Fionn Mac Cumhaill: A History of a Legend

This is a recent interview/discussion I did as part of a panel on ‘Talking History‘ – an Irish radio show presented by historian Patrick Geoghegan and which specialises in exploring some fascinating topics. I was invited on as that week’s show was focussed on the development of the lore of Irish mythological hero Fionn mac Cumhaill.

The panel for this discussion included some top-notch academics, including Dr Kevin Murray (University College Cork), Dr Sile Ni Muhurchu (University College Cork), Natasha Sumner (Harvard), Dr Jim MacKillop (Editor of  the ‘Oxford Dictionary of Celtic Mythology’) and Dr Joseph Flahive (Royal Irish Academy). I’m quite familiar with most of their works and it was nice to be included in such a line up.

I can promise you that the knowledge/information on Fionn and the Fenian Cycle revealed over the course of this one hour discussion will excede twenty-five years’ worth of blathering from self-declared authorities on You Tube.

You can get to the show by clicking on the image above or clicking the link HERE.

The Music of What Happens

Once, as they rested during a hunt for wild deer, Fionn mac Cumhaill and his men debated what the finest music in the world might be.

“Then tell us what it is,” said Fionn to Oisín, who’d started the discussion.

“The cuckoo calling from the tree that’s highest in the hedge,” cried his son.

Fionn nodded. “That’s a good sound,” he admitted. “And you, Oscar? “What is finest of music to your mind?”

“The finest of music is the clash of a spear against a shield in battle,” the warrior exclaimed.

“It is a good sound,” said Fionn.

Working his way through the party, he asked each of his men what they thought and each gave their answer: the belling of a stag across the water, the baying of a tuneful pack of hunt hounds heard somewhere in the distance, the throaty song of a lark, the happy laugh of a gleeful girl, the whisper of a loved one in the darkness of night.

“These are all good sounds,” said Fionn.“

So, tell us, a Fionn,” one of his men ventured finally, for there was genuine curiosity amongst them.  “What do you think? What would your answer be?”

Fionn considered the question for a moment.

“The music of what happens,” he said at last. “That is the finest music in the world.”

Note: This is a segment I’ve adapted from one of the ‘old style’ Fionn mac Cumhaill stories, in this case from a book called ‘Irish Fairy Tales’  by James Stephens. Stephens actually adapted it from the 12th century Macgnímartha Find [The Boyhood Deeds of Fionn] back in 1920. This is how a lot of the Fenian Cycle (and other Irish mythology) works.

Irish Imbas Projects for 2022

The nice thing about a decent holiday is that it gives you time and space to think outside the rut, to consider new possibilities or the need to change existing circumstances. Like everyone else, I think I’ve been pretty burned out from work and social stress since the emergence of the first Covid strain in 2020. That was something that cut the legs out from under a full year’s work on a potential tv series (while also dramatically escalating my freelance consulting work) on top of all the writing.

Fortunately, sitting in the sun and blobbing over the holidays, does wonders for the soul, in terms of planning what I can realistically achieve over the forthcoming twelve months, at least. Here are the projects I hope to work on over 2022.


Liath Luachra: The Metal Men

I’m currently on the last leg of this story – which turned out to be far longer than I’d anticipated due to the disparate plot threads. I don’t want to finish on another cliff hanger so I’m just going to slog through on this to a close-to-final draft at the end of January. I’m hoping to make this available to Patreons sometime in February and it’ll be available in all the ebookstores sometime on 16 March 2022.


Fionn: Stranger at Mullán Bán:

The next book in the Fionn series will have clear overlaps with ‘The Seeking’ and ‘The Metal Men’ and Demne/Fionn takes a more active role in the narrative. I’m provisionally working to a release date of June 2022, but I now suspect this will be later.  


Untitled Liath Luachra Short Story:

This short story will be available for Patreons only. Further detail later in the year.


Non-fiction Irish Mythology Book:

This is a book explaining how Irish mythology (and other mythology) works. Most of it is already written but I’m trying to work out how to best get the information across. The plan is to release this sometime in the latter part of 2022. I’ll probably do a small ‘fantasy-based’ spin off on that as well to guide fantasy writers on what to consider when dealing with other cultures and mythology.


Liath Luachra: The Great Wild:

A short Liath Luachra series novella. This will cover an adventure prior to Liath Luachra joining Na Cinéaltaí. The story will initially be available for Patreons only. Further detail later in the year.


How to Save the World

Not the usual stuff I publish, this is a non-fiction ‘white paper’ based on the freelance consulting work I’ve been doing over the last 20 years, predominantly for Government Departments. Over that time, I’m come across patterns and behaviours that need to change in New Zealand (and overseas) if the planet and its occupants have any chance of surviving the next fifty years. Normally, I’d write something like this as part of a project for a government agency but, as they’re part of the problem, I’ll need to write it independently. I’m trying to set this at a level that journalists and the general public can utilise.


Obviously, that’s a substantial amount of work (and major breadth) on top of the Vóg newsletter and additional content I’ll be providing for my Patreons). Interest is also rising once again on a potential screen version of the Liath Luachra series so, as always, these projects need to be flexible in terms of responding to events that might occur throughout 2022.

If you’re keen on following this particular journey, feel free to subscribe to my Vóg Newsletter or if you’d prefer more up front and personal updates and woudl like to support the work I do, you might want to join my Patreon Group).

Best wishes to everyone for 2022.

Liath Luachra 1 on Sale for the rest of December

To celebrate a decidedly good end to a pretty exhausting year!

The first Liath Luachra book – the first one adapted for the screen – is going onsale everywhere until the end of the year. You can find it here: https://irishimbasbooks.com/book/liath-luachra-the-grey-one/

Or in the ‘Books’ section.

Oirish Wargames!

I came across some interesting ‘Fianna’ warriors on the website of ‘Gripping Breast’ (an English ‘Wargames miniatures’ manufacturer) yesterday which made me smile. They’re currently selling ‘Oirish’ figurines for Wargamers and, for sure, it’s meant to be a bit of fun, but you’d think they’d at least try to get some of the basics right.

What struck me as particularly bizarre was ‘Griping Bleat’s’ translation of ‘fianna’ as “hearth guards” (er…?!).

Even more strange was their inclusion of “Irish mounted Fianna hearth guards” (do they really think people in 1st and 2nd century Ireland were using horses for large scale battles?).

My personal favourite, however, was the ‘Irish Fianna with Danish axes’ (the Danish axes turning up several hundred years after the Fianna were meant to be around).

Gripping Beats’ also seem to have a bit of a fascination with the ‘Irish Dark Ages’ (which is something I’ve not come across before).

Anyway, if you’re a Wargamer and you want ‘Oirish’ figurines, clearly ‘Gritty Bream’ looks like the place to supply you!   

Update On Liath Luachra 4

I’m currently working full blast on the remaining two chapters (and epilogue) for ‘Liath Luachra: The Metal Men’ but the book is now available for pre-order at Amazon and Kobo and soon thourgh the other major ebook stores. You can find the details here: Liath Luachra: The Metal Men Availability

At this stage, it looks as though at least two (earlier) chapters will need to be removed and reworked for use in a separate book in the series (Liath Luachra 5). Unfortunately, I won’t have a title or any kind of release date for that for several months (as I want to complete Fionn: Stranger at Mullán Bán for a June 2022 release).

Some other good news is that interest in the potential television series seems to have raised its head again. That doesn’t mean, of course, that it’ll actually go to green light. There are always at least a dozen or more other variables on those kinds of decisions.

I guess, like Book 5, we’ll just have to wait and see.

The Problem with Series

I was trying to explain to someone yesterday about how I ended up having four different book series on the go at the same time.

Beara Dark Legends (first book in the Beara Trilogy) was my first book but it’s the type of book that takes ages to write (the plot isn’t linear and it actually consists of two different – but interlinked – stories). As a result, I started the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series.

After two of those, I wrote the first Liath Luachra book as a prequel to that series but it ended up being more popular so I wrote a second one. When Hollywood showed an interest I had to write two more as they wanted enough content for three seasons if it got off the ground. As a result, I currently have three Liath Luachra (Irish Woman Warrior Series) books out and a fourth in the works.

Needless to say, I get at least one email every month from readers demanding the 2nd Beara, the 4th Fionn, the 4th Liath Luachra etc.

Sheesh!

Do not do what I did.

A find in the Bog Down in the Valley-oh!

A very good article here on the Fadden More Psalter (a copy of the biblical Psalms) which was miraculously discovered in an Irish bog (at Fadden More) back in 2006. It was pure chance the operator of a peat-harvesting machine noticed it in his machine bucket and had the nous to contact the National Museum.


The Psalter itself holds 150 psalm (the opening letter in each, marked by a capital letter) and comprises sixty vellum sheets in total. Testing revealed that the text was written with iron gall ink, and a number of other decorative pigments. It’s estimated to be 1200 years old. It’s not the oldest writing material in Ireland but it’s certainly the most important literary find of the last few decades


I did quite a lot of research on Irish paleography (the study of ancient and medieval scripts) and codicology (the study of ancient and medieval books) while writing Beara: Dark Legends. That was one of the reasons it took me over two and a half years to complete the novel. To be honets, I was just completely fascinated by the technical side of it and it amazed me how much you could glean from both an analysis of the text as well as the book itself as a physical object.
It’s a bit of a shame but many of the ancient Irish manuscripts (or the remaining fragments of them) are held in overseas universities – often for very relevant reasons.


But that’s another story.

You can find the link HERE

The Irish Imbas Patreon Page

Last month, after some extended consideration, we decided to open up an Irish Imbas Patreon page. We did this primarily for two reasons:

  • A lot of the content from the Irish Imbas website and our monthly newsletter (Vóg) was being plagiarised and used (usually inappropriately) by individuals for their own commercial purposes
  • My personal dislike of the monopolistic tech companies (Facebook. Amazon, Google etc.) and a desire to separate my work from them

For a while, we’d been considering options to allow a more targeted mechanism for providing increase outputs to those people who support what we do. Given all the above, we’ve decided to trial Patreon for the next year or so.


You can find the IRISH IMBAS PATREON page HERE:
 
There you’ll discover that you can sign up to two different membership levels:

  1. ‘Tuath’ (tribe – level) – $1/month. This is designed for people who are primarily interested in aspects of Irish culture (as well as my writing).
  2. ‘Fénnid’ (fian member – level) – $2/month. This is designed for people who are primarily interested in my writing and the other topics as well

The full Vóg newsletter (10-11 issues/year) will go out to those who’ve signed up for the ‘Tuath’ and the ‘Fennid’ level. This will resemble the newsletter we’ve been putting out over the last 2/3 years, although there will be a slightly stronger return to areas such as Irish mythology which I’ve had to stop writing about (due to the aforementioned plagiarism issues).

Obviously, there’s absolutely no obligation to sign up. This is really only for those who’d like to receive more content/products from us directly

An Irish Imbas Books newsletter will continue to go to those already on the Irish Imbas mailing list although, from this point on, that will focus primarily on books


At a later date, I’ll also be setting up a third membership level (Mythology level) for those who are interested in learning about Irish (and other) mythology.  I’m still in the process of designing this to make sure it works, so it probably won’t be available for a few months at least.

Thanks to those of you who’ve already supported Irish Imbas through Patreon. We’re looking forward to sending some exclusive goodies your way soon.

Here a link to the sign-up form again: Irish Imbas Patreon

Liath Luachra and Red Sonya

I get an email every now and again where people ask if the Liath Luachra character is based on the Red Sonya character. She isn’t, of course, but the development of the Red Sonya character is actually quite interesting in itself.

The original Red Sonya was ‘Red Sonya if Rogatino’, a red-haired woman warrior from the book ‘The Shadow of the Vulture’, which was written by Robert E. Howard (creator of the famed ‘Conan the Barbarian’ books). Published in the 1930s, it was more historical fiction than the pure fantasy of his better known works and set during the Ottoman invasion of 16th century Europe (and more specifically around the first Siege of Vienna). In the book, Red Sonya is actually a lesser character to the main protagonist – Gottfried von Kalmbach – who she helps in the defence of the city.

The Red Sonya character also drew a lot from one of Howard’s other characters called Dark Agnes de Chastillon, a red-haired woman who turned up in a trio of stories set in 16th Century France: ‘Sword Woman’, ‘Blades for France’ and ‘Mistress of Death’ (you can probably get these online but I’ve not read them so I’ve no idea if they’re any good or not).  

Much later (sometime in the 1970s), Marvel Comics picked up some rights to the Howard characters and used them to develop a new sword and sorcery character to “attract the lady fans” to their ‘Conan the Barbarian’ line of comics (which is still running today). The character apparently pulled in some readers, although given the signature (and misogynistic) metallic bikini armour she wears, I suspect they were predominantly male.

A number of books were published over the 1980s and in 1985, a film called Red Sonja was released (again, hoping to ride on the coat-tails of the Arnold Schwarzenegger ‘Conan The Barbarian’ movie released the year before). That movie stared Brigette Nielsen and I can vaguely remember seeing it back in the day. I have the sense that it was ‘not great’ but to be honest, I can’t really recall.

Actually, now that I think about it, I do seem to remember Nielsen being a terrible actor … but I may be doing her an injustice. There are talks of a new film in development with the character and given the #metoo and heightened awareness on diversity, I suspect this will be very different (if it goes ahead).

I first came across the character about ten years ago as the Marvel comic did some lazy cultural theft by bringing a goddess called Scáthach into the story (sigh!). In that version it’s the …. cough … Goddess Scáthach who gives Red Sonya her heightened fighting skills.

Because of my own culture and background, the Liath Luachra character I developed is very much a character of mythological fiction, an done based on a very strong cultural basis. The Red Sonya character however rests deep within the fantasy genre. That’s a place I’ve increasingly avoided over the last few years as so many people don’t seem to understand the difference between ‘fantasy’ and ‘mythology’.

That’s something, of course, I’ll be working on over the next few years.

Irish Fires on Facebook

There’s an old adage that goes something along the lines of ‘we mostly make friends with those who agree with us’. Some of the truth behind that adage is subtly evident in modern social media but it tends to be particularly interesting from an Irish viewpoint.

Observing social media patterns – particularly in the Irish-related Facebook Groups – it quickly becomes evident that there’s a tangible cultural divide between native Irish people and the descendants of Irish people from overseas, an interesting development in ‘Groups’ supposedly built for a common interest. Many of the ‘Irish’ Facebook Groups (sometimes referred to as ‘Oirish’ Groups by native Irish) are established by (and populated by) the descendants of Irish people who have a slightly outdated and ‘rose-tinted spectacles’ view of Ireland and its people. As a result, when native Irish members point out the erroneous beliefs and outright untruths that are posted, online engagement quickly descends into open conflict – helpfully aided by provocative Facebook algorithms that toss petrol on the ‘conversational flames’. Add in the Celtic Recreationists, White Supremacist Celts, Profit-Driven Pagans and others using Facebook Groups to drive their own agenda and you quickly end up with a toxic environment where there’s simply no point in engagement.

One of the reasons behind that disparity of engagement is that although people come to such Groups out of a relatively common interest, they also come with different purposes and, more importantly, bearing very different cultural values, something that has become starkly visible in the most recent ‘Global Trends Survey.’

Irish journalist Fintan O’Toole has an explanatory article on the results of that Survey from an Irish perspective and the huge difference between Irish, American, English (and other) cultural values makes fascinating reading. If you want to understand the war between Oirish and Irish, you can find O’Toole’s article here.

The Metal Men

I’m deep into writing the last 3-4 chapters of Liath Luachra: The Metal Men at the moment – which concludes the adventure commenced in the previous book (Liath Luachra: The Seeking).

At this stage, I’m hoping to have a close to final draft ready by Christmas but the upcoming holiday season means the final draft won’t be ready until the end of January 2022.

This particular book is a turning point in the series in that it brings a number of the plotlines to a close but there are still several others that need another book to tie up (and some, of course, that continue into the subsequent Fionn mac Cumhaill Series. As a result, it’s taking a bit of time to get the balance of plot and theme the way I want them.

I’m looking forward to getting this out there and seeing if I’ve got it right or not.

‘Michael’ Colins is 25 years old!

“Before I’d finished the final draft there were items on TV, and historians commenting… it was almost like I’d been commissioned to make a national monument.”

A very interesting and insightful article on the making of ‘Michael Colins’ … now one of Ireland’s digital national monuments.

It woul have been interesting to see what Kevin Costner’s vision looked like but I’d have to agree … It probably wouldn’t have been as good.

You can find the link here: Michael Collins

Out Drinking with the Witches

This piece (below) was actally the introduction to a Facebook post from six years ago which I’d linked back to the Irish Imbas website. I’ve since made the original article private but it’s probably a timely reminder to revisit the issue given the gradual decline of Wicca and its displacement by a more ‘Oirish’ branded Paganism.

Generic, ‘spiritually-themed’ religions tend to come and go with relative frequency. Often, this is because the commercial drivers behind them eventually reveal the lack of cultural authenticity and the lack the ‘resonance’ or ‘staying power’ of larger /mainstream religions (i.e. which you can probably inteprete as having been introduced with the force of a government or other power base behind them).

I’ll probably do a post on that soon through Patreon and the website.


Years ago, while waiting to be served at a bar in Glandore, I met a pair of witches over on holiday from England. After they told me that, they both kind of stood there waiting, clearly expecting a bit more of a reaction.

What they couldn’t have known, of course, was that over the years in West Cork, we’ve seen waves of foreign new-agers, alternative life-stylers, hippies and artists come and go, all with different belief systems and claims. Having someone tell me they were a witch wasn’t really that shocking. Once, someone in Bellydehobb insisted he was a robot. Another person I went fishing with was convinced he was half-rock. It gets a bit weird down there sometimes.

When mythology and history clash with fantasy.

One of the problems with writing adventures set in 1st and 2nd century Ireland is that they sit way outside the usual literary genres. Very much in the ‘sword’ (rather than in the ‘sorcery’) of ‘sword and sorcery’, when you mix in Irish mythology they almost automatically get assigned to the ‘fantasy’ classification.

Fantasy is an area that sits uncomfortably with Irish people who know their history and culture, as mythology is always culturally based (not fantasy based).

Designing covers for these books therefore becomes even more complicated as you have to ensure the cultural integrity while also balancing expectations of people who expect them to fall into the fantasy realm. These are some of my own attempts to do so, to date.

What Irish People want for ‘Samhain Christmas’

‘With ‘Sam Hayne’ (that legendary Country & Western singer) almost on us again, it’s time when Irish people everywhere must gird their loins for the annual discharge of ‘Oirish Culture’ from Facebook.

This year, out of curiosity, we asked other Irish people what they’d like to see for ‘Samhain Christmas’ and collected a bit less than ninety replies. Fortunately, we’ve managed to consolidate them – very generically – to the eight ‘Samhain Christmas’ wishes below.

So suck in deep, firm those tummy muscles, cross those legs, and … Ádh mór leat, a Sheamais!


What Irish people want for ‘Samhain Christmas’

1) Formally legislate the removal of ‘Happy Samhain’ from the internet (a greeting that makes no sense from either a cultural or language perspective – it’s like being told to “have a Happy Colonisation Day!”)

2) Remove all photos of redhaired ‘Oirish’ children from Oirish Facebook Groups (they’re almost invariably Dutch or Belgian kids)

3) End online ‘Oirish’ Pagan Spirituality (apparently ‘Wicca’/’Celtic Reconstructionist’ wasn’t a good commercial model, hence the name change – still hawking Irish culture for branding purposes, though)

4) Impose a ‘Culturally Offensive Use’ fee on all North American productions of twee Oirish movies (‘Wild Irish Thyme’, not looking at you!)

5) Transport ‘Nazi Celts’ to their own planet (a bizarre cosplaying subgroup of the ‘Oirish White Supremacists’ – usually American – they insist on telling everyone that they’re Celts … despite – apparently – not seeming to know what a ‘Celt’ is).

6) Force ‘Celtic Reconstructionists’ to rewatch ‘Darby O’Gill and the Little People’ three hundred times. No, not a bunch of ‘born-again-Celt’ building professionals, but a group of hobbyists who cherry-pick specific elements of Irish culture as padding for their own fantasy lifestyle. (We’ll take the ‘nice’ parts from your culture and … Eh? What do you mean Famine? Northern Ireland? 80s’ recession? Unemployment? The Sultans of Ping? Bono? … Er, no thanks. We don’t want THAT part of your culture!)

7) Make non-Irish people who use Gaelic forms of their names for branding purposes, introduce themselves as Gaeilge (Dia dhaoibh a chairde! Is mise, Dilín O’Deamhas!).

8) Legislate for people who insist they’re the scions of Irish kings to call their first child, ‘Prince

Please feel free to add your own suggestions for ‘Samhain Christmas’! Given the lack of respect shown by those borrowing our culture, it feels like time to take it back.

Back on ‘The Island’

Walking home on ‘The Island’ three (maybe four?) years ago. I’d gone up to visit the Martello Tower and it was such a beautiful day I decided to walk back to the village.

The place hadn’t changed that much since I’d last been there although the Government has shut off access to the old submarine pens with a half-hearted, delapidated wire fence. The houses were all in a far better state than I remember as a kid. ‘Back inthe day, the Island’ used to suffer some pretty serious poverty and the houses were in far worse nick.

As were the cars.

I remember once seeing an oul fella parking his battered old Volkswagon on a hill in the village. The car was in such a bad state, he had to get a kid to jump out and drop a cement block in front of the tyre to stop it rolling away.

Some overseas individuals with Irish heritage seem to yearn for this ‘simpler’ time. Given the complexity inherent in the world today (plus the sheer effort necessary to operate effectively in society), I can understand that … to a degree but there are some things, none of us in Ireland want to go back to.

Exploirng the Irish Otherworld

Four years ago, I got to visit my favourite of the four main entrances to the Irish Otherworld. Generally speaking, these places tend to be quite difficult to get to (for obvious reasons) and have important topographical features that make them stand out from the rest of the terrain.

Practical tip: If you visit the Otherworld, you should always bring a torch!