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A View From Maree by Eoin Gardiner

The Irish countryside tugs at my heartstrings, and the beauty of western Ireland is simply enchanting. I am so pleased that Eoin Gardiner’s photograph, “A View From Maree”, graces the cover of An Irish Miracle. Maree is in County Galway in western Ireland, where a large part of the story takes place.

I only recently made Eoin’s acquaintance through his photographs on Flickr. I already know he has a keen eye, an engaging sense of humor, and a generous heart. Through Eoin’s photographs, you might catch a glimpse of what Alastar and Dillon Connolly experienced as they each searched for their own places in the world.

Click on each photograph below to see the originals on Flickr, or visit Eoin’s photostream, check out all of his beautiful photographs, and take your own wee bit of a trip to the Emerald Isle!

Watertower Rainbow by Eoin Gardiner (CC BY 2.0) – This water tower might look a lot like the ancient, stone watchtower Dillon explored during his first day in Ireland. 

Road Through the Burren by Eoin Gardiner (CC BY 2.0) – At the Shepherd’s Inn, Mara suggested that Dillon explore a bit of the Burren on his way to Ballybrit. She told him, “It’s said that the Burren ‘. . . is a country where there’s not enough water to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him and yet their cattle are very fat.’” 

Burren View Photomerge by Eoin Gardiner (CC BY 2.0) – Wildflowers growing among the clints (slabs) and grykes (fissures) of the natural limestone formations paving much of the Burren. 

Sunrise at Ashford Castle by Eoin Gardiner (CC BY 2.0) – The Irish countryside is dotted with many ancient, stone ruins begging to be pondered . . . and explored. 

Clarinbridge by Eoin Gardiner (CC BY 2.0) – As Alastar walked from Shannon toward Ballybrit, on his first real adventure, he may have encountered many scenes like this one, in search of a kind farmer with a hayloft he could spend the night in, and maybe a kind farmer’s wife who would give him breakfast after the next morning’s chores. 

Headford Road by Eoin Gardiner (CC BY 2.0) – Once he was more confident about driving on the left, Dillon may have taken a national secondary a lot like this one, on his way to Ballybrit. 

Fog Over the Fields of Athenry by Eoin Gardiner (CC BY 2.0) – “Bert came into the bedroom and waited quietly. Alastar glowered at him through sunken eyes when he corked the bottle on the dresser. His face was the color of the kind of fog that swallows sheep whole.” 

Grey Mare by Eoin Gardiner (CC BY 2.0) – This sweet, little mare’s name could very well be Molly. If we could see into the paddock behind her, we might find Wilbur, as well. 

Baling the Silage by Eoin Gardiner (CC BY 2.0) – Family farms in Ireland — and in Ohio — were often handed down from father to eldest son, and through each succeeding generation, the ties to the land grew even stronger. 

Go Ahead, Eat My Lawn by Eoin Gardiner (CC BY 2.0) – Tom and Mike’s herding dogs would never have let this baby sheep stray far from their flock, but if she did, they would have rounded her up straight away. 

A View From Maree by Eoin Gardiner (CC BY 2.0) – And, or course, A View From Maree, less than fifteen kilometers from Ballybrit. Thanks again, Eoin, for your kind generosity in allowing your photo to grace the cover of An Irish Miracle

If you happen to read and enjoy An Irish Miracle, please take a moment to help spread the word to family and friends.

  • You might “like” it, rate it, and review it on Amazon or Goodreads.
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  • You might even write a post about An Irish Miracle on your own blog.

In any case, definitely visit Eoin Gardiner’s photostream on Flickr, enjoy his keen eye and sense of humor, and help me thank him for his generosity!

Passing Along Manual Life Skills – Another Lost Tradition?

Sighting down the edge of a board for bow, crown, twist, and warp is a skill all carpenters should be able to do. How many of today’s carpenter’s know which way to orient the crown of the studs when framing up a wall?

Passing along skills from generation to generation is a strong theme in An Irish Miracle. As a ten-year-old boy on an Ohio family farm in 1955, Alex is excited to learn how to weld from his father, Jake, so he can fix a broken plow. An older Alastar passes along the skills of caring for horses to the younger men at Glencoe Stables.

The tradition of passing along manual skills takes many routes, a few of which are:

  • Father to son
  • Mother to daughter
  • Journeyman to apprentice
  • Mentor to fatherless child
  • Shop class

Sadly, many high schools across America have discontinued shop classes, as more and more students prepare to become “knowledge workers”. (Search eBay for woodworking and other machine tools, and you’ll find many for sale from schools.) As Matthew Crawford points out in Shop Class as Soulcraft, the separation of thinking and doing is a misguided notion. Encyclopedic knowledge and critical thinking guide the hands of plumbers, carpenters, and motorcycle mechanics, to name only a few of the highly skilled and noble trades.

Bought with his own money, my son and I dragged his first car home with a chain and slowly worked together to rebuild it and make it road-worthy again. From the rebuilt carb to the new exhaust system, repacked wheel bearings with new ten-hole rims, and of course, a new head unit complete with amp and subwoofer, he was proud of that little Mustang and proud of his newly acquired skills. Much credit goes to my wife for pointing out that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pass some skills along, father to son.

Take a few moments and list the manual skills one of your parents or a favorite uncle had, and then circle the ones you don’t possess. Here’s a short list about my dad. He hated to pay someone else to do anything he even might be able to do himself.

  • Welding (at work and at home)
  • Butchering (as in the family meat-packing business)
  • Carpentry (he built the house I grew up in, and several others)
  • Woodworking (he made a lot of our furniture)
  • Hunting (mostly bird, when he was younger)
  • Gardening (usually started with a pick-up truck load of chicken manure)
  • Car restoration and maintenance (he and my brother restored a 1966 Corvette)
  • Mechanical work (he fixed appliances and built us go-carts and mini-bikes)
  • Schnauzer grooming (the apple seldom falls far from the tree)
  • Knitting (yup, and he taught my mother, too)

Pop building a storage shed out near the garden. For some reason, we always called it “The Cottage”.

I could take a pretty good turn at most of these, although my welding and butchering would be pretty ugly, and I’m afraid I never found much call for knitting myself. (I personally don’t hunt for sport, but if it ever comes down to Bambi or my family going hungry, Bambi’s a goner.)

Craftsmanship is both the execution of a skill, and the desire to do something well for its own sake. Producing something physical, with hands guided by the mind, is extremely satisfying, particularly in a world where life is seemingly lived more and more passively . . . and more and more dependently.

What new manual skills would you like to learn? Even more important, what manual skills will you pass along?

Simpler Times, Simpler Places

Ohio Farm Horses

An Irish Miracle spans over a half a century and two countries. With all the strife in the real world today, the stories in it offer a respite, a brief glimpse of simpler times and simpler places.

Born in 1945, life for twin boys on an Ohio family farm is filled with hard work. The growing seasons mean plowing, planting and worrying about the rain. Only after the day’s work is there time for pick-up games, pony rides, and swimming. When the harvest season begins, daylight is reserved for bringing in the crops and baling the neighbor’s hay for spending money. The first day of a new school year means the ground will soon be frozen solid.

Their close-knit family is happy and secure, but with one ill-fated decision by their father, an old-school farmer and a war veteran, life for the boys begins to change. When the first Irish-Catholic president is assassinated, life for the whole family changes. After the arrival of two draft notices, the twin brothers set out on separate paths for the first time in their lives, one to the jungles of Vietnam and one to the quiet countryside of western Ireland.

Were they really simpler times and simpler places? I think so, but perhaps you should decide for yourself.