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Shelfmarks with Manchán Magan

04 November 2021

This week on Shelfmarks imaginary islands, real books and Manchán Magan on the magical in betweenness of Irish. 

Shelfmarks is a podcast by the Royal Irish Academy podcaster-in-residence Zoë Comyns. Every other week Zoë will sift through the Academy collection for Shelfmarks (biographies, manuscripts, books and reference from the collection) and invite a guest writer to discuss their own relationship with the natural world. Writers include Amanda Bell, Kerri Ní Dhochartaigh, Manchán Magan, Siobhán Mannion, Jane Clarke and Neil Hegarty. Each writer has been specially commissioned to write pieces exploring their own relationship with nature.

Shelfmarks goes live on Sundays and episodes are available on SoundCloudSpotify and Apple Podcasts.

This week on Shelfmarks imaginary islands, real books and Manchán Magan on the magical in betweenness of Irish. 

The Royal Irish Academy holds the most important collection of Irish language manuscripts in the country and more specifically it holds medical manuscripts - 6000 thousand pages across 30 different textbooks. One of these medical books is called the Book of O’Lees or Book of Hybrasil. This week Zoë relays the origin of the Book of O’Lees and Manchán Magan reads two specially commissioned essays prompted by the Book of O’Lees. One about Bog Plants and the medicinal cures found in Irish plants and the other about the nebulousness of the island of Hy-brasil:

“I’ve never been to Valentia Island in my life, but I don’t doubt it exists. I’ve sat in Portmagee in a thick mist and looked out on nothing, on a miasma of white vapour, but still I accept Valentia Island as part of reality. That’s how it was for people with regard to Hy Brasil. Many, many people throughout history claimed to have seen it, and there are still some alive today who have told me directly they’ve seen the allusive, mystical island. But, there are far more people living along the west coast of Ireland at points from which it is supposed to be visible who’ve never once even caught a glimpse of it. It both exists and doesn’t exist. Má thuigeann tú leat me (if you get what I mean).”

Tune in to hear more of Manchán essays on Shelfmarks Episode 4. Zoë and Manchán also discuss how Irish holds many clues to how we can understand the natural world, what we can do collectively in this time of crisis and why as a travel writer Manchán no longer flies around the world. 

Manchán Magan most recent two books are Thirty-Two Words for Field and Tree Dogs, Banshee Fingers and Other Irish Words for Nature - both are published by Gill Books. 

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