Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Breath on My Neck in Newgrange

Many years  ago, back in 1991 to be exact, I had started writing my first Young Adult Novel, The Lost Scrolls of Newgrange. For those of you who have never heard of Newgrange you don't know what you're missing. This megalithic structure, over 5,000 years old (older than the Pyramids or Stonehenge in fact) was built back in Neolithic times. Approaching this ancient edifice, visitors could easily mistaken it for an extra-terrestrial vehicle which has accidentally plummeted to earth. Tons of rock and dirt have been heaped into a saucer-shaped structure. At the front, a wall of glittering quartz crystals lead the eye to a deep recess - what could well be (and perhaps is) an entrance to the Spirit World. Immense kerbstones, many decorated with intricately carved megalithic artwork that echos design patterns found in contemporary Irish art and  fairly recent Irish sweaters, form the base of this mystery.

Above the gloaming doorway, a roof-box has been constructed with amazing precision. On Winter's Solstice - the shortest day of the year - the rising sun perfectly aligns with this small entrance. As the sun breaks over the horizon watery sunlight filters through the roof-box, lighting the 19 meter long passageway behind it; at last penetrating the deepest recesses of the structure: an ancient cruciform chamber constructed at its very core. If you stop and think about it, that kind of engineering accuracy is astonishing when you consider that ancient contractors did not have the benefit of modern tools.

Nope. They had none of that. Instead, it appears that these good people first manually quarried the kerbstones, quartz, and other immense rocks from as far away as County Wicklow, a good 50 miles south. Somehow, they moved these monsters down to the Irish Sea, and then in all probability boarded them onto boats to be brought up to the River Boyne estuary (located in the town of Drogheda in County Louth). From there, they sailed down the Boyne - against the current it must be noted - to be finally deposited at Bru na Boinne, a  gentle but apparently strategic turn in the river. And then it was just a matter of building the darned thing. Easy peazy, if you happen to be constructing a child's toy. But this is no toy.

Today, visitors to Newgrange must first go to a wonderful Visitors' Centre located across the river but still quite near the monument. From there they are transported by bus to Newgrange itself. But back in 1991, back when I was researching that first book, it wasn't quite like that.

Instead, all you had to do was drive a car up to the monument, pay a few pence in admission to the Office of Public Works employee who shivered behind the thin walls of a wooden shed, and the place was pretty much yours. But for me, it was even better than that. When I told the lady minding the admissions shed that I was researching a book on Newgrange, she could not be more helpful.

"Now you just do what you need to do," she said. "Walk anywhere you want."  "Anywhere?" I asked. "Ah, fer God's sakes. Isn't that what I said? Just don't be falling off the thing because I don't need the bother."

I took her at her word. For the next two hours, I had complete access to one of mankind's engineering - and spiritual - triumphs. I of course walked completely around the structure, making notes of the fantastically sculpted kerbstones. Then I entered the monument. I'm not exactly the tallest of people, but even my short frame had to bend to avoid hitting the roof of the passageway. I walked up the rocky incline and into the chamber itself.

My eyes adjusted slowly to the poor light. Shadows shivered upon the stone walls, as did the nape of my neck. Here was a place made holy by people long ago, whose spirits would seem to still walk among these ancient works. Here, at my feet, engineers had knelt going about their trade. Their sweat and blood had created walls and ceilings which still stood over five-thousand years later. Here in this same space and only years later, the remains of local people were cremated, ash and broken bits of bone placed in small bowls for reasons that are still unknown. As sacrifice? In reverence? In hopes of an afterlife?

And though it was high summer, in my mind's eye I felt the cold of Winter Solstice and imagined a soft light causing the chamber to glow with the beckoning light of spring. And I felt those that had come so long before me grow even closer.

I wandered out of the chamber then, taking those ancient engineers with me. I walked up onto the very top of Newgrange and I know now that I am one of the very few who have had such a privilege. There, in the setting sun, I beheld the waters of the River Boyne below me glitter like galaxies of stars. And in the evening mist, I could imagine those ancient ones rolling the immense stones on great timbers up the hill from the river to the place where they would rest, and still do. I felt a kinship with those long ago people of Ireland. It was as if I could feel their breath upon my cheek. But that was probably only the summer breeze that blew so gently upon me.

Remembering back, I count myself lucky at the memory and of my life here. I know now, from my many walks around the country to so many ancient cathedrals and standing stones and castles and monasteries that I have never been alone in Ireland. Others walk with me as I breath in the timeless fragrance of the countryside. And I can't help but wonder still if on that occasion - on that special trip to Newgrange - those ancient engineers weren't with me.

The book as it turned out was a great success. Influenced, I'm sure, by the magic that I encountered on that day. Newgrange is still there. And I like to think that the spirits of those amazing engineers protect it to this day, inviting all to take part in the legacy that they so carefully constructed.

For more information on Newgrange, go to or simply Google 'Newgrange'. And while you're at it, why not just come over and experience it for yourself?

Want to learn more about living in Ireland? Are you thinking of traveling to Ireland or moving to Ireland? If so, you might consider the purchase of the 2014 Kindle ebook edition of A Survivor's Guide to Living in Ireland. Now 80,000+ words long, and having sold over 10,000 copies in its various editions, it could make the perfect gift for those interested in this wonderful country. Simply click on any of the links above to purchase this new Kindle version. You can also download various free aps to read this Kindle version on any PC or Mac. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

A Recipe for Successful Immigration

Throughout recent history the Irish have survived - and prospered - by emigrating and that process has been relentless. If statistics are to be believed, more than 100 million people located across the world can claim direct ancestry to this small country. It's an amazing figure when considering that the present population of Ireland is only 4.5 million.

The Irish were propelled to move abroad for any number of reasons.  The great Famine of the mid-nineteenth century motivated the Irish to move abroad due to tragic circumstance - starvation. Between 1845 and 1852, over a million people (10 percent of the population) starved to death. Another ten percent, intent on keeping body and soul together, shipped out to the four corners of the globe. This wave of Irish immigrants helped to build the infrastructure that formed the bedrock upon which our modern world has been constructed. From Canada and the United States to Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Brazil, the Irish pulled up their sleeves and got to work, and their sweat and blood yielded much of the mortar that continues to hold together the world's economic might.

Searching for opportunity, the Irish embraced emigration - like it or not - as a path to personal success. Even today, we bemoan the fate of thousands who have fled Ireland during the current economic disaster. But our loss is the world's gain. Irish energy and talent continues to pollinate the world stage, often helping to create opportunity not only for themselves but also for those whom they meet.

As an example, take a friend of mine: Brendan Cronin. Our friendship grew naturally from a chance meeting in Boston. I became fascinated with his story. While I had moved from the United States to Ireland, he had emigrated in the opposite direction but with many stops along the way. As I grew to know him, I realized that though we had taken very different paths, the story of our search for opportunity, and the struggles associated with immigration, were a common bond with which we both identified.

Born in County Mayo and raised during the stifling economic times of the 1960's, Brendan decided early in his life that he wanted to cook for a living which was decidedly not a popular choice among the farmers of the west counties. But that's exactly what he did. Having received a basic education in the fundamentals of cooking, but with few real opportunities at home, Brendan grasped opportunity by moving to Switzerland. And from there, his career took off.

In his memoir "Cheffin' - from Potatoes to Caviar" Brendan tells the tale of his global journeys, and of the people who influenced him and whom he influenced. In his book, we follow his career from the relative austerity of County Limerick hostels, to the elegant hotels of Switzerland, Africa and the Far East. We meet the people that he met - the famous and the infamous. We sweat with him behind the cookers of some of the world's great hotels and restaurants. We work elbow-to-elbow with him as he, in turn, works with an often zany collection of memorable staff, many having also journeyed thousands of miles in search of opportunity.

We also become part of Brendan's soul as he works hard to fit into the foreign lands which he must call home. He learns German and French because he must. He refines his culinary skills in order to survive and advance. When he finds himself moved into management, we watch as he uses his Irish generosity to compel a hodgepodge of restaurant workers coming from many different countries and ways of life to work together as a team in order to deliver up some of the world's finest foods.

And we feel his frustrations as he first struggles to fit in and learn his trade, and his final triumphs as he not only finds the beautiful woman who will become his wife, but also becomes the only Irish chef in history to attain the prestigious Swiss culinary title of 'Chef de Cuisine Diplome' - Swiss Master Chef.

This is a personal story of Irish immigration. In many ways, it reflects the challenges, opportunities, and triumphs faced by immigrants from any nation and throughout history. It is on one hand a sweeping, almost epic road story of one man's travels throughout Europe and the New World. But it is also an intimate and often humorous story of an Irish immigrant searching for his niche in life.

It is also a reflection of what most Irish hold most dear: kith, kin, and country. For despite his success, despite the fact that Brendan is now settled near Boston and teaches in one of America's most prestigious culinary schools, he wears his Irishness on his sleeve and his conversations are peppered with references to his Mayo home and his family whom he had to leave behind so many years ago, but whom he still visits at every opportunity.

Emigration is tough work. But it is also highly rewarding. Brendan Cronin's memoir "Cheffin' - from Potatoes to Caviar" deftly illustrates that journey. And it proves that with hard work and a little luck, emigration can be a recipe for personal success.

Brendan Cronin's Book "Cheffin' - from Potatoes to Caviar" is now available at Amazon in both print and Kindle eBook versions. Simply click on any of the links for more information or to purchase.

Want to learn more about living in Ireland? Are you thinking of traveling to Ireland or moving to Ireland? If so, you might consider the purchase of the 2014 Kindle ebook edition of A Survivor's Guide to Living in Ireland. Now 80,000+ words long, and having sold over 10,000 copies in its various editions, it could make the perfect gift for those interested in this wonderful country. Simply click on any of the links above to purchase this new Kindle version. You can also download various free aps to read this Kindle version on any PC or Mac. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Ireland's Economic Recovery Accelerates

The Irish are a solid lot. Even in the face of extreme economic hardship and negative sentiment we all tend to put a rather obtuse smile on our faces and do what we can to weather the storm. Mind you, after five years of recession, tax rises, falling income, high unemployment, and being told almost daily that worse is yet to come, we can't help but bitch occasionally about our situation.

But - and a big but - Ireland's prospects seem to be improving dramatically. At the end of last year - only days ago - Ireland regained economic sovereignty with the withdrawal of the so-called Troika of European banks that had propped up the country's cashflow requirements by lending us billions of euro. Late last week, Ireland's central bank went to the market to raise a few bucks all by itself. The result was tremendous: Irish bonds on offer were over-subscribed so much so that our central bank could have sold 3 to 4 times the amount that was on offer. Even more significantly, the demand for our bonds was so great that it pushed down interest rate borrowing costs to just over 3 percent. Not bad when you consider that when the country left the free market a few years back, borrowing costs were tipping 17 percent.

Even today, the Irish public received more good news: a survey of Ireland's business owners and managers found that a majority anticipate increased revenue and profit growth in the short-term. With any luck, this will also translate into increased employment over the next year.

It's about time we had some good news. For five years we've only had reasons to grouse. Today, Ireland's economy finally seems to be steaming back to recovery.

Prospects for Employment Improve

Many visitors to this blog (and believe it or not I've received over 36,000 page views since I started writing this) come here for one reason: to determine how they might get a job in this country. In fact, Job-related posts in Surviving Ireland receive by far the most visits.

So for those of you thinking of moving here and finding a job, there at last seems to be some positive news. But do keep in mind that Ireland's unemployment rate, while slowly falling, is still hovering around 12.5 percent. That means that some 300,000 Irish people are still looking for work, which presents some astounding competition. That said, if you desire to move here things really do seem to be picking up.

Industries seeing growth: if you're attempting to discover industry areas that offer opportunity, then check out this report: It reflects what I've written previously. But if you have skills in these areas, you are obviously more likely to find a position.

Turning on a dime: remember too that Ireland is a small, open economy. In bad times, the country's economic performance can plummet like a brick. But in good times, the reverse is also true: Ireland can rebound quickly. This is exactly what happened in the recession of 2001. The country turned around so quickly that it took most of us by surprise. And I suspect that this is what is going to happen this time.

If you're hoping to work in Ireland, now is the time to start to network. If based abroad, check out the wide range of employment websites devoted to Ireland simply by Googling Jobs in Ireland or any relevant subset (nursing jobs in Ireland, IT jobs in Ireland, etc). Make sure that you've polished your CV to highlight relevant skills and experience. Contact the relevant employer prospect. Then, if you're truly serious about this, get over here. The chances of landing employment over the Internet are small (mind you, anecdotal stories suggest that high in-demand skills such as the medical profession can indeed land employment without a face-to-face meeting.)

If you're serious about finding a job in Ireland, now would apparently be the time to really start looking. Good luck!

Want to learn more about living in Ireland? Are you thinking of traveling to Ireland or moving to Ireland? If so, you might consider the purchase of the 2014 Kindle ebook edition of A Survivor's Guide to Living in Ireland. Now 80,000+ words long, and having sold over 10,000 copies in its various editions, it could make the perfect gift for those interested in this wonderful country. Simply click on any of the links above to purchase this new Kindle version. You can also download various free aps to read this Kindle version on any PC or Mac. 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Traveling to Ireland?

If So, Visit an Unspoiled Corner of the Country - the Beara Peninsula

Spectacular aftermath of gales along the Beara Way
How many people have I met (Americans in particular, for some reason) who dream of visiting Ireland. When I run into these folks (most often through the Internet of course), many ask the same questions: Where should I visit? When should I go? What's interesting?

When I virtually chat with these good people, I find that most are naturally influenced by what they've read and heard. So invariably, their possible itinerary leaves them stuck on the tourist trail, herded like cattle among the obvious destinations: Dublin, The Ring of Kerry, Galway, perhaps Cork City. While these locations have much to offer (Dublin can be fascinating, the Ring of Kerry spectacular though often loaded with tourists, Galway a fabulous city, and also the oldest chartered city in Ireland), they aren't for everyone. Which brings me to my point:

If you're considering a visit to Ireland in 2014, I hope you'll consider visiting the Beara Peninsula and Eyeries Village in particular.

The Beara is one of the best kept secrets in the country. Few know about it. Often, tourists (either from abroad or from Ireland) stumble upon this little corner of the world by complete accident. I know I did. About ten years ago, and looking to get away from it all, I visited Anam Cara, an Artists Retreat located about a mile from Eyeries, owned and managed by fellow American Sue Forbes-Booth. I stayed for a week to work on a screenplay. Struck by the overwhelming beauty of this area, I dreamed that one day I would live here. Now I do.

The Beara Peninsula is located way, way down in the far South West of County Cork. Bantry, the gateway to Beara and a wonderful seaside town, is at the far east of the area. Drive to Bantry (a 5 hour journey from Dublin by car, 2 hours from Cork), head due west, and you'll enter an area of magic.

Beara sticks out into the Atlantic like a lost finger pointing west. A series of high craggy hills forms a spine all the way down the peninsula. These great blocks of granite and basalt thrust up into the sky, their balding sacred forms blasted by wind and rain. In the summer, the Irish sun casts them in a golden glow of wonder. In winter, many are peaked with white blankets of snow. During all seasons, wisping fog can curl between valleys, turning them into ancient lands where the spirits of the long dead just might still wander.

But while the peaks of these hills are fantastic, it is the sea that makes the journey magical. Drive down the coastal road, still heading east toward Glengarrif and you'll behold the Wild Atlantic in all of its might. Islands dot the sea near the coast. And if you're lucky, a setting sun will transform the sea into sparkling diamonds.

Stop for a bit when you get to Glengarriff. Until recently, famed actress Maureen O'Hara called the place her home. If you have some time take a local boat out to Garinish island and walk in the magnificent gardens. Then grab a cup of tea and a bun, visit the many woolen shops you'll find there, climb back in the car and keep heading west.

Forty minutes or so later you'll reach Castletownbere, one of Ireland's largest fishing ports. Maybe stop for a meal or talk a walk along the pier and watch local fishermen off-load white fish catches from a row of huge trawlers. Finished with Castletownbere, keep going west. Stop in the Buddhist Centre (Dzogchen Beara) for an hour of meditation in stunning rooms that look directly out over the Atlantic, or have a cuppa in their wonderful tea room. When you're spiritually replenished, continue west: next stop Allihies. This village - one of the most westerly in the country, is home to an old copper mine. When the mine closed almost 100 years ago, many of the miners emigrated to Butte, Montana, not only helping America to become a powerhouse of industry, but also adding the distinctive cultural heritage of West Cork to the local melting pot of immigrants.

Allihies has one of the best beaches around, as well as some of the nicest pubs, many serving an amazing selection of local foods, in the area. So stop awhile and enjoy yourself.

Then proceed to what is, in my opinion, the crown jewel of the area: Eyeries Village. To get there, all you have to do is keep following the coastal road around the tip of the Beara. Stop for a minute as you drive over the rugged hills to look back on the breathtaking view of the Skellig Islands riding like tall ships on the Atlantic. Keep on driving and 15 minutes later you'll enter the village of Eyeries.

Eyeries Village is one of the best-kept secrets of the lot. The village, a picturesque collection of early-20th Century terraced houses all painted in a variety of pastels, is perched above Coulagh Bay like sanctuary. It is so pretty that Bord Failte (Ireland's tourism organization) uses photos of it in many of its brochures. And it is so clean that over the years Eyeries has won a variety of Tidy Town awards.

I live here, so I'm biased. But I'm convinced that there's magic in this place. When I walk down to the sea I could swear that older residents - now long gone - watch me with a mixture of approval and horror at an American blow-in.sauntering along. There's a tranquility here that I've found no where else. The breeze blowing gently onto the village carrying the musky smell of the sea with it. The occasional surprise of walking along the coast's Beara Way, turning a corner, and finding a seal swimming in the gentle waves. Yell to him and he'll return a stare of nasty contempt. In poor weather, sit in the local pub with a pint at your elbow, watching the Bay turned to broiling whitewater that smash waves against the rocky shore below, hurtling salt spray heavenwards.

And at night in clear weather, walk out into the back garden and gaze at the carpet of stars and the Milky Way that sweeps unobstructed and unperturbed above this coastal sanctuary.

If you're thinking of a visit to Ireland, I hope you'll consider the Beara Peninsula and Eyeries. It's a secret corner of Ireland that you're sure to enjoy. But please - don't tell any of your friends about it. Otherwise my local friends and neighbors will get annoyed at me because the secret of the area will no longer be a secret.

Want to learn more about living in Ireland? Are you thinking of traveling to Ireland or moving to Ireland? If so, you might consider the purchase of the 2014 Kindle ebook edition of A Survivor's Guide to Living in Ireland. Now 80,000+ words long, and having sold over 10,000 copies in its various editions, it could make the perfect gift for those interested in this wonderful country. Simply click on any of the links above to purchase this new Kindle version. You can also download various free aps to read this Kindle version on any PC or Mac.