FIRST CHAPTER: Yeats, folklore, a debut novel and an Irish history book from a new perspective

This week there’s a book about Yeats’ connection to Sligo and there’s a story of a girl gone missing in the States. There’s a debut novel that begins with a domineering mother found dead in her Galway home and there’s a history of the Irish Revolution from a very different perspective than those we’re used to reading. Finally, for the smallies, there’s a gorgeous Irish folklore book.

What Happened to Nina?, Dervla McTiernan, Harper Collins, €14.99

This is a clever and cleanly written story about a young girl, Nina, who goes missing in Vermont while out on a hike with her boyfriend, Simon. It’s not a whodunnit. We know who done it very early on. It’s more of a whydunnit, I suppose. And as the story unspools, the reader is drawn into the heart of smalltown New England, with the gap between the really wealthy and the humdrum middle classes playing a huge part in how things pan out.

Very soon after Nina’s disappearance the boyfriend returns home alone, with a story of a bad argument after which he and Nina agreed to simply part ways. He’s not very convincing and Nina’s frantic parents want more. But they’re not getting any more, as Simon’s parents hire an expensive legal team and a PR team, all insisting on the same thing; that Simon talks to nobody. And then of course there’s the social media interference, with the trolling becoming nastier by the day. A convincing yarn, most particularly about the lengths mothers will go to in order to protect their children.

Under the Metal Man: Sligo in Yeats, Joseph M Hasset, Lilliput, €9.95

This is a delightful little book, outlining the deep connection between Yeats and Sligo and indeed the Sligo connection with all of Yeats’ family, including his father John, a well-known and highly respected artist and portrait painter, his famous brother the artist Jack B, and his less famous sister, Elizabeth, herself a talented artist who designed and illustrated the first editions of many of his books. Packed with illustrations that reveal tangible context to so many lines of his poetry, it’s simply fascinating both as a slim, potted history of the Yeats family and as a tribute to the great poet himself. A must, not just for Yeats fans but poetry fans in general, and a book that urges the reader to take a swing by Yeats country, if at all possible, during the coming summer months. And don’t forget to take this book with you.

The Lies Beneath, Lucy O’Callaghan, Poolbeg Crimson, €16.99

Because there’s no such thing as the perfect human being or indeed the perfect family, it’s a given that every front door conceals what’s going on behind it. Family squabbles and household problems are not for public consumption and rightly so. But this also means that bad things can happen behind closed doors and, unless they become public information, one is never privy to them. This is the premise of debut novelist O’Callaghan’s story about trust destroyed, secrets and betrayals revealed, and the impact these secrets will have on three very different women.

Carla is married, well-off, not working outside the home, but beginning to think she’d be better off finding a job. Emily, her lifelong friend, is secretly jealous of Carla’s money, husband and married status. Emily is recently divorced and finding it difficult to step back into the dating scene. Amanda is the local librarian and has raised her daughter Dawn on her own. Dawn is now in college, but Amanda insists on still treating her like a child, and Dawn feels she has to escape her mother’s clutches. The novel begins with Dawn discovering her mother at home, dead and bloodied at the bottom of the stairs. She immediately flees the scene. Why?

A well-constructed and well-paced debut that will keep you guessing about the hidden lives of Carla, Emily and Amanda right up to the end.

Little Irish Folklore Friends, Niamh Donnellan, Gill, €14.99

A lovely picture book, illustrated by Brian Fitzgerald, it tells the story of some characters from Irish folklore, Betty the Banshee, Pádraig the Púca, Willow the Wisp, Fiadh the Fairy and Seán the Selkie, who are all looking to make human friends but find that they frighten people too much! Inspired by the National Folklore collection, it’s a rhyming story book for ages 4 to 6. The author lives in Meath and this is her first children’s book.

Spirit of Revolution: Ireland from below (1917-23), Ed by John Cunningham and Terry Dunne, Four Courts Press, €24.95

The centenary years have finished, with all of the commemorations that came with them, and yet the focus in most of the centenary events was only about the military derring-do. There’s precious little out there describing what life was like behind the scenes or, as this book’s title puts it, ‘from below’. How revolutionary was the country itself among the unnamed, unarmed and largely unremembered? It turns out that the Irish population was actually very revolutionary in the years following the Great War, but most people didn’t carry guns, engage in arson or plant bombs. They did, however, strike. A lot. And Limerick wasn’t the only place with its own soviet, there were several soviets located in Munster.

The people in grassroots Ireland of the time were far more concerned with a more equitable distribution of wealth, with women’s rights and with seeing and end to the grinding poverty that dogged the majority of citizens. All of this has largely gone undocumented until now, but this fascinating collection of essays reveals a different, parallel social history of strife, far from the guns and the grandstanding.


The ever-colourful and always surprising Dublin Dance Festival returns this year from May 17 to 25. Full programme details and tickets available from

The Galway Theatre Festival runs from May 3 to 11, featuring emerging and experimental theatre. See for more information.

The West Wicklow Chamber Music Festival runs from May 15 through to May 19. Details and tickets available from

The Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival in Belfast runs from this coming weekend through to May 12, with something for everyone. See for more information.