By Naomi Hamilton O’Donnell
When Martha Begley Schade decided to write children’s books, never did she expect the opportunities that have followed since.
Martha is the author of Galway Fairytales, a book series that is aimed at nurturing children’s wellbeing through storytelling. There are currently two collections with five books in each – the Merlin Woods series and Merlin Fairies series. The books are set in the magical Merlin Woods, where animal and fairy characters learn to overcome challenges that children encounter in their daily lives. The books cover topics including bullying and depression and through the characters, these topics are presented in an accessible way for children.
2023 has been a successful year for Martha and her books. Galway Fairytales was chosen to represent Galway in the Local Enterprise Village at the National Ploughing Championships in September. The books were also displayed at the Tiny Traders Village in Eyre Square, Home and Gifted in the RDS in Dublin and the Galway International Arts Festival.
Now in the latest chapter, Martha is celebrating the translation of the Merlin Woods series into Irish, which falls just in time for Galway Fairytales’ second year displaying at the Galway Christmas markets.
The decision to have the books translated into Irish came after Martha saw huge demand for Irish versions to be made available.
“I was being asked at every event I went to whether the books were available in Irish,” she says. “Unfortunately I don’t speak Irish and it just never crossed my mind.”
However, at last year’s Christmas markets Martha was approached by Micheál S. Mac Donnacha from An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta (COGG). COGG was able to provide the funding for Galway Fairytales to be translated into Irish.
Deputy CEO of COGG, Pádraig Ó Beaglaoich, then put Martha in contact with Séamus Ó Coileáin, the head of the Irish department in the University of Galway. Séamus then translated the Merlin Woods books into Irish.
Martha says that Séamus’s Irish translation has actually upgraded her books in some ways, such as changing the animal characters’ names to terms that are given to people in Irish.
“His amazing and in-depth love, knowledge, versatility and passion for the Irish language really came through in his translation, when we were discussing various aspects of the different stories and how he actually upgraded my book by putting his knowledge into it,” she says. “In the English version I have old Irish quotes. He put in the originals and added some.”
“Amazing infrastructure for Irish”
Since the books have been translated, Martha says the demand for Irish copies is coming from all kinds of unexpected places, with high demand coming from Belfast in particular. The books have also been taken across the Atlantic, where they are now included in children’s storytelling at Estes Park, Colarado, USA.
Martha has praised the “amazing infrastructure for Irish” provided by organisations such as COGG and Foras na Gaeilge for helping to promote Irish books.
“Having the book translated, for an Irish person who emigrated and lived in Germany for 25 years and is a fluent German speaker but cannot speak a word of Irish, it’s a huge honour and somehow I feel I’ve evened up the score a little,” she explains.
“I’ve done my bit for the Irish language. It’s amazing, the reaction I’ve been getting since it has been published.”
Galway Fairytales books are not standalone. Martha has now developed an educator’s guide on how the books can be used to provide a wellbeing programme in primary schools.
“The educator’s guide has information on how to run storytelling workshops, how to form a book club or reading circle, what types of reading challenges you can set up, how you could use journaling prompts to enhance the learning from the books, what parent-child challenges you could set for the children after they’ve read each book. Then themed arts and crafts projects, and activity sheets then for each theme,” she explains. “So this rota is also going out to all the Gaelscoileanna.”
“On a mission”
Martha hopes that the educator’s guide can be used in schools to help children understand the social issues presented through the stories, as well as enhance their reading skills, creativity, and now, their understanding of Irish.
“With my books, I keep saying I’m on a mission, and the mission is to help children develop better coping skills in life,” says Martha.
“The trend that my little business with the books is taking is a beautiful one.”
Galway Fairytales are available to buy at the Galway Christmas markets or online through the website www.galwayfairytales.com