Category Archives: History

My gift to you for Celtic-Canadian Heritage month: A free book

The Mary O'Leary Story

March is Celtic-Canadian Heritage month. If you, like me, are one of the 10 million Canadians who claim full or partial Irish or Scottish descent, this month gives you an opportunity to proclaim your heritage and celebrate it. I have already done so by publishing two books. One – Songs of an Irish Poet: The Mary O’Leary Story – tells the story of an ancestor of mine who was a renowned Irish-language folk poet of the 19th century. (Her name in her native tongue was Máire Bhuí Ní Laoire.) Normally, this book sells for $20 CAD plus $3.50 for shipping and handling. But as previously promised in the post below, I will give away a free personally autographed copy to the first 15 readers of this blog who get in touch with me during the coming days. If you are one of those lucky 15, you only have to pay the $3.50 cost of the envelope and postage to receive a copy.

Why am I doing this? Where’s the catch? Well you may ask. Let’s say that this is my way of giving something back, of sharing a part of my heritage with some of my fellow Celtic travellers. I only ask that in return you tell your friends about the book, mention it in your blog if you have one, send me a message saying what you think of the book, and perhaps post a review of it on I would also encourage you to check out my other Irish book, my recently published volume of memoirs, Leaving Dublin: Writing My Way from Ireland to Canada. Both of these books are my way of celebrating where I came from and how the fact of being Irish has shaped my life. I am very proud to be a Canadian – I have lived in this country for 45 years and been a naturalized citizen for more than 40 – but I also maintain with the old country a strong connection that can never be broken.

If you would prefer to receive the Kindle edition of Songs of an Irish Poet, you can get it from amazon for just $0.99 by clicking here. This might strike some as being a better deal because you don’t have to pay for shipping and handling. However, you should know that the Kindle edition is the “lite” version of Songs of an Irish Poet. For formatting reasons it does not contain the original Irish versions of the Mary O’Leary poems, nor the sources, references, tables, and explanatory footnotes contained in the print version.

Time is of the essence so act now. Get your free copy of Songs of an Irish Poet by clicking on the “Buy Now” button below. Enjoy! And do raise a glass to me on the 17th!

Calgary’s economic boom of 1912

Eighty-nine people have already registered for the Community Heritage Roundtable on Wed. Jan. 25 when Don Smith, Aimee Benoit and I will talk about Calgary’s economic boom of 1912. It’s great to see so many people interested in the history of our city. This is the first of several centennial celebrations that have been planned for this year. Watch for future announcements regarding the centennials of the Calgary Public Library, the Stampede, the Grand Theatre, and other local institutions.

The immigrant experience

Frances Hern, my literary colleague and fellow immigrant, didn’t enjoy history when she was going to high school in her native England. “Learning about the Stone Age seemed pointless,” she says, “and I was hopeless at memorizing dates, especially when a king had six wives to keep track of.”

I felt the same way about history when I was growing up in Ireland. When was the Hundred Years’ War and what connection, if any, did it have with the Thirty Years’ War? I could never remember. I couldn’t even tell you where the damn wars were fought.

As we got older, however, and especially after we came to Canada on our separate journeys of adventure, both Frances and I developed a growing appreciation for what George Santayana famously called reason in common sense: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

We wrote books about it. Frances wrote a book about the centuries-long search for the Northwest Passage and has just released a new book, Yip Sang and the First Chinese-Canadians, about three generations of a family that came to the Gold Mountain in search of a better life. I wrote eight books about the colourful characters of Western Canada’s past before mining my own personal history for a book of memoirs, Leaving Dublin: Writing my Way from Ireland to Canada. 

Immigration to Canada is a theme common to both of our most recent books, and is also a common thread in some of our other writings. Come hear us talk about that at Calgary’s Shelf Life Books on Sunday November 20, starting at 1:00 p.m. Snacks and drinks will be served, and the short readings will be followed by a Q&A session hosted by JoAnn McCaig of Shelf Life. Frances and I look forward to meeting with you individually and signing copies of our books.