Thursday, 13 May 2010

Nostalgia makes me ramble

Looking out towards the Mourne Mountains from the shores of Strangford Lough

I was reading this article on yesterday's Guardian website Best Children's Books Ever

I have a great interest in children's books - I read so many growing up and then spent ten years as a children's bookseller. I have to admit to being a bit behind the times with some of the newer authors, but a list like this will always be interesting. Not just because of the nostalgia it can create when you come across a book that you loved as a child, but also because of the disbelief when you realise that your favourite book isn't included! Have a look and see if any of your favourites are there.

It made me think about one of my favourite books while I was at primary school. The Bell Of Nendrum by J.S. Andrews was first printed in 1969. Here's the blurb:

Sailing his dinghy among the tiny islands of Strangford Lough in County Down, Niall Ross is caught in a freak storm which hurls him back nine centuries to the monastic settlement of Nendrum. Gradually, he comes to understand and love the monks and novices and their simple, gentle lives - lives soon to be ended in a ruthless viking raid. Moving swiftly against the well-researched background, this is a fascinating reconstruction of a crucial period in Irish history, as well as a vivid, exciting story.

A wonderful sky over Strangford Lough in Summer 2009

In fact I loved it so much, I think I set a record for the number of times a book was taken out of the library!! It is unlikely ever to appear on one of these lists, however, as it has been out of print for a long time and was set very firmly in Northern Ireland. It was reprinted in 1985 and available for a time then - I bought a copy and usually have it somewhere close.

One of the great treasures held by the monks of Nendrum is a chalice. The wonderful thing about this book (apart from being very well written with a great story and sympathetic characters) is that it's possible to visit (as Niall does at the end of the story) a reproduction of the chalice in the Ulster Museum (the original is held in Dublin).

This book brought history alive for me in a way that is still very strong today. I visited the Ulster Museum recently (the first time for a long time as it was closed for three years for refurbishment) and there was the chalice making me smile (as always) in the hope that at least one of the monks escaped the brutality and survived.

The obelisk raised for the millennium in Delamont Country Park
on the shores of Strangford Lough

Ah well, enough maundering on! The pictures that I have chosen today tie in with "The Bell of Nendrum". They were all taken in Co. Down on the edges of Strangford Lough in Summer 2009 when we spent some time there.


  1. Why have I not read this book? I think I must have read a good percentage of Irish related Children's books, beginning with Patricia Lynch and Sinead DeValera and progressing to everything available in the Sligo Library! I LOVE Irish history, always have and hope I always will!
    Thank you for the Memory Lane trip- I'll try access your link again later as my computer is playing silly ####### on me. I'd be well interested to see what the list comprised- and I still love children's literature, it drives my children crazy! I love artwork and illustrations in younger children's books!

  2. Check this out!!!!

  3. Hi Heckety :) I'm not surprised that you haven't read the Bell of Nendrum. I've found over the years that most people haven't come across it. The other book I loved was Walter Macken's Island of the Great Yellow Ox. I've lost count of the number of times I've read that. And don't be rushing out to buy that book on Amazon.....