San Francisco-based publishers –Travellers’ Tales – produce a series of country guides subtitled True Life Stories of Life on the Road. Readers are offered – in Travellers’ Tales Ireland – short essays and stories of experiences as diverse as climbing the Irish mountain, Croagh Patrick, to learning the secrets of Irish set dancing. An excerpt titled ‘Annie and the Bishop’ from well-known political and cultural Irish Times journalist, Fintan O’Toole, ruminates on one of first of the revelations of the secrecy and subsequent chaos that has sadly become the modern Irish church.
The Essence of Ireland – First Holy Communion and the Celtic Tiger
Part One of Travellers’ Tales Ireland, subtitled ‘The Essence of Ireland’ contains Frank McCourt’s true life account of the experience leading up to and including his own first holy communion in a comedy of errors that makes it easy to understand why McCourt was an endearing and insightful writer.
Another of Ireland’s journalists, John Boland, writes about the ‘New Ireland’ in a piece called ‘A Begruder’s View’. “The Ireland of De Valera was dead,” he writes, “simply because most young Irish people have never heard of him.” Written in the height of the Celtic Tiger, Boland’s piece unknowingly telegraphs the great recession that began officially in 2009 but set its seeds years earlier.
Some Things to Do – Climb Croagh Patrick and Dance a Jig
Another of Ireland’s prize-winning novelists, Colm Toibin, writes about the time he climbed Ireland’s holy mountain – the mountain where, legend has it, St. Patrick fasted for 40 days and nights in the 5th Century. Each year thousands of Irish and non-Irish climb the stony, steep mountain, some in bare feet, to make their pilgrimage.
Toibin writes, “I moved slowly on my hands and knees in the wind and the driving rain.” But when he gets to the top, like all successful Croagh Patrick climbers, he is exhilarated. ‘Wisdom in the Feet’ by Niall Williams is an account of the writer’s first ‘ceili’ in Ennis, County Clare where he danced jigs, reels and hornpipes to the traditional tunes of the Tulla Ceili Band.
Going Their Own Way – Stories about Coming Home and Going Away
An evocative piece called ‘ Going Home’ by one of Ireland’s best loved writers, Brian Moore, written just before he passed away in 1999 at the age of 77, is full of memory and loss. Moore, a native of Belfast, who lived his adult life outside of Ireland writes, “…when I die I would like to come home at last to be buried here in this quiet place among the grazing cows.” Equally nostalgic and melancholic is Edna O’Brien’s brief essay ‘Escape to England’. A native of County Clare, O’Brien lives in London but here she notes that no matter where she is she only has to think of the names “…Ballyhooly or Raheen to be plunged into that world where I have derived such richness and such unquenchable grief.”
Everything about Ireland Including the Basics
The editors of Travellers’ Tales Ireland have done an excellent job compiling 45 excerpts about Ireland from great writers, both Irish and non-Irish. They’ve also included information on the basics of getting there, and about weather, customs, travelling around, events and holidays, resources, and recommended reading. If all of their Travellers’ Tales Guides are this good, they’re on to a good thing, and they do travellers a great service. Recommended reading for serious travellers.