Souvenirs from Ireland – Battle of the Books

Every time I come back from Ireland it’s a ‘Battle of the Books’ in terms of permitted baggage weight on international flights. I suppose the only good thing is that its something of a natural restriction to excess reading.

irish-books

This is a selection of the books I carried in my bag (but not all) last week. It also doesn’t include a number of graphic novels, some additional fiction and, of course, the numerous old local history books (about 20) I’ve had to photograph into digital form (the libraries don’t allow you to photocopy theses nowadays in case it causes damage). I reckon there’s at least 1.5 years of analysis, additional research and conceptual thinking associated with all this.

Still! Keeps me off the street and out of trouble.

Fierce Times at the Black Fort (Irish mythology)

We did some exploring around Na hÁrainneacha (the Aran Islands) for a few days this month, carrying out research on a number of the prehistoric fortresses and hoping to get a few photos that we could work into future covers for the Fionn mac Cumhaill series.

Most people tend to associate the islands with the more famous Dún Aoghonsa and although that fortress is undeniably spectacular, our favourite actually turned out to be the lesser known Dún Dúchathair. Incorrectly translated into English as ‘The Black Fort’ (the name is more correctly translated as the “Fort of the Black Stone”).

the-black-fort-aran-island

This formidable site sits up on an isolated cliff promontory on the south-eastern side of An Árainn Mhór (Inishmore), the largest of the three islands. As prehistoric buildings go, this one is old, so old there’s very little actually known about it (although it’s believed to be contemporary with the equally dramatic Dún Aoghonsa which was built around 1110 BC). On a bright day, seeing the edifice silhouetted against the startlingly vivid horizon you can also understand the origin of its Irish name.

Although An Árainn Mhór is only nine kilometres long, the Black Fort is surprisingly difficult to access, set as it is on the far side of network of rocky channels that have to be traversed with some caution. Crossing the flat – but very pitted and uneven rocky surface – is a bit like walking across a benign minefield. It’s all very possible but you’re obliged to keep your eyes on the ground at all times unless you stop moving. If you don’t, it’s inevitable that you’ll become a cropper. That was one thing that really struck me about the entire island. Because the terrain’s so rough, unless you’re walking on a modern road or flat, you always have to walk with your head bowed.

aran-islands-irish-fantasy-1

aran-islands-black-fort-1

The most immediate thing that comes to mind as you approach Dún Dúchathair is that it was obviously built with a defensive purpose in mind. Even today, it’s a site that’s not easily approached due to the reasons outlined above. Add to that, the cliffs on three sides, the chevaux de frises (dense series of rock obstructions placed in a vertical position that make the difficult surface even harder to traverse) and a six-metre high wall spread across the edge of the promontory, and you’re seriously left wondering how successful a land-based assault could possibly have been. Even with dramatically superior numbers, any attacking force would also have been exposed to sling-shot, javelins and spears and suffered losses that were almost certainly unsustainable.

aran-islands-black-fort-2a
Ironically, despite its immense defences, Dún Dúchathair turned out to be most at risk from its own defensive positioning. At some stage in the distant past, a large section of the flat promontory making up the interior of the fort, fell into the sea, its base eroded over centuries by the crashing power of the waves below.

dún-dúchathair-aran-islands

dún-dúchathair -aran-islands-2

Love on the Aran Islands

The attached photo will be the cover shot for Irish Imbas Books’ exciting new range of romantic and erotic novels under the brand “Love on The Aran Islands”. Titles include:

  • First Touch at Killronan (Cill rónáin)
  • Fast Times at the Dark Fort
  • Fierce Goings On at Dún Aonghasa
  • Forty Shades of Bungolwa
  • Hot Sweats in Innisheer

 

love-on-aran-islands

Hopefully, you actually didn’t believe all that.

This photo was taken during some extraordinarily hot weather out on the islands last week, just a day after a storm that knocked the telephone mast down.

Broody Days in the Galway Gaeltacht

Broody days in the Galway Gaeltacht under skies like a mottled bruise.

beautiful-irish-landscape

I’m travelling around Ireland at the moment, catching up with old friends and family and doing a lot of research. Some of my travels took me up through the Galway Gaeltacht – a place I haven’t been in a long time.

irish-landscape

I couldn’t get over how manicured the land around Lake Corirb looked compared to the Beara peninsula.
Even the sheep looked neat.

irish-scenery
irish-landscape-galway

HURRAY! I THINK I WON SOMETHING (ah, crap! No, I didn’t)

(Fionn amended aspect ratio)

Earlier this year I entered a competition (initiated by author Mark Lawrence – of ‘Prince of Thorns’ fame) called the ‘Self-Publishing Fantasy Blog Off 2016’. This basically sees three hundred self-published and small-publisher fantasy books assessed by ten different speculative fantasy book review bloggers and … (well, yes. A bit difficult to explain and I haven’t quite got my own head around it yet). Just click on the link. That’ll explain everything.

Having entered, I promptly forgot about it so it was a nice surprise this afternoon (having returned from the temporarily internet-free Aran Islands) to receive an email from a fan telling me that I’d won my heat (not sure what that is but apparently the competition is still ongoing and there isn’t an actual prize per se). In any case, the book received a nice review from the Bookworm Blues blog (attached below):
————————————————————
FIONN: DEFENCE OF RATH BLADHMA BY BRIAN O’SULLIVAN

You know how some books come out of left field and just shock you? Well, this was one of those. If you’re looking for an action/adventure fantasy that is different than the normal, look no further. This book has some welcome diversity, and a story that is absolutely unforgiving. This is a novel based on some ancient Irish texts, and is full of myth and magic and I just loved it for that. The writing is tight and the book is well edited. I welcomed the strong female characters, the obvious twist on tropes, and the way the author genuinely owned the book he wrote. Some of the names were a bit of a mouthful to try and pronounce (even mentally) but that’s not the author’s fault, and as far as complaints go, that’s not even one that’s worth registering.

———————————————————————

Interestingly, I’d also entered Liath Luachra in the same competition. This was reviewed by a different blogger but it got dumped about a month or two ago (which I hadn’t been aware of). They also did a quick review as follows:

LIATH LUACHRA: THE GREY ONE BY BRIAN O’SULLIVAN
Dark historical fantasy. It is 188 A.D in Ireland, a land of tribal conflict. The book starts with a young warrior woman called Liath Luachra (the Gray One) fighting a battle with her fellow band of mercenaries. Pleased by her prowess and potential, her battle leader offers her a mission that she cannot refuse. Writing is good, though there’re a lot of straight-up translations for the large number of Celtic terms used, which can be very distracting. Despite the battle at the beginning, the story is also slow to take off, though soon enough an interesting conflict presents itself and the character finds herself in a bit of a bind. This book was a strong contender, but it didn’t hook us as quickly as a few others did. Still, we loved the atmosphere, and there are some very strong grimdark fantasy vibes here, so it’s worth checking out if you are a fan of this sub-genre.
—————————————————————
It’s always interesting to see how different people react to my books. That’s the beauty of individual tastes, I suppose – it’s different for everyone.

Sentinels in An Irish Doorway

It’s always the little things that get you.
Wandering in from the yard back in Cork yesterday, this cluster of wooden sentinels triggered a twinge of emotion as I recalled playing hurling myself as a kid.

an-irish-doorway

I was never a particularly gifted player but there really is no sport like it in the world (in terms of speed and sheer acrobatic watchability). Given my lack of access to the game over the last few years (oddly enough, there isn’t that much hurling going on in France or New Zealand), having a chance to watch my nephew and his friends battering the sliotar (the hurley ball) around over the last few years has proven much more satisfying than anticipated.