To the Island by Patricia Forde illustrated by Nicola Bernardelli

This lyrical story by award winning author Patricia Forde accompanied by Nicola Bernadelli’s stunning illustrations is based on the mythical Irish island of Hy Brasil, which, according to tradition, lies off the west coast of Galway. The book was commissioned as part of the Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture programme and is also published in Irish by Little Island Books who have published this English edition. The legend of Hy Brasil describes how this beautiful island is said to appear just once every seven years with its next scheduled appearance due in 2020. Perfectly appropriate! 

The story with its magical quality and the illustrations showing familiar Galway scenes suffused with a golden glow combine in a beautiful book. A young girl named Fia, who lives in the town, gazes from her window hoping to spy the mysterious island which she so longs to visit. In the middle of the night she magically makes her way across the calm bay to discover a secret land where fabulous creatures live and enjoy the beautiful setting. To the Island has a fairy tale appeal that children will find engaging. 

On the first day of the blog tour organised by Little Island Books to celebrate the publication of this charming picture book I am delighted to share Patricia Forde‘s thoughts on the stunning illustrations by Nicola Bernadelli and the links to her home city. 

Nicola Bernardelli is Italian.  He has never been to Galway and yet his illustrations in To The Island perfectly capture not just the look of the old town but the atmosphere too. There is a stillness about his nightscapes in particular that resonates with me. I grew up on Market Street right in the heart of Galway city, only it wasn’t a city then, but a small sleepy town in the west of Ireland. Three stories up, in a house that was two hundred years old, was my bedroom.  The window with its deep window seat looked onto the street, and on a winter’s night, when I opened that window, there was a magical hush about the place. Nicola has captured that feeling, and I can feel that hush again in the spread where Fia is running through the streets in the moonlight.

In that same spread, you see the spire of The Collegiate Church of St Nicholas which dates back to 1320 and is the largest Medieval church still functioning in Ireland and is situated at in Lombard Street, down at the bottom of Market Street.

The church is dedicated to St Nicholas of Myra, patron saint of children and of sea farers. The bell ringers woke me every Sunday morning, the pealing bells competing with the seagulls, who are the soundtrack to Galway life. I grew up listening to stories about the church at the end of our street and indeed it had a long and interesting history. Christopher Columbus visited it on one of his unsuccessful attempts to get to the new world, and Cromwell’s soldiers galloped through it, beheading statues and leaving the track of the horses’ hooves on the stone floor.

In another spread, Fia runs down to the old stone arch before leaving for Hy Brasil. This is the famous Spanish Arch and Nicola captures it perfectly. In Irish it’s called The Blind Arch ( An Poirse Caoch) The arches date back to 1584 and were built as an extension to the 12th century Norman built wall built to keep out unfriendly visitors.

Galway is also a place of castles. I grew up near the most famous one – Lynch’s Castle. From our living room window we could see the remains of the old cobbled yard where once the horses of the castle were housed. The castle was owned by the Lynch family, and the first story I ever wrote, at about age ten, was inspired by the story of how Lynch hanged his own son. James Lynch Fitzstephen was Mayor of Galway in 1493 and he executed his hapless son after he murdered a Spanish sailor so bringing the term ‘lynching’ to the English language, according to folklore. The two men fell out over a beautiful girl and I wrote the story from her point of view.

On Quay Street, you can still see Blake’s Castle. It was built in 1470 by the Blake family who were said to be descended from one of the Knights of the Round Table. When I first read about that it sent me running to the library to read all about Arthur, Lancelot and the famous knights. In To The Island Fia passes it on her way back home.

I love Nicola’s illustrations and I think they breathe life into the story of Fia and Hy Brasil. We had been looking forward to welcoming Nicola to Galway in May for the launch of the book but unfortunately the pandemic put paid to that plan.  Hopefully he will get to see Galway in real life very soon.

Patricia Forde

Thank you very much to Patricia for sharing this fascinating insight. When next possible I would love to revisit Galway, a place I remember from my childhood.

To the Island is published on 10th September. Please do follow the rest of the blog tour to find out more about this special story.

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11 Responses to To the Island by Patricia Forde illustrated by Nicola Bernardelli

  1. setinthepast says:

    What lovely pictures.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. alibrarylady says:

    They’re beautiful aren’t they. They almost glow!


  3. Thank you for bringing this book to my attention Anne, it looks gorgeous and has given me the perfect gift idea for the youngest member of the extended family 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Calmgrove says:

    Fascinating background to a fascinating history and a glorious picture book. I’m intrigued by the tale of Hy Brasil anyway, but the addition of these attractive illustrations is a real bonus.


  5. JosieHolford says:

    “Nicola Bernardelli is Italian. He has never been to Galway and yet his illustrations in To The Island perfectly capture not just the look of the old town but the atmosphere too.”


    Liked by 1 person

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  7. Such a beautiful book! Trish is an amazing writer & the illustrations are just perfect.
    And isn’t the story of Hy Brasil really intriguing? I’m doing some digging into it myself. I’ll let you know of I find anything.

    Liked by 1 person

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