Out of the Mailbag Comes Songs & Stories ~ Gifts and Good Times 


Out of the Mailbag Comes Songs & Stories ~ Gifts and Good Times 
by John O’Brien, Jr

Give the Christmas gift of a great book, travel, or music this year; making memories that last forever. Not sure what to get?  I try to share as many books and music that I love as I can in print and on our website.  Sometimes, time gets away from me, or space runs out, or …

Anyway, here are a few favorites you might want to pick up as a gift for your loved ones.  Of course, it’s ok to love yourself too, y’know ~ they would fit just as nicely beneath your own Christmas tree.

Travel Light – Regular People Go on Adventures Too
By Laura Holmes

Content Queens, 285 pages, full color photos throughout.

I met author Laura Holmes more than ten years ago and, ever since, I have stayed impressed by her work and her passion for helping others. She is the first to welcome you to any event. A fellow festival organizer, Laura is full of fresh ideas and approaches, her perspective broadened by her travels all over the world.
Travel Light is dry humor in sometimes wet bogs, and travails on trails that she has the good sense to laugh at, anticipate encountering with her travel companion,s and hold the camera quietly, ready. No companions were injured in the making of this book.

When Blogging Leads to Books
Laura has continued to blog about her travels in hopes of inspiring others to travel and get to know the world we live in. She realized so many of the stories belong in a book, inspiring and entertaining others travel, and all the benefits travel offers. Her insights and sense of adventure keep moments light, or maybe it is the Guinness that somehow finds the traveling ladies, no matter where they roamed.

“I tell people, they can learn how to travel their way to happy! This memoir explores the lighter side of travel with doses of humor, adventure, and personal transformation. Vacations need not be exclusive to the wealthy; regular people go on adventures too. 

Travel Light proves that travel and new experiences will make you laugh and provide increased levels of happiness. For overworked people around the world, come along on this quest to achieve balance in life, work, and play.”  Destination stories include Alaska, Arizona, France, Ireland, Italy, Spain, and of course, Laura’s home state of Michigan.
Ireland’s chapter, The Liver Dance, is, of course, my favorite. A little history, a little charm, and a load of tips if you read between the lines: “The November timeframe turned out to be a brilliant choice for the trip.  We did not have to jockey for position with tour buses or hordes of visitors.  We saw only three other hiking groups as we piled out of the Focus, ready to walk in Connemara National. The plan was to walk up Diamond Hill to a perch of 1300 feet above sea level. We were rewarded with the views of the Atlantic and our Heather Hill cottage in a neat row of squares in a quaint burrow.”

This is Laura’s second book.  I loved her first one, I’ve Gotta Pak: Stories of Adventure and Fun, in which we get to journey alongside Laura and her travel companions as they hike to the peaks of Kilimanjaro, Africa and Machu Picchu, Peru. She skis through blizzards, breathes in the big air in Alaska, gets wet in Costa Rica, and relives some family adventures…

Plan Your Own Adventure
The stories are expressed with equal parts sensitivity and verve, providing a terrific read and a good rainy-day book for all armchair travelers, and wild women and men everywhere.

It is time to start planning your own adventure.

Laura is living proof that you can be a successful businesswoman and still travel often. Author, adventure traveler, volleyballer, hiker, biker, skier, and yogi, she enjoys life NOT on the couch. As an ambassador for increasing travel dosage, not work hours, her goal is to inspire you to take the trip and go. She’s the co-owner of FineLine Creative, a west Michigan communications company founded in 2003. Laura has also served as the marketing director for the Michigan Irish Music Festival since 2006.

Holmes will also continue to give back by way of her writing. A portion of proceeds from the sale of Travel Light will support the work of the Planeterra Foundation, a non-profit organization committed to turning travel into impact by helping local communities and women-owned businesses earn an income from tourism. To learn more, visit  

Pictures throughout the book add flavor and context and are often dazzling. The cover photo is of Connemara National Park, as the women hike up Diamond Hill. Get Travel Light at; tell Laura that John at the OhioIANews sent you.


Runa: Ten: The Errant Night
(2019) 15 Tracks, 60 minutes.


I have seen Runa at festivals and events all over the U.S.  The enjoyment never lessens. Spending no where near enough time with them offstage, I still get the same impressions – vibrant, fun, dedicated to living a worthwhile life and positively impacting those they meet along the way.  Then there is the music.

Beautiful voices and instrumentation, sharpened by humor and knowledge of the song’s history, consistently takes a Runa performance from great to an even higher level.  Each show has been memorable.  This CD is memorable too; I am so glad to share it with you.

Ten refers to this being the band’s 10th year together.  This is  a great gift for those who are new to Irish music and for those used to the real thing.

Whether trad or ballad, great instrumentation and vocals ranging from stirring to dance inducing, Runa has another winner.  Their Dance in the Graveyards official music video is a winner as well; watch out for the special guest appearances too.  Get all their music, see the video and more at

RUNA is, Shannon Lambert-Ryan on vocals, step-dancer; Fionán de Barra on guitar; Cheryl Prashker on percussion, Jake James on  fiddle; Caleb Edwards  on mandolin, vocals.

The next three bands I heard for the first time at the 2019 Association of Irish & Celtic Festivals National Conference (AICF), of which we at the Ohio Irish American News were proud to sponsor, and to present at.  The music sang to me, often in Irish, in ways hard to describe, but completely understood by those who, one the very first time they visit Ireland, feel completely at home and at peace, even though they had never been to Ireland before.

The High Seas: Self-Titled Debut Album (2018) 10 Tracks, 48 minutes

Each High Seas band member grew up steeped in Irish song – whether on stage or at an after’s party and the associated sessiúns, in music or in word.  The CD is rich with where the song came from, why they play it or what it means to them.  Individually very accomplished, together, The High Seas have become a special group I can’t wait to hear again. The CD has a bonus, with lyrics and liner notes included.

The High Seas are Cathal ÓCurráin on Bouzouki, Fiddle & Vocals; Ciarán Ò Maonaigh on Fiddle & Octave Fiddle; Caitlin Nic Gabhan on Concertina, Dance & Foot Percussion.

The Conifers: Self-Titled Debut Album (2019) 11 Tracks, 43 minutes.

The sessiúns that follow the showcases are a wide open, see what happens jam.  There might be three people playing, then bit by bit, as the food and drink are put away, so to speak, more chairs are found, instruments freed from their cases and allowed to breathe, and the 2nd wind reaches all around. I didn’t see a sessiún all weekend without the Conifers, and they appeared to be having a blast.

On stage or off, on the debut CD or in person, the energy and honesty of the band comes through.  A bit shy, a bit cheeky and immensely talented,
The Conifers are a band we will be hearing a lot of, hopefully for many years.

The Conifers are Bryan O’Leary on Button Accordion & Vocals; Cathal Ó Curráin on Bouzouki, Fiddle & Vocals; Felix Morgenstern on Bodhran & Vocals; Conor O’Loughlin on Concertina & Vocals; Marty Berry on Guitar & Vocals.

High Time -Debut Album Sunda (2018) 10 Tracks, 43 minutes.

Sunda is an Irish word meaning a sound, or a narrow stretch of water. The mesmerizing flow of the harp is a highlight in many songs or solos, but not at all without energy. The vocals have that same flow, charged with beauty, passion and a sense of exploration.

The songs are often old school, sean nós style, but with fresh arrangement and presentation.  Plus, the boys are funny.  They were so appreciative of the response they received at the showcase; you could see the hope any new band has when playing in front of a new audience.  Séamus and Conall Flaherty and Cíarán Bolger are from Ardmore, on the west coast of Connemara. They too are steeped in the mythical and prolific songs and stories, but not completely bound by them. 

You may not recognize the arrangement of a song at first, but will recognize, and love, the High Time version. For men so young, their music is with respect for the auld, played with a vibrant energy that will bring people back, time and time again.

High Time are Séamus Ó Flatharta (Flaherty) on Vocals, Harp & Bodhran; Cíarán Bolger on Vocals & Guitar; Conall Ó Flatharta on Vocals, Flute & Whistle. Since the CD was released last year, Conall has left the bad, and Micheal Bolger, gifted on flute, whistle and vocals, has joined; he was fantastic at the showcase. Michael was not left out of the teasing and camaraderie the band showed onstage.

Check out the band, their music and more on their website: and social media channels; tell them John O’Brien @ the OhioIANews sent ya.

The Friel Sisters

Other Great Bands
The Friel Sisters
were fantastic. I wish I had a CD to share with you, but maybe by the next issue.  Incredibly talented, yes, sisters, yes, and full of warmth, grace and humor, their performance was a highlight of the weekend for me, and many others. One of the most exciting bands I have seen in years.


Rory Makem

Rory Makem is still, after all these years, underrated.  Most know the history of the family, from Grandmother Sarah Makem, to Tommy Makem, to the Makem Brothers, but Rory has always stood out to me, as such a great performer.  His knowledge of music, not just Irish music, is mind-boggling.  His vocals can range from a dead-on Tommy to a gravel road country singer.  Rory has played them all.  He often shares stories of growing up in the Makem household, and all the visitors to the Makem’s that often involved sing-alongs, long into the next day. 

I could listen to him sing and tell stories any time, and often do. If you can see him, don’t miss it. His music and more are on his website and his often posts live songs and stories on his facebook page.  Check him out.


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