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Ráth Meadhbha

Ráth Meadhbha is looking a bit run down these days but after 3000 years (best estimates put its construction in the early Bronze Age (2000–1500 BC) I guess that’s pretty understandable.

Climb in over the shaky ‘geata’, slip through the trees and you find yourself in an open field that could be a farming meadow anywhere in Ireland.

It’s only as you return to the road and notice the wide, almost indistinguishable ditches to either side that you realise you’ve been standing in the ‘lis’ of an enormous ráth.

Although the ráth’s current name relates to Meadhbh Leathdearg (or Meabh or Cruachan) it’s obviously got little connection with the mythological character. It’s not clear when that name was assigned but at a rough guess (without checking) it was around medieval times (at the very least 1000 years later) when they were just as good at self-promotion as in contemporary times.

Odin Land

I came across this beautifully moody pic by Italian-based artist Daniele Gay this morning while researching a new cover concept. Generally his work tends more to dark sci-fi or futuristic imagery but he has the occasional more ‘historically based’ works as well.

Generally, in my day-to-day work, I don’t place too much focus on Norse mythology or storytelling. There are certainly overlaps with Gaelic/Irish mythology but both are very different given the very distinct cultures they originate from (despite what you’ve heard or seen on social media where some people can’t seem to tell the difference! 🙂 ).

Given the quality of this particular image, however ….

Oisin Rides to the Land of Youth

This beautiful painting is entitled “Oisin Rides to the Land of Youth”. Painted in 1936 by American artist Newell Convers Wyeth. it represents a more Anglophile view of Irish mythology that many non-Irish creators continue to produce today.

You can’t fault Convers Wyeth however. A talented illustrator and painter, he produced a huge body of work in his time. This included well over a hundred ‘action/adventure’ style images for book covers.

I can imagine, he’d be in high demand today.

Oirish Obbits!

I’ve yet to see the new LOTR series but the initial Irish Times review is actually quite funny and they summarized it with the following tagline:

De Lord of de Rings: The new hobbits are filthy, hungry simpletons with stage-Irish accents. That’s $1bn well spent

I’ve always seen ‘Hobbits’ as having more of an upper class English accent! 🙂

‘I say, chaps. We seem to be having a spot of bother with that Sauron chap. Bit of a cad, in my opinion!’


Interestingly, when I shared the above post as a joke on a number of fantasy sites, some people started trying to explain and defend what’s really a kind of veiled hangover from colonization, with rational pulled from Tolkien’s fantasy literature canon

“Well, they are not really hobbits. They are harfoots!”

“The series is set 5000 years before Lord of the Rings, so accents, cultures and races can change a lot over this period, depending on who they breed and associate with.

Etc. etc.

Absolutely nuts!

Last Days of the Liath Luachra Sale

The first book of the Irish Woman Warrior Series has been on a trial sale for the last two weeks but this will soon be coming to a close.

Liath Luachra: The Grey One is probably the favourite book (and Liath Luachra is the favourite character) of readers who follow my mythological adventure stories, so if you want to get a ridiculously cheap introduction to her, you only have a few days left.

And you can find that book HERE

Set against a backdrop of encroaching forestmythic ruins and treacherous tribal politics, the Irish Woman Warrior Series (or the’ Liath Luachra Series’) is a series of books based on the adventures of the woman warrior Liath Luachra and her mercenary fian (war party), Na Cinéaltaí (The Friendly Ones).

It tells the story of a damaged young woman who can count on nothing but her wits and fighting skills to see her through. Rising above the constraints of her status and overcoming her personal tragedies, she emerges Ireland’s greatest warrior and a protector whose influence lives on one thousand years later.

A different Warrior Woman

I’ve been an enormous fan of Czech artist Satine Zillah for a few years now as I’ve always been impressed with the incredible amount of detail and cultural research she puts into her work (it really has to be seen to be believed).

As a result, I was very pleased to learn that she’s still working on her graphic novel ‘Warrior’ (I had thought this had fallen by the wayside due to other work pressures) but clearly it’s a labour of love she intends to follow up on.

The story for ‘Warrior’ is based on ancient kingdoms and tribes such as the Scythians and follows the lives of two characters – Roe, a merciless leader of Sarmatian tribes, and Sevan – queen of vast Iberia, with progressive ideals way ahead of her time. Both women are adept at leading their people, both scarred by their own grim histories, both pushing onward with an entirely opposite sets of morals and beliefs.

It’s very much a different approach to my own Irish Woman Warriors Series (which I hope one day to present in graphic novel format as well) but I’m absolutely in awe of her skill and dedication.

Keep an eye out for it’s crowdfunding release in 2024. You can support her work here: Satine Zillah

Mysterious Gállain

We’re spoilt for choice with gállain in Cork and Kerry. This one in the Cousane Pass doesn’t get much press because of it’s isolated location.

Although gállain are usually there to commemorate or mark something, it’s very hard to know what they were intended for. If it was burial-related, for example, does it mark the place where the burial took place or commemorate the person who was buried? Alternatively, its location could simply mark the edge of tribal territory, commemorate an event that took place here or even someone who used to take this route.

So many unanswered questions and, although we can come up with as many theories or interpretations as we want, the truth is we’ll probably never know.

Border Guardian

‘Border Guardian’ by, always interesting artist, Vin Hill.

A fictional concept, he describes it as follows:

“The theme around the piece is very much based on the border between the land of the living and the land of the dead in British and Irish prehistorical landscapes. Places like stone henge are often dedicated to ancestors and have entire areas which were almost segregated as the land of the dead. Stone, in general, was associated with ancestry whereas wood was dedicated to life with a special relationship surrounding water in the centre of it all. If there ever was “border guardians” we may never know, but It was fun to think about as I worked through this piece.”

Given that the information we have on henges and other stone monuments is very interpretative (i.e. even with some established patterns, the academics can still do little else but postulate), his description – particularly on the ‘border’s – doesn’t ring true for me.

But, hey! It’s all still a guessing game at this point.

Next Book in the ‘Production Line’

Although I’m close to finishing Chapter 8 of Fionn: Stranger at Mullan Ban, today I’m writing an outline for Chapters 1-3 of ‘Liath Luachra: The Great Wild’.

The next book in the Liath Luachra Series, it’s actually a prequel to the current set of books. The character is much younger and far more feral and hence it’s a lot of fun to write.

Culture Nicking in Fantasy

Some very strong portrayals of Gaelic culture in this image (the Tara broach, the tartan, the bodhrán etc.) but, in fact, this is from the Polish ‘Witcher’ Card Game.

The talented artist was Anton Nazarenko but it aligns with Sapkowski’s borrowing of other culture’s constructs. The naming patterns in the Witcher, for example, often include garbled mixings of Gaelic, French etc.

Great pic, though!

Developing A New Series for Irish Imbas

Today, I’m scoping out a short series based around a little known Irish battle.

At this stage, it’s looking like a limited series with only three books and I’m hoping to start writing it about mid-way through next year. This is so I can allow myself time to finish another Liath Luachra Series (and hopefully a Fionn mac Cumhaill Series) book.

At present, the cast of characters include a womanizing warrior, his wife, and a warlike religious zealot. The characters, supposedly based on real people, are one of the key reasons I was drawn to this story.

Further announcements on this project will come once, I’ve completed the first book.

A Bronze Defence

This bronze shield excavated from Lough Gur gives many ‘Cardboard Celts’ a frisson of excitement as they imagine the warriors who used it in battle. The truth of course is less violent but just as fascinating.

Contemporary theory is that this was one of a number of votive offerings deposited in the lake and it was probably never used in battle at all. The fact that the shield dates back to over 700 BC is also an eye-opener in that it shows a thriving level of craftmanship in the country well over two thousand years ago. That’s several hundred years before the time period in which the Fionn mac Cumhaill stories are set.

The shield in the image is actually a replica which can be seen at Lough Gur. The original is kept in the National Museum (for obvious reasons).

Dark-Eyed Girl

I’ve been asked several times where the ‘look’ of Liath Luachra came from.

I’d have to say, the main ‘look’ began with a canvas print from Luis Royo, a Spanish artist famous for his fantasy style images back in the 1980s and 1980s (although he’s still going). A lot of Royo’s work from that period reflected the sexualised fantasy portrayal of women of the time – usually half naked, occasionally with armour and swords (google his name and you’ll see what I mean).

I think I came across Royo’s ‘The Wait’ around 2014 when I first started writing notes for the initial Liath Luachra book (which was really mean to be nothing more than a short prequel book for the Fionn Series). I already had a clear image of the woman’s personality and physical appearance at the time, as the character was pretty well developed for Fionn: Defence of Rath Bladhma. The ‘Grey One’ book however was far darker and far deeper and I needed an image to reflect that. In my head, I had no idea until this turned up on my screen.

The Wait is from Royo’s book ‘III Millenium’ which depicts women in scenes from a harsh future landscape. The character in the image really appealed as it captured a tangible sense of solitude and loneliness but also avoided the sexualised cliches which I really wanted to avoid.

When I had the initial cover brief developed, I included this but sadly a miniscule budget meant I was restricted to stock photography. Fortunately, I received permission from a gracious pair of Australian artists/cosplayers to use one of their photos and that’s the Liath Luachra who turned up on the first cover.

That said, there is a secret to Liath Luachra that most people aren’t aware of and which I’ll be writing about in the next few weeks.

Irish Book Sales

For lovers of Irish mythology books, Irish historical fiction books, Irish historical fantasy books, Irish adventure books and Irish action books!

Circumstances beyond my control mean I won’t be returning to the office until the end of July. As a result, the sale of our two bestselling Irish adventure books:

Fionn: Defence of Rath Bladhma

and

Liath Luachra: The Grey One

will continue until 31 July.

When it was first published, ‘Fionn: Defence of Rath Bladhma‘ became a finalist for the 2016 SPFBO competition (it came in at 4th place)

Liath Luachra: The Grey One, meanwhile, was adapted for the screen as a potential television series by Graisland Entertainment.

Needless to say, we’re very proud of both books.

Out Communing with … er … Trashing Up … the Ancestors

There’s a lot of fun to be had visiting the many old megaliths and cultural sites back home, particularly in Cork and Kerry where we’re absolutely spoilt for choice. With numerous ráthanna (avoid using the English term ‘ring-forts’), galláin and many others, most are located in beautiful locations that are often as worth visiting as much as the sites themselves.

With the growth of mass ‘cultural heritage tourism’ here over the last few decades and the huge increase in visits to such sites from overseas travelers however, many of the sites are now starting to be littered with junk; coins, ribbons, shells, papers, bits of string – you name it, you’ll find it.

Most of these are left as “votive offerings” by people who don’t really understand what the sites were or the cultural context behind them. Others mistake them as areas of adoration or supplication to ‘gods’, ‘saints’, wise women’ or impose their own interpretations on something that makes little sense to them.

Even if you don’t agree with them, you can understand the motivations but it’s getting to the point where some of these important cultural locations are being turned into litter beds.

If you do visit such sites, appreciate their location and the history for what they are. Don’t drop rubbish offerings there. If you want to offer something, make a donation to charity.

Rivers and Tailors and Fools

The Abha Mháirtín/​Martin River which flows through Blarney has a wide, flattish boulder a few hundred metres upstream from where it hits the village. Locally, there’s an old story about a tailor who was being chased by two policemen who managed to escape capture by leaping to that stone from the bank and then crossing to the Ardamadane woods on the far side.  

A lovely riverside walk passes the area where the supposed boulder is located (the bank is too overgrown this year to see it). As usual, though, you have to take these ‘legends’ with a grain of salt and focus more on the pattern beneath them.

Far more interesting for me is the derivation of the woods into which the supposed ‘tailor’ escaped. ‘Ardamadane’ is the anglicization of ‘Ard Amadáin’ – the ‘Height of the Fools/Rogues’.

There’s bound to be a far more interesting tale behind that!

An Irish ‘Thirteenth Warrior’

It’s just about four years since I published the second Liath Luachra book and, keen to distinguish it from the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series, I had the action take place much further south in the area that was once called ‘Usraighe‘.

I also incorporated a number of elements from ancient stories associated with Usraighe as part of the plot. As a result, the final story is often described as a kind of Irish version of the movie ‘The Thirteenth Warrior’ (itself based on a book called ‘Eaters of the Dead’ by Michael Crichton which I’ve never actually read). That was never the intention but I can certainly understand the comparisons.

‘The Swallowed’, therefore, was very much a standalone novel and although it contributes to the Irish Woman Warrior Series and reveals elements of the character not found in other books, it’s not necessary to have read it to follow the series. This is also why, when the series was originally optioned as a potential television series, this book was not included with the other three as part of the final deal.