Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Away With the Fairies

“In a shady nook one moonlit night a leprechaun I spied . . .”

Thanks to my family’s love of music, I learned the poem/song, The Leprechaun, when I was knee-high to a fairy. ‘Twas on an Irish record, of course, one of many recorded by the great Irish tenor, John McCormack. (Enjoy The Leprechaun in its entirety at the end of this post.)

I knew about the teensy Tinker Bell types of fairies from stories like Peter Pan and Sleeping Beauty, but the fairies of Irish folklore were always leprechauns to me. Not so, I learned while delving into the wealth of literature depicting these elusive beings. Leprechauns belong to the class of “Solitary Fairies,” which includes cluricauns, dullahans, pookas, merrows, silkies, and banshees.

Then we have the “Trooping Fairies” who party in crystal palaces beneath the Knock Ma (See Knock Moo), the hill in County Galway said to house the palace of Finvarra, the King of the Connaught Fairies. Finvarra costars in my Young Adult novel, Glancing Through the Glimmer. We didn't meet him the day we visited Knock Ma, but the local postman assured us that he and his troop were there.

It’s no surprise that these beings and the lore surrounding them have inspired many tales over the years. Glancing Through the Glimmer incorporates alternate Irish history with the magic of the Other Crowd, and it has been a joy to research.

More than once, I’ve felt inexplicable tugs toward wonderfully inspiring articles and books. I've learned that Irish lakes provide homes for water fairies, who live in underwater palaces, such as the one featured in Autumn Glimmer, the sequel to Glancing Through the Glimmer. And the leprechauns star in A Pot of Glimmer, the third book in the Glimmer series, currently in the works.

I’ve found countless web sites devoted to fairies, faeries, fae, fay, etc. During my latest visit to Ireland, I added several volumes on the Good Folk to my personal library. The public library helped my research too, but my most successful foray was into the incredible collection of Irish books my aunts have compiled over the years (See Seeking Irish Heroines.)

Every culture has fairies, whole hierarchies of them. In Ireland they aren’t the cute little Walt Disney squeakers we all know and love. Many are human-size, and all can be downright mean if one crosses them. Hair, eyes, teeth, and toenails can all fall out if we mortals distress them. (I'm in high hopes they’ve willingly joined the cast of the Glimmer Books.)

My grandmother once said that when she was a child in County Sligo (circa 1910), her father would set out a line of stones before he erected an outbuilding on their farm. If in the morning the stones were still where he’d placed them, he knew he was good to go. If not, then the fairies had disapproved of his choice, and he had to try again. Superstitious nonsense?

I’ve visited Ireland too many times to be sure, to be sure. What do you think?

The Leprechaun
(Attributed to Robert Dwyer Joyce)

In a shady nook one moonlit night,
A leprechaun I spied
In a scarlet cap and a coat of green,
cruiskeen* by his side.
'Twas tick, tack, tick, his hammer went
Upon a tiny shoe,
And I laughed to think of a purse of gold,
But the fairy was laughing too.

With tiptoe step and beating heart,
Quite softly I drew nigh.
There was mischief in his merry face,
A twinkle in his eye.
He hammered and sang with tiny voice
And drank his mountain dew.
And I laughed to think he was caught at last,
But the fairy was laughing too.

As quick as thought I seized the elf.
"You're fairy purse!" I cried.
"The purse," he said, "is in her hand,
The lady by your side."
I turned to look, the elf was off,
And what was I to do?
Oh, I laughed to think what a fool I'd been,
And the fairy was laughing too.

* jug

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Reflections on Boston Irish Kitchens

When I was a kid growing up in Boston, festive occasions usually meant plates of Wonder Bread, sliced ham, and two bowls of potato salad with handwritten signs stuck in them reading "Onions" and "No Onions."

The oldest of seven, I was married and cooking before my siblings. My youngest brother once raved about a lasagna I made for a family party. When I thanked him and told him it was actually manicotti, he said "Oh" and put it aside, never to be touched again.

My parents didn’t get along well. My father had never tasted garlic in his life, and when my mother tried a chicken dish containing garlic powder, he accused her of trying to poison him.

My favorite story comes from the funeral of my beloved grandmother, Dolly O’Brien. My mother and my aunt argued over the food for the back-at-the-house-after-the-mass thing. My aunt wanted to prepare a buffet, but my mother vehemently told her not to bother, since "people were bringing food." Well, what they brought were foil-wrapped loaves of Irish soda bread. I counted them: 48 loaves, stacked on the kitchen counter! Fortunately, my aunt ignored my mother and set out a lovely buffet, no Wonder Bread, no handwritten signs.

Okay, there was ham, but that’s not so bad.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

No Irish Need Apply

My aunts found this sign in a Pennsylvania antique store twenty-five odd years ago. My grandfather loved it. He emigrated from County Sligo to Boston in 1911 and said similar signs were all over the place. Guess he enjoyed showing them what's what. 

This sign has been on display in my aunts' house for years, but I found it particularly poignant now. I've just finished reading John Kelly's The Graves are Walking, a comprehensive history of the Irish Famine and how the famine victims who left Ireland were treated when they arrived in the United States.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Band of Roses Trilogy - Adventure and Romance in Ireland

April 23, 2014 marks the 1000-year anniversary of Ireland's bloody Battle of Clontarf. On Good Friday in 1014 A.D., the armies of High King Brian Boru challenged a host of Vikings and their allies on the plains of Clontarf, north of Dublin. Though Brian’s troops were victorious, he was murdered by fleeing Vikings as he prayed in his tent.

Many historians have speculated that Ireland would be a different place today if King Brian had survived the Battle of Clontarf. The Band of Roses Trilogy, a romantic action/adventure series set in modern Ireland, supposes he did survive and established a royal dynasty that still rules the Emerald Isle. The current King Brian upholds ancient traditions, as does his daughter, Crown Princess Talty, though Talty has a knack for landing in trouble. She wishes she were anyone but the heir to her father's throne—and she learns to be careful what she wishes for.

In Book One, A Band of Roses, Talty must hide her identity to outwit assassins, but she can't hide her ingrained training as a warrior sworn to protect her homeland. From Japan to California to an eleventh century Ireland, she finds romance and adventure, yet all she wants is to return to her family and Neil Boru, the adoptive cousin she secretly loves and cannot have—or so she thinks.

In the second book, Fiery Roses, the discovery of offshore gas ensnares the Boru clan in a web of blackmail and murder. When the residents of rural County Mayo object to pipelines on their land, an arsonist tries to change their minds. One of his fires sends newlyweds Talty and Neil to an ancient world at the mercy of a waking volcano, where they must fight not only to survive, but to save their fledgling marriage.

Book Three, Salty Roses, finds the dynamic princess believing her days of adventure are over. Her royal duties seem endless, and a day off with Neil is looking good. The royal couple accepts an invitation for a jaunt aboard a luxury submarine. As they view an eerie shipwreck, an unknown enemy lures them to an ancient tomb and sends them to a world infested with treacherous pirates. Talty takes charge of a pirate ship and its mangy crew, while Neil matches wits with a temptress who jeopardizes his wedding vows.

In this Excerpt from A Band of Roses, a military assignment teams Talty with her 'Veddy' English commanding officer, Richard Gale, who knows her as Major Christy McKenna. In an experiment gone wrong, they arrive in our world in 1014 A.D., just before the Battle of Clontarf. They've met a lady named Leesha, whose handsome son Gayth has his eye on Talty. In this scene, Gayth is leading his Dalcassian clan to aid King Brian in his fight against the Vikings—but Gayth has more than warfare on his mind.
* * * * *
For three rainy days, the Dalcassians rode two hundred strong. On the third day, Gayth called a stop to rest. Talty and Richard tethered their horses and made their separate camp. While Richard prepared a fire pit, Talty rummaged beneath the shrubbery to find dry wood.

“Can’t we cheat and use matches, Richard? I’m tired of being cold and wet.”

“So am I.” Richard poked through his toolkit until he found the waterproof matchbox. When the fire was burning well, they finished the last of their oatcakes and ale.

“So here I am, the protector of a holy woman. Who knew?”

Talty winced. She regretted agreeing to the deception. Gayth had told the men her presence would protect them. “I wish Leesha hadn’t started this. I’m not some saint who can heal battle wounds with a touch.”

“They don’t know that, darling. We have an edge as long as they think you’re no ordinary woman. Why did she say that, anyway?”

“She was afraid I’d spirit Gayth away to fairyland. She needn’t have worried, though. He seems able to resist me just fine.”

“Perhaps you married too young to learn how devious men can be. Our friend Gayth isn’t finished with you, holy woman.”

Gayth stepped from the darkness. “My kinsmen are grateful for your fire. The furze is too wet to burn. They invite you to join them in a game of spear fishing, Richard. There’s salmon nearby, and we need the food as well as the sport.”

“I’m reluctant to leave Christy alone.”

Talty bristled at Richard’s protectiveness. “You should get to know the men. I’ll be safe enough at my prayers.”

Gayth’s chocolate eyes sparkled in the firelight. “I will stay and protect you while you pray.”

Still smiling, Richard found a spear and went off to fish. Though Talty had encouraged him to go, his abandonment annoyed her. “I’m going to pray beside the pond. It could be a watering hole for game.”

“You hunt game, holy woman?”

“Even holy women must eat.” She left him by the fire and was soon scanning the ground at the edge of the pond. The twilight’s glow revealed animal tracks in the rain-damp soil. She walked toward a dense stand of trees, not quite sorry that Gayth and his sparkling eyes had caught up.

“Did you see any tracks?” he asked.

“Yes. Deer, I think. Smaller game as well, and I’m sure I heard waterfowl a while ago.”

“I like roast goose. Can you pray for some?”

Silently groaning, she studied the sky. “Do we have time to roast meat?”

“The men must eat. Once we’ve rested and refilled our food sacks, we’ll ride again. We should reach Dublin in three, maybe four days’ time.”

“What day is this?”

“Monday of Holy Week. What holy woman wouldn’t know that?”

Barely aware of his teasing tone, she supposed they could reach Dublin by Good Friday, though that would be cutting it close. Yet in this world, the Battle of Clontarf might not take place on Good Friday. Perhaps no battle would occur at all. Perplexed, she stole into the trees.

Gayth followed her.

“This will make a fine blind.” She spoke more to herself than to Gayth.

“You intend to wait here for deer? Praying?”

Ignoring him, she returned to the fire to bank the embers and fetch the Viking bow.

Gayth was right beside her.

She slung the quiver and arrows over her shoulder. Her hooded cloak went on next to protect both her and the bow from the weather.

Her preparations seemed to mystify Gayth. “Why don’t you simply rush the herd and cast a spear when they bolt?”

“This way I’ll get the deer I want, not one who falls behind because it’s old or sick.”

“I’ll come with you.”

“I need silence.”

“Yes, I know. To pray. I promise to be quiet.”

They stood in the natural blind together and watched the water’s edge. She didn’t resist when he pulled her against him.

“Lean on me, lady,” he whispered. “Rest a little.”

He wrapped his cloak around her. She leaned against him, breathing in smoke and sweat, banishing all thought until a small herd of deer appeared to investigate the clearing. Though tempted to forget them, she broke away from Gayth and uncovered her bow. Silence was critical now.

He caught her face in his hands and kissed her well. After the briefest pause, she kissed him back, grateful for the fading light that hid her burning cheeks. Then she nudged him away. The deer wouldn’t tarry long.

Kiyoshi’s words flowed back to her: See the target as a reflection of your mind, as a mirror. Your mind will find the target.

Gayth stepped back. Talty fixed on the biggest doe in the herd. She drew without breathing, released, and held her position until the arrow pierced the doe’s side.

Shot clean through, the doe hovered over the ground for the briefest moment before collapsing in a motion so natural, the other deer failed to notice. The arrow’s strange whoosh had alarmed them, however. They scattered into the forest.

Pleased with her success, Talty lowered her bow. The kiss that lingered on her lips unexpectedly angered her. “Why are you here, Gayth? You ran from me before.”

“I ran from a holy woman. Your warrior skills bestir most unholy thoughts in me.”
* * * * *
Thanks for reading!
Pat’s Website

(This post originally appeared on The Celtic Rose)

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Imbolc & St. Brigid's Day

Ireland abounds with stone monuments built by prehistoric tribes to help them divide the year into seasons: Samhain, November 1, the start of winter; Beltane, May 1, the first day of summer; Lughnasa, August 1, the beginning of autumn; and, Imbolc, February 1, the glorious arrival of spring.

The Newgrange passage tomb is famous for its roof box, which allows sunlight to penetrate its interior chamber during the winter solstice. A Neolithic mound in County Sligo’s Carrowkeel cemetery has a similar box that lets light in during the summer solstice. On the Hill of Tara, sunshine illuminates the chamber inside the Mound of the Hostages on both Samhain and Imbolc.

In ancient times, spring arrived during the first week of February. Imbolc (from i mbolg, old Irish for "in the belly") refers to the impending birth of lambs and calves, a time of renewal, the start of the agricultural season. The celebration belonged to the Celtic goddess Brigid, daughter of Dagda, the Irish equivalent of Jupiter, Zeus, or Odin.

Brigid was a triple deity, a benevolent mother goddess of healing, fertility, and fire, as well as the patron of poets and smiths. When Christianity arrived in Ireland, the church superimposed its saints and holy days over many pagan deities and festivals. Brigid became St. Brigid (Bridget, Brigit, Brighid, Bride, Brid), the female patron saint of Ireland, guardian of hearth and home. Born in the 5th century, she became a leader of the early Celtic Christian church. Her feast day, February 1, is the first day of spring in modern Ireland.

Brigid, said to be the daughter of a druid, supposedly fed on the milk of Otherworld cows, a rumor that gave her dual authority over both Christian and pagan ways. A generous woman, she fed the poor and tended both cattle and land, and is often portrayed with a cow at her feet. She became a nun and founded convents and monasteries. Of the many legends associated with her, my favorite is her acquisition of the land on which she built her most famous monastery.

In 470, Brigid petitioned the King of Leinster for some prime property. Thinking himself clever, the king said he would give her as much land as her shawl could cover. Brigid took off her shawl to measure the land, giving each of the four nuns with her a corner of the cloak. The women ran north, south, east, and west, and the shawl stretched to cover acres of land. Her monastery, built near a huge oak tree, became known as Cill Dara, the Church of the Oak. Cill Dara is now the Town of Kildare.

St. Brigid’s Cross, one of the best-known symbols of Ireland, is still made from rushes on St. Brigid’s Day to ensure health and prosperity in the coming year. The practice hearkens back to Brigid’s attendance at the deathbed of a pagan chieftain, who was curious about the new Christian religion. She drew rushes from the floor and wove them into a cross, and when she told him of its origins, he converted to Christianity.

Whether goddess or saint, Brigid symbolizes the renewal of life and the hope of abundance, and Christians and pagans alike still honor her on her day.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

From Fairies to Giants: A Story in a Story

Ireland’s fairies star in my young adult novel, Glancing Through the Glimmer. Who are the fairies? Where did they come from?

According to one legend, the Celts, the ancestors of the modern Irish, arrived in Ireland 1700 years before Christ and defeated the magical Tuatha de Danann, the Tribe of the Goddess Danu. One of the Danann leaders, a womanizing rascal named Finvarra, negotiated a truce with the Irish that gave the Dananns half of Ireland—the bottom half.

Finvarra became the King of the Connaught Fairies, and though he loves his wife, Queen Oona, he prefers to dance with ‘grippable’ mortal women. He’s been known to kidnap them, as Janet, an American teenager living in the modern Kingdom of Ireland, learns to her dismay in Glancing Through the Glimmer.

Janet is on her first date with Liam and doesn’t know he’s the King of Ireland’s son. Seventeen-year-old Prince Liam is not only a scholar, he's also a storyteller, or shanachie. His talent for telling tales helps him rescue Janet from Finvarra and his gang, who are partying in an underground cave north of Dublin. Finvarra knows Liam for a shanachie and demands a story.

Liam eyed his peewee host and pint-sized audience. The perverse idea of telling them a story about giants appealed to him. He began with the standard "long, long ago" and eased into the tale of the giant Finn MacCool’s encounter with his Scottish rival, Benandonner.

Liam told an old folktale that offers one explanation for the origin of the Giant’s Causeway, a spectacular stretch of Irish coast in north Antrim. The Causeway is supposedly all that remains of a bridge Finn MacCool formed long ago to link Ireland and Scotland. Finn who, you ask?

Finn MacCool was the leader of a roving band of gallant warriors who lived in Ireland centuries ago. He and his comrades appear in many entertaining tales. The legend concerning the Giant’s Causeway depicts him as a mighty giant who challenged his Scottish counterpart, Benandonner, to a contest of martial skill.

"Finn shouted across the sea to Scotland and challenged Benandonner to do battle. The two had never met. Now Finn being a thoughtful sort, he set a trail of mighty stones into the sea between Scotland and Ireland so Benandonner might keep his feet dry when he came."

Finn expected a sporting fight, some fun and entertainment, but when he saw the monstrous size of the approaching Scottish titan, he ran in terror to his wife and asked her to hide him.

"She dressed him as a baby and placed him in a giant cradle. Benandonner entered their house, and when he saw what he thought was an infant, he screamed in fright. ‘If this is the baby, why, the father must be huge indeed!’"
The fairies belly-laughed at Liam’s theatrical imitation of the terrified giant’s hasty retreat to Scotland. "He tore up the stepping stones as he went so Finn couldn’t follow."
The stones that Benandonner left in his wake formed the Giant’s Causeway. Having seen this amazing World Heritage site, I prefer this enchanting version of its origin, though geology tells a less fanciful story.

The Giant’s Causeway is part of the Antrim Plateau, the largest lava plateau in Europe. Its massive cliffs are the result of volcanic activity that occurred 60 million years ago. Lava filled a river bed and cooled slowly, cracking into columns and forming unusual structures with intriguing names like the Giant’s Boot, the Chimney Tops, and the Giant’s Organ. (Nothing anatomical here - it seems Finn created a pipe organ for his son, Oisin, to play).

Liam paused. Benandonner had given him an idea. He must rip up stones, so to speak, to keep the fairies from following him. He decided to give his story a brand-new ending.

. . . and Finvarra isn’t going to like this brand-new ending one bit . . .

The Giant's Organ
The Giant's Boot
The Chimney Stacks

Glancing Through the Glimmer / Available in Print and eBook from
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(This post first appeared on Flowers on the Fence)

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Storytelling for Actors and Monsters

Aspiring actress Janet Gleason, the teenage heroine of my young adult books, Glancing Through the Glimmer and Autumn Glimmer, has lived in Dublin since her grandfather became the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland. At first, she hated Dublin. (She really hated being kidnapped by the King of the Fairies, but that’s the first book.)

In Autumn Glimmer, Janet has settled into her new Irish school. She loves the Drama Club, and she’s learned a lot about acting. She’ll soon pick up some fabulous new techniques.

To celebrate Halloween, Janet and her grandparents visit Ireland’s royal family (hint - she likes Prince Liam). Cousin Fintan, an elderly shanachie, is also visiting to entertain everyone.

A shanachie (from the Irish seanchaí) is a traditional Irish storyteller. The ancient Celts wrote nothing down. They entrusted their laws and legends to the minds of brehons, poets, and shanachies. The shanachies told hundreds of tales from memory. And, as Janet is going to learn, some of those tales were inspired by real events.
Janet’s theatrical eye noted the arrangement of chairs before the hearth. The rough half-circle they formed gave everyone an unobstructed view of Cousin Fintan, perched on a stool beside the fireplace. His right hand held his blackthorn stick like a pole in a subway train.

He laid the blackthorn across his knees. Like a safecracker coaxing a bank vault open, he ran the tips of his long white fingers over the knobby wood. Twisting the stick toward him, he deftly reeled his audience into the story world he summoned.

"I’ll tell ye a story to shorten the night. Ye’ll scarcely believe a word I say, for I’m going back on old times, to the days when the Good People made the rounds more than they do now."
Fintan had no idea that the Good People were making the rounds that night. In fact, two were outside the open window, listening. Janet listened too, fascinated by Fintan’s tales. He painted pictures in her head no stage set could ever match.
"Long before the great ice came, giant creatures lived in Ireland. They foraged and fought and ate each other, and no man ever saw them. The ice killed all but the swimmers among them, monsters who slumbered in caves beneath the lakes until the glaciers disappeared.

"New animals came to Ireland. Men came too, and the hungry monsters leapt from the lakes and devoured them all. The heroes among the men fought back."
Fintan told the story of Gann of the Glen, a hero who helped the fairies in the lake get rid of a hungry monster.
"Gann drew his weapons. The battle fury rose in him." The blackthorn whooshed through the air as Fintan, shouting now, mimicked Gann’s swordsmanship. "With a mighty cry, he raised his sword and cut off the Crogall’s head. This he hurled away, spattering the shore with its blood. To this day, the rocks on the shores of the pond are red, and the Crogall’s bones became the jagged stones on the northern bank."
The fairies outside the window recalled a different version. The correct version. One that Janet is going to find out all about…

GLANCING THROUGH THE GLIMMER / Available in Print and eBook
Amazon U.S.

Amazon U.K.
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AUTUMN GLIMMER / Available in Print and eBook
Amazon U.S.

Amazon U.K.

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*Storytelling for Actors and Monsters originally appeared on Jester Harley's Manuscript Page

Friday, November 22, 2013

In Dublin's Fair Bookstores

Hodges Figgis on Dawson Street

Browsing through bookshelves to find new gems has brought me to bookstores wherever I go. A recent escape to Dublin provided my latest treasure hunt. Over five days, I visited several familiar shops, as well as a few that were new to me. My adventures blended research for a new story with a wonderful sightseeing tour.
Viking Burial
On my first day in the city, jet lag kept me close to the hotel, chosen for its proximity to the City Centre. I strolled to the National Museum on Kildare Street, one of my favorite Dublin haunts. They have a great gift shop with a unique selection of books on history and archaeology. I was after the Vikings of medieval Dublin this time, and neither the exhibits nor the gift shop let me down.

From Kildare Street I turned down Dawson Street. Once upon a time, Eason, Waterstone’s, and Hodges Figgis were there in a neat little triangle. Now only Hodges Figgis, one of Dublin’s oldest bookstores (est. 1768) remains. After exploring their famous bargain basement without success, I went upstairs and found a new history of the Battle of Clontarf and a couple of poetry books.

The Tara Brooch

Monterey Cypress in Phoenix Park
Around the corner on Nassau Street is a music store called The Celtic Note. No books there, but I always love rifling through their wealth of Irish music. I left with several CDs and proceeded to Reads, a bookstore across from Trinity College. Usually, I find a good assortment of magazines I can’t get back home. No luck this time, nor did I have any at Dubray Books on Grafton Street. I really enjoyed exploring the antique tomes in Cathach/Ulysses Rare Books on Duke Street, but I came away empty-handed.

Phoenix Park Visitor Centre
Fully rested the next day, which happened to by my birthday, I ventured onto the Hop On/Hop Off bus, a good way to get around Dublin without spending a fortune. Research brought me to lovely Phoenix Park, one of the largest enclosed ‘capital city’ parks in Europe. The Visitor Centre provided an informative exhibit of the park’s history. After leaving Visitor Centre, I stopped by the gate to the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence, the home of the heroine in my young adult "Glimmer" books. My trek back to the park entrance along Chesterfield Avenue brought me by Áras an Uachtaráin, the home of the President of Ireland.
Gate to the U.S. Ambassador's Residence

Áras an Uachtaráin
The O’Connell Street area came next, and that meant Eason, another favorite bookstore. I found plenty of genres to browse through but only bought a history of Phoenix Park, a book of ghost stories, and some fairy tales I didn’t already have. A quick trip over the Ha’penny Bridge brought me to Temple Bar, where I enjoyed a very decent lunch at Gallagher’s Boxty House. I mentioned that it was my birthday, ordered a glass of white French burgundy, and received a glass filled right to the top!

On my way back to the hotel, I visited the small but fabulous Books Upstairs, opposite the entrance to Trinity College. This bookshop has one of the best selections of poetry I’ve seen on either side of the Atlantic, and the owner said she prides herself in keeping her stock up-to-date. Good for me! I added four books of contemporary poetry to my rapidly growing hoard.

On Wicklow Street, I hunted down the Secret Book and Record Store, hidden in a little mall and well worth seeking out. It’s stocked with tons of previously owned books, scattered on tables and shelves all over the place. A browser’s dream, it would have required more time than I had that day. I planned to return before I left town, but the agenda didn’t allow it. Next trip for sure!

Dublinia Exhibit
Dublinia Exhibit
Back to the Hop on/Hop Off bus the next day. I paid a repeat visit to Dublinia, the Viking museum near Christchurch Cathedral. My current research centers on the coins and moneyers of medieval Dublin, and I found some interesting info there. Nice gift shop, but not many books. Mostly coloring books for kids. The curator suggested I visit the Revenue Museum, which I didn’t know existed. It’s in Dublin Castle, but it’s only open Monday through Friday. Sadly, my Friday agenda left no time to visit, and I had to leave Monday morning. Next time!
Interior of Kilmainham Gaol
The bus brought me to Kilmainham Gaol (Jail), nothing to do with research, but I’d never been and I wanted to see it. Glad I did. A very moving tour indeed.

I’ll say nothing about the silly Leprechaun Museum on Jervis Street, except that I took the tour.

One of my best discoveries was Chapters, a fantastic bookstore at the Ivy Exchange on Parnell Street. So many books, so little time. I found an amazing account of the history of Ireland’s coinage, along with a few other treats. By now, I had started to worry that my new acquisitions wouldn’t fit in my suitcase, which I’d underpacked to leave room for books and Lyons tea. I’ve mailed books home from Ireland more than once, but I wouldn’t get to the post office before Monday morning. I decided I could throw my clothes away if necessary.

Saturday’s tour involved a train ride on the DART to Malahide, a delightful seaside community north of Dublin. I paid a return visit to Manor Books on Church Road, preceded by a first-time visit to Village Books on Townyard Lane. Both shops left my backpack heavier, and I would have loved having tea in the village. However, that agenda of mine put me back on the train, this time to Howth, another seaside village, one I’ve blogged about often.

A chilly October day near the sea made me glad I’d brought my gloves and earmuffs. A small building on the main road sported a Book Sale sign, but the tables had been picked over pretty well. I headed to the old Abbey Tavern for lunch and a magical turf fire that warmed me up nicely. From the DART station back in Dublin, I strolled through the Merrion Square area and found a bookstore near Stephen’s Green that wasn’t on my list. It’s called either Robert’s Wholesale Books, or Books Books Books. It looked like a store that won’t be there the next time I visit, but I found a few goodies.

I’d walked a minimum of five miles each day. Rambling all over town was no hardship, and I’d really lucked out with the weather. Sunday morning, I returned to Temple Bar and checked out the open air book sale run on weekends. Then I explored the "new" end of Temple Bar, stopping by The Gutter Bookshop on Cow’s Lane and coming away with a two new books. A few more joined them after a stop at the Oxfam Ireland Bookstore on Parliament Street, a neat little place for secondhand books. On I went to see Fishamble Street, where part of the opening chapter of my new story takes place. From there I strolled to Lord Edward Street, over to Dame Street, and back through the City Centre, enjoying my last full day in Dublin.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Fairy Thorn: Bad Advice!

Get up, our Anna dear,
from the weary spinning-wheel;
For your father's on the hill,
and your mother is asleep;
Come up above the crags,
and we'll dance a highland-reel
Around the fairy thorn on the steep.
* * * * *
Bad advice, this first verse of The Fairy Thorn by Sir Samuel Ferguson. Everyone knows if you dance around a fairy thorn, the fairies will steal you away. Especially in Galway, home of Finvarra, the King of the Connaught Fairies.

Finvarra is usually a decent sort. He likes human women, however, and often kidnaps them as dancing partners, as Janet, an American teenager living in Ireland, learns to her dismay. Janet and Finvarra costar in my young adult adventure, Glancing Through the Glimmer.

Here's the Blurb:
In the modern Kingdom of Ireland, few mortals believe in the fairy folk. Without that belief, the fairies are dying. Finvarra, the King of the Fairies, would rather dance than worry—but he must have a mortal dancing partner.
When Janet Gleason’s grandfather becomes the new U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, the sixteen-year-old orphan must leave Boston and her friends behind. Janet is lonely in Dublin and unused to her grandparents’ stuffy social life. An invitation to a royal ball terrifies her. She can’t even waltz and dreads embarrassment. Finvarra’s fairy witch overhears her fervent wish to learn to dance.
Seventeen-year-old Prince Liam Boru loathes the idea of escorting another spoiled American girl to a ball. In fact, he detests most of his royal duties. He dresses down to move through Dublin unnoticed and finds himself on his royal backside when Janet crashes into him. Intrigued, he asks to see her again, and she willingly agrees. Unaware of each other’s identities, they arrange to meet. When they do, the fairies steal Janet away.
Liam’s attempts to find her trigger a series of frustrating misadventures. Can he and Janet outwit a treacherous fairy king who’s been hoodwinking mortals for centuries?
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Available in Print and eBook from
Barnes and Noble

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Achill Island, County Mayo

During a visit to western Ireland a few years ago, I marveled at how our tour bus maneuvered around the narrow, winding lanes and steep cliff roads of Achill, Ireland’s largest offshore island. The tour had limited stops, but I saw enough to want to go back, especially since I was writing The Rosewood Whistle, a story partially set in this remote but gorgeous place. The name Achill is thought to stem from eccuill, the Irish word for eagle. Sadly, eagles haven’t been seen there since 1912.

In the summer of 2012, we returned to Achill. My husband drove those high cliff roads, and we stopped wherever we liked. Our drive from Westport took us north, around Clew Bay and through Newport and Mulranny, quaint little Mayo towns with lots of scenic views. We reached the island by crossing the Michael Davitt Bridge, which resembles a big white rib cage.

The scenery soon became a blend of desolate and spectacular. We passed stretches of bogs strewn with stooks, stacked sods of cut turf drying in the sun or beneath sheets of white plastic. Since we had the sun for the moment, we headed west, all the way to Keem Bay. From a lofty vantage point shared with sheep, we admired the horseshoe-shaped beach, one of the prettiest I've seen.

Danger High Cliffs
Most of the road signs were written in Irish, as most of Achill is in the Gaeltacht, an area dedicated to the preservation of the Irish language. When we stopped for lunch at a restaurant claiming to be the westernmost pub in Europe, I overheard a woman speaking in Irish to her young daughters, who answered in English, though they clearly understood what she said. We struck up a conversation (in English), and she explained that she and the kids were attending an Irish language school, something they did every summer.

After lunch, we went hunting for tombs. According to the archaeologists, people have lived on Achill since Neolithic times. Megalithic tombs on the southern slope of Slievemore, the island’s second highest mountain, date to around 4000BC, and we managed to track down the 5,000-year-old Keel East Court Tomb. (A court tomb is one with an open "court" area thought to have had a ceremonial purpose.) This one was a good hike up a steep path, but well worth the trek. We enjoyed fantastic views of Keel Lough and Clew Bay.

Why did the Neolithic people who lived here place their tombs so high on the mountainside? One theory states that heavy forests covered Achill Island when the tombs were erected, and the people chose to inter their dead above the tree line. For more information on this and other ancient Irish tombs, stop by Philip Powell’s wonderful site, Megalithic Monuments of Ireland.

Our next stop was Kildavnet (Kildownet) Cemetery. The tour bus had stopped here years before, and the place has haunted me since. The graveyard is the final resting place of thirty-two young people who drowned in the Clew Bay sailing disaster of 1894. The train that brought their coffins from Westport to Achill fulfilled a prophecy made by 17th century Irish seer, Brian Rua Uí Cearabháin (Red Brian Carabine). Brian Rua foretold that carriages on iron wheels blowing smoke and fire would carry corpses on their first and last journeys to Achill.

Sheep wandered through parts of the cemetery, some rubbing their flanks and butting their heads against timeworn tombstones, others munching the grass around the ruins of an ancient church named for St. Dymphna (Damhnait).

A little farther down the road is Kildavnet Castle, one of many medieval tower houses around Clew Bay used as a base of operations by Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley.

We followed part of the Atlantic Drive and viewed more breathtaking cliffs that looked out over Clew Bay and the shimmering ocean beyond, and then we returned, quite contentedly, to Westport.