Even the Heather Bled

'Even the Heather Bled’ is a sweeping history of Ireland from the Norman conquest to the birth of a nation. It is uniquely told by focusing on County Sligo, and its part in this long journey for independence. On the morning of Wednesday September 20th 1922 - the closing months of the Irish Civil War - six anti-Treaty Volunteers were shot dead atop Sligo’s Benbulben Mountain. How did it come about? That Irishmen, former comrades, after together winning a bloody war against the British Empire, killed fellow Irishmen on a lonely Sligo hillside with a ferocity unseen since the Black and Tan times?
Richly illustrated with images of the period, 'Even the Heather Bled' sets out to answer this question. It begins with the invasion by Strongbow’s forces in August 1170. It tracks Ireland’s crucible of conquest, colonisation and survival from that Norman invasion to the birth pains of the Irish Nation in the 20th century: Penal Times, the Great Hunger of Black ’47, Davitt and the Land League, the Celtic Renaissance, the Easter Rising, War of Independence, Civil War, and Sligo’s part in that journey, are all detailed here.
If there is just one book you want on your bookshelf to cover Ireland’s tumultuous history, and Sligo’s part in it, this is it!

300 pages with 40 pages of colour photographs.

€16.95 Plus 5.00 P&P Ireland Only.

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€16.95 Plus 9.95 P&P Rest of the World

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Sligo Folk Tales

“The stories in Sligo Folk Tales are a delightful blend of age-old legends and fantastical myths.  Do fairies exist?  Banshees?  A selection of the best are investigated and explained here also. Included also are amusing anecdotes and cautionary tales making this book a heady mix of the bloodthirsty, funny and passionate.   In these pages you will find little-known anecdotes of the traditional ways of Sligo’s people, their customs and superstitions; you will find stories of epic battles and heroic deeds; and you will also hear the fantastical accounts of mythical creatures, fairies, witches, haunted houses and the ghosts of Connacht itself.”

Available now from Sligo bookshops or:

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Hidden People

'Set against the dramatic landscape of Ireland's Wild Atlantic coast Joe Mc Gowan's stories in The Hidden People examine and illuminate the complexities and passions of family life, communities and the human heart. Ranging from the intricacies of village life in Cold War in Killawaddy to the thrilling climax of the story of an Irish emigrant in Vietnam, these tales reveal a sometimes whimsical, sometimes tragic, and always unequalled, insight into village life and the Irish character. Joe McGowan is already renowned for his brilliantly researched books on folk history in the West of Ireland. In this collection he brings another dimension to his historical writing with a powerful and engaging perspective on life in rural Ireland.'

What the critics say:  “The Co. Sligo author Joe Mc Gowan is best known as a chronicler of his home place, as folklorist and local historian, especially of Inishmurray Island, that fascinating Atlantic island of pre-history.  Over the years he has produced several books in this genre but for the first time he now publishes a collection of fiction and reminiscence, a challenge to his talents.
   On reading The Hidden People I thought of an old colleague, the late Con Houlihan, but this is, of course, different.  By times Con set out to paint on a vast canvas of mostly sporting events, yet Mc Gowan’s book is also about country people, in fact and fiction, with memories of a lifestyle that has gone forever, a novelty to a new generation, but a reminder to others of what life on a small farm was really about.
   This is well illustrated in an essay which leads up to a cow calving and a boy’s first steps in farming responsibility which ends in tragedy.  On that day something changed forever for the youth and the lifestyle of emigrant friends returned on holidays appeared infinitely more attractive than his continuing rural existence could ever be.”  (Sunday Independent, Joe Kennedy)

€14.95 Plus 4.00 P&P

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A Bitter Wind

The history of a nation is not in parliaments and battlefields, but in what the people say to each other on fair days and high days, and in how they farm and quarrel, and go on pilgrimage.              
W.B. Yeats, ‘Introduction’ to Stories from Carleton

This book takes us on a journey into the secret heart of Irish country life in the 20th century.  Beginning with an account of the villagers’ death-defying efforts to recover wreckage from an unforgiving ocean, A Bitter Wind is an intriguing ramble through an Ireland that no longer exists.  Unfolded here are the beliefs of ordinary people, their superstitions, customs, fears and joys, their struggle to extract a living from the ruthless extremes of Nature on land, sea and shore.  Here we re-live the adventures of ordinary individuals who, in snatching a livelihood from the elements, lived extraordinary lives.

The Irish held on to their faith through persecution and famine — but they clung also to the numerous beliefs and ritual practices, remnants of the Old Religions, that protected them against the unrelenting elements, seen and unseen.  Here you will meet the bewitched hares that stole milk from the farmer’s cows and learn of the preventive measures and antidotes used against them.  Stories of the Evil Eye, red-haired women and the seachrán ramble through the pages: all an integral part of the warp and weft of everyday life not so long ago.  Home grown remedies for toothache, arthritis, mumps, ‘elf-shot’ cows and many other ailments are shown and much, much more…
Aeolus Publications, 284 pages with 16 pages of colour photographs. Available in paperback €15.95 hardback € 21.95  Plus 4.00 P&P 

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In the Shadow of Benbulben

This book details the history, and folklore, of Co. Sligo with particular reference to North Sligo . It covers the period from the first Neolithic settlements to 1798 through the War of Independence to the assassination of Lord Louis Mountbatten off the Mullaghmore coast in 1979. For those doing genealogical research tracts of the Griffiths Valuation are reproduced.

Literary critics have described the book as, '…a true labour of love … a treasure trove of fact, anecdote, folklore and legend. … a magnificent volume of research … packed with facts, figures, maps, photographs, stories, legends and history.'

Aeolus Publications, 334 pages with illustrations and maps. Available in paperback €15.00 Plus €4.00 P&P
Hardback is out of print as from September 2011

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Constance Markievicz: The People’s Countess

This book traces Constance Markievicz’s journey from a pampered childhood in a Sligo landlord’s mansion to her participation in Ireland ’s literary and political Renaissance. The little-known story of her daughter Maeve and her son in law, Stanislaw, is told here. Paintings by Constance, produced while in solitary confinement in Holloway Jail, are reproduced in this book for the first time ever.

Her meeting and marriage to the aristocratic Count Dunin Markievicz at art school in Paris is detailed also. It describes how on their return to Dublin she threw her lot in with the poor, running soup kitchens during the workers strikes and Dublin Lockout of 1913.

Her political awakening led to her championing women’s rights and her eventual command of a company of Irish Citizen Army during the Easter Rebellion. Sentenced to death and incarcerated in a British prison, she became, not just the first woman ever elected to the British Parliament, but as Minister for Labour, the first woman Cabinet Minister in Europe . The story of her heroic endurance during several prison terms and her correspondence with her sister Eva is also here.

Aeolus Publications, 136 pages with colour section. Available in paperback: €12.00 Plus €4.00 P&P

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Inishmurray: Island Voices

The men and women of Inishmurray, Co. Sligo , left their island home in 1948.  The Great Blasket was evacuated five years later.  The Blaskets had Tomás O’Crohan and Maurice O’Sullivan to bear witness to a lost way of life.  Here, Joe Mc Gowan sets down the life and times of another ancient people.  Inishmurray’s presence looms large beyond his native fields and in the tales told him by the last of the island residents
This is the perfect companion for an understanding of the island’s early Christian monuments, rivalled only by those on Sceilg Michael.  But it is more than that.  This book is a familiar ramble through a cherished place bringing life to an ancient monastery and a disappearing era.  Here we learn of holy men and marauding Danes; vengeful statues and disappearing islands; Cursing Stones and Mystic Fires; of cures customs, poteen and peelers.

"A book to buy, to beg, or to borrow. For here we have that rare thing, a piece of literature springing from the same natural impulse which makes a bird on a branch in April time give out a sprinkle of a song": Irish Independent

Aeolus Publications, 200 pages plus 16 page full colour section.

We regret to say that Inishmurray:Island Voices is now out of print


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Echoes of a Savage Land

Beginning with rituals observed on the Celtic festival of Samhain (“Oul’ Hallow-eve”), Joe Mc Gowan tells with love and humour the story of the life led by the common people, the customs they practised and the stories they told, not alone in the heartland’s of Donegal, Sligo, Fermanagh and Leitrim, but throughout Ireland. Long hours of recorded conversations augmented by meticulous archival research casts new light on ancient traditions and beliefs.

Echoes of a Savage Land is a magical doorway into lost worlds, a journey through a way of life unchanged for centuries, but now on the edge of extinction:

- Witch hares and Rhyming rats
- Blood sacrifice and Burnt offerings
- Corncrakes and Blackbird pie
- Poteen stills and Féar Gortach

- Cutting the cailleach and Harvest knots
- Mummers and Wrenboys
- Quern stones and Stirabout
- Haunted houses and Satanic card games

Des Kenny of Kenny Books, Galway has listed 'Echoes of a Savage Land' as a Best Buy in his recently published book 'Kenny's Choice: 101 Irish Books you Must Read'

Aeolus Publications , 400 pages with 16 pages of photographs. Available in paperback €15.95 Plus €4.00 P&P

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Sligo : Land of Destiny

While there is much information available on Sligo’s history, heritage and archaeology this publication makes the knowledge available, for the first time, in an attractive package for the average reader. For Sligonians, and all those interested in the landscapes that inspired the poet, W.B.Yeats, ‘ Sligo: Land of Destiny’ draws readers for the first time into a whole new world of accessible history and art relating to Sligo, town and county

The watercolours, inspired by scenes from all over the town and county, are by Anne Osborne, a Sligonian and self taught artist whose passion for watercolours has found expression in her soft, subtle impressions of mountain, plain and sea. Anne spent a number of years living in Conemara where her work in the arts expressed itself in Celtic decoration and graphic design.

Cottage Publications, 95 pages, 30 watercolours, Available in hardback only (€25.00 plus p&p)

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A Fairy Wind (CD)

In this CD, a talented and unique group of storytellers, ballad singers and musicians, some well known, some not, have come together to relive the atmosphere of an evening by the fireside at the ceilidhe house of old. For variety and originality nothing remotely like this has ever been recorded. The artists represent the heart of Ireland, a rich weave of all that is best in song, ballad and story of the Coleman Country and the Irish countryside.

(The tree pictured on the cover is the legendary Fairy Tree of Benbulben Mountain. Look closely at the trunk!)

With a generous eighteen tracks (70 mins.) this CD is excellent value at €10.00 (Post & packing free) See contents below.

Click HERE
to listen to track sample

Postage free

Fairy Wind contents:
(1) Story
: "Matchmaking: Fortune or Misfortune?"
(2) Oisín Mac Diarmada (fiddle) Reels: John McKenna's, The Happy Days of Youth, Lucky in Love.
(3) Story: "A Farewell to Crickets"
(4) Breda McDermott, Deirdre Cox, Assumpta Kelly, Marie Murray (vocal) Ballad: The Nightingale.
(5) Story: "A Visit from the Sidhe."
(6) Toher family, Marty, Kate, Áine and Claire (accordeon, fiddle, flute, tin whistle)
Reels: Maids of Mt. Kisco, Come West Along the Road, Humours of Tulla.
(7) Story: "The Haymakers"
(8) Seamus Tansey (flute) Reels: The Haymaker, The Maid behind the Barrel.
(9) Story: "The Easter Collection"
(10) Breda McDermott (vocal) Ballad: Teddy O Neill
(11) Peadair Conway, Noel Mullaney, John Harrison, Joe Mc Gowan. Folk Drama: "Dr. Brown and the Christmas Mummers":
(12) P.J. & Domhnaill Hernon (accordion and fiddle) Reels: Jenny Pickin' Cockles, The Floating Crowbar (Rathcroghan Reel), The Colliers.
(13) Story: "The Widows Curse"
(14) Breda McDermott, (vocal) Hymn: A Iosa
(15) Peadair Conway (vocal) Ballad: Brian O'Linn
(16) Toher Family Jigs: The Fleadh Jig, The Lark in the Morning
(17) Joe Corscadden. Monologue: "Half a Bed to Let" (Comp: Pat McGeeney, Newry, Co. Armagh)
(18) Frank Finn (vocal) Ballad: The Ploughboy

All stories told by Joe Mc Gowan, your web host.

Literary critics comments about the above publications:

‘Enthralling… The writing is poetically descriptive flowing along enthusiastically from the laptop of a talented researcher, and chronicler, about a life unchanged for centuries and then, suddenly gone… A valuable addition to a genre whose formidable icons have been Kevin Danaher and Robin Flower.’
Joe Kennedy The Irish Independent

‘Sligo native, Joe Mc Gowan, has written a fascinating account of country customs… Through scrupulous research and many interviews, he’s recreated an almost vanished world of superstition and magic.’
- Anna Carey, The Sunday Tribune

‘Linking the ways of Ireland with ancient Greece, the Aztecs of South America and with the Dyaks of Borneo and illustrating his points with quotations from Chaucer and Shakespeare as well as Yeats and Manley Hopkins, McGowan has produced a book that is more than the usual chronicle of country life. In Echoes of a Savage Land he has produced a work of depth which presents a picture of Ireland in the twentieth century with both affection and a gifted use of language.’
Bookview Ireland

"... What you are doing is a great service . . . it records things that will, in time, be lost forever, even such small things as the names of fields, old sayings, methods of work, etc, etc, etc, There's lots of outsiders living (or rather just commuting and sleeping) in big houses  in rural areas who know little about the rich heritage that surrounds them. Before long, there will be no knowledge of that . . . except in books and recordings such as yours...":
The Sligo Champion


Available: The Spanish Armada 1588

64 pages with colour illustrations.




Contents: Preface; Life aboard ship; Food; Hygiene; Health; The Armada Campaign; Captain Cuellar's letter; An interpretation of same; The squadron of Levant; The Streedagh wrecks; La Girona; La Trinidad Valencera

Price: €15.00 To order click HERE












Recently published by Caoillte: Na Fianna Eireann and the Irish Revolution 1909 to 1923 Available from bookshops and Caoillte Books, also Email









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