Thursday, March 14, 2013

These are a few of my favorite Irish things!

Note: Yes, this is a repeat from the archives, but it sums up a lot of how I feel about all things Irish!

"Ireland is a land of poets, story-weavers and dreamers -- all of which I can relate to. The tiny island has gifted us with writers like Jonathan Swift, W.B. Yeats and Maeve Binchy; musicians like U2, Van Morrison and the Chieftains; actors like Daniel Day-Lewis, Pierce Brosnan and Richard Harris; and a host of noted Americans of Irish descent, from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan. Thanks to my husband, I have a Swedish surname, but the green in my eyes reflects the green in my soul. I'm proud of whatever Irish flows in my blood."--Cindy Swanson (my quote that was included in a 2004 St. Patrick's Day feature in the Rockford Register Star)

Maeve Binchy...B.J. Hoff...Frank Delaney's "Ireland"

It took me years to realize that a lot of people use St. Paddy's Day as an excuse to party and get drunk. The day still has happy connotations for me of being a kid in school and making sure I was wearing my green so I wouldn't get pinched. Just in case you forgot to wear green, though, you could also pin on a green construction-paper shamrock!

Now, I use it as an excuse to reflect on my Irish heritage, dream about visiting Ireland someday, and think about some of my favorite Irish-related things.

Scroll down for my review of a wonderful book about Ireland...

Favorite Irish author: Maeve Binchy
I believe I've read all of Binchy's books to date, and there's not one I haven't enjoyed. Her breezy, humorous and casual style gives the reader the feeling that you're chatting with a good friend, but don't be fooled--her storytelling ability is impeccable. Among my favorites: Circle of Friends, Tara Road, and Light a Penny Candle.  Update: Sadly, Maeve Binchy passed away in July of 2012.  I have yet to read her final work, A Week in Winter, but you can bet it's on my to-read list.

Favorite author who writes about the Irish: B.J. Hoff
It's no secret to anyone who reads this blog that I'm a major B. J. Hoff fan. Her Emerald Ballad series hooked me, and I've continued to be impressed by her absorbing tales which often feature Irish immigrants. When asked why, B. J. replied, "Well, who’s more interesting than the Irish, after all? There’s no danger of ever running out of stories about them!

"Seriously, I love writing about the people who built our nation—our ancestors—and there’s really no way to do that without writing about immigrants. And since the Irish immigrants played such a hugely important role in settling America—and since my own family tree is exceedingly 'green—' I chose years ago to focus on Irish characters."

Check out B.J.'s All Things Irish page on her website for some interesting facts.

Book that started my fascination with the Irish:

The Red Knights from Hy Brasil, by Christine Savery. I blogged about finding this beloved childhood book recently. I fell in love with mysterious and charismatic Shane O'Coghlin, one of the book's main characters, and in fact the book began my lifelong love affair with all things Irish.

My review of Ireland, by Frank Delaney

I've been saying most of my life that I love Ireland, but the truth is, I've had only a rudimentary knowledge of that nation's history. Now, after having read Frank Delaney's Ireland, A Novel, I can say that I learned a great deal about Ireland's history while enjoying an absorbing fictional tale at the same time.

The story begins when a traveling Storyteller--perhaps the last of a long Irish tradition of "seanchais"-- comes to the home of 9-year-old Ronan O'Mara in 1951. As he weaves his tales of ancient Ireland, Ronan feels convinced that he and the Storyteller are somehow connected. When the Storyteller is evicted by Ronan's cold and distant mother, Ronan devotes the next several years of his life to trying to find him.

As we follow Ronan's life during the next few years--his successes and heartaches and the startling revelations he eventually faces--we are treated to more stories, as one reviewer says, "seamlesssly interwoven" into the novel. The stories reach Ronan in various ways--through radio, television, even letters from the Storyteller himself, never signed or with a return address.

I found myself thoroughly enjoying the stories even as Ronan's own story propelled me forward. Tales of St. Patrick, of Brendan the Navigator, Conor of Ulster, the legendary Finn MacCool,the Battle of the Boyne, all the way up to 1916 when the Easter Rising led by men like James Connolly and Michael Collins set the stage for the eventual formation of the Irish Republic.

If you have a yen for all things Irish, I definitely recommend this book. It's a rich, fanciful, imaginative retelling of Irish stories, as charming and appealing as the Irish themselves.

By the way, I kept thinking all along that this would make a wonderful movie. It would have to be sized down, of course, and all of the stories probably wouldn't be included. But I picture it along the lines of The Big Fish...a series of fanciful tales linked together by an ongoing contemporary story.

Gabriel Byrne

I can really picture Irish actor Gabriel Byrne, with a bit of age make-up, as the Storyteller. (They would have to get a younger actor to play the Storyteller as a young man.) And there would be choice roles for actors to play Ronan, his father, his aunt and his mother, and many characters in the tales. Hey, I have it all planned. Is anybody listening?

Have a happy St. Paddy's Day, everyone!


Pam @ over50feeling40 said...

I am have a fun St. Patrick's Day, Cindy!!

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