A reader’s perspective on the Emerald Isle
Given the fact that people everywhere are celebrating St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow (well, probably for the last week in some cases) I thought it was as good an excuse as any to reminisce about my recent trip to Ireland. I have to admit that Ireland wasn’t really on my list of “must see’s” but we were all in when the band association we are part of announced a “performing” trip to Ireland and that all were welcome, regardless of musical skill and experience. The lack of skill was key of course as I’m newbie to the hobby musician gig as well as the fact that very good friends were going along – and well, Guinness, lots of it.
After way too long waiting in airports and sitting on planes we hit the ground running, landing in Dublin, boarding our bus and heading up to Belfast. The first day was cool with a constant mist or drizzle. Exactly what one expected, but the balance of the trip was all warmth and sunshine as Ireland had its warmest June weather in decades. As you can see from the routes outlined on this map we saw much of the country putting over 1,800 km on our butts. An amazing trip – I came away with a love of Ireland, its citizens and a fascination with its history and traditions.
Over the years I have read and enjoyed numerous lesfic novels set in Ireland, and I appreciate them that much more now. I share a few below but you may have others come to mind and I’d love to hear about them or your experiences in Ireland.
I am not sure that Angela Koenig is particularly well known but she has written some awesome novels. I would consider her Reflection Trilogy to be historically based political intrigue or espionage thrillers. In book one Rebellion in Ulster we are introduced to the main protagonist of the series American Irish Jeri O’Donnell who gets caught up in the troubles while visiting her cousin, Fiona. When we first meet up with her she is being detained (without trial) in the Armagh Women’s Prison. The first half of the book covers her time there along with much of her background story and how she came to be in Ireland and the prison within weeks of her arrival. With her release we move to another chapter of her journey (literally and figuratively) all the while being exposed to the political climate within parts of Europe and in particular the “troubles” of the early 1980’s. Visiting Belfast where there are still areas that Catholics or Protestants still don’t go to and hearing first hand accounts of life in Derry made a reread of this novel even more interesting. The second and third novels are set in other European countries but are also suspenseful political thrillers with the addition of a romantic (initially grudgingly) interest for Jeri.
I most recently read and am admittedly still digesting her latest novel Reach of the Heron in which she provides the backstory of one of the integral supporting characters, Arkadia, from Rebellion in Ulster. This novel is not for the faint of heart. It is in parts dark and disturbing with little hope. Koenig has seamlessly woven two engaging parallel paths for the main and supporting characters. The novel is set in Ireland during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s when social justice was lacking and religious and social misogyny and class struggle were prevalent. I’ll definitely be rereading this one.
Caren J. Werlinger’s novels often have a hint of the Irish or Celtic woven within the fabric of the story and her latest A Bittersweet Garden is actually set within Ireland proper (the picturesque Village of Cong with a side visit to Dublin). American Nora McNeill has learned about her Irish roots second hand through her grandparents and something intangible draws her there to experience it first hand. Once there she gets more than she bargains for with ghostly interventions and unexpected romance thrown into the mix. The reader travels back and forth from present to past and gets a glimpse of the Irish struggles particularly in the 1800’s.
Finally I’d consider Michelle Grubb’s novel Becoming You the more traditional romance of today’s novels. It is set mainly in Dublin and the coastal area near Galway both of which figure into events as they unfold. Australian Airlie Porter heads to Ireland for a working holiday with her bestie, Hannah. On the way there she befriends the older and married ex-pat Olivia Swanson. As they grow closer Airlie struggles with and finally comes to terms with her attraction to women and Olivia in particular. Olivia on her part must battle her own demons and in the end the women come to a cross road in their friendship.
There’s more of Ireland in my reading future but I’m thinking tonight it will be a sip or two of a good Irish stout with friends around a fire watching an Irish classic movie or two.