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Irish Pirates

When people go on about “Irish Pirates” it’s always good to treat whatever they say with a grain of salt (unless they’re talking about internet sites!). In fact, piracy wasn’t that ‘popular’ in Ireland. Although there were certainly tuath (tribes) who used boats to launch attacks on rival tuath (or to obtain levy payment from boats fishing or passing through their territorial coastline), in the early- and mid-medieval periods, these were very different to what most people think of when the topic of ‘piracy’ is raised. Treasure Island and subsequent Hollywood movies tend to deal with buccaneers and the ‘Golden Age of Piracy’ which lasted between the 1650s and the 1730s) and, in truth, they didn’t have too much to do with Ireland as the Gaelic power base had mostly been destroyed by then.

In Ireland, the most active “pirates” were probably the O’Driscolls whose tribal territories were based in West Cork, an area renowned for its island-strewn coast and safe harbours. The O’Driscoll’s had a particularly long-running feud with the colonial merchants of Waterford city (further up the east coast) and spent years attacking and looting their trading ships (this actually started in 1368, when they sacked the city). The O’Driscolls ‘pirate’ activities only came to a close around 1537 when a Waterford-controlled force reciprocated by sacking O’Driscoll settlements at Baltimore and the nearby islands and destroying their power base for good.

Recently however, I learned about a 17th century alliance of international pirates, based down in West Cork, which I hadn’t come across before. The result of some detailed research by underwater archaeologist Dr Connie Kelleher, she’s just released a book on the subject and you can read about her various findings HERE.

Irish Mythological Concepts, Books and the Writing Process

This is an interview I had with Finbarr Murray of Capital Irish – the Irish Access Radio channel in Wellington – back in 2016.  I actually spent a few years as one of the presenters on this show but had to give it up a year before the interview due to competing time commitments.

In this particular episode, I discuss the context behind Irish – and other – mythology, how it developed over time and how that’s influenced the way I publish  my own materila through Irish Imbas Books.

You can listen to (or download) the episode below.

Black and Blue and Gibber-irish

Given recent events following the murder of George Floyd, it’s probably worth recalling a story from 2017 when an American cop hilariously tried to counter the popularity of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement through the use of his own (cough) Irish heritage.

The cop in question was attempting to translate the words ‘Blue Lives Matter’ into Irish – misguidedly attempting to link it with the Irish culture – presumably to give it some kind of “cultural integrity” which he (and the expression) clearly didn’t have.

The first mistake he made was using ‘Google Translate’ – a programme famously known to turn English expressions into Gibber-Irish.

The second mistake he made was having no real understanding of the culture he was attempting to reference.

In Irish, the expression ‘fear dubh’, although literally meaning ‘black man’, is commonly understood as a reference to ‘The Devil’. As a result, if we want to talk about a black person, we instead use the words ‘fear gorm’ (or ‘bean gorm’) – literally blue man (blue woman). That’s just a cultural thing. It’s how the language evolved over a very long period and anyone who truly knew their culture would know that.

In Ireland, we often see people who aren’t from the country attempting to use Irish cultural concepts (and language) in a way that doesn’t make any sense (or simply isn’t appropriate).

Sometimes, however, there are some hilariously funny ‘backfires’!

You can find the original post from The Geeky Gaeilgeoir here: Even Racists Get the Blues

Interlude at a Cave

An excerpt from Fionn: Defence of Ráth Bládhma. While out hunting, the woman warrior Liath Luachra and her young companion Bearach have discovered tracks of a large war party in the snow. Concerned that the war party might discover their trail and follow them back to the settlement of Ráth Bládhma, they elect instead to spend the night in a nearby cave.
******************
By the time they’d climbed to the cleft on the hill crest, the sky was beginning to darken, the light turning brittle and grey. The wind had also increased, whipping icy gusts down from the summit to spatter their eyes and faces

‘There it is!’

Liath Luachra pointed towards a narrow slit in the side of a steep incline, just above the tree line. Pleased to find it exactly where she’d remembered, she approached the craggy cave mouth. It seemed a bit narrower than she recalled but it was definitely the place.

A rocky passage curled inwards from the entrance for a distance of about seven or eight paces before veering off sharply to the left. Here it widened to form a circular chamber with a high curved ceiling. In one wall, there was a wide ledge at the height of a tall man’s head. Accessible using a rough series of hollows and notches that pockmarked the rocky surface, it provided a secure place to sleep.

Liath Luachra dumped an armful of kindling and branches onto the floor then left Bearach to coax a fire to life while she went outside and down to the trees to seek additional fuel. After returning several times with armfuls of the driest wood she could find, she hacked a number of branches from a nearby gorse bush and used them to plug the entrance to the cave. As a barrier, the spiny shrub did not present a serious obstacle, however its voluminous branches would serve as a credible windbreak to prevent the worst of the gale from entering the cave. More importantly, they would also help to shield any light from the fire that might seep out from the inner chamber.

When the gap was sealed to her satisfaction, Liath Luachra joined the youth, sitting by the small fire he’d managed to put together. Bearach had also laid their rations out on a flat rock beside the fire; two portions of salted fish, blood cake and some hard bread, all wrapped in broad, green dock leaves.

They ate the frugal meal in silence, the woman warrior chewing without relish on the tasteless hard tack. It was hardly a feast but it was certainly not the worst she’d eaten. With her habitual pragmatism, she accepted the food for what it was; simple replenishment to keep the hunger pangs at bay.

Beside her, somewhat more forthright, Bearach sighed and grimaced melodramatically with each mouthful.

‘Some roasted meat would have been nice.’

Liath Luachra gave him a sidewards glance, one eyebrow raised.

‘You’re as bad as your brother.’

‘But Aodhán has a point. He likes his meat. This is like chewing dog turds. I wish we’d brought some decent food with us.’

Liath Luachra rewarded his opinion with a look of disdain. Tossing the empty dock leaves aside, she slowly got to her feet and then twisted her hips so that she could slip her right hand down the back of her woolen leggings. Bearach watched in growing bewilderment as she grunted loudly, forehead creased as though in immense concentration.

‘What are you doing?’

‘Be quiet. I’m trying to pull some nice fresh venison out of my arse for your dinner.’

He stared at her blankly then suddenly his head rolled back and a raucous guffaw echoed around the cave, resounding off the hard chamber walls to fill the enclosed space with laughter. Infected by his contagious good humour, Liath Luachra started to laugh as well and, for a moment, a great weight slipped from her shoulders.

When they’d finished eating the last scraps of food, Bearach climbed up to the rocky shelf to unroll their bedding; two double-layered wool blankets. He spread these out across a cushion of spruce cuttings that he’d trampled flat on the rock base and strewn with dead leaves bundled up from the cavern floor.

Liath Luachra regarded the sleeping arrangements with little enthusiasm.

Hard dreams tonight, then.

‘You go ahead and sleep,’ she instructed the boy. ‘I want to think and I need to be alone to work out the way of things. I’ll come join you when I’m ready.’

Shrugging, Bearach retired to his bedroll and lay down, fully clothed, on the thin bedding. They would have no covering layer tonight, relying on their shared body heat, the fire and the shelter of the cave to keep them warm until morning.

Exhausted from the day’s exertions, it did not take the boy long to fade and within a short period of time, a soft snore emanated from the huddle he made.

Liath Luachra remained seated before the small fire, adding some dry sticks then rubbing her palms together before the brief flare of heat they produced. Outside, the temperature would have plummeted but it was still pleasantly warm within the cave, the rocky walls reflecting the heat of the fire back on her. Later in the night, when the fire had died down, the accumulated heat would slowly seep out through the cave entrance, despite her best efforts to seal them in.

She glanced back over her shoulder and up to the ledge where Bearach was visible, sleeping quietly. She released a long sigh. Originally intending to travel alone, she’d allowed the boy to beat her resistance down with his good humour and boundless enthusiasm, somehow convincing her to let him come. She was still unsure how he’d actually managed to do that, to weasel his way past her habitual resolve.

The fire crackled and a low draught stirred the scent of burning pine up to her nostrils.

She had never been particularly good with children, unable to relate to their weakness, their innocence and complete dependency on adults. Her own childhood had taught her that there were only two types of people: those who were tough enough to survive and those who died.  It was a simple as that.

And yet it wasn’t, of course.

Three years at Ráth Bládhma had changed her beliefs on many things. Somehow, over that time, the routine domesticity and Bodhmhall’s calming influence had mellowed her, worn down her more jagged edges. Until accompanying Bodhmhall to Ráth Bládhma she had never really known such an extended period of calm, of tranquility. In the new settlement, for the first time in her life, she was surrounded by people she actually liked, people who respected her presence there as much for her company as for her martial skills.

You are getting soft, Liath Luachra. Life at Ráth Bládhma has made you soft and fat.

Sometimes she wished she could cut old memories from her mind, peel them away in the same way she’d peel the skin from a potato. If such things were possible she would have pared away all the pain, all the memories, long ago and tossed them into the air to let the wind take them away.

She chuckled at her own inanities. She was only fooling herself. The pain made her who she was. The pain made her hard and ruthless and, sometimes, ruthlessness was necessary to combat those who threatened you.

And there was always someone who would threaten you.

BLATHER DAY

One of the problems with writing independently is that it’s hard to do marketing or advertising unless you have the time/energy to commit to it yourself.

Given that I usually have neither (and I’m essentially useless at all forms of marketing), I generally let it up to other people to spread word about my books, through’ word of mouth’, reviews at the various bookstores (Amazon, Kobo, Apple etc.) or on the Goodreads site.

Hence … ‘Blather Day’.

On the 27th of each month, I post a few reviews for one of my books, essentially letting other people describe their thoughts about that particular book instead of blathering on about it myself (we all miss a bullet, that way!).

Today’s ‘Blather Day’ choice is FIONN: THE STALKING SILENCE – the free short-story prequel to the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series (and which actually started the whole series). The reviews I’ve chosen were really just randomly copied off an Amazon page. Hence, some are short, some are more in-depth but at least they’re all from people who actually read the book.

As always, I’m very grateful for those who made the effort of leaving a review.

Go raibh maith agaibh!

Scáthach and Cú Chulainn

Scáthach – the Shadowed – is a woman warrior who turns up in the tenth century manuscript Tochmarc Emire (The Wooing of Emer). A supporting character to the narrative adventure that focuses on Irish hero Cú Chulainn, her main purpose is to add an element of depth and context to Cú Chulainn’s legendary fighting skills and, of course some 10th century feminine (cough) “pizzazz”. In the Tomharc Emire, advised by his friends that to complete his martial training he should learn from Scáthach, Cú Chulainn immediately sets sail for Alba (in modern-day Scotland) and the fortress where she’s based.

To be honest, whenever I think of Scáthach, I have this mental image of a longsuffering professional working woman, gritting her teeth and doing her best to hide her irritation at an extended visit from her daughter’s boorish boyfriend. To imagine Cú Chulainn’s visit as a pleasing or welcome one would be to ignore the other interesting elements of the tale. Most people sadly, enamoured by the romanticised aspect of a woman warrior teaching the mythological hero, tend to limit their focus on that.

When Cú Chulainn first arrives and enters Scáthach’s domain, he inveigles his way into her fortress by manipulating the romantic passions of her teenage daughter, Úathach. Despite Cú Chulainn breaking her fingers (and the slaying of the warrior Cochair Cruibne), Úathach is so besotted she casts any loyalty to Scáthach aside, advising her new beau on how to overcome her mother while she’s resting. Following Úathach’s advice, Cú Chulainn overcomes his host, places his sword between her breasts and threatens her with death unless she grants him three wishes:

• that she trains him without neglect,
• that she pays the bride price for him to marry Úathach; and
• that she uses her seer skills to warn him of anything that might befall him.

Over the course of Cú Chulainn’s visit, Scáthach puts up with her unwelcome visitor’s regular acts of violence and trains him as obliged without comment. When Cú Chulainn attacks Aífe and forces her to have his child (Úathach has disappeared from the narrative at this point), she continues to keep her silence.

In the end however, it’s Scáthach who has the last bitter laugh. Prior to his departure back to Ireland and Eamain Macha, she draws up her seer skills and recites the events she sees in store for him, foretelling the bloody slaughter of the Táin Bó Cuailgne. Cú Chulainn, preoccupied, pays her recitation as much attention as a blind man to the cinematic trailer of a subtitled movie.

The moment passes, nothing is learned.

I’m occasionally asked why I’ve never written a contemporary version of Cú Chulainn or An Táin, given that – in some ways – he’s far more well known to non-Irish, English-speaking audiences. The truth of it is I find it hard to write about characters I don’t particularly like. For a contemporary audience, the actions of the Iron Age Cú Chulainn are difficult to get across in a way that would remain true to the original stories. Particularly as, in many of those stories, he comes across as a violent meathead (and, to be honest, a bit of a bastard).

Just like some real life heroes, I suppose.

Celtic Mythology Collection Books

Two years have passed since I published the most recent book in the Celtic Mythology Collection Series. I had hoped to run another -slightly amended – competition this year but events, unfortunately, conspired to prevent it.

The original purpose of this series was to try and educate people about Irish mythology and to establish some fundamental opposition to all the misinformation published out there on the internet that purports to be authentic. Since I started publishing these books however, I’ve also found other – more effective – ways to do this kind of work and, with the slow/careful release of lockdown in Wellington, hope to be able to release some of these in the forthcoming months.

Meanwhile, the first book in the series is still out there for free. The last two remain at the very minor price of 99c/99p each.

You can find the link to all three books here.

Pirates of Ancient Ireland

I was amused the other day to find a Russian-based pirate site offering free downloads of one of my books – “Liath Luachra: The Seeking” – the only copy of which, sits on my desktop, awaiting the last few chapters to be written.

Obviously, this was one of the many false ‘pirate’ sites that are actually scams intending to obtain a person’s credit card details.

That said, I was actually tempted to download a copy to see how it ended!

Arrrrr!!

APRIL NEWSLETTER CANCELLED

APRIL NEWSLETTER CANCELLED

Due to barbaric workloads I’ve had to cancel April’s newsletter. I’m sure the internet can just cope perfectly well by itself while I recover but if anyone finds my temporal lobe, could you please return it to Irish Imbas at the usual address.

I’ll respond to all emails, etc. when I get a chance.

‘maith agaibh!

Brian

Update on Liath Luachra: The Seeking (The Irish Woman Warrior Series III)

Liath Luachra: The Seeking has now passed 80,000 words – essentially the first eight chapters (and I’m currently working on Chapter 9). The book is planned for release later this year.

Above is a section of the new cover for this book. Below is the current draft of the back cover blurb.

*********

In the bleak Luachair valley, the woman warrior Liath Luachra’s seclusion is disrupted by a desperate plea to rescue a comrade’s abducted sister. Raising her ‘fian’ to pursue the raiders, this ‘Seeking’ turns out far more perilous than first imagined.

Pursuing a mysterious war party across ancient Ireland’s Great Wild, she soon finds herself confronted on every side. Old enemies seek to undermine her, new allies can’t be trusted and in the deep south-east, a dark threat rises, roused by a chilling spectre from her past.

Faced with horrors she’d thought long forgotten, Liath Luachra must revert to the worst part of herself to survive the phantoms of her past and present.

But you cannot stalk – or kill – a ghost.

New Irish Horror/Sci-fi/Adventure Film

There’s an interesting new film from Irish Director Neasa Hardiman available in April. Set aboard and Irish fishing boat in the Northern Sea, it offers some fascinating parallels with the practical impacts of infection/epidemiology. Neatly packaged in a horror/sci-fi/adventure-style story akin to Alien or The Abyss, this does seem to be a bit of a film for our times.

I’m not sure how much of an Irish production this is and I haven’t seen the movie as yet but the trailer looks interesting and the international cast give some credible performances (and accents, for once!).

The blurb for the movie is as follows:

Siobhán’s a marine biology student who prefers spending her days alone in a lab. She has to endure a week on a ragged fishing trawler, where she’s miserably at odds with the close-knit crew. But out in the deep Atlantic, an unfathomable life form ensnares the boat. When members of the crew succumb to a strange infection, Siobhán must overcome her alienation and anxiety to win the crew’s trust, before everyone is lost.

You can find the trailer for it here:

IRISH IMBAS PROJECTS IN PRODUCTION

It may be hard to see but there’s a lot of work going on in the background at the moment, most of which won’t become evident until later this year (or early next year). The sheer volume of work has significantly impacted on progress with a number of other projects I’m champing at the bit to complete.
 
Anyway, here’s a quick summary of where things are at with the more immediate projects:

LIATH LUACHRA III
Currently half-way through chapter 8 of Liath Luachra III which introduces Bodhmhall from the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series. This is the point at which the Liath Luachra Series starts to overlap with the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series. Although to date, the Liath Luachra books have been very much stand-alone, this book introduces the first aspects of a longer-term plot/mystery that eventually gets resolved towards the end of the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series. That said, this book can still be read and enjoyed as a stand-alone too. Its only people following both series who’ll really pick up on what’s happening.

LIATH LUACHRA IV
I had intended to finish the Liath Luachra Series with the third book but after four chapters in, it quickly became apparent I’d need a 4th to complete the story the way I wanted. I’ve done an initial – very skimpy – outline for this but I won’t be anywhere near writing it until next year. This book will cover some pretty dramatic elements that haven’t been covered by Irish writers before (at least to my knowledge, but I’ve researched it quite a bit). I’m very much looking forward to this one!
 
DARK DAWN
I had two days set aside to complete the final elements of the Dark Dawn project and prepare it for launch but then our Covid-19 lock-down happened. As a result, I now have no idea when I can get this back on track. I must admit, I pull this out and look at it from time to time and, for something that will actually look very simple in its finished form, it’s been devilishly complex.

FIONN IV (Fionn: Stranger at Mullán Bán
This is the book I had to put aside in order to focus on Liath Luachra III. Seven chapters have already been completed and edited. It’s my intention to finish the book once LL III has been released.
 
Probably best to keep an eye on the website or the newsletter for announcements on the release dates. When they’re ready, they’ll be available here for a few weeks before they’re released to the ebookstores.