Welcome (Céad Míle Fáilte!) to Small-leaved Shamrock

Monday, July 28, 2008

Looking into the heart of Ireland

As the deadline for this 7th edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture began to draw near, I was beginning to wonder why I'd gotten the bright idea to suggest a "reading assignment" during the lazy (yet, sometimes busy) days of summer. A few entries had trickled in, but it didn't look like the carnival would be much of a carnival at all. (After all, who ever heard of a carnival with only one or two attendees?)

It turned out that many of you, like students procrastinating on their homework assignments, were working hard to finish your reading material just in time for the due date. Thanks to all who squeaked your entries in at the last minute, we have a carnival...and quite a carnival it is!

From fiction to poetry, history to genealogy and memoir, adult reading to books for young people, the Small-leaved Shamrock summer reading challenge has resulted in a wonderful assortment of book "reviews" written by a variety of writers.

Now, without further ado, I'll share with you an assortment of reading material on Ireland and the Irish. Join with me as we "return to Ireland" through literature, poetry, history and more.

"I returned to Ireland. Ireland green and chaste and foolish. And when I wandered over my own hills and talked again to my own people I looked into the heart of this life and saw that it was good."

~ Patrick Kavanagh, The Green Fool


"There is only one admirable form of the imagination: the imagination that is so intense that it creates a new reality, that it makes things happen."

~ Sean O’Faolain

The Silence in the Garden is the name of a work of fiction introduced to us by Lori Thornton of Smoky Mountain Family Historian. It is a story set in 20th-century County Cork. The novel has a strong focus on genealogy and its plot involves a family secret, a death and a diary. According to Lori, William Trevor's book is a well-written novel and an interesting look at Ireland's religious conflict and various aspects of Irish culture.

A 7th-century nun living in Ireland? It's not too surprising to find that type of character. What about a 7th-century Irish nun who is also a detective? Bill West of West in New England shares with us The Sister Fidelma Mysteries written by Peter Tremayne. Bill shares how this series of more than twenty books gives us a look into the relationship between the Celtic and Anglo cultures along with the relatively independent role that women played in Ireland even long ago. Read his post to learn more about Sister Fidelma's adventures as a dálaigh aiding her brother, the King of Cashel.

Donna Pointkouski of What's Past is Prologue writes a nice inroduction to Pete Hamill's Forever within her post on an Irish history book (I'll describe the history book a little later in the carnival). The beginning of the story is set in 18th-century Ireland. The main character Cormac O'Connor immigrates to New York City and, fantastically, finds a secret akin to the fountain of youth.


"...quite often the kind of poem I write is just an attempt to get back."

~ Seamus Heaney

A carnival on Irish literature would not be complete without some Irish poetry. Colleen Johnson gives us a taste of one of her favorite poets (and one of Ireland's most famous), W.B. Yeats, in her post Peace by Yeats. Speaking of Yeats, you might also enjoy visiting the current online exhibition The Life and Works of William Butler Yeats presented by The National Library of Ireland.

For a sampling of works by a couple of well-known modern Irish poets read Colm Doyle's post Mahon & Heaney at The Corcaighist. He shares with us his favorite lines from an assortment of poems. Colm writes, "These two men both speak with the same tongue, albeit in slightly separate positions, and you get an appreciation for Ireland and the Irish, whatever be their background and history."

Want to delve further back into the history of Irish poetry? Visit my post On bards and beautiful words here at Small-leaved Shamrock for an introduction to one of my favorite Irish poetry reference works. Believe it or not, it takes the reader on a journey through 1,000 years of Irish poetic history, including many types of forms written by many types of Irish poets (including the well-known writer Anonymous).


"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better."

~ Samuel Beckett

One of the ways to aid the discovery of elusive branches in your family history is to just dedicate yourself to the search with good old-fashioned perseverance. I enjoy Samuel Beckett's suggestion to keep trying in the hopes of "failing better". That is my experience with my search for one of my Irish family surnames in particular. My success was aided by several books written by one author that I share on Small-leaved Shamrock within the post What's in an Irish surname? If you are doing Irish genealogy and are not familiar with Edward MacLysaght, now's the time to get acquainted.

While we're on the subject of Irish genealogy, take a visit over to the Irish Family History blog's review of Tracing Your Irish Ancestors by John Grenham. The author gives a very good overview of this book that is indispensible when doing family history research in Ireland.

"When anyone asks me about the Irish character, I say look at the trees. Maimed, stark and misshapen, but ferociously tenacious.”

~ Edna O’Brien

Frank McCourt is one of those tenacious Irish characters whose story is one of seemingly insurmountable odds. After many years of being drawn to reading his memoir but avoiding it because she feared it was too sad to read, Elizabeth O'Neal finally decided to pick it up. Halfway through the book, she shares her observations of Angela's Ashes: A Memoir on her blog Little Bytes of Life.

Another good memoir is the story of Thomas Lynch and his search for roots in Ireland. Loretta Murphy of The Creek introduces us to Booking Passage: We Irish and Americans and makes the observation: "Climbing the branches of our family tree, we grasp the hands of those who came before us, trying to reach the top to catch a glimpse of that past from which we became the future." As Loretta shares in Never Forget..., Thomas, a descendant of Irish-American immigrants, not only "grasps the hands of those who came before [him]" but gets to know several present-day relatives still living in Ireland. Unbelievably, he eventually finds himself the custodian of the family's ancestral home back in Ireland.


"One by one they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age."

~ James Joyce, from The Dead

Going back in time to the fall of the Roman Empire, Thomas Cahill begins to tell the story of How the Irish Saved Civilization. Donna Pointkouski enjoyed his historical look at Ireland from Roman to Medieval times. Thomas Cahill writes about the impact of the work of the Celtic monks on European history, according to Donna, in a fascinating way. Read her post to learn more about this book and others in Cahill's "Hinges of History" series. I especially like a quote that Donna chose from this book that rings true of many of our immigrant ancestors.

A Book On The History of Ireland: A Reader's Thoughts Partway Through The Book is Jessica Oswalt's post about her reading of Modern Ireland, 1600-1972 by R. F. Foster. Jessica gives a brief overview of this survey of Irish history, commenting that she feels the need for a less daunting history of Ireland in order to better understand this more complex work. A few suggestions for Jessica and others who might want another angle on Irish history:

Moving across the ocean to Boston, Bill West (of New England) shares with us an introduction to a new publication: Hidden History of the Boston Irish by Peter F. Stevens. According to Bill, this collection of historical vignettes is an interesting read. Bill comments, "If you are of Irish descent and live in Boston or your ancestors did this book will give you a better picture of the obstacles Irish-Americans faced in 19th-century America and will make you better appreciate how they overcame them with talent and determination."

For young people

"You've got to do your own growing, no matter how tall your grandfather was."

~ Irish Proverb

Our carnival includes two great books on Irish history written for younger readers (although they are great reads for adults, too).

Miriam Midkiff of AnceStories shares The Long March, the unlikely story of the Native American Choctaw people's attempt to send aid to the starving Irish during the famine in the middle 19th-century. According to Miriam, the book is beautifully illustrated by the author and "an emotional experience" for the reader. Read Miriam's article to learn how the Irish thanked the Choctaw over a century later when "two great nations, both knowing suffering and starvation [were] bonded at a deeply emotional and spiritual level."

Also set during the time of the famine of the mid-19th-century is the story of Nory Ryan's Song by Patricia Reilly Giff. Read Song of Suffering on my blog A light that shines again for an introduction to this fictional story of the struggles of one young girl and her family to overcome starvation and survive one of the most trying times in the history of the Irish people. As I stated, this book is one of the most moving descriptions of Ireland's Great Famine that I have read.

In the mood for children's stories of Ireland that go back further into Irish history? You might enjoy an article written by Jerry Griswold, Director of San Diego State University's National Center for the Study of Children's Literature. Partly of Irish descent and having lived in Ireland for a time, Griswold shares a little background on Irish myth and legend and provides a suggested reading list for children within his article Ireland and Irish Children's Stories on the Parents' Choice website.

Thanks for joining us for this, the first Irish literature edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture. I hope that you've found some new books to place on top of your reading pile and that you have some time left in your summer to pick up and read a few of these gems on Ireland and the Irish. In the mood for a little quiz after reading? Try the Irish Literature & Folklore Quiz.

Thanks to all of our contributors including those of you who, though you have not yet found any Irish heritage within your family tree, helped to enrich our carnival with your submissions.

If you liked what you read, you might enjoy the "back issues" of our Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture.

Thanks for reading this, the 7th edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture. Please plan to join us for the upcoming 8th edition. See Back to school for the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture! for the details. Get your school supplies ready now!

Images courtesy of Karen's Whimsy.


Elizabeth O'Neal said...

WOW - terrific carnival, Lisa! Thanks for hosting and for the wonderful introductions to each entry.

Anonymous said...


It looks great - can't wait to read them all!

Next time, can you spell my name with a "U" instead of a "W"? I'm used to it by now... ;-)

Donna Pointkouski

Lisa / Smallest Leaf said...

Thanks for your comments and your contributions, Elizabeth and Donna. I've corrected your last name, Donna. It seems I minded my Ps and Qs but not my Us and Ws...

Hope to see you both at the next carnival!


roulette said...

I've looked through the whole blog and have to say, it's the best one about Ireland! It's become my favourite one.
Where did you find all this information?

Anonymous said...

I've looked through the whole blog and have to say, it's the best one about Ireland! It's become my favourite one.
Where did you find all this information?


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