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Irish Imbas: Celtic Mythology Collection 2016

Irish Imbas: Celtic Mythology Collection 2016

Over the past centuries, many of the most important Celtic cultural narratives and tales have been relegated to the status of children’s stories or cartoonish caricature, misunderstood and misinterpreted for as long as most of us can remember.

This collection by a new wave of contemporary authors hauls Celtic stories out of the dusty shadows and with succinct mythological analysis, places them back into the light where they belong. Love, mystery and drama, these fascinating tales mark a new movement of more authentic and original Celtic-based writing and a better understanding of Celtic cultures.

Subjects covered in this collection include the ‘Fairies’, the ‘Salmon of Knowledge’, the ‘Children of Lir’ and the ‘Selkie’.

Na Ceiltigh, abú!

A Visual Representation of Irish Prehistory and Mythology

When you mention the word ‘prehistoric’ to people, most of them immediately conjure up images of Neanderthals walking around, scratching their arses and dragging huge heavy clubs on the ground behind them. What ‘prehistoric’ actually refers to though, is that period of time before which historical records were maintained. In a sense, you can think of ‘prehistory’ as a distant undiscovered country or a kind of ‘dark web’ for history. It’s an unknown territory, full of immense, untapped potential, deception and people who have an interest in controlling it.

When I imagine pre-historic Ireland therefore, it looks a little bit like this.

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The problem with history, of course, is that it’s something we all think we understand whereas if you actually stand back and kick the conceptual tyres in the same way you’d kick those of a new car, you’ll quickly work out how much of it is based on dangerous assumptions and potential falsehoods. The ‘recording’ of history has always been the privilege of societies’ winners and most powerful. The problem, unfortunately, is that those in power often have an agenda of their own when writing or recording history, mostly linked to retaining that power. What actually happened in the past comes in a distant second.

Napoleon Bonaparte is often quoted as saying ‘history is a bunch of lies agreed upon’. If he did actually say that, then he was an exceptionally insightful individual because he recognised how the reporting of the truth (not the truth itself) can be manipulated.

Essentially, history in most countries only comes into existence with the establishment of written records and therefore, the arrival of literacy. In Ireland, written records were first introduced with the arrival of Christian missionaries in the early fifth century. For that reason, for Ireland, anything that happened before that period is generally referred to as a ‘prehistoric’ event. Naturally, the first people holding the pen in Ireland looked at the world through a Christian religious lens and many of the early historical accounts are often very biased in that regard. With the spread of the church-dominated written account we can see the first steps in the ongoing erosion of native (non-Christian) belief systems. This is what we now refer to as ‘mythology’.

Winners of the Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition (2015-2016)

Irish Imbas Books are pleased to announce the winners of the 2015-2016 Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition. These are:

First prize ($500): Sighle Meehan for ‘Hawthorne Close
Second Prize ($250): Sheelagh Russell Brown for ‘A Mainland Mansie Meur
Third Prize ($100): Marc McEntegart for ‘In a Small Pond

All three stories will appear in the forthcoming Irish Imbas Celtic Mythology Collection 2016 due for release in March this year with two additional stories:
• ‘Transit Hours’ by Marie Gethins
• ‘Lir’ by Coral Atkinson

As well as the short stories, the Irish Imbas Celtic Mythology Collection 2016 will contain explanatory context/notes on the various elements of Celtic Mythology associated with each story. A key purpose of this competition is to provide a source of authentic context and information on aspects of Celtic mythology for the general public.

Comments from the judges:

In total, 37 submissions received (initially there were 40 but 3 were withdrawn). The vast majority of stories covered aspects of Irish mythology. Stories related to elements of Welsh mythology were the next most popular (in terms of numbers).

The three criteria used by the judges were:

  1. Celtic mythology or folklore forms a fundamental element of the story
  2. Any Celtic folklore or mythological reference should be as authentic as possible
  3. A compelling story/theme, engaging characters.

Submissions were received from all over the world, including countries such as Australia, New Zealand, America, Canada, Norway, Denmark, France etc. The majority of submissions came from Ireland.

In terms of the mythological content used within the stories, the most common were:

  • Elements from the Fenian Cycle (Fionn mac Cumhaill and related stories)
  • Seilchidh (Selkie)-related stories
  • Beansaí (Banshee)-related stories

The quality of submissions varied extensively both in terms of writing quality and authenticity of mythological content. A number of the submitted stories were excellently written but used elements of mythology in the wrong context. It was a difficult decision not to accept these submissions

We’d like to thank all entrants for taking the time to make submissions.

An announcement on the 2016-2017 Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition will be made later this year.

Update on the 2016 Irish Imbas Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition

We’re pleased to announce the short-list of submissions for the 2016 Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition. Please note that submissions are listed in alphabetical order and a final decision on the winners has yet to be made:

A King’s Fancy’ ‘ by Ann Rhodes
A Mainsland Mansie Meur’ by Sheelagh Russell-Brown
Hawthorne Close ‘ by Sighle Meehan
In a small Pond ‘ by Marc McEntegart
Letting Go’ by Alison Walker
Lir’ by Coral Atkinson
Muse’ by Catriona Murphy
Oisin and the Hunt ‘ by Nicola Cassidy
Tara and The Yoke ‘ by Emlyn Boyle
The Great Birds of High Imbolc ‘ by Derek Fennell
The Seafarer and the Lord of Inis Mean ‘ by Mairead Rooney
Transit Hours‘ by Marie Gethins
Wondres Spelle‘ by Rina Bruinsma

The winning entrants will be contacted by email in the next week or two. A final decision on the stories to appear in the 2016 Irish Imbas Celtic Mythology Collection will be made by the end of January.

We’d like to thank those of you who entered this competition but did not make the short list. Having entered several such competitions ourselves in the past, we’re aware of the disappointment that can accompany such outcomes. As a result, the judges have decided to offer all entrants a complimentary digital copy of the final collection as a ‘thank you’ for taking the time to submit.

Update to Competition conditions:

Although it was originally envisaged to place the top 9-10 stories in 2016 Irish Imbas Celtic Mythology Collection, this number is now likely be reduced to 5-9 stories. This is to allow sufficient room for explanatory notes etc.

Surviving Christmas And an Irish ‘Sword’ Film

If you ever decide to invade New Zealand, I’d really recommend you do so over the Christmas period. Because of the fact that the Christmas holidays here take place in the middle of summer, you essentially end up with a double-whammy of a summer holiday and everything – everything! – comes to a complete halt for several days.

I love New Zealand during this period. Even if you wanted to work (and, hell, I’ve already got a crippling work schedule!) it’s actually quite hard to do so. And that’s not just because of the sun beckoning in through the window every morning.

In Wellington, we’ve had an amazing few weeks of sun this year, despite a harsh winter that dangled us by the short and curlies for several months. I had great plans to achieve a great many things but, in the end, I just gave in and went with the flow and feel so much better for that!

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In between eating, running, drinking and reading I also surfed the internet for an extended period and one of the little gems I came across was this interesting mini-film on You Tube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VYAcYNg64UY ). Called ‘The Last Grasp’, it’s a short film project by Claíomh Productions (Claíomh is the Irish word for sword). To quote from their website, “Claíomh are an Irish military ‘living history’ group that re-create ‘live’ images of the country’s past, particularly related to the turbulent late medieval to early modern history period”. I’m personally more interested in the pre- [pre-5th century] history, myself but these guys stuff has always impressed me.

The film itself is about four years old or so. It’s pretty short with a limited story-line but I do like the camera work and the attention to detail, which marks the company’s fantastic research and high production values. More recently they did some reproduction work for 1916 so I’ll be interested to see what they get up to during the centenary events. Their Facebook page (here: ) has a number of photos which display their work and I’d highly recommend a visit.

Free Ebook

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 their victory over Clann Baoiscne at the battle of Cnucha, Clann Morna are hungry for power. Meanwhile, a mysterious war party roams the ‘Great Wild’ and a ruthless magician is intent on murder.

In the secluded valley of Glenn Ceoch, disgraced druidess Bodhmall and her lover, 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. The odds are overwhelming and death stalks on every side.

Based on the ancient Fenian Cycle texts, the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series recounts the fascinating and action-packed tale of the birth and adventures of Ireland’s greatest hero, Fionn mac Cumhaill.

We hope you enjoy the read.

Download now

Sex Education (or lack of) with Diarmuid and Gráinne

For many years, most Irish schoolkids had the dubious pleasure of studying the Tóraíocht Dhiarmada agus Gráinne (the Pursuit of Diarmuid and Gráinne) as part of the national Irish school curriculum. An epic Irish narrative, the oldest remaining copy is believed to date from the 15th century but it’s generally agreed to contain elements that date back to the 9th century. This proved little solace to most of us although we could, at least, console ourselves with the fact that it wasn’t Peig Sayers mind-numbing biography.

Remember this anyone?

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Years later, I can now finally look at the Tóraíocht with less ‘negative’ eyes. The tale is actually quite unique in that it’s one of the first narratives (and one of the very few) in which mythological legend Fionn mac Cumhaill is portrayed as ‘The Bad Guy’ and shown to have human foibles. In this particular tale, he’s portrayed as an old man set to marry a much younger woman (Gráinne). Not enthralled at the prospect of being taken to bed by the elderly Fionn, Gráinne instead opts to put one of warriors at the wedding banquet that she fancies – Diarmuid – faoi geasa (under a magical obligation). While all the other guests are snoring under the influence of a sleeping draught, Diarmuid is forced to elope with her and the subsequent pursuit across Ireland by Fionn forms the basis of the narrative.

In Ireland, the Tóraíocht proved exceptionally popular (until it was made a compulsory school book!!) because it has all the elements of a good melodrama; a love triangle, young lovers, a pursuit, a revenge quest, action and adventure, etc. Given the story’s popularity and the scope of the legendary pursuit, local storytellers, back in the day, often stretched the chase to include topographical features in their own area to make the story more interesting for their audience. This is probably one of the key reasons for the many different existing variants.

Although some elements of the tale are difficult for a contemporary audience (and incomprehensible to a modern schoolkid), there are some motifs that stand out more than others. One of these is the sexual restraint displayed by the hero. While being chased by Fionn and his men, Diarmuid marks his loyalty to his leader and the abstention from sexual activity, by leaving an uncooked fish behind. This way, when Fionn subsequently locates their campsite, he knows that there hasn’t been any hanky-panky.

In fact, a prolonged period of time (and many adventures) passes before Diarmuid actually succumbs to temptation. This occurs when Gráinne is crossing a small stream and a spray of water spurts up to splash on the inside of her thigh. Looking at Diarmuid, Gráinne remarks – cuttingly – that the water is actually bolder than he is. Spurred by her words, Diarmuid takes her and “makes a woman of her”. Needless to say, absolutely no clarification of this particular scene took place during my school reading at least.

Another interesting motif of the tale is the constant need for the lovers to sleep in a different location every night (due the constant harrying by Fionn and his hunting dogs, always on their trail, always just behind). Over the subsequent centuries, this particular motif was absorbed into local folklore through the dolmans – neolithic burial portals that consist of a large flat rock overlaying two support rocks. Again, local storytellers started to explain the presence of these startling monuments by describing them as the ‘leaba’ (beds) of the fleeing lovers.

Beware! Ancient Mythological Sex Site!

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Examples of these ‘leaba’ exist all over the country and many still retain names associated with the Tóraíocht (e.g. Labby Rock in county Sligo). One of the more interesting folk beliefs that also developed from this interpretation, was that young women had a much better chance of becoming pregnant if they slept on the leaba (linking this action to that of Gráinne who became pregnant over the course of the chase).

Looking back on my own schooldays, I can actually understand why those in charge wanted to include the Tóraíocht in the national educational curriculum. It’s a very important piece of our culture that everyone should be familiar with and … (yaaaawn!) etc. etc. To be honest, the effort to inspire kids with this mythological tale was doomed to failure. Kids in my class never received any explanation as to what the story really entailed, had no comprehension (or therefore, appreciation) of the many references it contained. Many of the actions and events were obscure to the point of ‘alien’ and therefore had no real relevance or meaning to us. It’s hardly surprising most of us yawned our way through it and hoped against hope the bloody bell would ring soon.

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Fortunately, nowadays, there are other – more accessible – versions of the tale available. One of my favourites is Colmán Ó Raghallaigh’s graphic novel (entitled: An Tóraíocht) but there are several others including the recent movie ‘Pursuit’ by Paul Mericer (which, admittedly, I haven’t seen). Hopefully, these more contemporary versions (or equivalents) are used nowadays. Even the sex scenes wouldn’t have saved what we were being taught all those years ago.

FIONN: The Stalking Silence

The initial short story that started the popular Fionn mac Cumhaill Series.

Ireland 192 AD:
A pregnant refugee, fleeing through the wilderness, encounters a relentless predator.
Only by drawing on all her courage and cunning can she hope to survive.
This book is available to download in ebook or audiobook versions.

This free short story is based on ‘Macgnímartha Finn’ (The Boyhood Deeds of Fionn) and is a prequel to FIONN: Defence of Ráth Bládhma – the first book of the Fionn mac Cumhaill series. It comes with the first three chapters of that book.

FREE ebook (mobi. or ePub) available at: Fionn: The Stalking Silence

FREE AUDIOBOOK available at: Fionn: The Stalking Silence

Beauty That’s Just Too Big to Absorb

Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s impossible to truly appreciate beauty when other people you know are present. When you’re in a group staring at a beautiful view, person, piece of art, for example, you’re often conditioned to vocalise it out loud and invariably end up saying things like “Wow! She/he/it’s beautiful, stunning …[insert appropriate adjective here]”.

This weekend I spent a weekend tramping with friends (in between intense periods of drinking and eating) down in New Zealand’s south island. The sheer scale of some of the scenery there is on a level of grandeur we don’t seem to get in Ireland. Even while I was staring at it however, I felt oddly detached. I found myself looking at it much in the way I’d look at a television screen or a computer monitor. It was beautiful but oddly two dimensional. It did not touch me.

For me, the beauty of the landscape back in Ireland tends to be smaller, more contained and easier to digest. Cutting through the Healy Pass or heading out of Glengarrif for Beara, I can have an equally dramatic physical terrain stretched out before me but when I pull the car over and step out to look at it I can genuinely appreciate it. I’m pretty sure this is because I have a familiarity (a connection) with this landscape. I know how Irish landscape ‘works’. I know its contours, I know the dynamics of the sea, the cliffs, the fields. Down in West Cork, I also know the stories associated with the land, stories of my own family working it or living on it. I’ve lived and grown up on it and that gives the land an emotional resonance that makes it particularly accessible.

Which is most beautiful? Depends on so many things!
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Personally, I think to truly appreciate beauty (in terms of landscape at least) you need to have an aesthetic AND an emotional/cultural connection. Up in New Zealand’s high country, I knew – theoretically – know how things worked. I watched the people on the stations (a bit like American ranches) operate the land. My friends explained how the rivers and the mountain slopes interlinked, how the climate affected (or restricted) the use and transport across the land. But the problem, of course, was that I’ve never personally walked it before or known those who had. I’m also unfamiliar with the physical dynamics (which is why so many Irish tourists can get into trouble over here) and I have no cultural or emotional connection. I can genuinely appreciate it – and I do – on an intellectual and aesthetic basis but my connection is purely visual. I love coming here but if I want beauty I can break down and warm the soul then I know I’ll always need to go home.

Deadlines and Deadlines

There are now eight days left until the closing date for the Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition. While we’re waiting, we’ve been busy preparing the draft cover for the final collection (obviously based on the original poster image – see below) and attempting to plan out the formatting.

3D Book Preview

The latter is actually something of an impossibility in that we still don’t know the range and style of the stories with any certainty. I suspect there’ll be feverish mutterings as we attempt to add the background mythology facts for each of the stories chosen. I must admit it’s something of a struggle to resist having a peek at the submissions but I’m forcing myself to hold off. It’s not really possible to judge a number of different works properly unless you look at them all at the same time and do your best to judge on an equal basis.

In terms of numbers, at this stage, we’ve received just under twenty-five entries which is a pretty low number – but we’re not particularly fussed. It’s only natural for any new writing community to grow and gain credibility slowly and we’re still within budget. It’s also nice in that – unlike many of the major international competitions (which I stopped entering many years ago) – the odds of actually winning one of the prizes are substantially more realistic.

In any case, don’t forget the deadline for entries is midnight 10 December 2015.

Meanwhile, for those of you in Wellington, we’re delivering our Secrets of Celtic Mythology seminar in the mezzanine of the central library at 6:00 on 11 December. This will be the first seminar I’ve run in a while so I’m a bit nervous and hoping to God the technology holds together.

Wish me luck!

Secrets of Celtic Mythology

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For those of you based in Wellington, you may be interested in a seminar we’re holding on Friday 11 December at the Mezzanine in the Wellington Central Library. The seminar is called ‘The Secrets of Irish Mythology’ but will actually focus predominantly on Irish mythology, which is what we know best.

I’m still working through the structure of the seminar but it will probably involve some initial explanation of mythology (what is it, exactly?) followed by some living examples of it in Ireland today. I’m also keen on running through the practical ramifications of this for society as this is an area I’m quite keen on and hope to do some more of in the future.

In any case, the details are below:

“Irish Imbas Books presents Secrets of Celtic Mythology at the mezzanine of Wellington Central Library from 6:00 to 7:30 on Friday 11 December 2015. This one hour presentation will explore the background to the development of mythology, examine some practical examples of Irish mythology in Irish folklore and explain why this is relevant to us all. The event is free to enter. Irish Imbas Books will have a selection of books available for sale for those who are interested.”

Location/venue:
The Mezzanine, Wellington Central Library 65 Victoria Street Wellington
Date:
11 Dec 2015

It’s always a bit of a thrill to see the physical end product

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It’s always a bit of a thrill to see the physical end product from your creative work. Even after five or six printed books, the tangible experience of holding the first physical copy in my hand still gives a bit of a buzz. Oddly enough, from experience, I also know that sensation fades pretty rapidly. Within a month or so, whenever I pick it up a book I’ve written, it always feel as though it’s someone else’s book.
I’m not quite sure why such ‘distancing’ occurs. In some ways it’s good in that I can actually pick up and read one of my previous books with a very objective eye. I recently reread Fionn: Defence of Rath Bladhma and the nice thing was that I actually quite enjoyed reading it. How weird is that?

I suppose I’ve never really thought about it too much until yesterday (when I picked up the physical sample copy of Liath Luachra – The Grey One from the printers we use here in Wellington). Now, I suspect that what happens is, once one creative project is completed, I just mentally “chuck it” as I move onto the next. This is probably good in that it actually makes me quite productive but it also means I no longer have such a strong sense of creative ownership of the works I produce. I suppose that just doesn’t become so important any more once you’ve delivered your first “creative baby”! With each new creative work you become a lot more pragmatic and substantially less precious about them.

Anyway, Liath Luachra – The Grey One is now available for pre-order on Kindle. It’ll also be available in hard copy from Amazon in the next 1-3 days.

For those who live in Wellington, I’ll have paperbacks available from sometime next week providing all goes to plan.

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By the way, the white paper to the right of the computer is the rough draft of Fionn: The Adversary. I’m taking a week or two off from it at the moment but, yes, I am working on it.

The Warrior Woman

The Woman Warrior

Writing Liath Luachra – The Grey One turned out to be a lot harder than I’d anticipated. Most of it was written over a miserable New Zealand winter (in Wellington, at least), we had a number of other strenuous work contracts on and constant repair work on the house meant it was difficult to focus at times. This slowed down the writing immensely but, to be honest, in some ways I think this was a good thing. When you push yourself to write a pre-determined plot you can end up writing an almost perfect outline that lacks genuine emotional resonance. When the plot’s clear in your head but you take additional time to work through the different scenes in terms of characterisation, motivation, additional twists and so on, the story usually ends up much more powerful and dramatic for that.

Although ‘The Grey One’ is essentially a ‘stand-alone’ prequel to the Fionn series, for me it was an interesting opportunity to explore the dynamics of war-parties and inter-tribal relationships in Iron Age Ireland. There’s a surprising amount of material available on early war-parties – particular on fian – although, as always, you have to take what’s written with a grain of salt. The Church in Ireland hated them with a passion and, hence, wrote very negatively about them but other sources describe them as a pragmatic part of society at the time. Interestingly, the word ‘fian’, eventually disappeared out of common usage and instead, the plural noun ‘Fianna’ was used. This is, of course, what most people mistakenly believe to be the name of the war band led by Fionn mac Cumhaill (as well as the origin of the more modern term ‘Fenian’).

Having a single female protagonist in a male-dominated world (particularly one involving violence) has proven a particularly interesting challenge in that it creates powerful tensions between characters that I normally don’t delve into in great detail. Obviously, the main one is that of sexual harassment/coercion – particularly with more vulnerable younger women – and that’s dealt with pretty bluntly throughout the novel. Most of my previous books have strong female characters but it’ll be interesting to see what people think of the approach I use in this particular one.

When it comes to female warriors in the ancient world, there are of course, occasional snippets available in the historical sources but, again, you really have to take care with these as well. Most of the writers tended to be male and that almost certainly influenced their descriptions and interpretation. It’s also probable that at least some of them sensationalised the topic just as much as in contemporary times. The truth is that, for some very obvious practical reasons, women didn’t tend to engage in physically dangerous and violent combat unless there was a particularly compelling reason to do so. Given that ‘The Grey One’ is a work of fiction with elements of fact, this is something I’ve had to dance around somewhat carefully.

To give people a sense/taste for what the book’s about, I prepared a three-chapter pre-launch teaser in ebook form under the title ‘The Warrior Woman’ which went up on Amazon last week. Being Amazon of course, they insist on charging a minimum of 99 cents however if you want a free copy in mobi. (Kindle) or ePub (Apple, Kobo etc.) you can find one at Smashwords or at Noisetrade. If you read/print off your computer you can get a good, old-fashioned PDF document here under ‘Download sample chapters’.

This book itself becomes available through Amazon on 4 December 2015. Hardcopy versions will also be available in hardcopy through Amazon (sometime in December) and by ordering through other bookshops (from February). If you really, really, absolutely have to get an ePub version just email me though the website and I’ll see what I can do.

Ah, that’s nice – Our Books Available for Half Price on Kobo

Sale-sign

We’re not really that fussed one way or the other about different devices or ebook platforms but a recent sale announcement from Kobo took us a bit by surprise and we thought we’d share. Obviously this is really only of interest if you have a Kobo reader or similar ePub device.

Essentially, Kobo are supporting small and micro publishers like us by making our books half-price. The announcement we received is as follows:
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On the heels of our successful 50% off promotion in August–which was fully supported by us–we’re excited to announce we’ll be holding a second 50% off sale.
Customers will be able to redeem 50% off of any title published by KWL using the promo codes below an unlimited number of times—so please, let your readers and fans know about this incredible opportunity to stack up on eBooks while they can! Unlike last time, the sale runs in different dates by territory, and each territory has it’s own promo code. See below for the full details.
Canada: October 28th – October 31st
Promo Code: CA50SALE
United States/Australia/New Zealand
October 27th – October 30th, Promo Code: GET50SALE
United Kingdom
October 30th – November 2nd, Promo Code: UK50SALE

Promo code is valid for 50% off select eBook purchases from this list. Discount will be confirmed at checkout. Offer valid from October 28, 2015 at 12:00 AM EST through October 31, 2015 at 11:59 PM EST. This offer is not valid in conjunction with any other offer or promotion and cannot be used to adjust amount paid on previous purchases. Promo code must be entered at time of purchase to qualify for this discount. Discounts cannot be applied nor the discount value refunded once a purchase is complete. Rakuten Kobo Inc. reserves the right to change or cancel this offer at any time without notice
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Normally we wouldn’t even bother mentioning this but it does seem like pretty good deal. And there are plenty of other books out there apart from ours.

A Mysterious Concrete Chair on the Side of the Road

Several years ago while visiting a friend I found a concrete chair set up a ditch on the side of the road in the townland of Doonflin. Fascinated, I stopped the car to have a look and try to work out what it was. Because of its dilapidated condition, the writing engraved on it was almost completely erased. I drove past it again a few other times but the only people around that I could ask were either tourists or knew only that it was a monument to someone who’d been murdered in the vicinity. One person told me it was called ‘The Bard’s Chair’.
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Although I was intrigued I didn’t have time to research it any further so I just let it go and went my way.

Not long ago, my friend contacted me and mentioned that the concrete chair had been removed but, fortunately, replaced by a new chair and an information panel that explained its predecessor. Apparently, the original had been constructed sometime in 1931-34 when the road was still a quiet botharín (little road) and was a monument dedicated to Dubhaltach MacFhirbhisigh, a famous Irish writer most people have never heard of.

Dubhaltach MacFhirbhisigh was a member of Clan MacFhirbhigh (Mac Firbis in English), a family whose original territory was north Connacht (their descendants can still be found predominantly around Ballina in County Mayo). This clan were the hereditary poets and historiographers to the O’Dowds of Tireragh (an area that stretched along the west coast of Co. Sligo) from the 12th to the 17th centuries. Dubhaltach MacFhirbhisigh was one of the last Gaelically trained scribes of his day and is best known for his work Leabhar na nGenealach (the Great Book of Irish Genealogies). This work compiled Irish genealogical lore relating to the key Gaelic and Anglo-Norman families of Ireland from pre-Christian times to the mid-17th century.

To understand the significance of that you need to understand a bit about the context of the literary caste in Ireland from about the ninth century onwards. Essentially, this group held an official place in the Gaelic social system, they were extremely well educated (trained through a Gaelic educational system independent of the Christian system – although they eventually overlapped) and were immensely respected. In Gaelic Ireland, most Irish dynasties employed these men of learning as their official poets and genealogists/historians, and occasionally advisors (although the latter decreased over the centuries). In essence, these scholar-scribes were the direct descendents of the druidic class and responsibility for their role was passed down through select families from generation to generation.

At the time Dubhaltach MacFhirbhisigh was active (1640 to 1671), Ireland was undergoing a period of immense societal change. Due to the encroachment and increasing military influence of the English crown, most of the great hereditary Irish dynasties had fallen (or were in the process of it) and as a result, these scribes no longer had patrons to support or employ them. Some made a living doing translations, researching and writing genealogies and transcriptions for a dwindling number of clients. Others – despite their immense intellect and education – ended up doing the most basic of menial tasks. In a contemporary sense, this impact would be the same as if someone took over your country today and forced all of your university academics to make a living through manual labour (and you may have your own views on that). These men were an essential part of Gaelic culture but by the end of the 1600s, their positions were eroded just as effectively as the memorial writing on the original concrete chair.

Although we don’t know much about Dubhaltach MacFhirbhisigh, what we do know was that he was a supremely educated and competent (but, more importantly, a fanatically dedicated) scribe. At the time he was producing some of his greatest works in the Galway region (around 1949) bubonic plague had broken out in the city (causing an evacuation by most of the population). He was also in the environs around July 1650, when English parliamentary forces crossed the Shannon and began a nine-month siege of the city. Preoccupied with his own literary projects however, MacFhirbhisigh never makes reference or commentary on the activities taking place around him (except once where it disturbed his work). What’s even more amazing is that despite all the violence and furore taking place around him, he managed to produce works that far exceed those of the scribes before him, often without any financial support. The Leabhar na nGenealach, for example is almost as large and as detailed as the more famous Annals of the Four Masters which was produced by a whole teams of scholars around the same period. Quite frankly, MacFhirbhisigh was the ultimate scholar. Nothing mattered as much to him as research and knowledge.

Although scribes like MacFhirbhisigh lived in constant fear of their lives from Crown forces and supporters, they were still respected by the native population and it looks as though MacFhirbhisigh managed to scrape a living carrying out translations and other literary work for a wealthy peer in Dublin. During the latter years of his life, he moved back to a place near Easkey village and it was at a sibín (an illegal pub) near the village of Skreen (when he was in his eighties), that he was stabbed to death by a local man called Thomas Crofton. Little is known about the actual altercation apart from what the celebrated academic, Eugene O’Curry, wrote:

…the last of the Mac Firbiscs was unfortunately murdered at Dunflin, in the county of Sligo, in the year 1670…. Mac Firbis was, at that time, under the ban of the penal laws, and, consequently, a marked and almost defenceless man in the eye of the law, whilst the friends of the murderer enjoyed the full protection of the constitution. He must have been then past his eightieth year, and he was, it is believed, on his way to Dublin, probably to visit Robert, the son of Sir James Ware. He took up his lodgings for the night at a small house in the little village of Dun Flin, in his native county. While sitting and resting himself in a little room off the shop, a young gentleman, of the Crofton family, came in, and began to take some liberties with a young woman who had care of the shop. She, to check his freedom, told him that he would be seen by the old gentleman in the next room; upon which, in a sudden rage, he snatched up a knife from the counter, rushed furiously into the room, and plunged it into the heart of Mac Firbis

MacFhirbhisigh truly was an astonishing individual in that he managed to save the history and records of Gaelic culture and allow them to be passed on for future generations at a time when other forces were doing all in their power to destroy that culture. Most of the source material he used no longer exists and if he hadn’t worked with the almost manic determination he did, we would have a much lesser understanding of our ancestors today. For that, at least, he deserves his chair – and his story – preserved for future passers-by along the road.

Bards chair 1

Bard's chair 2

Sample Chapters for ‘Liath Luachra – The Grey One’ now available

 

Liath Luachra cover

After numerous interruptions, distractions and rewrites, the final draft of “Liath Luachra – The Grey One” is nearing completion and a two chapter ‘sampler’ ‘is now available here on the Irish Imbas Books website.

I’m in the process of tidying up the last chapters prior to final editing but the finished book should be available at the end of November (about 6-7 weeks). For those who are interested, the back cover summary reads as follows:

Ireland 188 A.D. A land of tribal affiliations, secret alliances and treacherous rivalries.
Youthful woman warrior Liath Luachra has survived two brutal years with mercenary war party “The Friendly Ones” but now the winds are shifting.
Dispatched on a murderous errand where nothing is as it seems, she must survive a group of treacherous comrades, the unwanted advances of her battle leader and a personal history that might be her own undoing.
Clanless and friendless, she can count on nothing but her wits, her fighting skills and her natural ferocity to see her through.
Woman warrior, survivor, killer and future guardian to Irish hero Fionn mac Cumhaill – this is her story.

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I have to admit, the story’s been an interesting one to develop in that it’s darker, grittier and much more character driven than some of my other work – particularly interesting when writing from the perspective of a woman with violent tendancies (a big thanks to my ‘advisors’). Although it’s a stand-alone work, it’s also a prequel of sorts to the Fionn Mac Cumhaill series in that it deals with the backstory to one of the main characters from that series.

Unfortunately, the sample’s available in PDF form only as we’re holding off on ebook conversion until the final draft has completed the editing process.

Numerous people have expressed interest in getting their hands on this so I will keep posting as things develop.

Homesick Dreams and a Place to Stand

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Years ago when I was living in France, I experienced a series of amazingly detailed dreams of West-Cork, mostly involving travels around the Beara peninsula, Schull or Glandore.  Although I knew where I was in the dream, the odd thing was that I kept ending up on side roads I didn’t recognise, following twisting botharín to sights and views that could only be described as surreally breathtaking. West Cork is a beautiful place by any definition but, in a weird way, this felt as though I was seeing the landscape through a spiritual rather than a physical lens.

Aaaaaaaand I reckon, I’ve lost half of you out there by now!

Interestingly, the art of perceiving auras or chakras (and, no, this philistine has no real idea of the difference) with the naked eye has been around forever (and at least a few decades on a commercial basis). This also became a bit of a fad over in the States during the eighties, according to the late Michael Crichton (of Jurassic Park fame). If you’re interested, he wrote a very pragmatic (he was medically trained at Harvard), funny and interesting chapter on it in his book ‘Travels’.

With respect to the dreams I experienced, these only occurred on an irregular basis and after a short period of two to three months, I never had them again. I’m pretty sure they were linked to a time of immense homesick because they were definitely of the “rose-tinted spectacle” variety. In the dreams, it was always sunny, warm, beautiful. In real life Ireland a single week of rain has an odd way of washing such tints away.

You don’t really need dreams of course – as long as you can get back on a relatively regular basis. Whenever I’m home, I make a point of driving up the Healy Pass, looking down on Glenmore and travelling around the whole Beara peninsula. I do it alone so I can draw it up in my head again whenever I want to, a kind of recharge to hold me over until the next time I’m back.

In New Zealand, Maori have a great word – tūrangawaewae – which literally means “a place to stand”. It’s a great concept that we don’t really have in English speaking countries and it refers to those places you feel especially connected to or empowered by. It doesn’t have to be your home or even where you come from. In that respect, Wellington is home (currently), Cork is where I’m from but Beara and West Cork will always be my tūrangawaewae. It just seems a bit of a shame there’s no similar English word to describe it.