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Liath Luachra: The Great Wild Release

I’m currently behind on where I want to be with Liath Luachra: The Great Wild. At this stage, the draft is sitting at over 30,000 words and although I had planned to keep it around that length, the final product is looking more like 40-50,000 (in other words, it’s about 3-4/5 complete).

This means that the final version it won’t be released in April as intended. I’m now postponing release until the start of June (although Patrons and paid newsletter subscribers will get it earlier).

In that regard, I’ve now put it up as a pre-order for Amazon which you can find here: The Great Wild Preorder

The back cover blurb reads as follows:

Ireland : 1st Century

In the deep, green depths of the Great Wild, a naked girl awakes in a forest clearing. With no belongings – bar a cloak and a bloody knife – and no memory to guide her, she must adapt and survive in an unfamiliar world.

With every possible kind of danger.

The Irish Mythology Seekers

We had a bunch of foreign visitors arrive at our home in Cork last night.
Being hospitable, we fed them at the kitchen table.
As soon as they’d consumed what we’d offered, they got up and started rummaging through the cupboards, combing through our personal correspondence, pulling our belongings out and throwing them one side as they continued their search.

‘Where do you keep the Irish mythology?’ they demanded.

Cath Fionntrá – The Battle of Fionntrá

For those of you who aren’t aware, an updated version of An Seabhach’s “Cath Fionntrá” came out last year.

The story concerns the King of France’s ire (clearly, this was pre-revolutionary France) when his wife and daughter run off with his guest Fionn Mac Cumhaill. Joining up for vengeance with Dáire Donn (the King of all the World who wants to add Ireland to his collection) and a host of other famous kings and warriors, they sail in a gigantic fleet to Fionntrá in Ventry (Kerry) where the biggest battle the world has ever seen, takes place.

The white sands of Ventry will be white no more.

Although a little formulaic, this classic is still an interesting read for anyone interested in the non-kernel Fenian narratives.

Doon … and Other Works

An Roinn Tithíochta, Rialtais Áitúil agus Oidhreachta (Ireland’s Office of Public Works and National Monuments Service), get a lot of bad stick online, usually from opinionated keyboard warriors who don’t understand the realities of managing a nationwide conservation programme.

It’s nice, therefore, when they release a new project that helps to increase accessibility (and understanding) of our native monuments.

Earlier this year (in Dublin Castle from 8-12 February 2023), they held an exhibition with some stunning photographs of archaeological monuments throughout the country. If you missed that, the collection is also available in their book “Monumental Ireland” which is now available as well.

The attached image of ‘Doon Fort’ (Doon lake on the west coast of Donegal Ireland) is from that collection.

An Táin

There’s a new version of ‘An Táin’ released this week. The cover image and fact that its title is ‘THE Táin’ suggests it’s designed for a non-Irish audience (although, to be fair, it’s primarily targeting children).

I’ll be writing more about ‘An Táin’ in ‘Vóg‘ – the Irish Imbas newsletter – at the end of the month.

The Evolving Nature of St Paddy’s Parade

It’s nice to see people enjoying the St Paddy’s Day parades , taking place again after the Covid-19 years (this photo from the Cork parade in 2022 – from Cork County Council).

It’s also interesting to see how the parades have changed so much over several decades.

It’s probably worth noting that the parade was originally very religious in nature, acting as a demonstration of faith for Irish Catholics. After the sixties it became demonstrably more ‘national’ in nature, equally representative of national identity as well as religion.

By the late 80s and 90s, the religious nature was pretty much gone, displaced by a far wider celebration of ‘Irishness’ and a commercial and political branding opportunity for various entities. It also took on a far wider entertainment and creative meaning (i.e. an entertainment event) which, to be honest, appeals far more than any of the preceding articulations.

The St Paddy’s parade will never lose the religious, political, and commercial connotations but if you can keep all those at arm’s length, its actually good craic.

It’ll be interesting to see what its like in another 20 years.

Blinkers!

Representation of mythology, in the modern context, is a bit like those small leather screens attached to a horse’s bridle.

What we see -or, rather, what we’re shown by various commercial and other vested interests – only gives us a very limited view of what mythology actually is and what it does.

Irish Imbas is currently working on a project that will hopefully start to address and rectify some of those limitations. I’m hoping to be able to make some kind of announcement on this project in August 2023 but there’s still a lot of work to do.

Culture Integrity in Creative Irish Projects

When I first started writing the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series almost nine years ago, I was keen to create a realistic, culturally authentic version of the famous Fenian Cycle. In particular, I wanted to write stories that were genuinely Irish while also accessible to non-Irish readers.

As part of my overall goal with Irish Imbas however, I was also keen to use the books as a means of reintroducing lost Gaelic/Irish concepts (that is words, expressions and – more importantly – ways of thinking) that have been lost from common Irish parlance as a result of language decline, the impacts of colonization and so on, but which still have significance at a societal level.

This is why throughout my books (and other projects), I always add a smattering of words like ‘fian‘, , draoi, ráth, and so on – words that by themselves mean little, but which in the context of understanding Irish/Gaelic culture, have a hugely significant resonance.

The word ‘Fianna‘ is a classic example of how much has been lost. This word – the basis for the contemporary word ‘Fenian’ – is believed by most people (including many Irish people who were never told any better) to be the name of Fionn mac Cumhaill’s war band.

In fact, ‘Fianna’ was simply nothing more than the plural of the word ‘fian‘ (which meant ‘battle group’ – usually in a tribal context). This means that Fionn’s fian was just one of a number of such groups and a recognised dynamic in the society of the time.

It’s a little thing, but when you take the downstream consequences of that new knowledge into account you can see how it changes the interpretation of both story and culture. For creators who want to retain cultural integrity in their work, this absolutely has to be done.

Trying to balance those competing goals (the requirements of cultural integrity and the requirement to deliver an accessible and enjoyable story to an international audience) can actually be quite a challenge at times. The balance is never easy and any creative decision you make with one can have a huge consequence for the other.

One of my earliest decisions, for example, was to retain the original Gaelic spelling for the character names (Fionn, Liath Luachra, Bodhmhall, Fiacail etc.) and place names (Seiscenn Uarbhaoil etc.). This goal for cultural accuracy – naturally – clashed enormously with the accessibility goal. For non-Gaelic speakers, Irish names can be the equivalent of having a broken stick in your mouth – whatever comes out is going to come out mangled! Anyone used to thinking in English – understandably – struggles with the unfamiliar combination of vowels and consonants.

Naturally, the advice I received from everyone was to use an anglicization of the names to make the reader more comfortable. After all, that’s why in the early days Fionn mac Cumhaill’s name was anglicized to the meaningless ‘Finn Mac Cool’. Sure, the latter is easier to say for an English speaker but the English name doesn’t carry the strong cultural associations of the Irish one (Fionn means ‘fair-headed’ but also has related connotations of ‘insightfulness’ etc.). ‘Finn’ is a meaningless term that includes no such depth or resonance (and, here, I’ll have to apologise in advance for to those parents who’ve gone and named their kids, Finn!).

Most of the books and other products I produce are strongly influenced by my decision to always lead with the ‘heart’ (cultural authenticity) as opposed to the ‘head’ (commercial ease). That said, I usually try to improve the accessibility where and when I can. For example, with the names and placenames, I soften the challenge for readers by providing an audio pronunciation guide.

In most respects, that actually pays off in the longer term as readers can generally work out when something’s authentic or not. Most readers tend to respect what I’m trying to achieve and have demonstrated immense patience and willingness to overcome things like the initial pronunciation challenge.

At the end of the day, I guess what my experience has really demonstrated is that if you produce something that’s good enough/intriguing enough/interesting enough for people to enjoy, they’ll put up with your whims and, often, they’ll support you.

As an aside, here’s a question I once held up at Irish cultural/heritage class I was running:
How would you pronounce the following?

  • Zach Galifianakis
  • Michelle Pfieffer
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
  • Chiwetel Ejiofor

Everyone in that group of attendees (about 18) was able to pronounce at least two of those names. Even when they couldn’t, they still knew exactly who those individuals were and what they had achieved as part of their creative career.

Basically, culture is not a barrier to success unless you let it be.

Ten Years Later

As of today, it’s 9 years exactly since I published FIONN: Defence of Ráth Bládhma – my first attempt at producing a genuine (as culturally authentic as I could make it) Irish historical/ adventure novel.

To be honest, at the time I had no idea whether people would like it. I’d never written anything similar before and given my insistence on using Irish cultural concepts and – occasionally – language, I assumed most people would be scared off.

Nine years on, four books in the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series have been published and five books will have been published in the spin-off series (The Irish Woman Warrior Series) by April this year.

Since their initial publication, several have been bestsellers, one of the series was fully adapted for a television series, another for a video game. I’ve been very lucky to have worked with some amazingly talented people at the top of their game in different sectors and I’ve learned a lot over the last decade.

2023 will bring some major changes in the way I work. My longer-term intent is not just to publish books but to revitalise Irish genuine cultural knowledge in a meaningful way and that requires working in other formats as well as books. As a result, over 2023, although I’ll be increasing the amount of time I spend writing and publishing, I’ll also be expanding my work in the production of other projects, the details of which will be revealed when, and if, they become available.

A key principle I adhere to is that any project I work on must retain its cultural authenticity and meaning. That approach places practical limitations on what you can do with an international audience, but it also forces you to apply levels of innovation and creativity that provide their own opportunity and reward.

I’d like to say ‘thank you’ to all of you who’ve taken the time to support the work I do. I hope you continue to enjoy what I do over the next decade

Fionn the Poet

A lot of people tend to forget that Fionn mac Cumhaill also held a reputation as a talented poet (which has a whole bunch of relevant associations) and the Fenian narratives are strongly linked with what’s generally referred to as ‘nature poetry’.

A number of ‘nature poems’ are actually attributed to Fionn (and I’ve a bridge to sell you if you believe that). This one is a 9th century poem (in Irish and English) which was translated by the German philology scholar, Kuno Meyer, back in the early 1900s.

Note, this was written in 9th century Irish, so it’s quite different to modern Irish. I have to say, though, Meyer did a superb job of the translation.

Scél lem duíb

Dordaid dam

Snigid gaim

Ro-faíth sam

Gàeth ard uar

ísel grian

gair a rith

ruirthech rían

—————

Here’s a song

stags give tongue

winter snows

summer goes

high cold blow

sun is low

brief his day

seas give spray.

Breith [Birth]

Father Sun had neared his peak when the girl in the clearing stirred.

Stretched across the ankle-high grass, her initial shiftings were indiscernible beneath the black cloak that swathed her. As vigorous ripples of activity shifted through the garment however, it loosened and slowly unravelled. A bare pair of legs slid into the open and a solitary figure unfolded from it in a series of awkward angles.

Lying face down in the flattened grass, the dark-haired girl who’d emerged, raised her head to peer at the forest standing twenty paces away. A long moment passed as she stared blankly at the trees, engrossed by the shifting depths of its mottled browns and greens, the smooth sway of branches that throbbed with the sound of birdlife.


This is the opening scene to Liath Luachra: The Great Wild, a novella that I’m hoping to complete by the end of next month.

It’s probably been influenced (to a degree) by some of Alessio Albi’s beautifully moody works (attached)

Happy ….Whatever

At this time of year, you can offer someone best wishes or a peaceful Lá Fhéile Bríde (St Brigid’s day) or Imbolg, depending on which way your belief system drifts. The former ( Lá Fhéile Bríde) is now an official holiday in Ireland (on Monday 6 Feb). I’m pretty agnostic about both, to be honest (although I’m totally supportive of another national holiday! woop, woop!).

The problem is, that on the ‘relevance meter’, it’s pretty much an empty tank for both. It’s extremely doubtful Saint Brigid ever existed, for example. Most academic/historical thinking from the past fifty or sixty years is consistently of the view that ‘she’ (cough!) was a popular land goddess appropriated by the Christian Church way back in the day. This was actually quite a prevalent practice during the church’s early expansion, and it was pretty much essential in order to get the native peoples on board.

Over the centuries since them, ex-Land Goddess Brigit was assigned all the usual trappings of a saint (miracles, origin story, relics etc.) and became a political plaything between competing church elements (there was a lot of competition from Armagh, for example, where the St Patrick groupies were based). That’s pretty how we ended up with the sanitized representative we have today.

This is all pretty much common knowledge unless you’re a politician, a journalist, or a Facebook mythology authority (palm wipe!). The new Lá Fhéile Bríde was pushed by politicians predominantly to establish a kind of a woman’s day (something generic enough to allow safe speech and flag unfurling). I think that’s certainly a justifiable objective but it just feels somewhat shallow and self-serving to choose a fantasy figure when there were so many real and worthwhile female historical figures they could have used instead. A missed opportunity for something that has genuine meaning, in other words.

Imbolg makes an interesting comparison as you can see the same process of appropriation for this particular celebration – not by the Christian churches on this occasion, but by the ‘new age’ religions (Wicca, Pagan, etc. etc.). You read a lot of supporters from the newer religions criticizing the mainstream Christian church for such scurrilous behaviour in the past but, to be honest, they seem to be doing exactly the same thing.

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose!