Tuesday, 24 September 2013

"Irish Inheritance" - Galway Bay

I’m continuing to feature some of the places that appear in my soon to be published new novel ‘Irish Inheritance’ –and following on from telling you about Galway City last week, here are some views of Galway Bay for you.
The first time I went to Galway, I stayed at a hotel about a mile from the sea. If you stood on a chair in our hotel room, and peered through the top of the window over house roofs, you could just make out the bay in the distance! The next time I visited Galway, I stayed at a hotel right on the sea front at Salthill, the seaside resort part of Galway City – and didn’t have to stand on a chair to see the bay. This was the view from our window.
Galway Bay is one of the largest inlets on the west coast of Ireland, about 30 miles long, and between 6 and 19 miles wide. It separates County Galway in the north and County Clare in the south. From the Galway side, you can see the hills of the Burren.
In one sense, the coast road on the Galway side is a little disappointing, as the road is some distance from the shore, and if you’re driving, you only catch glimpses in between the trees and also the holiday properties that have been built all along the bay.
There are places, however, where you can reach the shore – here at Spiddal, for example.
And also from one of our favourite restaurants, we saw a rainbow over the bay.
And here, near the western end, is where the bay meets the Atlantic. If you sailed due west from here, you’d reach Goose Bay in Labrador.
One of my favourite Irish songs starts:
If you ever go across the sea to Ireland
Then maybe at the closing of your day
You will sit and watch the moon rise over Claddagh
Or see the sun go down on Galway Bay.”
One evening we hoped to see the sun go down on Galway Bay, but got stuck in a traffic jam on the way. Watching the sun go down on the Galway Ring Road isn’t quite the same! But the next evening, we reached the small beach at Furbo to see one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen.
In 'Irish Inheritance', Jenna and Guy stop for a short time at the beach at Furbo. Here's a short excerpt:
When they reached the coast road, Guy strained to catch a glimpse of Galway Bay, but new houses between the road and the shore blocked their view of the sea.
“I didn’t expect it to be like this,” he said. “When we looked at this road on the map, I thought we’d have a great view of the bay.”
Jenna heard the disappointment in his voice. “Maybe the road will run alongside the sea as we get nearer to Galway City.”
A few miles later, their wish was granted, and Jenna pulled off into a parking area overlooking a small beach. As they got out of the car, she took a deep breath of the salt-scented air.
“And this,” she said, with a dramatic flourish of her arm, “is Galway Bay for you, Mr. Sinclair.”
He caught hold of her hand as they went down the stone steps to the beach, strewn with brown seaweed and grey pebbles. The waves lapped gently on the sand, and they stood for several minutes, drinking in the view of the wide expanse of the bay and the low hills on the far side.
“For some reason all I can think of is the Christmas song about the boys from the NYPD choir singing Galway Bay,” he said eventually, “but I don’t know what the choir was actually singing.”
“I’ve always assumed it was the one about the sun going down on Galway Bay.” She sang the words softly. “If you ever go across the sea to Ireland...” After she’d finished the verse, she glanced apologetically at him. “Sorry, I don’t know the rest.”
Guy bent forward to kiss her lips, and rested his forehead against hers as he grasped both her hands. “This will be my abiding memory—you, me, the sound of the waves on the shore, and your lovely voice singing about Galway Bay.”

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Books that changed the world?

My weekly challenge to myself is to click ‘Random Article’ on Wikipedia, write about whatever topic comes up, and link it in some way to writing.
This week’s article was about an Australian TV programme called ‘Jennifer Byrne Presents’, a series of specials from the Tuesday Book Club. Having never seen the programme, all I can do is look at the list of episode titles, which seem to cover everything from Fantasy and Erotica, to Writing with Food and War Stories. A very eclectic mixture!
One episode interested me in particular: Books That Changed the World. I wonder what was included in that? It reminded me of a question on one of my university exam. papers. ‘Revolutions are caused by books. Discuss’. If I remember correctly, my essay answer covered the effects of books like Thomas Paine’s ‘Common Sense’, the writings of Voltaire and Rousseau, and Marx’s ‘Das Kapital’, and how they influenced the revolutions in the American colonies, France, and Russia.
In a sense, these books changed the world, or at least led to important changes in some countries. But what about other books? Obviously the main books of each world religion have had a major impact on the world: the Old and New Testaments of Judaism and Christianity, the Muslim Qu'ran, the Hindu Vedas, the Sikh Adi Granth, and the various Buddhist writings, as well as the scriptures of other religions.
And what about Darwin’s ‘Origin of the Species’ which was the foundation of the evolution theory? Or Mary Wollstonecraft’s ‘Vindication of the Rights of Women’, one of the earliest defences of women’s rights? Or ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’, which helped the anti-slavery lobby prior to the American Civil War? We could even include ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ – tame by today’s standards, but the release of the unexpurgated edition in Britain in 1960 could be considered a significant event in the sexual revolution which  followed in the sixties.
There are many other books I could name, but I’ll leave it to you now. What books do you think have changed the world?

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

"Irish Inheritance" - Galway City

Continuing with some of the places featured in my soon to be published new novel, 'Irish Inheritance' - here are some of the sights which Jenna and Guy see when they visit Galway City.

Galway City lies on the River Corrib where it enters Galway Bay. The Irish name for the river is Gaillimh, meaning ‘stony river’, and the original settlement was called Dún Bhun na Gaillimhe, ‘fort at the mouth of the Gaillimh.
One of Galway’s nicknames is ‘City of the Fourteen Tribes’, which refers to the merchant families who controlled the city in the Middle Ages. They are remembered in the flags which fly in Eyre Square in the centre of the city, and also in the names of the many roundabouts (traffic circles) on the Galway ring road.
The city thrived on international trade in the Middle Ages, especially with France and Spain, and the ‘Spanish Arch’ was constructed near the harbour in the 16th century.
There is also a legend that Christopher Columbus visited Galway. Several years later, he wrote a note in his copy of Imago Mundi, saying, “Men of Cathay have come from the west. We have seen many signs. And especially in Galway in Ireland, a man and a woman, of extraordinary appearance, have come to land on two tree trunks.” It is said this is what persuaded him to sail across the Atlantic, having seen the signs of a land beyond the ocean. This monument was presented by the city of Genoa to Galway on the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America.
Galway is also known as Ireland’s Cultural Heart, and there are various music and arts festivals during the year, as well as the International Oyster Festival, and Galway Races.
There are two main churches in Galway, St Nicholas Church of Ireland, and the more imposing Roman Catholic cathedral, with its copper dome, which was built on the site of the city jail in 1958.
Adjacent to the city is Claddagh, originally a small fishing village outside the city walls. The thatched cottages were demolished in the 1930s, and colour washed stone houses now line the quayside.

Finally, what better than to sit outside one of the pubs or cafes on Quay Street (even in the rain!), watch the world go by, and maybe listen to some street musicians?  

Sunday, 15 September 2013

What kind of (Irish) road are you on?

My weekly challenge to myself is to click ‘Random Article’ on Wikipedia, write about whatever topic comes up, and connect it in some way to writing. At the moment I’m awaiting the publication date for my next novel, ‘Irish Inheritance’, and I’m wondering if it’s coincidence that last week’s random article was about some Irish islands, and this week’s is about an Irish road!
The article was about the R694 road in County Kilkenny, a 10 miles stretch of road between two small villages. Although I’ve been to Kilkenny, I don’t think I’ve been on this road. However, the article did make me think of various roads I have travelled on in Ireland.
On my first visit about 6 years ago, it seemed that practically every road had roadworks! The M50 motorway around Dublin was one set of works after another with the traffic diverted either to the right or left, depending on where the work was being done. It wasn’t just the major roads either. We were held up for ages on this small road in County Tipperary, when a large truck tried to squeeze past road works there!

Linking the topic of roads to writing is an easy task, because whenever we’re writing we’re on some kind of road. Here are some of my ‘road’ photos taken in Ireland to illustrate what I mean.

Connemara with the Twelve Bens ahead
When all’s going well, we’re on a clear road with a good view of our destination:

Road across the Burren in County Clare

Sometimes, however, we’re passing through barren land, when ideas are in short supply.
Other times we meet something that blocks our way, until we find out how to get through.
(Not easy to see but there was a barrier blocking the way here, in Galway City)  
It’s easy to be distracted from the view by something unexpected but maybe that distraction is just what you need for your next chapter!
(BTW What was this Garda man doing at the end of the deserted Sky Road in County Galway? Maybe waiting for the seagulls to start a riot?)

Sometimes you set off down a road with no idea where it's going or what you'll find around the next bend.
Near Croagh Patrick in County Mayo

And of course there are plenty of times when we simply have no idea which way to go next! 

But here’s wishing you a good straight road with no problems, and a clear view ahead.

What kind of road are you on right now?

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

'Irish Inheritance' - Connemara

Continuing with some of the places that feature in my new novel, ‘Irish Inheritance', today we’re visiting Connemara.

Connemara, on the west coast of Ireland, is a beautiful, unspoilt part of County Galway. Its name comes from Conmhacne Mara, meaning “descendants of Con Mhac of the Sea”. It is a broad peninsula, surrounded on three sides by the Atlantic Ocean, and stretching from Killary Harbour in the north to Kilkieran Bay in the south. Connemara is renowned for its inspiring scenery, ranging from the Twelve Bens to Roundstone Bog. The coastline is broken by many small inlets and narrow peninsulas, and there are numerous small islands off the coast.
The Twelve Bens or Twelve Pins is a range of sharp peaked mountains, none of them higher than about 3,400 feet, but still stark and dramatic. Hundreds of streams run down the steep mountain sides, joining up with other streams to form larger streams in the valley.
Roundstone Bog, in the south of Connemara, is a wilderness area with dozens of small lakes.
Killary Harbour, almost 16 km long, forms the natural boundary between County Galway and County Mayo. It’s said to be Ireland’s only true fiord, with the mountains rising up on both sides.
One can’t mention Connemara without mentioning Kylemore Abbey, built in the 19th century by a wealthy Manchester manufacturer. In 1920 it was bought by the Irish Benedictine nuns, who opened an international boarding school for girls, which only closed a few years ago. The Abbey and its large estate, including a Victorian walled garden, have been open to the public since the 1970s.
Last but not least, remember ‘The Quiet Man’, with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara?. Much of that was filmed in Connemara or at least nearby. Here’s the bridge which was used in the film.
And here’s the excerpt from ‘Irish Inheritance’ when Dan, the lawyer, is driving Guy and Jenna through Connemara to Clifden:
“We’ll be on an ordinary road between Galway and Clifden, so I won’t be able to drive as fast,” Dan said. “Quite apart from which, I’m sure you’ll want to admire the scenery.”
Not long afterwards, Guy let out a low whistle. “Hey, you’re right. It’s as if we’ve crossed an invisible line into a completely different landscape.”
Jenna agreed. After the gentle green fields of central Ireland, they were now driving through the wild open countryside of Connemara, uninhabited apart from sheep and lambs. New vistas appeared at every twist and turn of the road—clusters of bright yellow broom, small brooks rippling over stones, breeze-whipped lakes at the one side of the road, low green hills with rocky outcrops on the other, and the occasional ruins of stone cottages. A range of sharp peaked, green-grey mountains dominated the view ahead of them.
“What are those?” she asked Dan.
Na Beanna Beola, the Twelve Bens. Ben means mountain here, the same as in Scotland. None of them higher than two and a half thousand feet, but they’re quite dramatic, aren’t they?”
Guy nodded. “They sure are. It’s an awesome view.”

Sunday, 8 September 2013

British Traditions

Yesterday evening was the ‘Last Night of the Proms’, the end of a season of promenade concerts at the Royal Albert Hall in London. I watch some of the prom concerts on TV, although not all. The ‘Last Night’, however, has been a tradition for me, for almost as long as I can remember.

As a child, I watched it (on black and white television) with my parents, and the finale format has stayed very similar ever since then. Tonight, a soprano sang ‘Rule Britannia’ and not the statuesque alto I remember from my teens. They’ve dropped the ‘Sailor’s Hornpipe’ from the finale now (shame – that was always fun), but Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance is the real highlight of the night. The music and words always get to me, and I sing along, probably with more enthusiasm than tunefulness, but who cares?

Land of hope and glory,
Mother of the free,
How shall we extol thee,
Who are born of thee?

I may not be an admirer of our present Prime Minister (for various reasons), but I do agree with his recent defence of Britain when it was allegedly dismissed as a ‘small island’. He said: Britain may be a small island, but I would challenge anyone to find a country with a prouder history, a bigger heart, or greater resilience.”

I’m proud of the history and traditions of this small island. Our system of justice goes back to the Magna Carta of 1215, and our democracy to the summoning of the first parliament of elected representatives in 1264. Many of our traditions go back centuries –the crowning of a monarch in Westminster Abbey, a tradition begun in 1066; the Yeomen of the Guard at the Tower of London, created in Tudor times; the more recent tradition of the Remembrance Day festival at the Albert Hall, followed by the service and parade the following day in Whitehall on the Sunday nearest to November 11th; and the local traditions too – Whitsuntide walks, Preston Guild, rushbearing processions in country areas like the Lake District, and other local customs, many of which date back to the Middle Ages or even earlier. One only has to think of the midsummer ceremony at Stonehenge to appreciate how far back our traditions go.

As a historian by profession, the history of this small island has always fascinated me. Not all of it is good, of course, but after singing ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ last night, I’ll agree with John of Gaunt’s words in Shakespeare’s ‘Richard II’:

This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle
This precious stone set in the silver sea
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

(With apologies to the Scots and Welsh who were ruled by the English at the time of John of Gaunt, and the Irish, who have their own very special small island)

Thursday, 5 September 2013

What's in a Name?

My Thursday Challenge to myself is to click ‘Random Article’ in Wikipedia and write about whatever article comes up first, and also link the topic in some way to writing.
Today’s article is about the Copeland Islands, a group of 3 islands in the Irish Sea off the coast of County Down. One island is called Big or Copeland Island, the other two are Lighthouse Island and Mew Island. Interestingly, Lighthouse Island does not now have a lighthouse, whereas Mew Island does. The islands have had more shipwrecks than any other part of the Ulster Coast, due to the strong tides.
About a hundred years ago, Lighthouse Island had a population of about 100, and also had a school with 28 pupils. The last families moved to the mainland in the 1940s, and the farmhouses are now weekend and holiday homes.
As the islands were a danger to shipping, Lighthouse Island once had a light beacon which burned 400 tons of coal every year. In 1796 the Lighthouse Board announced the erection of oil lamps instead of beacons, and a lighthouse was built in 1815. It was superseded by a lighthouse on Mew Island in 1884, and the tower is now a ruin.
Until the 20th century the islands were used by smugglers bringing tobacco and spirits to County Down.
The islands are now a bird sanctuary, and are known as breeding grounds for the Arctic Tern, the Manx Shearwater, the Common Gull and the Eider Duck. Grey seal and common seal also use the islands as mating and pupping sites.
Photo licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Now, how do I link this to writing? A good smuggling or shipwreck story? Someone trying to steal the eggs of rare birds? The lighthouse keeper’s daughter? Someone escaping to one of the islands, in need of solitude?
What ideas spring into your mind?
Taking a different angle, the name Lighthouse Island, when there is no longer a lighthouse there, made me think about the titles we give our novels. How carefully do we choose a title? Do we use an obvious one e.g. (as above) ‘The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter’ – or do we confuse our readers by using a title that may mislead them, or indeed may not relate to the story at all? Have you ever been misled by a title – or wondered why on earth the author chose that title? I know I have!

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

'Irish Inheritance' - Clifden

My next novel, ‘Irish Inheritance’, (to be published shortly) is set mainly in Ireland, as its title suggests, so for the next few weeks, I’ll introduce you to some of the places that feature in the novel.
To start with: Clifden
Clifden is a small town on the coast of County Galway in the west of Ireland. The Irish name, An Clochán, means "stepping stones”, and it’s sometimes called the "the Capital of Connemara", which I’ll tell you more about in a later post. Clifden is situated on the Owenglen River where it flows into Clifden Bay and is a popular tourist destination for those touring Connemara.

The town was founded in the 19th century by John D’Arcy, who lived in Clifden Castle (now a ruin). Until then the area was inhabited mainly by farmers and fishermen. D’Arcy organised the construction of a quay, and also a road to Galway City, and the town began to grow. By 1839, when D’Arcy died, it had become a town of 185 dwellings, two churches, two hotels, three schools, a courthouse and jail, a distillery – and 23 pubs!

Its prosperity ended when the Great Famine started in 1845. By 1848, nearly all the population was on government relief, landlords went bankrupt, and many people emigrated to America. It was another fifty years before Clifden started to grow again, when a railway was built in 1895.

Now it has become a popular tourist destination, offering spectacular scenery on its doorstep, a wide variety of outdoor activities, and 5000 years of history. It is also claiming the title of ‘Gourmet Capital of the West’, with fine-dining restaurants and hotels, and of course many pubs, ranging from traditional to trendy.

Two events brought Clifden into the world spotlights in the early 19th century. In 1909 Marconi set up the first transatlantic wireless telegraphy station about four miles south of the town and eventually over 400 people were employed there.

The Alcock and Brown Memorial, near Clifden
In 1919, Derrygimla Bog, near to the wireless station, saw the end of the very first transatlantic flight when Alcock and Brown landed their Vickers Vimy airplane there after their 16 hours flight from St. John’s, Newfoundland. They thought they were landing on a green field, but this turned out to be a bog, and their plane nosedived into the marshy ground. Fortunately neither man was injured.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Mixed feelings about September

The beginning of September always depresses me. Maybe that harks back to when I was teaching, and September meant the start of a new school term after the summer break. I admit I never looked forward to going back to school, although once I was there, I soon got into the swing again.

Since I’ve now retired from teaching, I can’t blame my dislike of September on ‘back to school blues’. In one sense, September is like every other month, now that my time is my own, but this month sees the beginning of autumn – ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’.

Autumn at Tarn Hows in the English Lake District
Photo ©Andrew Hill licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

I’ll admit to loving the autumn colours, especially in the countryside. I remember how my breath was once taken away by the reds, oranges, and golds of a group of trees alongside a small river in the Lake District (the river Brathay, for those who know it). I used to love the scents of autumn at the harvest festival service too.

But, in September, the evenings start getting darker, and as the trees lose their leaves, it’s a reminder that winter is on its way again – and I hate winter!

For me, spring is the best season of the year, with the promise of summer coming too. Not for me the dying flowers of autumn and the reminder that winter is on its way. My favourite season is spring. I love the rebirth of life, the first green shoots appearing and the new leaves budding on the trees. Maybe that’s why my favourite flower is the daffodil, and not the aster of chrysanthemum of the autumn season.

On the upside, September is rather like a new year to me, again a hark back to the start of the new school year when I was teaching. So, after a ‘summer break’, I’m returning to my blog, with some ‘new year’ resolutions:

On Sundays, I will post something general (like today) – something I’ve seen or heard during the previous week, or something that has occurred to me.

On Tuesdays, as a lead-up to the publication of my next novel, ‘Irish Inheritance’, I’ll tell you more about some of the places that feature in my novel, together with photos taken during my many visits to the Emerald Isle.

On Thursdays, I’ll return to the challenge I set myself earlier in the year – clicking ‘Random article’ on Wikipedia, and trying to connect whatever topic I find there to writing in some way.

If I have any spare time(!), I’ll also try to write some blogs for the GBE2 weekly topic challenge. And, of course, I'll still be making my weekly contribution on Wednesdays to our group blog, Heroines with Hearts

Well, my intentions are good. Now let's see if I can keep to them!