My wife and I recently took a fabulous trip to Ireland. We were on a coach tour that departed Dublin and went around the coast. Among the most spectacular sites we saw were the 6th century abbey ruin at Glendalough, the Ring of Kerry, and the Cliffs of Moher. Our stops included Waterford, Killarney, Galway, Donegal, Drumcliff, Derry, and the Ulster-American Folk Park in Omagh. You can see pictures at www.facebook.com/sullywriter. A highlight for me was visiting William Butler Yeats’s grave in St. Columba’s cemetery in Drumcliff. The epitaph is from “Under Ben Bulben”:
Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!
You can see the mountain from the graveyard. Another highlight was seeing a wonderful multimedia exhibit on Yeats at the National Library of Ireland in Dublin. Something I did not realize about Yeats was his obsessions with the occult and spiritualism. He was seeking to create with others a sort of “national religion” for Ireland rooted in Celtic mythology.
The trip made me think of some favorite titles of mine about Ireland.
- Bartoletti, Susan Campbell. Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845-1850. Houghton Mifflin, 2001.
- Winner of the Orbis Pictus and Sibert Awards, Black Potatoes tells the story of the Great Irish Famine through the voices of the Irish people. Combining illustrations from mid-19th-century newspapers with eyewitness accounts, Bartoletti offers a gripping, horrific account of how Ireland lost half of its population to starvation and disease, and emigration. A superb informational book.
- dePaola, Tomie. Jamie O’Rourke and the Big Potato: An Irish Folktale. Putnam, 1992.
- Jamie O’Rourke, the laziest man in all of Ireland, is certain he will starve to death when his wife injures her back and can no longer do all the work. A wiley leprechaun intervenes, and one wish later, Jamie is the proud owner of a potato as big as a house! This entertaining tale is one of my favorite read alouds for when St. Patrick’s Day rolls around.
- Lyons, Mary E. Knockabeg: A Famine Tale. Houghton Mifflin, 2001.
- The Nuckelavees “live only to create a wicked world where they can feel at home.” Having already destroyed the East Isle, these faeries now have their sights set on the West Isle (Ireland). The Trooping Faeries declare war on the Nuckelavees, who cause the potatoes to wither and rot in the ground. If the crops fail, the mortals will die or abandon the town of Knockabeg, leaving the faeries to go hungry. However, according to Faery Laws, they can only fight with a mortal by their side. The Queen picks a young boy named Eamon to accompany them. This magical story includes some realism with gruesome descriptions of the effects of the potato famine on the mortals of Knockabeg.
- Lyons, Mary E. Feed the Children First: Irish Memories of the Great Hunger. Atheneum, 2002.
- This beautifully crafted work combines first-person accounts of the Great Irish Famine with artwork recalling those times. A concise, informative introduction is followed with brief selections about the people and the land before the Great Hunger, the potato blight and subsequent starvation and disease, the poorhouse, soup kitchens, relief works, eviction, and emigration. Sketches made by Irish newspapermen traveling through the country during the famine, and later depictions in paintings are handsomely reproduced and perfectly matched with textual sections. This an excellent account of the Great Hunger for readers not ready for Bartoletti’s Black Potatoes.
- Pignat, Caroline. Greener Grass. Red Deer Press, 2008.
- In 1847, fourteen-year-old Kit Byrne is jailed for digging up potatoes on confiscated land to feed her starving family, and during her three week incarceration she reflects on the miseries that the blight has brought upon her family and neighbors in the past year. A fast-paced, compelling work of historical fiction rich in detail and memorable characters.