National Museum of Ireland started with the KINGSHIP AND SACRIFICE exhibit about the bog people found in Ireland, and how they got there. Visiting Oldcroghan Man (who was discovered by Paddy's cousin, Kevin Barry), always seems rather like a family obligation. We learned a lot about the possible reasons an Iron Age person might have been sunk into a bog. Some people believe it had to do with kingship rituals that sought to marry the leader of a people to the great goddess of the earth, and perhaps the bargain had to be sealed in blood. Of course, no one knows for certain, because the Celts of Ireland left no written record of their rituals and beliefs. Fascinating and chilling.

A visit to the Guinness brewery was next, something I'd never had a chance to do before, and great craic. An excellent exhibit about the history of the black stuff, and all the work that went into brewing, storing, transporting, advertising, and drinking it. Oh, and they give you a wee taste as you go, and pint at the end as well! Paddy's father used to work the canal boats that transported the wooden barrels of Guinness down the Grand Canal from Dublin to the Shannon, and he had great tales of drilling undetectable holes and (ahem) perhaps siphoning off a few pints along the way.

A smaller group of us headed back to the Museum in the afternoon (after a stout lunch!) to see the Broighter Collar and the Faddan More Psalter, the 9th-century book of psalms found in a Tipperary bog about five years ago. Some pages were still readable; others were fairly badly damaged. I've been waiting ever since it was discovered to get a gander at it, and finally got my chance. No photos allowed in the exhibit, but here's one from the National Museum.

Did manage to get a few good snaps of some of my favorite Iron Age artifacts though, including this one, the Loughnashade Trumpet, an ancient instrument found sunk in a lake near Navan Fort (aka Eamhain Macha). Here's a link to a video about the horn, including information about how and where it was found, and how John Creed of Glasgow made a replica of it in 1998. You can even hear the replica played by Irish musician and scholar Simon O'Dwyer. Simon's got a whole website devoted to his obsession with ancient instruments:

After a nice Italian dinner (con gelato) in Temple Bar, we wandered down to M. Hughes in Chancery Street (home to wonderful traditional sessions every night). Had a few after-dinner drinks and listened to  fine tunes (and a couple of extra fine songs) from Dermie Diamond, Helen Diamond, Vincent Doherty and company. Fiddles, pipes, flute, guitar—food for the soul.

All right, children, time for the leaba (bed) now. Much more (and many more snaps) later... 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Packing for Ireland

I'm so excited to be traveling to Ireland once again with my friends from New Departures. We leave Thursday, September 22, and return October 2. We've got a smashing custom-built itinerary this year, visiting many of the places that feature in my books. And the group this time around looks to be just as interesting and as much fun as the last.

One of our travelers, Pat Wellingham-Jones, is a fellow writer, and did an interview with Betty Dobson, who writes a blog called InkSpotting. You can read the interview here.

This trip will include some familiar places (the National Museum, and the Book of Kells, Newgrange/Brú na Bóinne complex, Ceide Fields, the Burren) and a few new stops as well: the Corlea Bog Trackway Centre (home to a 2,000-year-old wooden road), a day trip to Slieve League and the villages of Port and Ardara in Donegal, the ancient monastic sites of Clonfert Cathedral, Clonmacnoise, and the Rock of Cashel, and the Lough Boora boglands, Saint Kieran's Bush and Leap Castle (the most haunted place in Ireland), among others. We'll also visit a distillery museum, and sit in on a few traditional music sessions as well.

Full itinerary at the New Departures website.

I know that many people were interested, but unable to go this year, so I'm hoping that this will be an annual trip. I can see changing things up or adding different sites as the Nora Gavin/Cormac Maguire series develops!

I'll be posting snaps from the trip here...

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Meet Me in Saint Louis

I'm bound for Bouchercon in the morning! It's the international mystery convention held every year in a different city. I haven't been in a while (didn't have a new book, broken arm, etc.), so I'm thrilled to be able to go this year.

Adding to my excitement will be the two stellar panels I'm on this year. Practically beside myself with giddiness to be in such august company:

Thursday, September 15, 4:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Landmark 5,6,7
These gals are doing it for themselves.
Robin Agnew (M), Jan Burke, Deborah Crombie, Erin Hart, Hank Phillippi Ryan

Saturday, September 18,  4:00 PM – 5:00 PM
Landmark 1,2,3
Down These Green Streets-Irish crime fiction
Erin Mitchell (M), Eoin Colfer, John Connolly, Erin Hart, Stuart Neville

If things go as they have in the past, authors will be signing right after their panel appearances. Hope to see many fellow mystery-lovers in the halls (and bars!) at Bouchercon.

Friday, September 2, 2011

My pal Declan Burke has a new book out. Well, two new books, counting the one he edited. And you'll want to read the pair of them, honest.

Dec's new novel is ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL. Those who've taken my Compleat Scholar course ('Bleeding Green: Contemporary Irish Crime Fiction') will of course be familiar with Mr. Burke and his previous caper, THE BIG O, the story of a kidnapping gone wrong in all the right ways. He's got two other books as well, CRIME ALWAYS PAYS, and EIGHTBALL BOOGIE.

He gets some exceptional blurbs for the new one as well:
“A genuinely original take on noir, inventive and funny. Imagine, if you can, a cross between Flann O’Brien and Raymond Chandler.”   — John Banville, author of THE SEA
“A fascinating hybrid of MISERY, AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS, THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT’S WOMAN, and who knows what else … ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL isn’t quite like anything else you’ve read, in any genre. It’s clever, intimate, passionate, and funny: altogether a wonderful achievement.”   — Irish Times
Find out more about ABSOLUTE ZERO COOL here.

The second book you'll want to pick up without delay is DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS: IRISH CRIME WRITING IN THE 21st CENTURY. Published by Liberties Press, this is a smashing collection of essays, articles, short stories and interviews by Irish crime writers on the subject of the phenomenal rise of Irish crime fiction. Contributors include John Connolly, John Banville, Tana French, Eoin McNamee, Stuart Neville, Arlene Hunt, Alan Glynn, Adrian McKinty, Ken Bruen, Jane Casey, Gene Kerrigan, Ruth Dudley Edwards, Brian McGilloway, Declan Hughes, Cora Harrison, Paul Charles, Colin Bateman, Alex Barclay, and many more. Michael Connelly provides the foreword.
“A thoroughly entertaining miscellany of essays, interviews, short stories, memoir and first-hand perspectives that offers intriguing insights into the genre … [a] wonderful collection.” — David Park, Irish Times
Find out more about DOWN THESE GREEN STREETS here.

To purchase a copy at the Liberties Press website, please click here.

And if you haven't yet sampled this amazing crop of Irish crime writers, don't delay.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Another from the 'I Don't Have to Make Anything Up' Department

Another set of human remains were discovered in early August in Cul na Móna bog in County Laois (Ireland). According to Ned Kelly of the National Museum of Ireland (who very kindly sat for an interview with me in April), the lower limbs may have belonged to someone who was a victim of human sacrifice a couple of thousand years ago. At first the archaeologists believed that the lower portion of the body was encased in a leather bag, but now they're trying to determine whether the 'leather bag' found with the body is actually its torso.

This is one of the very few Irish bog bodies discovered in situ, that is, in its original location, so it's a rare find indeed. More will be revealed as the archaeologists and forensic scientists begin their work.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Another cask of bog butter found, in Tullamore, Co Offaly

Two turf-cutters have just discovered a wooden cask of bog butter outside Tullamore, Co Offaly that may be two to three thousand years old. Joe Clancy and his nephew Brian were cutting turf in Ballard Bog when they came upon what they described as 'a huge piece of timber.' They took it out with a spade, and found that it was bog butter in container.

Ancient Bog Butter Discovered In Ballard Bog thumbnail

The container has carved marks around the edges, a removable lid with handles and holes, possibly for carrying. It's about a foot in diameter, about two feet tall, and weighed just over 100 pounds. After going home and researching 'bog butter' on the Internet, Joe Clancy packed the container in wet peat and brought it home, and immediately contacted the National Museum of Ireland. Joe Clancy also remarked that the white substance inside the container still had a 'dairy smell.'

Or, as Seamus Heaney put it in his poem, 'Bogland':  'Butter sunk under / More than a hundred years / Was recovered salty and white.'

Andy Halpin, the archaeologist from National Museum who visited the site to take measurements and recover the specimen for further examination, said that tests would reveal how old the butter is, and speculated that it could have been buried in the Ballard area because it was on the ancient boundary between two territories.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Coral beach outside Carraroe, Co Galway

Here's a short video of a coral beach just southwest of Carraroe, Co Galway. There's no sand on this beach, just crushed coral that looks like bone, and lots of limpet shells. Here's a still photo of the coral and shells, too. If you listen closely, you can hear the hiss of the waves as they retreat from the beach. Ahh...what a delicious sound!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Knockranny Court Tomb, near Ballyfarnon, Co Roscommon

Thought you might like to see and hear the sound of a wood surrounding an ancient court tomb in Roscommon. A feast of bluebells and birdsong. Betty and I stumbled upon this by accident, one of those spectacularly serendipitous discoveries that you remember forever...

Archaeological tidbit:  A 'Court Tomb' usually refers to a Neolithic (New Stone Age ~3000 BCE) burial site with a flat-roofed gallery, sometimes fronted by a semi-circular 'courtyard' marked out by stones. Sometimes the structures are quite complex, with more than one internal chamber. Other names for Court Tombs are Court Cairns, Court Graves, or Horned Cairns.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Ireland, April 2011

Just back from a research trip to Ireland for THE SERPENT'S EGG. And I just figured out how to embed a slideshow here in my blog, so I hope you enjoy it!

The trip was unbelievably wonderful, with visits to Sunny Meadow Farm (an impressive operation run by my friend Dermot O'Mara); farmers' markets in Mountshannon (organized by my friend Molly Lynch O'Mara) and Dingle; cheesemakers in East Galway and Dingle (okay, I just realized that I have lots of pictures of goats—I only posted a few!); went for a luxurious soak at the bog spa in Clara, Co. Offaly; walked out onto Faddan More Bog in Tipperary, where the 9th-century Faddan More Psalter was discovered in 2006; and stopped by the National Museum of Ireland, where I had a great chat with Eamonn Kelly, the Keeper of Antiquities. All very useful and enlightening!

I also had the pleasure of meeting Eileen and Tim Collins in Dingle. Eileen and her family run Kirrary House B&B and Scuird Archaeological Tours in Dingle, both frequented by our friends Sherry and Don Ladig. They hit it off so well that Sherry came home the last time and penned an air for Eileen, which Paddy and his group O'Rourke's Feast played at their February 4 concert. I had the honor of playing a short video from the concert for Eileen and Tim, which was exciting.

I also spent a lot of time dashing around to ancient sites with my delightful Aunt Betty, who proved to be a most congenial traveling companion. We found neolithic cemeteries, court tombs, crannogs, ringforts and places where the little people might live, as well as the entrance to the Otherworld (it's near Rathcroghan in County Roscommon—who knew?)

And did I mention the food? I love eating like France in Ireland, and we managed very well, finding artisan cheesemakers in Galway and Kerry (even French-style paté in Dingle), and feasting on homemade breads and home-grown vegetables from farms and markets.

I also sussed out a few of the places we'll be staying on the tour in September, including Cassidy's Hotel in Dublin, the Kilronan Castle Hotel in Roscommon, and the Falls Hotel in Ennistymon, all very comfortable places. Thanks to Mary Pat Flanagan and everyone at CIE Tours for their help in making arrangements.

Many, many thanks, also to the friends whose hospitality buoyed us along the way—Jody and Sean Henry in Portumna, and Sean and Mary O'Driscoll in Cork. Margaret and Brian McGrath also gave us a fine welcome at Riverside Lodge outside Kilfenora in County Clare. Margaret made some fabulous brown bread and the MOST delicious Guinness cake, and Brian showed us around to monuments not many people ever get to see in the Burren. Of course, we had to climb over several stone walls and get up close and personal with some nervous cattle, but that's why we were there!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Free MP3 for Friends and Readers

To celebrate the month of March, and the paperback release of FALSE MERMAID, I’m offering faithful friends and readers a free MP3 of ‘Willie-O,’a song I recorded back in 1997. Just click HERE to download!

To give you a little background, I originally recorded the song  for a CD called ‘Hunger No More,’ a fundraiser for Minnesota food shelves organized by our friend Dermot O’Mara in 1997 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Great Hunger in Ireland (also known as the Famine). I actually learned ‘Willie-O’ eons ago, from the singing of Cathal McConnell, an old friend of Paddy’s who plays the flute and sings with the Boys of the Lough. At the time I learned it, I hadn’t yet met Cathal or Paddy, but loved the beautiful, sad lyrics of this ghost story set to music. For anyone who’s interested, here are the words of the song:


My Willie sails on board a tender,
And where he’s bound, I do not know.
Seven long years I have waited for him,
Since he’s crossed the Bay of Biscay-o.

One night as Mary lay a-sleeping,
A knock came to her bedroom door,
Saying ‘Arise, arise, my lovely Mary,’
‘To take one last look at your Willie-o.’

Young Mary rose, put on her clothing,
And opened wide the bedroom door.
It was there she saw her Willie standing,
And his two cheeks as white as snow.

‘O Willie dear, where are those blushes,’
‘Those blushes you had many years ago?’
‘Oh Mary dear, the cold clay has changed them,’
‘I am only the ghost of your Willie-o.’

‘O Mary dear, I must be going,’
‘For now the cocks they’ve begun to crow.’
And when she saw him disappearing,
It was down her cheeks the tears did flow.

O had I great stores of gold and silver,
And all the gold in Mexico,
I would give it all to the King of England,
If he could bring me back my Willie-o.

FALSE MERMAID on Indie Next List 'Now in Paperback' for March 2011!

Selected by Indie Booksellers for the
March 2011 Indie Next List - 'Now in Paperback'
Thrilled to be selected for the March 2011 Indie Next 'Now in Paperback' feature!

“Wherever she goes, Nora Gavin is haunted by the unsolved murder of her sister. Now she is ready to make a final assault on the man she believes to be guilty. Nora's efforts will unearth dark secrets, and bring closure to old wounds. There is a subtle, lyrical quality to Hart's writing, coupled with an emotional insight into even the most peripheral characters. Immensely enjoyable.”
-- Jennie Turner-Collins, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Cincinnati, OH

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Real Good Words on KAXE - Interview with Heidi Holtan

Just did a great interview earlier this week with Heidi Holtan of KAXE Radio's 'Real Good Words' program, about the residency Paddy and I are doing at the Kitchigami Regional Library System this week and next. We're on at the Brainerd Public Library tonight, and have lots more events coming up. Check the full schedule below...

Erin's interview with Heidi Holtan of 'Real Good Words' on KAXE

Here's a link to Heidi's blog as well. She's also on Twitter. If you're interested in books or Minnesota, or Minnesota books, you definitely need to follow her!

February 24, 5 pm
Brainerd Public Library
416 South 5th Street
Brainerd, MN 56401
5 pm - Author talk with Irish traditional music by Paddy O'Brien
6 pm - Writing and music workshops

February 25, 2 pm
Cass Lake Community Library
223 Cedar
Cass Lake, MN 56633
2 pm - Writing and music workshops
4 pm - Author talk with Irish traditional music by Paddy O'Brien

February 26, 2 pm
Bemidji Public Library
509 America Ave NW
Bemidji, MN 56601
2 pm - Writing and music workshops
4 pm - Author talk with Irish traditional music by Paddy O'Brien
5 pm - Mini-concert with Erin and Paddy

February 28, 5 pm
Pine River Public Library
212 Park Ave.
Pine River, MN 56474
5 pm - Author talk with Irish traditional music by Paddy O'Brien
6 pm - Writing and music workshops, plus mini-concert!

March 1, 11 am
Margaret Welch Memorial Library
5051 State Hwy 84
Longville, MN 56655
11 am - Author talk with Irish traditional music by Paddy O'Brien
12 pm - Writing and music workshops following

March 2, 2 pm
Blackduck Community Library
72 First Street SE
Blackduck, MN 56630
2 pm - Writing and music workshops
3:30 pm - Author talk with Irish traditional music by Paddy O'Brien

March 3, 1 pm
Walker Public Library
207 4th Street
Walker, MN 56484
1 pm - Writing and music workshops
2:30 pm - Author talk with Irish traditional music by Paddy O'Brien

March 4, 1 pm
Park Rapids Area Library
210 West First Street
Park Rapids, MN 56470
1 pm - Author talk with Irish traditional music by Paddy O'Brien
2 pm - Writing and music workshops

March 5, 12 noon
Wadena City Library
304 First Street SW
Wadena, MN 56482
12 pm - Writing and music workshops
1 pm - Author talk with Irish traditional music by Paddy O'Brien

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Brigid's Day - February 1

February 1 is the Feast of Saint Brigid, now a Christian saint, but once the goddess of fire and learning in ancient Ireland. Also known as Imbolc, the feast of Saint Brigid is one of the four major fire festivals on the old Irish pagan calendar. People still light fires on hilltops to celebrate these festivals.

A Brigid's Cross, made from green rushes
Here's a song in Irish that celebrates Brigid's excellent qualities, from the singing of my friend Dáithí Sproule on his CD "A Heart Made of Glass." Hear him singing it here.

Gabhaim Molta Bríghde                          

Gabhaim molta Bríghde,
Iníon í le hÉireann
Iníon le gach tír í,
Molaimís go léir í!

Lóchrann geal na Laighneach,
Soils’ ar feadh na tíre,
Ceann ar óigheacht Éireann,
Ceann na mban ar míne.

Tig an geimhreadh dian dubh,
Gearra lena géire,
Ach ar lá le Brighde,
Gar duinn Earrach Éireann.
We Praise Brigid

I sing loudly the praises of Brigid,
She who is daughter,
Not just of Ireland,
But of all the countries of the world.

A shining lantern of Leinster,
A flame throughout the land,
Leader of the women of Ireland,
One of the finest women ever.

The hard, dark winter comes,
Short and sharp,
But once Brigid’s Day appears,
Ireland’s spring is not far behind.

And here's a video to teach you how to make your own Brigid's cross -- though it's a little hard to find green rushes where I live this time of year. (Still four feet of snow in back yard!)

I especially like the detail that each arm of the cross should be made from seven rushes, to represent the seven days of the week, and the 28 days of the month of February.