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Barbara Scully’s Recommended Reads For Christmas

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I have nothing against E Readers and Kindles and the like but, for me, there is nothing, absolutely nothing that compares to getting my hands on a new book – particularly if it is a book that speaks to my soul.  So around about this time every year I have a furkle in my local bookshop and draw up a couple of possibilities that I give to my children to give to my husband as present ideas (for me of course).  This year I made my list a little longer than normal and have confined it to non-fiction.  I hope it may provide you with some inspiration too.

Abandoned Mansions of Ireland: More Portraits of Forgotten Stately Homes

Ireland’s Big Houses have long fascinated me.  We have few stately homes on the scale of those in England but the local Big House was once a feature of almost every parish of the country.  Many of course were destroyed during The War of Independence and the Civil War.  Of those that survived that turbulent era, many later fell into decay.

Tarquin Blake is an authority on such houses and his second book on the subject, Abandoned Mansions of Ireland II is now available.

This book really is a thing of rare beauty.  It is a tome to cherish and which will provide you with hours of enjoyment.  The author provides us with a brief outline of the history of each house.  But what really makes this book something special are the photographs.  They are simply stunning in their execution.  They are sure to prompt your imagination in a way that standing in an abandoned ruined home often will.  As you gaze into the images you wonder about the children that ran through the halls, the beautiful elegant women who may have descended the grand staircases.  The photos carry the echoes of centuries of stories of the families whose lives were lived within the now crumbling walls.

This is truly a book to cherish and to enjoy over and over again.  And if you are a writer I dare you not to find inspiration for your own stories from the photographs.

Abandoned Mansions of Ireland II is by Tarquin Blake and published by The Collins Press.


ISN’T IT WELL FOR YE? The Book of Irish Mammies

I have to admit that I didn’t look for this book – it found me – or as proper journalists might say “it came across my desk one day”.

The fact it was by Colm O’Regan was enough to make me explore within, even though I was sure that it was going to be about country mammies from the 50s and not about the more sophisticated mammy in what are usually referred to as ‘leafy South Co Dublin suburbs’.  Undaunted however, I took this little book with me one day to read over a latte in our local coffee shop.  I guffawed twice in rapid succession, splattering milky coffee in a most un-South County Dublin fashion.

Suffice to say that this book is a hoot – which, I suppose, is not surprising given that Colm O’Regan is a terrific wit on the twitter machine.  But what I love about it, is that it’s not about some mammy in the country!  The Irish Mammy is universally Irish and much of this book applies equally to those of us who are generally referred to as Mom!

From how she talks to Pussy (the family cat, tut tut) “she’s watching the table like a hawk.  You smell the chicken don’t you Puss?” to her fetish about damp clothes ‘you got that from which side of the hot press? That’s still damp.  Anything on that side is still damp,” I recognised myself on many of the pages.

This is a great book to cheer up any mammy (or mom) no end by reminding us of how much ‘rot’ we talk a lot of the time. It’s a perfect book for the loo!  Everyone will enjoy it.  So if you want something light for you, your mammy or even your granny for Christmas this is worth checking out.

Isn’t it well for ye? The Book of Irish Mammies is by Colm O’Regan and published by Transworld Ireland


MOORE STREET – The Story of Dublin’s Market District

One of my earliest and vaguest memories is of accompanying my father into Moore Street on a Saturday morning to buy fruit in the mid 1960s.  Fast forward twenty years and I am working in a Travel Agency on Talbot Street and some of my most interesting and most regular clients where the women traders from Moore Street who used to hightail it off to Majorca every year.  These women, who used to park their prams outside the door, while they came in and rooted around in their undergarments for wads of cash to pay for their holiday, always paid the full amount and never looked for a reduction.  When I was pregnant and developed a craving for strawberries they used open the door of the agency and roar in “will I leave ya some strawberries love” every morning on their way to their pitch.  Moore Street was for me, always about the people and particularly the women.  These savvy women controlled the street and were great sales people with huge personalities.

All of this is why I was so attracted to the new book by Barry Kennerk about Moore Street.  This is one of those wonderful books which maintains your interest by telling the history of the area through the voices of the people who lived and worked there.

It begins by tracing the history of the market area right back to the middle ages when the area was owned by the monks from St Mary’s Abbey through to the present day.  Along the way there was the Easter Rising to which Moore Street had a ringside seat and a few decades later The Emergency.  Christmas on Moore Street, Superstitions and Traditions, and the End of an Era with the building of the adjacent Ilac Centre are all catalogued in this lively book.

But for me the best bit are the chapters devoted to the voices of Moore Street where the real spirit of this ancient market comes to life.

The book is full of beautiful black and white photographs illustrating all the various chapters.  This is real Dublin and anyone who has a gra for this imperfect city will be sure to enjoy it.

Moore Street – The Story of Dublin’s Market District is by Barry Kennerk and published by Mercier Press


THE ICA COOKBOOK – Recipes from our homes to yours

I think it’s fair to say I am a no nonsense type of person.  I can’t stand baloney (which is a polite word for that other B word which actually is more appropriate).  Among the baloney I really have little time for are ‘food porn’ cookbooks.  Now come on, you know exactly what I mean… those big glossy tomes, full of amazing looking food, fronted by sexy and very accomplished cooks who usually have TV programmes also.  They drive me mad.  I have seen how food is styled and photographed and it’s no bloody wonder that food real people cook rarely bears any resemblance to the photo on the page you are working from.

Now there are exceptions – most notably that nice Donal Skehan whose cook books are no nonsense and entirely straight forward.

Check out any busy domestic kitchen, the most used cookbook (identified by unidentifiable splats and little clouds of flour) will not be the big glossy one.  The most loved cookbooks are usually plain and straightforward.  And it was that very fact that drew me to The Irish Countrywomen’s Association Cookbook with its cover photo of a bottle of milk and a half dozen eggs.

This book is a collection of dishes – not by celebrities (thank the good Lord) but submitted by members of the ICA all over the country; women in whom I am very happy to put my culinary faith.

This book is crammed full of recipes and interspersed among them are pages of handy tips on a variety of topics – such as ‘How To Cook For A Crowd’ and ‘How To Cook Potatoes’.  There are obviously lots of Irish dishes – Coddle, Spiced Beef, Colcannon, Irish Stew etc along with a variety of ‘foreign’ dishes that have become modern favourites.

This is a great book for family cooking and baking.  It is no nonsense and does what it says on the tin.  It would also make a great present to send to an emigrant child abroad.

The Irish Countrywomen’s Association Cookbook edited by Aoife Carrigy is published by Gill & McMillan


CHAOS TO CONTROL – A Practical Guide to Getting Things Done

I was aware of this book but had yet to get my hands on a copy in order to evaluate it when I found myself on the sofa at TV3’s Morning Show with its author Ciara Conlon.  We were both there to debate Social Media.  Clearly I was there as the addict, sorry advocate and Ciara was there with her productivity coach hat on, to point out the pitfalls of getting sucked into spending hours on the Twitter machine and the like.  Doesn’t the universe work in mysterious ways all the same!  Well I took the hint and Ciara, clearly feeling that I was on the brink of being a basket case presented me with a copy of her book.

As we all know Christmas is swiftly followed by the NEW YEAR … when we evaluate the year that’s gone and make resolutions to help us be a better version of ourselves in the next 12 months.  So everyone should get one book which will help them improve their life in some way… and this year I am going to learn to move from chaos to control.

Having met Ciara I am confident that this paperback will be fairly full of practical down to earth advice.

A quick scan of the chapters confirms that I need to read this book, but not only that I think I will enjoy it too.  For along with dealing with procrastination (which I definitely suffer from) and how to manage email overload (unsubscribe to newsletters for starters – brilliant), Ciara also talks my language when she deals with ‘having a vision for your life’, ‘the need to de-clutter and simplify’ and the ‘power of positivity.’ She’s even giving writing.ie readers a pile of tips that you can read here.

Oh yes, 2013 is going to see a new me.  Just wait and see.

Chaos to Control by Ciara Conlon.  Published by Orpen Press


Jane W Shakleton’s Ireland

I have to admit that it was the name Shackleton that first drew my attention to this beautiful book.  One of the best true stories, in the history of true life stories, has to be that of the Endurance Expedition to the South Pole led by Ernest Shackleton in December 1914.  (An Unsung Hero, a book by Michael Smith about Tom Crean, the Kerryman on that expedition is a wonderful read).  And yes it is the same family whose Irish roots are in Co Kildare that Jane Edmondson married into in 1866.

Being married to a photographer I live in a house with its fair share of photography books but this collection are different from any other we have because the photos feature so many people.  Shackleton’s photos are informal but beautifully shot and often feature images of her children and family.  She also has recorded places that featured strongly in her own life, Lucan, mills in various locations, inland waterways and buildings. There are also the odd quirky and wonderful photos – such as that of the Johnston Mooney & O’Brien delivery van in the Phoenix Park in 1900 and that of women checking out the camels in Dublin Zoo in 1904.

Clearly Jane was a bit of an explorer herself and some of the most stunning photos are those taken in the West of Ireland and particularly on the Aran Islands.  Her trademark is the inclusion of local people and children in the images giving us a unique insight into the people of this country which was on the cusp of revolution and still recovering from famine.

On the inside cover of this book is a portrait of Jane Shackleton herself.  It is not dated and I am guessing that she may have been in her 40s.  There is a smile playing on her lips.  She is a handsome strong looking woman with deep set eyes.  Her face is full of character and of the adventurous active life she has led.  I wonder about modern women with our faces full of make-up and injected with agents to freeze the lines and wrinkles.  Our portraits, even if they have been airbrushed, will never have such depth.

This is a book to take down again and again and wonder about the lives of those who Jane W Shackleton so beautifully captured.

Jane W Shackleton’s Ireland.  Compiled by Christiaan Corlett.  Published by Collins Press


Finally I wish to give special mention to a book by Reiki Master Abby Wynne called ‘Energy Healing for Everyone.’   At various times in my life I have found Reiki to have been a wonderful help which has assisted me every level.  I am a believer in energy healing.  I am also a Reiki Master, albeit a rusty one.  One of my New Year resolutions is to renew my Reiki practice for myself and my family.  As previously stated I have little time for baloney and this is why I want to bring Abby’s book to your attention.  If you are interested in Reiki for healing (on any level) or would just like to explore injecting a little spirituality into your life then treat yourself to this book.  It is simple and straightforward.  Abby published it herself and so it is available from her website www.abby-wynne.com


Have yourself a merry, book filled Christmas






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