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.
This is an except from the first book I ever published, a kind of Irish De Vinci Code involving an Irish mythological detective (we used to jokingly call it the O’Vinci Code!).
It’s the first in a trilogy (although they’re all standalones) and I have yet to complete the second (not to mind the third) as I’ve been so full-on with the other series I’m writing.
What you need to know:
Following the strange death of his brother, retiree Diarmuid O’Suilleabhain (O’Sullivan) has adopted his nephew Demne, a strange child who was raised in Irish and who has numerous struggles with authority. After beating the child in school for speaking only in Irish, the brutal teacher An Máistir (The Master) is involved in a serious accident and has to leave the profession. Diarmuid is pleased with An Máistir’s replacement, but it turns out Demne’s issues with the 1960’s Irish schooling system are only just beginning.
The Excerpt: Mad Priests and Flying Stones
Within the fortnight, a woman by the name of Miss Kelly was appointed to replace An Máistir and take over the school’s teaching duties. A strict but fair woman, it was generally felt within the community that she was a significant improvement on her predecessor. Of greater importance to Diarmuid was the fact that she was a gaelgoir from the Corca Dhuibhne Gaeltacht and took an immediate shine to the young boy who spoke the language so fluently.
When the school reopened, Diarmuid was much more relaxed about releasing his nephew back into its care. Demne’s new teacher was kind and supportive and the language barrier was no longer a problem. The full potential of a national education, it appeared, now lay out before him.
Within a week, Diarmuid discovered that his confidence in the national education system had been naively premature. Returning from the fields on a Thursday afternoon, he was astounded to find his nephew sitting stiffly at Carraig Dubh in the company of a red-faced Father Byrne. The old man’s initial reaction was one of heartfelt panic. Father Byrne, he knew, was first cousin to An Máistir and must somehow have discovered Demne’s involvement in his recent hospitalisation.
Before Diarmuid had a chance to leap to his nephew’s defence, however, the parish priest leapt to his feet and released a torrent of accusations that were as perplexing as they were vitriolic. Because Father Byrne was practically frothing at the mouth, it took some time to work out what he was complaining about. Slowly it became clear – to Diarmuid’s immense relief – that the ecclesiastical outrage was not related to the assault on An Máistir but to the less immediate threat of his nephew’s eternal soul.
Completing his visit with a warning of severe consequences should the issue not be addressed to his satisfaction, Father Byrne wrapped himself in a cloak of religious self-righteousness and stormed from the house.
‘Safe home now, Father!’ Diarmuid called in his wake, although he could not resist throwing a two-fingered salute at the back of the departing cleric.
Despite the cold, Diarmuid remained outside and smoked a cigarette as he attempted to work through the ramifications of what he had just been told. He was shivering by the time he returned inside but, realising that there was no time like the present, he drew up a stool next to the boy and looked him directly in the eye.
‘So, let me get this straight,’ he said. ‘You don’t know who God is.’
There was a brief silence.
‘I know the one hanging up on the cross in the church,’ the boy admitted. ‘And Miss Kelly and Father Byrne were telling me about three other ones, but …’ He paused. From his demeanour, Demne seemed unsure as to whether someone was winding him up or not.
‘Did yer Da never bring you to …’
Diarmuid stopped abruptly. He had been about to ask whether Demne’s father had never taken him to church. On reflection, the answer to that particular question was patently obvious.
‘Did yer Da ever tell you about God and Jesus and all that?’ he tried instead.
The boy shook his head.
‘A Dhia na bheart!’ the old farmer exclaimed, throwing his hands in the air. Taking a deep breath, he calmed himself and started again. ‘You have to listen to what the priest tells you about the religious stuff, a bhuachaill. You have to do what he says and toe the line.’
Demne’s lips tightened and his uncle repressed a twinge of frustration. Evidently the boy had inherited the family’s gene for stubbornness: the determined expression on Demne’s face was identical to the one he remembered on his brother’s face as a child.
‘But Father Byrne says mad things, a Uncail.’
‘Sure he does, but he’s a man with influence in the community. He’s also the Church’s local representative and that’s a crowd you don’t want to mess with. They’ve a lot of power since the Long Fella did a deal with them and they don’t like the faithful getting ideas above their station. If you come to their attention they won’t leave off until they’ve made you submit to their view of the world, one way or the other.’
‘But it’s not true! That’s wrong.’
Diarmuid regarded his nephew with surprise. Clearly, he was going to have his work cut out trying to educate him in the fine tradition of moral hypocrisy.
‘It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. It’s not about right or wrong, it’s about survival. The Church love going around telling people how they should live their lives. If you want to stay out of trouble you’ve got to put up with that. That’s why we go to Mass on Sundays. It’s not that I believe some big God fella’s going to smack me across the arse with a bolt of lightning, it’s because it keeps the clergy off our backs. If going out there, bending your head at the right time and mumbling some oul shite is enough to keep them quiet then we’re all happy.’
The boy did not seem convinced.
‘Demne, people get upset when others don’t agree with them or don’t believe in the same things they do. If you want to be part of a community you have to blend in. If you’re too different or you stick out, you’ll eventually end up turning them against you. Everyone around here goes to Mass or believes in God – or at least they say they do – so you have to follow suit. Stirring the priests up will only make life more difficult.’
‘Do you like priests?’
Diarmuid stared at him with genuine astonishment.
‘Whatever gave you that idea?’
‘You like Father McCarthy.’
‘That’s different. He’s not really a priest. He just thinks he is.’
‘Maybe I should throw a stone at Father Byrne.’
‘No, you can’t throw a feckin’ stone at Father Byrne!’
‘You didn’t mind me throwing a stone at An Máistir.’
‘Only because you’d already gone and done it. You can’t go around lobbing rocks at people in authority. You …’ he hesitated momentarily. ‘Well, actually, you can, but you wouldn’t be long getting caught.’
‘I’d be clever, a Uncail. They wouldn’t get me.’
‘You’d have to be very feckin’ clever not to get caught eventually, Demne. No, if you go up against the big boys you’ve got to be able to pick your battles. More importantly, you have to pick your defeats – the way that you can choose the fights you want to win.’
It took another half-hour of intense argument before he finally convinced his nephew to adhere to the priest’s teachings – or, more accurately, to pretend to go along with them, keep his head down and get on with his work in school.
This reluctant concession appeared to achieve its objective, however. Within a few weeks, Demne’s troubles at school ceased. To his uncle’s surprise and immense satisfaction, Demne revealed himself to be an adept and natural scholar – although it still irked him that this had only been revealed through the use of English.
DRESSING LIATH LUACHRA
This is a silly little video I threw together during a moment of whimsy while doing my monthly newsletter.
When the updated cover for Fionn 2 (FIONN: Traitor of Dún Baoiscne) was being developed, the artist put together a series of cover versions for the different clothing options he’d come up with for Liath Luachra. I happened to come across the files again last week and, as I was flicking through them, I found it had an amusing ‘film’ effect.
Anyway, judge for yourself but prepare to be underwhelmed. For some reason, the transfer to You Tube seriously diminished the quality of the images and, deep and meaningful, this is not.
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:
Over the last year or two, I started investigating various Facebook Groups on Irish Mythology to get some kind of sense of what people were looking for – or what they even understood – when it comes to Irish Mythology (or any mythology for that matter). During that process, I plonked a few of my own articles in there to see the kind of reaction that garnered but mostly I just sat and watched the information being presented and the various responses to it.
My overall process was very passive but it soon became clear that Facebook Groups had some serious limitations and that, despite their popularity, they sure as hell aren’t a good mechanism to learn anything meaningful or authentic (particularly on Irish Mythology). I’m currently exiting most of the groups I joined but, below, I’ve outlined some of the issues I’ve noticed. This is a very early summary and there’s a whole bunch of material I haven’t yet analysed but I don’t want to bore the crap out of you on a nerdy topic that probably only interests me.
- The understanding of Irish mythology on Facebook Groups – is very much on the lower end of the scale. In general, most people who have a good understanding of Irish Mythology (i.e. who’ve taken the trouble to do some kind of academic course on the topic or work in that area) generally don’t do the whole Facebook Group thing. Specialist/academic groups linked with universities or professionals in the field tend to communicate on professional platforms. Facebook Groups are really for interested amateurs (meant in the original sense of the word).
- On Facebook, anyone can start a “Mythology Group’ and give themselves an air of authority. In most cases however, these groups tend to be are run by individuals with a passion for the subject (or with an associated business) but no genuine understanding of it. A lot of them have their own discrete agendas (i.e. to gain followers for business, religious, political ends etc.) and tend to regurgitate the same tired old misinformation from discredited sources, over and over again. They also lack the knowledge to ‘vet’ material shared on their group – i.e. they can’t tell when something submitted is genuine or not.
- People join Irish Mythology Facebook Groups for a whole bunch of reasons (and the diversity of those reasons is quite staggering). In general, members are genuinely trying to learn about mythology or find out something about themselves. In some cases, what the latter are looking for may not exist – or at least not in the form they believe it does. This can mean – and I’ve seen examples of this – that they can be easily misdirected or manipulated.
- Facebook Groups on “Irish Mythology” and “Irish Folklore” seem to have an inordinate number of “Comment Crawlers” – individuals who’ve read the free, online mythology stuff (which is usually based on discredited early 1900s material) and are convinced they understand everything. Given their limitations, most don’t actually generate any original content but they do tend to spread further misinformation though their (cough) ‘informed comments’.
- Facebook Groups by Celtic Recreationists should be particularly avoided. These people are usually well intentioned but see no problem with cherry-picking specific elements of Irish culture that support their own prejudices or ways of thinking (while discarding anything that doesn’t suit or isn’t particularly marketable). Because they’re trying to promote an interpretations of Irish culture that doesn’t align with the reality, they tend to misuse the Irish language for branding (sometimes to unintentional hilarious effect) or misrepresent Irish cultural concepts by introducing them in a way that’s completely out of context. The end result tends to be a kind of plastic, pseudo-Irish, culturally shallow spirituality product.
- Many of the ‘Irish Mythology-themed Facebook Groups post or reshare content from other, more authentic or credible sites. Each group differs but my (very rough) impression was that about 30-40% of the shared content was genuine/credible (some are better than others). The rest is self-produced content (where the various agendas are clearer), regurgitated rubbish from W.B. Yeats and other discredited sources or fantasy material with an ‘Oirish’ spin. Because of the members’ lack of knowledge however, most can’t tell the difference.
- As a general rule, in my limited experience, any Facebook Group with the words “Irish” and “Mythology” in the title are best avoided as they’re generally rife with inaccuracies or misinformation. The only Facebook Groups I’ve come across that offer any credible or ‘vetted’ information on Irish Mythology tend to be the more generic ‘Irish Interest’ Groups – where they’re run by Irish people with no interest in ‘Plastic Paddy’ Mythology. The Irish Way Group , for instance, is an excellent example of how such groups should work.
It’s hard to believe that it’s almost four years since I published FIONN 3: THE ADVERSARY – the book that completed the first three-book arc of the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series.
The above image is an alternative cover for that book (developed from a series that the artist went off and created predominantly to satisfy her own creative urgings). An incredibly talented cover designer, she had the whole fantasy genre down to a tee and, hence, thought I’d love what she sent me. And I did – anything this artist does is amazing!
Unfortunately, by then, I’d also been feeling increasingly uncomfortable with having my work locked into the ‘fantasy’ genre, predominantly due to my growing understanding around the confusion between genuine mythology and ‘fantasy’ (particularly where it relates to anything Irish). The over-sexualised imagery that tends to accompany the fantasy genre was also wrong for the kind of books I produce.
In the end, we used a different variant for the cover (using the original photostock – you can see the final here) but I ended up paying the artist for the additional set of images as well. She’d done some amazing work for me in the past and, frankly, she deserved it. Although I’ll probably never use any them, its nice to pull them out on occasion and appreciate the great skill she put into them
I received one of those social media reminders today that it’s been six years since I first published FIONN: Defence of Ráth Bládhma, an anniversary that’s triggered some quiet reflection for me.
FIONN 1 was actually the second book I ever published (Beara: Dark Legends being the first). It was my first attempt at producing a genuine (as culturally authentic as I could make it) Irish historical adventure/fantasy novel and, to be honest, I had no idea whether people would like it. I’d never written anything similar before and given my insistence on using Irish cultural concepts and – occasionally – language, I assumed most people would be scared off.
Six years later there are four (by December) books in the series as well as a spin-off series (The Irish Woman Warrior Series) which will have three books by the end of the year. It still amazes me that people buy them, even more so when they leave positive reviews.
When I finish a book, it goes from my head and even a few months I struggle to remember even writing it. I reread this book about two years ago and it was a slightly bizarre experience in that it was actually just like reading a book someone else had written. The weirdest thing was that I really enjoyed it and, overall, I thought it was great (!!?). I’m not really sure what that says about me. People often say you can be your own worst critic but I clearly run the other way.
I’d like to say ‘thank you’ to all of you who took the time to read this book and a particular thanks to those of you who were kind enough to go so far as to write a review. For any writer that will always be a buzz, no matter how old the book or how many books they’ve written.
I’ve always had a clear idea in my head where this series was going (and the Liath Luachra Series of course) and although I’m keen to move onto other projects it feels good to be edging closer to the completion of the story, the characters, the twists and the plots I wanted to reveal. Given the growing interest in a television version, this could of course end up going on in a way or a direction I’d never even envisaged but, to be honest, there are a thousand other things I need/want to do.
I think some stories never end.
Note: The above image shows the development of the cover since my initial amateurish introduction. The current cover is the image seen below.
A snippet from Liath Lauchra 3: The Seeking
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.
‘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.
[Image from the film, “Centurion”]
This is another of the images pulled from my regular weekend research of imagery – something about the mood in this image really drew me to Eve Ventrue’s ‘The Rider’ ( the image attached to this post).
I’m currently writing a chapter which involves the use of horses and was reminded of a question I occasionally get asked: Why don’t the characters in the Fionn mac Cumhaill and the Liath Luachra books ride horses?
There are several reasons for this but the most important is authenticity. Back in the 1st and 2nd century, Ireland was a very rugged land, full of dense forest, marshes and terrain that was extremely difficult to traverse. People didn’t tend to travel very far unless they had to and, a lot of the time, the journeys they took were simply too onerous for horses (because of the huge amount of clambering required).
We also have to remember that horses weren’t all that plentiful. For those communities fortunate enough to have a horse, the animals were mostly kept for critical farm work and if they were ridden, they would only have been ridden by the most important members of the tuath (tribe).
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.
Note: This project was originally due for release in January 2020. Unfortunately, workloads have now delayed it’s publication until March/April 2020.
WORKING ON THE BEACH: UPDATE ON FUTURE ‘PRODUCTIONS’’
God, I love Christmas/New Year in New Zealand!
Through a pure twist of timing and climate, the Christmas celebration here falls at the very start of the summer holiday season. As a result, the holidays in this country can stretch from 24th December all to the way through to the end of January. That’s not to say you don’t work over that period – most people do – but the cities are definitely a lot emptier, people are more laid back and there’s a great holiday vibe that just keeps rolling on (when the weather and earthquakes allow, of course).
This year, given other responsibilities, I’ve had to spend a lot less time at the beach to catch up on writing projects that have lapsed throughout the year. The main pieces of work coming through over the next few months are as follows:
[Full article at: http://irishimbasbooks.com/working-on-the-beach-update-on-…/ ]
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.
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.
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
If you have further queries or would like to arrange an interview, Brian O’Sullivan can be contacted at email@example.com
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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).
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.
When I returned home to Ireland in 2017, I was contacted by an Irish radio station to do a quick interview on a ‘scandal’ that was taking place at the time. This concerned some issues with the ongoing cost of maintenance with the N22 (one of our national roads that passes through Cork and Kerry) particularly in one area Curraglass near Killarney where a persistent dip continued to reappear despite previous repair work.
This all became a “scandal” when an independent Irish politician (Danny Healy-Rae) suggested that the problems with the N22 could be due to “numerous fairy forts in that area” and that “anyone that tampered with them back over the years paid a high price and had bad luck.”
Needless to say, the media jumped into this story faster than a pig into a mud-pond and Healy-Rae’s comments got a level of international coverage that the politician could previously only have dreamed of. At the time, the reporting lines in the media tended to follow two distinct narratives:
- Look at what that ‘muck savage’ Healy Rae believes- shock/horror! (mostly Irish media – Irish Times, Irish Examiner, Irish independent, etc.)
- Folk beliefs still hold powerful sway in good old, romantic Ireland – please buy our associated products (overseas media, Irish Central, etc.)
What really struck me at the time was that neither narrative progressed beyond childlike fact-finding or churlish commercial thinking. What was even more striking was the fact that both the international and Irish media insisted on using the term ‘fairy fort’ as this term had connotations they could use for whichever version of the story the wanted to spin.
This is one of the problems we face when trying to have a grown-up conversation around Irish mythology. Beyond academia, there isn’t any commonly accepted nomenclature around Irish mythological concepts which means that when you attempt to have a conversation, people come into that with hugely varying comprehensions of the concepts being discussed. Another problem is that a large number of vested interests out there (usually businesses or creatives dependent on the ‘fantasy portrayal of mythology for their business model) have no interest in allowing such facts to come to the fore.
Here, however, are the basic facts associated with “Fairy forts”.
- The correct term for these structures is ‘ráth’ (pronounced like ‘raw’ in English). The plural is ráthanna.
- Essentially, a ráth was an ancient circular settlement that were enclosed by one or more earthen banks. The banks were usually constructed using upcast dirt from the ditch; an effective way of forming a second defensive structure for the effort of a single one. On occasion, the inner bank was also topped with a timber palisade which made entry even more difficult.
- Because of its relative constructive and design simplicity, the ráth was a relatively common defensive living area with more than 60,000 identified surviving examples in Ireland. The vast majority of recorded ráthanna date back to a period between 500 – 900 A.D. but there’s some evidence of much earlier prehistoric pre-ringfort activity and, indeed, later re-use into the later and post-Medieval periods.
- In the west of Ireland, where stone was far more prevalent, stone versions called caiseal were built. These generally consisted of a large circular stone wall with stone huts in the interior.
- Sometimes, the remains of a ráth is called a lis (or lios) but this actually refers to the circular enclosed courtyard within the embankment.
- Ráthanna were probably preceded in most cases by open settlements which became more defensive as the population grew and the need for protection became necessary. Although sometimes known as a ‘ringforts’ this is really a poor description as they were primarily intended as agricultural settlements, not martial structures. The defensive structures tended to defend the inhabitants and their cattle – their most prized possessions – against predators such as wolves and occasionally (if they were unlucky) raiders. They certainly weren’t designed with major warfare in mind – although they certainly would have helped. [Note: In my book Fionn: Defence of Ráth Bládhma, I included a military siege story in a ráth towards the end of the second century – a slight stretch but, to be honest, not too much].
- The inhabitants of a ráth were largely self-sufficient and it wasn’t uncommon in the early medieval period (when the population had grown much larger and the settlement would have grown too crowded) to have neighbouring ringforts.
- Traces of iron and bronze working have also been recovered at some ráthanna suggesting some ringforts had very specific uses while others were multifunctional.
- With the colonisation of Ireland from the 1100s and the subsequent disruption of indigenous cultural knowledge transfer mechanisms, much of the native Irish population was essentially uncoupled from the teaching of its own history. Because of this, much of the history around native structures like ráthanna was lost or forgotten.
- As a result, to explain these imposing structures, local people started linking them to stories about ‘fairies’, which colonial literary influences at the time, strongly encouraged. This is how ‘fairy forts’ became a thing.
Back in 2017, I pulled out of the radio interview when it became obvious the interviewer was only interested in giving his audience a particular spin on the story, much of which ignored the fundamental facts.
The next time you hear someone going on about ‘fairy forts’, ask yourself what their motivation is in using that term. Are they trying to sell you a fantasy story, are they trying to spin you a romantic ‘Oirish’ meme or are they, actually, just completely ignorant on the subject?
That’ll be up to you to decide.
Note: My advice is to avoid Wikipedia when it comes to the subject of Irish mythology- their current section on ‘ringforts’, for example is completely wrong.
A friend of mine passed two books on to me last week as he knew he’d get a rise. Both books were in the Celtic fantasy genre, a genre which often involves fantasy stories loaded with ‘Oirish’ cultural elements for branding purposes. Sometimes that’s not too much of an issue but, on this occasion, both books (one written by an Australian and one by an American) dropped a clanger within the first few pages through the names of their protagonists; ‘Liam’ and ‘Seán’.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with either name of course. Most people on the internet have a cousin or friend called ‘Seán’ or ‘Liam’. The issue in this case however was that both characters, Seán and Liam, happened to be having fantasy adventures in a prehistoric time period set several hundred years before either name was even derived (both names are actually far more modern, derived at the very earliest from the 12th or 13th century onwards but not gaining popularity until far later).
Again, you wouldn’t think there’s anything wrong with that. This is fantasy after all …
Except that from an Irish perspective it’s a bit jarring, like watching an episode of the television series “Vikings” where the heroes are called Ragnar, Loki, Steve and Reginald.
Irish names are a lot of fun when you get into how they’re derived. Up until the 20th century, the long-term impacts of colonisation meant that many people had already given into various social pressures and aped their colonial masters by assuming English names or English derivatives. From the start of the 20th century however, the period leading up to (and following on from) the war of independence, there was a major revitalisation of old Gaelic names. It actually became quiet trendy about ten to fifteen years ago, to find really obscure Gaelic names for your children.
There were winners and losers there too of course. Fechín, a very old name associated with a saint in Mayo, was never going to be particularly popular as most non-Irish speakers would pronounce it ‘feckin’ (it’s actually pronounced ‘feck-een’). I also heard a funny story (and I don’t know if it’s true) that there was a competition to come up with a name for the baby of an Irish-speaking woman who had the family name ‘Gunn’. Apparently, one wag came up with the winning submission, which was the old Gaelic name ‘Sonobha’ (possibly a derivative of the Norwegian name Synnove). That makes a lot more sense when you remember that ‘bh’ in Irish often has a ‘v’ sound.