IRISH WOMAN WARRIOR ON A HORSE

This was a snippet from Liath Luachra: The Seeking which I first put online this day a year ago.

Today I sent the completed manuscript off to my editor for a final check prior to its release in March so it seems apt to put it out again.

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Emerging from the cave, the warrior woman found Murchú already mounted and waiting below the yew trees. Swaddled against the cold in his black cloak, he had the lower hem drawn up and held in place beneath his inner thighs. The sight of the Uí Loinge man poised so casually astride the animal took Liath Luachra by surprise. Too dazed to take note when he’d first arrived, she’d assumed Murchú had managed to make it to Luachair on horseback only through a combination of good fortune and determination. The restful pose and the relaxed manner in which the reins dangled loosely from his fingers however, suggested he was a more than competent horseman.

She was even more surprised when he reached down with one hand to help her mount. Looking from the hand to Murchú, then back at the hand again, she firmly shook her head.

‘I’ll run.’

‘All the way to Briga?’ He adjusted the folds of his cloak. ‘That could cost us days. Days we don’t have, Grey One.’

The woman warrior frowned and regarded the horse with a measure of distrust. She didn’t know much about horses and had always viewed them with wary circumspection. They were beautiful creatures to look at and had their obvious uses but they were also skittish and could let you down when you needed them most.

And, of course, they were also rather high.

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[Image from the film, “Centurion”]

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!

The End. And the Start.

I’m finishing up this year with a beautiful photo from Aida Pascual that summarises my feelings for 2020 and 2021 far more effectively than words probably could. 2020 was extremely hard for everyone and although there’s hope for stability and peace in 2021, for many that remains a distant goal across a dangerous traverse.

On the personal front, I’ll be working over the Christmas period – just not so much online – although I will be taking a break in January. In early 2021, I’ll be releasing ‘Liath Luachra: The Seeking as well as launching my experimental project ‘Dark Dawn/ Camhaoir Fuilsmeartha’ – two works I’ve struggled with during the pandemic and associated complications.

Later in 2021 (probably towards the end), should see the completion and release of ‘Fionn: Stranger at Mullán Bán’. I had hoped to restart (and finally publish) Beara 2: Cry of the Banshee at that point but experience has shown me that, with creative independent publishing, sometimes you just have to go with the unexpected fluctuations and plans often end up going by the wayside.

With respect to the two narrative series that people seem to enjoy most, Liath Luachra (The Irish Woman Warrior Series) has four books planned in total. That series will end and segue nicely into the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series (which will have six books in total).  By the end of 2020, therefore, six of the proposed ten books will be complete.

As of the December 2020, I have eleven fully published works available in ebookstores or obtainable through individual bookshops. Over the last year, with my growing cynicism of the ‘Amazons’ and ‘Apples’ of this world, I’ve started selling several small items – mostly short stories – exclusively from my own bookshop at Irish Imbas Books. In 2021, I’ll probably be doing more of that as – longer term – I don’t think I can continue working with self-serving and community-damaging ‘Supercorprates’. That’s just me, though. I’m not advising or encouraging anyone else to do what I do. The approach I’m taking works for me because of my own personal goals and because of what I want to achieve. It makes little immediate financial sense for anyone trying to make money from writing books.

If you want to support me in this – probably flawed endeavour – you can find the bookshop here (Bookshop). That should be getting a facelift in 2021 too.

There’ll probably be several other changes taking place at Irish Imbas over the next year or so too but I’ll reveal those through my newsletter (Vóg) as they start to occur.

I’d like to finish by thanking those of you who’ve been supportive with what I’m trying to achieve through Irish Imbas. I’ve been exceptionally lucky to have met some outstanding people online as a result of various projects I’ve completed over the last few years and those are relationships I value and appreciate highly.

You know who you are.

Beannachtaí na Nollag oraibh, a chairde! Agus Athbhlian faoi mhaise.

Brian O’Sullivan

[December 2020]

Note: You can find Aida Pascual’s beautiful photograhy here: https://www.aidapascual.com/

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.

Time for a Change

Ireland: 192 A.D. A time of strife and treachery.

Ireland 2020: Somewhat similar but now we have the Covid-19 virus as well.

Just for information, I’ve set up a new cover for the digital version of FIONN: Defence of Rath Bladhma which you can see above.

The paperback version (currently only at Amazon – here) will retain the existing version although by next month (December) any bookshops will be able to order you the updated cover for the paperback version as well.

There is a plan (kinda) here somewhere. New developments are happening on the Fionn front and that’ll be come apparent early next year.

In case you’re interested; here’s the blurb for the actual book:

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Ireland: 192 A.D.

A time of strife and treachery. Political ambition and inter-tribal conflict has set the country on edge, testing the strength of long-established alliances.

Following the massacre of their enemies at the battle of Cnucha, Clann Morna are hungry for power. Elsewhere, a mysterious war party roams the forests of the ‘Great Wild’ and a ruthless magician is intent on murder.

In the secluded valley of Glenn Ceoch, disgraced druid Bodhmhall and the woman warrior Liath Luachra have successfully avoided the bloodshed for many years. Now, the arrival of a pregnant refugee threatens the peace they have created together. Run or fight, the odds are overwhelming.

And death stalks on every side.

Based on the ancient Fenian Cycle texts, the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series by Irish author Brian O’Sullivan is a gritty and authentic retelling of the birth and early adventures of Ireland’s greatest hero, Fionn mac Cumhaill. Gripping, insightful and utterly action-packed, this is Irish/Celtic fiction as you’ve never read it before.

Dead Men Standing

One thread that occasionally raises its head throughout Irish mythology is the motif associated with the burial process of some (a word often mistranslated as ‘king’ but more accurately translated as ‘chieftain’) or mythological celebrities, where the corpse is bound upright or interred in the standing position, usually in defiance of an enemy or rival population group.

The early and medieval Irish literature contains several references in this regard but the most famous is probably linked to that of Cú Chulainn who, in a final act of defiance, ties himself to a standing stone to die on his feet. Facing his enemies, he remains upright for three days after he dies as they’re too terrified to come close (clearly, nobody thought of throwing a stone!).

Another celebrity associated with upright burials was Laoghaire (son of the infamous Niall). Famous for his hostile interactions with Saint Pat, Laoighaire is recorded (by Tíreachán) as being buried on the ridges of Tara, placed upright and facing south in defiance of the Leinster tribes. This follows somewhat in his father’s footsteps, given that Neill’s body was also said to have been held aloft by his tuath as a good-luck token when heading off to battle.

Early Irish literature has a few other references to the bodies of chieftains and heroes being buried upright and although there is a possibility that might have reflected some kind of burial ritual linked to the cult of warriors, it’s very much a literary motif rather than a historical one. As a result, you really have to be careful with its interpretation.

 

Irish Mythology in Advertising

Narratives and concepts from Irish mythology – or any other mythology for that matter – are often used by the advertising industry. One of the reasons for this is that mythology offers commonly recognised cultural narratives and culturla constructs which can be easily adapted to the advertising industry’s use of simplified visual concepts, stereotypes and targeted soundbites.

I recently came across some images for a Guiness campaign linked to the Guinness-sponsored All-Ireland Hurling Championship (developed in 2005 by Yoke Productions) which uses the mythological narrative of Cú Chulainn as the basis for a campaign entitled ‘Stuff of Legends’. That was actually a very clever idea. The well-known Cú Chulainn narrative already has an established link to the ancient sport of hurling but by linking it to the product (Guinness) through the use of the word ‘Stuff’ (this has an association to Guiness through  ‘Aah, great stuff!’ etc.) and sponsorship of the Hurling Championship, a whole web of clever patriotic associations were made between Irish culture. 

Fortunately, this being a home-grown Irish production, the narrative didn’t veer too far into the ‘fantasy’ trap (although it did of course utilise the more fantastical story elements of the Ulster Cycle stories). Looking at the imagry produced for the advertisments, you’d have to say the advertisers did an excellent job. The ‘look’ and the ‘theme’ are quintisentially Irish, the adds are visually attractive and, overall, it works very well.

They did however – from a mythologyical perspective –  cock up one of the three campaign images. Can you tell which one it is?  Image A, Image B or Image C?

Image A

Image B

Image C

The Answer:

The answer, of course, is Image B. Cú Chulainn has no association with the Giants Causeway in the image. This was actually a Fionn mac Cumhaill story.

Although, eh … I don’t think Fionn had a hurley!

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.

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!!

Epidemics in Ancient Ireland and a Pattern to Remember.

Wherever there are human beings in large numbers, you’ll find microbes and epidemics and although Ireland wasn’t vastly populated in the Pre-Christian era, its people were still familiar with the concept of disease and its spread. Centuries later, medieval writers tended to use the word ‘plague’ when describing early epidemics but, in fact, the term ‘plague’ is very much associated with infectious diseases caused by a specific bacterium (Yersinis pestis).

In ancient Ireland, the individual most often associated with epidemics is Parthalán, a character invented as part of medieval Irish Christian pseudo-history (the term used for false “history” made up by the early Christian church to justify and further their aspirations for power and influence). Parthalán is believed to be an Irish-branded version of Bartholomaeus (better known as Bartholomew in the bible).

According to the very untrustworthy 11th century Christian pseudo-history manuscript Lebor Gabála Érenn  (The Book of Invasions of Ireland), Partholón and his people arrived on the uninhabited island of Ireland three hundred years or so after the flood involving Noah’s Ark. Settling in the one unforested section of the country – Sean Mhagh nEalta – near Dublin, they lived there for thirty years, by which time the population grew to 9000 (nicely rounded to ‘five thousand men and four thousand women’, by the early authors).

Sadly, according to Lebor Gabála Érenn, they all succumbed to plague over the course of a single week at modern-day Tallaght. Interestingly, the name Tallaght is believed to be derived from tamlacht (which means “a grave, set apart”) and the location has a large cemetery dating back to the bronze age.

One variant of the tale (in the Annála na gCeithre Máistrí) has the seer, Tuan, as the single survivor.

The Christian church in Ireland (and elsewhere) often used epidemics  – or the threat of epidemics – as a mechanism to draw new religious recruits into their folds. Epidemics were proactively described in metaphorical terms such as ‘beasts’ or ‘punishments’, with the underlying implication they were sent by destructive forces against which only God – their God – could protect them. Two of the most famous early Irish epidemics (said to have occurred in the six or seventh century) were the Crom Chonaill and the Buidhe Chonaill, the name ‘Chonaill’ suggesting they spread south from Tír Chonaill in the north of Ireland (in ancient Ireland, the idea that evil spread from the north was a relatively common motif). Needless to say, many of the Christian manuscripts on the lives of the Saints from that period have them banishing yellow fever without any problems.

Although you have to take all the early literary and “historical” accounts of Irish epidemics with a large grain of salt, the one common pattern that shines through is how people or entities seeking power or influence will often use such events to forward their own interests. That’s probably something we shouldn’t forget.

Stay safe and well and sending you our warm regards for the difficult days ahead.

Blood Spatter and the Global Colonisation Tool

The title in the image above – Camhaoir Fuilsmeartha – is the Irish title for a project I currently have on the back burner. The English title  – Dark Dawn –  is one you may have come across elsewhere (it’s a bilingual Irish/English project).

As with all languages, translation often doesn’t work the way you’d expect and Irish is no exception. As a literal translation, ‘Dark Dawn’ just doesn’t work particularly well in Irish. That’s probably because it doesn’t have the same cultural connotation in English (at least, not in my head). Rather than resorting to béarlachas (the word we use where an Irish language or cultural concept is forced into an English structural form or word pattern), I’ve therefore used a different translation instead.

Literally, ‘Camhaoir Fuilsmeartha’ means ‘Bloodspattered Dawn’.  The meaning is slightly different from the English title but, more importantly, the connotation is correct, from a cultural perspective it’s far more apt and it still captures the theme of the story (a dark, action-adventure tale set in the Fenian Cycle).

Because I work in Irish mythology, a lot of my books tend to end up in the ‘Fantasy’ genre where I see a lot of writers (particularly, the Celtic Fantasy genre authors) use Irish terms to try and give their books a bit of (cough!) ‘cultural integrity’. The main problem I come across is where such authors use Google Translate for various terms in their books and the results are often disastrously hilarious. At it’s best, this tool is really a kind of  ‘béarlachas machine’: with Irish, it translates everything literally and therefore gets at least 80% of it’s translations technically correct but culturally and socially wrong.

At its worst,  you could say that Google Translate is like a global colonisation tool where any foreign concept from a different language/culture is sanitized to a ‘nice’, English-comprehensible equivalent.

Even where the original concept is left behind  and rendered meaningless.

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Note: This project was originally due for release in January 2020. Unfortunately, workloads have now delayed it’s publication until March/April 2020.

Liath Luachra Optioned as a Potential Television Series

I’m pleased to announce that Liath Luachra: The Grey One has been optioned for the screen/television with Graisland Entertainment.

An action/adventure story based in first century Ireland (and linked to the famous Fenian Cycle), Liath Luachra: The Grey One was first published by Irish Imbas Books in December 2015.

The Context:

Late last year, I received an email expressing an interest in adapting my book Liath Luachra: The Grey One for the screen. The source of that email was Graisland Entertainment, an entertainment partnership between Michael Grais and Carlos Barbosa who (in association with Zero Gravity Management) focus on producing original features films and television production.

Having read the book, Michael Grais was convinced of its potential as a television series, preferring that medium over a feature film as it allowed more time to develop characters and storylines that could delve deeper into the “Fenian” Cycle.

After several weeks of in-depth discussions and negotiations, I signed the option papers.

That was in April 2019.  Since then, I’ve kept pretty tight-lipped about the development as:

  • I didn’t want people to assume a screen adaptation was certain – my (very rough) estimate is that out of every book optioned, less than one in a hundred proceed to the next step (and there are a lot of next steps); and
  • I was too busy enjoying the adaptation process

To be honest, I’ve been extremely fortunate.  Liath Luachra: The Grey One has been adapted for the screen (i.e. part of the novel was rewritten as a television pilot screenplay) by Michael, who’s an incredibly accomplished screenwriter, creating the story for “Poltergeist” (probably one of the most successful horror movies of all time), “Great Balls of Fire”, “Cool World” and many more. The real clincher for me however, was one of his first screenplays: “Death Hunt” a film I’ve had in my collection for years.

I’ve also been very fortunate in that Michael was generous enough, not only to share various drafts of his screenplay, but to allow me to input via comments and suggestions. This effectively meant, I was not only party to seeing the process of how a book was adapted but learning by watching one of the best screenwriters in the business at work. There’s a real fire to Michael Grais I admire. A consummate artist, he’s attained (and maintained) a level of creative intensity and professional output most people could only aspire to.

Everyone knows that writing for the screen is very different to writing for a book. All the same, until you actually do it yourself (or see the process in action), you can’t really understand how different it is. When you’re writing a book, you’re essentially creating a wholly immersive experience for the reader; a richly detailed world, in-depth characters, narration and dialogue that pulls the reader deep into the story.

When writing a screenplay, the approach seems quite different in that the story is predominantly pared back to plot and dialogue. Most of the other (visual etc.) immersion components are interpreted and developed by other members of the movie/television production team. For me that was probably the most critical learning.

At heart, the novel Liath Luachra: The Grey One is about a defiant and resilient young woman struggling to survive in the brutal, male-dominated world of first century Ireland. In terms of tone and style, the story is very much ‘dark adventure’ and since its publication in 2015, several people have described it to me as “An ancient Irish Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”. Historically, culturally and linguistically, the book is as accurate as I could make it. It introduces a number of ancient Gaelic cultural concepts that many people aren’t aware of and it aligns accurately with the existing Fenian Cycle and other Irish mythology.

At present, Graisland Entertainment are pitching the proposed television series to key players in the television industry. A screen version of that same story, by necessity, would have to undergo some changes given that its being transmitted through a different format. Nevertheless, I’m confident that Liath Luachra’s story is in capable hands and I look forward to seeing the final product if, and when, it happens.

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Brian O’Sullivan

Born in county Cork, Ireland, Brian O’Sullivan is an author, mythologist and cultural commentator. Currently based in Wellington, New Zealand, Brian is director of Irish Imbas, a company specialising in the research/analysis of ancient Irish cultural knowledge and belief patterns (‘Irish mythology). Irish Imbas Books, translates the more workable pieces into narratives and learning material for a contemporary audience.

Since 2012, Irish Imbas Books has been publishing fiction and non-fiction that incorporate strong elements of Irish culture, language, history and mythology. These include the ‘Irish Woman Warrior Series’, the ‘Fionn mac Cumhaill Series’ and several others.

 

Michael Grais (Graisland Entertainment)

From his association with Steven Spielberg, Grais co-wrote the mega-hit POLTERGEIST and co- wrote and produced the sequel, POLTERGEIST II. Grais also executive produced the film GREAT BALLS OF FIRE (starring Dennis Quaid, Alec Baldwin and Winona Ryder) and co-wrote, produced, and financed the hugely successful MARKED FOR DEATH for 20th Century Fox. Other box office hits written or produced by Grais include Steven King’s SLEEPWALKERS, COOL WORLD (starring Brad Pitt, Kim Basinger, and Gabriel Byrne) and WHO KILLED ATLANTA’S CHILDREN, the highest rated movie of 2000 for Showtime.

An accomplished showrunner in episodic television, Grais oversaw production on 22 episodes of the syndicated series, THE IMMORTAL, produced and directed THE PROMISE LAND (in association with University of New Mexico) as an Internet series for STRIKETV.

Mr. Grais’ films have garnered over half a billion dollars in box office receipts.

IMDB – Michael Grais

 

Carlos Barbosa (Graisland Entertainment)

Born in Bogota, Colombia and trained as an architect with a Masters degree from Tulane University, Carlos was recruited by architect Charles Moore’s Los Angeles firm of MRY which brought him to Los Angeles where the world of designing for the silver screen became a real possibility and an alternative career.

Ultraviolet, a Roger Corman film project, was Carlos’ first credit as a Production Designer and his hands-on education into film making. Today Carlos’ credits as a production designer include GODLESS, MAGIC CITY, season eight and the pilot of 24 (for which he was nominated for an Emmy), the pilot for TERRA NOVA, LOST, CSI-MIAMI, STUDIO 60, COACH CARTER, THE INVISIBLE, HURRICANE SEASON and many more.

In addition to filmmaking Carlos continues to practice as an architect and has completed projects around the world.

IMDB – Carlos Barbosa

Contact Details:

If you have further queries or would like to arrange an interview, Brian O’Sullivan can be contacted at info@irishimbas.com

Book News on Irish Mythology – A Summary for 2019

Stories based on Irish mythology and culture have been bowdlerised quite a lot over the last two hundred years or so, often to the point where, now, many people struggle to differentiate genuine Irish history and mythology with commercially-produced “Celtic” fantasy. That’s something that, as an Irish fiction writer (non-fiction, on occasion), I’m regularly confronted with. It’s also why I’m so pedantic in telling stories that are as historically and culturally authentic as I can make them.

Telling stories based on authentic elements of Irish mythology can be something of an effort, however. Not only do you have to get the history right, you also have to introduce ancient Gaelic concepts into the story in a way that a contemporary audience can (a) understand them and (b) enjoy them. That takes research (a lot), it takes language skills (Irish) and of course, the ability to put a story together in a way that allows those elements to shine.

Creating those kinds of Irish mythological stories was a bit exhausting over 2019, fortunately for all the right reasons. The key reason was the recent sale of the screen option (and the subsequent  adaptation) for Liath Luachra: The Grey One which took up a major proportion of my year.

 

There’s still a long path to travel before any decision is made on whether this appears on a screen near you, of course.  There will be a post about it all  at some stage in the future but, until then, here’s a little teaser (ironically, made before we had interest from Hollywood).

 

 

But, screenwork aside, here’s a little update on the other projects currently taking place.

Fionn: Stranger at Mullán Bán

Book number four in the popular series (the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series) concerns the growing pains of the young Fionn (Demne) who’s struggling to solve the mystery of his father’s death, supported as always by this three guardians; his aunt – the bandraoi Bodhmhall, the woman warrior Liath Luachra and the eccentric womaniser Fiacail mac Codhna. This story is maturing quietly in our office drawer like a potentially fruitful wine.  There are six books  in total planned for this series. We had intended to release this volume in December 2019 but, for reasons explained above, this is now delayed until the first half of 2020.

Fionn mac Cumhaill Series

 

Liath Luachra: The Seeking.
This will be the third in the Irish Woman Warrior Series and follows on directly from book two (Liath Luachra: The Swallowed) with the woman warrior Liath Luachra returned to help a comrade rescue his sister from a mysterious group of raiders. Needless to say, this turns out to be far more complicated than expected.

This book returns to many of the themes and characters in Book 1 but also commences the overlap between this series and the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series. Originally, we had planned three books in total but that’s now likely to expand to four.

We’re hoping to release this book in the first quarter of 2020. The current cover is undergoing revision so this is a standby cover until its completed.

 

Dark Dawn:
This is a bit of a trial project I’m currently working on and involves the story of a dying warrior attempting to protect a settlement. The settlement in question is Ráth Bládhma.
Expect to see an announcement on this sometime in the first quarter of 2020.

 

Despite all the excitement over 2019, we have actually released a few items, mainly the following short stories. Note, however, that these are currently only available through the Irish Imbas website:

 

Fionn: The Twisted Trail

While hunting with two children in the depths of the Great Wild, the woman warrior Liath Luachra becomes involved in a pursuit she’d rather have no part of.

 

Liath Luachra: The Winter Cave

After completing her ‘tasking’ in the Lonely Lands, the woman warrior Liath Luachra retreats to spend another winter alone in the bleak Luachair valley.

It’s by no means certain she’ll make it through to Spring.

 

The Cut:

In ancient Ireland, a mother seeks a boon of an old lover, now the most ferocious and feared chieftain in the land.

Probably one of the most well-known stories from the ancient early Irish literature, the fascinating tale of Labhraidh Loingseach (Labhraidh is pronounced ‘Lowry’ in English), has never been accurately portrayed for a contemporary audience.

This, then, is the story of the mythical Irish chieftain, the founding ancestor of Na Laighin (a major tribe in Ireland’s south-east for which the province of Leinster is named) and the man to which a very strange attribute is associated.

 

After a year’s hard slog, I’m certainly ready for a break. In the meantime, all our books can be obtained through THE IRISH IMBAS BOOK SHOP of course. Updates on the latest releases will be made available through our newsletter Vóg (last one for 2019 will be end of November).

Promoting False Irish Mythology for Samhain

It’s a little sad, and somewhat indicative of the lingering impacts of colonisation, when you see one of your national newspapers get so much wrong with respect to ancient Irish belief systems (mythology). You can certainly respect a newspaper’s desire to produce relevant articles for an upcoming event of national relevance (Samhain) but it would really have been nice if they’d done even some basic research on the subject beyond Wikipedia (the equivalent to getting your mythology information from a telephone book).

The ‘Dullahan’ and the ‘cóiste bodhar’ referred to in the Irish Times article (here) are both references from W.B. Yeats’ “Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry”, a book which has been discredited by every credible university or Celtic Studies course out there (but remains beloved by fantasy aficionados).

To his credit, W.B. Yeats was an excellent poet but when it comes to mythology, he tends to be completely unreliable. A product of the Protestant Aristocracy (not a religious term but the official term for the privileged and powerful Anglo forces who dominated Ireland’s social and economic existence from the late 17th and 20th century), Yeats disliked the Irish language, referred to rural Irish people as “The Peasantry” and plundered elements of their ancient belief systems to support his own ‘spiritual’ work as a Theosophist.  This is something we continue to see in much of the ‘Celtic Paganism’ and ‘Celtic Spiritualism’ products out there today.

It’s important to respect the achievements of people like Stoker, Thomas Johnston Westropp, Yeats and others. At the same time, it’s also important to recognise and acknowledge when they got things wrong. Promoting their mistakes, diminishes the cultural belief systems of our ancestors. Sadly, it also continues to pull us further and further away from our true cultural heritage.

Important Locations in Ireland for Fionn mac Cumhaill and the Fenian Cycle

The original stories from the Fenian Cycle (the stories of Fionn mac Cumhaill and the warrior band mistakenly called Na Fianna) are believed to have first originated in Leinster (that’s on the eastern side of Ireland if you’re unfamiliar with it) which is why so many of the Fionn mac Cumhaill stories take place in that region. Over the subsequent centuries however, as the character’s popularity increased, professional storytellers from other parts of the country also started to adapt the tales for their local audiences and often incorporated nearby topographical features that these audiences would be familiar with. That’s why, today, you’ll struggle to find anywhere in Ireland that doesn’t have at least some kind of reference to Fionn or the Fianna.

The twelfth century Macgnímartha Finn (The Boyhood Tales of Fionn) on which the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series is based, retains those very strong links to Leinster. Here’s a map showing some of the key locations:

  • Ráth Bládhma: As a child, Fionn (or Demne, as he was originally known) was reared by two female guardians (Bodhmhall and The Grey One) in the forests of Sliabh Bládhma/ Sliabh Bloom in County Laois). This isolated spot was the most significant area of wilderness adjacent to the areas in Leinster which would have been most populated back in the Iron Age. As a result, it would have been a logical place to set the story of someone who was on the run or in hiding.
  • Seiscenn Uairbhaoil: This Leinster marsh (where the warrior Fiacail mac Codhna was said to be based) is believed to be located in present day County Wicklow. It’s placement on the map is an estimate on my part.
  • Almhu: This was the site where Tadg mac Nuadat was originally said to live. According to one or two references, the fortress was painted with alum (Almhu) from whence it gets its name. This was also the childhood home of Muirne Múncháem (Fionn’s mother). These days many people still use the anglicized (and meaningless) version of the name: The Hill of Allen.
  • Dún Baoiscne:This is the one site in the Fionn mac Cumhaill series which is pure fabrication on my part. For the purposes of the series, I needed Clann Baoiscne to have a tribal territory based around a fortress which I arbitrarily named Dún Baoiscne (literally: the fortress of Clann Baoiscne). To be fair, if there had been a Clann Baoiscne and they had a fortress, that’s probably what it would have been called.

Many of these place names may pose a challenge for non-Irish speakers to pronounce but why not have a go and then check it against the audio guide to see how close you were.

Ancient Ireland: In The Scheme of Things

When you’re dealing with Irish mythology, Irish history, Irish archaeology and so on, one of the more difficult concepts to get across to people is that our ancestors back in the day were just as smart as we were. In contemporary societies, there’s a general assumption that OUR society is going to continue indefinitely, without any major change. There’s also a common, generally unarticulated, belief, that we’re far smarter or more advanced because ancient societies didn’t have science or believed in a whole bunch of ‘mumbo-jumbo’ religions.

The reality, of course, is that this simply isn’t true and one obvious example of our ancestor’s abilities are the passage tomb clusters spread around Ireland at Brú na Bóinne (Newgrange), Knowth, Loughcrew etc. These passage tombs were incredibly complex edifices that not only required huge structural design, engineering and architectural ability but social organisational skills and in-depth knowledge of astronomy (not to mention the artistic design skills that can still observed to this day).

Complex edifices like the passage grave clusters required a stable and organised society to build them. In practical terms, for example, it’s estimated that the main passage grave at Brú na Bóinne could have been completed over a sixteen-year period provided there was a well-managed workforce of over four hundred people (who ceased other agricultural activities for two months of every year – probably after the seasonal sowing of crops etc.). Such a workforce, however, could only have existed if they formed part of a much larger, secure and organised society. Like many other preceding and subsequent societies, the society that built Brú na Bóinne is now long gone, of course, but the physical remains of their achievements and aspirations still impress us today.

If we look at contemporary Irish society, the only true advantage we have over our ancestors is that we’re more technologically advanced. Unfortunately, technology is not an effective measure of societal health (science and technology doesn’t make our human behaviour any better, it simply amplifies the impact of our behaviour – good or bad). The true problem for societies is that, at heart, humanity doesn’t really change. Many people within our modern-day populations are just as arrogant, just as misinformed, just as selfish, just as power hungry and just as self-destructive as the people within ancient societies and, unfortunately, it’s people’s behaviour that decides the longevity of a culture.

It’s more than likely that the people who built the passage grave complexes at Brú na Bóinne and Knowth had the same condescending opinion as us for those who’d gone before them, for that certainly seems to be a consistent human failing. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to imagine what people will make or our contemporary edifices when they excavate the ruins in another thousand years or so.