Booking off to Mayo

New Year’s Eve is normally an evening I enjoy. I like to spend it in pyjamas, setting goals for the coming year, recounting the success of the outgoing one and lamenting the cock ups that have inevitably happened. It’s a selfish night. Last year, I’d set my goals, called a pal in Cork for an aul chinwag, then watched a re-run of the Dublin Mayo 2017 All Ireland final. Watching the win again in the depths of a Winter night was just as good as it had been from the Hogan Stand in bright September. It was an evening to celebrate the year and welcome in the potential of the new one. However, this year my family decided, for one reason or another, to stay at home (and cramp my style) so while they partied like nuts downstairs, I had an early night. Is there such thing as a Grinch of New Year?

Waking up fresh as a daisy on the 1st of January was a joy. Checking Expedia and finding a great deal at the Mulranny Park Hotel in Mayo was even more joyous. I was already booked to stay for a few nights from 2nd January, courtesy of a gift voucher Mam had given me for Christmas, but heading a day earlier meant an extra night in beautiful  Mulranny. I loaded the boot, brought ten books and the laptop and off with me across the Shannon to one of the loveliest hotels with its impossibly gorgeous views. So far, so good in 2019.

Orchestrated to the tune of morning walks and edits, sauna/steam room breaks and a dip in the hot tub before bedtime, so ensued the first week of January. I was given room 110 which is truly a big, spacious, beaut of a space. It boasts an enormous bed and a bay window area that soaks up the view across Clew Bay to the bulk of Croagh Patrick. On the first evening in my bay window enclave, I got through a Paris Review and Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends. By the second evening I was tearing through David Park’s The Healing and had blitzed a few chapters from Declan Kiberd’s Inventing Ireland. The reading splurge went on while edits spooled around in the back of my mind. I sat at the manuscript and shifted bits around, but in truth, more than writing, I read and read and read.

One of the days, I took myself off to Achill for what I’d consider to be my ultimate last supper meal – fish and chips from Gielty’s. I fall in love with the pub every time I visit. There’s always a blazing fire, the heartiest of welcomes, the view of Clare Island, the milkiest of pints and the most outrageously generous portions of fresh cod you will get in Ireland, or anywhere for that matter. It’s also the most westerly pub in Europe, but seeing as I’m not an American tourist, that fact doesn’t hold much sway with me. Following my fish feed, I ran up the side of Slievemore and took in the view from the top. Blacksod Bay looked well behaved below but the wind lacing up from it was angry, so I stayed up top for no more than ten or so photos before zigzagging back down towards the Deserted Village. The only souls I met on my travels were sheep. It was gloriously peaceful and a healthy way to purge the few hundred calories I’d debited in Gielty’s. 

Another Sally Rooney and a sports book later and I found myself writing again. Partly inspired by the beauty of the place, partly fuelled by guilt at not having written as much as I had hoped over the course of my stay. It’s a story about the day Ireland played Italy in Croke Park in 2009. Watch this space… And so my stay in the west ticked to an end in the most laid back and relaxed of ways. Armed with lists of targets and plans for the year, a handful of savoured books and a bag of washing I left Mayo to tackle the New Year as refreshed as I can be. There is no such thing as a Grinch of New Year.


An Post Irish Book Awards – Glitzy Litzy Shindig

Tuesday was my annual big night out. Clocks struck six and writers, editors, publishers, bloggers, readers and what have you came out from behind their desks, left the red pens behind and donned some glamorous attire to ascend on the Irish writing industry awards event of the year. As ever, everyone was dolled up to the nines and looked fantastic. From the verges of the red carpet, to the welcome of trays of bubbly by the bar, the place was buzzing from early on. It was Hollywood in Dublin 4.

My friend and long time supporter of the Book Awards, Patricia Gibney was nominated in the Ryan Tubridy Listener’s Choice Category, so it added to the overall hype of the night for my group of pals. Patricia’s Lottie Parker crime series has entertained so many readers since its launch two years ago. She’s a prolific writer who completes a number of novels PER YEAR, and also happens to be a genuinely wonderful person so seeing her take her rightful place among the nominees was fantastic. To me, as with so many of her readers, she is a winner every day.

Another book I was thrilled to see among the shortlisted nominees in the Sports Category was The Hurlers by Paul Rouse. As sports books go, this is exceptional. It captures a superbly researched mix of Irish social and cultural history, in addition to telling a fascinating story about the first All-Ireland hurling final. Its language, rich anecdotes and the sheer volume of information offers the reader much more than just the history of the game. It is a reenactment of sorts. On reading it , I felt I had been in Birr at the game, or at the very least, watched Up for the Match in advance. Again, as with Patricia, the author is one who produces nothing but great quality work.

On Tuesday evening, all pens set aside, hundreds buzzed and mingled in the happy crowd that filled the banquet hall. Wine and conversation flowed. Dozens of turkeys and hams were devoured. It is always the perfect prelude to Christmas, and Tuesday was no exception. With Christmas trees by the bar, our seasonal menu and everyone looking très swanky, we were the epitome of festive. When the awards drew to a close, everyone gravitated towards the bar and chatted to anyone near enough or merry enough to listen. Wine became gin became Guinness. Spirits soared. Revellers mingled over cigarette smoke outside the door. Fans selfied their way through many pixels with their favourite authors. The Happy Pear smiled and smiled. Do the Happy Pear ever stop smiling? Did anyone on the night?

By 4a.m, some of us were perhaps somewhat less giggly, but I seem to have misplaced my memory at some point after midnight, so all I have to go on are photos on a pal’s phone of the pair of us doing baby Guinness way into the small hours. God bless photographic memories – the filler in of blanks! I was still smiling, and still am today. I can’t wait for next years instalment.

Week in review

And so, another week comes to a close. It was another workshoppy week that kicked off with Rob Doyle’s creative non-fiction here in Tallaght as part of the Red Line Book Festival. Thursday evening was given over to another in Tallaght Library on writing character with Lisa Harding and Friday saw the hat trick with a class on auto-fiction given by June Caldwell. All events were free and all were very informative. Three distinctly different writers gave very good workshops that couldn’t help but leave participants enthused and inspired.

Saturday evening took a darker turn, with the Killer Insights crime panel in the Civic Theatre. The panel was made of up local crime authors Cormac O’Keeffe, Patricia Gibney and Louise Phillips, along with the British writer Sophie Hannah. As is usual with events at the Red Line Book Festival, it didn’t disappoint. I love hearing from honest, down to earth writers no don’t blow their own bells and whistles. The panel came across as wonderfully honest about their processes and motivations. Cormac, Patricia and Louise flew the flag well for the Irish crime genre. Hats off to all involved!

And so for a quick recap on how the seachtain panned out: the novel made its way to some beta-readers (fingers and freckles are crossed), no poetry was born but plenty was conceived (I’ll work on the scribbles and notes when I make ‘poetry-time’), I read three books and in unrelated news, my nails are now (and will remain for the next three weeks) a type of glittery fuschia pink (Boomshellacalac!). Call it productive, unproductive, whatever you’re having yourself. J’écrit donc je suis.

Week in review

Sunny Saturday last the day kicked off with a sat nav cock up that sent me on a tour-de-Bray in search of St. Colman’s School. It was the venue of a poetry workshop was being held as part of Bray Literary Festival. Led by Belfast poets Colin Dardis and Geraldine O’Kane, it took place in a colourful classroom that bore more posters and bunting than Ireland in Italia ’90. It was genuinely the most colourful classroom I’d ever set foot in.

Colin and Ger had clearly put a lot of planning into the workshop and it was arranged wonderfully. I’ll look out for more of their workshops in the future.

Afterwards, I hopped into the car and spun into town to head to a seminar on Sports in War in Pearse St Library. It was scheduled as part of Dublin’s Festival of History and had a wonderful line up thanks to the stewardship of historian Cormac Moore. It featured some great talks ranging from the impact of the War on the GAA to its effects on horse racing. Every talk was as interesting as the next.

When Wednesday came around, I took a poetry workshop in UCD with the lovely Irish-Australian poet Robyn Rowland. Incidentally, she was also covering war as the theme of her workshop. It was another very well prepared session with ample time for discussion and writing. She even took the time to go and pick us up coffees while we worked on our poetry. A lovely touch that reminded me of the time Doireann Ní Ghríofa made us coffees at her workshop during the Hillsborough Festival.

Thursday night saw me take a trip in the lashing rain to Trim for the launch of Boyne Berries Magazine. I had a piece of work published in it which I read on the night as well as enjoying some wonderful poetry read by other contributors. The following morning I got good news that I was to have a short story published in Dodging The Rain. What a nice way to wrap up the week!

By the time Saturday came round, it was a case of full circle, as I headed to Baileborough for another poetry workshop. Held as part of Baileborough Poetry Festival, Ends Wyley’s class in Baileborough library was most enjoyable. Again, as with the other poetry workshops in the week, the group was lovely and I very much enjoyed taking part. All in all, it was a week of insights and inspiration.


Tourist in a church

Stars above on a light fitting don’t sparkle much in this great church of St. Malachy’s in Hillsborough. I wonder if it’s a Church of Ireland approach to light or stars or décor, because the place verges on the more drab side of the palette. There are no paintings of serene virgins adorning the walls, adding duck egg blue pantones among the hues of porcelain complexions.

That said, I am enamoured by the fastidious sanctity of the wooden pews that have held fast in devotion generations of the pious. The clasp on the door to the pew is well worn and has taken the shape of the century of fingers that have pressed it shut so that a congregation can remain locked in prayer. It’s not unlike a great wooden version of a sheep pen, although it’s considerably more private. Its boundaries raise on each side to about three and a half foot making it the perfect corral to conceal an accidental nodding off during any banal sermons.

The box pew is so high that I need to stretch my head in order that I see the alter. At five foot seven, I’m not in any way petite, and this reinforces my marvel at the sheer scale of these lockable booths. I can’t help but think, that for kids they must be daunting. For us adults, it’s just a test-run of  a time to come,  when we’ll be tucked into our own wooden boxes.

The church reminds me of Westminster Cathedral, though it’s on a smaller scale. Seems like a forest worth of timber has gone into making the seating running along each side. It oozes ceremony and formality. Looks courtly and official. I expect to see men in wigs with gavels come out and assemble themselves at the alter.

Outside, the bell calls out to Hillsborough, its joyous sound rebelling against the quiet of the morning. A kerfuffle at the back of the church alerts me to a group of people wearing NorthFace coats who have ventured in to prey on the place of pray. They do a length of the aisle before retreating to the sun of outdoors. I remain in the company of the son of the Blessed…? Do they consider her blessed? I remain saying a prayer to the son. And an extra silent one to his mother, who I was reared to be fond of.

A painting on the wall across from me is devoted to a Brian Maginess who was born on 10 July 1901 and was apparently a scholar of Trinity College Dublin, my alma mater. He is described as a Doctor of Laws and among other things a member of parliament for Iveagh 1938-1963. He was County Court Judge of Down and he left this world on 16 April 1967. A high achiever by all accounts. ‘Sola salus servire Deo’ is inscribed beneath, that being the coat of arms for the Maginess clan – ‘The only safe course is to serve God’.

I look at my watch and I’m dead late. I was released from a poetry workshop in the adjacent centre to go spend five minutes looking for inspiration around the place. Five. I’ve just spent twenty five minutes ensconced in the box pew. I run back thinking that the only safe course is to say I’d been locked in a pew.

box pew

Resident She

Munster. Cork. East Cork. Killeagh. Main St. It’s here you’ll find me. In an old RIC Barracks now known as Greywood Arts Centre. Charged with having won a poetry competition, sentenced to a week as Writer in Residence. I  resolve to commit acts of such poetry more often. Not that I plan on making a future treading in the footsteps of long gone Imperial forces, but staying in a place as ripe with history and stories as Greywood, has been wonderful.

I made the journey down on Saturday with a boot full of clothes, books and Pot Noodles. It turns out I haven’t brought enough clothes or noodles to see me through the week, but I’m good for books. And besides, there’s a library downstairs. If librophilia reaches beyond that, there’s also a selection of dusty old tomes scattered here and there in every room. They add to the historic ambience you pick up on as soon as you are welcomed inside the door. You’ll first notice the original floor tiles and the stripped back stone walls. They set the tone of a place that has been restored with care, gently nudged back to a form of its past elegance. Broad naked floorboards in every room, give a real sense of character, but for me, the piece de resistènce is the collection of period furniture you’ll see around the rooms. Old desks that have been written on for more than a hundred years. Old lampshades that may outdate the civil war. A silver tray that was inscribed in the late 1800s. A hurley from 1932, made by a hurley maker in his workshop right behind Greywood. Christy Ring’s hurley maker I might add. Need I say any more? In. My. Element.

The bedroom I’m staying in has an old chest of drawers with what you can only construe as a peculiarly paranoid feature. They have locks on every drawer, even the teeny ones that you’d probably keep your sewing needles in, if you were that way inclined. Either the RIC were anal about the preservation of their sock drawers, or they used the most unconventional of furniture, replete with inset mirror, to store their confidential files on unruly nationalists. Either way, it’s nice to know my smalls are safe while I snooze.

The hosts, Jessica and Hughie have been painstakingly restoring the huge old building for three years, and are now running it as a wonderful arts centre and retreat for artists. You can’t help but think when you meet them and hear the enthusiasm with which they are embracing the scale of this project, that the locals here in Killeagh are lucky to have them. They have brought an otherwise grey and derelict old building on Main Street back to life. More than that, they have injected a new vein of visitors into the local economy, with regular events and residencies and AirBnB tourists choosing to flock to Greywood, and by extension, to Killeagh’s local establishments and shops. It must be said that one of said establishments stands out above the rest for service to thirsty artists. In P. Kennedy’s pub, they know how to pull a pint and it’s there you’ll find a creamy Guinness.

The undertaking at Greywood was massive. It’s still a work in progress and the plans for the project are expanding into an even more exciting venture. You can’t but wish them the very best of luck with it, but at this point they deserve great credit for the brilliant work they have done to date. The bedrooms and communal spaces for artists – the library, writer’s den and movement studios are vibrant and conducive to so much creativity. The writer’s den in particular, because I am biased, also because I am sitting in it as I write this, is a stunning space.

Original sash windows, a hangover from the original building back in the 1800s, afford the gorgeous view of the Dissour waters flowing past outside. The window cills are about two foot deep and will make you want to curl up in them and write to your heart’s content. An old stone gable wall painted plain white, provides a perfect frame for these two beautiful windows. As writing spaces go, this is up there with the best of them. It kicks the perfect ‘Insta desk pic’ brigade right up the hole, with its honesty, and its downright integrity. It’s a space filled with history and silent whispers of voices long gone. It’s a room filled with the soft sound of the river flowing by. A room that begs you stop, and think, and be. Arcadian. Unpretentious. It’s simply beautiful.

At the moment, there are two visiting residents from the States here, and Jessica herself is American. Throw in Hughie’s Wicklowness and my being a Dub and it makes for a peculiar lilt and texture to the conversations that take place. On the odd occasion that we bump into each other in the house, that is. It really is a big three floored building, with the residents based on the first floor and working studios laid out on high on the third. For hermits like me, it’s really handy to go from dawn till dusk with no actual human contact.

We hosted a public reading here on Tuesday, after which the five of us had wine and good chats. Stories were told and experiences shared. The visiting Americans are now versed in hurling lore from Joe Canning, Joe Deane to the Cats. They are looking forward to watching the final on Sunday. Their first game. We’ve converted them, though I suppose with such a majestic game, it’s not really a hard sell. Hearing Jessica and Hughie recount the history of the house through the ages was fascinating. It makes you feel that you are in a living museum of sorts. I could listen to them all day. It was a lovely communal evening and the company of the three Americans and the man from the Garden County was wonderful. As was the wine.

So I’m anchored beside these sash windows with just a couple more days to go. I have so much more to write and am bursting with ideas. I’ll be returning to Dublin with lots of work done and the fondest of Greywood memories. Greywood


Que sais je?

Exactly what it says on the tin – what in the name of the big JC do I know about blogging? What does anyone care about me being a big fat narcissistic blogger?

I’ve found it tricky to sit down and blog of late mainly because I’d lost sight of the purpose. Am I screaming for attention? Is it all just an Facebooky, Twittery thingamejiggy? Look at me, look at me! Am I killing time, or more accurately, what is the important job I’m avoiding by doing this? And on, and on, and on. The inner critic never fails to be the ultimate sadist. And though I’ve been spending my days working on poetry and procrastinating royally on edits for my novel, I have missed this e-diary/blog/MEGAphone/whatever you’re having yourself.

Of course, like with all writing, the purpose and meaning takes on different elements at different times but, the constant, for me anyhow, is to write for the purpose of writing. C’est tout! The meaning will apportion itself. Your purpose is to write, so write. Let the ‘whys’ work themselves out.

Alors, now that the profound business of blog confession is off my chest, I suppose I’d better stick around and lash out a few words.

First things first, Enya is too calming for non-fiction writing, she’s being swapped for Dr. Dre. Boom!

Secondly, eating a bag of skittles and a bag of protein seed mix after a workout and right before you hit the library to get some work done is a bad idea. You will get a stupendous sugar rush followed by a mini-food coma. Just be sensible – either, or. Not both.

While I’m in the groove of imparting advice (sage that I am), my third point is that sometimes, when you’re head is as figuratively up your arse as it can possibly go, it’s ok to feel all over the shop and equally as fine to write the most highfalutin drivel you’re capable of.

I’m in one of those phases where lots of work is getting started (I actually have a list of new poems as long as my arm), nothing’s getting finished, the novel edits are giving me the middle finger and I’m feeling enormous guilt most days for enjoying writing. That sounds like a paradox of sorts, but while the process or lack of rapid progress or efficiency at procrastinating can get you in a flap, I choose to go back to the desk day after day and to some people, some ex colleagues and family members, that seems like a luxuriant choice, if not plain bordering on fanciful. How can you call writing in a library all day work? Layabout! Yada yada yada. And sometimes, I am fool enough or weak enough or just not enough to stand up to their judgements. There are times when I feel massively guilty over being able to sit and write, even if it does mean quite regularly pulling my hair out and cursing myself and questioning my ability as a writer.

It could be a good decent dose of catholic guilt that fuels this crazy disposition, or maybe it’s down to the fact that nobody drills it into us as kids that the journey of every writer is different and unique and full of their own highs, lows, haikus and prose. We are reared on a diet of ‘do x in school, get y in the exams, attend b course = succeed as an accountant’ and on and on. They don’t teach you the importance of believing in your own intuitive navigation systems. Career guidance teachers don’t encourage you to dream and keep believing until you make your dreams come true. It’s one big Myers Briggs fest, in which your metrics chart the course of your future, or so they like to tell you. Mr. and Mrs. Galileo of your future life, will push you towards a course in a DIT that carries with it the promise you’ll be another fine Quantity Surveyor like all the other Quantity Surveyors the school has turned out. Mr. Galileo will ever admit to anyone that it was always his lifelong dream to become a Quantity Surveyor, but he smiles proudly when he tells you that 17 boys and 5 girls of the past three graduating class have gone on to study Quantity Surveying in Kevin St DIT (along with their 56 classmates who are checked into ITs around the city studying accounting in some godforsaken guise or other). A chap in my class who confessed he wanted to be a Captain on a pleasure boat was referred for psychiatric help. Galileo and Galileo couldn’t get their head around anyone suggesting that a career choice could be beyond the remit of the CAO system. Thankfully, the shrink  knew a man who knew a man that had a pleasure boat company and my former classmate happily charted his course onto a pleasure boat via the therapy couch. He is now a Captain. I imagine his life of pleasure boats has been a damn sight more pleasurable that the embarrassment of QS’s and Beanies, scrambling all over the shop to count blocks and bonds on gantt charts and balance sheets.

For now, I’m sticking on course, sailing it to where it needs to take me. I may send smoke signals on this from time to time, just to show I’m still afloat.