1 November 2017

The Rule of the Land: 2nd Edition

The Rule of the Land: Walking Ireland's Border is about to be published in paperback.

I was able to make a few small edits before this edition went into print. For example I got to add the location of recent protest to one of the maps. The Killeen protest occurred shortly after the UK voted to leave the EU and was against the enforcement of a 'hard border'. The event was widely reported at the time. The protestors set up a demonstration customs hut as a reminder of what the border was pre-1993 when both the UK and the Republic of Ireland joined the single market.

31 October 2017

Reader's Survey

Apart from writing books and making maps I work for a university. In the UK university system research staff like me are asked to show the impact of our work. To that end I have created this short survey for readers of The Rule of the Land: Walking Ireland's Border. If you have read the book I would be very grateful if you'd comment on it here:


None of the five questions are compulsory. You can use the tick-box replies or use the comments boxes along the way, or you can use both.

Thank you for your time.

22 September 2017

An Teorainn

There is some striking aerial footage of Ireland's border in this trailer for An Teorainn, a RTÉ documentary that follows the borderline from end-to-end, a bit like I did.

I was interviewed for this programme and talked about many border subjects, I'm not sure what parts they are going to use but there is a snippet of me discussing the life of Sean Quinn in this trailer. An Teorainn will be broadcast in October.

30 August 2017

Border Carrots

I brought a Swedish film crew for a tour of the border recently and in the rolling farmland on the border near Caledon we meet a farmer called Henry. He presented both the producer and I with large bunches of carrots and consented to be interviewed for a few minutes.

He discussed mainly how his working life had been improved by the 'soft' border and expressed the wish that it remained so. He was charming, so charming in fact I was concerned the editor would cut me out of the documentary and just use the footage of him. However, I see I made it into the final version.

Thanks to Henry and the crew from SVT's literary arts programme Babel.

20 July 2017

Edinburgh Festival

Julian Sayerer has written a wonderful book about using this thumb to get across the United States, Interstate: Hitch Hiking Through the State of a Nation. I am really looking forward to appearing with him in the Edinburgh Festival next month.

That photo of me is ten years old and, it seems, cannot be escaped.

8 June 2017

Brexit and the Border

The New York Times invited me to write a short piece about Ireland's border in the light of Brexit. It is over on their website. It includes some great photos by Rob Stothard, like this one from Armagh.

22 May 2017

Patrick McCabe and Fictional Ulster

I was delighted to be part of the International Literature Festival Dublin lately, an event with Patrick McCabe. We had a good conversation and I hope the audience enjoyed it as much as I did.

In the course of a dozen books McCabe has made the Irish midlands, and the border region, his own. He has often used fictional towns as settings, and so several sites on my map Fictional Ulster come from his novels. Carn, Cullymore and Tyreelin, to name a few examples. Patrick McCabe and Sam Hanna Belle are probably the writers that have contributed most locations to Ulster's fictional landscape.

As the map owes a lot to Patrick McCabe, and because I thought he might like it, I brought a print of Fictional Ulster with me to Dublin and presented it to him during the event.

I have a few more festival appearances this summer, such as the Belfast Book Festival, The Borris House Festival of Ideas and the Edinburgh Book Festival.

12 April 2017

The Rule of the Land on the Radio

The Rule of the Land: Walking Ireland's Border was BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week during last month. It can still be heard online, but only for a few more days. Click here.

I gave an half hour interview on WNPR (USA) lately, it can be heard online here.

I was also part of a panel discussion on BBC Radio 4 Start the Week.

28 February 2017

Message in a Map

The picture book artist Oliver Jeffers has sent this cartographic message to his homeland. I don't think I've seen Northern Ireland used as an O before, but it works. Jeffers says; "Perhaps one of the more important votes in Europe this year will happen in Northern Ireland in a few days. We have a choice of moving forwards, or moving backwards toward old familiar battle lines. The result will affect everyone in the Province and beyond. So either get out and vote, or as my Grandma used to say, 'forever hold your peace'".

Northern Ireland gets a chance to change its government on 2 March.

Jeffers' original post is on Facebook

4 January 2017

Map of Ulster Cottages

I have an old friend in Donegal. By old I mean that he is over eighty years of age. He owns a cottage that I sometimes rent for a few days. I am quite attached to the place and its view of Donegal bay. It is a traditional cottage, with a range and a thatched roof, and is the house he grew up it. Now he lives elsewhere but he has not done up the cottage for the tourist trade. It remains how it was when he lived in it. Turf is the only means of heat, there are only two electric sockets for the whole place and, on the roof, is a practical but ungroomed thatch. My friend takes a certain amount of pride in the fact that he takes no government grant to preserve the traditional thatch. He just does it himself, growing the crop, drying it and thatching the roof wherever necessary. Yes, he climbs up there and lays it himself, at his age.

My Donegal retreat.

I see that this cottage does not feature in Alan Gailey’s survey The Thatched Houses of Ulster. It is not on the map that shows the location of all his correspondents.

From Ulster Folklife, Volume 7, 1961. Published by The Ulster Folklife Society in Belfast.

I imagine my friend was too busy to bother with questionnaires, assuming he even received one. Or, as a man who takes care off his own thatch, he may have instinctually baulked at nosy questions. Gailey, researching for the Ulster Folk Museum, sent out 400 questionnaires to the owners of traditional cottages and got 200 filled in and returned in time for a 1961 report. He collated and mapped some of the information.

Ulster’s spread of the bed out-shot feature.

One of the maps records instances of ‘bed out-shots.’ The east of the province is strikingly clear of this 19th century architectural feature. The further west you go, the more there are. Sure enough my friend’s cottage in Donegal has one. The bed out-shot is an extension. It is usually at the back, as shown in the image below, and was filled with a bed next, keeping it close to the hearth. It was traditional for this bed to be used by the oldest members of the family. The map hints at how trends can be patterned on geography, kept local by community and the unshifting style of tradesmen who don't travel much, builders in this case. Note, for example, the straight line of white circles following the river Bann north from Lough Neagh (I have indicated it with a red line). There are cottages with bed out-shots all around it but none built in that particular valley.

Cottage in North Donegal. On the right, a small bed out-shot.

In Co. Down Gailey placed a few question marks. Here are cottages with what looked like bed out-shots, but they were so isolated as to possibly require another explanation. Gailey suggested it was equally likely these out-shots were used to accommodate a loom, not a bed, in the homes of hand-loom weavers. These out-shots normally had a window to provide the weaver with light to work by.