Manchán Magan is a writer and documentary-maker.
He writes regularly for The Irish Times, reports on travel for various radio programmes, and has presented dozens of documentaries on issues of world culture for TG4, RTÉ & Travel Channel.
He has received commissions to write plays from The Abbey Theatre, BBC and Project Art Centre and had his two latest bilingual theatrical installations (Gaeilge Tamagotchi, Arán & Im) brought on a nationwide tour by the Abbey Theatre.
His books include Angels & Rabies: a journey through the Americas (Brandon, 2006), Manchán’s Travels: a journey through India (Brandon, 2007), Truck Fever: a journey through Africa (Brandon, 2008).
He also wrote two novels, published by Brandon and Coiscéim.
Thirty-Two Words for Field was published by Gill in September 2020 to critical and popular acclaim. In it Manchán meditates on the ancient words of the Irish language and the nuances of a way of life that is disappearing with them.
Manchán latest book Tree Dogs, Banshee Fingers and Other Irish Words for Nature Illustrated by Steve Doogan, published by Gill in October 2021, now brings his infectious wonder and enthusiasm for the Irish language to a younger audience, offering delightful translations and explanations of animal, bird, fish, insect and nature words.
Manchán’s latest book Listen to the Land Speak: A journey into the wisdom of what lies beneath us was published by Gill October 2022. In this illuminating new book, Manchán sets out on a journey, through bogs, across rivers and over mountains, to trace these ancestor’s footsteps. He uncovers the ancient myths that have shaped our national identity and are embedded in the strata of land that have endured through millennia – from ice ages through to famines and floods.
Manchán lives in an oak wood, with bees and hens, in a grass-roofed house near Lough Lene, Co Westmeath.
Praise for Angels & Rabies: a journey through the Americas
“A cross between Joseph Conrad and Frank Zappa
Gerry Ryan, RTE
“Somewhere between Lost and Heart of Darkness.”
Ryan Tubridy, RTE
“This travelogue exudes an attitude that is unmistakably rock n roll. Fuelled by the same wild abandon as Jack Kerouac, Magan journeys through the Americas with nothing but adventure on his mind.”
Stuart Clarke, Hot Press
Praise for Truck Fever: a journey through Africa
“Truck Fever is a rollercoaster of adventure, anecdote and fresh observations about the nature of Africa and what it means to travel through the dark continent.”
Cathal Coyle, Verbal Magazine
“To call Truck Fever a travel book is a disservice to what is also a sociological study of a small, Intense and mostly screwed-up bunch of people, a psychological dissection of an extremely troubled young man who feels cast adrift from society and a political commentary on the legacy of colonialism and western exploitation in Africa. It is also a good old-fashioned adventure story where the reader is often left wondering – “how the hell is he going to get out of this one?”
Tony Bailie, Irish News
Praise for Thirty-Two Words for Field
“A rip-roaring, archaeological and anthropological exploration of the lyricism, mystery and oddities of the Irish language, and the layers of ancient knowledge encoded within.”
The Irish Times
“There is a ready market for the works of the late Tim Robinson or the very much still with us Robert MacFarlane, along with a number of illustrious others who continue to till the land to see with wonder what it yields. Manchán Magan is at least the equal of such writers in levels of meticulous scrutiny and general understanding of what is in essence a difficult subject”
Paddy Kehoe, RTÉ Guide
“Thirty-Two Words for Field is a labour of love by a passionate intellectual within a tradition we more recently associate with Tim Robinson and Robert MacFarlane. Magan’s book is a rich and absorbing work."
Hilary, White, Irish Independent
“Manchán Magan connects language to landscape and routes it back to our beating hearts in Thirty-Two Words for Field, his exploration of the wisdom and insight encoded in words.Like a saunter on a soft day, he guides us down etymological boreens (bóithrín) always hand-holding and assuring that we will be all the better for the journey we embark upon.”
Manchán Magan, a writer and documentary maker, could be seen as Ireland’s answer to Robert Macfarlane, one of Britain’s finest nature writers, whose work focuses on the relationship between humanity and the natural world as well as the language we use to understand and interact with our environment. As the book’s title suggests, Magan explores the nuances and richness of the ancient Irish language, investigating why ‘tuar’ refers to a field for cattle at night, while cathairin, identifies a field with a fairy-dwelling in it, and why our ancestors felt the need to differentiate so clearly between the two. For anyone with an interest in nature writing, linguistics, the Irish language, or even just someone looking to slow down and take a closer look at out culture and history, Magan’s book is a necessity.
Eva Wall, Extra.ie
“Thirty-Two Words for Field - Manchán Magan (Gill, out now). Macfarlane fans should also enjoy this personal log by Magan about the wonder and versatility of our dying teanga.”
"Every once in a while you come across a book that is very different from anything you have read before. It is one of life's great pleasures. The oddest of books was sent to me during lockdown and it made me think afresh about a lot of things. It is called Thirty-two Words for Field - Lost Words of the Irish Landscape by Manchán Magan. It may be one of the oddest titles I have seen in some time but it does what it says on the tin and a lot more."
John Masterson, Irish Independent column:
“The richness of the Irish language is linked to the natural landscape and our ancient ancestors in this evocative study…. "Because the ancient Irish were far more chilled about sexual matters than our nearest neighbours, and the words relating to copulation were less offensive than their English counterparts, our forefathers didn’t simply rely on obscenities and body-part references when they wanted to insult. Old Irish curses are therefore impressively inventive, and just one of the many reasons recorded in this marvellous book to lament the loss of our first tongue’s immeasurable richness."
Brenda Power, Sunday Times
@RobGMacfarlane on Twitter Mar 20, 2021: This is a glorious essay on @ManchanMagan's project to create a Sea Dictionary (Foclóir Farraige) of Irish.
Listen to the Land
Our ancestors developed a uniquely nature-focused society, centred on esteemed poets, seers, monks, healers and wise women who were deeply connected to the land. They used this connection to the cycles of the natural world – from which we are increasingly dissociated – as an animating force in their lives.
Tree Dogs, Banshee Fingers and Other Irish Words for Nature
‘In Irish there are so many great rain words and magic words and highly specific natural words (such as the material put on the hooves of donkeys to stop them slipping in ice), or words to communicate with animals, or evocative plant words, or the gorgeous words for different amounts of light in the sky, or words that hint at different ways of seeing colour, or twilight words … ’