This week: a beautiful book for arts and crafts enthusiasts

This week there’s a beautiful book for arts and crafts enthusiasts (and that might be your mam? Mother’s Day?) There’s also a novel about four friends off on a weekend in Galway, and this might make another possible Mother’s Day gift.

There’s a poignant novella about a broken man who spends his days roaming the streets of Castlebar. Finally, there’s a novel from a Ukrainian author, depicting a woman in distress along with a figure from Ukraine’s past, and a country in turmoil, not for the first time.

Exploring Irish Wool for Feltmaking, Feltmakers Ireland, €20

In a book as beautiful and colourful as the artworks it features, this volume takes the reader on the whole journey of feltmaking. Featuring wool from 40 different breeds of sheep raised in Ireland, Exploring Irish Wool for Feltmaking gives a detailed analysis of how each breed can be best utilised, for both wet-felting and needle felting techniques.

Readers will learn the differences between Merino and local wool breeds and learn valuable tips and tricks for laying out, felting, and fulling with local wool. It’s introduced by Pippa Hackett and it’s an exquisite book, with lots of colour illustrations of procedures and of finished pieces that are simply breathtaking.

If not available in your bookshop, you can get a copy from Postage of €4.50 is required and it would make a perfect Mother’s Day gift for a mam or granny or indeed anyone at all with an interest in sustainable arts and crafts.

The Weekend Break, Ruth O’Leary, Poolbeg, €16.99

Here’s another perfect Mother’s Day gift for mams who are readers of popular women’s fiction, novelists like Maeve Binchy, Carmel Harrington, Cathy Kelly and Patricia Scanlan. Four busy women friends head to Galway in December for a pre-Christmas weekend break.

Marriage and kids and ailing parents mean these friends don’t see as much of each other as they would like, but their weekends together are sacred spaces. This particular weekend, however, won’t bring them much of the R&R they’re looking for. Vivienne is the most prosperous of them, but her marriage has become untenable. She wants a divorce – especially when she tries to use her credit card in Galway and it’s rejected!

Helen is drinking herself into oblivion and even a weekend away with her beloved friends won’t stop her. Until there’s an accident. Miriam, the only unmarried woman in the group, is newly pregnant. From a sperm donor. Or at least that’s what she tells her friends!

And Clara, conscious of her expanding shape and feeling miserable in her stay-at-home marriage, is secretly munching family sized bars of chocolate. Can friendship solve and save these friends from their myriad crises? It’s a warm and compassionate novel, and when your mother’s finished with it, borrow it.

He Used to be Me, Anne Walsh Donnelly, New Island, €12.95

This slim volume is a little gem, and if you liked Doireann ní Ghríofa’s A Ghost in the Throat or, more similar to this narrative, Max Porter’s Lanny, then you’ll drink this up. This is the story of ‘Daft Matt’, who trudges the streets of Castlebar daily, considered by the locals to be harmless and overlooked by the community of which he used to be a part. Matt suffered a head injury in a riding accident years ago and hasn’t been the same since. His wife and children are long gone (although his neglectful children, now adults, are very anxious to have him sell the old homestead, blood being thicker an’ all, but still money rising up victorious).

Since the accident, Matt has spent most of his adult life in psychiatric care, looking for jackdaws he believes have spoken to him since childhood. In a mixture of poetry and prose, English and some Irish (there’s a glossary at the back), the author takes us through Matt’s childhood, the losses he suffered far too young, the brutality of his emotionally inarticulate and violent father, right through to maturity, foreign travel, falling in love, marriage and children.

And then there’s the accident that changes everything, an act of foolhardy abandon prompted by jealous rage. The glint of genius in this story is how the author uses such unadorned and spare language – Matt’s own faltering voice – to paint for the reader a profoundly tragic, utterly broken life. Coming from a writer and poet who’s no stranger to awards, I imagine it will sweep the boards.

Forgottenness, Tanja Maljartschuk, translation Zenia Tompkins, Bullaun Press, €16

In a mix of dual timelines, the author weaves a novel around the life of a largely forgotten Ukrainian writer, philosopher and political activist, Viacheslav Lypynski who died in 1931, and the present-day female protagonist, unnamed, who becomes fascinated with this historical figure, the only tenuous link between them being that they were born on the same day 100 years apart. Chapters alternately occur as Him, or Me or Us, indicating whose story is being told in episodic fashion, although layers of one character’s story overlap on the other’s, rather like waves on the beach when the tide is coming in. And indeed there’s oceanic symbolism here, in the form of the big blue whale of Time, swallowing life stories and history itself whole, like ‘plankton’.

As Lypynski’s story progresses, so does our narrator’s, hers mirroring his in small, intimate ways. It’s in this intimacy that the novel really gleams, managing to merge historical biography with urgent, pressing contemporary autobiography (although it’s a fictional autobiography) and doing so with a sleight of hand that’s seamless. It’s a story of one man’s social and political struggle and of a woman who never met him but understands him, set against the backdrop of a nation scarred and wounded by wars and occupations for centuries. Interestingly, this novel was first published in its original Ukrainian in 2016, years before Putin invaded to take what is not his.


Keep an eye on your local library for activities for kids during the upcoming school Easter holidays – they never fail to provide suitable entertainment during school breaks.

Most public libraries post their events on their county council websites and on social media. There are plenty of writing and poetry competitions out there with deadlines for March and April. Check out the website for details.