Aug 31, 2009

Andrea Corr Marries in Co. Clare

Singing sensation Andrea Corr of Irish pop group, The Corrs, married billionaire businessman and entrepreneur Dermot Desmond in Miltown Malbay in Co. Clare last week. The reception was held in Doonbeg Hotel and Golf Club and guests included Irish A-listers like U2 frontman, Bono, golfer Padraig Harrington, former Celtic managers Gordon Strachan and Martin O’Neill, champion racehorse owner and breeder John Magnier, comedian Patrick Kielty, billionaire media mogul Denis O’Brien, concert promoter Denis Desmond, and race horse owner Michael Tabor.

(Apparently, Bono almost upstaged the bride with his luxurious Maserati car, flanked by four security guards to keep the crowd at bay. Wonder if Maseratis have four-wheel-drive for those winding Clare backroads...)

Spotlight: Ememem

I never knew there were bears in Galway, but it seems the most adorable little bears have been hiding out with their rabbit friends in Galway, having secret picnics, collecting little crystal treasures, and enjoying cups of tea.

"My favourite things?" bear thoughtfully repeated my question "Apart from raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens?" he giggled "I do like all of that, of course, and also warm woollen mittens and brown paper packages tied with strings. But, if you ask me seriously... I really like honey and lemon! And how they come together in a tea."

I am seriously smitten with these charming felted bears, created by etsy seller Ememem, in Galway. The bears have a pin at their backs so they can be worn as a brooch, but I would want my bears to sit on my desk, or hide in my pocket and travel along with me about my day.

The bears are created by Emily and Tom (Emily felts and Tom writes the imaginative stories behind each bear), a young married couple living in Galway. I've been checking their site, Karmatank, from time to time for even more adorable photos and illustrations of the bears and their antics, and the creative couple's own story is actually quite charming, too (she was in Latvia, he was in Ireland...they met virtually first...liked each other a lot...set a date to meet physically...short story long–thump thump thump–they were engaged four months after their first shy awkward date and married six months after happily ever after now). You can tell the colorful little bears come from a happy den.

The bears retail for $37, and ship everywhere for $4. Great gift.

P.S. Ememem owes it to the world to immediately get started on books, t-shirts, and movies featuring these personable little rascals.

Aug 28, 2009

Waterproof Walking Shoes For Your Trip to Ireland

Wet feet are like a wet blanket on your trip to Ireland, so it's important to pack at least one practical pair of shoes.

I have yet to travel home with a practical pair of shoes, but after ruining a pair of suede moccasins in the Burren in May, I've vowed to pack a little common sense along with my shoes for my next trip home. I'm already a fan of New Balance runners so I'm eyeing the New Balance 1110GT shoe; it might just be the perfect shoe for that hike in the Wicklow Mountains, that wander around the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher, that hurling match on a rainy day, and running around the shops in the town center on a rainy day. It's a trail running shoe designed to be both waterproof and stable, but it's also lightweight and quite flexible, too.
Keeps your feet dry and supported, and it's not ugly for a practical shoe...seems like a no-brainer.

Find them at Joe's New Balance Outlet

Your Irish Bookshelf:
W.B. Yeats By Seamus Heaney

Faber & Faber recently published a series of six new hardback editions of twentieth-century poetry (Auden, Eliot, Hughes, Plath, Betjeman, and Yeats), each with a specially commissioned cover, as part of the publishing house's 80th anniversary celebrations. The poetry selections were made by great contemporary poets, and Faber invited a selection of prominent illustrators and printmakers to create the stunning covers and matching endpapers for the series.
Seamus Heaney was invited to make the poetry selections for the W.B. Yeats edition, and Nick Morley created the beautiful lino-cut-style cover design. This would be a beautiful gift for any Yeats, Heaney, Irish poetry, or book fan.
Find it at or Canadian Bookseller,

Aug 27, 2009

Score! Orla Kiely & Bewleys Tea Caddy

I can't be sure sometimes if I'm a travel writer with a shopping problem or a shopping writer with a travel problem, but suffice to say I combine my two favorite hobbies whenever I can. If I have one piece of advice for other traveling-shoppers/shopping-travelers, it's to shop like a local. Sure, the markets are great for local arts and crafts, and the touristy stores are grand when it comes to generic touristy stuff for your inlaws and coworkers, but I'm telling you, you'll find your best and cheapest souvenirs at the local supermarket.
I always make time to visit Dunnes Stores and Tesco when I'm in Ireland; fun-packs of sweets, tins of biscuits, salad cream, HP sauce, and tea bags, all make for interesting and affordable gifts for friends and family on this side of the Atlantic.

On a recent trip, I was lucky enough to score an Orla Kiely & Bewleys tea caddy. I spotted the Kiely trademark scribble stem pattern from half an aisle away, and gasped aloud at its gift potential; Orla Kiely is hot stuff on this side of the Atlantic, and a tea caddy in a luxurious red and cream color combo filled with 160 good strong Irish Bewleys tea bags is a killer gift-combo! I can't remember now what I paid for it, but it was about 4 euro–a great deal, and so much cheaper than a Kiely handbag.

Note: I was so happy with my find that I actually couldn't part with it when I got back to Brooklyn. I had my aunt score me a second one when she was coming back from Ireland, and after I wrestled it away from her, I had all the best intentions of actually gifting it this time, but the Gollum in me– "my precious!"–won over; I now have two!

Be sure to nip to the local shop for a few goodies/gifts if you're in Ireland, or visit Orla's website and get yourself a less-bargainous (
£15.00) caddy.

Aug 25, 2009

Aran: Wool You Be Mine?

Every Irish or Irish-American wardrobe has at least one Aran jumper/sweater of undyed cream-colored wool. It's aired once a year, usually on St. Patrick's Day, and if you're over the age of fifty, it's paired with an Aran tea-cosy hat and rosy cheeks.
Sure, Aran is warm and it's weatherproof, but does anyone outside of Antarctica need to look that fat to be warm?
I keep hoping some young Irish knitwear brand will bring the iconic Aran jumper into the twenty-first century by streamlining the knit, adding funky hardware–think zips, studs, and chains–perhaps, and generally just sexin'-up the auld sweater a bit.
I just took up knitting again after (ahem) a twenty-year hiatus, so it might be a few months/years before I can pick up enough steam/stitches to revolutionize the Aran industry.

For now, here are a few Aran tips and swaps, should you find yourself itching for Aran this winter:

1. Cut Your Losses
Shop the swap: Built By Wendy

2. You can run, but you can' t hide
Shop the swap: Free People

2. Dress the part, not the clich
Shop the swap: a chic and sexy cashmere cable knit dress from Paul & Joe

Coming soon: upcycle those bulky Aran sweaters!

Aug 24, 2009

Your Irish Bookshelf:
Let The Great World Spin

From the Publisher:
"It is August, 1974, and a tightrope walker is running, dancing, leaping between the towers, suspended a quarter-mile in the sky. In the streets below, ordinary lives become extraordinary as award-winning novelist Colum McCann crafts this stunningly realized portrait of a city and its people.
Corrigan, a radical young Irish monk, struggles with his own demons as he lives among prostitutes in the Bronx. A group of mothers, gathered in a Park Avenue apartment to mourn the sons who died in Vietnam, discovers how much divides them even in their grief. Further uptown, Tillie, a thirty-eight-year-old grandmother, turns tricks alongside her teenaged daughter, determined not only to take care of her “babies” but to prove her own worth. Elegantly weaving together these and other seemingly disparate lives, McCann’s powerful novel comes alive in the unforgettable voices of the city’s people, unexpectedly drawn together by hope, beauty, and the tightrope walker’s 'artistic crime of the century.'"

I can't wait to read this book.

Stock your Irish bookshelf from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or IndieBound.

Aug 22, 2009

Spotlight: Sinéad Lough

I'm always looking for a new Irish potter to crush on; It helps me focus my shopping time when I visit home, gives my family a gift-focus when they're coming to visit me (me: "oh, really you shouldn't have!" them: "but you told us to!"), and allows me to brag about Irish design to friends on this side of the Atlantic.
Lately, I'm crushing on the beautiful ceramic handthrown pots and bowls of Sinéad Lough, a ceramic artist based in the Dingle peninsula, Co. Kerry. Her works possess a simple, earthy elegance, and they're decorated in bright beautiful colors, evocative of her West Kerry surroundings.

I wish I'd had a chance to swing down to Dingle to visit her cute little workshop on my last visit home; I love the idea of seeing the artist at work, buying straight from the [discounted] source, and...well, there's always the hope that some elf-workshop-magic will rub off on me, and I'll be able to make my own beautiful pottery...

If you are planning a visit to Kerry, be sure to stop in Dingle; Sinéad's workshop would be a great off-the-beaten-track travel experience, and an even better shopping experience. (I'll take a set of mugs, a teapot, and a cute little milk and sugar bowl set, thanks very much.)

If you can't make it to Dingle, you can find Sinéad Lough's wares at the The Irish Design Shop.

P.S. Don't be overly precious with Irish pottery; sure, it looks great on the shelf, but it looks even better put to use on the table.

Aug 18, 2009

The Real Fighting Irish:

Muhammad Ali is a Clare Man!

First we declared President Barack Obama as our own, then Vice President Joe Biden, and now we're claiming one of 'The Greatest' of them all–Muhammad Ali. (The formula's not that complicated, really: if you're any way half-decent, you must be half-Irish!)
The former world heavyweight champion, now 67 and fighting Parkinson's disease, will visit my hometown–Ennis in Co. Clare–in early September, to retrace the steps of his great-grandfather, Abe Grady, who emigrated from his home on the Turnpike Road in Ennis to the United States in the 1860s. A Civic Reception, the highest honor that a Local Authority can give, will mark the occasion (along with live music and much rooting around in family closets for million dollar babies), and Ali will be named the county's first Honorary Freeman–a title that will no doubt gain him free entry into The Queen's disco on a Saturday night.
Ali’s great-grandfather sailed from Cappa Harbour in Kilrush, County Clare, shortly after the Great Famine, and settled in Kentucky, where he married an African-American woman. Their son also married an African-American and one of the daughters of that union was Ali's mother, named Odessa Lee Grady. She married Cassius Clay, senior, and they settled in Louisville, where Cassius Clay, junior, was born in 1942. He later changed his name to Muhammad Ali when he converted to the Nation of Islam after winning the world title in 1964. Now, my cousin Cassius is a member of the Nation of Clare.
Hmmn, I wonder if I have enough time to design, produce, and sell a batch of "The Boxing Bannerman" t-shirts to mark the big day/man...

Aug 7, 2009

What To Wear: Ireland-Appropriate Handbags

I brought my new Hayden-Harnett lush leather handbag home with me last December to show off to my friend Gráinne, and instead I showed myself up by getting upset (okay, hysterical) when we got caught in a Heavenly downpour, and my lovely Hayden-Harnett got all water-stained. Moral of the story: Show off indoors.
Brooklyn Industries Bags, $19-$74

I'm a huge fan of Brooklyn Industries bags; they're stylish, affordable, roomy, protected under a lifetime warranty, and most of them are made from a waterproof canvas! In short, they're Ireland-worthy. If you're anyway decent, you'll leave your B.I. bag to a friend/relative/stranger in Ireland; stuff that says "Brooklyn" on it is very cool (this has more to do with Beckham's young fella named Brooklyn than the fact that I live here.)

While you might be occasionally abused with a breeze fierce enough to put hair on your chest, you can be fairly assured that you won't get a hurricane when you visit Ireland. Still, if you like to prepare for the worst and look your best at the same time, you can't beat this Hurricane Tote. It's a sleek leather and canvas tote equipped with a very handy and cool removable "umbrella" pouch (which could double as a "practical shoes pouch" for after the disco). I'd be prayin' for rain with this bag.

eBay's a good source for Kiely stateside

Lately I've been more taken with Dublin-born Orla Kiely's gorgeous leather handbags than her laminated offerings, but there's nothing like a recession to bring out the practical (or bank robber) in you. Kiely's laminated bags are cheery, water-and-Guinness-proof, more expensive than Brooklyn Industries–but also more collectible, and you get bonus points for supporting an Irish designer.

Aug 2, 2009

The Scone Zone: Odlums Quick Mix

I'm a cheat; If there's a faster, easier, less-sweaty way to do something, I'll do it. Hence the sexy packaging for this scone mix appealed to me: "Ready to bake in five minutes," "Just add milk," and "Quick!" (underlined for emphasis!)
Now, I'm somewhat fussy when it comes to scones so I'm usually inclined to make them from scratch than to fake them with a mix. Still, "five minutes... milk... QUICK!"–how could I resist?

Preheat the oven to 400F. Measure out the milk into a bowl and then toss in the mix. Mix with a spoon until they form a ball of dough.

Empty the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and use your hands to quickly pat it into a flat (about 1-inch high dough). Use cookie cutters or the top of a glass to cut out scones.

Place on a floured baking tray leaving a space between each and pop in the oven for 15–20 mins. Put the kettle on and make a pot of tea.

4. Enjoy straight from the oven!

The verdict: Okay, so they don't lie when they say five minutes; they really are that quick and easy. They taste like brown soda bread though, not scones. I like soda bread so this wasn't a problem for me. They're also a little dry (especially when they cool), so I'd highly recommend lubing them up when warm with butter and jam. I'll probably add raisins next time to make them a little tastier.

You can find Odlums Quick Scones here.

Aug 1, 2009

Three Irish Authors Make Booker Longlist

Three Irish authors–Colm Tóibín, Ed O'Loughlin, and William Trevor–have made this year’s prestigious Man Booker prize longlist, as announced in London a few days ago. The longlist gets chopped from thirteen to six novels in September, and then the winner of the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2009 will be revealed on October 6. If, like me, you never seem to be on-the-ball enough to have watched all (or any) of the Oscar-nominated films before the Oscar-pools/Oscars happen, you might want to compensate by getting a headstart on the Booker Prize now (and then starting a Booker Pool at work to show up your show-off "you still haven't seen Milk?"coworkers).

1. I'm going to get started with Ed O’Loughlin's book, Not Untrue & Not Unkind, because he's a first-time novelist, and therefore watercooler-worthy even if he doesn't make the shortlist. His novel is not available in the US until April 2010, so I'm thinking to pay the £2.99 shipping charge to get it from

2. Second on my Booker-bone-up list is Colm Tóibín's Brooklyn. He is what's known as a "Booker bridesmaid," having been shortlisted twice for the prize (in 1999 for The Blackwater Lightship and in 2004 for The Master). I'm a fan of Tóibín, and I live in Brooklyn, so I need to get reading this and fast. Available now on Amazon.

3. William Trevor's Love and Summer will be my third excuse to plant my backside firmly on my beach towel between now and Labor Day. Trevor has also been shortlisted previously (in 1976 with his novel The Children of Dynmouth, in 1991 with Reading Turgenev, and in 2002 with The Story of Lucy Gault), and I'm slightly mortified to admit that I've never read any of his books. I have a gaping hole in my Irish library it seems, so I'll have to remedy that. I'm excited to discover a new-old Irish writer so I can't bear to wait until September 17th for the release of this book stateside; Hello? the frickin' shortlist is announced September 8th! It'll be released in the UK in August which is a little better. two UK purchases a trip home justify?