Dark Dawn/ Camhaoir Fuilsmeartha

Over the past three weeks, I’ve been carrying out an immense amount of work on the Dark Dawn/ Camhaoir Fuilsmeartha Project. An experimental work unlike anything I’ve done before, it’s taken up an inordinate amount of time, far more than I’d ever envisaged when I first started it. Over 2020, the non-publishing workloads I’m subject to, work on a potential television series for Liath Luachra and the impact of the Covid-pandemic have also meant I’ve never been able to give it the full focus it required.  

Even at this point however, an enormous amount of work still remains and I still have no idea if the finished product will work or not. The time I’ve allotted to fart around with this creation up till Christmas is very much an early Christmas present to myself. 

In terms of goals, Dark Dawn/ Camhaoir Fuilsmeartha is my latest attempt at exploring a more culturally authentic approach to ancient Irish fictional narratives, something I’ve been attempting principally through my Fionn mac Cumhaill Series. In terms of plot, its quite a simple character-based story involving the character Ultán from Fionn Defence of Ráth Bládhma.

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

I’m aiming for release in the first quarter of 2021.

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.

Harp

A gorgeous shot from the Irish Times.

Harp-maker Kevin Harrington handing over a new harp to Muireann Ni Mhuirthile (10), on National Harp Day, at the Featherbeds in the Dublin/Wicklow mountains. Photograph Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Found at: Image of the Day

DARK DAWN: A New Kind of Irish Adventure

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

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

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

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.

 

Cover Grow Up

Had a timely ‘blast from the past’ today when I received a reminder of a book cover from October 2014 (for FIONN: Traitor of Dun Baoiscne). It was timely given that Amazon have somehow managed to revert to printing my paperbacks with the older covers instead of the more recent versions (which have been in place for some years).

Back when I first started writing and publishing, there were far fewer artists available to do illustrations and limited stock photos that you could purchase within a shoestring budget. For 1st/2nd century Ireland – the time/culture in which my books are set – finding ‘representative’ covers was particularly difficult. Despite many days searching, in the end I had no choice but to resort to fantasy-style photostock and using a graphic artist to try and ‘Gaelicise’ the result as far as possible.

I was never entirely comfortable with the resulting image. The fanboy, Red-Sonya fantasy style image I ended up with, really didn’t work that well for the culturally-realistic feel I was trying to reintroduce in our mythological narratives (not to mind the lack of realism around Irish weather!). As a result, this cover (deservedly) endured some serious piss-taking (predominantly from my partner, daughter, editor [female], proof-reader [female]).

Despite that, it proved remarkably popular until I could finally afford to replace it. Skimpy-clothed model aside, I think the standing stone, the colour and the background terrain worked really well.

The Fenian Cycle, Books and Leather Bikinis

Presenter Andy Linton interviews myself and fellow Irish writer and musician Pat Higgins at ‘Capital Irish’. You can find the interview below:

I start talking at about five minutes in and keep on talking (mostly about the Fenian Cycle, the influence it’s had on my own writing, a little bit about the proposed Liath, Celtic Warrior television series etc.) until someone wrestles the mircophone off me.

Pat Higgins finally gets a chance to talk a little about his book ‘Begotten Not Made‘ a character drama set in Galway based on true events in Pat’s family.

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.

Saint Patrick and The Goat

I came across an interesting folk legend in Skerries last time I was home, which tickled my fancy. Like much of our native topographical narratives, the story relates to Saint Patrick (many of the pre-Christian cultural sites including holy springs, wells, and others were renamed for him by the Christian Church as their influence grew in Ireland).

This story relates to a cluster of islands off the seaside village Skerries, in County Fingal. The local and most common version of the story tells how St. Patrick was expelled from the Wicklow region by the (cough) pagan natives. Disgruntled, by his lack of success, the Saint headed north and landed on a small island (“the outer island still called by his name” – Inis Pádraig or St. Patrick’s Island) off Skerries which he intended to use as a safe base from which to convert the ‘natives’. Accompanying him on this new mission, was a goat which he used for companionship and as a source of milk.

One day, while he was off on the mainland haranguing the locals, a separate bunch of them turned up on the island where they found Patrick’s goat. Feeling hungry, and having forgotten to pack a picnic lunch, they killed the goat and ate it before heading back to the mainland.

Patrick, returning to the island after a hard day at the pulpit, was upset (inconsolable) to find his goat missing. Full of fury, he took two giant strides (the first, taking him to Colt Island, the second to Red Island) to step back onto the mainland to confront the people living in modern-day Skerries.

Gathering the natives on the beach, he accused them outright of eating his goat and when they attempted to deny it, the guilty locals found themselves unable to speak and could only respond in bleats. When they were finally ready to confess their sins and drop to their knees before the Great Saint (and the Superior God, of course) their voices finally returned.

This story is pretty typical of the religious propaganda of the day but there are also several very familiar mythological constructs running through the story (and I haven’t included all of them). Overall, the current story is pretty typical of ‘Lazy Man Folklore’ or ‘Tourist Folklore’ (where the focus is more on the entertaining and fantastical elements of the story rather than the more interesting facts behind it).  It’s a fun story but it’d still be nice if the Tourist Board could get off its butt and add a bit more of the actual history next time around.  

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.

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!

LIATH LUACHRA 3: THE SEEKING

I hit the 100,000 word mark on Liath Luachra 3 today and it’s still flowing nicely. The intentionis to release the finalised book cover at the end of September with a view to launching the book itself at the end of November/start of December.
 
There’s a lot of peope waiting for this so I’m feeling under a lot of pressure to get it right.
 
Although it follows on logically from book 2, it’s more closely aligned to the original.
Keep your eyes open for some kind of announcement at the end of September

The Irish Tardis

THE IRISH TARDIS

Spotted in the Wicklow hills about three years ago.
Naturally, it didn’t work.
Bloody Eirecom! (%!!$#!)!

Love on The Aran Islands

Given the roaring success of ‘Normal People’, we’ve jumped on the sexy Irish band-wagon with the attached cover shot for our new range of exciting romantic and erotic novels under the brand “Love on The Aran Islands”. Titles include:

  • First Touch at Killronan (Cill Rónáin)
  • Fast Times at the Dark Fort
  • Fierce Goings On at Dún Aonghasa
  • Forty Shades of Bungolwa
  • Hot Sweats in Innisheer

Hopefully, you actually didn’t believe all that.

This photo was actually taken during some extraordinarily hot weather out on the islands post Covid-19, just a day after a storm that knocked the telephone mast down.

Following the Warrior Path

 

A scene from the novel  Fionn: Defence of Ráth Bládhma which is set in the isolated settlement of Ráth Bládhma. In this scene, Bearach (a young boy) is talking with his hero, the woman warrior Liath Luachra (The Grey One) who tries to explain to him that being a warrior – gaiscíoch isn’t all it’s made out to be .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liath Luachra ground her teeth together.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The boy nodded slowly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Native Irish Astrology/Mythology – Our Colonised Minds

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Irish astrology over the last few weeks. It’s actually a topic I’ve been interested in for several years and one I’d hoped to incorporate into more of my writing. Unfortunately, time hasn’t allowed the development of my research and thinking to a point where I felt it’d be sufficiently accurate or authentic for inclusion.

From an Irish perspective (and from the perspective of other equivalent ancient cultures) native astrology was one of our main casualties with respect to the whole colonialism process. From the infrastructural remains still found all over the country, contemplation of the night sky was clearly a fundamental part of early domestic culture on the Island (and in other lands, of course). Like many ancient cultural concepts however, this is something contemporary societies struggle to understand. These days, our night sky is mostly rendered opaque because of light pollution (unless you’re lucky enough to live in some isolated rural location). Meanwhile, our dense population and other lifestyle distractions also mean we don’t spend much time outside, looking up at the night sky, pondering our interaction with it or reflecting on the scale of things.

In ancient Ireland, there’s no doubt that people’s regular consideration of the night sky would have influenced their belief systems and their societal norms and its importance to them is confirmed by the vast infrastructural structures they left behind. Over the centuries following their construction however, invasion and colonisation by competing societies and religions meant that not only was interaction with the sites actively discouraged and their importance undermined, all the associated knowledge and rituals associated with them, were banned, twisted or eventually eroded from history. With colonisation, the Gaelic-based knowledge and cultural interpretation of the stars (which evolved from the original ‘Celtic’ inhabitants), was supplanted by belief systems imposed by the colonising forces.

Fortunately, we do have a few scraps of knowledge that remain embedded in the language. ‘The Milky Way’, for example, is still known as Bealach na Bó Finne (the Path of the White Bull), Claí Mór na Réaltaí, (the Big Boundary of the Stars) etc. The ‘Leo’ constellation was known as ‘An Corran‘ (which indicates a separate and native Irish interpretation based on a reaping hook (which is what the Irish word means).

A lot of the Irish names, however, are just direct translations of Greek or Roman words as opposed to words derived from our own cultural concepts. The Irish for ‘Aries’, for example, is An Rea (The Ram) – a direct translation of the Roman word (which means ‘Ram’). What was it called before that? No-one knows because that knowledge was lost.

And that, unfortunately, is why, today, Irish people looking at the stars, consider them through the constructs of other peoples’ culture (usually Greek or Roman) rather than those of their own forebears. In essence, when dealing with astrology and its relevance to our lives, we’re still thinking with colonised minds.

Facebook and Captain Boycott

Given the growing commercial boycott of Facebook as a result of the swelling volumes of hate speech and misinformation, I thought people might be interested in the story of where the word ‘boycott’ actually comes from. In some ways, it’s actually quite a funny story.

Needless to say, it was from Ireland:

 

The Story of Captain Boycott

In 1870, almost eighty percent of all the land in Ireland was owned by the descendants of British colonists, most of them absentee landlords who hired Land Agents to manage their properties to ensure the maximum ‘dividends’ were transferred back to their owners in the ‘home country’. The native Irish, meanwhile, were often obliged to make a living by leasing their old ancestral lands (annually), a task hampered by the fact that at least 50% consisted of holdings less than fifteen acres in size. The hardships that this caused led to great tension, a situation inflamed by the risk of famine and  the behaviour of predatory Land Agents who pitilessly instigated rack-renting and mass evictions to make a bigger profit for their masters.

In an attempt to counter these injustices, a political organisation called ‘The Land League’ was established in 1879 by individuals including Charles Parnell, Andrew Kettle, Michael Davitt and others. This organisation hoped to improve the lot of poor tenant farmers by abolishing landlordism in Ireland and enabling those farmers to buy the land they worked on over time.  Soon after its establishment, during a famous speech in Ennis (on September 19, 1880), Charles Parnell proposed that individuals who took the farms of evicted tenants should be ostracized by the community rather than resorting to violence.

Several years earlier, Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott (a retired British army captain) took the position of Land Agent for John Crichton, 3rd earl of Erne near the Neale in Co. Mayo (a block consisting of about 2,184 acres). As the Land Agent, Boycott was responsible for ensuring a regular profit from the land (which included collecting rent from 35 tenant families),a task he did for several years.

In 1880, due to poor harvests, many of the tenant farmers in Mayo were simply unable to pay their rent and sought relief from Lord Erne (though Boycott). Lord Erne offered a ten percent reduction but the protesting tenants pleaded for a twenty five percent reduction, which Lord Erne refused. With the tenants unable to pay, Boycott immediately attempted to evict eleven tenant families from the land.

When the alarm was raised about the evictions however, the Land League’s new tactics were applied and Boycott soon found himself socially, and professionally, isolated, unable to obtain labourers to work on his lands or to access local services (as businesses refused to trade with him). At night, huge damage was carried out on the farm’s infrastructure with equipment broken, trees felled and various crops stolen or destroyed. To make matters worse, the heightened tensions meant Boycott and his supporters had to be escorted anywhere they travelled, by armed police.

This concerted action proved remarkably effective and soon Boycott was reduced to writing a letter in the London Times (on 14 October 1880) to seek assistance to harvest his substantial turnip crop. He subsequently received support from the Dublin Daily Express (controlled and predominantly read by his peers and other members of the Protestant Ascendency who were concerned at the Land League’s success). This helped to establish a fund to help save Boycott’s crops and a ‘Boycott Relief Expedition’.

Although Boycott only required ten to twelve men to harvest his turnip crop, during the first week of November, 50 volunteers from the Ulster ‘Boycott Relief Expedition’ (predominantly made up of Orangemen volunteers from Cavan and Monaghan), arrived at Claremorris railway station to ‘get in the Captain’s turnips’. Arriving on a particularly stormy day, the volunteers (and the large company of soldiers escorting them), had to walk all the way to Boycott’s land in driving rain as none of the local drivers would transport them. There, over the next two weeks, housed in tents on the lawns and guarded by several hundred soldiers, they harvested the turnips. During that time however, a large number of sheep, fowl and other foodstuffs ‘disappeared’ and Boycott’s carefully manicured gardens were trampled to a muddy quagmire. By the time the ‘volunteers’ and the soldiers left (27 November 1880), the crop (worth less than £350 at market) had cost the English Crown and other financial interests almost £10,000 to harvest.

In December 1880, unable to sustain the financial losses and the damage to his reputation, Boycott sold his house and left Ireland. The affair in Mayo made headlines and by the end of 1880, the word ‘boycotting’ had spread throughout Ireland and overseas. Twenty years later, the word appeared as a verb in English dictionaries