The Problem with Series

I was trying to explain to someone yesterday about how I ended up having four different book series on the go at the same time.

Beara: Dark Legends was my first book but it’s the type of book that takes ages to write (not linear and it’s actually two different – but interlinked – stories) so I started the Fionn series.

After two books from that series, I wrote the first Liath Luachra book as a prequel but it ended up being more popular so I wrote a second one. Since then I’ve written two more Fionn books and have a fifth coming out early next year. That series will finish with the sixth book.

When Hollywood showed an interest I had to write two more Liath Luachra books as they wanted enough content for three seasons if it got off the ground. I the added a prequel. As a result, I currently have five Liath Luachra books out.

Needless to say, I get at least one email every month from readers demanding the 2nd Beara, the 5th Fionn, the 6th Liath Luachra etc.

Sheesh!

More on the Beara Trilogy next year!

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.

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.

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.

The Saint’s Potty

This charming story is associated with Áed Uaridnard, who was one of the senior Northern Uí Neill chieftains. According to the source, he was passing through monastic land controlled by Saint Muru when he stopped to wash in the river flowing through the town. As he did so one of his men warned him not to do so.

Oh, rí. Do not put that water on your face.’

‘Why not?’ asked the rí

‘I’m ashamed to say,’ he said.

‘What shame is on you for telling the truth?’ asked the rí.

It’s this. The clerics latrine is over the water.’

‘Is that where the cleric, himself, goes to defecate?’ asked the rí.

‘It is. indeed,’ said the youth.

‘Then, not only will I put it on my face,’ said the rí. ‘I’ll also put it in my mouth, and I’ll drink it – drinking three gulps of it – for the water his shit goes into is a sacrament to me.’

Obviously, this somewhat extreme example of piety reflects a fanatical sense of Christian dedication, but you’ve got to avoid the temptation of jumping on the anti-Christian outrage wagon to get your head around this particular story.

That said, there there are plenty of other valid reasons to be annoyed with Christian (and Wicca and Pagan and etc. etc.) interpretations of ancient Irish culture.

Certainly, too many to cover here.

Bog Walkers

A selection of production shots from Macnas’ ‘Gilgamesh’ (a Galway 2020 project). The final product was a short 20 minute movie, of which you can find various snippets online.

The Macnas visuals – as always – are sublime but I didn’t think the script worked particularly well. Given theat the original myth takes places in Mesopotamia, the Irish setting – albeit beautiful – also feels a little wrong.

You can try one of the visual snippets here: Gilgamesh

Sky Dance

I came across Fidget Feet (a Limerick-based Irish ‘aerial circus performance company’) several years ago when I saw their ‘Sky Dance’ – a performance carried out against the backdrop of Dublin’s Customs House as part of the 2016/17 new year’s eve celebrations – which really blew me away.

I’ve always had a fascination with dance as an artwork – that physicality of movement operating within the confines of strict choreography. Aerial-based performances, however, raise the stakes dramatically, bringing in an even more complex physicality and sense of perspective that makes the choreography a hundred times more complicated.

To be honest, my first reaction was ‘why the hell would you do that?

Merging dance with aerial display on public buildings felt a bit like merging ‘Opera’ with ‘Demolition Derbies’ (this was on a scale far greater than the more theatre-contained works I’d seen from companies like Cirque du Soleil etc.).

Utilising light projection, aerialists, drummers, pyro dynamics and vertical dancers however, Fidget Feet managed to introduce me to a pretty spectacular art form I’d not encountered before. Fidget Feet are still out there doing new festivals and production but ‘Sky Dance’ remains my favourite.

You can get a quick taste of that HERE.

Northern Colony

This is the bird colony out in Rathlin Island where generations of guillemots, razorbills, puffins and others, have nested for centuries (and possibly longer). I visited the spot a few years ago with friends and was very struck by the amazing cacophony of noise from the birds – it sounded like a very noisy and excited crowd of people.

Last night, I realised that I was incorporating all those strong impressions while I was writing a scene in the next ‘Fionn mac Cumhaill’ book.

If you ever get a chance, I’d go visit it but beware the cranky bus company at the harbour. The company seem to have a monopoly on a section of private road that you need to access it. If you don’t pay for that section of road (and they’re pretty coy on that), they’ll drive you t the colony and then desert you on that side of the island to make your own way back.

Charming people.

The Long Way Home


Tá cumha i ndiaidh an bhaile ag titim isteach orm inniu.

It’s an interesting dilemma with respect to homesickness when you’re living on the wrong side of the planet. In the past, I could always live away with the knowledge that I could jump on a plane and be back in Cork within 2-3 days.

In the days of Covid however, with its quarantines, lack of aircraft and astronomical flight costs, such reassuraces no longer carry much weight. I expect to see a lot more immersion in Irish writing over the year to come.

What Ireland Looks Like as a Woman

national-representation-of-Ireland

Like many other Western countries, poets, politicians and artists in Ireland also fell into the trap of trying to personify their nation, that is, trying to characterise the concept of the country as a person, usually a beautiful young woman.

Such personifications are mostly restricted to the western world and were most popular in the late 19th and early 20th century. Usually, they tended to be used by governments in times of upheaval to ‘bolster’ the population when that nation was at risk (or portrayed to be at risk) from other influences. This is why most of the personifications are actually quite militaristic in their visual manifestations (they were often modelled on female war goddesses). If you look closely at the classic examples such as Britannia (England), Germania, (Germany) Marianne (France) and so on you’ll see they all carry weapons.

In Ireland, things were slightly different in that our first national personifications were usually a helpless young woman of great beauty (or an old woman) beset by oppressors. This is probably because they were created from a subjugated society as opposed to an oppressive (and foreign) government. Certainly, they were all intended for propaganda purposes but at least the independent earlier creations had (slightly) more depth than those military representations used by the latter.

The personification of Ireland as a nation originally started with the Aisling (Dream) poetry genre produced by Gaelic poets such as Aodhagán Ó Rathaille and Eoghan Rua Ó Súilleabháin from the mid-to late- 1600s right up to the late-1700s. In these poems, Ireland is represented as a young woman/old woman (generally referred to as ‘spéirbhean’) who lament the excruciating existence of the Irish people and prophesises the imminent coming of heroes to save thsem. They were very much political poems, of course. By the mid-1600s, most of Ireland was pretty much under the military yoke of the English Crown and the Penal Laws (forbidding many basic Gaelic cultural expressions) had been introduced. This, then, was the Gaelic poets’ attempt at rallying the people and giving them hope against the invaders.

Unfortunately, of course, the heroes never came. All elements of Irish military resistance were overcome, the English Crown secured complete control of the country and over the next four hundred years the Gaelic language and culture was substantially eroded.

As with all oppressive regimes, however, rebellion and nationalised sentiment fermented and arose once more, particularly towards the start of the early 20th century. By then, of course, Gaelic culture had been largely eradicated but in an effort to revive some of the old traditions, the Aisling poems were brought out and dusted off. The original 16th century Irish spéirbhean was updated and reframed into more contemporary versions such as Róisín Dubh (by the likes of James Mangan and Pádraig Pearse) or Cathleen Ní Houlihan (by WB Yeats and lady Gregory) in 1902. Ironically, the English Punch magazine introduced their own version (called Hibernia) around this point but it never really took off back home.

Kathleen_Ni_HoulihanCathleen Ní Houlihan

Following the Easter 1916 rebellion and the War of Independence, the Anglo-Irish treaty was signed. Keen to have its own national personification to show how unique and different this new country was, the Irish Free State government immediately mimicked other countries by inviting an artist (Lavery) to create one for the new Irish banknotes.

John Lavery was something of an anomaly and an interesting choice for creating the national personification picture. A Catholic-born painter (from Belfast), he’d been offered the post of official artist for the British Government during the First World war and later awarded a knighthood. Lavery was a rare individual in that he was equally at home in both the English/Protestant and Irish/Catholic/nationalist camps. With a foot in both, he must also have been one of the few people of his time to be made a free man of both Dublin and Belfast.

Lavery used his wife (Chicago-born, Hazel Martyn – also known as Lady Lavery because of her husband’s title) as the model and its her likeness on the personification of Ireland that’s probably the most well known today. This likeness was reproduced on Irish banknotes from between 1928 until the 1970s but when these were superseded, it continued to be used as a watermark on some notes until the euro was introduced in 2002.

In conclusion therefore, the personification of Ireland is a painting of an American woman created by a Belfast-born Catholic and based on a 20th century regurgitation of a 16th century Gaelic poetry concept.
In an odd way, that seems to quite accurately summarise where Ireland is today

Sample Chapters for ‘Liath Luachra – The Grey One’ now available

 

Liath Luachra cover

After numerous interruptions, distractions and rewrites, the final draft of “Liath Luachra – The Grey One” is nearing completion and a two chapter ‘sampler’ ‘is now available here on the Irish Imbas Books website.

I’m in the process of tidying up the last chapters prior to final editing but the finished book should be available at the end of November (about 6-7 weeks). For those who are interested, the back cover summary reads as follows:

Ireland 188 A.D. A land of tribal affiliations, secret alliances and treacherous rivalries.
Youthful woman warrior Liath Luachra has survived two brutal years with mercenary war party “The Friendly Ones” but now the winds are shifting.
Dispatched on a murderous errand where nothing is as it seems, she must survive a group of treacherous comrades, the unwanted advances of her battle leader and a personal history that might be her own undoing.
Clanless and friendless, she can count on nothing but her wits, her fighting skills and her natural ferocity to see her through.
Woman warrior, survivor, killer and future guardian to Irish hero Fionn mac Cumhaill – this is her story.

*********************

I have to admit, the story’s been an interesting one to develop in that it’s darker, grittier and much more character driven than some of my other work – particularly interesting when writing from the perspective of a woman with violent tendancies (a big thanks to my ‘advisors’). Although it’s a stand-alone work, it’s also a prequel of sorts to the Fionn Mac Cumhaill series in that it deals with the backstory to one of the main characters from that series.

Unfortunately, the sample’s available in PDF form only as we’re holding off on ebook conversion until the final draft has completed the editing process.

Numerous people have expressed interest in getting their hands on this so I will keep posting as things develop.

Magic Roads in Ireland

way-out-far-ireland5

The Magic Hill up in Louth (or ‘The Angel’s Highway’ as it’s sometimes called) is one of a number of magic roads in Ireland where, if you park at the ‘bottom’ of the hill, turn of the engine and shift it out of gear, your car will actually run back uphill.

Magic roads are, in fact, what are sometimes referred to as ‘gravity roads’ (that’s an area where the landscape creates an optical illusion so that a downhill slope actually looks like an uphill slope). There are actually quite a number of such places around the world (and there’s a least three of them in Ireland that I’m aware of). Most have their own folklore associated with them although most of that lore is usually derived after the invention of the motorcar.

When my Dad took us on our very memorable trip to Dundalk (county Louth, we went to see the magic road there and there’s an amusing summary of it here on youtube: http://talkofthetown.ie/2014/02/25/the-real-magic-hill/

It’s hardly deep, intellectual folklore but it’s great craic!!

The Hill of Tara, British Israelites and ISIS

12Holiday Dublin 5 May 2011 017x

I’m currently in the process of writing a section in the third book of the Fionn mac Cumhal series (The Adversary) which deals with a Neolithic passage grave and I thought I’d share two photos from a research trip I did back home about two years ago.  These show what is probably the most famous of Irish passage grave outside of those found at Brú na Bóinne (Newgrange) – that is, Dumha na nGiall (in English, the Mound of the Hostages) at Tara.

This particular passage grave is estimated to date back to about 3400 B.C. In other words, it was already almost three thousand years old by the time the Celts wandered over to Ireland from the Continent (about 500 B.C.). Like many of the other passage tombs, the alignment allows the morning sun to shine down the passageway twice a year to illuminate the internal chamber. Excavations carried out between 1955 and 1959, found more than 200 cremated or inhumed burials (often placed in upturned earthenware urns with burial gifts).

 

12Holiday Dublin 5 May 2011 018x

It really is an impressive piece of work and astounding to consider that it’s still in such good condition almost 5000 years later. Naturally however, despite such proof from the potential of human achievement, it’s also important to consider the more idiotic side to humanity as well. The most famous of these at Tara occurred between 1899 and 1902 when Dumha na nGiall was almost destroyed by a group known as the ‘British Israelists’. Convinced that the Irish were one of the Lost Tribes of Israel (yes, that is hard to believe!!) and that the Hill of Tara contained the Ark of the Covenant.

That such crazed extremists were allowed to go ahead with their destruction of such a unique national monument says a lot about the times. A big part of the problem, of course, was that many of those involved were members of the British aristocracy and as the English Crown was in control over Ireland at this time, local outrage was pretty much ignored.

There were, of course, many protests. Arthur Griffith carried out a major campaign against the ‘excavations’  with many of the hoi polloi of the day (WB Yeats, George Moore and Douglas Hyde etc.) despite being ordered off-site by armed men and police. The crazed activist Maud Gonne also turned up and created a scene by lighting a bonfire and singing “A nation once again” in her very genteel English accent (the early 1900s were certainly a wild time in Ireland). Many people believe the destruction to the site of Tara was one of the many national indignities that went on to spur the subsequent rebellion in 1916.

Two nights ago, I was looking at a television report where a bunch of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) thugs were smashing up a beautiful 2700 year old monument in the famed ancient Assyrian capital of Khorsabad. As I watched the inbred with the sledgehammer smashing the ancient statue into smithereens, it struck me that as a species, human beings are never going to evolve unless they learn from their past mistakes and escape the destructive cycles of repetition.

5000 years on, and it seems as though we’re still just spinning.

Are Irish Clans and Tribes Gone Forever: Part One?

map1450

In European countries, when people talk of ‘clan’ (from the medieval Gaelic word ‘clann’) they’re basically using a more localised word for ‘tribe’. Both relate to a community or social grouping established from a common kinship or family tie although, over time, as the grouping grows larger, that definition can change. Most people believe the concept of a tribe has pretty much had its day in Ireland but if you look carefully you’ll still see remnants of it around in certain parts of the country.

The first clue is the link between family names and homeland location. Most Irish genealogists and social researchers are more than aware how closely aligned the two are in Ireland, not only in terms of country but in terms of townland as well. In Beara, for example, the old adage is that “you can’t throw a stone in the bush without hitting an O’Sullivan” and anyone who’s ever studied the shop names in Catletownbere knows that to be true.

Needless to say, that holds just as well for the Harringtons and, of course, the Murphys who, judging from their numbers and geographical spread, seem to have single-handedly dominated reproduction in Ireland for several centuries.

‘nuff said!

Living in New Zealand, I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to compare the impact of colonization (the invasion of another country and the oppression of its native people/culture) on Maori tribal societies here with Gaelic tribal societies back home. This has been exceptionally useful when writing the Fionn series not only because Clan politics play an important part of the story but in terms of cultural authenticity – a key part of what I’m trying to do with Irish Imbas Books.

Unlike Ireland, where the undermining of Gaelic culture commenced in earnest from an early date (early 1600s), the colonization process in New Zealand didn’t truly kick in until the mid- to late-1800s. Even then, because of its relative isolation compared to the invading countries and its tough topography, the colonization process was never fully completed to the point that the Crown and associated business interests would probably have liked.

Although it was pretty much brought to the brink, Maori society has managed to retain/reclaim very strong elements of its culture as well as parts of its tribal structure. What’s fascinating to watch, though, is that with the legal power of the Treaty of Waitangi (the treaty signed between the English Crown and most tribes) and subsequent financial compensation (albeit minimal) for lands stolen and damage sustained, Maori communities are now, once again, re-establishing their tribal organisations. There are of course, major differences to the structures of 150-200 years ago but this is still something I’ve not seen anywhere else in the world (although I understand something similar may be occurring in Canada and the United States). I don’t think people here have truly understood the impact those changes are going to have (hopefully better –  but who knows?) in society over the next ten to twenty years.

By studying the tribal dynamics here, I find that I can extrapolate quite a lot of the cultural subtleties to the Gaelic context, to work out how Irish (or rather, ‘Gaelic’) clan/tribal structures worked long ago – and,  potentially – how they might work in the future.  I’ll be covering that in more detail in my next blog article.

Locations for Beara: Dark Legends

Cnoc Daod1

When I write, I find it useful to have a pre-existing model for where various events or actions in the story take place. I don’t think I’m particularly lazy in this respect, I just find that having a clear mental image of a location allows me to focus more on plot and character dialogue. Obviously, with Beara: Dark Legends, I used areas down in West Cork that I’m most familiar with to recreate a location that suited the plot and feel of the novel.

When writing about Carraig Dubh (pronounced ‘Corr-igg Duv’ for the non-Irish speakers) I was trying to instil a very strong sense of heritage and ‘sanctuary’. In the book, the ‘farm’, has been in Diarmuid and Demne’s family for generations and is strongly linked to the concept of generational – almost tribal –  O’Sullivan land. The house and the surrounding area, therefore had to be described with a particular level of detail that only comes from long familiarity. I think that worked pretty well, overall. These days, when I reread sections of the novel, the ones I most enjoy most tend to be those more domestic scenes where Mos or Demne are at home or wandering around fields that I can still remember clearly after all these years.

Needless to say, that’s Cnoc Daod up there in the background, dominating the world with it’s granite bulk. People asked me why I never give it the English name but I suppose, for me, the English name just doesn’t sound right. It’s probably just a personal thing. I like it’s English name fine but it’ll never have the same emotional resonance or connection that ‘Cnoc Daod’ has.

 

A Merry Christmas and a Legless New Year

Escape from Wellington to Paraparaumu beach - 1 March 2013

I love New Zealand Christmases. It’s not so much the fact that it’s warm (Santa Claus comes dressed in shorts and a singlet) and the sunniest time of the year so much as the fact that New Zealand seems to come to a complete halt from Dec 24. For a period of at least three weeks, you can put up a sign that says ‘Gone Fishing!’ and it applies to the whole country. If you’re ever planning an invasion, this is really the time to do it!

In Wellington, that break seems to extend even further, in that we have at least two long weekends to ease ourselves back into long pants and the humdrum routine of work.   Most Wellingtonians don’t really get back into that routine until the end of January. This pause and change of practice is surprisingly beneficial.  For one of the few times in the year, you have the space to step out of your rut, veer away from convention and reconsider your existence in a new light. That’s probably why so many people make various life-changing decisions at this time of year.

We had a pretty muted Christmas this year but still managed to get away for four days  up the coast, sleeping, yacking, drinking, walking on the endless stretch of beach.  There were no real life-changing experiences, no eureka moments or great thoughts. If anything, there was a complete absence of thought which is also a great thing. Sometimes the mind just needs to shut down, filter out all the shite and rest.

I had great plans to write at least three chapters of the next Fionn book over Christmas but I didn’t. I also had great plans to catch up with friends and contact relatives I haven’t seen for a while but I didn’t. I suppose I needed the rest after a pretty full year but ‘Casa O’Sullivan’ do seem to have come up with a new vision statement for 2105:

Should have,

could have,

would have.

Didn’t.

Happy New Year!!