Gaelic Slavers

I was intrigued by a recent image I came across from Polish illustrator Piotr Chrzanowski, as it includes an intriguing level of cultural authenticity that lifts him far above the usual visual representations of (what passes for) early Irish warriors/culture.  Chrzanowski’s own description notes on the image describe it as:

‘Gaelic Irish raiders’ – a slavers warband. From the 7th century. Some wearing captured Saxon or Norse helmets.

For me, Chrzanowski’s image and note are particularly interesting as:

  • he doesn’t fall into the well-trodden fantasy trap of using the word ‘Celtic’ to describe Gaelic, Welsh, Manx, Breton and other cultures
  • his notes display a level of knowledge of certain ancient Irish culture/history that most people don’t have

What probably intrigued me most about the image was the reference to ‘slavers’ as it covers an aspect of ancient Irish culture many people prefer to gloss over – Irish slavery. Not to be confused with the “Irish were the First Slaves’ fantasy pushed by white supremacist nutters, this actually refers to the period when the Roman Empire deserted current-day Great Britain. For two to three centuries afterward, the country was left in such disarray, opportunistic Irish raiders were able to raid parts of it on a regular basis for goods and slaves.

That is, after all, how we managed to snaffle our national saint!

Apart from this personally appealing snippet, Chrzanowski’s work is worth checking out as his character design illustrations are particularly well done. You can find him at: https://www.facebook.com/piotr.chrzanowski.art/

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.

The Most Incompetent Warrior in Ancient Ireland (Irish Mythology)

I’ve got to admit, I’ve always kinda liked Lóegaire Búadach (Lóegaire the Victorious).

Ulster Cycle hero, contemporary of Cú Chulainn, husband to Fedelm Niochride and warrior in Conchobhar mac Nessa’s court, Lóegaire’s main function seems to have been as a comedic extra on the periphery of the principal action. In that respect, Lóegaire Búadach often filled the role of inept everyman, the hapless loser we all have a soft spot for.

Lóegaire first appears in Fled Bricrenn (Bricriú’s Feast) where he’s generally represented as a somewhat inept third contender for the Champion’s Portion (a prize that he and the two other Ulster warrior heroes, Cú Chulainn and Conall Cernach, are competing for). In every competition the three partake in, Lóegaire inevitably comes off worse.

When the three heroes meet an ogre on their way to Cú Roí’s dwelling, Lóegaire is forced to flee without his weapons, horses, chariot and charioteer. Later when the heroes stand guard at Cú Roí’s dwelling, another ogre casts him into a pile of cowshit. When they’re sent to fight the Amazon’s of the Glen, the Amazons strip him of his clothes and weapons and, humiliated, let him leave.

Lóegaire’s most embarrassing story, of course, is the story of how he died.

When King Conchobhar mac Nessa discoverd that his wife was being unfaithful with the poet Aed, he immediately ordered the latter to be put to death. Because of his status as a poet however, Aed was offered the opportunity to choose the manner of his death and, having a secret spell to dry up water, he slyly opted for ‘Death by Drowning’.

Despite several attempts to submerge him in local rivers and springs (that all mysteriously dried up), Conchobhar’s men eventually dragged the poet to Loch Lai (extremely close to Lóegaire’s residence). Here, with Aed’s spell now waning, they were finally able to get him into the water.

Hearing the poet’s yells for help, Lóegaire jumped up for his sword, outraged that anyone would treat a poet in such a manner and determined to save him. So outraged was Lóegaire, that he forget to duck when hurtling out through the door of his dwelling and subsequently managed to have the top half of his head sheared off by the low lintel.

With his clothes coated in gore and half his head missing, Lóegaire demonstrated that, in fact, his brain was superfluous to his fighting ability. In the ensuing battle, he killed thirty of Conchobhar’s men before he finally dropped dead.

And of course, Aed slipped away unharmed.