What did the Normans do for Ireland?

StrongbowThis is the question that Conor Kostick aims to answer in his new book Strongbow – The Norman Invasion of Ireland. Here he talks about the book’s journey to publication.

 

In a way, this book on Strongbow has been a lifetime in the making. I grew up in Chester, a town in the UK that in medieval times had a very strong connection to Dublin. My dad was a tour guide in Chester and being from Dublin, really explored that connection in depth. Our house had three or four shelves of academic books about the medieval period. And as kids, my brother Gavin and I would love to play in the ruins of the castles we were taken to on outings.

My raw enthusiasm for the subject was channeled in a more scholarly direction by my attending Trinity College Dublin as an undergraduate and a postgraduate in Medieval history. TCD had – and despite suffering from the impact of austerity policies, to a large extent still has – a real concentration of expertise in the period (Strongbow came to Ireland in 1170).  I’m thinking of Katharine Simms, Terry Barry and Sean Duffy in particular, but also I.S. Robinson, who helped me considerably with my reading of Gerald of Wales, our main source for these events.

The book took solid form thanks to a remarkable stroke of luck. In the summer of 2010 I was writer-in-residence at Farmleigh, for my fiction writing. But there Julia Cummins, the librarian, knowing my interest in medieval history, showed me a Latin manuscript, a copy of the Topographia Hibernica by Gerald of Wales. Feeling like a character in a Dan Brown novel, I examined the document with growing excitement. It turned out that this was a version of the Topographia unknown to modern scholarship, due to the fact it ‘disappeared’ from view in 1969, into the private collection of Benjamin Guinness.

Marsh’s Library, which assumed responsibility for the Farmleigh Library in 2009, awarded me a fellowship in 2011 to work on the manuscript and this was really useful for getting to grips with Gerald of Wales.

Having said all this, I don’t want to give the impression that Strongbow is a book written for academics. It isn’t. Here, I’m writing for everyone interested in the story of Strongbow’s involvement in Irish affairs and while my narrative relates to the information we have from historical and archaeological sources, I didn’t want to fill the text with endless qualifications and justifications. For those who want that extra depth, I make suggestions for further reading in an afterword.

With Strongbow, I was trying to write the kind of history I love to read when I’m not seeking a specialist piece of research. I’ve tried to do justice to the passions and violence of the era and the qualities of the main personalities. In particular, I read Diarmait Mac Murchada’s feud with Tigernán Ua Ruairc of Bréifne as being so bitter that Mac Murchada is a kind of Captain Ahab figure, willing to set aside all the usual norms of the Irish aristocracy in pursuit of vengeance.

One last point worth stating is that the book does not take the usual view that the arrival of Strongbow’s army represented a clash of two rival ethnicities, the Saxon and the Celt, not least because Strongbow’s knights saw themselves as ‘Franks’ and spoke a variant of Norman French. Rather, Strongbow deals with what lay beneath the personal dramas, the clash of two differing social systems.

 

Strongbow – The Norman Invasion of Ireland by Conor Kostick is out now

Guest Post: Entertaining Made Easy with Edward Hayden!

FoodtoLove-pb                   FoodForFriends

More and more when it comes to all the big occasions in a family, be it a christening, first Holy Communion, Confirmation, special birthday or anniversary, people are choosing to entertain at home. With this in mind I have devised some really simple, stress free recipes to help people when planning the culinary aspects of the occasion.

On April 26th in the Springhill Court Hotel Kilkenny I launched my third cookery book, Food for Friends which was published by The O’Brien Press. When I set about planning this book, I thought long and hard about a different style format and themes to focus on to separate it and set it apart from other books in this genre. My first book, and indeed my company is called Edward Entertains so I wanted to keep this book very much focused on entertaining, but entertaining of a different kind. Sometimes when we think of entertaining we think of it in a much stylised way with polished silverware, cut glass crystal and starched linen. What I wanted to demonstrate in Food for Friends is that entertaining can be simple and still very stylish so I picked a series of different occasions where people would be entertaining family and friends and then planned some recipes around them.

I think that when people are having friends and family around they want to do the same as I do when I am entertaining and that is cook simple and tasty food which will impress the diners!

We had a wonderful night at the launch of Food for Friends with well over 500 people in attendance and I’m delighted to say that so far the book is doing very well and has already enjoyed a number of weeks in the top 10 Irish bestsellers list!

So these are my recommendations for your upcoming family gatherings – keep things simple, be prepared and relax and entertain with a little help from Food For Friends.

Happy Cooking!

Edward

For more information about Edward log onto www.edwardentertains.com or follow him on Twitter @EdwardHayden and to find out more about Food for Friends and Food to Love visit www.obrien.ie!

EdwardHaydenBookLaunch-1

Interview with Alfonso Zapico author of the graphic novel ‘James Joyce, Portrait of a Dubliner’

JamesJoyce-PortraitofaDublinerDid you miss the interview with author and illustrator Alfonso Zapico in the Irish Independent last week? Well don’t worry because we have all the inside information on his fantastic graphic novel James Joyce, Portrait of a Dubliner here! Read on to find out more about his fascinating project!

Alfonso, how did you come up with the idea to create a graphic novel about the life of James Joyce?

There are a lot of reasons I decided to write the book, no one reason alone. It was a test in a way, to see if I could actually do it. I like to try to build a life with all the elements around a character: the scenery, the places, the other characters, and to recreate the atmosphere of the time through my drawings. I suppose it’s similar to making a film, but with paper and ink. It was a very interesting experiment! The other reasons were more philosophical: James Joyce was a pioneer in 20th century literature: he changed people’s view of the world and society, he rejected the big heroic characters and gave prominence to ordinary men and women, real life, the little details of human existence. And the third reason, and maybe the most important one for me, is the rebelliousness of Joyce, his optimism, and the way he overcame so many challenges during his life. Perhaps this is an Irish trait, I think you can see it throughout Irish history.

How was your experience of researching the book and the life of James Joyce?

The most important thing for me was to try to get across to the reader the spirit of Joyce, this great artist and his world, his vision of life. When I was researching the life of James Joyce, two essential books for me were the biography of Joyce by Richard Ellmann and ‘Joyce for Beginners’ by David Norris & Carl Flint. Also, of course, Joyce’s books: in ‘Ulysses’, ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’ and ‘Dubliners’, I found lots of small details that helped me to build Joyce’s Dublin.

You also did some research for the book in Dublin, how was that?

I spent many months doing research for the book in Dublin and the experience was fantastic! I didn’t just want to create my drawings from old photos in books. In order to get across the essence of a place, you have to visit that place. I walked the Dublin streets, I saw the colour of the sky, I drank beer in the pubs, I ate fish and chips, I talked to Dubliners. Old photos are all very well, but Dublin is a magical city, and you have to go to the heart of Dublin to try to understand Joyce. Maybe this special atmosphere is not always visible to people who live in Dublin, but for me as a visitor, it was a joy the first time, the second time and every time I return to this wonderful city.

Thanks very much for the chat Alfonso!

Click here for more information on James Joyce, Portrait of a Dubliner

Plus head to www.obrien.ie where you can get 20% off all our James Joyce books for the month of June!

Happy Bloomsday!

Guest Post: Will Sliney on his new graphic novel, Celtic Warrior – The Legend of Cú Chulainn


Celtic Warrior came about from my lifelong ambition to tell a story within the world of Irish mythology. I still have scraps of paper from when I was a child with detailed descriptions of the Cú Chulainn video games and animated series that I would dream up!

I’ve been lucky enough to have worked for the top comic properties in the world with Marvel and Star Wars. As much as I love working in a universe with Spider-Man and the Avengers, nothing will come close to the sentimental ties that I have with Celtic Warrior. It was great to have a launch in my home city of Cork which my family and friends could attend and I was overwhelmed by the turnout of comic and Irish mythology fans that came along.

I broke into the comic book world over a number of years by following a simple rule of drawing every day for five hours. Posting my work on the internet enabled me to share my work with anyone and so far I have got the chance to work on properties such as Star Wars, Farscape, MacGyver and Fearless Defenders amongst others.

I’m hoping that Celtic Warrior: The Legend of Cu Chulainn will inspire the next generation to pick up their pencils and draw out the scenes from their own favourite Irish mythological stories, or even to create their own!

Video of the launch of Celtic Warrior: The Legend of Cú Chulainn in Waterstones Cork

Will Sliney chatting to Two Tube TV about his work with Marvel and his new graphic novel Celtic Warrior

Celtic Warrior is the first Irish published graphic novel to hit the Top 10 bestseller list in Ireland, reaching No. 8 in the Original Fiction Irish Bestseller list in its first week of publication!

For all the up to date news on Celtic Warrior check out Will’s blog.

He will also be attending lots of festivals and signings over the coming months, check out the venues’ websites for more information:

Workshops at Cúirt International Festival of Literature – Friday 26th & Saturday 27th April
Signing in Subcity, Dublin – Saturday 11th May, 12-3pm
Signing in Forbidden Planet, Belfast – Thursday 30th May, 4pm
Signing in Waterstones, Coleraine – Friday 31st May
2D Northern Ireland Comics Festival – Thursday 30th May – Saturday 2nd June
London Film & Comic Con – Friday 5th July – Sunday 7th July

Guest Post: Gary Kirwan’s motivational tips for a healthier you!

Are you feeling that you overindulged this Easter? Do you want to get fitter for the summer? Don’t worry we’re here to help! The inspirational Gary Kirwan author of Winning A Losing Battle has given us his top motivational tips for kick-starting a healthier lifestyle starting today!

How to motivate yourself is something that we all think about. Some spend days, some spend weeks and others will spend months thinking about this, and before you know it, another year has gone by and we are in exactly the same place that we were last year!
Here are some things that I have learnt so far on my weight loss journey; hopefully they might help you to get motivated this year. Remember never give up on yourself and you too can start winning your losing battle! Good luck!

1. Have a plan – and write it down! Start by setting out your goals on a short, medium and long term basis – and write them down – to see your goals in black and white makes them more real. Short term goals should be simple and realistic ones, something easy to get you started, medium term goals might be more challenging, for example, maybe a 5k run, and longer term goals would be on a longer time scale and would require a lot of work but will give you something to aim for, which in turn can help keep you motivated. By breaking down your goals like this, you’ll have a more realistic idea of what it is that you want to achieve, and the more realistic your approach, the better chance you have of reaching those goals.

2. Tell your family and friends. I was very lucky to get so much support from Today FM’s The Ray D’Arcy Show – the show provided me with a platform to talk openly about my journey from 41 stone to a new life. I always felt comfortable talking to Ray as I felt like I knew him after years of listening to his show and I’m grateful to Ray and everyone on the show for giving me a chance to talk about my story. I also had the invaluable support of my family and friends. Don’t be shy about telling people what you want to achieve – talking openly can be very liberating and can shed some of the emotional baggage that we all carry, especially about issues such as weight loss, and whether your goal is losing weight, getting fit or quitting smoking, the support of your friends and family can be a huge help in achieving your goals.

3. Start small. You might be tempted to jump right in and try to achieve everything immediately, but when it comes to exercise and diet, this approach may not be the best, healthiest or, indeed, the safest one. Ask for advice if you’re not sure how to get started. When it comes to exercise, start small, but don’t be afraid to try new things, and get your family or friends involved or join a class – it can help keep you motivated when you’re sharing the experience with other people who have similar goals to you. The same applies to changing your diet – don’t go cold turkey (pardon the Christmas pun). Instead, why not aim to make small lasting changes over a longer period of time; it’s easier and you’re more likely to stick to your goals in the long run.

4. Try it on. If weight loss is your goal, watching the scales can be difficult – instead, why not use clothing as a more realistic barometer of how you are doing? Just pick one item of clothing and try it on every now and then – does it fit better, is it getting looser, where is it looser? When you feel the difference in your clothes, you’ll feel more motivated to keep going.

5. Checking in. Always keep your list of goals handy, it’ll remind why you started this and where you are going.

6. Bad days! Probably the most important thing to realise is that we all have bad days. When you have a bad day, just don’t allow it to become a bad week, month or year or you’ll find yourself back at square one next year – instead, just shrug it off and simply start again. Make this a goal in itself, so that when you do have a bad day, you’ll be less likely to throw in the towel, and you’ll find it easier to stay motivated.

7. Give it a chance. As someone once said, ‘it takes 4 weeks for you to notice your body changing, 8 weeks for your friends to notice and 12 weeks for the world to notice, so don’t quit, give it 12 weeks – give it a chance’.

Winning A Losing Battle, the story of how Gary Kirwan went from 41 stone to a new life, is available now.

All opinions stated in this piece are those of the author. If you think you need to lose weight, ask your doctor or local healthcare professional for advice.

Guest Author Post: Conor Kostick at the Prix Farniente


The Prix Farniente is an annual Belgian based international award for literature for young readers. Unlike most award ceremonies, however, the prizes are given at a full day of high energy events, with a huge input from the young readers. Librarians and teachers build up to the day in a number of ways: there are artworks of the books, reviews; and perhaps the most fun of all, a lot of dressing up. The nominated authors were given their presents (a fabulous chocolate sneaker, packed with with chocolates!) by young readers dressed as characters from their books. Later in the day, teams of four, also dressed up, gave one minute presentations summing up the books before settling down to answer a quiz. The question from Epic was really hard, I wasn’t sure of the answer! (Name two characteristics of the avatar Cindella). There was lots of opportunities to meet young readers and hear their feedback and questions (mainly, ‘when will the sequel be available in French’?). All in all it was a very professional, well-organised event, yet one that was not stuffy or overly formal, but was colourful and passionate about books. I had a wonderful time and I’m delighted that I got the chance to be involved.

If you’d like to find out more about Epic and the rest of Conor’s books click here!

Remembering the Holocaust – Guest Post by Marilyn Taylor

Author Marilyn Taylor recently spoke at the Holocaust Memorial Evening in Northern Ireland. Marilyn has researched the Holocaust extensively as part of her work as a writer. One of her most popular books, Faraway Home, is about two Jewish children sent from Nazi-occupied Austria to a refugee farm in Northern Ireland. This is based on the true story of the refugee farm in Millisle, County Down.

Here is an excerpt from Marilyn’s moving speech on the night:

Tonight, on the 27th January we are joining other countries round the world that are also marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the anniversary of the day in 1945 when the largest and most notorious Nazi death camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, was finally liberated by Soviet troops.
As well as remembering the Holocaust in Europe, we are also commemorating other violent genocides of recent times in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.
Appropriately, tonight’s theme: Communities Together, Building a Bridge, reminds us all of the need to reach out to others, and to embrace difference, both far away and close to home.
This theme is also exemplified by the story of the Kindertransports and by the poignantly linked story of Millisle Refugee Farm, both of which have particular historical significance here in Newtownards, which is so close to Millisle.

As we know, the first persecution of the Holocaust, primarily of Jews but also other groups of convenient ‘scapegoats’ began immediately when Hitler and his Fascist Nazi Party were elected to power in Germany in 1933.
It finally ended with the Allied defeat of the Nazis in 1945, after the destruction of six million Jews.
A further five million people, whom the Nazis considered to be “untermenschen”- “undesirable”, were also murdered, including Gypsies – now known as Roma & Sinti – socialists and communists, trade union members, gay and lesbian people, people with disabilities –both mental and physical – Jehovah’s Witnesses, black people, Freemasons, and many Slavic people, and of course, all who opposed the Nazis by word or deed.

And these are just the deaths.

After the final Nazi defeat, millions more were left dying or horrifically wounded and tormented in body and spirit.
The mass murder of the Holocaust was carried out by the Nazis and their collaborators on an industrial scale all over Europe. This was ‘killing by assembly line’, with prison camps, forced labour camps and death camps efficiently linked by the Nazi-controlled rail network of Europe.
After his liberation, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel wrote,
“From the depths of the mirror a corpse gazed back at me. The look in his eyes, as they stared into mine, has never left me.”

All this was of course unknown to me, a ‘war baby’ born in England, to a family evacuated from London.
Yet, I retain vivid memories of the war: the terrifying shriek of air raid sirens, my mother running with me in a buggy to the bomb shelter, and the thousands of V1 and V2 rockets that wreaked random death and destruction, striking fear in all our hearts.
Later, growing up in grey post-war London and learning what was then the recent history of the Second World War and of the Holocaust, I began to realise how lucky I had been, sheltered from the terror in Europe by an accident of geography.
My sister and I could have been among the huge numbers of Jewish children who died at the hands of Nazis and Fascists – of hunger and disease, in the ghettoes, in the boxcars, in the concentration camps, and in the gas chambers.
This realisation has stayed with me, and I think eventually led me much later to try to write about the Holocaust in a way that I hoped would capture the imagination of both young and adult readers, and help keep the memory alive.

In the late 1930s a few British Christians, Jews, and especially Quakers, came together, having witnessed the increasingly vicious treatment of Jews, both young and old, in Nazi Germany– through public humiliation, beatings and round-ups by Nazi thugs & SS men.
Together this group pressed the British government to allow in Jewish children, the most at risk.
After the terrible warning of “Kristallnacht” (the Night of Broken Glass) in November 1938 when Jewish synagogues, homes and businesses were smashed, looted and burned, frantic Jewish parents – themselves refused entry by most countries – made the difficult decision to send their children to Britain on these Kindertransports.
In this way about ten thousand German, Austrian and Czech unaccompanied Jewish children under the age of sixteen, were rescued from the clutches of the Nazis just before the War.
The children, each clutching a small suitcase with a few precious belongings (though nothing of value was permitted) said farewell to their parents, few realising that they might not see each other again.
Former refugees later described those never forgotten heart-breaking scenes at the railway station to me in graphic detail.

They travelled in groups of two or three hundred, each wearing labels with name and destination.
On their arrival in Britain, fearful and bewildered, and of course speaking little or no English, they were sent all over the country, to boarding schools, castles, farms, family homes – wherever people would take them in.
A random group ended up in Northern Ireland, and the small Belfast Jewish community immediately responded.
Some were fostered by local families, both Christian and Jewish. An old farm at Millisle, Co Down – known as Magill’s- was leased, initially housing thirty to forty children, plus older German-Jewish refugees training in agriculture in Northern Ireland.
(Later some of these trainees were involved in setting up early communal farms, “kibbutzim”, in the fledgling country of Israel.)
Adult refugees helped administer the farm.

About three to four hundred, mostly young people, passed through Millisle between 1938 and its closure in 1948.
Funds were raised by the Belfast and Dublin communities, from the Central British Fund in London, and the Northern Ireland Ministry of Agriculture.
Belfast Jewish community leaders set up a Refugee Aid committee; a Committee for German Refugees was also launched in Belfast with funding from the Joint Christian Churches, including Presbyterians, Methodists, Church of Ireland, Quakers and Catholics.
During my research, I tracked down many former refugees, meeting some in person, and sending detailed questionnaires to others. In response, I received phone calls, long descriptive letters, hand drawn maps, photographs and a 14-year-old girl’s moving diary; they all had a story they wanted told.
At Millisle, the young refugees, struggling with homesickness and anxiety about their families far away, had to learn to make a new life.
Neighbours helped to train them in farm work. At the local two-teacher school, (the original Millisle Primary school) each refugee child sat with a local child to help them learn English and perhaps make a friend – which many of them did.
Decades later, some of the former refugees returned to visit Millisle with their own families.
Despite food shortages and air raids on nearby Belfast – and indeed, a raid close by in Newtownards – it was a healthy life, remembered positively by many: going to the beach, fishing, games of Monopoly, football, the small synagogue on the farm, the Belfast rabbi visiting; sometimes concerts in the evenings, often concluding with the traditional Jewish dance, the Hora.
On Saturday evenings, they walked the three miles along the shore to the local cinema in Donaghadee where the owner allowed them in free.

Later, older refugees joined the Air Training Corps, the Red Cross, and the Pioneer Corps of the British Army, to help fight the Nazis.
After the war began, all letters stopped, and the refugees’ only communications with their families were brief Red Cross messages, which ceased after 1943. There were occasional distant rumours about death camps.

However, not until after the war ended in 1945 seven years later, did they learn the horrifying truth. Many had lost every member of their family in the Holocaust. Their parents, by sending them away, had saved their lives. Now most were orphans but in terms of the Holocaust, they were among the lucky ones.

Yet despite everything, many of the former refugees went on to live good and productive lives, never forgetting their families, or Millisle.
And neither they, nor we, will ever forget those people, and those no longer with us, who played such a significant role in this special chapter in the history of Northern Ireland.

In conclusion, there are many lessons that we can learn from the story of Millisle and the devastation of the Holocaust.
Firstly, because there was virtually nowhere Jews facing annihilation could go, a country, Israel, came into being.
The Kindertransport scheme was indeed a shining example of humanity. But put in context, they could only save ten thousand of the one and a half million Jewish children killed because there was no country that would take them in – not Britain, not Ireland, not the United States. When history calls, we all have a responsibility to answer.

Secondly, the Holocaust throws up some of the greatest challenges for us as individuals.
What do you do when a Jew comes knocking on the door at night seeking shelter, when the penalty for taking in a Jew is death, as it was in wartime Europe?
What would any of us do?
And how should we respond when other challenges to our humanity confront us and threaten us?

Thirdly, the Holocaust is not an abstract issue of history – it is about each and every one of us.

As Pastor Niemoller wrote …
“First they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me,
And there was no one left to speak for me”

To find out more about Marilyn’s books click here.