Upcoming Irish Mythology Projects

Over the last few years. I’ve restricted my public work on Irish culture and mythology to the three Celtic Mythology Collections and haven’t really published anything further on the topic.

This was predominantly due to a growing cynicism with the ‘spiritual’ industries and ‘new age’ style religions who regularly comandeer elements of Irish culture and mythology, then twist them completely out of context to support their own agendas. Throw in the American white supremacists on Irish Facebook Groups, the occasional rabid Irish nationalist and ‘creators’ who want ‘Oirish’ branding for entertainemnt purposes, and you quickly find ‘Irish mythology’ can become a pretty toxic mix online.

That situation eventually got to a point where, any time I published something, I’d have three or four emails (always from non-Irish people) demanding further information or arguing against what they believed was an incorrect interpretation of Irish culture (again, this from people who don’t speak Irish, who have no real connection with Irish culture and who have – at most – visited the country once or twice).

That said, I do have a further project on Irish culture and mythology which I’m hoping to bring out in the next year or two but it’s quite a huge one (with a number of different elements). For that reason, the project has to be introduced and implemented appropriately, in a manner where it canot be hijacked and misused by those listed above. Needless to say, this wil be quite a bit of work … so watch this space.

SCÉAL

‘Scéal’ is an interesting little story-based game I came across last year (although it was actually released way back in 2016!).

Originally created by Sandro Magliocco, the Slovakian-based developer drew on childhood holidays in Carlingford to set the overall look and design of the project. ‘Scéal’ tells the story of the ghost of a young girl who’s trying to work out where she came from and how she died. To do this, she has to travel through the watercolour world of a magical storybook, using paint strokes to reveal elements of her backstory.

Some of the marketing and advertising for the game suggests strong links to Irish folklore and mythology but in fact, there’s no real connection to established native folklore (or if there is, it’s fanciful and paper thin). The game is essentially a fantasy ghost story that takes place in an Irish setting with moody Irish background music but, that said, it’s a lot better than a lot of the ‘Oirish’ themed games released over the last few years.

Overall, the game is absolutely gorgeous to look at and the music (by Sean-Nós singer Lorcán MacMathúna) is particularly outstanding.

Apparently, the game can still be downloaded via Steam and other sites. YOu cna find a smaple of how it works here: Irish Game

Irish Art Performance Battles

Ever since the infamous Battle of the Books (when the force of Saint Columba and Saint Finnian ended up fighting over the illegal copying of a psalter), Irish people have been opposing each other over the creation and ownership of works of art.

It’s been particularly interesting to watch the dynamics in the Irish art and creative sector over the past 10-15 years, especially where it relates to live performances. In an area where larger, nationally funded organisations tend to dominate the landscape (and hog the available funding), there’s been a noticeable sense of exasperation among performers and creators locked out of that funding stream. That frustration has led to many independents going off to create their own organisations or working as part of larger collectives to compete with the established ‘institutions’ for a more democratic share of the funding.

The pandemic has probably had the biggest impact of all, in that Covid prevented most large-scale performances (the mainstay of the larger art organisations) over a protracted period. Under immense pressure from a struggling sector, the national art funder finally had to release money to smaller, more localised organisations and performance. Since 2020, therefore, we’ve seen some ingeniously innovative, local and regional art productions, most of which wouldn’t even have received the ‘sniff’ of a single Euro just a few years before.

A nice indicator of this is a recent report from ISACS (the Irish Street Art, Circus and Spectacle Network – a support and advocacy group for the smaller arts organisations). ISACS was established in 2010 and since then, have seen their membership grow steadily year on year, reaching a peak in 2021 with over 200 members (40% more than the previous year). 

You can be certain that some of the established Irish arts institution will be watching such developments with concern and using every connection they can to ensure the funding goes back to where they believe it should reside (with them).

ISACS are going to have to be very canny and very strategic in their thinking to prevent things going back to the previous status quo.

I wish them luck.

You can find the ISACS promo reel HERE

Image featured above is ‘The Bishop’s Lady’ from Limerick’s 2019 Samhain Festival (creator’s name could not be found)

Five Years!

I got a bit of a shock today when a ‘Facebook Memory’ post alerted me to the fact that it was seven years since I’d published Fionn: The Adversary.

After that initial shock – and suddenly feeling very, very old – I was slightly mollified (and relieved) when I worked out that the post was actually referring to the online publication of the ‘cover image’ rather than the publication of the book itself … a mere (cough!) five years ago.

Despite the time that’s passed since publication, I do recall feeling a great sense of relief when I finally pressed the ‘release’ button and sent the finished product out into the void. As the third book in the series, Fionn: The Adversary completed the first of the two plot arcs I’d envisaged but it was something of a hard one to write due to the numerous plot lines and characters (and, of course, overlaps with the Liath Luachra Series where I had to be careful not to give too much away). It was also the last book I published with the limited stock photos I had available at the time (although the artist did a very good job in making it look far better than it probably should have).

Still, the post was an effective reminder that it has been a substantial time since I released anything in the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series and that it was well due another story. Fortunately, I can say that the next (the fourth in the series) will be out before Christmas. At this stage, I don’t have a working title but there will be more news in two to three months or so.

Quick Tempers in Beara

Looking across to Beara from the Sheep’s Head peninsula with ‘Cnoc Daod’ glowering under the central clouds. The name ‘Cnoc Daod’ can be roughly translated as ‘the quick tempered hill‘ (relating to the weather and its ability to turn bad fast). Back in the day, the name was anglicized to ‘Hungry Hill’ (and there’s an old – not sure how credible – story explaining that) which I personally refuse to use.

Interestingly, there was a film made in 1946 based on Daphne du Maurier’s bestselling novel ‘Hungry Hill’ (ironically, shot in Wicklow) – based on two Irish families feuding over a copper mine on the hill. By all accounts, it’s pretty bad, factually wrong on most counts and “oh, so, very Oirish” – in other words, a typical foreign representation of Ireland and Irish stories. From the poster, I get the impression this was an attempt to cash in on the success of ‘Gone with the Wind’.

I’m looking forward to heading back to Beara in the next few months. While I’m there, I’ll be working on an outline for a potential television series based on the Beara Trilogy books. I’m not overly convinced that’s ever going to happen but it’ll help me prepare for when I get back to writing ‘Beara: Cry of the Banshee’.

Pleased ot say, I finally have a plan in that regard.

A Dark Dawn on a Hill

It’s almost a year to the day since ‘Dark Dawn’ – a free, online interactive project based on the Irish mythological Fenian Cycle was released online. Although produced on a shoe-string budget over the initial chaos of the 2020 Covid pandemic, the final product remains quite strong and garnered some very favourable reviews

GrimDark Magazine

Irish Examiner

Shortly after it’s release, unfortunately, I came down with a bug that prevented any marketing or any further work on the project but, Shortly after it’s release, unfortunately, I came down with a bug that prevented any marketing or any further work on the project but, for anyone who wants to give it a try, the story remains free online HERE:

I’m very grateful to Nate Aubin from ‘Grimdark Magazine’, Mike McGrath-Bryan from the ‘Irish Examiner’ and all other reviewers

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.

A Pre-Covid Hubris Project

I’m not sure if anyone remembers this strange project from the pre-Covid world (2018) – a spy thriller based on ‘Casablanca’ that was funded, directed, and acted by Michael Flatley.

When it was first announced, the film got something of a savage reception (apparently, reviewers were dubbing it “one of the biggest vanity projects since John Travolta’s Battlefield Earth”).  As a result, it never actually received a general release, proving something of an expense for Flatley in that it ended up costing at least £2.94 million in production costs (which, given other, more famous, film failures, isn’t actually an enormous sum).

I have a lot of respect for creatives who think outside the norm and experiment with new forms and formats of storytelling but, even at the time, this one seemed a bit… unusual. Flatley is known for his Riverdance as opposed to his acting (the film was produced by produced by ‘Dance Lord Productions’) and this venture into a ‘Casablanca homage’ felt more like a fantasy-driven regurgitation rather than a creative attempt to try something unique or different.

I guess we’ll never know … although it’s possible the film will remain hidden in a dusty vault for decades only to be rediscovered one bright day far into the future and lauded as a ‘true classic’.

Hmmm.  

Screen versus Book

I dropped all my current work to spend a few days working on the series outline for this – basically updating it to incorporate The Seeking and The Metal Meninto the final story of Liath Luachra.

Writing for the screen is a very different way of writing compared to book writing – you really have to take the visual components of the story far more into account.

It’s also hard to know whether the work I”m doing will ever see the light of day but, that said, I’m actually quite enjoying it.

Cultural Knowledge or Cultural Object

There’s an interesting article in the Irish Times today on attempts to have the Annals of Innisfallen transferred back from Oxford (where it’s now housed) to Killarney, where the annals were first compiled around 1092 AD.

I’m of two minds with this one as there are really two ways to consider the Annals of Innisfallen. Firstly, as a physical object and, secondly, as a mechanism for transferring knowledge from more ancient times.

In a general sense, I’m usually for the return of all historically pilfered cultural objects, where foreign institutions are making use of them at the expense of the culture from which they’ve been taken. There are a few reasonable exceptions – such as where there’s no suitable protective or preservation capacity in the original country, for example – but otherwise, its really just an extension of colonial practice.

At the same time, I also recognise that when it comes to the cultural knowledge, we already have pretty much everything that the Annals of Innisfallen can provide – that is, the knowledge (the accessible parts of it) in the manuscript is available in other forms now (and freely available). That’s because a written cultural work such as a manuscript, transfers ideas, concepts, and information in a far different way to physical objects such as statues, artworks etc. – which require a physical presence to get the knowledge across.

I also wonder at the drivers behind the demand for the transfer of the original manuscript back to Killarney. If it’s being driven by national institutions for genuine national/cultural reasons, then I’m all for it. If it’s simply seen as a cynical commercial opportunity by local tourism and politicians … well, they have a bit of a crediblity issue. Ironically, if it was used as a tourist draw, far fewer Irish people would probably get to see it than tourists.

I guess, we’ll have to wait and see.

A Mythological Silhouette

Most striking topographical sites have mythological stories associated with them so it’s no real surprise to find so many linked to the dramatic silhouette that’s Binn Ghulbain – the peak of Gulbain (there’s still a lot of disagreement around what ‘Gulbain’ refers to, but it’s far better than the anglicized – and meaningless – ‘Benbulben’).

The Fenian Cycle has several tales associated with that mountain including the climax to ‘Tóraíocht Dhiarmada agus Ghráinne’ and, of course, Fionn’s encounter with Sadhbh.

I’m still scoping out how much of the Fenian Cycle stories I’ll cover through my ‘Fionn’ Series (and another I hope to do once I’ve completed that) so I’m not sure if I’ll incorporate these stories or not. Producing more culturally authentic versions of the story (i.e. not the sterilized and anglicized versions we were taught as children) means a number of the more common variants of these stories are difficult or unsatisfying to adapt for contemporary audiences.

But it’s certainly not for want of material.

A Lonely Crannóg

This crannóg (known as Coolanlough Crannóg) has had a rough time of it. It’s believed to date back to the 1600s and was supposedly built and inhabited by the McDonnells who had territory on Fair Head (where the crannóg is located).

A very defensible site, back in the day, it also had a stone wall that surrounded it’s exterior.

In Penal times, it’s isolated location meant it was used for Catholic masses but that came to an abrupt close when the boat going out to it was overloaded with the clergy and worshipers, and tipped over. Apparently, quite a few of them drowned.

Years later, the crannóg actually caught fire and the soil making up much of the wall burned well, which is why it’s so small today.

I was actually visiting this site when I decided to set the next book (The Metal Men) on a crannóg.

The ‘Sistine’ Oratory

If you’re passing through Dún Laoghaire’s, one place you might want to check out is the Oratory of the Sacred Heart, one of best-kept local art secrets and a low-key national version of the Sistine Chapel.

A tiny chapel hidden behind the main Shopping Centre, the interior is decorated in a Book of Kell style calligraphy created by the very talented Sister Concepta (Lily) Lynch.

Born in 1874, Lily spent much of her childhood learning her father’s calligraphic methods of illumination and decoration (known as the “Lynch Method”). Aged sixteen, she inherited the business when her father died and actually ran it until it was destroyed by fire six or seven years later. At that point, Lily joined the Dominican order at St Mary’s Convent (taking on the name Sister Concepta) and taught art and music at the convent school.

In 1919, when the convent received a donated statue of the sacred heart Lily was asked to decorate the alter of the oratory in which it was placed. When people ventured inside to view the final product, they were astounded to find that she’d transformed the drab, grey structure into a rainbow of colours, designs and motifs, many adopted from ancient manuscripts such as the Book of Kells, but also including a number that she’d created herself.

Impressed by her obvious talent, the convent asked to complete the rest of the oratory which she did, working on it for over sixteen years until 1936, when arthritis finally obliged here to stop. Sadly, she died three years later.  

The Dominican Convent was sold in the 1990’s but the oratory, fortunately, was preserved. It’s not always open and a limited number of people can pass through at any one time (15 maximum) but it can generally be accessed twice weekly during the summer. At present, it’s temporarily closed but you can find a nice historical summary of it HERE.

Liath Luacha: The Metal Men is out!

I’m pleased to announce that the fourth book in the Irish Woman Warrior Series is now live at the Irish Imbas website and most ebookstores. You can find the various links HERE

The price will remainat $4.99 for the rest of the month but will go up to $5.99 next month.

Liath Luachra: The Metal Men continues the story of a traumatised woman warrior’s ongoing efforts to survive in the brutal, world of first century Ireland. The main character – Liath Luachra – is based on a 12th century reference from Ireland’s famous ‘Fenian Cycle’ mythology.

You’ll find that my books might differ slightly from other books related to Irish Mythology. The reason for this is that when you come across ‘Irish mythology’ in English fiction, a lot of it tends to reflect an Anglocentric interpretation of Irish culture – that is, one that bears little real or meaningful similarity to its supposed source.

With most of my own books, therefore, I try to tell Irish stories – in English – from a more authentic ancient Irish/Gaelic slant. In doing this, I not only use the available historical information (and current academic theory) but draw on my own personal Irish language and cultural concepts as well. 

The Metal Men marks a particulalry interesting challenge for me in that I was keen to present an international incident (occurring in the 1st century) from the unique perspective of the native Irish. When it came to introducing a foreign culture on ancient Irish soil therefore, I attempted to tell the story from a viewpoint of how ‘native’ people in first century Ireland might have viewed that culture and interpreted the behaviour of its people. I don’t think any other Irish author has attempted this before, so it’ll be interesting to see how readers respond.

Bain sult as! / Enjoy!


The back cover summary is as follows:

“Everything the Hungry People devour has the taste of ‘more’”!

As the harrowing pursuit of a mysterious raiding party draws to a close, the woman warrior Liath Luachra prepares her war party for one final onslaught.
 

But out in the Great Wild, even the best laid schemes rarely go as planned. 

The south-eastern forests hide threats more dangerous than raiders, Liath Luachra’s alliances are foundering, and her own personal history risks upending her existence forever.
Just as she faces a challenge her world has never encountered before.

A Conversation with Bodhmhall

I really enjoy writing dialogue – particularly when it’s a dialogue between two strong characters with diferent motivations. This is a quick sample of a conversation between the woman warrior Liath Luachra and the bandraoi (female druid) Bodhmhall, who joined her hunt for a díbhearg (raiding party) in a slightly underhand manner. At this point in the story, neither character really trusts the other and that puts a nice tension in their interactions. This particular piece comes from Liath Luachra: The Metal Men which comes out tomorrow.

The converation occurs after a meeting to discuss the continued pursuit of the díbhearg.


A Conversation with Bodhmhall

With Crimall off reviewing the guards, it was Bodhmhall who represented Clann Baoiscne interests around the fire, sidling up silently to remain standing in the background and listening without comment. When the fénnid finally finished his story and the others started to drift away, she moved to approach the warrior woman, who’d seated herself on a fallen, moss-coated tree trunk a short distance from the others.

‘All power to you, Grey One.’

Liath Luachra eyed the bandraoi without warmth. Having spent the better part of the evening preparing defences for the campsite to counter a sneak attack by the díbhearg – a possibility she couldn’t ignore – she was tired and brittle and ready to sleep.  

‘Your plan to find the díbhearg trail sowed the makings of success. To reap its bounty is your just reward.’

Reluctant to be snagged in further conversation, Liath Luachra let the compliment slide by without comment, however the bandraoi settled easily onto the trunk alongside her. She cleared her throat with a delicate sound, her refined and polished demeanour looking a little more ragged after several days of hard travel.

‘In truth, I didn’t like your plan. At the time, I didn’t believe it had the makings of success.’

This time, the woman warrior eyed her in muted surprise. ‘And yet you supported it.’

The bandraoi acknowledged that truth with a wry, slightly sardonic laugh. ‘I suppose I liked the alternative even less.’

A brief lull followed this forthright admission. Despite the lengthening silence however, the Clann Baoiscne woman showed no inclination to leave. Liath Luachra scowled.

‘Why are you here, Bodhmhall? Your warning in Murchú’s regard was appreciated, but we are not friends. Distrust, between your family and I, runs too deep.’

The bandraoi remained silent as she considered the woman warrior’s response. Finally, she terminated that quiet deliberation with a sigh.

‘Given your experience of Dún Baoiscne hospitality, I can understand your grievance, Grey One. And, yes, I acknowledge the loathing my father holds in your regard.’ The bandraoi winced. ‘Actually, he bears you a measure of hatred I’ve ever only seen directed against his most gruesome enemies …’

Liath Luachra gave a dismissive sniff. Tréanmór’s hostility held little interest for her. She was unlikely to encounter the of Clann Baoiscne again.

‘I suspect,’ Bodhmhall continued, ‘my father’s hatred stems from the fact he’s so rarely bested. When you defeated Cathal Bog, you upended the plan he’d orchestrated for your humiliation and turned it back on him instead. That took my father by surprise. That took everyone by surprise …’ The bandraoi paused then, as though struck by a sudden realisation. ‘Myself included.’

The Clann Baoiscne woman drew back a little, eyeing Liath Luachra with greater attention. ‘In truth, it confounds me to have overlooked someone of your complex potential.’

‘I’m surprised your tíolacadh revealed no raging blaze,’ the Grey One answered, and although her words were laden with sarcasm, Bodhmhall didn’t seem to take offence.

‘There’s truth in that,’ she conceded with grace. ‘Then again, you had me at a disadvantage when we first crossed paths.’

Liath Luachra regarded her carefully. She had no memory of meeting the bandraoi prior to her sly infiltration of the fian. ‘When we first crossed paths?’

‘At Dún Baoiscne. In the gateway passage. You were on your way to fight Cathal Bog.’

Liath Luachra studied the Clann Baoiscne woman’s features with new interest. She vaguely recalled another presence within the gateway passage at that time but, focussed on her imminent combat with the Clann Baoiscne champion, she retained no clear mental image of the encounter.

Bodhmhall patiently endured the scrutiny until the woman warrior finally shook her head.

‘I don’t remember you.’

To her surprise, the bandraoi chuckled at that. ‘Ah, you wound my vanity, Grey One. Am I so easily forgotten?’

 ‘I haven’t forgotten you’ve not told me what you want.’    

The bandraoi frowned then, a new tightness of her lips suggesting a subtle reassessment.

‘Very well. I’ll spare you words daubed with winter honey. What I seek is forthrightness, forthrightness on the díbhearg we pursue. It seems to me that you’ve a greater familiarity with the raiders than you cared to admit to my brother – that, at least, is my sense of the matter. This pursuit is meant to be a shared endeavour between our two fianna towards a common purpose. In the spirit of that arrangement, I’d ask for a sharing with respect to the díbhearg’s true motivations.’

Only years of emotional compression allowed the woman warrior to conceal her true astonishment as she returned the bandraoi’s gaze. Behind that cool veil of impassivity however, she struggled to suppress a growing swell of panic. The Clann Baoiscne woman’s startling perspicacity had caught her completely by surprise and it was an abrupt and frightening revelation of just how dangerous she truly was. Crimall and Tréanmór might possess shrewd instincts that were enhanced by their ambition but Bodhmhall, with her piercing intelligence and An tíolacadh, was on level that far exceeded them.

The Grey One put her bowl aside softly and offered the ghost of a haughty shrug. ‘Given your reputed talent with imbas forosnai, I’d have thought you better placed than I to know the díbhearg motivations. Crimall certainly holds your Gift in great reverence and the Druidic Council are constantly at pains to assure us of the mystical glimpses An tíolacadh provides.’

Bodhmhall responded to the deflection with a bright smile but there was a subtle tension to her features that she couldn’t completely disguise. Behind her assured façade, it seemed the bandraoi had secrets of her own and the imbas forosnai ritual looked to be a topic she was reluctant to broach.

To the Grey One’s surprise, Bodhmhall abruptly rose to her feet. Although it appeared at first that the Clann Baoiscne woman intended to stalk away, she stood watching the woman warrior, the flickering of the fire casting a strange set to her features.

‘Sadly, on certain subjects Crimall tends to greater conviction for things he’d like to be true than in the truth itself. The reality is that An tíolacadh’s not a Gift so much as a burden. That’s doubly so with the imbas forosnai ritual, despite what Na Draoithe would have you think.’

She paused then, and Liath Luachra regarded her warily for there’d been a weary honesty to the response she hadn’t anticipated. More importantly, there’d also been a tacit acknowledgement in the bandraoi’s eyes, a kind of diplomatic retreat or implied agreement not to pry into the woman warrior’s secrets if she chose to respond in kind.

The bandraoi made to leave but then paused in mid-step, turning to consider the woman warrior over her right shoulder.

‘I’ve told you the full truth of why I’m here, Grey One. Perhaps you’d reciprocate that with frankness of your own. Why are you here? It’s obvious you take no pleasure in leading this Seeking.’

‘There’s no secret to that, Bodhmhall. I’m here because Murchú asked for my help.’

‘For your help.’

‘To rescue his sister and deal to her abductors.’ She hesitated. ‘And perhaps to kill some ghosts of my own.’

‘You cannot kill a ghost, Grey One.’

‘Perhaps not, Bodhmhall. But I will surely give the matter my best efforts.’