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Books Set in Ireland – Five Novels to Read Before You Travel


Grafton Street, Dublin, Ireland. Photo by Donaldytong.

By Suzi Butcher.

If you are traveling to Ireland, then you will no doubt be aware of the rich literary tradition the country has. Almost everywhere you go there are references to Irish writers, such as James Joyce, Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw. And even today, somehow the Irish seem to be able to tell a story better than just about anyone else – whether it be in written form, or just through a chat in the pub.

So, if a trip to The Emerald Isle is on the agenda, then it is almost compulsory to take some books set in Ireland to read on your travels. But what should you read if Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ is not quite your cup of tea? Here’s a range of novels that will take you the length and breadth of Ireland, and give you a real taste of life over the years in this country filled with passion and history.

‘The Mammy’ by Brendan O’Carroll

If you want to know more about Dublin in the 1960’s, then this story of widow Agnes Browne and her seven children will do it. This is working-class Ireland with all its squalor, laughter and alcoholic fathers, and the best news is that the book is the first of a trilogy. The next time you are approached by a cheeky Dublin lad (and there are many!), you may find yourself thinking back to Agnes and her brood.

‘Little Criminals’ by Gene Kerrigan

And now to Dublin in contemporary times. The country has had its economic miracle and everyone is an entrepreneur, even the criminals. Frankie Crowe has a scheme to make himself some money, planning to kidnap a wealthy banker and set himself up for life. While this could be just a cops and robbers novel, Kerrigan does much to portray the underbelly of Dublin life, and the social changes that have taken place over recent years.

‘Juno and Juliet’ by Julian Gough

If you decide to head to Galway (and I’d highly encourage you to do so), then this novel is one of the few that is set there. This story of identical twins during their first year at university sees them adjusting to life in the city, drinking in the bars and attending classes from time to time. It’s a coming of age story in which Galway itself is one of the main characters.

‘The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty’ by Sebastian Barry

The tensions surrounding the Irish struggle for independence lie at the heart of this novel set in the town of Sligo in Ireland’s north-west. Unable to find work, Eneas joins the British-led police force the Royal Irish Constabulary, and in the process labels himself a traitor. As a marked man he goes on the run, and while the novel follows Eneas from country to country, he sneaks back to Sligo when he can. A compelling look at 20th Century Ireland, through a character who has become a victim of his country’s fight to exist.

‘Pomegranate Soup’ by Marsha Mehran

In this novel we see a different kind of migration — the story of three Iranian sisters who move to an Irish village in the 1980’s. It’s not often you get a food-lit story set in Ireland, but Pomegranate Soup is exactly that, with its celebration of Persian cuisine. Unsurprisingly the village residents take a while to adapt to this foreign influence in one of their local cafes, and despite the novel’s focus on a different culture, it provides plenty of detail of Irish life and landscape for those trying to learn more about the country.

There are many stereotypes about the Irish, but as a traveler you have the opportunity to reach beyond the surface of Irish culture and see what lies beneath. Reading books set in Ireland will help you do that, revealing details of Irish streets and cities, hopes and history – and when you visit the places mentioned, you will feel as if you know it just that little bit better than if you had arrived a stranger.

Suzi Butcher is the editor of http://www.packabook.com which makes it easy to find novels set in particular locations. This is a just a taste of the novels she recommends – visit books set in Ireland for many more. With Packabook’s constantly updated selection of travel novels from countries all around the world, you will always be able to choose something exceptional to read.

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Tips for Planning a Roots Travel Trip

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Grafton Street, Dublin, Ireland. Photo by Donaldytong.

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Planning a roots travel trip can yield rewarding, and surprising, results. “For some people, the thrill of just being there is enough,” says Marion Hager, owner of genealogy travel company Hager’s Journeys.

Here’s how she says you can get the most out of a trip:

  • Use a local tour operator. If you are going to a country, or an area of a country, where English is not widely spoken, be sure to use a reliable operator at the destination and arrange for a car and driver or guide. “This way, you will get the most from the time you spend there,” Hager says.
  • Call the relatives. When you find people you believe are living relatives, try to contact them prior to your travel. “It would be fun to meet them and have them show you around and tell you what they know about their ancestry.”
  • Find a local genealogist. It will be much easier to
 gain access to view documents and records in archives through a local genealogist. “They also can help you contact living relatives you discover,” Hager says.
  • Bring printed copies of your family tree. You never know who you may connect with. “On a trip to Würzburg, Germany, we visited with a 13th-generation pretzel baker who unrolled a huge chart to show us his U.S. relatives,” Hager recalls. “He never knew he had an American family until they found him in their research, visited, and brought a copy of the family tree. He was so excited to show it to us.”
  • Make appointments. Records offices, churches, cemeteries, and other locations that might keep ancestral records may not be open to the public without an appointment, may have very limited hours, or may be closed due to holidays. To avoid disappointment, Ancestry.com’s Loretto Szucs recommends making specific appointments, including the day and time you want to visit, before finalizing travel arrangements.
  • Do your homework. No matter what kind of roots travel trip you book, do your homework in advance. “To appreciate the journey more, read up on the place where your ancestors grew up,” adds Szucs. “What was the culture like? What were their traditions? What may have caused them to leave their homes, loved ones, and all that was familiar to them to cross the sea to the unknown?” Plus, she says, “You don’t want to find out about a family farm still in operation after the journey is over.”

This article was adapted from the National Geographic book Journeys Home: Inspiring Stories, Plus Tips & Strategies to Find Your Family History.

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Intelligent Travel

West Country, Ireland

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Image by Georgie Sharp

Revisiting that wonderful green isle… we had such fun in Ireland …. and that glorious green will remain with me forever ;-))

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Discover the truth behind the myths of the Emerald Isle

Forget about shamrocks, leprechans, and all that blarney; 101 Things You Didn’t Know about Irish History dispels the myths and tells the true story of the Irish.

Complete with an Irish language primer and pronunciation guide, 101 Things You Didn’t Know about Irish History is an informative reference for anyone who loves the Irish.

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Alternative Energy in Ireland

Photo by Jeff Schmaltz – NASA Earth Observatory. It is easy to see from this true-colour image why Ireland is called the Emerald Isle. Intense green vegetation, primarily grassland, covers most of the country except for the exposed rock on mountaintops. Ireland owes its greenness to moderate temperatures and moist air. The Atlantic Ocean, particularly the warm currents in the North Atlantic Drift, gives the country a more temperate climate than most others at the same latitude.

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The Irish are currently pursuing energy independence and the further development of their robust economy through the implementation of research and development into alternative energy sources.

Ballywater_WindFarmBallywater WindFarm. Looking Northwestward out over the salt marsh at the back of Morriscastle caravan park in Kilmuckridge, Co Wexford at the 42 MW 21 turbine wind farm at Ballywater close to Cahore Point and lying between the villages of Ballygarret to the North and Kilmuckridge to the South. Taken on afternoon of Sunday 6th May 2007.

At the time of this writing, nearly 90% of Ireland’s energy needs are met through importation—the highest level of foreign product dependence in the nation’s entire history. This is a very precarious situation to be in, and the need for developing alternative energy sources in Ireland is sharply perceived. Ireland also seeks to conserve and rejuvenate its naturally beautiful environment and to clean up its atmosphere through the implementation of alternative energy supplies. The European Union has mandated a reduction in sulphuric and nitric oxide emissions for all member nations. Green energy is needed to meet these objectives. Hydroelectric power has been utilized in Ireland in some areas since the 1930s and has been very effective; however, more of it needs to be installed. Ireland also needs to harness the wave power of the Atlantic Ocean, which on its west coast is a potential energy supply that the nation has in great store.

Inishmaan_turbines

Wind turbines on Inishmaan, photo by Towel401.

Ireland actually has the potential to become an energy exporter, rather than a nation so heavily dependent on energy importation. This energy potential resides in Ireland’s substantial wind, ocean wave, and biomass-producing alternative energy potentials. Ireland could become a supplier of ocean wave-produced electricity and biomass-fueled energy to continental Europe and, as they say, “make a killing”. At the present time, Ireland is most closely focused on reaching the point where it can produce 15% of the nation’s electricity through wind farms, which the government has set as a national objective to be reached by 2010. But universities, research institutes, and government personnel in Ireland have been saying that the development of ocean wave energy technology would be a true driving force for the nation’s economy and one which would greatly help to make Ireland energy independent. A test site for developing wave ocean energy has been established in Ireland, less than two miles off the coast of An Spideal in County Galway Bay. This experimental ocean wave harnessing site is known as “Wavebob”. The most energetic waves in the world are located off the West coast of Ireland, says Ireland’s Marine Institute CEO Dr. Peter Heffernan. The technology to harness the power of the ocean is only just emerging and Ireland has the chance to become a market leader in this sector. David Taylor, CEO of the Sustainable Energy Initiative,or SEI, tells us that SEI is committed to innovation in the renewable energy sector. Wave energy is a promising new renewable energy resource which could one day make a significant contribution to Ireland’s electricity generation mix thereby further reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.

Padraig Walshe, the president of the Irish Farmers Association, tells us that with the closure of the sugar beet industry, an increasing amount of Irish land resources will become available for alternative uses, including bioenergy production. Today, renewable energy sources meet only 2% of Ireland’s total energy consumption. From a farming perspective, growing energy crops will only have a viable future if they provide an economic return on investment and labour, and if the prospect of this return is secure into the future. Currently the return from energy crops is marginal and is hampering the development of the industry. Biomass energies need to be further researched by Ireland.

Visiting Ireland