Gráinne Mhaol, pirate queen of Connacht: behind the legend
Vilified by her English adversaries as ‘a woman who hath imprudently passed the part of womanhood’, Grace O’Malley was ignored by contemporary chroniclers in Ireland, yet her memory survived in native folklore. Nationalists later lionised her as Gráinne Mhaol, a warrior who would come over the sea with Irish soldiers to rout the English. She finally became an icon of international feminism, both as an example of a strong and independent woman and as a victim of misogynistic laws. Nevertheless, this subject of verse, music, romantic novels, documentaries and an interpretive centre remains shrouded in mystery. Gráinne Ní Máille’s mythical status is a double-edged sword that, while ensuring that her name survived, has obscured the reality of the woman behind the legend. She was an extraordinary woman who lived, loved, fought and survived during a pivotal period of Irish history that saw the collapse of the Gaelic order and the ruination of Ireland’s ruling élite.
Source: History Ireland
On the 12th of February, the Centre had the pleasure of welcoming Professor Andrew McNeillie to give the annual Tannahill lecture. Professor Gerard Carruthers introduced the event, outlining that i…
Source: Professor Andrew McNeillie – ‘Theatres in the Round – Islands, Islanders, and Audiences: or backstage, stalls and gods: in the Unnameable Archipelago’. | Centre for Scottish and Celtic Studies
Is Iceland magical to you? It is for a lot of others, as well! I went in 2015 and came back enchanted with the land. I set part of my book, Past Storm and Fire, in this mystical landscape.
Europe – It’s Not Just for Daydreams Anymore
A Guide on Planning a European Vacation
Ah, the magic of Ireland. The history of London. The highlands of Scotland. You’ve heard of them for years, seen them in the tourist commercials, and heard about them in the music. Yet you have never yet visited these dreams. And why not?
It’s too expensive, you say. I could never afford a trip to Europe.
Less expensive than a week at Disneyworld, I say! For a two week Ireland vacation in summer (2006), including airfare, rental car, B&B accommodation and trip insurance, I spent about $1600. Yes, that’s it. Now, that doesn’t include food or souvenirs, of course, but it did include a wonderful vacation to a magical place.
So, how do you get such a deal? Well, it takes patience, research, and the ability to make decisions when you need to. I will take you through, step-by-step, how to get the best deal for a European vacation.
DECISIONS: Who, What, Where, When and Why
WHO’s going? You? Your spouse? Your children or parents? Your best friend? A huge group of 20 friends (not recommended unless you want ulcers!) This decision makes a big difference in accommodation and transportation choices.
WHAT to do? Are you interested in touring the whisky distilleries in Scotland? Or the abbeys in England? Or the pubs in Ireland? Your trip doesn’t have to have a theme, of course, but it is more fun if you have one – and helps you to plan when your mind is a blank. Perhaps you’ve seen a movie or read a book set in Yorkshire, and want to tour the area? Or you dance and want to learn step dancing in Ireland? The imagination can take flight here!
WHERE to go, of course, depends on WHAT you are doing. It also ties into WHEN you want to go. Since my most recent trip was Ireland, I will use that as an example, but most of my advice can be applied to any destination in Europe, or even beyond. The decision of WHEN to go will be tied into the destination. For instance, Ireland is much nicer to visit in the summer – but also more expensive; whereas Greece is cooler as a winter destination. The days are longer in the summer the farther you go north – and conversely, shorter in the winter, resulting in much shorter days for sightseeing.
Another part of WHERE includes the character of place – towns and villages, or bustling metropolis? London or Kilkenny? Edinburgh or Ullapool? While each city has its own character, they can be overwhelming at times, and aren’t always the best places to stay. A small village used as a base of exploration can be wonderful, and you get more chances to meet the locals.
You might also want to think about WHY you want to go. Do you want to touch the roots of your ancestors? Or experience an ancient culture? Do you just want to get away from the screaming kids? Or make your co-workers jealous? There are many reasons WHY you may want to go to Europe – pick several!
RESEARCH: Find out everything about everything –
then throw half of it away
The internet is many things. Addicting, yes; maddening, yes. But it is also incredibly helpful when doing research, especially about places far from your home. Airfare, hotels, cities, beautiful beaches (yes, they exist in the UK) and gloomy castles are all listed somewhere – you just have to find them. The best order of research I’ve found is airfare first, then itinerary, lodging, and finally ground transportation. The airfares available may define your itinerary somewhat, and the itinerary will define the other items.
There is a reason I look for this first. There is a definite season to vacationing in the UK – summer. While many people do go on the non-‘peak’ months of July and August, there is indeed a reason why summer is the best. Longer days to see sights, warmer weather, less rain and wind – and more things are open. That also means the airfare is the most expensive, and usually lodging as well.
The shoulder months of May, June, September and October are becoming more popular, as the weather is still nice, and the days aren’t incredibly short yet. However, that also means that the airfares are creeping up as they become more popular. I have traveled to southern Ireland in April and it was beautiful – and inexpensive.
When I’ve decided how much cash I’m willing to sacrifice for a warmer vacation, I start researching my flights. I go to dozens of websites, sometimes daily, to find the best fare. When I got tickets to Ireland in 2006, I found them on Travelocity on a one-day fare sale on Virgin Air. The tickets were non-stop from Miami to London, for $488 including taxes – in June. They were gone within 24 hours, so if I hadn’t jumped on them, I would be stuck with the lowest I could find later – $800 a piece.
Also consider flying into one city and out of another. This is great for Ireland, as you can fly into Shannon, explore the west, and end up flying out of Dublin at the end of your trip. Edinburgh, London, and Glasgow are also considerations for this technique. This is called an open-jaw ticket, and usually doesn’t cost much more, if any, than a normal round trip ticket.
Here are some of the sites I check regularly for discount airfare:
- www.Priceline.com (their bidding site is a great backup if you never find a great fare)
There are others, of course, but these are the ones I’ve used most often. Also don’t forget to check the airline websites; if you find a great fare on Travelocity for Delta, Delta might have it cheaper, and it is usually better to deal directly rather than through a middleman. Also remember not all sites include taxes in their fare quotes.
When you buy your tickets, check out the cancellation policies. Usually, the cheaper the flight, the less flexible the changes allowed. Make sure you are going before you purchase non-refundable, non-change tickets!
There is a wealth of information about places, monuments, workshops, battles, and other things of interest. Most cities and towns, even villages, have their own website with tourist information. In addition, many travel agent websites have great information for the intrepid traveler. Even more, there are websites dedicated to those interested in travel, with wonderful forums for those odd questions. Some of my favorites are:
- www.greendragonartist.com/BIhome.htm, my own website dedicated to travel in the UK
- www.fodors.com of travel guide fame
- www.IrelandYes.com for everything about Ireland
- www.flyertalk.com for those who travel frequently
- www.Tripso.com has daily travel columns
- www.slowtravel.com for those that like to take it easy on vacation
- www.lonelyplanet.com for true budget travel – backpacking and hostels
- www.ricksteves.com the PBS travel guru
Once you have done exhaustive research of the places you want to see, taken notes to places, planned routes around them, and then throw half of it out. Yes, that’s right – you will likely end up with a list of 17 things to see in each city, and you will only have time for half of that, so pick your favorites.
Also, do yourself a favor, and be sure to leave room in your itinerary for free time – wandering around and getting lost, people-watching at a café, or just having a pint with the locals. These are usually the most memorable parts of your trip, leave time for them frequently. You don’t want to end up with an itinerary where you are rushing through things so fast you don’t see them. Michele at www.IrelandYes.com calls that the Green Blur tour. I suppose a Scottish version would be the Plaid Blur?
If you’ve got the places listed you want to see, look for a pattern. Are they all close to a couple central locations? If so, pick several places and use them as bases of exploration. Can they be strung together in a large circle? Then spend a couple nights in each place, moving around the circle. Plan wisely, and try to avoid criss-crossing or backtracking. Check driving times between places with www.michelin.com and www.theaa.com. Then add about 20% to those driving times – they don’t take into account UK and Irish roads. They twist, turn, and wiggle, which keeps speeds down lower than the speed limit! You don’t want a day where you are driving 80% of the time, trust me! I try to keep my days to 3 hours of driving at the most, and even that broken up with sites along the way.
Once you have your airfare and itinerary, you know which nights you are going to need lodging for, and where. The UK is wonderfully full of adorable Bed & Breakfasts, and I highly recommend this accommodation choice. The B&Bs in the US tend to be more upscale and expensive than those in the UK, so don’t go by their example. Most B&Bs I’ve ever been in have been comfortable, clean, cozy, and a delight to stay at. They run around $30-$60 a night per person, and include a huge breakfast (more on that later). You will pay higher for city B&Bs, and sometimes shared hotel rooms are less expensive in the larger cities. Do chat with the owners, and get their advice about local sites and attractions.
Now, the breakfast. Ah, that artery-clogging wonder of cholesterol, the Full Irish, English or Scottish Breakfast. Take eggs (usually over easy), add cold toast (they put it in racks to cool), sausage, side ham (they call it bacon), black pudding, white pudding, grilled tomato, sautéed mushrooms, cereal, bread, milk, juice, coffee, tea, and perhaps some fruit on the side – if you’re still peckish. Stent, anyone?
Hotels, as mentioned above, usually charge by room rather than by person. However, they may or may not include breakfast in the deal, and are usually more cookie-cutter and sterile. They are a place to stay rather than a place to enjoy.
Then you can try the other options, such as youth hostels (not just for youth anymore), camping, caravanning (RV), canal boats, or lodging in old monasteries, colleges out for the summer, etc. There is no end of unusual places to stay. On the Isle of Lewis, you can stay in a traditional black house; near Inverness, there is a converted church set up as a B&B. Get creative!
Once you have decided where you want to stay, make a reservation. Make sure to check the cancellation policies. Most have a day or so required, some a week or even a month. Email is usually an option for communication these days, but some may require a phone call; remember they are at 5pm when it is noon here, and don’t wake anyone up!
So, you know when, where, and why you are going – how are you getting there? Well, my recommendation for the UK and Ireland is definitely for renting a car. While it is possible to use bus and train to get around, and certainly many people do, you can’t find the little villages doing this, and getting lost on the way is half the fun. If you are in a bus, you can’t make a detour on a whim to go find a hidden castle when you see a sign. You can’t always determine how long you stay at one spot; there is much less flexibility.
Now, I know it is scary to think about driving on the wrong side of the road. It gets worse: automatic transmission cars are twice as expensive to rent, and the manual transmission cars make you shift with your left hand (since the driver is on the right of the car). Confused yet? I remember many times trying to grab the stick with my right hand – only to bang it on the door. However, it’s not so bad – you get used to it very quickly. It helps to have a designated navigator, as the signage on the islands is different. Signs tend to tell you what the next town is, not what the road is called. That means you should know the major towns on the way to where you are going, or even the ones just past your destination.
Many cities in the UK don’t require a car to get around in; in fact, having a car is a liability in Edinburgh, Dublin and London. It is difficult to drive, find parking, and expensive. London even has a toll to enter the city centre! Those cities have a good public transportation system, though, especially the Underground in London, so use those instead. Turn in the car before getting there, or wait to rent it until you leave.
Gas (petrol) is very expensive over there. It is running around $8 a gallon right now. Yes, really! The good news is their engines run much more efficiently, and you can usually get around 45 mpg from them. However, filling up a tank can still run you $100! Budget accordingly.
I’ve gotten decent deals from www.autoeurope.com and from www.enterprise.com. I would advise against renting from a place you’ve never heard of, cars can be very expensive – and it is difficult to fight a fraudulent damage claim from overseas. Do be aware that most credit card insurances do NOT cover Ireland, so you will likely be required to purchase expensive CDW insurance for such a rental.
OK, you’ve done your research, gotten your tickets, your reservations for lodging, and your car rental. Ready to go? Not yet!
You break your leg the week before the trip. Ruined! All your money lost! Not so, grasshopper – if you bought the proper trip insurance. Go to www.insuremytrip.com and compare the benefits of different packages. Find out if your health insurance will cover you on foreign soil. Find out if you need medical evacuation, trip cancellation in case of medical emergency, etc. Compare the benefits, and find one that fits right. For a small investment, you get a great deal of peace of mind.
Paperwork, money, etc.
This should be taken care of before you even get the tickets, but everyone procrastinates. My husband ended up getting his passport the day before we flew out – we were very nervous! Normal processing time for a new passport is six weeks, but please give it plenty of leeway (especially if you’ve already bought non-refundable tickets!). This has increased to about 12 weeks with the new regulations regarding travel to Canada and Mexico (which don’t apply on the road crossings, just flying).
US citizens don’t need visas for short visits to the UK or Ireland, but if you are going somewhere else, do read up on the requirements long before your flight, and make sure all paperwork is in order.
Right now, the UK is on the Pound Sterling and Ireland is on the Euro. I recommend going to your bank and getting a couple hundred dollars with to start out with, and getting more during your vacation from the ATM machine, and/or using your credit card. Shop around for a card with a good rate – many (Capital One is one of the few that don’t) add on an extra 3% for any foreign transaction, in addition to the 1% Visa/MC charges. You don’t want to carry too much with you, but some B&Bs require cash, and some require prepayment. You can also get some pre-trip Euros online through companies like AAA or Thomas Cooke.
Sure, you’ve packed dozens of times for vacations. What’s the big deal? Well, the new flight carry-on restrictions, for one. Transatlantic flights have new rules, and it behooves you to know them before you are waiting in the security line for your flight.
Carry-on: Most airlines have their carry on rules on their websites. Some have weight as well as size restrictions, and the liquid restrictions are fun. Check before you go! Right now (Jan 2007) any carry-on liquids must be in containers no larger than 3oz (100ml) and they must all fit comfortably in a quart-sized clear Ziploc bag. That includes water, drinks, toiletries, even lip gloss. Prescription medicines must be labeled in the traveler’s name, baby formula may need to be tested at the gate. There are several exceptions like this, so check them out.
Liquids include gels and semi-solid things like jellies and sometimes cheese, so be careful. When in doubt, check it or leave it. Also, jackets and medical equipment are not counted towards your carry-on limits. I’ve taken heavy stuff from my carry-on and stuffed it in my purse, which is rarely weighed. You can also stuff the pockets of that jacket!
Bring a soft sided carry-on or luggage, as it will likely expand with the things you buy on your trip. Some are expandable with zippered sides. Or, just bring an extra duffel to check on the way back.
Checked luggage: Some airlines are now charging hefty fees for overweight luggage, and limit the number of pieces each person can check. Also, any locks on checked luggage can be cut by TSA (airport security). I usually use cable ties to tie mine – if TSA does go into my bag, they will put their own on afterwards, and in the meantime I’ll know if someone else goes into my bag.
Don’t, don’t, don’t put valuables or medicines in your checked luggage!!! Cameras, laptops, anything fragile, anything essential, must go in your carry-on. Of course, this makes your carry-on heavy, so some decision making is sometimes necessary. I also usually put one day’s worth of clean clothes in my carry-on, in case the checked luggage is delayed or lost.
If you think you must take your laptop for all those digital photos, think again. You can have CDs made at most internet cafés (which are prevalent even in small villages like Dingle, Ireland) or bring a photo storage device. I bought one with 30G of memory – plenty of room for the 3000+ photos I take.
READY TO GO? Don’t forget the smile!
Don’t forget to pack the most important thing for any trip – a great attitude. This small item can make the worst disaster into a hilarious story, can take the biggest lemon and make lemonade out of it. After all, how can it be terrible – you’re in Europe!
A trip to Europe will be full of wonderful memories, historic experiences, and meeting wonderful folks. Whether you get addicted like I have, or are happy with going once and treasuring the memory forever, you will have an exquisite time.
Historical fantasy set in Ireland, 1846 – Book #1
A transatlantic journey, a quest for lost family, and a magical brooch.
Wealthy Valentia has the perfect life—except for the nightmares that plague her, foretelling disaster if she doesn’t find the brooch her grandmother mysteriously lost decades ago in Ireland. The night her family’s hotel burns to the ground, Valentia knows she can no longer wait. Risking a perilous Atlantic voyage, Valentia and her brother set sail to Ireland to find their grandmother’s family—and the brooch.
But the journey exacts a terrible toll, and her health deteriorates. Struggling to navigate a new country, cope with the desperate poverty, and untangle a complicated web of family secrets, Valentia fears she’ll never find the brooch in time to save her sanity—until she discovers a clue which sends her on a desperate trek across the Irish countryside, despite the dangers.
As the clock ticks down, her grasp on sanity slips through her fingers, forcing her to fight for a centuries-old legacy or lose everything.
Legacy of Hunger is the first book in The Druid’s Brooch Series. If you like strong female characters, heartwarming relationships, and a touch of fairy magic, you’ll love Christy Nicholas’ historical adventure. Buy Legacy of Hunger now to delve into the magic of Ireland’s past.
Historical fantasy set in Ireland, 1800 – Book #2
Set in late 18th century Ireland, Esme must grow up quickly in small, isolated northwestern town. Her parents are leaving for America, abandoning her and her sister to fend for themselves. As she struggles to find her place, she finds it difficult to keep hold of what’s left that’s precious to her.
Once married and in a new town, Esme’s only friend, Aisling, helps her through difficult times, as her Traveler husband stays away longer and longer plying his trade.
While Esme has had some comfort in her small family, she must now find comfort on her own, as her treacherous sister tries stealing the family heirloom to sell, a brooch reputed to have mystical powers, which had been left to her by her grandfather. Esme must learn to cope with her dwindling family and growing despair in order to keep the brooch safe.
Irish Traveler Éamonn loves gambling, women, and drinking, not necessarily in that order. But he’s entangled in a true mess when he falls for fiery redhead, Katie. When she’s married to a Scottish Traveler, Éamonn travels to Scotland to find her, with the help of Katie’s sister and cousin, and the magical brooch gifted by his father. Their quest takes them across the Irish Sea to the Isle of Skye, encountering war, betrayal, death. In the end, Éamonn must make his own luck.
Prophecy can be dangerous
In 12th century Ireland, Orlagh has been Seer to her king for forty years. He doesn’t want to hear her prophecies of war and destruction, and dismisses her efforts to warn him. Therefore, she is determined to fulfill her own quest: to find a worthy heir for her magical brooch.
In the course of events, she must pass judgment on a thief, escape a Norman war camp, and battle wits with a Fae lord. She receives some prophecy of her own and enlists the help of a grizzled old warrior, who happens to be a long–time friend.
Historical fantasy set in Ireland, 1114 – Book #5
Even a soldier cannot fight love
In 12th century Ireland, all Maelan wants is to do his duty to his Chief and maintain his family’s good name. However, his granddaughter Orlagh, is hell bent on wreaking havoc, with no care for the consequences.
When Orlagh falls in love with an itinerant bard, Maelan must rule with an iron fist to keep her from running away. However, her rebellion against his strictures results in disaster and he almost loses her in the same way he lost his beloved wife.
Maelan must make some difficult decisions and bargains with the Fae to save his granddaughter’s life and future. Can he save her happiness as well?
Historical fantasy set in Ireland, 1055 – Book #6
In 11th century Ireland, Étaín must hide her pagan magic from her pious Christian priest husband, Airtre. She wants to escape his physical abuse, but she must stay to protect their grandson, Maelan. Over many lifetimes, she has learned how to endure her own pain, but Maelan is young and vulnerable.
When Airtre’s paranoia and jealousy spiral out of control, Étaín has no choice but to escape in the night with little more than the clothing on her back, leaving a trusted friend to protect Maelan.
This is not the first lifetime Étaín has fled, and she knows how to survive. But when her past comes back to haunt her, she must make decisions that may result in disaster for her, her grandson, and everyone she loves.
Historical fantasy set in Ireland, 520 – Book #7
A daring escape, a brother’s duty, and a tragic mistake.
When Conall’s father died, he made his son promise always to take care of his little sister, Lainn.
Lainn could sing the bees from their hives, and make the morning sun sparkle in the winter with her laughter. Conall loved his sister with all his heart, and would do anything to protect her, even without a promise to his father.
Between an abusive step-father, a powerful Faerie Queen, and a maddened Fae Lord, every decision Conall made seemed to be the wrong one. Starvation, imprisonment, madness, and disfigurement plagued them. Even when he tried to follow his heart, it turned to disaster.
Can Conall correct his mistakes and save Lainn’s life and soul? Would it cost him his own?
Historical fantasy set in Ireland, 460 – Book #8
Fingin had no drive in his life until he finds a half-drowned dog who becomes his best friend. That friend leads him to a cottage where a powerful woman sends him on a quest to find his grandmother. With his dog, Bran, and a donkey, Sean, they embark upon their journey. The problem is, his grandmother no longer seems to exist in this world.
Between falling in with a band of Fianna, nearly drowning in a river, and climbing to the rocky top of Skellig Michael, Fingin had just about had enough of this quest when some magical creatures sent him in the correct direction.
Once he finds his grandmother, he realizes nothing works out as it should have. She is far from what he remembers and even further from what he’d expected. And she entangled in a power struggle of her own and has little time to attend her wayward grandson.
Soon, a battle ensues, and Fingin is caught in the middle. He decisions will have long-term consequences for himself and those he loves.
Clíodhna has three children and a missing husband, and now finds herself in the middle of growing quarrels with the new church.
When she encounters a strange man in the woods near her house, she discovers a kindred soul, someone to teach her to harness her own innate talents and powers.
At the new church, she develops a friendship with one of the monks, and shares many conversations with him about life, philosophy, and theology. For once, it seems her life is becoming a thing to be savored rather than a thing to simply survive.
Her new teacher, however, clashes with the ideals of the church. Her relationship with the monk is another source of conflict when a new church leader arrives.
A few rash decisions means she must now change her own fate. That means choosing between her happiness—perhaps even her life—and her family. It might be better for all involved if she leaves her children with a trusted friend and disappears into another world.
Can she flee a bad situation, leaving her children to the mercies of fate? Or does she have the power and ability to face the danger herself?
After his wife dies in childbirth, Turlough decides his children will be better off with their aunt. He leaves in the middle of the night, with only his son, Ruari. Turlough and Ruari travel west to find music, the other true love in Turlough’s life. Unwittingly sleeping under an ancient Faerie stone, they wake up in Faerie. Amidst enchanting music, they almost lose their souls before they escape with their lives. When they return, Turlough finds two years have passed, though he’s only been gone two weeks. His mother is waiting for him with the gift of a magical brooch.
#1 Bestseller on Amazon!
Come travel to the land of magic and mystery. My guide will show you how to plan your own trip, and not be a slave to the tour guide!
#1 Bestseller on Amazon!
Come travel to the land of rugged mountains and men. My guide will show you how to plan your own trip, and not be a slave to the tour guide!