The Jeanine Cummins Non-Touristy CyberTour of Amazing Irish Places You Won’t Find in Your Guidebook
Today, we’re celebrating St. Paddy’s Day—after all, you can never start a party too early! So, I’m thrilled to introduce you to Jeanine Cummins, the author of The Outside Boy—a wonderful coming of age novel set in 1950’s Ireland. (After reading Jeanine’s guest post, you can also check out my review of “Boy”, but I digress…) I met this darling little bubble of energy last May at Book Expo America—and when I say “bubble’ I mean she was about seven months pregnant…The next time I saw her was at the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend’s Weekend in January and she was just as fun and energetic—but she’d lost her bubble and could now fit into a Cheerio’s uniform—but her main accessory was not a pom pom but a breast pump. She’s quite the Modern Mom and I’m so glad for her to join us at the Book Club Cheerleader blog and give us a bit of an Irish lesson.
There’s a great Irish word, craic (pronounced “crack”) which has no literal English translation, but which sort of means fun. “What’s the craic?” is a common Irish greeting, and signs above pub doors often promise “ceol agus craic” (music and, well, you get the idea). Since my novel, The Outside Boy, came out last summer, I have enjoyed speaking to so many book clubs, and I’ve often thought it would be great craic to take a book club (preferably a rowdy, heavy-drinking, adventurous kind of a book club) on a tour of some of my favorite, hidden places in Ireland. So today, in honor of Saint Patrick himself, I give you: The Jeanine Cummins Non-Touristy CyberTour of Amazing Irish Places You Won’t Find in Your Guidebook.
- For inspiration: Yeats’ Grave – okay, this one you might find in your guide book. But really, it’s too amazing to skip over just because it’s in the book. You’ll hardly find busloads of tourists in this out-of-the-way spot, and even if you did, they’d be literary-minded, Yeats-loving tourists, so how bad could they be? Yeats’ grave is located in Drumcliffe, in County Sligo, about a million miles from anything, and practically right beneath the lush and looming green shadows of Ben Bulben. I rode my bike there once, on a sunny day, and leaned that bike against the railing of the churchyard while I went into the cemetery to pay my respects. That place is so steeped in magic, you can practically hear Yeats’ voice: Tread softly because you tread on my dreams. A perfect fieldtrip for a reverent book club.
- For tradition: Kenny’s Bookshop and Art Galleries in Galway (http://www.kennys.ie/help/aboutus/) – this traditional family-owned bookstore was the inspiration for the bookstore which features so prominently in The Outside Boy. The Kenny family has been selling books since 1940, and their literary tradition goes back even further than that. This is a family that embodies the warmth, work ethic, and hospitality that Irish people are known for. And their continued success in hard times speaks to the entrepreneurial spirit and progressive thinking that are so vital in the new Ireland. Kenny’s also ships books worldwide for free, so book club members can buy copies of The Outside Boy there, even if they can’t manage a visit. J
- For sustenance: The Garrick Bar in Belfast (www.thegarrickbar.com) established in 1870. I worked at the Garrick for several years in my carefree youth, and the craic was mighty. Guinness is practically a religion at this place, so even after I learned to pull a mean pint, it took a while to convince some of the old-timers that a girl could do justice to their beloved black stuff. I never had any complaints, though. The food is remarkably good, too. I recommend the steak au poivre and bannoffee pie. Yum. It’s important for a book club never to go hungry. A well-fed book club is a happy, harmonious book club.
- For bonafide magic: the Faery Fort at Laitean in County Tipperary – these fairy forts are located all over Ireland – there are over 45,000 of them. They are perfectly round earthen mounds of various sizes, often covered by a growth of hawthorne trees. They are said to be the ancient dwelling places of the sidhe, known in English as “fairies.” There are countless stories of farmers being mamed or taking ill after attempting to destroy a fairy fort on their land, so while most Irish people today will tell you they don’t believe in fairies, you’d be hard pressed to find an Irish farmer willing to interfere with a fairy fort on his property. There are even legends of people wandering into a fairy fort and getting trapped inside for days, just stumbling around and around, unable to find their way out. Sounds like a perfect place for a book club discussion, don’t you think?
- For music: Matt Malloy’s pub in Westport. In my mind, good literature often comes with a soundtrack. And there’s no better place to match your Irish fiction with a lively traditional Irish music seisiún than at Matt Malloy’s. This is where the locals go to get their “fiddly-dee” on. You will be astonished by the effortless talent (and often the youth) of these musicians. Oh, and you’ll get a lovely pint while you’re at it.
- For the view: Killeencoff in Mayo – there’s a beautiful, little-known hill at the back of my husband’s family home in Mayo, that we climbed on a recent visit, and which setting inspired one of the final scenes in The Outside Boy. It’s quite the hike, so the book club would have to bring their boots, but the view from the top makes it all worthwhile. Above is my handsome Irish husband adding his own gorgeousness to the panorama.
Now if that doesn’t make you want to visit Ireland, nothing will. I hope you enjoyed my little tour, and perhaps it will inspire you to pick up your book club and GO! Heck, buy me a ticket – I’ll go with you. We’ll have great craic! Happy reading, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Jeanine Cummins is the bestselling author of the groundbreaking memoir A RIP IN HEAVEN, and novel, THE OUTSIDE BOY, which was a Booklist Editor’s Choice for 2010, an Indie Next List Notable (2010), and a Book Club Cheerleader Top 10 Book Club Books of 2010. She grew up all over the United States, and lived in Ireland for several years before moving to New York City, where she remains now with handsome hubby and the kids. They still spend several weeks each year in Ireland with family. She would be delighted to participate in a discussion with your book club, even if you can’t take her back to Ireland. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.