The End. And the Start.

I’m finishing up this year with a beautiful photo from Aida Pascual that summarises my feelings for 2020 and 2021 far more effectively than words probably could. 2020 was extremely hard for everyone and although there’s hope for stability and peace in 2021, for many that remains a distant goal across a dangerous traverse.

On the personal front, I’ll be working over the Christmas period – just not so much online – although I will be taking a break in January. In early 2021, I’ll be releasing ‘Liath Luachra: The Seeking as well as launching my experimental project ‘Dark Dawn/ Camhaoir Fuilsmeartha’ – two works I’ve struggled with during the pandemic and associated complications.

Later in 2021 (probably towards the end), should see the completion and release of ‘Fionn: Stranger at Mullán Bán’. I had hoped to restart (and finally publish) Beara 2: Cry of the Banshee at that point but experience has shown me that, with creative independent publishing, sometimes you just have to go with the unexpected fluctuations and plans often end up going by the wayside.

With respect to the two narrative series that people seem to enjoy most, Liath Luachra (The Irish Woman Warrior Series) has four books planned in total. That series will end and segue nicely into the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series (which will have six books in total).  By the end of 2020, therefore, six of the proposed ten books will be complete.

As of the December 2020, I have eleven fully published works available in ebookstores or obtainable through individual bookshops. Over the last year, with my growing cynicism of the ‘Amazons’ and ‘Apples’ of this world, I’ve started selling several small items – mostly short stories – exclusively from my own bookshop at Irish Imbas Books. In 2021, I’ll probably be doing more of that as – longer term – I don’t think I can continue working with self-serving and community-damaging ‘Supercorprates’. That’s just me, though. I’m not advising or encouraging anyone else to do what I do. The approach I’m taking works for me because of my own personal goals and because of what I want to achieve. It makes little immediate financial sense for anyone trying to make money from writing books.

If you want to support me in this – probably flawed endeavour – you can find the bookshop here (Bookshop). That should be getting a facelift in 2021 too.

There’ll probably be several other changes taking place at Irish Imbas over the next year or so too but I’ll reveal those through my newsletter (Vóg) as they start to occur.

I’d like to finish by thanking those of you who’ve been supportive with what I’m trying to achieve through Irish Imbas. I’ve been exceptionally lucky to have met some outstanding people online as a result of various projects I’ve completed over the last few years and those are relationships I value and appreciate highly.

You know who you are.

Beannachtaí na Nollag oraibh, a chairde! Agus Athbhlian faoi mhaise.

Brian O’Sullivan

[December 2020]

Note: You can find Aida Pascual’s beautiful photograhy here: https://www.aidapascual.com/

FAVOURITE CHARACTERS: NUMBER TWO – DAHL

Dahl is a young, attractive, and very mysterious Hungarian woman from the short story ‘The Ring Master’s Daughter’.

When I first wrote this tale some twenty years ago, I was originally trying to create a situation involving a dialogue between two strangers, where you could never be entirely sure whether anything that was said was true. Over the course of the story, therefore, when the protagonist (a young Irishwoman called Kathy) first encounters Dahl, she shifts from scepticism to wonder and then back again, never entirely sure whether the Hungarian girl is what she claims to be – or, indeed, if she’s even Hungarian!

To create the level of surreal uncertainty needed to make this story work, I set it in the seaside town of Hove but supported the technique of ‘unreliable narrator’ with ‘unreliable environment’ – in this case a mist that obscures the town, temporarily removing the normal physical features that offer a contemporary societal context. The surreal circumstance is then further confounded by Dahl spinning one outrageous story after another – to the point where you have to believe she’s lying.

Unless she’s not.

Dahl is a great character to write as you can honestly make anything come out of her mouth sound plausible. I liked her so much, in fact, that I used her as the template for a character in Beara Dark Legends – another mysterious woman but with a far more developed personality. I’m hoping to write another short story with Dahl at some point when time allows.

FIONN: Stranger At Mullan Ban: Whats Happening?

Fionn mac Cumhaill Series

Wondering what’s going on with FIONN 4 (Fionn: Stranger at Mullán Bán)?

Although I completed seven chapters of this book last year, the potential television series for Liath Luachra: The Grey One meant I had to transfer all my time to finishing the next Liath Luachra book instead. As a result, this has remained languishing for most of this year.

Fortuantely, with Liath Luachra: The Seeking now almost comlete, I’ll be transferring back to FIONN 4 in February/March next year and hopefully will finish it with a few months (the first 3-4 chapters are usually the hardest).If you want to see what’s happening in the Fionn mac Cumhaill world, you can however, get the Chapter 1/ Short Story – Fionn: The Twisted Trail here on the Irish Imbas Books website.

The blurb for that is as follows:

“While hunting with two children in the depths of the Great Wild, the woman warrior Liath Luachra becomes involved in a pursuit she’d rather have no part of.”

“FIONN: THE TWISTED TALE is set four years after the events in the last book in the series (FIONN: The Adversary).

I should also warn you that there are strong connections in the plot to Liath Luachra: The Seeking – and to the overall direction of the FIONN series.

There will be blood.

Gaelic Slavers

I was intrigued by a recent image I came across from Polish illustrator Piotr Chrzanowski, as it includes an intriguing level of cultural authenticity that lifts him far above the usual visual representations of (what passes for) early Irish warriors/culture.  Chrzanowski’s own description notes on the image describe it as:

‘Gaelic Irish raiders’ – a slavers warband. From the 7th century. Some wearing captured Saxon or Norse helmets.

For me, Chrzanowski’s image and note are particularly interesting as:

  • he doesn’t fall into the well-trodden fantasy trap of using the word ‘Celtic’ to describe Gaelic, Welsh, Manx, Breton and other cultures
  • his notes display a level of knowledge of certain ancient Irish culture/history that most people don’t have

What probably intrigued me most about the image was the reference to ‘slavers’ as it covers an aspect of ancient Irish culture many people prefer to gloss over – Irish slavery. Not to be confused with the “Irish were the First Slaves’ fantasy pushed by white supremacist nutters, this actually refers to the period when the Roman Empire deserted current-day Great Britain. For two to three centuries afterward, the country was left in such disarray, opportunistic Irish raiders were able to raid parts of it on a regular basis for goods and slaves.

That is, after all, how we managed to snaffle our national saint!

Apart from this personally appealing snippet, Chrzanowski’s work is worth checking out as his character design illustrations are particularly well done. You can find him at: https://www.facebook.com/piotr.chrzanowski.art/

Walking “the Great Mother’s Mantle”

The Sliabh Bládhma mountains are located in central Ireland and, according to geologists, they’re one of the oldest mountain ranges in Europe, purportedly once rising to a height of 3,700m. That’s hard to believe nowadays of course. Over millennia, erosion has worn the mountains down to 527 metres and they’re really more aptly considered as hills these days (although if the day is clear you can still see for miles in every direction).

Sliabh Bládhma was of interest to me, mostly because of its link to the Fenian Cycle – although, in truth, that’s something of a soft link. That comes uniquely through the medieval narrative Macgnímartha Finn) where its mentioned once in the story as follows (translated to English by Kuno Meyer)

Cumall left his wife Muirne pregnant. And she brought forth a son, to whom the name of Demne was given. Fiacail, son of Conchenn, and Bodbmall the druidess, and the Grey One of Luachair came to Muirne, and carry away the boy, for his mother durst not let him be with her.

Muirne afterwards slept with Gleor Red-hand, king of the Lamraighe whence the saying, “Finn, son of Gleor”. Bodbmall, however, and the Grey One, and the boy with them, went into the forest of Sliabh Bládhma. There the boy was secretly reared.

From a narrative/plot perspective, the story holds quite well as this isolated spot was the most apt area of wilderness contiguous to the areas in Leinster, the area which would have been most populated back in the Iron Age. It would also have been a logical place to set someone who’s on the run or in hiding.

Back in 1st and 2nd century Ireland, of course, the area would have looked vastly different to what it looks like now. On the day I passed through and walked the terrain, it was hard to associate those soft slopes, domesticated holdings and manicured forests (plantation forest as opposed to natural native forest) with the rugged and dangerous wilderness portrayed in the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series of novels. Despite this, all the descriptions conform with the overall geography. The ‘The Great Mother’s mantle’ (the surface layer) may have changed dramatically over the centuries, but the topography remains largely the same.

These days, the hills around Sliabh Bládhma are very popular with walkers and day-trippers although the local tourist board shamefully insist on using the meaningless anglicized name (Slieve Bloom) in their communications rather than the Irish name which has far greater cultural resonance. Given its age, getting an accurate etymology for Sliabh Bládhma is very difficult and rife with vague interpretations. The Metrical Dinnshenchas (which you always have to take with a healthy dose of salt) suggests a number of reasons for the name, mostly linked to a character called ‘Blod, son of Cu’. Even if it’s not entirely correct however, the stories and historical associations with that name are far better and richer than the meaningless ‘Bloom’.

Paperback Books

I’m pleased to announce that nearly all of my books can now be ordered through bookshops anywhere in the world (while recognising many of them are still closed due to the pandemic).

For the last six years or so, there’s really been only three paperbacks available in print outside of the Amazon system (Fionn 1, Fionn 2 and Beara 1). That’s mainly been due to the administrative complexity and the costs associated with placing books into the Ingram system (that’s the company who hold the ‘Print-On-Demand’ files and supply copies to the bookshops on request). After several years, I finally found time to get this task done. Sheesh!        

Anyway, if you order a copy through a local bookshop let me know how it turns out as I’m curious to see how this works in practice from the other side.

THE HEAD OF THE SHEEP

Rinn Mhuintir Bháire – The Point/Headland of the People of Báire two years before the Age of Covid.

Twenty years ago this place used to be deserted although I once met a crazy woman on the side of a hill road, sitting quietly on a stool in the rain with her dress pulled up around her waist while she listened to a ghettoblaster. She was very pleasant, giving me directions (wrong, of course!) while we both ignored her surreal presence on that isolated botharin.

Even now, many years later, I still wonder what the hell she was doing there.

Dark Dawn/ Camhaoir Fuilsmeartha

Over the past three weeks, I’ve been carrying out an immense amount of work on the Dark Dawn/ Camhaoir Fuilsmeartha Project. An experimental work unlike anything I’ve done before, it’s taken up an inordinate amount of time, far more than I’d ever envisaged when I first started it. Over 2020, the non-publishing workloads I’m subject to, work on a potential television series for Liath Luachra and the impact of the Covid-pandemic have also meant I’ve never been able to give it the full focus it required.  

Even at this point however, an enormous amount of work still remains and I still have no idea if the finished product will work or not. The time I’ve allotted to fart around with this creation up till Christmas is very much an early Christmas present to myself. 

In terms of goals, Dark Dawn/ Camhaoir Fuilsmeartha is my latest attempt at exploring a more culturally authentic approach to ancient Irish fictional narratives, something I’ve been attempting principally through my Fionn mac Cumhaill Series. In terms of plot, its quite a simple character-based story involving the character Ultán from Fionn Defence of Ráth Bládhma.

“It’s raining butcher knives and my chest aches but Fiacail has a plan. That’s the way of it!  Little more than two days’ comfort here at Ráth Bládhma and already we’re caught up in its people’s problems.”

I’m aiming for release in the first quarter of 2021.

Time for a Change

Ireland: 192 A.D. A time of strife and treachery.

Ireland 2020: Somewhat similar but now we have the Covid-19 virus as well.

Just for information, I’ve set up a new cover for the digital version of FIONN: Defence of Rath Bladhma which you can see above.

The paperback version (currently only at Amazon – here) will retain the existing version although by next month (December) any bookshops will be able to order you the updated cover for the paperback version as well.

There is a plan (kinda) here somewhere. New developments are happening on the Fionn front and that’ll be come apparent early next year.

In case you’re interested; here’s the blurb for the actual book:

—————————

Ireland: 192 A.D.

A time of strife and treachery. Political ambition and inter-tribal conflict has set the country on edge, testing the strength of long-established alliances.

Following the massacre of their enemies at the battle of Cnucha, Clann Morna are hungry for power. Elsewhere, a mysterious war party roams the forests of the ‘Great Wild’ and a ruthless magician is intent on murder.

In the secluded valley of Glenn Ceoch, disgraced druid Bodhmhall and the woman warrior Liath Luachra have successfully avoided the bloodshed for many years. Now, the arrival of a pregnant refugee threatens the peace they have created together. Run or fight, the odds are overwhelming.

And death stalks on every side.

Based on the ancient Fenian Cycle texts, the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series by Irish author Brian O’Sullivan is a gritty and authentic retelling of the birth and early adventures of Ireland’s greatest hero, Fionn mac Cumhaill. Gripping, insightful and utterly action-packed, this is Irish/Celtic fiction as you’ve never read it before.

Harp

A gorgeous shot from the Irish Times.

Harp-maker Kevin Harrington handing over a new harp to Muireann Ni Mhuirthile (10), on National Harp Day, at the Featherbeds in the Dublin/Wicklow mountains. Photograph Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Found at: Image of the Day

DARK DAWN: A New Kind of Irish Adventure

This week I’m recommencing work on Dark Dawn/ Camhaoir Fuilsmeartha, a new kind of Irish adventure which I’m hoping to release in Janurary 2021. At this stage, I can only say that it’ll be quite different to anything I’ve produced so far.

Unfortunately, this project dropped by the wayside as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic (the associated lockdowns and the mad workload that resulted directly as a result of that). Given the amount of time I’d invested in it, that was something of a disappointment but it’s nice to think I can now start the ‘salvage’ process.

My preference is for the Irish title (Camhaoir Fulilsmeartha) which means ‘Bloodspattered Dawn’ as opposed to ‘Dark Dawn’. You can find the Goodreads link here: Dark Dawn/ Camhaoir Fuilsmeartha

Dead Men Standing

One thread that occasionally raises its head throughout Irish mythology is the motif associated with the burial process of some (a word often mistranslated as ‘king’ but more accurately translated as ‘chieftain’) or mythological celebrities, where the corpse is bound upright or interred in the standing position, usually in defiance of an enemy or rival population group.

The early and medieval Irish literature contains several references in this regard but the most famous is probably linked to that of Cú Chulainn who, in a final act of defiance, ties himself to a standing stone to die on his feet. Facing his enemies, he remains upright for three days after he dies as they’re too terrified to come close (clearly, nobody thought of throwing a stone!).

Another celebrity associated with upright burials was Laoghaire (son of the infamous Niall). Famous for his hostile interactions with Saint Pat, Laoighaire is recorded (by Tíreachán) as being buried on the ridges of Tara, placed upright and facing south in defiance of the Leinster tribes. This follows somewhat in his father’s footsteps, given that Neill’s body was also said to have been held aloft by his tuath as a good-luck token when heading off to battle.

Early Irish literature has a few other references to the bodies of chieftains and heroes being buried upright and although there is a possibility that might have reflected some kind of burial ritual linked to the cult of warriors, it’s very much a literary motif rather than a historical one. As a result, you really have to be careful with its interpretation.

 

Cover Grow Up

Had a timely ‘blast from the past’ today when I received a reminder of a book cover from October 2014 (for FIONN: Traitor of Dun Baoiscne). It was timely given that Amazon have somehow managed to revert to printing my paperbacks with the older covers instead of the more recent versions (which have been in place for some years).

Back when I first started writing and publishing, there were far fewer artists available to do illustrations and limited stock photos that you could purchase within a shoestring budget. For 1st/2nd century Ireland – the time/culture in which my books are set – finding ‘representative’ covers was particularly difficult. Despite many days searching, in the end I had no choice but to resort to fantasy-style photostock and using a graphic artist to try and ‘Gaelicise’ the result as far as possible.

I was never entirely comfortable with the resulting image. The fanboy, Red-Sonya fantasy style image I ended up with, really didn’t work that well for the culturally-realistic feel I was trying to reintroduce in our mythological narratives (not to mind the lack of realism around Irish weather!). As a result, this cover (deservedly) endured some serious piss-taking (predominantly from my partner, daughter, editor [female], proof-reader [female]).

Despite that, it proved remarkably popular until I could finally afford to replace it. Skimpy-clothed model aside, I think the standing stone, the colour and the background terrain worked really well.

The Fenian Cycle, Books and Leather Bikinis

Presenter Andy Linton interviews myself and fellow Irish writer and musician Pat Higgins at ‘Capital Irish’. You can find the interview below:

I start talking at about five minutes in and keep on talking (mostly about the Fenian Cycle, the influence it’s had on my own writing, a little bit about the proposed Liath, Celtic Warrior television series etc.) until someone wrestles the mircophone off me.

Pat Higgins finally gets a chance to talk a little about his book ‘Begotten Not Made‘ a character drama set in Galway based on true events in Pat’s family.

Favourite Irish Imbas Characters

Fiachail mac Codhna

Fiacail mac Codhna is a swaggering and irrepressible warrior from the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series. Handsome, charming, and shrewdly strategic in battle, Fiacail’s potential for tribal greatness is undermined only by an over-sexed libido and a strong weakness for women, particularly where it relates to Bodhmhall ua Baoiscne – aunt of the famous Fionn mac Cumhaill.

Fiacail’s quite a lot of fun to write. He has no delusions of grandeur and he can be charmingly crass at times – particularly where it relates to sex – but his humour and genuine attraction to Bodhmhall means he’s a credible third player in the love triangle with Bodhmhall and Liath Luachra. His bawdy humour and blunt demeanour, meanwhile, offers some welcome relief from some of the more serious and intellectual characters in the series.

When not chasing women, Fiacail likes to walk around naked in the morning having conversations with Great Father Sun. Much of this involves trying to convince Father Sun not to cause the end of the world but also to give him a pony.

Over the course of the original Fenian Cycle narratives, Fiacail turns up on several occasions, usually as a kind of foster father/advisor to the young Fionn mac Cumhaill although, at one point, he’s also referred to as a reaver.

In modern Irish, ‘fiacail’ is actually the word for ‘tooth’, so it’s an odd name for a character and the ancient Fenian Cycle manuscripts offer little explanation of its derivation.

Saint Patrick and The Goat

I came across an interesting folk legend in Skerries last time I was home, which tickled my fancy. Like much of our native topographical narratives, the story relates to Saint Patrick (many of the pre-Christian cultural sites including holy springs, wells, and others were renamed for him by the Christian Church as their influence grew in Ireland).

This story relates to a cluster of islands off the seaside village Skerries, in County Fingal. The local and most common version of the story tells how St. Patrick was expelled from the Wicklow region by the (cough) pagan natives. Disgruntled, by his lack of success, the Saint headed north and landed on a small island (“the outer island still called by his name” – Inis Pádraig or St. Patrick’s Island) off Skerries which he intended to use as a safe base from which to convert the ‘natives’. Accompanying him on this new mission, was a goat which he used for companionship and as a source of milk.

One day, while he was off on the mainland haranguing the locals, a separate bunch of them turned up on the island where they found Patrick’s goat. Feeling hungry, and having forgotten to pack a picnic lunch, they killed the goat and ate it before heading back to the mainland.

Patrick, returning to the island after a hard day at the pulpit, was upset (inconsolable) to find his goat missing. Full of fury, he took two giant strides (the first, taking him to Colt Island, the second to Red Island) to step back onto the mainland to confront the people living in modern-day Skerries.

Gathering the natives on the beach, he accused them outright of eating his goat and when they attempted to deny it, the guilty locals found themselves unable to speak and could only respond in bleats. When they were finally ready to confess their sins and drop to their knees before the Great Saint (and the Superior God, of course) their voices finally returned.

This story is pretty typical of the religious propaganda of the day but there are also several very familiar mythological constructs running through the story (and I haven’t included all of them). Overall, the current story is pretty typical of ‘Lazy Man Folklore’ or ‘Tourist Folklore’ (where the focus is more on the entertaining and fantastical elements of the story rather than the more interesting facts behind it).  It’s a fun story but it’d still be nice if the Tourist Board could get off its butt and add a bit more of the actual history next time around.  

The Long Way Home


Tá cumha i ndiaidh an bhaile ag titim isteach orm inniu.

It’s an interesting dilemma with respect to homesickness when you’re living on the wrong side of the planet. In the past, I could always live away with the knowledge that I could jump on a plane and be back in Cork within 2-3 days.

In the days of Covid however, with its quarantines, lack of aircraft and astronomical flight costs, such reassuraces no longer carry much weight. I expect to see a lot more immersion in Irish writing over the year to come.