The third in our series of Celtic Mythology Collections – the Irish Imbas: Celtic Mythology Collection 2018 – is now available in hard copy through Amazon/Createspace HERE.
The digital version of the book is currently available for pre-order from Amazon HERE and will be formally released on 1 JUNE 2018.
This series, which we first started to publish three years ago, was our first attempt at distributing accurate cultural information on what’s generally referred to as ‘Celtic Mythology‘.
As well as a new introductory essay on the misinterpretation of Irish Mythology in ‘Commercial Fantasy’, this particular collection contains fours stories:
- ‘Moireach’ by Donna Rutherford, which concerns the adventures of a young girl who’s convinced she’s a selkie (this is truly a funny and quite touching story).
- ‘Homecoming’ by Damien J. Howard (also concerning a little girl ‘taken’ as a changeling); and
- ‘The Shadow of the Crow’ by Jerry Vandal – the story of an avian intermediary between this world and the Otherworld.
The collection also includes one of my own short stories which concerns the infamous tale of of Labhraidh Loingseach – the fascinating individual on the cover.
Although this particular version is priced at 99c, the first two collections in the series remain free in digital form.
An Díthreabh Uaigneach
You can tell it’s been a busy first quarter when you’re already wishing it was the Christmas holidays!
In terms of writing and other creative work, the last four months have been a bit of a strain but we’re approaching the end of a creative cycle. For at least two months now, I’ve barely been visible on social media and, here on the blog, there’s obviously been a notable absence.
Two of the reasons for that will become apparent shortly with the release of two new books (but I’ll post on those soon). With those projects coming to a close however, I’m now looking at what other writing projects we can start this year. We do have two ongoing projects, however I’m also keen to start another book and this is where – if you’re interested – you get a chance to yell out if there’s anything you’d prefer to see. The options are as follows:
- Fionn 4: The Salmon of Secret Knowledge
- Liath Luachra 3: The Seeking
- Beara 2: Cry of the Banshee
If you drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org with your preference, that would be great. If you don’t feel like sending an in-depth missive with a critique of my writing style, dress sense or poor life-choices, just stick your preference in the title space. Naturally, I’ll go with the book that gets the highest number of votes. I’ve already pout this out on our monthly newsletter Vóg and so far the two favourites are Fionn 4 and Beara 2 – both of which are neck and neck.
Sometimes, I could kick myself for not finishing one series before starting another but I guess that’s just the way of it. From a creative perspective, I tend to grow weary of a project as I reach the conclusion and I’m usually keen to start something different. Hence, the jumping from one series to another.
In terms of future projects I’m keen to start, these are highest on the list (although I know I’ll have one or two ‘revelations’ over the next year which I’ll – no doubt – want to follow up on as well).
- Dún: This is a series of three books based around the events leading up to a famous battle way back in Ireland’s dim past. Although there are no historical records for the battle, the story itself is deeply ingrained in local folklore and has a lot of surrounding placenames associated with it. These books would be about 60,00-70,000 words each, so shorter than my usual but at least I’d deliver a finished series in one hit.
- Máire: A stand-alone novel based on the adventures of an Irish Olympic athlete. This is probably more sci-fi than anything else I’ve done (only because it’s set in the future – the science itself is actually very light) and it’s very much a character-driven story. If it ends up a goer, I might look at a trilogy.
In terms of non-fiction projects:
- Field Guide to Irish Mythology
In any case, we’re looking forward to your feedback.
As most people are no doubt aware, the 17th of March has something of a symbolic significance for us here at Irish Imbas (hint-hint: It’s Saint Patrick’s Day!)
Given that we’re going to be uncontactable (and, most likely, incomprehensible) over the next 24-36 hours or so, we figured it might be a good time to have a sale. And to be honest, if you don’t have a sale of Irish-themed books on Saint Patrick’s Day, when are you going to have it?
Most of the books listed on this site(HERE) therefore are either at half-price, substantially reduced (Fionn: Defence of Ráth Bládhma) or free (The Celtic Collection books). I hope you find something you like.
Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig ort!!
About twenty years ago when people first started wishing me a ‘Happy Saint Paddy’s Day’, I felt a bit left-footed and unsure how to respond. Back then, most Irish people didn’t really use that expression as Saint Patrick’s Day wasn’t really a celebration you ‘wished happiness’ to someone for and, in English, the term sounded wrong and clunky. When you look at the Irish form of celebrating the event you can really see why.
Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig ort.
Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig ort (literally “the Blessings of St Patrick’s Day on you”) is very much an Irish/Gaelic way of thinking. When you think in Irish, emotions are generally ‘on’ you so when you offer blessings, you offer then ‘on’ someone (in the same way you’d wish happiness on them). Emotions in an English sense of speaking is generally more static or more a state of being (‘I’m happy, I’m sad’ instead of ‘Happiness is on me, sadness is on me,’ etc.)
The first time I was wished a happy St Paddy’s, I’d just emigrated from Ireland. In my own head the construct felt wrong. At the same time, because I’m fluent in English and exposed to media and influence from English-speaking countries, I also understood what was meant. It was just a bit … odd. I experienced the same thing many times over the following years but it was really only a few years ago that I finally understood what was happening out of sight and at a far deeper, cultural level.
But first some context:
For a lot of people growing up in Ireland in the seventies and eighties, St Patrick’s Day was much more of a religious festival, sober and a bit up-tight, dominated by an extended St Paddy’s Day Mass and alleviated only by the prospect of a parade (a sea of black umbrellas, sodden kids up on a truck with paper maché castles that were melting in the rain!). Occasionally, on television, we’d see stories about giant parades in the States where some cities made the rivers run green for the day and the parades themselves ran like giant Hollywood productions. In our eyes, they seemed oddly surreal, disconnected from what we were living in Ireland and, in some ways, weirdly plastic.
Up to the early 1990s, the main ‘foreign’ influence on Irish culture (in terms of language, entertainment, employment options, sales markets, etc.) was undoubtably Great Britain, although this was tempered to a degree due to the animosity between both countries over that period. With improved international transportation, increased international sales of media entertainment (and later, the internet and social media) other diverse influences and ways of thinking came to the fore. From that point on, you could say that Irish culture and society started to become more influenced by American influence (particularly television and other media, etc.) to the point where today, some Irish people are more familiar with certain aspects of American life than their own.
Other influencers, were the first, second, third (etc.) descendants of Irish people living overseas who, on days of significance (like St Patrick’s day) were understandably keen to engage with the culture/country they felt affiliated to. Some of them, keener to embrace Irish culture than others, took a step further and make an effort to engage in the Irish language. That’s why online today you’ll find a lot of people who use the following version of the blessing/greeting:
Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Duit!
Literally, of course, this means ‘Happy St Patrick’s Day to you’, although the Irish/Gaelic cultural intent /context has been soundly replaced by an English/American cultural context (it’s simply an extension of the ‘Happy Birthday’, Happy Mother’s Day, Happy Christmas structure). It’s a very little thing but it does demonstrate how Irish/Gaelic cultural concepts – the things that make us different and unique in the world – are slowly being eroded.
To be fair, it’s also important to recognise that no culture is static. All cultures evolve as they’re exposed to outside influences and Irish culture is no exception. No-one wants to be part of a culture that doesn’t adapt with the times because such cultures risk being erased by other, more dominant, cultures. Ireland certainly was in that situation for a very long time but, fortunately, seems to have taken on new confidence over the last few decades.
The downside of that ‘non-static’ argument of course, is that if one culture dominates, then that removes any ability for diversity and, longer term, innovation. The Blue Mink’s misguided “Great Big Melting Pot” would have essentially removed any form of individual ethnic or cultural variety, reduced the world to a uniform and very bland way of thinking and living.
If you’d like to ‘stick it to the man’ and make a small gesture for genuine Irish/ Gaelic concepts, then this St Paddy’s why not raise your glass and bless everyone there with a heartfelt Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig ort! instead.
[Note: In celebration of the day that’s in it, Irish Imbas is having the usual St Paddy’s Day sale on 17th March (Saturday). If you’re interested just check out the books page.
It’s been a tough few months with challenging workloads on all fronts but fortunately I’ve had the chance to work with some fascinating and talented people this year. As a result, I’m hoping this year’s output is going to be one of our most substantial and best to date.
The second book to appear this year will be the next LIATH LUACHRA adventure (THE SWALLOWED) which should be out sometime in the next 3 months. This follows the experiences of the 2nd century Irish woman warrior Liath Luachra (the future guardian to Irish mythological hero Fionn mac Cumhaill) and her fian (war party) ‘The Friendly Ones’.
The draft blurb outlining the story currently reads as follows:
Ireland: Second century.
The Lonely Lands: Ireland’s shadowy centre, a desolate region of dense forest and swamp where unwary travellers are swallowed up … to disappear forever.
Caught up in a tribal conflict when their latest mission goes sour, the woman warrior Liath Luachra and war party “The Friendly Ones” find themselves coerced into a new undertaking:
* Lead a mismatched group of warriors into the Lonely Lands.
* Find ‘The Swallowed’.
But intra-tribal rivalry is never what it seems, old enemies bear fresh grudges and predators move in the dark heart of the forest …
Awaiting their moment to feed.
PRAISE FOR THE LIATH LUACHRA SERIES
“The thinking woman’s warrior!”
“This is an Ancient Ireland that is entrancing and savage, much like Liath Luachra herself.”
“Liath Luachra is an engaging protagonist – deliciously sensual, yet calculatingly violent when the cause demands it. Never a dull moment, difficult to put down.”
“You don’t often come across such a compelling hero(ine), written with such depth and understanding.”
“She’s intriguing – fierce and capable of killing…but loyal and gentle too at times. I love the picture painted of old Ireland and the wildness of it – and the occasional use of the Irish language adds another dimension to the story – a kind of authenticity. I’m looking forward to reading more.” (less)
Further details on our expected output this year should appear in the next edition of Vóg (our monthly newsletter). You can find a copy of last month’s edition here: Vóg
Proud of Modernity is a new novel by Irish author Brian O’Sullivan. Although a mind-shattering and life-altering novel (in a good way!), the cover is very bad. Laughably bad.
So let’s have some fun with it. Tell us what you think of it in the poll below by suggesting some new responses and we’ll pick ten random entries to win a signed copy of the hardcover. We’ll pick the ten winners on March the 1st (2070). Everyone’s welcome to play. Just cast your vote and post a comment.
Thanks to Terry Goodkind for this awesome idea!!
This cover is good enough to:
- make me stop drinking for ever
- make me cut my hand off to free myself and flee
- makes a pig’s arse look oddly attractive
- makes me feel suddenly kinda sexist
[Note: For those who are a bit slow on the uptake, this is a pastiche of the recent scandal wrt Terry Goodkinnd’s cover for a book called Shroud of Eternity(?), Modernity … something like that].
Well, one bottle of Sauvignon down, twenty-five minutes of intense discussion and this must have been one of the fastest judging sessions I’ve ever partaken in for the Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition.
To be fair, we have learned a lesson or two from the previous competitions. For last year’s session we had about ten short stories and two bottles of wine (which, in truth, probably didn’t help to focus the discussion). We also had the additional dynamic in that we changed the voting system to reduce my input so the story I had expected to win didn’t (although it was in the top three) and one I’d assumed would score highly didn’t even make it into the final compilation. That took over an an hour and a half of painstaking argument before we finally agreed on the competition winners and the awarding of prizes. After the seriousness of the hangover I had the next morning, I knew we had to make it simpler and reduce the shortlist to a more manageable number the next time around.
This year therefore, we started with a shortlist of six stories. Interestingly, even before we had the wine bottle open, the initial discussion had already reduced the shortlist to three stories (on which the judges were unanimous). The remaining twenty minutes of discussion were really limited to the allocation of the prizes.
But enough about us and our alcoholic, self-indulgent ramblings. Here are the stories shortlisted for the Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition 2017.
- Homecoming by Damien J. Howard
- Moireach by Donna Rutherford
- The Ancient Ash by Margaret McCarthy
- The Ford of The Fork by Will O’Siorain
- The Shadow of the Crow by Jerry W. Vandal
- The Quest of Oscar and Plor na mBan by Aoife Osborne
And without further ado, here are the three winners in descending order
$500 and story published in Irish Imbas Celtic Mythology Collection
‘Moireach’ by Donna Rutherford
$250 and story published in Irish Imbas Celtic Mythology Collection
‘Homecoming’ by Damien J. Howard
$100 and story published in Irish Imbas Celtic Mythology Collection
‘The Shadow of the Crow’ by Jerry W. Vandal
Congratulations to the winners who we’ll be very pleased to see appear in the final Irish Imbas: Celtic Mythology Collection 2018. Commiserations also to Margaret McCarthy, Will O’Siorain and Aoife Osborne who despite some good storytelling, unfortunately missed out on this occasion.
So What Happens Next?
The winning authors should receive payment over the next seven days.
The Irish Imbas: Celtic Mythology Collection 2018 should be released towards the end of April 2018. We’ll be posting on the website and elsewhere when this occurs.
Next year, there will be some significant (very significant) changes to the way we run the competition in order to make it more inclusive and more closely aligned with our own objective for it. But we’ll tell you all about that when it’s closer to the time.
Until then, our congratulations once again to the winning authors and our thanks to those of you who took the time to enter or follow the competition.
I learned this morning that Dermot Morgan (the Irish actor who played Father Ted) died twenty years ago today.
Back in the late 90’s I used to let my young kids watch Father Ted with me as a way to familiarise them with Irish humour, something that was a bit of a challenge as we’d moved to the other side of the world from Ireland and the possibilities of the internet were still in their infancy. To this day, they still make quips like “Careful now, Dad!”, “Down with that sort of thing” (usually when they dislike my cooking!) or “That would be an ecumenical matter” (when they’re losing an argument).
As a result, even twenty years later, like a lot of Irish people I still have a huge affection for Father Ted.
Suaimhneas síoraí duit, a Dermot Morgan. Somehow it’d seem a bit hypocritical to use the usual “Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam” (that you soul stands on Gd’s right side – the old Irish expression for ‘rest in peace’).
‘maith agat, Father Ted!
[Pic: Lagertha, from the television series: Vikings – often misrepresented as a ‘Celtic’ or ‘Oirish’ woman warrior online]
There’s a lot of fantasy out there when it comes to women warriors, particularly where it relates back to those in the Irish or “Celtic” realm. To be fair, the subject of women warriors is hardly a new one. Since the development of literature itself, writers (usually male) and readers have been enamored by tales of fighting women (particularly Herodotus with his notes on the inaccurately-named Amazons), probably because they’re such a rarity in ancient warfare, an area generally dominated by men.
The role of women in ancient warfare certainly differed between different cultures but in ancient Irish, Scottish, Welsh and Manx societies – a far more physical society than today – warfare was generally left to the men. That’s not to say that women didn’t fight, of course. The histories of these countries are full of examples of women fighting to defend themselves, fighting to protect the ones they love, or fighting each other. In terms of recognised warrior status warrior in actual warfare context however, this would have been a rarity indeed.
When it comes to women warriors in the ancient Irish mythological context (i.e. not historical), we certainly seem to have more references in the surviving literature than other contemporary societies of the same period. Some people mistakenly use this fact to argue that female fighters were common in early Irish society and that it was a far more ‘gender equal’ society but that’s a pretty big leap to make.
As an Irish person I’d LOVE to boast that ancient Ireland was the role model for gender equality but I think it’d be pretty dishonest of me if I did. At their most basic level, people don’t tend to change too much. Human societies have always been based around the established holders of power and, in ancient Ireland, most of that power was held by men.
Whatever you believe, the mythological tales still have to be treated with caution and never treated literally. The writers/recorders of that time were not above a bit of creative licence or prejudice and people often forget that just because something was written a long time ago, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true.
The Pattern of Women Warriors in Irish Mythology
If we look at Irish mythology then, the most well-known women warriors referred to in the literature tend to include:
- Scáthach– a woman warrior who appears in the Ulster Cycle who was based in modern-day Scotland. She instructs the hero Cú Chulainn in a number of martial feats and (depending on the version) when he catches her with her guard down, is forced to take him as a lover
- Aífe– a rival of Scáthach who Cú Chulainn forces to lie with him at swordpoint and who subsequently bears him a son
- Neasa (Ness)– a woman warrior forced into marriage at swordpoint by the warrior/druid Cathbad and future mother of the famous Conchobhar mac Nessa
- Liath Luachra – a guardian of the young Fionn mac Cumhaill, briefly mentioned in the Fenian Cycle
The surviving literature is very limited when it comes to these characters but with the first three, there’s an overpowering impression that the character of the powerful woman warrior was created specifically to highlight the sexual domination and military prowess of the male ‘hero’ who subsequently overpowers her (a pattern also found with other women warrior characters in mythology).
The final figure (Liath Luachra) is probably the only one that doesn’t follow this pattern. This is predominantly because as a guardian to the much younger hero (Fionn mac Cumhaill), any relationship between them is desexualised.
Other figures in Irish Mythology cited as Women Warriors
Other female figures from Irish mythology occasionally offered up as examples of women warriors include:
- Meadhbh (also spelt Medb, Maeve etc.) – Queen of Connacht in the Táin (The Cattle Raid of Cooley)
- The Morríghan (or Mór-ríoghain)
Again, if you look at either of these in any detail, you’ll immediately find that neither actually make the cut. All of the literary and archaeological evidence to date indicates that these figures were personifications of female deities as opposed to warrior women. Articles or literary works suggesting that they were warriors usually indicates that the authors haven’t even done the most basic of homework or they’re pushing an argument driven more by wish fulfilment than fact.
Irish Women Warriors in Literature
For a long time, Irish women warriors pretty much lingered as an ‘interesting’ footnote in the republications of old academic works on Irish mythology. Over the last thirty to forty years however, representation of women warriors has become far more prevalent in commercial fiction, particularly in the fantasy genre where mythological characters occasionally end up “borrowed” for contemporary stories.
The final products are usually fine from a basic entertainment perspective even if, from a cultural perspective, things can get a little … ‘iffy’, when creators miss the underlying cultural context. Unfortunately, with Irish warrior women, this can particularly result in works that are not only overly romanticised but which ignore some of the strong negative gender undercurrents associated with the characters, something of which the authors often seem – disturbingly – unaware.
Note: This is an updated version of an older article published on this website and later published on the Fantasy Hive.
Apparently, I’m getting a bit better with this whole writing malarkey. Usually, my co-director/partner rolls her eyes when she gets asked to do the initial pre-final draft peer review. Today, she actually demanded the next chapter of LIATH LUACHRA: THE SWALLOWED,
Honestly! That is a good thing.
In summary, forty submissions were received for the Irish Imbas: Celtic Mythology Short Story competition this year and the standard was far more diverse in terms of submission quality than for any of the previous competitions. As always, some submissions were of very high quality but quite a number this year really weren’t at a level quite ready for publication in that they needed significant review and editing. To be fair, this reflects the experience of the writers – some who are clearly at an early stage of their writing career. With some additional polish, there are some genuine gems there.
Again, this year, despite the changes to our criteria, we also received a number of what I’d call ‘ghost stories’ or ‘fantasy stories’ – stories that were actually very good but which related to issues and topics we don’t really deal with. That situation very much reflects one of the biggest problems Irish Imbas faces in trying to achieve its goals – the confusion of fantasy and mythology.
Most people have been raised with a kind of ‘Disneyfied’ understanding of what mythology’ is all about and commercial interests have been fostering that for the fantasy market for several decades. As a result, this isn’t a surprise but again we’ll have to change how we do things in the future to make that even clearer.
But enough of that. Here’s the short-list for the Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition 2017.
- Homecoming by Damien J. Howard
- Moireach by Donna Rutherford
- The Ancient Ash by Margaret McCarthy
- The Ford of The Fork by Will O’Siorain
- The Shadow of the Crow by Jerry W. Vandal
- The Quest of Oscar and Plor na mBan by Aoife Osborne
So What Happens Next?
Those authors who made the short-list will be looked at again for minor editing where needed before they’re sent onto the judges for final consideration. Four judges will then consider them (where I’ll have one vote out of the four). Last year, this had quite a big impact on the final outcome in that only three of the five stories I’d thought were going to be in the final publication actually made the final cut.
The winning authors and those being published in the final Celtic Mythology Collection will be announced around the beginning of March 2018.
Congratulations to all those who made the list and the best of luck. I’d also like to thank those of you who made the effort to submit but who didn’t make the shortlist. I can’t contact you all individually but several of you have excellent stories that I believe another publisher would snap up.
If you get over to Ireland’s west coast (or you’re already there!) you might want to check out some of the public art projects in Mayo. One of these – Tír Sáile – was Ireland’s largest public arts trail with fourteen separate sculptural emplacements set in specific sites along the north mayo coast. Originally conceived and implemented in in 1993 to coincide with the formal opening of the Céide Fields visitors’ centre (and the associated Mayo 5000 celebrations), the art trail starts in Killala and follows the coastal route around through Ballycastle, Belderrig and down to An Fód Dubh at the end of the Belmullet peninsula. Although there were originally 14 site-specific art installations, only eleven survive today (a number were decommissioned due to lack of maintenance).
Tír Sáile is actually a conceptually interesting project in that it involved the alignment of large structural artworks with some pretty rugged landscape and dramatic natural backdrops with the objective of producing sculptures that “added to rather than detracted from, their settings”. As part of this, one of the fundamental requirements was that only natural materials could be used to ensure the structure in sympathy with their surroundings.
Another aspect of the project was envisioning the utilisation of the old Irish tradition of meitheal where people in rural communities worked together with neighbours to bring in the hay or help out with some other urgent crop. Generally speaking, each farmer/property owner person would help out their neighbour in the knowledge that when they too needed help, that assistance would be reciprocated. This allowed communities to act as a team, build strong relationships and allow benefit to be shared for everyone.
Needless to say, as with all art projects Tír Sáile’s not all about art (Sheesh, really!). Part of the rationale for Tír Sáile (and no doubt part of the reason they managed to get so much public funding) was the justification that the structures and associated marketing would help draw people to that part of Ireland for tourism and local business development reasons. As usual however, when you mix two such different objectives, the results can be very hit and miss.
The success of the project will very much depend on a number of perspectives. From a commercial perspective (in terms of tourism and benefit to local businesses), it’s hard to know if the project was a success. The project was mixed (and overshadowed by) the success of Céide fields and, of course, Irish tourism marketing campaigns like the ‘Wild Atlantic Way’. No doubt there has been some financial evaluation of the project although with local government organisations, public art projects often tend to be ‘closed shop’ affairs, controlled by a certain number of people with limited accountability and no meaningful consultation. In that respect, the ongoing planning corruption investigation carried out by the Irish Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPOC) doesn’t really inspire confidence.
From a personal perspective, the success of the various artistic installations will very much depend on personal taste. Some people loathe the installations, some people love them. Most people don’t actually seem to know about them (of the ten people I asked, maybe one had heard of them). From those structures I’ve seen (about five), I personally felt that some of the artworks worked whereas others really didn’t and, in this regard, it wasn’t really helped by the absence of any interpretive material (although given that these works are based one persons’s personal vision – not the public’s – I’m not sure how much this would help either).
Tonnta na mblianta was visually … meh. Tearmon na Gaoithe, set on a dramatic headland on Killala Bay, ironically seemed to have the aim of constricting that spectacular view to a single frame (which seems a bit daft). Other structures meanwhile like Court Henge seemed just seemed like a bad decision. The concept behind it (making a structure that looked like a court cairn) was apt but placing in its current location (by the Ballycastle Cottages) just seemed stupid.
Tonnta na mblianta – Meh!
Others will have a completely different view and that’s fine.
Another example of public art (again in north Mayo) is ‘The Crossing’ (a project funded by Mayo County Council, Fáilte Ireland and other stakeholders) which is a ráth-like structure around the blowhole at Dún Briste (Downpatrick Head).
I have to confess, this work really appealed to me and I liked the way it had been incorporated into the landscape but I did wonder why more of the rich local folklore hadn’t been incorporated. This became a bit clearer when I searched online and found the artist wasn’t a local at all but an American artist (Travis Price) associated with the Catholic University of America. His rationale behind the installation was explained as follows:
‘The Crossing evokes the struggle and the sublime slipstream between the mystical and the material, between cultural history and the eternal sacred.’
Have to admit my eyes glazed over there at ‘sublime slipstream’.
On a personal level, I’d hoped we’d grown out of that florid, wince-inducing language (‘mystical’, ‘spiritual’ etc) that foreigners tend to ascribe to Ireland and the Irish. It’s a bit sad to see local authorities in Mayo encouraging it on publicly-funded monuments.
Clearly, they weren’t using the meitheal approach!
It’s always fun to look through the titles of submissions for the Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition and this year has been no exception. Since we first started the competition (back in the Dark Ages of 2015), I’ve got into a routine of running through the title list without the author names attached just to see the kind of reaction the titles trigger.
A story title can often be extremely evocative but their interpretation, of course, is usually linked to the personal experience and background or the person reading them. As a result, what I’d read into a title would be very different to what another person would.
Despite the old saying, I’ve learned that these days you actually can judge a book by its cover – at least in terms of genre (except in those cases where you have an inept publisher). That doesn’t work with a story/book title, though. The gold standard for titles is to have something that’s evocative but which also gives you an accurate expectation of what you’re about to read. That’s quite a difficult skill to master.
These are the title that took my fancy from this year’s batch and the reasons why.
- … Loves company – I thought this was a clever play on the expression ‘Misery loves Company’ and (I’m assuming) transforms it into something else entirely.
- A Tune and a Magic Bicycle – Juxtaposition in a title always tends to make that title stronger, particularly where you mix the esoteric with the banal. I like this one
- Away with the Fairies – Again a possible double meaning on the old expression used for people with dementia.
- Fionn and the Banshee – Given my own special interest in the Fenian Cycle, this was always going to catch my eye. I’m intrigued to see how the author merges two such different cultural concepts.
- Jimmy Macpherson’s Dream – On seeing this title I immediately thought of James MacPherson – a Scottish outlaw made famous by poet Robbie Burns. I have no idea if there’s a link or not.
- Moireach – Interesting title. The word looks Irish in structure but it’s not one (a name?) I’m familiar with. Usually I run off to research the word when confronted by something like this but of course I won’t be doing this yet as I don’t want to spoil the story.
- The Halloween Footballers – For some reason this just tickles me. I’m not quite sure why.
- The Three Faces of Me – Again, I’ve imposed my own interpretation on this title based on my personal experience and background and have therefore assumed this has something to do with the triad system of Celtic/Gaelic belief. It’ll be interesting to see how completely wrong or right I was.
This year we ended up with a sharp decline in submissions compared to last year (from over seventy to thirty-five in this year’s slot). I’m quite happy with this result as it means the additional clarification on criteria and entry requirements is working. Last year, we received at least 20 submissions which had absolutely nothing to do with mythology (some ghost stories, some stories vaguely related to Ireland and so on) despite the guidelines. We also received a large number of specific fantasy stories set in Ireland from authors that also seemed to have missed what we’re trying to do. It’s a bit distressing to receive these as we know people have made the effort of paying the $7 entry fee and yet they’re so completely off the mark, they can’t progress to the shortlist. This is particularly the case when you come across stories that are actually of excellent quality!
In any case, the 2017 submissions are currently undergoing an initial review to assess how many go through to the short-list. The results will be posted by the end of the month.
Thanks to all of you who’ve taken the time to submit.
PS: A note of apology is necessary for the delay in getting this post up. We’ve had a bit of a disastrous holiday period with yours truly managing to get himself baldy injured in a running accident and we’ve also suffered two separate IT malfunctions. Because of our regular back–up processes we haven’t lost any data but trying to find IT support to reboot our systems over the Christmas holidays (in New Zealand) has meant we’re about two weeks behind schedule. We should be back on track in the next few days.
Back in the eighties in Ireland there was a famous ad going around from the Irish Development Authority (IDA), a government agency responsible for developing enterprise and attracting foreign investment. A component of one of their marketing campaigns, it consisted of a series of photos taken around some of our more famous prehistoric monuments (stone circles, passage graves, dolmens and so on). On this occasion though, those monuments were occupied by serious-looking Irish corporate types, standing around in business suits and looking about as comfortable as a funeral attendee in a clown costume.
The inference was pretty obvious of course. We’re the IDA! We are stable and dependable – just like the 2500+ year old prehistoric structures standing there in the background.
Needless to say, the IDA have long since been restructured and rebranded as ‘IDA Ireland’ which puts some of that arrogant hubris in perspective.
The IDA weren’t the only people drawn to the monoliths that dot the countryside, however. People have been visiting these monuments out of curiosity for centuries and to get a sense of perspective it’s good to remember that when the Celts first arrived in Ireland (sometime around 400-500 B.C.), those monoliths had already been standing for over a thousand years. It’s really no wonder the Celts were in such awe of them, an aspect I try to get across in my books (particularly the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series and the Liath Luachra Series).
Nowadays, Ireland makes a small fortune from cultural tourism associated with such sites, although such blatant commercial use would certainly have been frowned on until very recently. Up until the late-sixties or so, dolmens and standing stones were still very much localised features, respected and – in some cases – still feared due to the attribution of curses, hauntings and spirits from local folklore.
With the seventies and early eighties however, much of that reverence began to fade and in some cases a less … venerable approach to the monuments began to occur. Occasional complaints began to be heard about people (those feckin hippies!) dancing naked around some of the less-visited (but just as significant) monuments. Movies or television programmes would also throw up the old trope of “comely maidens dancing around a stone monument”. [Outlander anyone?’]
‘Dolmen Dancing’ was a throwaway term that I invented to reflect the societal change taking place over our generation with respect to the increased understanding of native history and the physical structures on our landscape associated with that. In a more practical sense of course, it also described what was actually happening as people got up front and personal with the monuments without fear of breaking any taboo. In fact, in some cases breaking taboos was actually the point.
My own, personal experience of Dolmen Dancing was up at the Poulnabrone Dolmen in Country Clare when I was part of a student group headed to Galway in a minibus for a sailing weekend. We ended up taking a slight detour to go and see the dolmen, arriving sometime in the early evening before it got too dark.
Given that we ‘d been drinking since noon, that we were in an isolated location without supervision and confronted by a famously revered monument … well, I’ll leave the rest up to your imagination. In my defence however, I will say however, that I am (of course) a fantastic dancer. No -one can compare after I’ve had a few scoops and my throwing of shapes on the dance floors of Cork is a matter of official record. I’m only sorry that my recall of the events at Poulnabrone is so hazy.
For years after the Domen Dancing incident, there were rumors floating around of compromising photos taken that day, stories in jest that invariably emerged after a fresh session of drinking. To be honest, no-one really believed them. Back in the late eighties, there weren’t any mobile phones – if they were, we didn’t have them. Cameras were also rare enough as they still took film and they were a pain to use after 3-4 pints. I did actually see three photos from that day but they weren’t exactly National Geographic material as the individual who took them had been just as steamed as the rest of us. One of the three he managed to take consisted of a close-up of his own foot (still wearing his boot), one was a picture of a section of rock that could have been anywhere in the country and the last was just a total blur. Needless to say, I wasn’t overly concerned.
Imagine my surprise earlier this year therefore, when I was browsing through a second-hand shop and came across a ripped magazine with the following images:
For a moment, I swear to God, my heart actually stopped. Even the haziness of the images seemed to fit my recollection of that particular day. I rummaged frantically through those ripped pages and it was only when I saw the photos had been taken by Robert Merrill (who?) that it finally dawned on me.
I wasn’t in them.
A bit more rummaging finally revealed the magazine’s cover.
So what the hell was the Arts in Ireland?
Who were the people dancing around Poulnabrone?
It took a bit of research work to find out what exactly was going on and it was only when I got home in September that I learned the Arts in Ireland magazine was a now defunct publication. Run in the seventies, it had been published by Charles Merill (the photographer) an American described online as a “self-made millionaire” and an “artist, gay activist and iconoclast”.
When living in Ireland, Charles had traveled to Poulonabrone in 73/74 and taken these photos (God knows with who but at least it wasn’t me!) and subsequently included them with a short written piece in a literary supplement of the 4th edition of The Arts in Ireland.
I read the associated piece by Merrill and, to be honest, it was quite surreal and typical of the romanticised spiritual tosh often written about Ireland during the 70s/80s by people from overseas. Essentially, it involves a story where he sees Isadora Duncan (an American dancer most famous for dying when her scarf got entangled in the wheel of a car – honestly, you couldn’t make this stuff up!) at Poulnabrone. Isadora talks a stream of nonsense about her Irish background (er….) and leaves Merill a message that “Ireland could become a cultural center in the world in the next few years.”
So there you go. All a bit surreal but the mystery was solved and, more importantly, my ass was – literally – out of the picture.
To be honest, I am a bit miffed by the discovery. Back in the late eighties, I’m sure I must have been all gung-ho and imagined I was doing something outrageously original. Now, of course, its clear someone else had already done it a decade earlier (and probably many others before that).
Either way, you’ll also be delighted to learn that the National Monuments Service have taken past intrusions of Poulnabrone seriously and have since installed a high-tech security perimeter around it. Here’s a picture of me studying it carefully with the son last year, while reliving old glory days! After careful assessment, I came to the conclusion that there was no way I could possibly have overcome such an obstacle.
Well done, the NMS!
Next time you visit Poulnabrone I hope you think of me and Charles Merrill!
Congratulations and well done, Mr De Luca.
Note: This article was first published in Vóg, our monthly newsletter in Nov 2017.
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This year, I managed to sneak a quick visit to one of my favourite sites back in Ireland, the beautiful valley of Gleann Dá Loch (Valley of Two lakes), anglicized as Glendalough.
The valley’s always been inhabited although, given the spiel at the local visitor centres and tourist offices, you’d be forgiven for thinking life didn’t exist there until the sixth century when a Christian monastic-style settlement was founded by St. Kevin. Following a particular Christian belief system based around strict reflection and meditation, St. Kevin chose Gleann Dá Loch not only for it’s beauty but for its isolated location. The site would almost certainly have had some tribal importance as well but its isolation certainly made it perfect for the monks to live a quiet life of spiritual reflection.
Over a hundred years later, St Kevin must have been spinning in his grave for by the middle of the seventh century, Glendalough was an enormous and very wealthy monastery. By the eight century, the monastery is believed to have employed almost 1000 laypeople.
In some ways, Glendalough success was also its undoing. As a rich site, it was ripe for plundering and between 775 and 1095 it was raided numerous times, not only by Vikings but by local tribes. Generally each time it was raided, the buildings were set alight which is why you won’t find anything there today that dates from before the 10th century. By the time, English forces left it in ruins (1398), the dioceses of Glendalough and Dublin had also been united which meant that from that point onwards, its political and ecclesiastical status were also substantially eroded. By the 18th and 19th century, the site was a religious backwater, famous only for the raucous celebrations held on the 3rd of June (St Kevin’s Day) and otherwise ignored.
I was a bit blown away when I got to Gleann Dá Loch. It had probably been at least twelve years or more since I’d last visited (and even then the place was heaving) but I was genuinely gobsmacked by the sheer volume of buses dumping people off to be flushed through the visitor centre, the monastery, the lakes and of course the tourist shops. The tourism turnover at Glendalough is clearly a well-oiled machine.
Having seen the ruins and the visitor centre years ago, I bypassed all of that, making a dash to escape two busloads of westerners in orange, Oriental style ‘monk’ suits (I was tempted but I didn’t ask!). I was hoping to get to the lake ahead of them and have a minute or two by myself but instead I found it was already occupied by several Asian couples. That didn’t particularly bother me but I was struck by the huge number of them taking selfies with the lake as a backdrop.
It was only as I was walking around the Wicklow hills later that day that I began to understand the significance of what I’d seen. Gleann Dá Loch, like all beautiful scenic spots has always attracted seasonal tourists. That’s no biggie. It’s a simple fact of life and you can always enjoy it’s beauty more selfishly outside the tourist period.
No, I think what had really startled me was the selfies. One hundred years ago, fifty years ago and even twenty years ago, when tourists went to see a famous site of immense beauty they tried to capture that beauty by taking photographs so that they could look on it and enjoy it in years to come. Nowadays, when tourists go to a beauty spot, photographic memories are cheap and instantly downloadable online. As a result, they take photographs of themselves at the tourist spot.
It’s an interesting variant but I’m still not entirely sure what it means or even what it says about us as a species.