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Some readers might find this image a little familiar.

That’s because it’s remarkably similar to the layout of the ‘Crannóg‘ used in the book ‘LIATH LUACHRA: The Metal Men.

In fact, this is an early image of the ráth at the Irish National Heritage Park. It has a very similar layout to the fictional crannóg as, in general, there wasn’t major differences in terms of structural designs back in the day. People used the natural materials available and the fundamental designs of what worked were easily adapted to many structures.

Our ancestors were eminently practical as, a lot of the time, their lives depended on it. 

Iron Age and Medieval Age Gaming

This is the Ballinderry Gaming Board held by the National Museum of Ireland which is often used to portray the ancient Irish game of ‘Fidchell’ – a game I occasionally make reference to in my own Fionn mac Cumhaill books.

Like many non-native representations of Irish culture however, this one is also flawed in that the Ballinderry Gaming Board is actually believed to have been used to play ‘Hnefatafl’ -a military board game used by the Vikings (which you won by driving a ‘King’ piece into one of the corners).

That aligns pretty well with the estimated dating of the board (it was found at the Ballinderry Crannóg which would have been occupied over the late 9th to 11th centuries).

It’s still pretty satisfying, though, to see how different cultures developed their own versions of an intellectual board game.

Initial thoughts on ‘LIATH LUACHRA: The Great Wild’

Initial thoughts.
Predominantly one character alone in the forest. No dialogue apart from limited self-dialogue.

This book is quite an experimental work for me but one I’ve really felt compelled to write. I’m particularly enjoying the challenge of trying to make the story work effectively (in terms of mystery and action) within such a limited setting.

If I get it wrong, the final product will be like that ‘wanky’ art-house movie you once got dragged into, to please a friend or partner.

More on the book here: THE GREAT WILD

Cutting through the Lies and Misunderstandings of Irish Mythology

Much of what people think of when they think of Irish Mythology is flawed, influenced by decades of commercial fantasy entertainment, or rendered generic to the point of irrelevance. This (and a number of other influences) has essentially meant Irish mythology is now a subject lacking a clear intellectual architecture or even a basic, a commonly understood set of concepts and a common terminology. For this reason, it’s almost impossible to have a meaningful conversation on the subject (in the same way it’s impossible to have a conversation with someone on the subject of ‘chemistry’, when they don’t even know what an ‘atom’ is).

One of the Irish Imbas projects I’m hoping to complete this year, is a small training process to explain the fundamental concepts of mythology, those basic initial concepts you need to understand what you’re being presented with.

Longer term, this is something I’m hoping that people can use to apply to their own circumstances but that can only be done in a number of sequential steps.

It’s going to be an interesting year.

Beannachtaí na Nollag oraibh!

We’re shutting down for Christmas shortly so a huge thank you to everyone who’s supported us over 2022. I’ll leave you with my favourite image of 2022 – a still from Macnas ‘Gilgamesh’.

Wishing you all a peaceful Christmas and a safe New year.

Beannachtaí na Nollag oraibh go léir!

Conversation on a Beara Beach

A segment from the second Beara book, Beara: Cry of the Banshee

Although this sequel to Beara: Dark Legends is still very far from even a first draft, I was doing some work on it last weekend.

This is a quiet scene between two of Mos’ co-characters: ‘kind-of’ partner, Ailbhe/Olva (Hungarian magician and acrobat) and good friend Bróna (West Cork’s most industrious hacker). In the first book, both women took an instinctive dislike to each other which was fun to write and play out.

In the second book however, enough time has elapsed that their enmity has softened, to the point they can even have conversation on topics as arcane as ‘connection to place’.

In this scene, they’re standing together on Beara’s south coast, considering the view over Cuan Baoi.

———————————-

Ailbhe stared at her, at the grey rock, the cold sea and back to her again.

‘I don’t know if I could live here. The weather’s … sad. The landscape has a bleakness to it I …’ Unable to find the words she wanted, she stopped trying and settled for a shrug.

Bróna nodded. ‘That’s only because you read the landscape differently to people living here.’

‘What do you mean?’

Bróna mused on that for a moment.

‘Landscapes are like a book.  If you don’t have the necessary vocabulary – the placenames, the local history, the contextual terms of reference … then it’s hard to make sense of it.  There’s no relationship, no emotional connection with it.’

Ailbhe smiled at that.  ‘You need an emotional connection to the land?’

‘You do.  It helps when times are hard.’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘What do you see when you look around?’

Reluctantly, Ailbhe did another slow sweep of the surroundings.        

‘Grey rocks. A grey sea. Gorse. A lighthouse in the distance.’

‘Sure. You see the physical topography of the land. Yet, when I look around, my personal history in this region means I’ll see layers that mean nothing to someone who’s never lived here. I see Cnoc Daod the hill that’s dominated our family’s view for several generations. I see Parc an Tobar – the field with a hidden well behind the fern bushes. I see An Tráthín where one of my brother’s fell and broke his leg.  I see a buachalan bush that the sidhe were said to fly away on, fuchsia bushes that will heal a sore throat.  I see the mass rock where people gathered in secret during penal times, I see an trá bán – the beach where I collected shells as a child and where, as you can see, my own son is now doing so.’

She paused and pointed to a nearby rock coated with moss. ‘Over there by that big tree, about fifteen years ago, I lost my virginity to one of the Harringtons.’

Ailbhe stared at her, then gave one a rare, deep, and very hoarse, laugh.

Bróna grinned.

‘I guess what I’m saying is that our roots run deep here. Our personal history is fundamentally linked to the place, physically through the bones of our ancestors and, metaphorically, through the stories and emotion we’ve shared here. It’s always there – a constant fixture and reference point.  My father saw this view every day, so did his father and so do I. For that reason, it represents a continuity of landscape relationships, of memories connected to places that have been shaped by our ancestors. That emotional connection means we don’t see the land as existing uniquely in the present.’ She shrugged. ‘Which, of course, triggers a whole different interpretation of what we do see.’

There was a long silence when she finished. It went on to stretch far longer than either expected.

‘Did you really lose your virginity under that tree?’ Ailbhe asked at last.

‘Let’s just say that if you’re ever looking for a spot that’s private and dry and doesn’t have nettles, that’s one I’d highly recommend.’

Fionn mac Cumhaill Taking the Dogs for a Walk

An impressive stainless streel representation of Fionn (and doggies) in Kildare. I really like the style by Lynn Kirkmann (the creating artist) but I was surprised at the Kildare County Council website notice which provided the following text:

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The sculpture came about following a consultation with Kildare County Council who wished to commission a significant landmark sculpture to celebrate Kildare’s colourful history and folklore and the presence of the Military in the area since earliest times and up to the present day.

Fionn Mac Cumhaill and the Fianna are genuine historical figures whose deeds and life stories have been embellished through time, myth and legend. There are many tales of their acts of bravery and magic. They were hunters and warriors, the bravest, the swiftest, the strongest and made the wild places of Ireland their demesne.

—————————————-

To find a County Council publishing that colonial-style fantasist perspective is genuinely a bit concerning. Fionn and the Fianna were not historical figures but native cultural representations.

Coming in 2023

For all of the bad news over 2022 (the Ukraine War, Climate change disasters, attacks on democracy etc.), the year was a relatively calm time at Irish Imbas Books and we managed to release a trio of works that I’m quite proud of.

In March, the fourth book in the Irish Woman Warrior Series – Liath Luachra: The Metal Men – was released (and well received by followers of that series). This was accompanied by a supporting short story, Liath Luachra: The Consent (note: this is only available through this website) which resolved a gap in the plotline that I hadn’t been able to cover in the books without disrupting the flow (it brings the character Bressal back into the series). Overall, I’m very satisfied with both

Meanwhile, in about two weeks, the digital version of FIONN: Stranger at Mullán Bán, book four in the Fionn Mac Cumhaill Series finally gets released.

This book marks a step change in the direction of the series as the maturing Fionn (Demne) starts to make his mark and begins his struggle to solve the mystery around his heritage. As always, he’s supported by his three guardians: his aunt – the bandraoi Bodhmhall, the woman warrior Liath Luachra, the eccentric womaniser Fiacail mac Codhna, and a number of other characters from Rath Bládhma (and further afield).

At this stage, I’ve seen three reviews for the book. All three have been very positive, which is always something of a relief.

What’s coming in 2023?

For the next six months, I’ll be working full time in the creative space and focused on completing the following projects:


Liath Luachra: The Great Wild.

The Great Wild is a prequel to the Irish Woman Warrior Series. The first ‘chapter’ is now complete but its slightly experimental nature means I’m still a bit uncertain as to what the final product is going to look like. The target for release to Patrons is Mar/April 2023. I’m not sure when it’ll be publicly available, yet.

Liath Luachra: The Raiders

This isn’t a new book but a repackaging of two previous ones (Liath Luachra: The Seeking and Liath Luachra: The Metal Men) so if you’ve read those, this probably won’t be of interest

Given the strong positive feedback on these books, I wanted to bring the two stories together into a single narrative (which had always been the original intention). This will require some minor rewriting to make the story more accessible for people who haven’t read the other books, but it shouldn’t be significant.

‘The Raiders’ will be exclusive to Amazon for a few months (which means the digital versions of Liath Luachra: The Seeking and Liath Luachra: The Metal Men will be unavailable from all other bookstores over that time. If you’re thinking about getting either of those books from Apple/Kobo/Google Play/Barnes & Noble/ etc., I’d recommend getting them before Christmas as they won’t be available from those suppliers for several months.

Fionn: The Betrayal

Are you a follower of the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series? Have you ever wondered who facilitated the deadly ambush in Fionn: Traitor of Dún Baoisnce or how’The Adversary’ managed to obtain physical tokens from Bodhmhall and Liath Luachra? Have you, perhaps, wondered what exactly happened at the great battle of Cnucha (where Fionn’s father Cumhal was killed) or why so many vested interests have it in for Demne/Fionn?

If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to any of the above, then Fionn: The Betrayal may be for you. This series is slowly but surely drawing to its conclusion, so I’m planning to resolve a number of plotlines with this particular book. It won’t be the last in the series, but it will certainly answer some of the mysteries lurking in the background since book 1. There’s also an overlap with the Liath Luachra Series in there although I don’t think you’ll be able to identify it just yet.

The projected release date for this is June/July 2023.

Beara: Cry of the Banshee

Yes. It’s finally happening. After six or seven years of distraction with the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series and the Irish Woman Warrior Series, I’m finally returning to West Cork and Beara, the most south-western point of Ireland. There, more skullduggery and mythological detective work, await the ever-cynical Mos O’Suilleabháin (O’Sullivan).

Beara: Dark Legends was my first self-published book and it took about 4 years to research and write. It was quite successful at the time of its release, but the effort of producing it left me wrung out to the point where I couldn’t cope with starting the second book (hence the detour into the Fionn and Liath Luachra series). I’m now satisfied that I can get this series up and running again, so expect to see an announcement towards the end of 2023.

Other Projects

There are also a number of other projects sitting at different stages of development or completion, that I’ll also be working on over 2023. Some of these include audiobooks, film/tv scripts, a non-fiction project (The Fundamental Concepts of Irish Mythology) and two more ambitious projects that I’m not in a position to talk about yet. These kinds of projects are hard to scope out in terms of timelines but they’re important from a creative perspective in that they allow me t explore different aspects of storytelling.
I’m also hoping to carry out at least one or two collaborations over 2023 so if you have an interesting (and appropriate) project, send me an email before I get overloaded. 

All in all, 2023 is looking like a very important year from my perspective. Roll on New Years Eve!

Training the young Fionn mac Cumhaill

This is a representation from illustrator Arthur Rackam of Liath Luachra teaching Demne (the young Fionn) at a very early age.

It’s actually a visual representation of a scene from Macgnímartha Finn where Liath Luachra and the young Fionn chase other around a tree with a switch.

There are quite a few interesting and unknown elements associated both with the picture and to that scene, but I’ll cover those in Vóg at a later date.

Cú Chulainn was Arrested and Led Away in Handcuffs

Louth has been running a pretty fun community re-enactment of An Táin every summer since 2011 (sadly cancelled in 2020/2021 due to Covid) and it was back again in June this year.

Designed as a community walking and cultural education festival, it usually begins in Rathcroghan (where Queen Maeve first assembled her army to obtain the Brown Bull of Cooley) and terminates at Bush in Cooley, Co. Louth on the June bank holiday. The march follow Maeve’s route across the rugged terrain over three weekends (and 12 walking days) with a number of events taking place at various towns and villages along the way.

There was an amusing report in a local newspaper of the festival from back in 2012 which goes as follows:

“Brothers Eoghan and Sean Whelan made for a convincing Cuchulainn and Ferdia as they fought each other at the centre of the refurbished Market Square, where the water was turned on for their final battle at the ford of the River Dee. Members of Dundalk Red Cross administered first aid to a dying Ferdia while Cuchulainn was arrested and led away in handcuffs!”

A quick shout out.

A quick shout out to the Irish Field Archery Monthly Magazine which is running a copy of my article on “Bows and Chariots in Ancient Ireland – The Facts and the Fantasies” in their latest edition.

Kudos to the creators and their work- I know how difficult it is to produce a regular publication while struggling to ensure appropriate content and quality. You can find a link to the free PDF’s of their magazine here: Irish Archery

And interesting side-effect wrt to this article is that it always tends to draw at least a number of ‘Cardboard Celts’ out of the shadows. After republishing, I usually get at least 2/3 emails or social media comments from outraged readers who refuse to believe that history and physical fact doesn’t align exactly with events in ‘An Táin’. It’s also interesting to note that, generally, most of these outraged individuals aren’t Irish.