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September 17th - The Blenheim Bolt

Thanks to everyone who sponsored me in the 10kms walk/run/jog in aid of the British Heart Foundation.
It was a marvellous day with the English countryside looking its very autumnal best.

But here's a question: what do you think about while doggedly putting one foot in front of the other for 10 kms? On Sunday last, it had to be the origins of Blenheim Palace.

For this, we go back to the time of Louis X1V who had the idea of taking over the whole of Europe - with a little help from his friends in Spain.
James 11 of England had other ideas and at the Battle of Blenheim - then a small village on the banks of the Danube in Bavaria - the English, with a little help from their friends the Austrians, beat the shit out of the French or, as the history books put it, they enjoyed a decisive victory. John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, commanded the army and in reward, the King financed the building of the marvellous Blenheim Palace. And it really is marvellous. The Duke had earlier starred in a number of battles. For instance, when William of Orange invaded England (1688) and the Williamite war spread the following year to Ireland, Marlborough commanded a force which captured the important coastal towns of Cork and Kinsale.

Incidentally, when soldiers left the Duke's employ, they were often  given a small golden handshake with the proviso that, if they used it to open up a pub, they would name it after the Duke, which is why there are so many Marlborough Arms and Duke of Marlborough pubs.

The Duke was married to Sarah who was probably his staunchest supporter and her diary is full of references to the Duke's exploits, not all of them on the battlefield.
Thanks again for your support. Apparently, someone dies somewhere every three minutes of a heart attack so I have timed this piece to be two minutes 59 seconds. Are you still there?


September 2006

It is now 25 years since a group of women walked from Cardiff to Greenham in protest at the siting of nuclear weapons there. What is Greenham Common like today? See the two pieces I have written about it, one for The Guardian and the other for The Irish Times.

Greenham women will be at Faslane ( on October 1. Faslane, in Scotland, is where the Trident nuclear warheads are delivered from Aldermaston before being installed in submarines there.


May 2006

To the celebratory sound of fireworks, breaking beer bottles, car horns and kalashnikovs, Montenegro voted to cut its ties with Serbia and go it alone.

I have been here for the last two months, observing the referendum process for the Organisation for Cooperation and Security in Europe ( OSCE). There were 365 observers from 35 different countries as well as a large number of Montenegrin observers.

This is a marvellous country with stunning mountains, ancient canyons and vast lakes. More on all this later when I return home at the end of May.


January 2006

I'm just back from Syria where I spent six weeks.

If you copy the following link into your address bar (you will need to have Real Player installed) and press GO you will hear a broadcast I made on RTE about Quneitra, one of the Syrian towns in the Golan Heights zone which I visited:


Dates for 2005

December 2005

Last month, I visited Antigua and from there took the fifteen minute flight - on a nineteen seater plane - to Montserrat which has the Golden Oriole as its symbol. Since I was last here, it  has been devastated by a series of volcanic eruptions. The population has dropped from 12.000 to just under 5.000 and Saint Patrick's Village - where March 17 was always celebrated with great gusto - has disappeared completely. So has much of the lovely bamboo forest that I trekked through one Saint Patrick's Day.
But all is not lost: Scriber Dailey, one of the island's rangers - a survivor from Saint Patrick's Village - guided me through a marvellous part of the rain forest.

As I write this, a ticket sits on my desk: London to Damascus for today, December 4, I fly to Syria where I will spend December and part of January travelling round the country. This is my fifth visit. It's a country so full of history and culture that I can't stay away.

The last time I was there was four years ago when the US administration was planning to invade Iraq. At that time, I was bound for Baghdad - one of the trio of great cities in this part of the world, the others being Damascus and Jerusalem. I took a taxi from Damascus to Baghdad across the Syrian and Iraqi deserts and managed to see the marvellous city of Haroun al Rashid before US bombs rained down on it.

This year, I will probably spend Christmas 3000 feet up a mountain in a Roman Fort north of Damascus. It has been converted into a tiny monastery where the community practices the old Aramaic rites....


In July, I am going to the Republic of Kyrgyz, also known as Kyrgyzstan, as part of an election monitoring team. Kyrgyzstan is between Uzbekistan and China and said to be a magnificent country with high mountains and the marvellous Lake Issyk kul.

Since I did part of the Santiago de Campostela camino in Spain last year, I have been hoping to do some more walking which I find is a very calming activity - whether you're speeding or strolling. So later in July, I am going to France to take part in a week's walking in the Dordogne as part of a yatra or meditative walk. We walk in silence ( can't wait! ) each day and have Buddhist teachings in the evenings, cook for the group ( about 150 ) and then bed down in our own tents. The tents and other gear are carried for us in a support truck which also doubles as a catering facility! For more information:

In August, I am going to Jerusalem for a Women in Black International Conference. We will be staying in Palestinian-owned hotels in East Jerusalem. This is a part of the tourist industry that has suffered greatly under the present unsettled situation. Women in Black is a group of women, often Jewish though not exclusively, who are opposed to the occupation of the Palestine. They often stand silently with their banners in various cities and I have been with them in Oxford, Dublin and New York.

Their website is

For the remainder of the summer I will be in Oxford, cutting back the jungle that the garden will have become and sitting in my little rowing boat going absolutely nowhere.

But thinking maybe of returning to Syria.......

Oh, and yes, in October, I go to Antigua to visit family.


Dates for 2004

Since my visit to Georgia in November 2003,  I have rekindled my love affair with that fresh, green and tantalising country. Georgia itself has been through some very turbulent years since I first visited it in 1989 when it was still part of the Soviet Union. Now, however, it has a new President, Misha Saakashvili, who was elected in January 2004, replacing Eduard Shevardnadze. In March this year, I returned to Georgia as part of a team of election observers working under the OSCE, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. My area was the contentious one of Adjara where my car was held up by masked men with automatic rifles but that event, together with the elections throughout Georgia, came to a smooth conclusion. Georgia is now flavour of the month and second-hand copies of my book Please Don't Call it Soviet Georgia are being offered on the web for $US399!

February 2004: Together with RTE producer Peter Woods, I start recording a radio feature about the Royal Dublin Fusiliers.

Here's the story: In the 1914-18 war, 35.000 Irish men and women died fighting with the British Army. Ireland at that time was occupied by Britain and many Irish people considered it was nothing short of traitorous to fight with the British instead of against them. The result was that those who survived rarely talked of their war experiences - the fear, the sadness, the loss of comrades, the pride in being a soldier. My programme will give a voice to the children of these people because, at long last, we can recognise that soldiers, no matter what army they belong to, are first and foremost people with fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, sons and daughters.

The programme is called The Tin Box and will be broadcast on RTE Radio One at 7.02pm on March 3rd. Click here to hear The Tin Box. To listen to other radio programmes, look under SOUND.

Four Roads to Jerusalem: In May/June. RTE Radio starts broadcasting my four-part series on four women who travelled to Jerusalem in different centuries and for different reasons. Please go to  SOUND for more information.

On May 2, I plan to participate, yet again, in the Big New York Five Boro Bike Ride: 47 miles in and out of Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and finishing on Staten Island, with lots of comfort stops in between. A great day out. Join me, anyone?

In the autumn, I hope to run a travel writing course at the Irish Writers Centre in Dublin. Details later.


Dates for 2003

Republic of Georgia

The British Council in Georgia has invited me to visit for a week and I shall be there from Tuesday October 21st until Tuesday October 28th. While there, I'll be working with the British Council, doing some voter education. Georgia has elections on Sunday, November 2nd.

I will also be giving readings from my book : Please Don't Call it Soviet Georgia. For details, please contact

Friday, October 9-12: Dingle Writers Centre. Course Tutor on travel writing course: Write of Passage Weekend.

Readings and slide show ( "Travelling Round Syria, Digressing to Baghdad" at the following venues in Kerry:

  • Tuesday October 14, Cahirciveen Library. 11am
  • Wednesday October 15, Dingle Library. 11am
  • Thursday October 16., Tralee Library.

I also hope to give a reading on Valentia Island. My nephew's wife is head teacher there so I hope she'll do the honours! Please email me for details.

I shall be travelling around the Kingdom of Kerry in the County Library van and can't think of a better way to travel. Watch out for me!

Wednesday, October 29th: Course Guest on Practical Travel-Writing Course, the Arvon Centre, Lumb Bank, Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.

Saturday, November 1st in Dublin: Reader's Day, organised by Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown Library, to help readers and writers meet each other. As I shall be hot-footing it from Tbilisi to Dublin via Vienna and the Arvon Centre at Lumb Bank, I am hoping my session will be in the afternoon. For details, please email me nearer the date. Or ring Betty Stanton at the library, on 00 353 1 4597834.

December 1st: Trinity College Dublin. Guest Speaker at Trinity Women Graduates Association Christmas meeting.


Completed Dates

Travelling Round Syria Digressing to Baghdad: readings and slide show sponsored by Donegal County Library:

Letterkenny Central Library
Monday February 10 8pm

Carndonough Community Library
Tuesday February 11 8.30pm

Buncrana Community Library
Wednesday Feb 12th 8.30pm

Dungloe Community Library
Thursday February 13th 8pm

Wednesday, July 16th.7.30. Weston on the Green Village Hall, Oxfordshire. Illustrated talk: Travelling Round Syria, Digressing to Baghdad.

Saturday, June 1st at 10.30 am. BBC Radio Four’s travel programme: " Excess Baggage," presented by Sandi Toksvig. Discussion on travel in Georgia with reference to Please Don't Call it Soviet Georgia as well as to other travel books on Georgia.

Saturday, June 1st 4.30 pm. Listowel Writers Week lecture. Programme notes: “ Renowned travel writer, Mary Russell, recalls her experiences on her travels throughout the world. Lecture title: Diaries, journals and other works of fiction:  If memory is the wizard who trades fact and fiction, can we ever believe a writer when they write about themselves? ”

Friday, May 30th. 12.30. Listowel Writers Week. Panellist on Writers Forum, discussing issues facing writers today. ( I shall be talking about fact, fiction and making it all up!)

Thursday, May 29th. 10 pm.  Guest on  RTE’s Tonight programme  with Vincent Brown, broadcast live from Listowel.

Tuesday, May 27th, 8.30 pm: Anna Livia Radio Station, Dublin.2002

October 20. Sunday morning, 10am, RTE's radio program Snapshots: Mary Russell is Carrie Crowley's guest and chooses her five favourite pieces of music.

October 14 - 18: Monday to Friday evenings 9.45 pm: Journeys of a Lifetime will be RTE's Book on One, read by the author.

September 21st: First of five weekly travel writing workshops in County Kildare, Ireland, finishing with an illustrated talk, Travelling Round Syria, Digressing to Baghdad, to be given in Athy during the Ernest Shackleton Weekend, October 24-27th. For details, contact

July 28 LBC Radio. 4pm. " Sunday with Giles Brandreth."

Saturday, August 31: Sandi Toksvig's guest on BBC’s Radio Four travel program, Excess Baggage.

July 10th: Borders Book Shop, Oxford. 7 pm Illustrated talk entitled: " Travelling round Syria, Digressing to Baghdad." Followed by readings from Journeys of a Lifetime.

July 1: Journeys of a Lifetime published in the UK

June 8: Guest speaker, Globe Trotters Club, London. Illustrated talk: Travelling round Syria, digressing to Baghdad.

June 5th: Irish Writers' Centre, Dublin. Illustrated talk: Travelling round Syria, digressing to Baghdad. Details from

28 May: Journeys of a Lifetime launched in Dublin
28 May: interview on RTE, Marian Finucane programme.

23 May: Journeys of a Lifetime published in Ireland

April 7: Guest speaker, Globe Trotters Club, New York. Illustrated talk entitled: Travelling round Syria, digressing to Baghdad.

March 18: Guest speaker, Irish Week, St John's, Newfoundland. Title: “Fur Coat and No Knickers - reflections of a member of the Dublin bourgeoisie, with digressions to the outside world.”

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