These days, thanks to many decades of misinformation (and an unregulated internet), most non-Irish people (and, sadly, some Irish people) can’t tell the difference between a Gael, a Celt, a Viking, a Gaul, a Pagan/Wicca, a Skyrim warrior, a Briton, a Saxon, a Pict, blah, blah, blah, etc. etc. and if you look at many English-language representations (particularly in gaming) you’ll find that they use a mish-mash of completely different cultures for each.
I’ve recently been researching various conflicts and battles between the early European peoples and the Roman Empire and, of course, the long-term engagement between the cultures is far more complicated than you’d think. Interestingly, most of the imagery around this subject also tends to be Eurocentric in nature (the Gauls and the northern German tribes).
The above image by talented French artist Thibault Ollier, pretty much epitomises how most western people visualise those early conflicts. Applying the historical story to the reality to 1st century Ireland means a certain amount of adaptation is going to be an interesting challenge for the next book in the Liath Luachra series if I want to make it work on both a creative and culturally authentic basis.
Ireland’s ‘Culture Night’ kicks in tonight (depending on what part of the planet you’re on) and its very cool to see Macnas running the giant Crom through the streets of Athenry (with drummers and assoicated escorts).
I have to admit, the staggering array of events on Culture Night is probably the one thing I miss most about Ireland these days.
This is the location of Nead an Iolair, down on the Beara Peninsula. The local story is that when Domhnall Cam Ó Súilleabháin departed on his mid-winter flight north to Breifne, he left his wife and child in the care of a trusted captain. Through the stark and hungry days of winter, unable to leave the valley due to enemies nearby, the Captain supposedly fed them by stealing food from the eagles with a very clever strategem. This is probably something I’ll use in one of my next books although I will be referencing the original.
Supposedly, the nest was located on one of the ledges on the cliff face to the right. As usual, however, you really have to take such local legends with a healthy dose of salt.
I took some time out yesterday from my current projects to play around with various concepts for ‘Liath Luachra: The Hungry People‘ (and, sorry, I won’t get to writing that until mid- next year at the earliest).
The previous book in the series left a number of unanswered questions and unresolved plotlines that I’ll be picking up in the next book but, as with the previous book, I want to avoid the whole cliche of western represented Romans and play the observation from the ‘native’ side.
I’m still not sure how I’ll achieve that but I’m sure it’ll come together.
The attached images (from Roman Zawadzki, Marius Kozik, and Joseph Feely) have been helping me formulate some ideas.
This murky image was taken at Uaimh na gCait (often bastardised into English as Oweynagat) located at Cruachain in Roscommon and its one of the more famous ancient ‘crossing points’ to the Otherworld – a list predominantly derived from literary (i.e. not historical) sources. The site is definitely worth a visit as long as you also visit the nearby Rathcroghan Visitor Centre, and you’re nimble enough to get through the narrow entrance and clamber down into the main cavern.
Over the last forty years or so however, it’s worth noting the development of misinformed fantasy-style narratives around the site and its function (e.g. the Entrance to Hell, the home of the Morrigan, dun-dun-dun!). As a result, you have to take most of the online references with liberal doses of salt.
This pattern of what we generically call ‘Tourism Mythology’ is one that we’re seeing increasingly across the country and its probably something you should keep an eye out for if you’re interested in authentic Irish culture.
I’ll probably be covering the issue in Vóg (the Irish Imbas newsletter) at some point in the near future.
Despite a measure of artitistic self-indulgence, I’ve actually come to enjoy Hugo Pratt’s books (some of them at least) but his representation of Ireland during the war of independence is amusingly uninformed.
When his laconic anti-hero (the nautical Corto Maltese) ends up in Ireland, he meets the hilariously named ‘Banshee O’Danann’.
I sometimes wonder whether Pratt was actually very sly, and this was all just part of some obscure joke.
The current chapter one (these things tend to change) involves a conversation around a game of fidchell between Demne (Fionn) and his aunt, Bodhmhall. This approach allows some development of the Fionn character but it also provides a helpful recap of the story so far and sets the scene for the rest of the book.
More importantly, it’s also quite fun writing the conversation dialogue between the young/eager Fionn and the much more worldly Bodhmhall.
I’ll make this first chapter available in the ‘paid’ section of my newsletter once I’ve advanced the story a little further.
My first encounter with Reefer and the Model (Joe Comerford’s independent thriller and Ireland first arthouse ‘western’) was in 1989 when I moved to France. Moving around the city, I was surprised to discover several posters advertising an Irish comedy-thriller that consisted of an odd ‘line -up’ style photo displaying a priest, a bearded woman, and a labourer.
Reefer and the Model tells the story of an odd foursome. Reefer (Ian McElhinney) and his two comrades (Spider and Badger) are men with a violent past now eking a living on a battered trawler that operates as a ferry along the Galway coast. When Reefer picks up a hitchhiking pregnant woman (Carol Scanlan) who’s struggling with drug addiction, an odd sort of romance develops, and she comes to live on the trawler. The newly bound, but financially desperate, foursome must now resort to a heist to survive.
When it was released, although relatively little known in Ireland, the movie was being lapped up by European audiences (it won the Europa Prize at the Barcelona Festival, Best Feature at the Celtic Film Festival in Wales and was nominated for Best Young Film at the 1988 European Film Awards), who were entertained by, but didn’t entirely know what to make of, this west of Ireland style adventure. The American market also struggled with how to approach this indigenous production and it had a relatively low profile there.
The 1988 movie languished in the archives for decades but was recently restored through the IFI and Screen Ireland Digitisation Project and a new Director’s Cut was released with a premiere screening at the Galway Film Fleadh this month.
The movie is 80 mins long but if you get a chance to see it. I was very influenced by it when I first saw it and fell in love with its clever dialogue (which now sounds slightly stilted to my ears) and the theme song from Delores Keane.
An ‘early medieval batte scene’ from Polish artist Aleksander Karcz.
As a general rule, I tend to avoid large scale battle scenes in my books, except where they’re the culmination of some important plot point or otherwise a necessary contribution to the story I’m writing.
Fantasy entertainment has probably set a few unrealistic expectations when it comes to Irish battles – cartainly in pre-history times (i.e. pre 5th century). During that period, there was no real warrior class in the Irish society of the time and the low population density meant tribal warfare would have been more ‘skirmish’ than ‘pitched battle.’
There was one morning when the world dissolved, obliterated in a downpour that melted the distant islands, then the immediate surroundings as well. Preceded by a cluster of unusually threatening, blue-bruised clouds, the incoming deluge had given plenty of warning. As a result, the girl was comfortably settled under a solitary oak at the tip of the inlet outcrop, cloak tugged tight around her shoulders as she waited to watch the clouds unload their burden.
The downpour rattled the lake’s surface with a startling intensity that she’d not seen before, a ferocious hail that scattered white-foamed eruptions across the water around her. Mirrored by countless ripples on that shuddering surface, the resulting kaleidoscope of movement was giddyingly, but terrifyingly, beautiful.
Tethered to the island by nothing but a thin strip of rock, the girl felt a swell of panic when even that link disappeared, and her existence reduced to the tree above and three paces of the rocky outcrop. Conscious that there was nothing beyond the fusillade of rain, she was struck by a sudden, shocking sense of absence. Terrified at the prospect of being cut adrift, she peered desperately through the deluge for any hint of physical substance, for any trace of natural solidness, for … anything.
To her trembling relief, the downpour eased soon after, and although it seemed to take far too long a time, the outline of the island took substance through the rain. Whole and expansive, the Great Mother’s bulk emerged from the surrounding murk. Slowly, ponderously, it reached across the thin strip of stone, embraced the girl in her fulsome whole and, soothingly, reassuringly, brought her home.
Liath Luachra: The Great Wild was released on 2 June 2023. You can find the details here: The Great Wild
There’s a lot of misinformation online about this rock in Kilcatherine on the Beara peninsula. So much so, that the rock is now regularly polluted by votive ‘offerings’ left by visitors and ‘seekers’ who don’t really understand the context or the evolution of its fame.
This year, I’m hoping to make a start on the next Beara novel in which An Chailleach Bhéara plays a large part. Hopefully, at the same time, I can make it a bit easier for those who come to Beara to actually understand what they’re looking at.
It’s been three years since I released the first official ‘Irish Imbas Catalogue’ (to much hoorah!) back in May 2020. One of the problems with catalogues, however, is that they really are a snapshot in time of creative work and output and, often, they don’t reflect creative or professional changes that have occurred over a particular period.
Last year, I instigated a slow-moving change in response to patterns that I was picking up around Irish culture and what people mistakenly call ‘Irish mythology’. Some of that involves an increase in non-fiction work – on top of my fiction work – the results of which should become more evident towards the end of this year or the start of next year.
At the moment, therefore, the current Irish Imbas catalogue doesn’t provide information on the following:
• LIATH LUACHRA: The Great Wild (book release 4 June 2023)
• LIATH LUACHRA SERIES: Screen Bible and Script (Aug 2023)
• The IRISHNESS Conceptual Model– Cultural Work (Oct 2023)
• THE FENIAN PROJECT – Cultural Work – (Oct 2023)
• How MYTHOLOGY works– anticipated release Dec 2023)
• FIONN 5– book release – anticipated release Dec 2023)
• BEARA SERIES: Screen Bible/ Script (Dec 2022)
Fortunately, it does still offer a good summary of what Irish Imbas does and why. If you’re interested you can find that here: Catalogue
Each year An Post runs a programme of special and commemorative stamps on behalf of the Irish Government.
Deirdre of the Sorrows was part of the mythology series produced a few years ago and illustrates the legendary love story of Naoise and Deirdre and the jealous rage this caused in Conchubar mac Nessa.
The story is one of Ireland’s classic tragedies where the pair flee to safety in Scotland but are subsequently tricked into returning to Ireland where Naoise ends up being killed by Conchubar. Stricken with grief, Deirdre then kills herself as well.
Pretty much, a run of the mill love tragedy that’s very similar to other tales like Tóraíocht Dhiarmada agus Ghráinne and other tales.
I’m currently behind on where I want to be with Liath Luachra: The Great Wild. At this stage, the draft is sitting at over 30,000 words and although I had planned to keep it around that length, the final product is looking more like 40-50,000 (in other words, it’s about 3-4/5 complete).
This means that the final version it won’t be released in April as intended. I’m now postponing release until the start of June (although Patrons and paid newsletter subscribers will get it earlier).
In the deep, green depths of the Great Wild, a naked girl awakes in a forest clearing. With no belongings – bar a cloak and a bloody knife – and no memory to guide her, she must adapt and survive in an unfamiliar world.
We had a bunch of foreign visitors arrive at our home in Cork last night. Being hospitable, we fed them at the kitchen table. As soon as they’d consumed what we’d offered, they got up and started rummaging through the cupboards, combing through our personal correspondence, pulling our belongings out and throwing them one side as they continued their search.
‘Where do you keep the Irish mythology?’ they demanded.