Raiders of the Lost Irish Crown!

I was quietly amused this week when I came across an article on Clare TD Cathal Crowe who apparently submitted a parliamentary question demanding that the Tánaiste work with the Irish Ambassador to the Holy See to ensure the (ahem) legendary crown of Brian Ború was returned.

Crowe, it seems, is a supporter of one the nuttier conspiracy theories about how Brian Ború’s ‘crown’has been hidden away in a Vatican vault – Indiana Jones style – for almost a thousand years.

According to Crowe, his request was prompted as a result of contact with a direct descendant of Brian Ború. To be honets, given the number of people supposedly descended from Brian Ború, that could have been anyone.

The thought that a rí like Brian Ború would actually bother with a crown (a Continental and British concept, never an ancient Irish one) is also quite amusing and tends to follow the fantastical thinking associated with other supposed Brian Ború relics like the Brian Ború Harp (supposedly owned by Brian Ború but not actually manufactured until 300-400 years later).

If you’re interested, you can find a link to the parliamentary question (and its response) in the comments below.

Irish Headhunters

I came across an interesting story last year about a British anthropologist (Professor Alfred C Haddon) and a researcher colleague (Andrew F Dixon). Both men were academics in anthropology and ethnology at Trinity College Dublin.

‘Craniometry’, the unscientific study of human skull size and shape to determine a person’s intelligence (a disproven belief) was very popular among colonial academics at the time and went on to create much of the basis of unscientific ‘race-based science’ in the 20th century, later used with such zeal by the Nazis and other groups. Surprisingly, for English academics, Irish islands had become very attractive at the time as they were believed to home some of the few ‘undiluted’ indigenous populations remaining within the British Isles.

Conveniently, the populations were also very poor and easily compelled.  

It’s worth remembering, that in the late 1800s, Irish universities were predominantly utilised by English people or the offspring of English colonisers. Very few native Irish people could afford – or were allowed – to go to these institutions, which goes someway to explaining why the academics believed they could behave the way they did.

Following a visit to Inishboffin in 1890, Professor Haddon and a colleague (Andrew Dixon) stole thirteen skulls from the Island graveyard at St Colman’s Monastery and quickly smuggled them off the island. It took the islanders a day or two to realise the graves had been interfered with, but when they did, they were not happy.

Because they were, essentially, powerless however, there was little the islanders could actually do to reclaim the skulls of their family members. As a result, Haddon and his colleagues played ‘pretend science’ with his booty for a few years, wrote a few papers and then the skulls were disposed of in the anatomy museum of Trinity College where they languished for over a hundred years, .   

It was only in February 2023 that Trinity College finally decided to return the skulls. In July 2023, the remains were placed in a specially designed coffin, returned to Inishboffin and reburied in the shadow of the church ruin from where they were originally stolen.

Living in New Zealand, I see many instances of different Māori tribes trying to recuperate the remains of their people (stolen by colonial scientists and ‘collectors’) from international museums. Such looting was pretty common practice on native Americans, indigenous Australians and other indigenous peoples under colonial regimes. Ireland was no different of course, but its still a bit of a shock to see its impact in practice.

Irish Culture (as represented through … money!)

The Irish banknotes are an interesting litmus test for the progression of Irish self-identity back home.

Prior to the late 1970s, Irish banknotes consisted almost exclusively of the ‘Lady Lavery issue’ banknotes (also known as the ‘A Series’) which had been printed by the Bank of England in London and circulated in Ireland since 1928. This was always an odd choice in that the’ Lady Lavery’ in question was actually an American painter, and the second wife of portrait artist Sir John Lavery.

Known for her good looks, she’d also been used as the model for the portrait of Kathleen ní Houlihan (a kind of anglicized mythical representation of Ireland invented by W.B. Yeats) which was subsequently adapted for the banknotes.

Eventually, the Central Bank of Ireland hired Servicon – an Irish design company – to design the new banknotes which became known as the ‘B Series’. This series had a bit more cultural authenticity than the ‘Lady Lavery Issue’ and the most common of these – the green One Pound note – included a portrait of Medb of Connacht with design features based on archaeological artefacts (bone slips) and a text excerpt from An Táin (from Lebor na hUidre).

The Series C Banknotes were introduced from 1992 (replacing the Series B banknotes) and featured a number of famous Irish historical figures such as Catherine McAuley, Daniell O’Connell, James Joyce and others over the different denominations. They remained in circulation until 2002 when the Euro became the national monetary currency.

Because it crosses so many different cultures, the Euro design is, by necessity, incredibly bland (mostly based on somewhat boring architectural features). You can get souvenir-style ‘diddly-dee’ euro notes representing various sites or events in Ireland (mostly made to sell to gullible tourists).

The downside? They have a monetary value of 0.00 Eu.

Clealry, a lose-lose situation. Sheesh!

Imagining Iron Age Ireland …

What was prehistoric Ireland like 2,000 years ago? Before Christianity, when it was likely an Island with a population of 100,00 – 200,00 people?

And how you get that across for a contemporary audience?

I discuss this with the Irish Stew gang on the latest Irish Stew Podcast interview.

You can find the link here: Irish Stew Podcast

Ó Bhéal 

A fascinating Irish documentary was released yesterday on how Irish musicians are fusing rap music styles with native Irish poetry performance traditions and Sean-nós singing.

As a general rule, its incredibly difficult to take two completely different art forms and merge them successfully (i.e. to make something worthwhile and which can stand on its own). That said, there does seem to be a genuine overlap of emotional and stylistic resonance behind the Irish art forms and the US black originated artform.

I’m intrigued to see where this goes.

You can find the trailer link HERE.


These are some recreation images for the Broch of Gurness – a kind of stone roundhouse from the Iron Age, located in the northeast of Orkney. This was an important community centre at various points over the historical timeline with the initial settlement estimated to have occurred somewhere time between 500 and 200 BC.

Sometime after 100 AD, the broch was apparently abandoned but them later occupied again into the 5th century AD. After that, stones from the ruin were used to construct other dwellings on top of the original structure. Later, in the 9th century, a woman believed to be associated with Norse settlers was buried there and was obviously a person of importance as her grave was stone-lined and contained two bronze brooches and a knife and sickle. Other Norse men were buried there as well.

The images are by excellent Irish artist JD O’Donoghue – a recreation artist who, more recently, has produced a fine line of more fantasy-themed work.

Corto Maltese in Ireland

Despite a measure of artitistic self-indulgence, I’ve actually come to enjoy Hugo Pratt’s books (some of them at least) but his representation of Ireland during the war of independence is amusingly uninformed.

When his laconic anti-hero (the nautical Corto Maltese) ends up in Ireland, he meets the hilariously named ‘Banshee O’Danann’.

I sometimes wonder whether Pratt was actually very sly, and this was all just part of some obscure joke.

I wouldn’t put it past him.

What is the Sweetest Sound?

What is the Sweetest Sound?

The music of what happens next.

In terms of what happens next, I’ve got my head down on a number of separate IRISH IMBAS projects, most of which won’t see the light of day until later this year (and some later still).

Most of these are in varying stages of completion and although, in some regards, I’m champing at the bit to get them out, I also know they won’t taste anywhere as sweet if I rush them.

Key amongst these projects are:

  • LIATH LUACHRA: The Great Wild (book release for 4 June 2023)
  • LIATH LUACHRA SERIES: Screen Bible and Script for Pilot Episode (Aug 2023)
  • The IRISHNESS Conceptual Model – Cultural Work – anticipated release Oct 2023)
  • THE FENIAN PROJECT (working title) Cultural Work – anticipated release Oct 2023)
  • How MYTHOLOGY works – anticipated release Dec 2023)
  • FIONN 5 – book release – anticipated release Dec 2023)
  • BEARA SERIES: Screen Bible and Script for Pilot Episode (Dec 2022)

I’m back home in Beara and travelling around Ireland during June and July, catching up with family and friends and carrying out some additional research.

If you’re seeking an interview or have a mutually interesting project you’d be keen to work on together, feel free to email before I get back.

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.

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.

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!