Broadcaster Vincent Browne has been an influential figure in Irish political life for many years, but he isn’t exactly associated with children’s entertainment.
However, Spiddal based author Tadhg Mac Dhonnagáin has just written a new book for young people that was inspired by Mr Browne – and anything further from the cut-and-thrust world of Leinster House would be hard to imagine.
‘As a children’s writer and publisher [of children’s company Futa Fata], I spend a lot of my time working on stories featuring lovable characters,” explains Tadhg. “One day I’ll be thinking about a hen who has lost her egg, the next I’ll spend in the company of a mouse who dreams of being a concert pianist. Fun and all as my job is, recently, I’ve been trying recently to connect more with the world of adults, so that I’m not a complete social outcast.”
So Tadhg decided to check out TV3’s Tonight with Vincent Browne, hoping the world of politics would help him get in touch with his inner grown-up.
Alas, it didn’t work out. Although he engaged by Browne’s rigorous interview technique, the writer was out of his comfort zone and he nodded off to sleep.
He then found himself dreaming about a big brown bear – a big, brown, decidedly combative bear at that. Even more bizarrely, the bear spoke Irish and answered to the name of Uinseann Donn.
When Tadhg woke up, Vincent Browne had retired for the night, but the grumpy brown bear he had inspired just wouldn’t go away.
So the children’s writer decided to discover why this big brown character was so grumpy and then see if the bear could become more peaceful and sociable.
The fruits of Tadhg’s labour have been published in the form of a striking children’s picture book. Illustrated in beautiful water colours by Hungarian artist Írisz Agócs, Uinseann Donn is available in bookshops now.
New book unpicks the mysteries of Salthill
Salthill. It’s familiar to anyone who lives in Galway, whether as somewhere to go for a walk and ‘kick the wall’, or as a place to visit during sunny summer days for the beaches, the ice-creams and the funfair. But as a new book by retired teacher and broadcaster Paul McGinley shows, there’s much more to this seaside resort than meets the eye.
Salthill: A History, Part 1, tells how this once-rural hamlet on the outskirts of Galway developed into a seaside resort from the mid-1800s.
Paul who was reared in Salthill and is fascinated by history, had observed that while rural parts of Ireland have a rich folklore tradition, passed on from generation to generation, the same wasn’t true of Salthill.
He’d gone to school in the Bish where his teachers included the late Dónal Taheny, a well-known local historian who died in 2014 at the age of 95.
“He had a great sense of the local and a real pride in Salthill,” recalls Paul. Dónal used to stress the importance of local history and it was through him that Paul first began to notice that Salthill’s lore didn’t stretch back through the generations as it does in other places.
As he delved more deeply, that makes sense.
“People move to Salthill and they say ‘I’m a blow-in’, but in a way, everyone is. It just depends on for how long,” Paul notes as he gives examples of families who are well known locally. Very few go back more than a few generations.
Those who are well-established include the Stewarts of Stewart Construction, who can trace their paternal Salthill roots back to 1900 when James Stewart married Mary Ann Gill of Lower Salthill and two years later, set up the company that’s now so well-known. The Toft family of Tofts’ amusement were first recorded as having visited in 1883 – they were seasonal until 1941-2 when they settled permanently.
Another well-known family established roots in 1933 when Frank Hallinan arrived. He became head of a group known as the Castlerea Consortium which bought a field known as the Monks’ Field and sold plots and houses there. The only stipulation for buyers was that they couldn’t open a butcher shop, as Frank owned one, across from Seapoint in the days before it became a ballroom, Paul explains.
The Monks’ Field was so-called because it belonged to the Christian Brothers who owned the Salthill Industrial School – they farmed it, often causing annoyance to local farmers, whom they undercut on prices.
After the Finan family opened Seapoint Ballroom in 1949, Frank Hallinan launched the Oslo Hotel, which had 13 bedrooms and registered it with the Irish Tourist Board.
“Frank didn’t know then that Johnny Cash and June Carter would stay there,” says Paul referring to the legendary singers who toured Ireland in the early 1960s.
Another man to make a lasting impression was Tom O’Connor who arrived to Salthill from Moylough in 1942, having sold a farm and other business interests, to invest in the premises now known as O’Connors’ Famous Pub. The Finans, who owned the Bon Bon as well as Seapoint, settled when Martin Finan married local woman, Mary Ellen Glancy in 1907.
Paul traces all this history and more as he recalls his own youth. As someone who loved music, Salthill was heaven, mainly because of the Hangar, which opened in 1924 and ran for decades before being closed.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.
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Gort’s Lisa lost for words
Gort author Lisa McInerney is in no danger of getting a swelled head after winning the UK’s most prestigious fiction award for woman authors for her debut novel, The Glorious Heresies.
A week after she won the £30,000 Bailey’s prize, beating five other authors including fellow Irish novelist, the Man Booker winner Anne Enright, she’s still bemused.
“I still haven’t got my head around it. Even looking at the long list, I’m thinking there were some amazing writers on it, so how did this happen?” says the author of this pacey, blackly comic novel set in Cork.
But, as she points out, “a lot of writers are probably their own biggest critics anyway” and that’s definitely true in her case.
McInerney, who was born in Gort in 1981, has been writing since she can remember and has, somewhere in her possession, a ‘book’ she wrote at the age of seven or eight.
“It was maybe six pages long, in a copybook,” she says adding that she used to read a lot and “a child’s imagination sees no barrier. If they can read stories, they don’t see why they can’t write them as well”.
That’s what she did, all through school and college – “all rubbish” – but helping to hone her skills.
“It’s a compulsion, something you can’t help but do,” she says of writing, adding that even when it comes to trying to make sense of events in her own life, she puts pen to paper.
“I see the world through text and prose and words. Other people might see it through maths or in pictures.”
Lisa’s world was an interesting one from the get-go. Born to 19-year-old single mother in Gort in 1981, she was adopted by her grandparents after birth.
People wonder if that was traumatic, she says, but it wasn’t one bit. At the time, children born to single parents were regarded by the State as illegitimate, a situation that wasn’t amended until 1987.
“From their point of view, they were worried it might affect my status in future,” she explains.
Lisa always knew the story of her birth and adoption and was fine with it.
“Kids are very adaptable if you tell them when they are young, as opposed to telling them when they are older. That’s when people have a harder time, when their views are set.”
Her mother subsequently met and married another man and Lisa has a half-sister. They all have a very good relationship, she says.
She loves Gort and still lives there, but when she finished her Leaving Cert at the age of 16 and was offered a place in UCC, she leaped at it.
“In South County Galway, I have a huge family I was very much the youngest and nobody ever listened to me,” she says with a laugh. So Cork, which she knew through her cousins in Carragaline, offered a chance to forge her own identity.
“I went down there at 17, the kind of age when you are learning who you are. Me and Cork got very intertwined at that stage. Even though Galway is home, I was always very happy in Cork.”
That kind of mixed emotion about the home place is very strong in Ireland, she says, adding that her husband, “who is from Cork feels very happy in Galway”.
Two new children’s books appeal to young reviewer
By Eabha Kelly
Kapheus Earth (self-published) and Granuale: Queen of Storms (The O’Brien Press).
I read two books recently and will tell you about them. The first was Kapheus Earth, a book by Marguerite Tonery who is from Galway, and I really liked it because it was magical, mystical, brilliant and I couldn’t put it down.
The story is about when a man called Davin comes to stay and he paints a magic mural of a woods on the bedroom wall of his grand-niece, Elisa. A few days later, Elisa discovers the mural is actually a real wood called Kapheus when she spots a robin flying around d in her room. The windos in her room are closed, so she realises the robin came out of the wood painting on her wall.
She and her brother Jamie jump into the mural and meet Jermiah the hedgehog, as well as an oak tree called Grandmother Oak.
Elisa and Jamie also meet Fódla, a dragon, and an elf called Feehul. Together they fight an evil man who wants to take away hope called The Dark One and discover their destiny.
My favourite character was Fodla the baby dragon because she’s fun, cute, amusing and brave. I liked when Elisa and Jamie were in the wood of illusion because it has the most mysterious part – but you’ll have to read the book yourself to find that out!
I also read the book Grainne Mhaol: Queen of Storms, which is a graphic novel by Dave Hendrick and Luca Pizzari.
Young Grainne hears her dad talking about the English. Grainne, who is about 16, protests about not being allowed to sail, so she cuts her hair and makes a speech to the people of Ireland.
A few years later, Graine has her own ship and she attacks a Spanish ship. She comes home to her kids. Grainne sends a ransom note to an English duke saying she will attack England if it doesn’t let Ireland become a free country. Then she has another child, a boy. The queen sees Grainne’s ransom note and hatches a plan. Grainne goes to England and shes put in prison.
She’s set free with her kids some time later.
It was quite good and the pictures were brilliant. The book was about Grainne’s life and I found it very interesting, but sometimes it was hard to follow. Of the two books I read, I did prefer Kapheus and would have no problem recommending that for people between 9 and 13.
My favourite character in Grainne Mhaol was her Dad because he looked after Grainne well. If you are a boy or girl who likes adventure, bravery and comics, then Grainne Mahol is the book for you.
Eabha Kelly (Third Class, Maree National School).