Blogging has revolutionised writing and journalism, and up until recently, the Irish scene has been dominated by men. Now, however, Irish women are having their distinctive voices heard on the web
TWO YEARS AGO, my sister Kirstie suggested we start a beauty blog - I said yes first and sussed out later what blogging actually involved. As a pair of devoted product-junkies, we were fed up reading international sites that detailed all manner of fabulous sounding beauty booty we couldn't get our hands on in this fair isle. And so, from a sense of deep personal chagrin and selfless public service, beaut.ie (pronounced "beauty") was born.
For two novices, albeit novices with an encyclopedic knowledge of lipgloss, face creams and epilators, we settled into this blogging lark pretty quickly. We shared our beauty-related triumphs (well hello there, eight-hour cream) - and our disasters (waxing, tanning, horrendous hair days) with the world or at least that little corner of it who read it from the beginning. (Thanks, Beaut.ie Mammy!) We spared no details, one early highlight was a particularly energetic Thai treatment so excruciatingly mortifying it was dubbed the "25 positions in a one-night stand" massage. It soon became the stuff of legend on the blog, which to our surprise seemed to be gaining readers by the hour.
Looking back, I think we probably got a boost from the fact that when we entered the Irish blogging scene, it was a largely male-dominated world in which our fluffy pink blog stood out like Barbie at the ploughing championships. As gaps in the market go, it was a yawning chasm into which we jumped high-heels-first. We were a bit lonely at first, I have to admit. As with other new technologies or gadgets, fellas were the early adopters, so it was inevitable that the Irish blogosphere started life top-heavy with politics, computer geekery and business affairs. And while there were a few excellent women bloggers in Ireland at the time, sadly you could count them on the fingers of one hand.
In that first year of blogging, we were encouraged to enter the Irish Blog Awards by fellow blogger Damien Mulley. When we won two gongs in 2007, I remember being stunned, feeling for the first time that we might actually be on to something with our fluffy pink blog. These days, our visitor-figures reach a quarter of a million a month and most of our topics end up on the first page of a Google search.
The comments by readers on single posts regularly spill into the hundreds, thanks to our daily chat forum called The Blather, where our readers discuss everything from bad dates to bath salts. And despite (whisper it) advertising being a dirty word for some bloggers, we also publish ads, although we are selective about which companies get space.
By the time the 2008 Blog Awards came around, we weren't so lonely anymore. In fact, we found ourselves in the company of a load of other women bloggers who were fêted across a whole range of blog categories. Whether their chosen tone is witty and life-affirming, or snippy and cynical, or all of this at the same time (multi-tasking, what can I say?), women have dramatically expanded the range of topics covered by Irish bloggers.
Sinead Gleeson blazed an early trail with her literary reviews on Sigla (www.sineadgleeson.com), while Dublin-based Irish Flirty Something (irishflirtysomething.com) creates her own hilarious brand of Sex And the City on her site every day. Sabrina Dent (sabrinadent.com) showcases her design/technology skills and waves her magic wand over other sites such as the new foodie-blog Tast.ie.
Una Mullaly brings us her thoughts on pop culture, media and music (unarocks.blogspot.com), while photo bloggers such as Gingerpixel transform the way we view the ordinary (www.gingerpixel.com). Lately, the credit crunch has been well catered for blogwise, with Frugal Ireland (frugalireland.com) and Lidl Treats, the latter being a new blog about the cut-price supermarket that has attracted devoted fans (www.lidltreats.com).
From the deeply personal (The Waiting Game detailed Fiona McPhillips's struggles to conceive and earned her a book deal - www.makingbabies.ie) to the deeply political (Maman Poulet is one of our hardest-hitting online commentators - www.mamanpoulet.com) there's now a woman blogger out there for everyone.
Observing the rise of fashion and lifestyle blogs such as our own, Homebug (www.homebug.net), and I Blog Fashion (www.iblogfashion.blogspot.com) have become the easiest ways to track the onward march of women on the Irish blogging scene. The authors of street style blogs such as Fashion Filosofy (www.fashionfilosofy.com) and Dublin Streets (dublinstreets.blogspot.com) take snaps of the stylish folk around town and let us appraise their outfits (ouch). Emily at Vulgar Moon (vulgarmoon.blogspot.com) even allows us a sneaky peek at what she's wearing every day and shares vital information such as where she got her stripy tights.
Blogs such as these are commonplace in the US, where there is a much wider audience for niche subjects. They are also years ahead of us in terms of blog exposure and reach. Networks such as Blogher exist in the States to support and promote women bloggers, and it's an encouraging sign that similar get-togethers are becoming more commonplace among Irish women on the web. There was the less-civilised-than-it-sounded Ladies' Tea Party before the blog awards earlier this year, and more recently, many cocktails were downed at the Irish Fashion Bloggers Brunch.
Of course, everyone knows that quality blogging is not about whether you are a man or a woman, but whether your content is fine enough to consistently engage your readers. The Irish Times has realised the importance of blogs as part of the modern media mix, with Jim Carroll, Conor Pope, Harry McGee and Bryan Mukandi blogging away on irishtimes.com. But I'd feel it was remiss of me not to pop the question - Madam, where are all women?
Aisling McDermott is the author of Lovely Girls: The Beaut.ie Guide to Gorgeous, which will be published by Gill & Macmillan next year
The cat that gets the cream: Fatmammycat
Witty, acerbic and always prepared to mount her high horse, FMC writes about everything from the news stories of the day, her diet, hangovers, hanging out with her "chumlies", to her exercise routine and, of course, her paramour. She can't stand any kind of codology and hates reiki with all her liver. (Reading this line led me to hating things "with all of my liver" quite a lot - I really wish she hadn't started me off.) Fools are not suffered gladly, but she loves it when an intelligent discussion with opposing points of view kicks off on the blog.
Here she is on the subject of phoney animal psychics, another, um, pet hate of hers: "I've just heard a long and plaintive wail from my kitchen. Using my own mental telepathy I can 'sense' the bigger of the cats wants to be let out. Zounds! I was right."
We can speculate until the cows come home about who Fatmammycat may be in "real" life. But it doesn't actually matter. She is a sharp writer who cleverly exploits the blog format to showcase her formidable talent. That's all we really need to know.
Personal and political: Maman Poulet
Suzie Byrne is one of the best news and current affairs bloggers in Ireland and is also one of the voices of Irishelection.com. She describes her blog thus: "The musings of one particular/peculiar disabled lesbian feminist", and she tackles the issues with her trademark fiery passion. Byrne has been blogging for four years. "There has been such a great change in the past two years in terms of the numbers of women blogging - for a while it was hard to be a woman blogging. It's great to see women taking their place at the blogging table and doing it with style," she says.
Revelations on Maman Poulet have tripped up the high and mighty on occasion, ensuring that politicians and members of the legal profession keep a close eye on her blog. Funnily enough, they prefer to e-mail her privately to ask their questions or add their opinion, rather than comment on the blog. Wonder why that is? If beauty is truth, Maman Poulet is downright gorgeous.
Here she is on Mary Harney's rollout of the cervical cancer vaccine: "I was waiting to see if Mary Harney would bite the bullet - but it seems she put on her vest and is playing russian roulette instead".
Twentysomething tales: Annie Rhiannon
Artist and photographer Rhiannon (above) first began blogging when she was living in Iceland. She actually wrote her first post after sharing a naked shower at a swimming pool with her then boyfriend. This gives you a good idea of where she's coming from. Fond of quality rather than quantity, Rhiannon blogs whenever she feels like it, and it's always worth the wait. Disarmingly droll, she spells out the minutiae of her daily life in a way that is touching, honest and can make you laugh out loud. Her willingness to bare all - ruminations on a recent break-up are compulsive reading - have turned me into a massive fan.
She's not afraid to laugh at herself either, as evidenced by this recent post: "I need to put a Destiny's Child ringtone on my phone," I wail at Maurice, one of my incredibly helpful intern assistants at work. "And I need to do it right away, so I can feel better about myself immediately!"
"That's easy enough," he says, helpfully. "Which track do you want?"
"Independent Woman, of course," I say, glad that there's a guy around to sort this shit out for me."
New blog on the block: Gaelick
Only a few months old, box-fresh Gaelick is a new group blog with nine members, dedicated to gay women. Featuring icons such as kd lang and Emma Donohue together with news and reviews from the lesbian scene, it's already off to a strong start.
"As the blog is so new we're willing to see what people will make of it and which particular topics commenters will be most interested in. So in that way the direction the blog will take is very flexible and organic," says one of the founding members, Joan O'Connell.
Gaelick hope that the blog will open up discussion and make lesbian issues in Ireland more visible. Here's the Gaelick crew musing on a drag show in the Panti Bar, Dublin. "Good clean fun is also catered for in the form of everyone's favourites: Pictionary and Connect Four. (Take that, homosexual stereotypes!)"
Older and bolder: Grannymar
Grannymar (above) isn't actually a granny. There, I've said it, her secret is out. But she is chatty and charming and possibly good at knitting. Grannymar has bucked the trend and shows that blogging isn't only for "the young ones" by becoming proficient in podcasting, twittering, the joys of RSS readers and the other skills enjoyed by the techie crowd.
Aided and encouraged by her supportive daughter (also a blogger), once she started podcasting there was no stopping her. Now a stream of posts floods from her computer - anything from her latest thoughts on toyboys to a joke that has tickled her fancy. Puzzles, a recipe or two, together with her stories from the past, make this a good-natured blog with a bunch of friendly commenters.
Here's her take on an over-reactive alarm system: "The PIR in the garage was so sensitive that a spider walking across it was enough to trigger it off. That is both good and bad. Good in that nothing will get past it, but bad in that I now must dust the garage on a more regular basis."
Mammy Blogger: Redmum
Redmum is Shauneen Armstrong (right), and her blog records "the life and perils of a single mother". After an incident with her teenage daughter one night three years ago, she went on the internet and on impulse set up her blog in order to vent some of her frustration.
She will tell you that the relationship with her daughter ("the Young Wan") is a constant theme, and her blog provides a cathartic release from any difficult interaction between them.
"The blog has provided a strange middle ground. When I write about things that happen at home, I suppose I look for the humour in situations that often were far from humorous at the time."
When the Young Wan reads her mother's version of events, it often helps mother and daughter to gain a new perspective and understand where the other is coming from. If this isn't parenting in the 21st century, I don't know what is. Armstrong is passionate about photography and her blog is the repository for much of her work.
She believes that "bloggers provide a wonderful alternative to the mainstream media; at the very least the immediacy of blogging means that bloggers often pip the media to the post. We saw that in the Irish blogosphere during the O'Connell Street riots as photographs and eye-witness accounts were published long before the traditional media had gotten to it."
On the eternal subject of untidy teenagers: "I made the mistake this morning of going into the Young Wan's bedroom; I say 'mistake' because I have only been looking into it from a safe distance outside the door. And I was floored, it is an absolute vile cess-pit of mess."
About the house: Homebug
Nothing like Homebug existed on the Irish interweb until Zita Spring (above left, being beaut.ie fied by Aisling McDermott) exploded on to our screens with her fabulous interiors blog. She also has great alternative decorating ideas for this magazine. Even if you are allergic to Ikea, Homebug is enough to make you drool, and she may even convince you to love wallpaper.
Spring's dedication to her subject and her passion for interiors is writ large upon her blog and because of this she has a devoted following. On the eve of the legendary Habitat sale, she encouraged her readers thus: "Start thinking up a good illness to claim to have when ringing the office tomorrow morning." And here she is worrying about how she is perceived in the MSM (mainstream media): "I'll be happy as long as I'm not described as a 'domestic blogger', as one Irish publication referred to me, making it sound like I write about furniture wipes and the best way to clean shower curtains."
I predict great things for this style guru and none of them involve furniture polish. But first things first, Zita: when can you come round and decorate my house?