About The Belugas are Watching

We write & illustrate children's books, blog a bit, cycle a bit (Michael), & drink coffee a lot, all under the watchful eyes of the belugas.

Taking Criticism

For a writer taking criticism of your work is part of the job but it’s difficult not to be devastated by some of the things editors say – or don’t say. When I do critiques for aspiring writers I’m very conscious of this. I try to couch my opinion in a gentle way but that can mean I’m not being honest or clear, so now instead of beating around the bush I preface with some advice on how to approach feedback:

This is probably the first critique of your work you have ever received so you should know that ALL writers (no matter how long they’ve been writing) tend to hone in immediately on the negative remarks in critiques and ignore the positive; I know I do. Having your work critiqued can feel a little like being flattened by a steamroller! Read on, but remember good writing is all about teasing out what’s working and what isn’t, and then rewriting/editing with that in mind. Whether it’s song lyrics, poetry or prose, no one writes perfect ready-to-publish pieces straight from their head onto the page.  All ‘mistakes’ are there to be learnt from and are the typical mistakes everyone makes when starting out. If you pick up any of the books on writing I recommend you’ll see they all cover the same ground over and over again. Writing is a craft as well as an art and this critique is about helping you develop the craft. Most writers write, rewrite, rewrite and rewrite again. First drafts are just that – drafts. When I critique work I intend everything to be taken positively. Everything is about going forward to the next stage.

Then comes the critique.  At the end I add some advice on how to recover from it:

Picking yourself up after a crit of your work

Having your work critiqued can be overwhelming and feel very negative. This is how I respond to having my work pulled apart by editors.

  • I go into a 24 hour sulk and eat chocolate cake.
  • Then I acknowledge to myself that there are things in the crit which hit me in the gut as true. These are things I know in my heart I need to fix.
  • Conversely there is usually at least one thing in a crit/edit which I don’t connect with at all, something which feels wrong/incorrect – I examine these but ignore anything which honestly feels wrong or as if the editor didn’t ‘get’ something.
  • I may continue to feel irritated and sulky but I accept there is work to be done, usually way more than I thought.
  • I take a few days, a few weeks or a few months away from the work to absorb this and to put some distance between myself and the manuscript. When I pick it back up and reread I can usually see lots of stuff that needs doing and can now attack it with energy and purpose.
  • Editing and rewriting can feel daunting and a chore but when you actually get into it and see your work get tighter and cleaner and better you should begin to enjoy it.

The yellow image above is one of four pages of feedback from my editor on the first draft of the opening six chapters of my first novel. The blue image is the first page of feedback on draft number four. Note that this sheet only covers the problems on pages 1-37! The scribbles are my reactions to the notes. I was lucky to have a fine editor holding my hand through the process of writing Timecatcher and I learnt a huge amount about the writing craft from him.

To the students of Marino Institute of Education: Three brave Marino students have already sent me work to critique and I enjoyed reading their manuscripts very much. I hope my feedback was useful and they had cake to hand when reading it. I’m up for critiquing three more pieces, so if you are a secret writer or illustrator send me one chapter or some images or a handful of poems or a short story or a picture book idea, but get them to Ciara Ní Bhroin ASAP as it will be on a first come, first served basis.

This is my third year as writer-in-residence at Marino Institute of Education. (MIE) is an associated college of Trinity College, Dublin, the University of Dublin. MIE offers courses across the continuum of teacher education and prepares specialist education practitioners at early years, primary and further education levels. 

Rudolph’s First Christmas

We wish you Season’s Greetings with a repost of Michael telling the story of how Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer came to be in 1939. Michael has a personal connection with the little reindeer – he illustrated the official version in 1994.

Cover of 1994 publication illustrated by Michael. This edition is no longer in print. ©Robert L.May Company

Cover of 1994 publication illustrated by Michael. This edition is no longer in print. ©Robert L.May Company

Bob fidgeted in his oak office chair. He glanced up from his typewriter at the clock on the wall. 3PM. Two more hours and he could leave. The holidays had just come and gone, but the usual joyous event had been celebrated under a cloud.

The papers that year were full of bad news. A massive war looked likely again in Europe. Germany’s new fascist leader Adolf Hitler had just announced in parliament his plan to exterminate all European Jews.  Bob and his wife Evelyn were both Jewish.  Germany would soon march its rebuilt army through Vienna, Prague and then into Poland, killing thousands of people on its way. Russia had invaded Finland, Franco’s Fascists had taken over the government in Spain. Britain was arming for war. America was watching nervously.

Bob wanted to get a something nice for his wife, who was terribly ill with cancer. It was snowing outside on the streets of Chicago, but working for Montgomery Ward, one of the biggest department stores in the city, he could shop by taking the stairs up to the ladies department without going outside.

Bob glanced at the clock again. 4PM. One more hour. He hit two keys at once and his typewriter jammed. He cursed just as a bell rang and he was called to the phone. He crossed the room, wiping deep blue ink from his fingers as best he could before he picking up the inter office line.

“Bob?  How’s it going? Not busy are you? Good. Listen, gotta job for you. Boss wants to get started on this year’s Christmas campaign early. Macy’s is killing us. He wants a promo piece, yeah, something for the kiddies. Something happy. Uh huh, ‘first 200 customers through the door gets one free’ kinda thing.”

Bob glanced at the clock again – 4:45.

“Nope. Boss wants you. You’re always doing those funny little poems. And Bob, the boss wants to see some ideas tomorrow. Christmas will be here again before you know it. You on it?  All right. See you, 9AM, sharp.”

It was already dark outside, the holiday lights still up, blazing in the store windows, gathering crowds of post-holiday shoppers. But deep in the basement offices of the advertising department of Montgomery Ward department store, there were no windows. Just the glow of a green desk lamp.

Slumped at his desk, Bob aimlessly sharpened a pencil with his pocket knife. How was he supposed to work on something happy for kids with all the madness going on in the world?

He tried to focus. Other young Jewish American artists at that time, also engrossed by the horrors unfolding across Europe, were creating new kinds of superheros – comics artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger created Batman the same year, writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster created Superman just the year before.

But Bob would invent his own, quieter character. Small, persecuted, an outsider – one of Santa’s reindeer. A little deer with a big nose – an all too common antisemitic caricature of the time. Rudolph. Rudy the Red-nose. Bob began to type, typed some more. The nose became the key to the story. Soon the clock showed 2AM. But he’d done it. He had his hero.

rudolph3It’s impossible to know the exact genesis of any creative idea. But some facts are clear, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was undoubtedly born on a dark day in January, 1939, in the mind of Robert L. May, at a small desk in the advertising department of the Montgomery Ward store in Chicago, amid very personal, unimaginable grief and inescapable daily accounts of inhuman global turmoil, cruelty and suffering.

Sadly, before the work was completed, Robert L May’s wife Evelyn died. Robert was told he needn’t finish the project but he chose to work through his grief, eventually completing it in August of that year. The rhyming poem was an instant hit.  2.4 million copies were given away during Christmas 1939. The hopeful tale of a plucky little deer with the big red nose was just the antidote to the gloom of world events.

The little book slept during the war because of paper shortages. Then after the war, another 3.5 million were printed. In 1946 Robert asked his boss if he could have the rights to Rudolph. In an act of unusual generosity, his boss agreed.

A few years later, Bob’s brother-in-law, a struggling songwriter named Johnny Marks, proposed writing a song about Rudolph. He was convinced it would boost Rudolph’s name around the world. He was right. The song was indeed a hit, becoming the best-selling record in America for over 30 years. The May and Marks families have been caretakers of Rudolph ever since – almost 80 years. The two families need to agree on most projects, deciding what is best for the famous little deer, who is practically part of the family.

I personally became involved in Rudolph’s world when a local Boston area publisher, specializing in quality reproductions of historical literature, Applewood Books, contacted me to illustrate a second, less known and never fully illustrated story about Rudolph, titled Rudolph’s Second Christmas. They had already reprinted an exclusive edition of the first book with the original illustrations by Montgomery Ward staff artist Denver Gillen, with great success.

I met Robert May’s daughter, who at the time was managing the family Rudolph business. She told me 99% of her job involved chasing bootleggers who were using Rudolph’s image to make illegal t-shirts, coffee cups and toys. Many of the Rudolph toys you see are actually black market contraband.

I agreed to illustrate the book, and its success led to a second book project, a new edition of the original story, Rudolph, The Red-nosed Reindeer. It was published in 1994. No, I didn’t get rich. I was paid a one-off fee. You never own anything relating to a licensed character. I’ll never see the art again but I knew this before I started.

I’ll never suggest I suffered the mental turmoil Robert did, but somehow it seemed fitting that the color work on the first book was completed with my drawing-hand in a cast (due to an untimely broken wrist), with the help of a good friend -a skilled artist- and a lot of painkillers. It was a rewarding experience overall, illustrating such an iconic character of American children’s literature. I grew up watching the beloved TV version. Too bad I didn’t get a chance to draw my favorite character from that animated version – one Robert L. May never imagined Rudolph would meet – the abominable snowman.

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Author/illustrator info on the inside cover flap of the 1994 publication ©Robert L. May Company

All illustrations by Michael Emberley © Robert L. May Company. Strictly copyright protected.

Learn About Bats!

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I studied bats and owls quite a bit before beginning the finished art for Owl Bat Bat Owl. I pulled out books on the subject and sketched directly from photos to ‘learn’ them. By sketching from photographs I got a handle on bat wings and how they move.

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In the book I’ve simplified the bats and I’m taking major artistic licence with the babies (bats have single pups – rarely twins, never three), but I like to begin with the real animal and how it moves and behaves. I prefer to consciously simplify/take artistic licence, rather than do stuff by mistake!

After a year drawing owls and bats for Owl Bat Bat Owl it seemed like serendipity when Bat Conservation Ireland got in touch to ask if I’d do some illustrations for a new website they were making called Learnaboutbats. I asked if I could use ‘my’ bats for the site. They said yes, and we were in business.

Making images for the website I discovered I still had plenty to learn about bats! Like all illustrators working to a brief I provide rough line drawings initially. This is so the client can spot mistakes and problems before I take the image to full-colour art.

There were loads of wee problems with my initial drawings. For instance I clustered sleeping bats together in a cave for the hibernation image. Mistake! Bats need to cool down to hibernate so they keep their distance from one another. The images of tightly packed bats I was referencing were of summertime roosting mums.

Screen-Shot-2017-12-05-at-17.05.32Myself and Niamh Roche at Bat Conservation Ireland emailed back and forth until I had the details right, then I went to colour. The site went live in October and you can fly over to learnaboutbats.com for lots of wonderful Bat Facts.

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There’s info on Irish bats, on a year in the life of a bat, and a slide presentation that will be great for use in the classroom.

You can download worksheets to print out for your class, library group, or the small bat fans in your life.

There are suggestions for games and activities too! https://www.learnaboutbats.com/fun-things-to-do/

Get clicking. https://www.learnaboutbats.com/

And there are t-shirts! Ours arrived in the post this week 🙂

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This is my third year as writer-in-residence at Marino Institute of Education. (MIE) is an associated college of Trinity College, Dublin, the University of Dublin. MIE offers courses across the continuum of teacher education and prepares specialist education practitioners at early years, primary and further education levels. 

The Book of Clondalkin

Nothing quite like drawing directly from a piece of celtic knotwork to reveal what exactly is hidden amongst all those swirls. The folk at Brú Chrónáin, the new centre at the Clondalkin Round Tower, asked me to design a logo for their tour guides. They suggested I use a detail from the remaining fragments of the Book of Clondalkin as a basis.

At first glance I could make out a bird and what seemed to be another bird with a crest, or some sort of dog-beast. It was when I was eyeballing the drawing and trying to redraw it that I realised the beast had hooves and a horn. Not a dog then; a unicorn! Drawing something, whether it’s a complex image or a living animal, makes you really examine it properly and helps you see the details.

The fragments, which are all that remain of the Book of Clondalkin, are kept in Karlsruhe Badische Landesbibliothek, Germany. You can see photos of the fragments when you visit Brú Chrónáin or check out some of it here Handschriften / Sacramentarium, Fragment – Aug. Fr. 18.

Hello, Marino!

© Róisín White

Hello to the students and staff of Marino Institute of Education. Let me introduce myself. My name is Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick and I am your children’s writer-in-residence for 2017/18. I am a writer/illustrator and I’ve been making books for children since 1988. Here are some of my books:

Since 2006 I’ve also been writing novels for older kids:

My main interest as a picturebook creator is in charting the personal journeys we make in early childhood, the small events which change us, the little battles and triumphs as we grow up. I’m told that Izzy and Skunk has been used with children by psychiatrists and There is used in classrooms to introduce kids to philosophy. My novels are rooted in myth and legend but ultimately they are concerned (as so many stories are) with how we each twist and turn and struggle (and laugh and dance) towards adulthood.

Over my career I’ve worked with Irish, UK and US publishers and my books are in many languages. The Sleeping Giant has been my Irish bestseller; Izzy and Skunk, I’m a Tiger Too and There are probably my most widely read worldwide. Izzy even made it into Farsi. There has been popular in Japan and I was privileged to have the poet and philosopher Shozo Kajima translate – and write an introduction to – the Japanese edition.

My work has won many awards, including four overall Bisto/CBI Book of the Year Awards and six honours. There was an Eric Carle Museum Best Picturebooks of 2009 choice and The Long March is a Smithsonian Notable Book. My most recent book, Owl Bat Bat Owl, has just been designated a Junior Library Guild Selection for Fall 2017 in the US.

Owl Bat Bat Owl is a wordless picturebook and I look forward to sharing it with you. I’ll speak about where the idea came from and how it developed, and also about how wordless books work with children and how much they can learn from them. For those of you who’ve met me already and heard me speak about Owl Bat Bat Owl, I will be designing a new talk for you. Any suggestions? Let me know in the comments below!

I will also be writing a series of blogs during my residency especially directed towards you, student teachers in Marino. If you have any questions about my work, about one of my books, about children’s books in general, about writing and illustrating, please send them my way. You can contact me via Ciara Ní Bhroin. I’d love to hear from you.

 

Marino Institute of Education (MIE) is an associated college of Trinity College, Dublin, the University of Dublin. MIE offers courses across the continuum of teacher education and prepares specialist education practitioners at early years, primary and further education levels.  This is my third year as writer-in-residence.

Photo of me at work © Róisín White

Teeny Tiny Book 2

I’ve posted about my tiny necklace book before but now that it’s almost full with minute drawings by renowned illustrators I’ve decided to put a record of them all in one place, in case I should (shudder) ever lose it! So from front to back, here are all the images. Hover mouse over image for illustrator’s name.

Here are some of the illustrators, mid-draw…

Now that my tiny book necklace is full, there was only one thing I could do – get another one!

Mr Hops Goes to Tea

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Mr Hops was walking in the forest when he heard a telephone ringing. There in a clearing he saw a big green phone box. He went into the box and answered the phone.

‘Hello? Is there anyone there?’ he said.

‘Hello Mr Hops,’ said a mysterious voice. ‘This is, um, um, your cousin, um, um, Bugsy. Would you like to come to my house for tea?’

‘Hmm,’ thought Mr Hops. ‘I don’t have a cousin called Bugsy. In fact, I don’t have a cousin at all.’ But he was curious, so he said: ‘Yes, I’ll come to tea, Bugsy.’

‘Meet me at Mountain View at the house with the red door at five O’clock,’ said the voice. ‘Bye-bye.’

‘Bye-bye, Bugsy,’ said Mr Hops, but he didn’t put the phone down right away and he heard the voice snickering on the other end of the line.

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Mr Hops went home and baked a cake. It was very yellow because it was a… CHICKEN CAKE! And Mr Hops put a secret ingredient in, a unicorn sleeping potion.

thumb_IMG_2672 2_1024When the cake was baked he set off for Mountain View and at five O’clock he knocked on the red door.

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Rat-a-tat-tat.

A very strange-looking rabbit opened the door. It had extra floppy ears and sloppy stitches all down its back.

‘Hello, Cousin Hops,’ said a gruff voice.

‘Hello, Cousin Bugsy,’ said Mr Hops. ‘I’ve brought you a cake.’

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Please observe the remains of former tea guests buried under the floor…

‘Oh. How kind. Carrot, I suppose?’

‘Chicken, actually,’ said Mr Hops.

The strange rabbit jumped up and down with delight. ‘Chicken! My favourite,’ he squealed. He jumped around so much that some of his stitches burst and out popped a big red bushy tail.

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‘Oh oh,’ said Mr Hops.

‘Oh oh,’ said Mr Fox.

‘Cake?’ said Mr Hops nervously. ‘Please do eat.’

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‘I will,’ said Mr Fox. ‘But I don’t know what to eat first, the cake or YOU!’

Suddenly something blocked the open door and a huge black shadow fell over the two enemies. They turned around slowly.

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It was Mr Wolf!

‘Do something,’ cried Mr Fox.

‘Mr Wolf,’ stammered Mr Hops. ‘Would you like some chicken cake?’

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‘Ah,’ said Mr Wolf. ‘I knew I could smell something very delicious.’ And he snatched the cake from Mr Hops’ trembling paws. ‘This will do as a starter, before I gobble up you and your foxy friend.’ The cake was gone in a gulp.

Mr Wolf turned to the rabbit and the fox and opened his great stinky jaws to bite off their heads.

BUMP, THUMP!

He fell forwards in a deep deep sleep and landed in what was left of the chicken cake.

‘What happened?’ said Mr Fox.

‘Unicorn sleeping potion,’ said Mr Hops. ‘We’d better get out of here before he wakes up.

‘Yes, let’s,’ said Mr Fox. ‘I’m awfully sorry, Mr Hops, for trying to trick you.’

‘I’m sorry too, Mr Fox,’ said Mr Hops, ‘for trying to trick you back.’

‘We’ll make a great team, Mr Hops,’ said Mr Fox, and the two friends jumped over the snoring wolf and ran all the way home to Bunny Burrow.

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This story was created on August 12th at the Wild Words Festival in Carrick-on-Shannon. It is the work of Piper, Kayanna, Peter, Connor, Zoe, Emily, Roxi, Ronán, Cadhla, Mia, Eimear, Tristan, Ruby, Poppy, Róisín and Rossa, under the guidance of Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick. © is held by Wild Words Festival on behalf of the creators.

Kids Say the Darndest Things…

Reading a picturebook to an audience of adults can be nerve-wracking. Adults are often intimidated by the form, worried that they aren’t going to ‘get’ it, scared they’ll laugh in the wrong place, so they tense up. Reading a SILENT book with adults is even more daunting. Reading picture books with kids is a doddle, but what happens when the book has no words?

The first time I attempted reading Owl Bat Bat Owl was with 70 kids in Limerick Library and I have to admit to wondering how exactly it was going to work. I needn’t have worried. I’ve read it many times now, in many places, and kids always nail it!

Kids: ‘It’s daytime, the bats should be asleep.’

Me: ‘Why do you think they’re out, flying around?’

‘Something bad has happened.’

Me: ‘Like what?’

‘They’ve lost their home.’ ‘Their tree has fallen down.’  A girl in Dun Laoghaire said, ‘Someone dropped a bomb on their cave.’

Only a couple of reviewers have made the link between the story and the refugee crisis; kids don’t use that term but those suggestions tell me they’re making the connection.

Me: ‘What’s happening now?’

‘I think they’re practising segregation.’ 9 year old, Limerick library. Pole-axed me and the other adults in the room – that he used the term and obviously completely understood it.

Hoots of laughter.

Me: ‘What do you think the mammies are saying?

‘Get back up here, right this minute!’ Delivered with cross faces, hands on hips and Angry-Irish-Mammy voice.

‘Oh, oh! I think something bad is going to happen and then they’ll make friends.’ 3 year old, Moncton, Canada. Wow – what anticipation, and from a tot! Then she farted loudly, exploded into giggles and rolled around on the floor, to general hilarity.

‘They’ve got the wrong babies!’

Me: ‘What do you think will happen next?’

‘They’ll all be friends.’

‘Let me tell, let me tell! And the two mammies had a nice cup of tea and a chat, while their babies played in the light of the moon.’ 8 year old Nigerian girl, Limerick.

And there be spiders:

Adults hardly ever notice them, but kids spot them very quickly and realise there’s another story to explore.

Owl Bat Bat Owl Walker Books/Candlewick

A Tower by Any Other Name

An Irish Round Tower is not any old tower. It’s not a Martello tower – those are the squat round towers dotted along our coast and the coasts of England and Wales, built during the Napoleonic wars to fire up warning signals if Bonny came calling. Nor is it a Norman tower house – those are the plain square towers you see all over Ireland. We have one of those in my home town of Clondalkin. It’s called Tully’s Castle and it has its own legend of thwarted love, cruel fathers and violent death, but it’s only a side note to Clondalkin’s main claim to fame – our beautiful 10th century* Round Tower.

Irish Round Towers (note the capitals) are uniquely, well, Irish. There are around 65 in number, though the total depends on who’s counting. Some scholars only count the freestanding Round Towers, not the ones ‘engaged’ or attached to church buildings; most count all remaining stumps and bases, some count foundations. No one counts revivalist round towers, 19th century pastiches such as the one at Daniel O’Connell’s grave in Glasnevin.

Round Towers were built over a 250 year period in the 10th-12th centuries. Wherever you see one, whether in the middle of a bustling town, like the one in Clondalkin, or standing alone in the middle of a field, that tower was once at the centre of an Irish monastic settlement.* Clondalkin’s monastery was founded by Crónán Mochua in the late 6th/early 7th century and the tower was probably constructed in the early 10th century. Clondalkin’s tower is one of the earliest towers – it is plain and made of local stone.** It is the narrowest, and one of the most complete. It still has its original cap – the only complete tower whose cap has not been reconstructed or reset, according to Brian Lalor. Most caps, including that of the Glendalough tower, are 19th century replacements. It is smoothly cylindrical inside – most of the towers interiors are constructed like stacked upturned buckets. It is the only one with a bulge at its base, probably added as a buttress.

So, what were Round Towers for? In 1830 the Royal Irish Academy held a competition for scholarly essays on the subject and it raised some whacky theories. There was a strong belief that the towers were places of fire worship for the Phoenicians (!) and the 2nd prize went to an essay which suggested the towers were ‘pagodas for phallic worship, erected by Zoroastrian refugees from Persia’!! The main prize was awarded to George Petrie for his essay arguing that since Round Towers were found near the remains of churches and known monastic settlements they were therefore part of mediaeval Christian culture. This didn’t stop someone in 1834 suggesting that the towers didn’t actually exist at all, an argument refuted by another gent who said he could verify the existence of the Clondalkin tower, at least. He’d ‘tested (it) against all five of his senses, including taste; he’d licked it.’ He found it slightly soapy. Perhaps, he suggested, this was a result of it being greased, to assist competitors who ‘scaled it in order to win a hat or bandana suspended from the top window by a druid’. (NB: info in this para is pretty much cogged from Ireland’s Round Towers, Tadhg O’Keefe, Tempus, 2004)

It seems strange now that there was ever any doubt that the Round Towers were part of monastic settlements and it’s difficult for us to appreciate how truncated the past appeared to people back in the early 19th century. Today it is accepted that the towers were a central feature of monastic enclosures. We know from the annals that they were used for housing precious objects but it seems most likely that their main/original purpose lies in the Irish name for Round Towers – Cloig-theach, which means bell house. Perhaps a bell was rung from the top floor to sound prayer times to the community working below in the huts, gardens and fields. Lalor and other scholars suggest our towers are part of a broader culture of bell towers (campanili) erected at religious centres in Ravanna, Rome, the Rhineland and elsewhere in Europe, towers which may in turn have been inspired by Islamic minarets.

This all sounds more logical than what I was taught in school – that the towers were for defence. We were told that monks under attack locked themselves inside, hauled boiling oil up to the top windows and flung it down on the heads of the marauders below. It didn’t make sense. How could you carry a large quantity of boiling oil up rickety ladders without burning yourself? If you did make it to the top and managed to pour it out the narrow, deeply set window, wouldn’t most of it end up on the wall on the way down? And would the attackers really have just stood there while oil and rocks were rained on their heads? The defence theory has been dismissed but we know the towers were occasionally used for refuge. Not a good plan. Having drawn up the ladder and locked themselves inside, those seeking refuge were at the mercy of the attackers. A fire set at the door turned the tower into a chimney.***

Until the 1990s you could climb the Clondalkin Round Tower. Every kid in the village knew that the O’Connors at Mill View were the keepers of the key. You knocked at their door and they handed it out, along with a torch. You climbed the steps (not original) to the door,  unlocked it and then climbed the long tapered ladders four floors, hauling yourself through each hatch onto wooden platforms. Scrambling on your hands and knees it’s rather alarming to realise that the platforms are just a single layer of side-by side, not especially thick, planks. There are chinks; you can see the drop below. At the top of the tower are four windows facing the cardinal points. I climbed it with my gang of Ranger guides circa 1992 on a gloriously sunny day. Clondalkin is 60 metres above sea level and the view 27.5 metres above that is amazing. Up there looking out it’s hard not to presume that this is one of the functions of the towers – to provide a 360 degree view of the surrounding land. Monasteries were the power centres of their day and housed treasures well worth looting. The view from the top would have provided an early warning system.**** In turn, the towers could also be seen from a distance in the medieval landscape, so pilgrims travelling from one monastery to another had a distinctive imposing landmark to guide them towards their destination.

You can visit the new centre in Clondalkin, Brú Chrónáin, read up on Round Towers and develop theories of your own while enjoying the tower in its wonderful new garden setting. You can join a guided tour with a local guide to tell you the history of the site, and then stop and eat something scrummy at the new Happy Pear restaurant. Fáilte is fiche!

* There are 3 in Scotland and 1 on the Isle of Man, later towers, derivations of Irish Round Towers.

** Early towers were plain, later towers were built with support of wealthy patrons and could therefore use materials brought from further afield.  Door lintel type is also indicative of an early date.

*** There is a possibility that the towers were consider sacred places in which one could claim sanctuary, which would not necessarily have been respected. The annals record several deaths in Round Towers including the murders of two kings.

**** In fact some towers were adapted for just that use in the Middle Ages, caps removed and battlements added. But O’Keefe dismisses/Lalor questions the idea of the towers as lookouts as some of them don’t provide a particularly good view from the top.

Acknowledgements:

The Irish Round Tower, Brendan Lalor, Collins Press 1999 ; Ireland’s Round Towers, Tadhg O’Keefe, Tempus 2004 ; Round Towers and Tall Tales, June 28 2014, Irish Times, https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/heritage/round-towers-and-tall-tales-1.1847765 (George Cunningham)

Etch-a-Sketch!

We’ve been etching again. I used a sketch of a wolf I made last year at Wolf’s Hollow as the basis for one of my etchings and Michael used some sketches from the baby book he’s working on.

First we scratched…

Then we inked…

Went to the press. Laid down the plate. Rolled…

And revealed.

And started all over again!

And here are our prints:

It’s the second time we’ve attended a day course with Debora Ando. She’s a great teacher, patient and clear and fun. The National Print Museum holds all sorts of interesting workshops. They also have a really great wee cafe with excellent coffee and fantastic food.