A Book for Every Year…

I got the idea for this post primarily from the brilliant Christa over at A Voluptuous Mind who posed a list earlier in the year of her favourite movies from every year she has been alive.

I got to thinking what my favourite books would be and inspired by the 1951 Club, I thought I would list my choice for the best books of 1971 to 2015! The reason I’m stopping at 2015 is because I didn’t read any notable new releases in 2016 or so far this year given my on-going book ban. Some years were easier than others – 1971 was pretty tough, but I had to debate between several books for 1993! Some were read at the time (although obviously I wasn’t reading John Berger on my first birthday!) and some only recently, but they represent a selection of some of my favourite books!

So, let’s kick off and see if any of your favourites are here too!

1971 – 1980

1971: The Dead Zone by Stephen King

1972: Ways of Seeing by John Berger

1973: Deenie by Judy Blume

1974: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M Pirsig

1975: American Buffalo by David Mamet

1976: Will you Please be Quiet, Please by Raymond Carver

1977: Dispatches by Michael Herr

1978: Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

1979: The Executioners Song by Norman Mailer

1980: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

1981 – 1990

1981: Good Behaviour by Molly Keane

1982: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ by Sue Townsend

1983: Fool for Love by Sam Sheperd

1984: Money by Martin Amis

1985: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

1986: Perfume by Patrick Suskind

1987: The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

1988: Libra by Don DeLillo

1989: A Prayer for Owen Meaney by John Irving

1990: Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates

1991 – 2000

1991: Seeing Things by Seamus Heaney

1992: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

1993: Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha! By Roddy Doyle

1994: The Skriker by Caryl Churchill

1995: Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson

1996: Reading in the Dark by Seamus Deane

1997: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

1998: Birds of America by Lorrie Moore

1999: Plainsong by Kent Haruf

2000: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

2001 – 2010

2001: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

2002: Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

2003: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

2004: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

2005: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

2006: The Arrival by Shaun Tan

2007: Remainder by Tom McCarthy

2008: A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz

2009: A Scattering Christopher Reid

2010: A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan

2011 – 2015

2011: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

2012: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

2013: Tenth of December by George Saunders

2014: A Girl is a Half Formed Thing by Eimear McBride

2015: Tender by Belinda McKeon

Any of these take you back to a specific year? Or is anyone else tempted to make a list of their own? I’d quite like to do the same for music and movies, if I can find the time!

‘Clearances that suddenly stood open…’

Seamus Heaney died three years ago today and the world lost one of its greatest poets. 

In memory of his passing, here is one of my favourite passages from his poem Clearances.

When all the others were away at Mass

 I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.

They broke the silence, let fall one by one

Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:

Cold comforts set between us, things to share

Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.

And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes

From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.

So while the parish priest at her bedside

Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying

And some were responding and some crying

I remembered her head bent towards my head,

Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives—

Never closer the whole rest of our lives.

St Patrick, Station Island and Seamus Heaney



St Patrick’s Purgatory, an ancient pilgrimage site on Station Island in Lough Derg in County Donegal is, according to legend, the site where Christ took St Patrick to show him a cave that was the entrance to Purgatory.

The story goes that St Patrick received visions of the punishments of hell at the cave and was able to use the site as proof of the afterlife for his doubting followers.

st pats purg

Given the obvious lack of any documentation during fifth-century Ireland, there is no proof that St Patrick ever visited Lough Derg, but there was certainly a monastery on the island at that time – it was the only Irish site on Martin Behaim’s world map of 1492. That monastic compound still exists to this day, although much extended, some of the original foundations still remain as does its status as a site of pilgrimage.


Every year the main pilgrimage season begins in late May/early June and ends mid-August, on the 15th, the feast of the Assumption of Mary.   The three day retreat is not for the faint hearted. Following a boat trip from Lough Derg to Station Island, penitents surrender their socks and shoes and take part in three long days of fasting and prayer.

The first night is spent praying in the Basilica, followed by prayers and incantations said continuously whilst walking barefoot around the ‘stations’ that are the remains of monastic huts. Aside from a daily snack of dry toast, black tea or coffee, the only other sustenance is the famous Lough Derg ‘broth’ – hot water flavoured with salt and pepper. There are only a few hours designated sleep throughout the weekend and the fast must continue after the pilgrims have returned home until midnight of the third night.


Station Island

The Lough Derg pilgrimage was very popular when I was growing up, however, having seen my mother do it twice, I was never tempted!

Given its reputation as a place, associated with contemplation and self-denial, Station Island has long been attractive to writers and poets – among them William Carleton, Denis Devlin and Patrick Kavanagh.


The poet Seamus Heaney did the pilgrimage on several occasions and his 1984 collection Station Island features a long poem dedicated to the place. It is broken into twelve stanzas and, taking its inspiration from Dante, follows Heaney on his pilgrimage as he encounters ghosts from his past who engage him in dialogue.



Heaney called it

the three-part Dantean journey scaled down into the three-day station, no hell, no paradise, just ‘Patrick’s Purgatory’.

Among the ghosts he meets are his mother, an old school teacher, a priest he knew who died, a school friend shot by the IRA and a second cousin who was killed by a Protestant along with William Carleton, Patrick Kavanagh and finally James Joyce. He enters into conversation with those he meets, musing on religion, politics and death and his place as a poet in society. Memories drum him back to his past. An old monk tells him to ‘Read poems as prayers’ while Joyce tells him to

Let go, let fly, forget.

You’ve listened long enough.

Now strike your note.

Here is my favourite stanza from this stunning poem.




Morning stir in the hostel. A pot

Hooked on forged links. Soot flakes. Plumping water.

The open door letting in the sunlight.

Hearthsmoke rambling and a thud of earthenware

drumming me back until I saw the mug

Beyond my reach on its high shelf

The one patterned with cornflowers, blue sprig after sprig

Repeating round it, as quiet as a milestone,


old and glazed and haircracked. It had stood for years

in its patient sheen and turbulent atoms,

unchallenging, unremembered lars

I seemed to waken to and waken from.


When had it not been there? There was one night

when the fit-up actors used it for a prop

and I sat in a dark hall estranged from it

as a couple vowed and called it their loving cup


and held it in our gaze until the curtain

jerked shut with an ordinary noise.

Dipped and glamoured from this translation

it was restored with all its cornflower haze


still dozing, its parchment fast –

as the otter surfaced once with Ronan’s psalter

miraculously unharmed, that had been lost

a day and a night under lough water.


And so the saint praised God on the lough shore.

The dazzle of the impossible suddenly

Blazed across the threshold, a sun-glare

To put out the small hearths of constancy.


Heaney’s handwritten notes on writing of  the Station Island poem from 1981


Happy St Patrick’s Day!

Announcing Reading Ireland Month!

PicMonkey Collage 2

The heart of an Irishman is nothing but his imagination. George Bernard Shaw

March is coming, and that means St. Patrick’s Day, but there’s much, much more to Irish culture than shamrocks (which, by the by, are NOT four-leaf clovers) and driving snakes out of the country (this never actually happened either). St Patrick wasn’t even Irish! He was born in Wales. Or Somerset. Or Scotland. But not in Ireland!

Ireland has a surface area of 32,000 square miles and a population of 6.4million meaning it is the same size as South Carolina and has the same number of inhabitants as Indiana. That’s right, it’s not big, but for such a small island it packs a hefty cultural punch:

Some of the world’s greatest plays, novels and poems.

Four Nobel Prize winners (Yeats, Shaw, Beckett and Heaney) … will their names be joined by John Banville, Emma Donoghue, Colum McCann or Anne Enright?

Five Booker Prize winners.

A fairly well-known rock band that you might have heard of, as well as the likes of Van Morrison, Sinead O’Connor, Thin Lizzy, Rory Gallagher, I Draw Slow, Snow Patrol and Damien Rice. We sincerely hope this  makes up for inflicting Boyzone and Westlife on the world.


Ireland more last

A host of Oscar winners.

The best pint in the world.

My Left Foot. Calvary. In Bruges. What Richard Did. The Stag. Once. It’s fair to say Irish film has moved well beyond The Quiet Man.

A Ballymena man is currently Hollywood’s leading action hero! (And if you don’t believe that, he will look for you, he will find you, and he will kill you)

From Dorian Grey to Game of Thrones, Ulysses to Father Ted, the reach of Ireland’s culture spreads far beyond its beautiful coastline.

When anyone asks me about the Irish character, I say look at the trees. Maimed, stark and misshapen, but ferociously tenacious. Edna O’Brien

To celebrate the wealth and breadth and general awesomeness of Irish cultural life, 746 Books and The Fluff is Raging are co-hosting a month-long cultural celebration of all things Irish. Ireland Month (Or The Begorrathon as we are affectionately calling it!) will feature book and film reviews, poems, songs, giveaways and much, much more. We’d love for you to join us!


The rules for the challenge are quite simple. Grab our badge and put it in your sidebar and get planning your Ireland themed reading or viewing. Like our Facebook page here Between  March 1st and March 31st, you can post as much as you like about Irish culture. The theme is Ireland and Irish culture, so feel free to write about whatever you like.

Read a book by Anne Enright, the inaugural Irish Fiction Laureate. Post your favourite soda bread recipe.   Maybe you want to make a list of your Top Ten Irish people. Read some poems by WB Yeats and celebrate 150 years since his birth (#Yeats150).  Dress up as Mrs Doyle from Fr Ted and take a selfie, we don’t really mind! Here’s all we ask:

  • put a link to your post on the Facebook page, and we’ll be sure to share it.
  • Or link here on either of our blogs: FOR POSTS ABOUT POETS, PLAYWRIGHTS and NOVELISTS, link back to Cathy at 746 Books
  • FOR POSTS ABOUT FILMS, TV, MUSIC, or ANYTHING ELSE, link back to Niall at The Fluff is Raging
  • Watch our Begorrathon trailer to give you some ideas for what to read/ watch/ drink! If you need some more ideas, there is a list of 50 of the best Irish novels at 746 Books, one of which is bound to tickle your fancy.
  • You can also tweet your post using the hashtags #irelandmonth2015 AND/OR #begorrathon2015

We can’t wait to see what you come up with!

Many people die of thirst but the Irish are born with one. Spike Milligan