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White Feathers is a suspense-filled new novel about mis-matched lovers separated by the horrors of WWI.

White Feathers

Susan Lanigan’s debut novel White Feathers opens in 1913, as 17-year-old Eva Downey escapes her suffocating family…



I was a bit concerned when pre-publication interviews with Colm Tóibín suggested his new novel, Nora Webster, might be a slightly depressing tale of emotional distance and maternal absence, but the actual experience of reading Nora Webster is completely different; it’s an uplifting and profoundly inspirational novel.

NoraWebster UKThe novel opens with the death of Nora Webster’s husband, Maurice, a longtime schoolteacher in Wexford. Nora’s first action is to quietly sell off the small seaside cottage the family have used for holidays. Nora keeps the transaction obsessively private, wanting nobody to know what she’s contemplating until it’s done. This is classic small-town Ireland, obsessed with the opinions and judgements of others, and interpreting the small victories as instances where some personal privacy is maintained. However, rather than writing a stereotypical novel of provincial stagnation and fearful conformity, Tóibín has written a novel about great courage and personal resilience, as Nora deliberately carves out a new life for herself rather than living solely for her children’s material survival.

[Read the rest of the review at…]

This summer, I brought my children to Tayto Park for the first time. Why didn’t we go earlier? No particular reason, except that I — along with most visitors — had no earthly idea what Tayto Park was. Read my review over on my main blog,…

Anna Sweeney’s novel Deadly Intent is an atmospheric murder mystery set on the Beara peninsula in Co. Kerry.

downloadThe story opens with an unconscious woman found on an isolated path in the country. The woman, Maureen, is a guest at a high-end guest house run by Nessa, a former journalist from Dublin, and her husband Patrick, a political refugee from Malawi. Although the initial suspect is Maureen’s husband, an unstable man named Dominic, the case gets complicated quickly as there is a suggestion that she may have been having an affair with another guest, the rich industrialist Oscar Maldin, who has now vanished.

Sweeney unravels her tale in chapters alternating between Nessa’s point of view, and that of a young Garda, Redmond Joyce, recently transplanted from Dublin, and bitterly unhappy to be languishing in a rural Garda station. These are two wonderful viewpoint characters…

[Read the rest of my review at…]


After almost 7 years of living in our “forever” house, we finally have a working fireplace. The fire bricks were too old and damaged to be safely used, so we decided to install a woodstove instead of rebuilding the whole firebox. By the time we got serious about dealing with it, we also had to get some repointing and re-flashing done on the chimney itself. After having the masonry work done in the spring, we laid a new hearth after returning from Ireland and had the woodstove installed in October.

To save money I built the hearth, but we decided to leave the chimney liner and stove installation to the pros.

Ms. Elsie was my curious assistant through the tedious tile-laying process.

She has enjoyed the fruits of her labors ever since. Elsie certainly understands the old Irish saying níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin (there’s no fireside like your own fireside).

A Cursing Stone (c) National Trust for Scotland

A “Cursing Stone” found in Scotland. Not sure why it’s called a cursing stone: a prayer stone would seem to be more apt, at least going by the use described in this article.

Link: BBC News – ‘Cursing stone’ found on Isle of Canna.

Two guys found a hoard of ancient Celtic gold coins weighing three-quarters of a ton. Must buy myself a metal detector.

Link: Iron Age coins discovered in Jersey after 30-year search | Culture | The Guardian.

Intriguing piece over on the Rubicon Heritage blog about a lost breed of medieval horses that may have been raised and trained in Ireland. Another forgotten piece of our history being rediscovered.


Rubicon Heritage’s Faunal Specialist Claudia Tommasino Suarez describes work she has been carrying out on a highly significant horse assemblage from Mullamast, Co. Kildare, which may provide evidence for the breeding of the animals that gave rise to the Hobelar cavalry of the medieval period.

From the 13th century onwards Ireland made an important contribution to medieval warfare, particularly in the conflicts in and between England, Scotland and Wales. However this contribution was not typical- it came in the form of a small, light, swift and maneuverable horse: the hobby or hobin.

The secret of this four-legged warrior’s success was determined by its performance in difficult terrain. The animal’s attributes led to the rise of a form of light-mounted soldier known as a ‘hobelar.’  These troops became proficient at roles such as scouting and patrolling in environments like mountains, bogs and woodlands, where heavier armoured knights mounted on destriers struggled to operate.

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I love a good hot whiskey (and who doesn’t?). One of its many virtues is you have to be a fairly big eejit to mess it up. Even the laziest barman throwing a spoonful of sugar into a glass with a stingy measure of whiskey, a bit of lemon that’s been sitting in a dish all day and some recently hot water can be assured the resulting drink will be reasonably pleasant. However, with a little effort the hot whiskey can be a work of delicious art.

Some notes on terminology: a hot whiskey is often called a hot toddy, but the toddy is a name for the drink used mainly in Scotland, and as I understand it, is a fairly purist whisky, sugar, lemon & water concoction. In Ireland, we spell it whiskey — and if you can’t taste the difference between whiskey and whisky, you’re wasting your money. (A few other countries claim to make whiskey/whisky; how nice for them.)  A hot toddy is also often used as a generic name for a hot alcoholic drink (thus a mulled wine or a hot apple cider are sometimes referred to as a hot toddy). So I call just call it a hot whiskey to prevent confusion. A hot whiskey used to be known as whiskey punch. The early temperance movements vilified it (hence the phrase “punch drunk”) and the name fell out of use. The drink, however, never really went away, just fell out of fashion.

First ingredient, and possibly the least important, is the whiskey (never whisky — don’t waste good Scotch Whisky by watering it down. Enjoy it neat.). Generally, use the cheapest whiskey you can find. Living in the US, I usually use cheap Canadian rubbish that I’d never drink neat. If you make a hot whiskey with expensive, smooth sipping whiskey, not only are you wasting your money, but the resulting drink usually has much less of a whiskey taste. The smoothness of aged Scotch or Bushmills is intended for a neat nip or a pair of ice cubes, and needs nothing more. When in Ireland I use Powers or Paddy, and save the Jameson for drinking over ice.

The Glass

Start with the glass. You can use a svelte, small pub glass if you don’t want more than a single measure. This is the standard glass in Irish pubs. I prefer a half-pint glass tankard (a simple cylinder with a handle) for the simple reason that I’ve had too many thin glasses shatter after added the boiling water. However, this size is perfect for a double shot of whiskey, and means you need to leave the conversation to refill everyone’s glasses less often. (You can also use a highball.)

Fill the glass with boiling or near boiling water to warm it. Empty it out after a minute. This helps the hot whiskey stay warmer longer. Wet the top eighth of an inch of the tankard and dip it in white sugar to encrust the rim. Now, pour a measure or two (Ah! go on now…) of whiskey into the glass.


Add a spoonful of sugar (brown adds a distinctive and slightly different taste to white, the choice is yours). A thick spoonful of honey is great if you’re legitimately fighting a cold/sore throat and not just pretending to.


Wash an organic lemon well in warm water to get the wax coating off (don’t be messing with a regular lemon — do you want to drink the chemicals they spray on them?) and cut it in half.  Cut a thick slice from what was the middle. Now, cut that slice in half and remove any pips. If you’ve already added a single measure of whiskey, just squeeze the other half of your slice into the glass. If a double, squeeze some of the remaining end of the lemon into it. The whole half a lemon would be a bit much, but it’s all dependent on your own taste.

Take four cloves and stud the half slice of lemon with them. Push them in fully so they won’t float out.

Fill the glass almost to the brim with boiling water. Stir to dissolve the sugar. (If you’re worried about the glass shattering, leave the metal spoon in, it’ll absorb the heat — although it’ll probably cool your drink a bit faster. Now drop the clove-studded lemon in — taking care not to splash and lose any;-) — and away you go.


Add a cinnamon stick to give a slightly different flavor to the drink. Don’t add ground cinnamon, the taste of that tends to be gone before you’re halfway through your drink and it doesn’t dissolve, it adheres to bits of the lemon instead, so you end up with this nasty looking brown sludge swirling through your drink!

One or two of these on a cold night will take all your cares away, and lubricate good conversation.


"Zombie Skeleton" Photo credit: Chris Read

Lough Key Forest Park in County Roscommon, in Ireland’s North West is a popular place to picnic, a good place to camp and a fixture of boating on the river Shannon. When we were kids our scout troop spent a week camping in the area. However, if I’d known the was a huge ancient graveyard containing at least a few “zombies” overlooking the lake, I might have thought twice about spending the night there.

Two skeletons have been unearthed with large rocks wedged into their mouths (see pic above). The spirit was thought to exit through the mouth, and presumably wedging it closed would have trapped the spirit in the body and prevented it returning to haunt the relatives. So, whether the belief was that the body would become reanimated or just that the spirit would haunt the living is a subject for discussion. But, if this picture doesn’t fascinate and creep you out in equal measure, I’ll be surprised.

Link: Did Zombies Roam Medieval Ireland? : Discovery News. (The most-thorough story about the find that I’ve read so far.)

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