Byline: SHEILA FLYNN
There's a running joke in the Burke family. It revolves around Youghal, and it is gently aimed at retired principal John Burke, a married father of four. Every time the family travelled from their home in Waterford to Cork, he would excitedly point out facts about Youghal as they passed through - facts such as Moby Dick was filmed there and Sir Walter Raleigh is said to have planted the first potato in Ireland in Youghal in 1588. Time and time again, John would regale his family with such information, forgetting he had told them the same facts many times before.
Little did they know that, one day, he'd be putting one of those Youghal facts into a book - illustrated by daughter Kathi.
'Moby Dick didn't make it in,' laughs Kathi, looking affectionately at her father. 'I think that was just a personal family vendetta.' The pair have collaborated on a new book, Irelandopedia, which is flying off the shelves. John, 69, put together facts about all 32 counties, as well as about Ireland's food, flora and fauna, from his home in Dunmore East; Kathi, 25, did all of the illustrations from Dublin, where she now lives.
Irelandopedia is aimed at children aged between nine and 12 but adults also love it because it is fun, informative, and very well done with a lot of love. The project started when Kathi, a professional illustrator, was talking about working on such a book with her publisher contact. 'She said, "Oh, it has to be a primary school teacher - do you know any, by the way?" And I was like, "Sure, my dad is, actually," - just joking,' Kathi says. 'And she was like, "Oh, he has to do it," and I said, "I don't know would he be into it but I'll give him a call when I get home. She was like, "Oh, well, if it helps you out, I'll do it."
'Looking back, I couldn't have done it with anybody else. It would've been weird because I'd be on the phone all day or emailing all day and annoying them.' John, a soft-spoken man, cuts across her. 'I wanted to do anything that would help. I enjoyed it so much. I love learning things, that's it. We could talk honestly without offending each other.' And when the publisher suggested that Kathi work with John on the book, she couldn't have hit upon a more perfect collaborator. John truly loves learning; he was already something of an encyclopedia himself, having spent nearly 40 years at Passage East National School, where he became teaching principal. It was a four-teacher school, and Kathi, at one point, was in his class.
'It doesn't sound good on paper,' Kathi says of the father-daughter team. 'But we work really well together. I suppose we're used to being in a learning environment together.' John interjects. 'Tell the truth,' he says, with a twinkle in his eye.
'You spent your childhood with your sister in the back seat of the car, listening to me telling you about everything I passed, every place I passed. A bus driver once said, "Why don't you become a tour guide? You seem to know everything about these places."' Not only was he armed with his knowledge as a teacher, he had also acquired an impressive cache of information from his own travels. In his youth, he spent his summers cycling and camping the length and breadth of the country.
'I had that personal knowledge,' he says.
Kathi recalls: 'Sure, we'd go for a drive and Dad would just tell us, "That's that mountain now, and that's that lake, and look, look, there's a bird over there," - because Dad knows all the birds.' John says: 'It got to the stage where sometimes they were afraid to ask a question, because they knew if they asked, I'd go on for half an hour talking about it.' Once he and Kathi, who goes by the illustrator name Fatti - a nod to her brothers' teasing childhood nickname - agreed to undertake the project, they began a furious five months' work.
'We were aiming for the nine to 12 age group, fifth or sixth class of primary school,' John says. 'The text is simple and straightforward, so children that age will be able to understand it. There's not too much text, either - it's all about keeping the kids in mind.
'I did the counties in alphabetical order, so there would be no distinction between provinces or North and South. I would do the research and write up between 50 and 70 bullet points and bits of information about every county. Then I would send that up to Kathi and she would decide which of those she would illustrate.
'It was all about balance and taking little bits: some sport, some personality, some history, some nature So really the setup of the book is Kathi's. It's her design, all her illustrations. I provided the text and did the research.' Kathi says: 'It's like I curated Dad's work.' While designing and illustrating the book, Kathi was holed up in Dublin, working seven days a week to meet the publisher's deadline.
'My friends and roommates and everybody probably hated me, because I wasn't any fun,' she laughs. But it was worth it.' John was delighted with the opportunity to broaden his already extensive knowledge.
'As soon as I was finishing a county, all I wanted to do was go there,' he says. 'I wanted to go and spend at least a week there.
'I was like a very, very unfaithful lover. I just kept falling for each county separately and suddenly I was raving over Cork, and, next thing, I'm forgetting about it.' Kathi says: 'I felt so bad for my mother having to listen to him every time he learned a new fact.' And there was plenty to learn; the 89-page book is jam-packed with everything from maps to a witty illustration of Irish weather to facts about how people answer the phone in Leitrim.
'I was saying to Kathi when we were finished that we could do it all again, with completely different facts,' John says.
But given the success of this charming family team, it's not a stretch to believe we'll see more from John and Kathi Burke.
'I love doing books, and now that I've done one, I've got a taste for it,' Kathi says. 'I've always wanted to do children's books. I kept saying, "Oh, I'll get into it eventually" - and then this presented itself!' ? Irelandopedia is published by Gill & MacMillan, priced [euro]32.50 Dulse is often eaten in Antrim. It is a type of purple edible seaweed. Another fact is that Antrim has a vanishing lake. In dry weather Loughareema's water seeps down through the chalky ground and only the bed of the lake can be seen.
Bog butter, coins and an ancient dugout canoe are some of the things that have been recovered from the Bog of Allen. This large raised bog houses a nature centre - an international centre for peatland research and conservation.
The Lady of the Lake is a mythical figure who is said to appear gliding over the waters of Lower Lough Erne, wearing a blue dress and holding flowers. The Lady is said to be an omen of good times to come.
Rashers were developed in Waterford by Henry Denny in 1820. Waterford people sometimes eat blaas (white bread buns) for breakfast or lunch. They are often served with 'red lead' sausages.
Road bowling is a popular pastime in Armagh. Also, Armagh is the only city in the world where two cathedrals have the same name - Saint Patrick's.
Leitrim people often say: 'This is me, is that you?' when they answer the phone. The county has the shortest coastline at 3km.
Alice Kyteler was born in Kyteler's Inn in the late 1200s. She was accused of being a witch but fled Ireland - and her maid was burned at the stake instead.
Gallarus Oratory is a unique structure that looks like an upturned boat and is made of stone. It is still waterproof although it was built 1,000 years ago.
The buffalo ridge at Tayto Park is home to Ireland's first herd of American bison. More than 20 buffalo roam the plains at the park.
Longford has all the native Irish butterfly species - including the clouded yellow, red admiral and painted lady.
Milk Of Magnesia - a remedy for indigestion - was invented in Derry by James Murray in 1817.
The National Steam Rally in Stradbally is the oldest steam rally in Ireland. There is also a steam museum with permanent exhibits.
Edenderry is the home of the Irish Parachute Club. It trains and provide facilities for skydiving enthusiasts and for charities.
Juan MacKenna was born John MacKenna near Monaghan. He was a Chilean army officer and hero of the Chilean War of Independence.
Elvis Presley's ancestor William Presley emigrated to America from Hacketstown 200 years ago. Also, the 100-ton capstone of Brownshill Dolmen is the largest in Europe.
Named after Lugh, an ancient Irish god whose festival was celebrated at Lunasa (beginning of autumn). Also, family band The Corrs were brought up in Dundalk.
A pork festival is sometimes held in Ballyjamesduff. The Olympigs features racing pigs with woollen jockeys on their backs and is followed by a 'swine and cheese' party.
The Ceide Fields are the remains of a Stone Age community that lived here in 3,000BC. It is the oldest known farming community in the world.
Sir Walter Raleigh is said to have planted the first potato in Ireland in Youghal around 1588. Also, if you kiss the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle, it is believed you receive the 'gift of the gab'.
Boxer Muhammad Ali - whose great grandfather was from Clare - was made Freeman of Ennis. Also, most of Father Ted was filmed in Lackareagh parochial house.
People in Roscommon have the longest life expectancy of any county in the country. And did you know that the town of Carnagh East is in the very centre of Ireland? In Down, when people want an ice cream cone, they sometimes ask for a 'poke'. And did you know that James Martin, the inventor of the ejection seat, was born in Crossgar? The Mermaid Stones of Scurmore feature six stones. Apparently, a chieftain caught a mermaid and married her. She eventually escaped to sea, taking one child and turning the others to stone.
Some say there have been sightings of a lake monster in Lough Ree. Also, Niall Horan, a singer in the boyband One Direction, is from Mullingar.
Did you know that Tyrone is the biggest county in Northern Ireland? And Castlederg village hosts a traditional apple fair every year where apple growers go to sell their produce.
Hook Head is the oldest operating lighthouse in the world. Wexford is also famous for strawberries and cheeses, which include Wexford cheddar and Carrigbyrne farmhouse cheese.
Thoor Ballylee was the home of WB Yeats. Also, explorer Christopher Columbus visited Galway 15 years before he discovered America.
Wicklow Gaol is said to be haunted. Some people claim to have had their hair pulled and to have seen the ghost of a little girl.
In 1865, the Dundrum meteorite landed in a potato field in Clonoulty. Also, Thurles is the birthplace of the GAA. It was founded in 1884 at a meeting in Hayes Hotel.
Ireland's first lifeboat station was set up in Sandycove in 1803. Also, the Dublin Mountains - part of the Wicklow range on the Dublin border - are really hills.
McDaid's Football Special is a Donegal delicacy. It is a fizzy drink made with a mix of seven secret flavours. Donegal's Malin Head is Ireland's most northerly point.
all you need to know: John Burke and his