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INTERVIEW Author Carmel Uí Cheallaigh

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Carmel Uí Cheallaigh, author of children’s Irish-language book ‘Spidey’
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Carmel Uí Cheallaigh, author of children’s Irish-language book ‘Spidey’.?Pic: Michael Crean Photography

A natural progression



Ciara Galvin

Sourcing, cataloguing and displaying books, from the novels of the late, great Maeve Binchy, to childhood favourites from Hans Christian Andersen, is what Carmel Uí Cheallaigh gets up for in the morning.
The Kilmaine native has been Senior Librarian in Dalkey Library in Dublin for almost 30 years. Over the last number of years however, the mother of four has made progressive efforts in getting her own books on the shelf, taking up a creative writing course in 2007.
Although admittedly not being exposed to books until she was 12 years old, attending the local travelling library, Carmel said she has always loved reading.
Coming from the well-known Maloney family and brought up in a traditional rural pub in Kilmaine, Carmel’s childhood has proved useful in her short story writing and fuelled her wish to some day write a novel.
Her short stories have been published in ‘Ireland’s Own’, ‘Bray Arts Journal’ and ‘Woman’s Way’, and chosen for the Penguin/RTÉ Guide short story competition in 2010. Buoyed by these successes, the librarian decided to write a children’s book in Irish.
“Many novelists start off with writing children’s books – Frank O’Connor, Patricia Scanlan and so on. And while doing an Irish course I decided my level of Irish was more suited to a younger age,” she explained.
Carmel’s book, ‘Spidey’, was picked up by established Mayo publisher Cló Mhaigh Eo, and with the help of Cló Mhaigh Eo founder Colman O Raghallaigh, it was launched late last year.
Inspired by one of her sons, ‘Spidey’ tells the story of Séimí, who loves spiders. He has such an interest in them that everything he sees reminds him of them. Paired with vibrant colours and illustrations throughout, the book is accessible for children and parents of all ages with any level of Irish. It is already selling worldwide, with copies being sent to Australia, America, England and across Europe.
Carmel explains that the book is not about complete fluency: “It’s important to sit down with your child, and it’s great to instil a love of reading in them. So what if you don’t know every word – that can happen when reading books in English too.”
‘Spidey’ was also influenced by Carmel’s late parents and sister. Her interest in Irish stemmed from her father Joe’s homeland of Tourmakeady, and the book being picked up by a publisher based in her mother Margaret’s home town of Claremorris has added to the significance of the book. All of this guided her in what she calls ‘a natural progression’.
“My late sister Marian told me to go for the job as a librarian in 1984, and having access to authors and writers in my work has helped with launching the book,” said the novelist.
One of the best things about being a published writer, says Carmel, is getting to visit schools to talk about reading.
“I get to visit schools sometimes, to talk to five year-olds and sometimes secondary-school students about writing. I give them a layout of a book and they can fill in the pages. It’s a good way of letting them know they can write,” she explained, adding that she believes it’s possible for everyone to write.
Carmel has lived in Bray, Co Wicklow, for the past 20 years, but she visits her native Kilmaine as much as she can, and even launched the book in neighbouring Ballinrobe, with the help of the Colman O Raghallaigh, who has also authored Irish-language children’s books, and The Mayo Library Service.
Carmel is already hoping to have a second children’s Irish book out later this year and is currently working on a novel. While she admits that she has days of writer’s block, she says the words are currently ‘flowing’.
She’s under no illusions about the future, however, admitting that although she is not a ‘total unknown’, there is still stiff competition when it comes to getting published.
“There’s a disproportionate amount of people writing these days. I suppose all of us know we have at least one book in us,” explained the passionate librarian, adding that luck and timing play a part in getting published.
And the greatest achievement of all? Seeing the fruits of her labour of course. “It’s a great feeling, after years of putting other people’s books on shelves I’m now putting my own up.”

‘Spidey’, by Carmel Uí Cheallaigh, is available from Martin Murphy’s newsagent Ballinrobe and online at www.leabhar.com.