Monday, 27 October 2008


It's a long time ago now that there was a summer in Ireland. August days were, one after the other, following in deluge succession but here for a few days we did have sunshine galore. Eight writers from as far away Washington State and Canada and as near as West Clare with Scotland and Norway and England and Italy in between came to the second Kiltumper Writing Workshop. And by all accounts it was a great success. (Check out Niall's webpage... and read their comments.) With our eldest away in NYC working as a fashion intern, the laying on of lunches and tea breaks during the workshop was left to the son, J, and me. As one participant put it,
'I enjoyed the fact that your lunches for us were as much a surprise to you as to us!'
It was true. J and I cooked things we had never made before like Tuscan Bean Soup and Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup and everyday was a surprise. We are already looking forward to next summer's menus when we once again open our house to interested writers and they sit by the turf fire and write and share and listen to each other under the ever encouraging eye of Niall.

Now, we come into Samhain, into the season of the spirit, and the ripening and dying of living things according to the Druid calendar. The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, the poet Keats called it. The house is quiet these days with the son and daughter back into the rhythm of their school lives. With memories of their childhood apple bobbing and trick-or-treating tucked away forever, and no one on the road under 12, we wonder if any witches or goblins will knock on our door this year. The husband, meanwhile, is, as ever, busy writing. The leaves blow down past where he sits at the window. Do his characters think of getting out a rake, I wonder?
With dark skies returning, 200 billion stars of the Milky Way are lighting up the sky. (The ancient Irish called it Bealach na Bó Finne, the Way of the White Cow. And I like that, easy to imagine that great cow slowly crossing the heavens.) The sky holds such history and myth for our imaginations to consider. On a dark night your eye can see over two million light years away: A humbling and sobering thought. Like the stars spiralling above in the Milky Way Galaxy, petals of pink and red roses lie starkly in a whorl on the ground in front of the cottage. A somewhat dramatic show of amber sycamore leaves falls on the grass in such perfection you’d think someone had scattered them there by design. Elsewhere, the leaves of blueberry bushes and acers and salix turn a brilliant crimson. Rosehips as large as crab apples wait to be feasted on by winter-hungry robins. It’s time for the great autumn clean-up in Kiltumper, but instead I watch the leaves fall from the quiet of the house and pray for a great wind to tidy them away.
Donald Culross Peattie wrote in An Almanac for Moderns “It is nearly impossible to be sad, even listless, on a blue and gold October day, when the leaves rain down, rain down, not on a harsh wind, but quietly on the tingling air.” Whereas September was a month of contrasts with summer lingering and winter approaching, autumn has turned the corner with certitude in October. One time, long ago, my father was speaking to me from lines of a poem he thought to write. ‘October, teach me how to die’, he said. We were driving on an autumn day in a suburb of New York City along a highway stippled with red, orange and yellow leaves. At the time, it seemed rather curious to me, a teenager, and my father a Wall Street lawyer, but I have never forgotten it. And now that image comes back to me. October is a month of endings with its last day marking the end of autumn in Ireland. Now, in the starry nights of October, the light is above, the Way of the White Cow brightens all our paths.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Knickers on Buddleia

We've been busy here in Kiltumper...

I write from the garden wet with rain as another summer in Kiltumper passes wetly by. St Swithins' Day was mixed, so perhaps the rest of of the summer will send us sunshine as well as the usual rain. The swallows have nested in the open cabin once more and magpies, rather a nuisance, have made a home in the top of the cedar tree. Luckily they're too big to fly through the open cabin and up into the rafters, so the swallows should feel safe to return next April.

For Niall it began with a lot of teaching. Following his now usual session at Listowel Writers Week, where he gave a workshop in fiction writing, he headed to County Carlow where he began working with MFA students from Carlow University of Pittsburg for an intensive 10 day residential series of workshops. By all accounts it was very successful. Carlo Gebler and poets Mary O Donnell and Mark Rowe were also teaching, and a number of other Irish writers came for readings or lectures, among them Anne Enright and Aidan Matthews. Niall will continue to mentor the MFA students work for the next six months. After that he headed to New Jersey where at Monmouth University the Shadow Lawn Players produced his play The Way You Look Tonight. He said their production was even better than the original one at Druid in Galway. And he got to swim on the Jersey Shore.

He returned just in time for our first ever Kiltumper Writing Workshop. We welcomed participants from as far away as Abu Dhabi and Maryland. A beginning playwright, one of Co Clare's own darling girls from Corofin, wrote: 'I really enjoyed the workshop and boy, did I learn a lot. Niall certainly put the fire into my writing... I will always be greatfull and appreciative for that. ...Thank you all once more, and I thank God for guiding me towards such wonderful, talented people.' Guess she enjoyed herself. And, she added, 'I loved your cooking Christine, and the beautiful rendition of the 'Homeruler' played by the very talented son of the house.'

Speaking of the son, he participated in this year's Willie Clancy Week up in Miltown Malbay and learned a good few more tunes on his fiddle. So next year when our Corofin playwright returns he can play her a set of reels and jigs, and her toe tapping might very well turn into a full blown Clare set. Our daughter is in New York interning with Tommy Hilfiger's company and Rag and Bone, and loving every minute of it. I'm half afraid that next year when she gets her B.S. in fashion design from NCAD she'll be moving back there and another love relationship with New York will have begun. She writes, 'Oh guys, just found a cool apartment in the East Village!'

At the beginning of April, I was engaged in designing and refurbising the garden at the Old Ground Hotel in Ennis. Working with the owner, Allen Flynn, we've revamped it entirely, planting a boxwood hedge 50 metres long, a laurel hedge, a herbaceous border in front of the hotel, and laying two Doolin stone patios--with the help of my friend Mark of . Then, we laid 100 sq yards of turf for a new lawn and made a shrub border with three multi-stem birch trees (betula utilis jacquemonti) and some specimen shrubs from Tully Nurseries in Dublin. A lighting designer from Feakle, John Maloney of has done a stunning job with lights--up lights, and down lights that he calls moonlights, and copper spotlights. Looks great. Allen would be delighted if you stopped by to tell him so!

And now, after all that activity, things are returning to normal for a while. Normal summer in Kiltumper that is. I awoke this morning to a hay mower cutting the back meadow. Maybe that will mean the weather will hold for a few days. God bless the farmers and their secret understanding of nature's ways. The hedgerows are full of grass and the scent of clover is filling the road that we walk along. The clothes are hanging on the line to dry in the sunshine while the extras that didn't fit are set out to dry on the butterfly bush in the garden. (You'll have to imagine the knickers on the buddelia yourself.) J is playing the guitar with notes of Blackbird flying out the window while Niall is clipping the front hedge so he can get down the path to the postbox. Every year we mean to cut it way back and every year it beats us.

Elsewhere in the garden, the carrots that I planted last year are well and truly up! Their lacey tops looking like iron lattice work on tall green stilts at the top end of the garden. As cut flowers, who knew they'd last such a long time in the vase? Lettuces and cabbages too I let go to seed and I don't mind one bit. Trying to keep up with a garden that outpaces me in my 5th decade is hard work and just when you think you're finished one job another rears its head.

Ahead, on the August Bank Holiday we hold the second workshop here with attendees this time coming from Washington State, Canada, Norway, Italy, and the British Isles, as well as one from County Clare! It's a family affair between the organising and the getting ready and the catering...and its wonderful! In a way its everything we first dreamed of for this place, where people can come and enjoy the garden and the house and hopefully be inspired in their own work.

So here's to August and tomatoes and basil from the glasshouse and, well, more weeding, and writing, I suppose...

Sunday, 30 March 2008

April Again

The news from Kiltumper. It is April and three of us here are turning a year older. The son will be 17 on April 1st and the daughter 21 on the 16th. Me, well, let's just say I've started to lie about my age.

Meanwhile, readers have been asking for more blogging and so here I am upstairs in the cottage in an April evening trying to gather in all the news and send it out there. We've been busy. Niall's newest novel 'John' has been published in the US and Canada and is in bookshops now. News of it's success is slowly filtering in. The Montreal Gazette reviewer writes, "Themes of love, faith, redemption and survival inform his (Williams) smoothly lyrical, powerfully dramatic prose in John", and ends his review with "If Hollywood producer Cecil B. DeMille of the Ten Commandments were alive today, he'd be angling for the film rights." Niall has just finished a six month appointment in Co Sligo as the writer in residence. In Yeats Country he was inspired and is a quarter of the way through a new novel. He tells me it's 'an Irish novel' and that's all we have for now. Meanwhile, John will be published on this side of the Atlantic in September, while Boy in the World was reissued in small format paper in the UK and Ireland in February. It's companion, Boy and Man will be published in June. As well as the next novel he is concurrently writing a non fiction book called A Writing Year, and some short stories. Niall is giving several workshops this summer (including two here in Kiltumper, one in Listowel Writers' Week and one in Kenmare). See website for more details: He has been invited to the first ever international writers' festival in Jerusalem in May. In July, Monmouth University in New Jersey are staging Niall's play, The Way You Look Tonight. It runs for two weeks. And he has agreed to mentor the MFA students in Creative Writing from Pittsburg's Carlow University for two weeks in June when they come to Co Carlow as part of their studies. How does he do it? And cut the lawn as well!

Designing daughter has secured herself two internships this summer in NYC with top fashion designers. She'll finish up at New York Fashion Week in September and return home to begin her final year at Dublin's National College of Art and Design. Our son, in fifth year, has one year to go at the secondary school he attends where he studies, Latin, French, Irish, Music, English, History, Geography, and Math. And, he studies Greek on the side with one of the wonderful old monks.

As for myself, I continue to write weekly articles for The Clare People on gardening and books and health. And, I have high hopes for a children's story I wrote called Tom's Cat. It's about a cat with no name. Fingers crossed the cat finds not only a name but a publisher! And as ever, I am preoccupied with gardening. The other day I was ordering plants on line at Tully Nurseries -- a delphinium here and kniphofia there and three multi stem silver birch for a garden I'm designing in Ennis and I thought, 'now this is what I want to do', spend other people's money for a change and make something beautiful for them'.

With April greening, we now await the next sure sign of Spring... the singing of the cuckoo. She's due in any day now. She'll be flying in over Commodore's Crossroads and down the hill past Mary Breen and the Downes and up the hill past Hehirs' new house, and finally she'll settle on one of the high branches of the sycamore or ash trees. It'll be afternoon and the sun will be shining and our spirits will lift as we go full speed ahead into a new season....