Words of wisdom: The books that changed the lives of six celebs

New year resolutions mean different things to different people and while many will be hitting the gym, some will be learning a new skill while others will have vowed to devote some quality time to relaxation and, in particular, reading. Arlene Harris asks six well-known people which book they found the most inspiring and why.

Eleanor Shanley

Singer Eleanor Shanley has recently recorded an album with Garadice and will be performing gigs this month in the Sugar Club, Dublin, and Gullane’s Hotel in Ballinasloe. She found a book on mindfulness to be incredibly uplifting and informative.

What is the most inspiring book you have read?

“The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle was my most inspiring read as it introduced me to the whole idea of being in the present moment. Many people have described the present moment and mindfulness but nobody has described it in such beautiful detail as Eckhart Tolle in this book and his subsequent and even more powerful book, A New Earth. He doesn’t like the word ‘mindfulness’ because it may indicate fullness of the mind whereas he advises no thinking at all, but presence and mindfulness is the same thing.”

What is it about?

“The book is about living in the present moment, it teaches us how important it is to be present (mindful means to concentrate on what you are doing so that you are not thinking about anything else) and how futile it is to worry about the future or dwell on the past. It also talks about how our thoughts take over and stop us from living life to the full, and that space of awareness without thought is the present moment where we have the potential to achieve a deep peace.”

When did you read it?

“I read it first in 2002 during a particularly stressful time. I can’t remember who suggested the book but I do remember the impact it had on me. It changed my way of thinking.”

What did you learn?

“Stop thinking and be present. That space of being, awareness without thought, is the place of peace.”

Derry Clarke

Celebrity chef and owner of Dublin restaurant l’Ecrivain, Derry Clarke, was gifted a historical book about Baltimore in Cork by his wife Sallyanne and says it reminded him of how important it is to be aware of our history.

What is the most inspiring book you have read?

“It’s Des Ekin’s The Stolen Village (also known as The Sack of Baltimore).”

What is it about?

“In June 1631 pirates from Algiers and troops from the Turkish Army stormed ashore to the little village of Baltimore in West Cork and captured almost all the inhabitants. They were shipped as slaves to North Africa to await many different fates. Some lived out their days chained to the oars as galley slaves while others would spend long years in the scented seclusion of a harem or as a servant within the walls of the sultan’s palace. Only two of the 700 captured would ever return to Ireland.

It is one of those books that you cannot put down. I bought several copies and gave them to my friends and family. I felt everyone should know about this

When did you read it?

“Sallyanne bought it for me for my birthday five years ago. I spent a lot of my youth in West Cork and these days we spend time on our little boat in Baltimore and Sherkin Island every summer. But in all the years I have been there no one ever mentioned this and it certainly was not taught to us in school, strange considering that this was the most devastating invasion ever mounted by Islamic forces on Ireland.

“Des Ekin paints a picture of Ireland at the time and a vivid description of what would have been waiting for those captured from their homes in the middle of the night amid the souks and the seraglios of old Algiers at that time.”

What did you learn?

“This is our history, pure and simple. I love history and in today’s age of instant gratification it’s good to read what life was like in those hard times. We have a huge, rich history and I have since learned that Ireland was pirate central for a period of almost 300 years. We don’t learn that in school either. As a result, I am in the middle of reading Ireland’s Pirate Trail, again by the author Des Ekin.

“Forget the Pirates of the Caribbean, we have William Lamport of Wexford, Anne Bonny from Kinsale Kindle, and our very own Pirate Queen, Mayo’s Gráinne O’ Malley or Granuaile.”

Dr Nina Byrne

Dr Nina Byrne is a well-known medical doctor. Owner and practitioner at Generation Health Medical Clinic in Dublin, her favourite factual book is one which motivated her in life and career.

What is the most inspiring book you have ever read?

“Probably Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg because it really stood out during a difficult time for me personally and professionally. I felt very connected with her message and believe it is something we can learn from.”

What is it about?

“The book is basically about being a working mother and how we, as women, have an intrinsic need to be liked in our personal and professional life. But in order to be more successful, we need to develop certain male attributes without losing those which make us different — so it’s okay to want to be around your children and receive hugs from them, it doesn’t make you any less able at work.”

When did you read it?

“I read the book in early 2015 as I had been giving a speech in Rome and afterwards a person came up to me and suggested that I read Lean In as what I had been saying was similar to what a lot of women were going through.”

What did you learn?

“If I could give any advice I would tell people, men and women, to believe in themselves and make decisions based on their own feelings. Men and women are equal but we are also different and that is okay too.”

Rob Heffernan

Athlete and race walker Rob Heffernan says a book given to him by his uncle as a young boy was the inspiration behind his career.

What is the most inspiring book you have ever read?

“When I was a child I read a book on Bruce Lee, I can’t remember the title but it was fierce inspiring. He was such a good role model and the way he trained had a massive influence on me. Because of him, I set up a gym outside in the back garden and even wrote Bruce Lee on the wall to keep me motivated.”

What is it about?

“Bruce Lee was way ahead of his time and in his book he talked about how nothing was out of reach if you want it enough. He said there was no excuse and determination was the most important factor in getting ahead. He tried so hard in everything he did, even breaking into the acting world, and made such a success of everything.”

When did you read it?

“I was about 11 years old when I read the book and my uncle, who was a big Bruce Lee fan, passed it on to me because I was already into sport at the time. It was the first book I ever read

and I’d say it was 10 years before I read another one.”

What did you learn?

“Be resilient — things aren’t easy but the reward for achieving something tough far outweighs any rewards for getting something the easy way or, for that matter, getting likes on Instagram. Life is what you make of it and it’s up to you to push yourself and make things happen.”

Mary Kennedy

Writer and broadcaster Mary Kennedy has recently released her own book, Home Thoughts from the Heart (published by Hatchette €14.99), and says her most inspiring read was the autobiography of the legendary Nelson Mandela.

What was the most inspiring book you have ever read?

“The most inspiring book I have ever read was The Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela. It was an extraordinary book and although I thought it would be very heavy going but I was captivated from the first page.”

What is it about?

“The book is about the incredible life and difficulties which faced him for so long. It’s hard to believe he was in prison for 27 years, throughout which he started writing. Without proper materials, he would write on any scrap of paper he could find and hide it away for safekeeping.

“It’s amazing that he managed to write it at all and I have to say I found it enthralling.”

When did you read it?

“I love Africa, I have been there many times and would go back in a heartbeat, so when I found the book on my mum’s bookshelf after she died, I decided to read it as I had always meant to but just hadn’t got around to it.”

What did you learn?

“Never give up — life can be tough, but it’s important to keep going. And also, make sure to act on your thoughts from the heart as it kindness is essential, particularly in today’s world.”

Sorcha Furlong

Fair City actress Sorcha Furlong is an avid reader and says a book she read in drama school was the motivation behind her career.

What is the most inspiring book you have ever read?

“Many books inspire me, but my favourite is my battered old acting book, A Dream of Passion by Lee Strasberg.

What is it about?

“It is about acting and being an actor, but it touches on all of life — honesty, creativity, and, of course, passion. Picking it up now, I still get the buzz I had in drama school, having so many dreams, and this book felt like a link to them. It still does. Funnily enough, when my fiancé Ken and I got our own place I saw he had a copy too.”

When did you read it?

“I started reading A Dream of Passion in 1996 because I was in drama college.”

What did you learn?

“Always listen to your heart and trust the place it leads you to.”


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