“I was in New Zealand when I heard this wonderful haunting voice and immediately played it to my daughter. We both had tears in our eyes.”
Such were the sincere words of well-traveled New Zealand-born Shirley Johnson
upon hearing as a ‘Friend of Ireland Writing Retreat’ that she had just won a terrific music CD by one of Ireland’s most talented sean-nós singers, Donegal-based Noeleen Ni Cholla (sean-nós being the nation’s oldest known form of native singing).
“I am today on my way back to Dublin and look forward to receiving the CD,” she wrote excitedly.
Intrigued by the life-stories of people (at the end of our days, isn’t that our most valuable treasure – a trove of memorable tales?), ‘Ireland Writing Retreat’ is delighted to have become acquainted with Shirley, a spirited woman who has led a most interesting and varied life so far.
Though a Kiwi, she began traveling the world at an early age and at 22 found herself in Dublin where she married a local man and raised three children. They also must have inherited some of Shirley’s love of travel as they now live in far-flung places - San Francisco, Dunedin and Dublin. Shirley, now a widow, spends half her time in the Southern hemisphere and half in the Northern one, six months in Ireland and six months in New Zealand, with a visit to the USA in between.
Even more intriguing about Shirley, who holds an MA in Film Scriptwriting and paints as a hobby, is her multi-faceted professional life. “I was a journalist in Ireland for many years, but eventually became an astrologer and past-life regression therapist,” she informed us recently at Ireland Writing Retreat. “I have had a lot of radio and television experience in that capacity and have written a great deal on these subjects. I have just completed a book on the many ways of accessing the memories of our past lifetimes.”
Shirley is, of course, an avid book lover. "I have been a keen reader ever since I was a small child and this love of books continues. I use my Kindle a lot, although nothing can ever replace the feel and look of a real book.”
She’s also a loyal member of an Irish book club and avidly encourages membership in one. “I have been in a book club in Dublin for the past ten years and we read some fascinating books. The interesting part is that we often read a book we would not normally have picked up, so our club extends the range of our reading experience. There is a lot of laughter - and wine - at our meetings. A few years ago I arranged for an Australian book group to visit us in Dublin. They were hosted by our members during the Bloomsday events and we all had a lot of fun. It all happened because Kris, the mother of my Australian daughter-in-law, Tessa, is in a very active book club in Sydney and they had already visited New York together during a literary festival, so I thought, why not Ireland?”
Shirley’s last reading choice for the club? “The Light Between Oceans,’ by M. L. Stedman, a haunting tale of loss and loneliness. “One of the reasons I chose it was because, although it is set in Australia, it was mostly filmed in Dunedin,” she said. “My sister has a tiny part in it and my granddaughter was an extra so I am greatly looking forward to seeing it.”
The warm-hearted Kiwi adds, “I have not yet tried my hand at a novel, maybe that will be my next venture.”
Although Shirley has traveled much in Ireland, she has not yet enjoyed the pleasure of being in beautiful, inspiring west Donegal, “I hope to redress this omission as soon as possible,” she said. (Carpe diem, Shirley, as we’ve no idea what Fate has in store for us, no time like the present, you’re most welcome to join other avid international book-readers this end-June for a wonderful island-hopping, legend-loaded, music-filled, word-delightful time – one place is still available).
An even more delightful end to this story is – as Shirley herself wrote – “I received the news of winning this CD on my birthday. Thanks for the great present.”