The Metal Men

This is the cover for ‘Liath Luachra: The Metal Men‘ which completes the story commenced in the previous book (Liath Luachra: The Seeking) of the Irish Woman Warrior Series.

The first five chapters have now been edited and are in their final forms and I’m busy drafting up ‘close to final’ versions of chapter six and seven. At this stage, the plan is still to release the book in December 2021, although this might initially be to the Irish Imbas website or Vóg followers before its distributed more widely.

The background imagery is quite dramatic in this piece and I’ll be explaining the full context behind that in the next edition of Vóg (due at the end of the month).

Following the Warrior Path

One of the challenges with writing a character like Liath Luachra – the woman warrior from the Irish Woman Warrior Series and The Fionn mac Cumhaill Series – is the need to reflect the traumatised aspect of her personality across history two different series, while also allowing her to evolve as a person over the time arc of the time periods within those books.

In the first book of the prequel Irish Woman Warrior Series, Liath Luachra is quite savage and ruthless, the result of different experiences that slowly get revealed over the remaining books in the series.  Over that time however, she establishes tentative relationships and, although she never comes to terms with her background, she does develop substantially as person.

By the follow-up series (the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series) which is set 1-2 years after the first series, although she’s still struggling with her traumatic background, the character is an essential part of a larger community, a leader of sorts, and in an established and caring relationship. But nothing burns like trauma and echoes of that remain to shape her character.

The following is a scene from the novel Fionn: Defence of Ráth Bládhma – the first in the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series – which is set in the isolated settlement of Ráth Bládhma in first century Ireland.

In this scene, the woman warrior is speaking with Bearach, a young boy who idolises her, and she attempts to explain to him how being a warrior – gaiscíoch – isn’t all it’s made out to be …

In her own inimitable manner.

—————————————————

‘I wish to be like you, Liath Luachra. I wish to be a gaiscíoch – a true warrior.’

She stared at him in genuine astonishment. A moment later, she started to laugh. It was a rare sound for her and one that was surprisingly soft, if tinged with an underlying melancholy. ‘Ah, Bearach. You are truly the only one to make me raise a smile.’

‘I make no jest, Grey One. I wish to be a gaiscíoch like you. One day I hope to equal your skill as a fighter, your ability to work through the fight in your head. I want to learn courage such as yours. You know no fear when you are Out in the Great Wild.’

‘Ah, yes. The Great Wild backs down when I tramp through its forests. Wolves shit themselves and slink into the undergrowth at my passing. Even the Faceless Ones, the ghosts of hazy glades, hide and tell each other fearful tales of the dreaded Liath Luachra who will come through the shadows to take their heads.’

The youth blushed at her gentle mockery. Picking at a loose thread on the hem of his tunic, he wound it about his index finger, tightening it until the tip of the digit grew white.

‘You are the best of us here in Ráth Bládhma.’

‘Which only goes to show how little of the Out you’ve actually seen, Bearach. There are many out there who would best me in a fight.’

‘But Aodhán says you beat Dún Baoiscne’s finest warriors. He says they fear you, that your reputation for war makes them quake in their boots.’

‘Aodhán needs to harness his tongue. And his fancies.’

‘He told me about the day you first came to Dún Baoiscne with Na Cineáltaí – the Kindly Ones – your fian of a hundred men. He says that you crushed their best fighters in single combat. Humiliated them. That you were too agile, too strong to be defeated.’

Liath Luachra ground her teeth together.

‘I did defeat them. And, yes, I did humiliate them. But that was a mistake for which they never forgave me.’ She shrugged. ‘I understand that now. I’d probably have reacted in a similar manner if I was defeated by someone I considered weaker or in some way inferior.’

‘But you showed them!’ There was a shrill enthusiasm to the boy’s voice that made her cringe.

‘You have a warped understanding of things, Bearach. I accept that the fault is not yours for you base it on the tall tales of those who should know better. I will have strong words with Aodhán about putting such stories in your head.’

The boy looked confused, almost disbelieving. ‘Aodhán has not spoken true?’

Liath Luachra shifted awkwardly on her seat. She was uncomfortable having conversations of such depth with anyone other than Bodhmhall.

‘Aodhán’s claims hold a sliver of truth. I did lead Na Cineáltaí but that band never had more than ten men at any one time. They were brutal men, little more than killers -’ Her voice trailed off. ‘You must understand, Bearach, my life back then … that was a different life. I was a different person. I had a haunting on me, a haunting so venomous that I became little better than a wounded animal: vicious, savage and very cruel.’

Unable to bear his trusting gaze, she dropped her own eyes to the floor. ‘You have seen the way a dog will snap at a wound in its paw.’

The boy nodded slowly.

‘It is the reaction of a stupid beast who knows no better. It experiences pain and immediately thinks it has been attacked. In its attempt to retaliate, to strike back, it hurts itself even more.’

She reached down into the fire and pulled a burning brand from the embers. Part of the wood had burned away and much of it was scorched and black but the tip was still red hot.

‘That was the way of me back in those days. Except that I didn’t strike at my own limbs. No, I was far too smart for that. I struck out at others instead. Bandits, reavers, murderers, sometimes even innocent people who merely looked at me the wrong way, at the wrong time on the wrong day.’

She placed the tip of the burning brand against the back of her left hand. Bearach stared in horror as smoke from the skin rose up, the stink of burning flesh filing the air. Liath Luachra showed no sign of even noticing. Her eyes flared with a ragged intensity.

‘I had a belly full of venom, a heart full of gangrene and battle rage. This world had cut me to the quick and I was determined to hurt it back, to carve its filthy influence out of my heart. I hacked and cleaved a route through blood and sinew and bone when all that time my real target, the one thing I was truly trying to strike, was myself.’

She paused and took a deep breath as she dropped the firebrand back into the fire. Her forehead was sweating profusely. Her heart thundered and there was a sickly taste in her mouth. She focused her attention on these other physical sensations, refusing to acknowledge the pain in her hand.

‘So yes, in a martial sense, that made me strong. It made me impervious to fear and, for a time, to pain. It also made me impervious to those things that make us human: compassion, friendship, affection.’

Her eyes raised abruptly to lock directly on the boy’s. ‘And that,’ she snarled, ‘is what you must sacrifice to be a true gaiscíoch.’

See More

The FREE literary game is live!

Dia Dhaoibh a Chairde/ Hallo Friends!

Welcome to the launch post for Dark Dawn/An Camhaoir Fuilsmeartha.

Through the image link below you’ll be transferred to an experimental format literary game relating to the ancient Irish Fianaigeacht – Fenian Cycle – tales (and to some of my own Fionn mac Cumhaill Series books). 

At heart, it’s the story of a sick warrior who’s convinced – against his better judgement – to try and save a tiny settlement. During the story, that warrior must make decisions – influenced by events in his own life – that can change the outcome.

It’s a very simple story. A very human story.

The game can be experienced through Irish or through English (or both). Naturally, because they’re different languages/cultures, those experiences will differ slightly. When it comes to different cultures, there’s no such thing as a ‘direct translation’.

This project is one I started three years ago as part of Irish Imbas’ ongoing mission to make Gaelic/Irish culture more visible and more understood (and to counter the reams of misinformation relating to Gaelic Irish mythology that pervade the internet). Developed on a shoestring budget, it required a whole new set of skills that I was obliged to learn as I progressed. In that regard, it’s also been something of a labour of love. To be honest, although I’m happy with the final product, I’m also a bit relieved I can finally move onto the next creative project.

Please feel free to share the post with whoever you think might be interested. In fact I’d encourage you to do so as there are still plenty of people out there under the illusiton that Irish/Gaelic is a ‘fantasy’ language. If you’re feeling particularly generous, I’d really appreciate an honest summary of your thoughts/feedback, either through the usual Goodreads review mechanism (here or at the end of the game) or directly by email.

But that’s enough of the intro.  It’s time to jump on in. Just click the link through the image below.

Bain sult as! / Enjoy!

Dark Dawn/An Camhaoir Fuilsmeartha coming 11 May 2021

Introduction:

It’s raining butcher knives and my chest aches but Fiacail has a plan. That’s the way of it!  Little more than two days’ comfort here at Ráth Bládhma and already we’re caught up in its people’s problems.

But … it’s a nice place, I’ll give them that. A secluded, V-shaped valley, deep in the folds of the Great Wild’s crinkled arse. Two forested ridges stretch north-west and south-east, a tight-curving cliff at one end to tuck it in all nice.

The expanse of pasture starts at the western woods – the single access to the valley. It stretches wide and green to a slight rise at the valley centre. That’s where the settlement of Ráth Bládhma’s located. In truth, it’s a secure position. The inhabitants have a clear view on every side. With the gateway bolted, any enemies who did manage to find the valley would not only have to cross that open ground but the barrier of the circular ditch. Then they’d have to climb the earth embankment and palisades to get at the people inside.

Yes, the people of Ráth Bládhma have strong defences.

But that’s not going to save them.

Fiacail says there’s a fian coming, a war-party more than fifty strong. The way he has it, their scouts are already in the valley for he’s seen their sign and suspects they have eyes on us. Within the ráth, we number three fighting men; myself, Fiacail and my cousin Tóla. But we’re visitors passing through. The population of Ráth Bládhma proper sits at seven inhabitants and only two of those – the woman warrior Liath Luachra and the youth Aodhán – are blooded warriors.

And I do not reckon their chances.

LAINSEÁIL AN CAMHAOIR FUILSMEARTHA/ DARK DAWN!

AG TEACHT 11 BEALTAINE!

Tá sé ag cur sceana gréasaí agus tá pian i mo chliabhrach, ach tá plean ag Fiacail. Sin an chaoi a bhfuil sé! Níl muid anseo i Ráth Bládhma ach dhá lá agus tá muid sáite i bhfadhbanna mhuintir na háite cheana féin.

Ach… is áit dheas é. Gleann amuigh ar an iargúil atá ann, go domhain i bpoll tóna an Fhiántais Fhiáin. Tá dhá dhroim faoi chrainn ag síneadh siar ó thuaidh agus soir ó dheas, agus aill chuar ghéar ag an gceann eile a choinníonn gach rud istigh. Tosaíonn an féarach ag an gcoill thiar – sin an t-aon bhealach le dul isteach sa ghleann. Talamh fairsing, glas is ea é, a bhfuil ardú beag ann i lár an ghleanna. Sin an áit a bhfuil lonnaíocht Ráth Bládhma. Déanta na fírinne, is suíomh docht daingean é. Tá radharc soiléir amach ar gach taobh ag muintir na háite. Agus an geata dúnta, ní hamháin go mbeadh ar an namhaid teacht ar an ngleann ar an gcéad dul síos, ach bheadh air an talamh sin agus an díog chiorclach a thrasnú, dul suas an claífort agus, ar deireadh, briseadh tríd an sonnach adhmaid.

Go deimhin, tá cosaint láidir ag muintir Ráth Bládhma.

Ach ní thabharfaidh sí sin saor ón mbás iad ná baol air.

Deir Fiacail go bhfuil fiann breis is caoga laoch ag tarraingt orthu. Dar leis, tá scabhtaí acu sa ghleann cheana féin. Measann sé go bhfuil a lorg feicthe aige agus go bhfuil siad ag coinneáil súil orainn. Níl ach triúr laoch sa ráth; mé féin, Fiacail agus mo chol ceathrair, Tóla. Ach níl ionainn ach cuairteoirí atá ag stopadh ar feadh tamaillín ar ár mbealach. Níl cónaí ach ag seachtar i Ráth Bládhma i ndáiríre, agus níl ach beirt acu siúd ina laochra – an banlaoch Liath Luachra agus an t-ógánach Aodhán.

Agus déarfainn féin nach bhfuil seans na ngrást acu.

Dark Dawn/ Camhaoir Fulismeartha Launches 11 May

On 11 May, the story Dark Dawn/ Camhhaoir Fuilsmeartha will finally be released online. A creative project that’s been in development for almost two years, I’m feeling both relief and excitement at finally having it ready for launch.

Set in 1st Century Ireland, it tells the tale of a dying warrior who’s been assigned to defend the isolated settlement of Ráth Bládhma (future home of Fionn mac Cumhaill) from an incursion of enemy scouts.

Presented in a unique and experimental format, the story will be available in both Irish and English.

The invitation is currently available as a Facebook event. Just prior to the launch, a link will be made available to all those signed up as ‘attending’. That link will provide access to Dark Dawn and particpants can explore it at their own time and leisure.

If you’d like an invite, send me a request through info@irishimbas.com.

I hope you can join us.

How Things Work Out (or don’t!)

It’s interesting for me to look back on some of the older posts and articles in this site and see how my plans and intentions have changed over the years. I recently came an article from 4 years back where I’d outlined some of my book plans including

  • Liath Luachra: Sons of the Land
  • Bodhmhall: The Black Hag
  • Fionn: The Salmon of Secret Wisdom

The first of those (Liath Luachra: Sons of the Land) did go ahead and was, indeed, published but under the title Liath Luachra: The Swallowed. At the point in time where I wrote that article, I knew the book would have a strong wolf element to it. The Irish word for ‘wolf’ is ‘mactíre’ which literally means ‘son of the land,’ so it seemed a logical title at the time. I think I ended up changing it as ‘The Swallowed’ aligned more effectively with the theme of the book.  

Bodhmhall: The Black Hag was a book I’d intended to write as an accompaniment to ‘Liath Luachra: The Grey One’. You can read why that didn’t go ahead in the 2017 article (HERE).  

Fionn: The Salmon of Secret Wisdom is a book I still intend to write but having started the 4th in the series, I quickly realised that there were some important elements to the story that had to take place first before I could even start talking about the famous Salmon. For the next arc in the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series (three more books), Demne/Fionn takes on a far greater role than in the previous arc. He is the titular hero in this after all.

I’m hoping to release Fionn: Stranger at Mullán Bán (the first book in the new arc) during the first quarter of 2022.

Dark Dawn/Camhaoir Fuilsmeartha coming in May 2021

Sometimes it’s best to kill a man fast.

Other times it makes sense to take it slow, to work the movements and the killing strokes in advance.

This is such a time.”

Ireland: First/Second Century

In the isolated valley of Gleann Ceoch, a dying warrior is assigned to defend the isolated settlement of Ráth Bládhma (future home of Fionn mac Cumhaill) from an incursion of enemy scouts.

This experimental format story in Irish and English will be released in May 2021 – final date yet to be confirmed.

Small Pleasures in the Pandemic

It’s always nice when a box of books arrives at the door, a delivery I tend to limit to once a year. Usually, this occurs only when I’m releasing one of my own books (Liath Luachra: The Seeking, in this case) or printing off a small number of books for presents/reviews, or treating myself to a rare book gift from home.

This year however, given the Covid-19 pandemic, there’s a particular poignancy to the annual ritual. I’m currently based in New Zealand (something I’m very grateful for every day) – an isolated island at the edge of the planet. It’s very difficult to make or to receive deliveries here due to the international mail disruption and the reduced number of aircraft carrying goods to this part of the world. To send a book to America from here, can currently take up to four weeks. To Australia (just “across the ditch”) it can take three.

And just last week (early March), I recieved a whole bunch of Christmas mail from Ireland.

This year, I couldn’t get the books I wanted to order from lreland so I focussed instead on updating my own stock. In the scheme of things, of course, I’ve nothing to complain about.

I’m more than happy with that.

Upcoming Projects

With the ‘soft’ release of Liath Luachra: The Seeking, I now have a slight breather where I can mull over future works in the pipeline and consider what’s coming up next.

In terms of “Definitely Coming Soon”, I can confirm priority on the following projects:

(1) Camhaoir Fuilsmeartha/ Dark Dawn
This Irish/English language project will be released in May/June 2021. You can find a little more information on this at: HERE.  

(2) Liath Luachra: The Metal Men
Given that this completes the story in ‘The Seeking’ I’m keen to get this finished and released as soon as possible. I’m feeling pretty confident about getting this out as five chapters are already in ‘close to final’ draft (i.e. they’re written but haven’t yet been touched by the red pens of partner K (my first ‘rough’ reader) and editor Madame Palamino Blackwing.   

(3) Fionn: Stranger from Mullán Bán This novel has been sitting patiently in my drawer for well over a year now. The first six chapters are done and dusted so this will be the immediate priority after ‘The Metal Men’. As usual though, its completion will depend on the intensity of my freelance work and how much publishing time I have available. The first chapter/short story can be found here on the Irish Imbas website (Fionn: The Twisted Trail)

New and Potential Projects

From past experience, I know it’s just impossible to foresee what I’ll be prioritising once these initial three projects are completed. Every year for the past five years, some major event has unexpectedly slammed in from the side and thrown all my well-laid plans to the winds. At present, these are the projects on my work table. Hopefully by the end of the year, I’ll have a better idea which ones I’ll be working on.   

(1) Irish Mythology Project
This is a substantial non-fiction project I’ve been working for over two years. Basically, it’ll explain – in a practical manner – how Irish mythology works, how you can use it apporpriatey and effectively and how you can make it personally relevant (or not).    

(2) Smaller Irish Mythology Project
This is a fiction-based mythology project. Possibly another Short Story Collection – I’m not entirely sure yet.  

(3) A Liath Luachra novella
A prequel-novella based on an event in Liath Lauchra’s life during her first year with Na Cinéaltaí.

(4) Beara 2 and Beara 3
This is a substantial piece of work given the size of the existing book but I’m keen to get this story finished.

(5) An Irish Battle Series 
This is a short, three-book series based on on the events leading up to a major Irish battle and the people who took part in it. 

(6) Cú Chulainn
I’ve also recently been thinking of doing a series on Cú Chulainn (i.e. from an Irish/Gaelic perspective as opposed to the anglicized fantasy stuff that’s usually served up). The Cú Chulainn story is actually one that’ll be very difficult to adapt for a contemporary audience while keeping it culturally authentic. I suspect this will probably take a lot of commitment in terms of time (for research, scoping and actual writing).

Please feel free to let me know if any of these projects sound of interest to you.

LIATH LUACHRA: THE SEEKING has been released (kinda)

As promised, Liath Luachra: The Seeking is finally being released today. It’s something of a ‘soft’ launch however (in that you wont see much fanfare) as the book will only be available in digital form through the Irish Imbas Books website (and in paperback form through Amazon) for the next month or two.  After that, it’l lbe relased wider.

Part of the reason for this apporach is that the story’s a two-parter to be completed in Liath Luachra: The Metal Men, which I’m hoping to finish and release in the next 4-5 months or so. I’m not overly comfortable putting out a completely unfinished story but people were demanding something be released and this seemed like a good medium.

It’ll be interesting to see the reaction the cover gets when it’s released wider than this website. As covers go, it’s a bit confrontational and controversial (given the naked – albeit desexualised – woman on it). Those who know the character or who’ve read the book will ‘get it’, of course.

Brian Mahy – an artist who I really enjoy working with – was given the task of designing a cover that represents a scene from the book where the character is naked. To do this, I asked him to make the protagonist clearly recognisable as feminine while also ensuring it wasn’t sexualised. I think he did an excellent job of that and also in reflecting the ferla nature of the character. You can find more of Bryan’s work at Bryan Mahy Artstation or Bryan Mahy Behance.

Where Can I Get IT?


You can get the digital version HERE.

The paperback version on Amazon is available HERE but note that this link may change depending on which country you’re living in. If you search for it, it’ll probably only appear if you look it up in the ‘Books’ section as oposed to the ‘Kindle’ section. If you’re based in Great Britian – the whole Brexit mess menas a lot of books don’t appear on Amazon UK.

I have to admit, it’s not my preference to make the paperback available uniquely on Amazon, unfortunately most other paperback distributers have made it too expensive to go through them at the moment.

By the way, you should also be aware that there appear to be delays with the shipping of paperback products from Amazon. I ordered several paperback copies recently for review purposes and probably won’t get them until mid- to end- March. If you’re downloading through the Bookfunnel system meanwhile, remember that it can take up to two hours (admittedly rare) to receive the file and if you have a gmail address the email may end up in one of the more obscure folders.

Liath Luachra: The Seeking

With crazy workloads and various schedule upsets last year (not looking at you, Covid!), Liath Luachra 3 (The Seeking) was one of the main projects I was working on to suffer unexpected delays. Originally, my intention had been to release the final book in December 2020, but the on again-off again nature of the way I’d been obliged to work throughout the year, meant that completing the project by that date just wasn’t feasible.

This situation probably wasn’t helped by the length of the story. Originally developed as an outline for a potential second season in the proposed television series, this required a plot that was far more complex than I’d originally planned. Add in the need to incorporate the first links and overlaps with the Fenian Cycle (and the later Fionn mac Cumhaill Series) and the wordcount quickly expanded.

At this stage, my current draft stands at 130,000 words (The Grey One – the first book with Liath Luachra –  was about 97,000 words) and I don’t think the story I want to tell (in the manner I want to tell it, at least) will take less than 170-180,000 words to complete. As an independent creator, (or, at least for someone who does as much research and writes as slowly as myself) this amount of work to produce a single book isn’t viable.  I’ve therefore decided to release Liath Luachra: The Seeking in two parts and as two separate books.

Given that the first half of the story (Part 1) is already done and dusted (edited, proofed etc. etc.), this will be released in a limited form on 1 March 2021.

I’ll be aiming to complete and release Part Two by June 2021.   

For those who really, really want Part 1, the full details and links to reading options will be outlined in the next issue of our newsletter (Vóg) but at this stage, the plan is to make it available for download here on the Irish Imbas website and probably in limited paperback form.  

Once Part 2 is ready to go, they’ll both be available far more widely (for those who prefer to read the entire story in one sitting).

Liath Luachra – Teaser Trailer

It’s hard to believe but it’s apparently been two years since this home-made trailer for the Irish Woman Warrior Series ( a series of books on the fictional adventures of an Irish woman warrior and her mercenary war party, Na Cinéaltaí – The Friendly Ones) first appeared online.

It’s certainly been an interesting (and slightly ironic) ride since then, with two seperate screen production companies unexpectedly expressing interest in the first book (Liath Luachra: The Grey One), those rights subsequently being sold to Graisland Entertainment and the book itself being adapted into a script for a televsion series.

Watching my work being transformed into a television series script by someone as talented as Michael Grais (and being allowed to watch it’s development) has probably been one of the highlights of my publishing work to date.

I’m seriously considering doing a trialer for the Beara Trilogy and the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series now to see what happens!

Paperback Books

I’m pleased to announce that nearly all of my books can now be ordered through bookshops anywhere in the world (while recognising many of them are still closed due to the pandemic).

For the last six years or so, there’s really been only three paperbacks available in print outside of the Amazon system (Fionn 1, Fionn 2 and Beara 1). That’s mainly been due to the administrative complexity and the costs associated with placing books into the Ingram system (that’s the company who hold the ‘Print-On-Demand’ files and supply copies to the bookshops on request). After several years, I finally found time to get this task done. Sheesh!        

Anyway, if you order a copy through a local bookshop let me know how it turns out as I’m curious to see how this works in practice from the other side.

DARK DAWN: A New Kind of Irish Adventure

This week I’m recommencing work on Dark Dawn/ Camhaoir Fuilsmeartha, a new kind of Irish adventure which I’m hoping to release in Janurary 2021. At this stage, I can only say that it’ll be quite different to anything I’ve produced so far.

Unfortunately, this project dropped by the wayside as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic (the associated lockdowns and the mad workload that resulted directly as a result of that). Given the amount of time I’d invested in it, that was something of a disappointment but it’s nice to think I can now start the ‘salvage’ process.

My preference is for the Irish title (Camhaoir Fulilsmeartha) which means ‘Bloodspattered Dawn’ as opposed to ‘Dark Dawn’. You can find the Goodreads link here: Dark Dawn/ Camhaoir Fuilsmeartha

Favourite Irish Imbas Characters

Fiachail mac Codhna

Fiacail mac Codhna is a swaggering and irrepressible warrior from the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series. Handsome, charming, and shrewdly strategic in battle, Fiacail’s potential for tribal greatness is undermined only by an over-sexed libido and a strong weakness for women, particularly where it relates to Bodhmhall ua Baoiscne – aunt of the famous Fionn mac Cumhaill.

Fiacail’s quite a lot of fun to write. He has no delusions of grandeur and he can be charmingly crass at times – particularly where it relates to sex – but his humour and genuine attraction to Bodhmhall means he’s a credible third player in the love triangle with Bodhmhall and Liath Luachra. His bawdy humour and blunt demeanour, meanwhile, offers some welcome relief from some of the more serious and intellectual characters in the series.

When not chasing women, Fiacail likes to walk around naked in the morning having conversations with Great Father Sun. Much of this involves trying to convince Father Sun not to cause the end of the world but also to give him a pony.

Over the course of the original Fenian Cycle narratives, Fiacail turns up on several occasions, usually as a kind of foster father/advisor to the young Fionn mac Cumhaill although, at one point, he’s also referred to as a reaver.

In modern Irish, ‘fiacail’ is actually the word for ‘tooth’, so it’s an odd name for a character and the ancient Fenian Cycle manuscripts offer little explanation of its derivation.

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.

DARK DAWN/ CAMHAOIR FUILSMEARTHA

A gorgeous image from artist Bryan Mahy for the “Dark Dawn/ Camhaoir Fuilsmeartha Project” I’m currently working on.

This was intended to be released this month but delays outside my control mean it probably won’t be available for a little longer.

Subject-wise, this is a story about a dying warrior defending the isolated settlement of Ráth Bládhma, future home of Fionn mac Cumhaill. It’s a stand-alone, once-off, spin-off from the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series and people will either love it or hate it.

It will have its own page soon but for the moment the best source of information is probably here: