Sunday 11 December 2016

The other bloggers - the Irish writers wracking up the likes

Blogging is bigger then ever before, but it's not all just fashion and food. Here, our reporter meets the Irish writers racking up the likes for their take on science, gardening, teaching and more…

Meadhbh McGrath

Published 20/11/2016 | 02:30

Na Bloggers: Síofra Ní Bhriain, Aisling Ní Chormaic, Roseann Uí Fhlatharta and Gearóidín de Bhailís, of Gaeilge le Glam at NUIG. Photo: Andrew Downes, XPOSURE
Na Bloggers: Síofra Ní Bhriain, Aisling Ní Chormaic, Roseann Uí Fhlatharta and Gearóidín de Bhailís, of Gaeilge le Glam at NUIG. Photo: Andrew Downes, XPOSURE

Back in the early aughts, it was a niche form of self-publishing regarded by many with scepticism and even contempt. But the humble blog has evolved, to such an extent that modern bloggers now hold a voice and level of influence they could never have imagined. Where they would once have been chuffed to receive a few dozen comments on a post, top bloggers like Tanya Burr and Chiara Ferragni now command audiences of millions and can earn a living from their work.

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However, these aren't the glitchy LiveJournal pages of yore. Today, blogging has splintered almost beyond recognition, spawning many varied formats, including microblogging platforms such as Twitter and Tumblr, email newsletter service TinyLetter, vlogs, podcasts and journalistic enterprises like the Huffington Post and Jezebel.

For many, the term "blog" is a dirty word, conveying a cheap, inferior form of writing. By its nature, blogging shirks the rules of traditional journalism - it is more fluid, less formal, more chatty, a form of 'writing out loud'. While some perceive it as less polished than print writing, the conversational style is what allows the more unconventional blogs to excel.

It is the fashion and lifestyle blogs we hear most about in Ireland, such as the hugely successful ones run by Pippa O'Connor, Storm Keating and Suzanne Jackson, but they are only a small part of the picture. There are blogs on everything from motoring to marathons, books to breastfeeding.

The writers of these lesser-heard-about blogs emphasise the importance of making their area of expertise accessible to a wider audience, in a way they felt traditional sources do not. We spoke to some of the more unusual Irish bloggers about what makes their blogs unique and how to stand out in an overpopulated online world.

GAEILGE LE GLAM

Gaeilge le Glam does cover some of the obvious blogging topics - from fashion and beauty to fitness and food - but it's with one notable quirk: everything is as Gaeilge. The blog was started by a group of friends - Síofra Ní Bhriain (26), Roseann Uí Fhlatharta (29), Aisling Ní Chormaic (28), Gearóidín De Bhailis (27) - who felt there was a gap in the market for an Irish language lifestyle blog. The four are all school teachers, based in Connemara and Cregmore, Co Galway. gaeilgeleglam.com

"I was in America last summer and I was bored by the pool watching other people's Snapchats and reading blogs when it kind of dawned on me that there didn't seem to be any available in Irish," says Síofra. "We love Irish and we're always trying to improve our methods in the classroom, so I thought, we could possibly do this. I put it out to the girls, and straight away we said we'd give it a go.

"We're not experts in fashion or beauty, but we knew we wanted it to be about glamorising Gaeilge and the name 'Gaeilge le Glam' came out of that. We wanted to show Irish in a different way and a new approach to teaching it, as well as getting it out on social media platforms.

"I went to college with Aisling and Gearóidín in NUIG, and Roseann was their friend from growing up in Connemara, but we've all been teaching together every summer in the Gaeltacht for the past five years. Irish is the link between us as well, it's part of who we are. Because there are four of us, the reader gets four different personalities. Roseann is a Home Economics teacher, and she brings the food element to it with recipes and baking. I'm big into exercise and skincare, while Aisling and Gearóidín could open a shop with the amount of clothes they have between them. You have a mixture of everything within the one blog, and I think that's why it works.

"The attitude towards Irish is definitely changing. When I was in school, it was a chore. You had to do Irish and you weren't going to use it outside of school, unless you were going into teaching. But I believe the teaching of Irish students has changed dramatically since I did the Leaving Cert. It was very negative but the course is a lot more accessible than it was and it's given students a huge boost and encouraged them to speak it.

"I have students now who say, 'I wish I could speak Irish' because they hear me speaking it and they see my blog, they see I have another use for Irish outside the classroom.

"Girls I'm friends with, they don't have much Irish, but they read the blog posts and they'll read between the lines to figure it out and deduct from it what they can with whatever bit of Irish they have. They put it all together and they understand what we're saying, so it's about allowing older people as well as younger people to access the Irish that they already have.

"We have a timetable for the blog, so if I'm away or snowed under with work and not able to do it, we'll swap over.

"From looking at the blog and Facebook stats, there are lots of readers aged 18-24, and there are huge audiences in Dubai and in America as well, so people are able to access Irish in a whole new way, which we're very proud of."

MÚINTEOIR VALERIE

Valerie King (28) started blogging as Múinteoir Valerie during her teacher training in 2013. Originally from Connemara, Co Galway, she studied English and law at NUI Galway first, before heading to Hibernia College. She now teaches first and second class at a north Dublin school, and keeps track of her lessons on her colourful blog. As well as offering advice on homework strategy and possible work plans illustrated with plenty of photos, she posts lots of tips for substitute teachers and trainees during probation. muinteoirvalerie.com

"I started blogging because I wanted to archive all my ideas, resources and thoughts in one place. I was training to become a teacher when I started blogging, and I thought it would help fellow trainee teachers on teaching practice. It quickly became a creative outlet and a form of expression.

"My blog is a space for teachers to browse for ideas, resources and advice. It has grown with me as I progress on my teaching journey. At the beginning it was about training to become a teacher, then it moved on to advice on working as a substitute teacher, then I wrote a lot about applying for jobs and the interview process. While I was being probated, it focused a lot on the probation period. Now that I am a fully qualified and permanent teacher, it is a bit of everything, from articles on teaching themes and ideas which I am using at the moment, to downloadable resources, to advice on teaching various subjects.

"I write for other teachers, and my audience is made up of both men and women, with a slightly higher female readership.

"I aim to update my blog at least once a week but this isn't always possible at busy times. I could spend anything from 20 minutes to three hours on my blog a day. On average I would spend maybe five hours a week blogging.

"The most popular posts are advice-based ones, but my favourite posts to write are the ones which come from the heart. I feel very strongly about social deprivation and how it affects children's educational attainment. I have witnessed first-hand how much of a disadvantage these children are at, from the minute they start school. I really wish we could raise awareness of this and try to close the gap between children from areas of social deprivation and those who are not. This is an area I would love to work in the future.

"My blog was one of the very first educational blogs written by a teacher in Ireland. There are several now, but I think Múinteoir Valerie is unique because it is honest and relatable. Teachers who have followed me from the beginning know my teaching story, and how I worked my way towards a permanent job, so I think many teachers take heart from this - knowing that I didn't get a job straight away, I had interviews which were unsuccessful, I have subbed in lots of schools, and I finally got my dream job. I think my blog shows that perseverance and hard work will pay off."

BEYOND THE WILD GARDEN

After beginning a course in horticulture at University College Dublin, David Corscadden (25) decided to start a blog documenting his work in his own garden in Kilcock, Co Kildare, and his love of nature. He admits the blog had been neglected in recent months as he completed his master's degree in journalism and communications at Griffith College Dublin, but he's not ready to throw in the trowel - he has returned to chronicle his efforts to prepare the garden for spring, and his visits to beautiful gardens around the country. beyondthewildgarden.wordpress.com

"My love of gardening really comes from spending time with my grandad growing up. He was a big 'grow your own' person, so I was constantly pottering around with him in his back garden, which resembled more of an allotment, really. I was always digging up plants and picking up vegetables, so that's where my interest in horticulture and gardening really started. Now my family lives in my grandad's old house, so I'm gardening in the same garden he was years ago.

"He taught me all about looking after plants and nurturing them, and I learned that the end result of the hard work was the food you could bring in and share with the family. That was always a big thing in our house.

"I love gardening because I like getting outside and getting out with nature. I'm a very visual person, so the more colourful a garden, the more interesting it is to me. That's where my interest in photography started, too. I bought a Nikon SLR camera, and I've been trying to take more high-quality photos for the blog.

"I would say it's a bit unusual to be a young gardener - I'd always prefer to be outside than stuck inside on a computer. But for my friends, it would be nearly the opposite. They'd prefer to be inside all weekend watching Netflix.

"I started the blog because everyone I went to secondary school with was utterly confused as to why I was studying horticulture in college, so it was about breaking down that barrier and showing the practical impact it can have on people's lives in terms of growing your own food.

"I'm the big gardener in the family. My dad is somewhat interested, but that mostly extends to cutting the grass and trimming the hedges. So I try to spend most weekends out there, because that's the only time I'm at home. Most of the time I'm up in Dublin at work.

"Most of the work at this time of the year is getting ready for spring - getting spring bulbs in and doing window boxes, things like that. At the moment, it's all about tidying after the summer and cutting back the herbaceous plants. Unfortunately, it's mostly tidying up after my dog, because we have a two-year-old Labrador puppy, Lola. She's adorable but she's created more work in the garden for me than I would have liked.

"The blog has taken a back seat over the last few months while I finished my dissertation, but the whole summer I've been taking photos of the gardens I've been to and what's been happening in my garden, so I have a big backlog of everything I have to share on the blog.

"My favourite posts are ones where I'm learning as well. I've never tried to sell myself as an expert, so I like when I get to visit another garden and learn a new plant or get talking to another gardener about plant care. I like having a platform to pass on that advice."

DR HOW'S SCIENCE WORKS

Naomi Lavelle (44) was inspired to set up Dr How's Science Wows in 2011 after several years facing a barrage of questions from her ever-inquisitive children, Caer (12), Culann (10) and Rohan (6). She wanted to provide a free resource to spark children's interest in science, and the blog offers simple experiments, science news, and posts answering anything from 'how high do birds fly?' to 'why do we get déjà vu?'. After completing her undergraduate degree in biochemistry, Naomi undertook a PhD in molecular biology, focusing on genetics. She has worked as a lecturer and in the medical diagnostic industry, and is now self-employed as a science educator. She lives in Moycullen, Co Galway. sciencewows.ie

"I set up the blog to try to show that science is so accessible. It doesn't always have to be done in a lab with special equipment; you can do it at home with everyday things around the house.

"The blog is mainly aimed at primary school-aged children, from four to 12, but there's stuff on there for older children, and parents interact a lot as well. I think there is more emphasis on getting science to children in primary schools now, which is really important, particularly for girls. At that age, they're forming their opinions of what they can and can't do, and if science isn't among those, they'll start to limit themselves from there on in. I think it should start from the get-go, from toddler age - it's about letting them explore a little bit in a safe environment and explaining things to them, even if it's just the soap bubbles in the sink.

"My children were the reason I started any of this, because they were at those ages where they were asking questions and I was trying to come up with an experiment to demonstrate what they asked. The questions were anything from 'why is the sky blue?' to 'what would happen if there was no gravity?'. When they wanted to know about DNA, we extracted DNA from bananas.

"I also invite children and their parents to send questions in. One post could take me five or six hours, because of the scientific research when I'm investigating one particular topic. I do most research online, but I need to find a reputable source so I'll look in peer-reviewed studies and journals. If I don't, I'll scrap it, just in case.

"I love that the blog is driven by the reader and what they are asking for. It's a safe resource for children."

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