Cathal is a teacher-librarian. He is passionate about libraries and literacy, including the promotion of the ‘Young News Readers’ campaign in his school to create better awareness of Critical Literacy. Cathal has also written articles on cultural and educational issues for a range of publications such as Irish America and Ireland’s Own over the past decade, including three books with The History Press: The Little Book of Tyrone, The Little Book of Donegal and The Little Book of Irish Landmarks.
After completing his first degree in English and Modern History at Queen’s University Belfast, Cathal worked as a genealogist for Irish World Heritage Organisation, interviewing clients and researching online records to trace their family history. This interest led to him interviewing a diverse range of people with their own stories to tell, for a successful weekly series in The Dungannon Observer.
Cathal has also delivered seminars at the Seamus Heaney HomePlace to aspiring non-fiction and biography writers who wish to further their writing careers.
As a Story Terrace writer, Cathal interviews customers and turns their life stories into books. Get to know him better by reading him autobiographical anecdote below.
The Next Parish Over
The inspiration behind writing a book a few years ago on the various historical and cultural landmarks in Ireland was derived from trips to the south of Ireland in my youth. The Aran Islands, Burren and the Cliffs of Moher were all visited inside a two-month spell. I was aged eleven; eager to encounter these places that I had only heard of.
On a school trip to County Clare, we were based at the spa town of Lisdoonvarna. I relished the opportunity to discover and learn more about iconic landmarks in the area. We were perplexed to encounter a coachload of American tourists one afternoon at the nearby Cliffs of Moher.
“Why do Americans travel such a distance to visit these cliffs?” I asked one of our teachers, “Surely there are many places in America, such as the Grand Canyon, that would be easier for them to visit?”
“These are world-famous landmarks, Cathal; it is a privilege to get the opportunity to see them. And many of those visitors from the States had relatives who emigrated from Ireland many decades ago – so they feel a connection to this place.”
That was the first time I began to acknowledge and understand that people and places are interconnected.
A few months after that exchange, I visited the Aran Islands, located off the coast of Galway, with my family; it was part of our summer holidays. Our base was in the seaside town of Salthill, which included the usual amusement arcades that appealed to kids my age.
And while my siblings and I enjoyed that element of the holiday, my dad was always keen for us to explore our national landmarks and heritage. Midway through our stay in Salthill, we travelled by ferry to one of the Aran Islands on a tranquil July day, with the sun blazing on our backs.
Walking to the edge of the largest island, Inis Mór, I was in awe of the vast Atlantic Ocean that surrounded the islands – and stretched out as far as the eye could see.
I recalled the American visitors at the Cliffs of Moher and the journey they had made to the west coast of Ireland. Then my father told me that the American city of Boston was “the next parish over”.
With that remark the world appeared much smaller!
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