Showing posts from July, 2011

This Weekend's The Festival Of Lughnasa

Here in Corca Dhuibhne the first weekend in August is the beginning of the fourth season of the Celtic year. It’s called Lughnasa. The ancient Celts held huge festivals to mark the turning points between one season and the next. They believed that the edges of the fabric of time weakened at turning points in the calender, allowing powerful forces to seep through. And they saw communal gatherings as a way to tap into the energy of the universe, and promote health and prosperity in the months to come.   The word Lughnasa comes from the name of the Celtic sun-god, Lugh, and his story’s one of the oldest myths there is. The Celts saw harvest-time as a battle between light and darkness which frees the crops from the earth and allows us to gather them. So they imagined the earth itself as a fertile goddess, and the sun as a god who becomes her husband. Their union was a symbol of balance, which promoted health. Each year at harvest time whole communities climbed to high places at Lughnasa.

Blasket Island Memories

This is a picture, taken from the end of the Dingle peninsula, of the Great Blasket Island. It's  the largest of the small group of islands off the westernmost point of this westernmost peninsula in Ireland. The elegant, curving beach is called The White Strand. People here don't talk of going 'out' to the island. They say they're going 'into' it. It's a form of words which suggests that a trip there isn't just another holiday stop-off. It's a voyage into the heart of something remarkable.    The islands are uninhabited now; the last people who lived there moved to the mainland in the 1950s. Isolation and emigration just made their life unsustainable. Today, y ou can get to the island by ferry from Dún Chaoin pier. You reach the pier by walking down a steep, winding slipway. To your left, it clings to the cliff face.To your right, a low wall protects you from the long fall to the Atlantic ocean below. It's partly made of concrete, part

Irish Food Heaven in London

East St. Market on Saturday morning. It's a proper London market in a narrow, inner-city street. The pavement's lined with stalls. The road's crowded with shoppers. And the air's full of traders' shouts and loud Gospel music. Fruit and veg. pot plants and second-hand clothing. Watches. Barbie dolls. Salt fish and biscuits. Fresh flowers, cow's feet and cheap electric razors.   On each side of the street, behind the market stalls, are shops. Furniture, stationary, boots and shoes and luggage. Fishmongers, phone shops and bolts of cloth for curtains. There's dragon fruit, coconuts, popcorn and watermelon. Sacks of rice and spices and Chinese herbal remedies.  And then there's Dave's Family Butchers. Rashers and sausages and proper cuts of bacon .... ... but, hang on, Dave's isn't just a butcher's. It's more like a treasure-trove for nostalgic Irish emigrants.  Remember Boland's Fig Rolls and Clonakilty Black Pudding? Gal

Rites Of Life

It was about eleven pm and I'd been sitting at my computer for hours. That's the point when you slump into bed with your mind still buzzing, and spend most of the night groping for a pencil to make notes about what you're still writing in your head. Or you do the sensible thing instead, and take a walk. So, down Bermondsey St; through the tunnel under the railway, with its neon pink and purple lighting; and across Tooley St. Then follow the narrow conduit of running water that leads between the office blocks to the Thames. And there's Tower Bridge, the Tower, and the lights bouncing off the river. And there's this. It's a beautiful, open-air photographic exhibition. If you're in London you have to see it. If you're not, there are other images from it at And there's a book. I went home and slept like a log. Next day I went back to see it again. Now I have to get that book.

Fionn And The Seven Sandy Men

There was a hero called Fionn. He had a magic thumb. Whenever Fionn needed to know things he put his thumb in his mouth and he bit it.  And then he knew things. One day Fionn was out in the woods. And a man came towards him. “I’ve a wife”, said the young man. “And my wife has a baby girl,” he said. “And one night,” he said, “a big hand came down the chimney and it stole the baby." So Fionn put his thumb in his mouth. And he bit it. And  he knew where the baby was. “It’s this way,” said Fionn, “the big hand belongs to a giant,” he said, “and the giant lives on an island. “ “Is it a big island?” said the young man. “It is not,” said Fionn, “it’s a small island, and that’s where he’s taken your baby.” “I’ll do my best to get her back for you,” said Fionn.   “You couldn’t do more,” said the young man. “I’ll wait here for you.” So Fionn walked away till he came to the seashore.  And there were  seven men there, sitting on the sand. “Who are you?” said Fionn, “and what do

OK, I've Lifted My Ban On The Word 'Relevant' ... *

As a writer with a lifetime of work in media ranging from books to digital product, I've no problem with the idea that libraries should provide access to new means of delivery. But since books have largely been the means of preserving and passing on our heritage of knowledge from the past, I think libraries have an equally valid function in actively fostering awareness of them. Recently I decided the word ‘relevant’ should be banned from all conversations about art or literature. But here goes anyway. I think fostering awareness of books may be one of the most relevant functions of public libraries today. The argument that books are nothing but a delivery medium is simplistic. Books - like theatre, television, video games, radio plays - embody the creative input of those who combine to produce them. If you can’t see that, you’re missing the endless ways in which generations of authors, designers, illustrators and bookbinders have applied themselves to the fundamental, fascina

The Voyage of St. Brendan

And they made their boat very light, with ribs and posts of wicker. And they covered it with the hides of cattle, dyed reddish with oak-bark. And they smeared all the seams of it. And they took provisions for forty days, and butter for dressing the hides. And they sailed into the sunset, across the western sea .

I'm A Dingle Dog ...

  ... famed for my hospitality