In fact, this is an early image of the ráth at the Irish National Heritage Park. It has a very similar layout to the fictional crannóg as, in general, there wasn’t major differences in terms of structural designs back in the day. People used the natural materials available and the fundamental designs of what worked were easily adapted to many structures.
Our ancestors were eminently practical as, a lot of the time, their lives depended on it.
This is the Ballinderry Gaming Board held by the National Museum of Ireland which is often used to portray the ancient Irish game of ‘Fidchell’ – a game I occasionally make reference to in my own Fionn mac Cumhaill books.
Like many non-native representations of Irish culture however, this one is also flawed in that the Ballinderry Gaming Board is actually believed to have been used to play ‘Hnefatafl’ -a military board game used by the Vikings (which you won by driving a ‘King’ piece into one of the corners).
That aligns pretty well with the estimated dating of the board (it was found at the Ballinderry Crannóg which would have been occupied over the late 9th to 11th centuries).
It’s still pretty satisfying, though, to see how different cultures developed their own versions of an intellectual board game.
Initial thoughts. Predominantly one character alone in the forest. No dialogue apart from limited self-dialogue.
This book is quite an experimental work for me but one I’ve really felt compelled to write. I’m particularly enjoying the challenge of trying to make the story work effectively (in terms of mystery and action) within such a limited setting.
If I get it wrong, the final product will be like that ‘wanky’ art-house movie you once got dragged into, to please a friend or partner.
Much of what people think of when they think of Irish Mythology is flawed, influenced by decades of commercial fantasy entertainment, or rendered generic to the point of irrelevance. This (and a number of other influences) has essentially meant Irish mythology is now a subject lacking a clear intellectual architecture or even a basic, a commonly understood set of concepts and a common terminology. For this reason, it’s almost impossible to have a meaningful conversation on the subject (in the same way it’s impossible to have a conversation with someone on the subject of ‘chemistry’, when they don’t even know what an ‘atom’ is).
One of the Irish Imbas projects I’m hoping to complete this year, is a small training process to explain the fundamental concepts of mythology, those basic initial concepts you need to understand what you’re being presented with.
Longer term, this is something I’m hoping that people can use to apply to their own circumstances but that can only be done in a number of sequential steps.
Although this sequel to Beara: Dark Legendsis still very far from even a first draft, I was doing some work on it last weekend.
This is a quiet scene between two of Mos’ co-characters: ‘kind-of’ partner, Ailbhe/Olva (Hungarian magician and acrobat) and good friend Bróna (West Cork’s most industrious hacker). In the first book, both women took an instinctive dislike to each other which was fun to write and play out.
In the second book however, enough time has elapsed that their enmity has softened, to the point they can even have conversation on topics as arcane as ‘connection to place’.
In this scene, they’re standing together on Beara’s south coast, considering the view over Cuan Baoi.
Ailbhe stared at her, at the grey rock, the cold sea and back to her again.
‘I don’t know if I could live here. The weather’s … sad. The landscape has a bleakness to it I …’ Unable to find the words she wanted, she stopped trying and settled for a shrug.
Bróna nodded. ‘That’s only because you read the landscape differently to people living here.’
‘What do you mean?’
Bróna mused on that for a moment.
‘Landscapes are like a book. If you don’t have the necessary vocabulary – the placenames, the local history, the contextual terms of reference … then it’s hard to make sense of it. There’s no relationship, no emotional connection with it.’
Ailbhe smiled at that. ‘You need an emotional connection to the land?’
‘You do. It helps when times are hard.’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘What do you see when you look around?’
Reluctantly, Ailbhe did another slow sweep of the surroundings.
‘Grey rocks. A grey sea. Gorse. A lighthouse in the distance.’
‘Sure. You see the physical topography of the land. Yet, when I look around, my personal history in this region means I’ll see layers that mean nothing to someone who’s never lived here. I see Cnoc Daod the hill that’s dominated our family’s view for several generations. I see Parc an Tobar – the field with a hidden well behind the fern bushes. I see An Tráthín where one of my brother’s fell and broke his leg. I see a buachalan bush that the sidhe were said to fly away on, fuchsia bushes that will heal a sore throat. I see the mass rock where people gathered in secret during penal times, I see an trá bán – the beach where I collected shells as a child and where, as you can see, my own son is now doing so.’
She paused and pointed to a nearby rock coated with moss. ‘Over there by that big tree, about fifteen years ago, I lost my virginity to one of the Harringtons.’
Ailbhe stared at her, then gave one a rare, deep, and very hoarse, laugh.
‘I guess what I’m saying is that our roots run deep here. Our personal history is fundamentally linked to the place, physically through the bones of our ancestors and, metaphorically, through the stories and emotion we’ve shared here. It’s always there – a constant fixture and reference point. My father saw this view every day, so did his father and so do I. For that reason, it represents a continuity of landscape relationships, of memories connected to places that have been shaped by our ancestors. That emotional connection means we don’t see the land as existing uniquely in the present.’ She shrugged. ‘Which, of course, triggers a whole different interpretation of what we do see.’
There was a long silence when she finished. It went on to stretch far longer than either expected.
‘Did you really lose your virginity under that tree?’ Ailbhe asked at last.
‘Let’s just say that if you’re ever looking for a spot that’s private and dry and doesn’t have nettles, that’s one I’d highly recommend.’
An impressive stainless streel representation of Fionn (and doggies) in Kildare. I really like the style by Lynn Kirkmann (the creating artist) but I was surprised at the Kildare County Council website notice which provided the following text:
The sculpture came about following a consultation with Kildare County Council who wished to commission a significant landmark sculpture to celebrate Kildare’s colourful history and folklore and the presence of the Military in the area since earliest times and up to the present day.
Fionn Mac Cumhaill and the Fianna are genuine historical figures whose deeds and life stories have been embellished through time, myth and legend. There are many tales of their acts of bravery and magic. They were hunters and warriors, the bravest, the swiftest, the strongest and made the wild places of Ireland their demesne.
To find a County Council publishing that colonial-style fantasist perspective is genuinely a bit concerning. Fionn and the Fianna were not historical figures but native cultural representations.
For all of the bad news over 2022 (the Ukraine War, Climate change disasters, attacks on democracy etc.), the year was a relatively calm time at Irish Imbas Books and we managed to release a trio of works that I’m quite proud of.
In March, the fourth book in the Irish Woman Warrior Series – Liath Luachra: The Metal Men – was released (and well received by followers of that series). This was accompanied by a supporting short story, ‘Liath Luachra: The Consent’ (note: this is only available through this website) which resolved a gap in the plotline that I hadn’t been able to cover in the books without disrupting the flow (it brings the character Bressal back into the series). Overall, I’m very satisfied with both
Meanwhile, in about two weeks, the digital version of FIONN: Stranger at Mullán Bán, book four in the Fionn Mac Cumhaill Series finally gets released.
This book marks a step change in the direction of the series as the maturing Fionn (Demne) starts to make his mark and begins his struggle to solve the mystery around his heritage. As always, he’s supported by his three guardians: his aunt – the bandraoi Bodhmhall, the woman warrior Liath Luachra, the eccentric womaniser Fiacail mac Codhna, and a number of other characters from Rath Bládhma (and further afield).
At this stage, I’ve seen three reviews for the book. All three have been very positive, which is always something of a relief.
What’s coming in 2023?
For the next six months, I’ll be working full time in the creative space and focused on completing the following projects:
Liath Luachra: The Great Wild.
The Great Wild is a prequel to the Irish Woman Warrior Series. The first ‘chapter’ is now complete but its slightly experimental nature means I’m still a bit uncertain as to what the final product is going to look like. The target for release to Patrons is Mar/April 2023. I’m not sure when it’ll be publicly available, yet.
Liath Luachra: The Raiders
This isn’t a new book but a repackaging of two previous ones (Liath Luachra: The Seeking and Liath Luachra: The Metal Men) so if you’ve read those, this probably won’t be of interest
Given the strong positive feedback on these books, I wanted to bring the two stories together into a single narrative (which had always been the original intention). This will require some minor rewriting to make the story more accessible for people who haven’t read the other books, but it shouldn’t be significant.
‘The Raiders’ will be exclusive to Amazon for a few months (which means the digital versions of Liath Luachra: The Seeking and Liath Luachra: The Metal Men will be unavailable from all other bookstores over that time. If you’re thinking about getting either of those books from Apple/Kobo/Google Play/Barnes & Noble/ etc., I’d recommend getting them before Christmas as they won’t be available from those suppliers for several months.
Fionn: The Betrayal
Are you a follower of the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series? Have you ever wondered who facilitated the deadly ambush in Fionn: Traitor of Dún Baoisnce or how’The Adversary’ managed to obtain physical tokens from Bodhmhall and Liath Luachra? Have you, perhaps, wondered what exactly happened at the great battle of Cnucha (where Fionn’s father Cumhal was killed) or why so many vested interests have it in for Demne/Fionn?
If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to any of the above, then Fionn: The Betrayal may be for you. This series is slowly but surely drawing to its conclusion, so I’m planning to resolve a number of plotlines with this particular book. It won’t be the last in the series, but it will certainly answer some of the mysteries lurking in the background since book 1. There’s also an overlap with the Liath Luachra Series in there although I don’t think you’ll be able to identify it just yet.
The projected release date for this is June/July 2023.
Beara: Cry of the Banshee
Yes. It’s finally happening. After six or seven years of distraction with the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series and the Irish Woman Warrior Series, I’m finally returning to West Cork and Beara, the most south-western point of Ireland. There, more skullduggery and mythological detective work, await the ever-cynical Mos O’Suilleabháin (O’Sullivan).
Beara: Dark Legends was my first self-published book and it took about 4 years to research and write. It was quite successful at the time of its release, but the effort of producing it left me wrung out to the point where I couldn’t cope with starting the second book (hence the detour into the Fionn and Liath Luachra series). I’m now satisfied that I can get this series up and running again, so expect to see an announcement towards the end of 2023.
There are also a number of other projects sitting at different stages of development or completion, that I’ll also be working on over 2023. Some of these include audiobooks, film/tv scripts, a non-fiction project (The Fundamental Concepts of Irish Mythology) and two more ambitious projects that I’m not in a position to talk about yet. These kinds of projects are hard to scope out in terms of timelines but they’re important from a creative perspective in that they allow me t explore different aspects of storytelling. I’m also hoping to carry out at least one or two collaborations over 2023 so if you have an interesting (and appropriate) project, send me an email before I get overloaded.
All in all, 2023 is looking like a very important year from my perspective. Roll on New Years Eve!
Louth has been running a pretty fun community re-enactment of An Táin every summer since 2011 (sadly cancelled in 2020/2021 due to Covid) and it was back again in June this year.
Designed as a community walking and cultural education festival, it usually begins in Rathcroghan (where Queen Maeve first assembled her army to obtain the Brown Bull of Cooley) and terminates at Bush in Cooley, Co. Louth on the June bank holiday. The march follow Maeve’s route across the rugged terrain over three weekends (and 12 walking days) with a number of events taking place at various towns and villages along the way.
There was an amusing report in a local newspaper of the festival from back in 2012 which goes as follows:
“Brothers Eoghan and Sean Whelan made for a convincing Cuchulainn and Ferdia as they fought each other at the centre of the refurbished Market Square, where the water was turned on for their final battle at the ford of the River Dee. Members of Dundalk Red Cross administered first aid to a dying Ferdia while Cuchulainn was arrested and led away in handcuffs!”
A quick shout out to the Irish Field Archery Monthly Magazine which is running a copy of my article on “Bows and Chariots in Ancient Ireland – The Facts and the Fantasies” in their latest edition.
Kudos to the creators and their work- I know how difficult it is to produce a regular publication while struggling to ensure appropriate content and quality. You can find a link to the free PDF’s of their magazine here: Irish Archery
And interesting side-effect wrt to this article is that it always tends to draw at least a number of ‘Cardboard Celts’ out of the shadows. After republishing, I usually get at least 2/3 emails or social media comments from outraged readers who refuse to believe that history and physical fact doesn’t align exactly with events in ‘An Táin’. It’s also interesting to note that, generally, most of these outraged individuals aren’t Irish.
The first reviews from the paperback are just starting to trickle in. Usually, by the time I release a book I’m far too close to tell if its any good or not. As a result, it’s always a bit of a relief to find the reviews are positive.
The digital version gets released on on 15 December.
The first review from Padraig O’Mahony can be found here:
The second review, from Wayne McAuliffe is here:
Huge thanks to Wayne and Padraig. Go raibh mile maith agaibh!
All going well, I’m aiming to have this out in Oct/Nov 2023.
This current arc develops the ongoing direction of the series a little further. Demne/Fionn – the titular hero – is growing up and takes a more proactive role in the adventures but his three guardians (his aunt Bodhmhall, the woman warrior Liath Luachra, and the gregarious Fiacial mac Codhna) have their work cut out for them as they try to identify who’s behind the latest threat against their charge.
Cue more adventure, betrayals, and violence with a sprinkling of friendships and romance.
One of the early variations from artist Brian Mahy when developing the cover for Liath Luachra: The Seeking.
This was at a point where we were still playing with the colour palette and we hadn’t reached the final ‘look’. I’d asked Bryan to get me a somewhat shocking/bracing cover that reflected the anger/frustration of the character and his final version image certainly delivered.
So much so, that Facebook banned the image from its shop front (one of the many reasons I don’t bother adding anything new there). Hilariously, the initial reason given was because they didn’t permit the sale of animals (the screening programme thought she was a zebra). When I appealed that, the decided the image was too lewd.
That’s why I love running this on their newsfeed (where such apparently lofty regulations appear to be dispensed with)!
With ‘Fionn: Stranger at Mullan Ban’ now sorted and ready for release next month I’ve been focusing more on ‘Liath Luachra: The Great Wild’, which I’m hoping to release in the first half of 2023.
Usually, when I’m starting a new book, I play around with the first chapter for a time as this cements the overall mood and theme of the story. I’m currently on the fifth or sixth rough draft of ‘The Great Wild’ and although I’m still shifting various sequences and descriptions around, I’m getting close to locking it in.
This work was always going to be something of an experimental piece as you can see from the attached mood/theme images I’ve been working with (mostly from artist Leila Amat Ortega but also from Reza Afshar and Julie Cherki).
Because I tend to feel my way intuitively with a lot of this stuff, I can never really tell whether the final product is going to work or not. Fortunately, the process seems to have worked so far with other books.
There’s not a great amount of evidence about early Roman interaction with the island now known as Ireland but there are a few tantalising items.
Unlike Great Britain and most of the European Continent, Ireland was never controlled by Roman interests, although the Roman Empire was almost certainly aware of its existence even at that time.
Writing in the sixth century B.C., for example, Himilco the Carthaginian, made vague references to an enigmatic island he called ‘Iernei’ and to ‘Celtic’ tribes based on the North Sea. In 50 B.C. meanwhile, in the account of his campaigns in Gaul, Julius Caesar referred directly to the distant land of ‘Hibernia’.
Around the same time, Greek philosopher Strabo marveled at the shadowy country of ‘Ierne’ located on the limits of the known world, and the stories he’d heard of the savage, man-eating inhabitants and their sexual practices. This latter reference highlights some of the problems with early … er … ‘historians’.
Ptolemy, the famous geographer and astrologist, produced the first map of ‘Hibernia’ in the middle of the 2nd century A.D. This listed native tribes said to live upon its distant shores, which included the Erdin, the Nagnate, the Menapii, the Iverni and others.
A few decades earlier however,in his book ‘Agricola’, the Roman historian and politician, Tacitus, famously described how Gnaeus Julius Agricola, a governor of Roman Britain from AD 78-84, considered conquering Ireland. In that book, Agricola apparently claimed that the island could be held with a single legion. The number of soldiers in a legion tended to vary over time but it’s generally estimated at somewhere between 4000 to 5000 legionaries, and auxiliaries (non-citizen troops). Agricola was Tacitus’ father-in-law however, and Roman politics was a dicey game, so just because Tacitus wrote this, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true.
What most historians and academics do seem to agree on, was that at least some interaction (predominantly trade) existed between the island of Ireland, modern day Great Britain, and the European continent over the first and second century. Given the huge social disruption caused by the expansion of the Roman Empire over this time, it’s almost certain those tribes on Ireland’s eastern coast would have heard of the Romans, even if they weren’t directly affected. It’s also likely that at least some of the displaced people in modern-day Great Britain would have fled across the waves to escape the impacts of Roman invasion and colonization.
Interpreting Romans from an Ancient Irish Perspective
Most ‘Irish mythology’ presented through English language media tends to reflect a very Anglocentric view of ancient Irish culture. When it came to creating an Irish story that introduced culturally foreign ‘Roman’ elements therefore, I was keen to try and present the events from a more authentic perspective of ‘native’ people in first century Ireland.
When I started working on the book (one from my ‘Liath Luachra’ series) however, this proved something of a challenge. When you’re describing the impacts of a non-Irish culture on Ireland at the time, I knew it would be a mistake to start thinking of the ‘foreigners’ as ‘Romans’. If you start off with that concept, that immediately blinkers any further interpretation from a native Irish perspective and you end up with the usual monocultural, English-language tropes.
Given the lack of records from pre-fifth century Ireland, we don’t know how Ireland’s early inhabitants would have referred to the people of the Roman Empire – but they certainly wouldn’t have called them ‘Romans’. We can surmise however, that they would have referred to them using terms that articulated key behaviours of these new arrivals, behaviours interpreted in a way that made sense from the native Irish cultural perspective.
Like all authoritarian regimes, to fulfil the ambitions of its leaders (and the greed of its politicians), the Roman Empire had a constant need to subjugate other cultures and appropriate their wealth and resources. This predominantly meant taking control of their lands and other natural resources but it also meant using the subjugated populations for slave labour.
Other cultures would have looked on this behaviour – the ‘Great Roman Dream’ – and the scale of it, with a mixture of astonishment and horror. As a result, I opted for the name ‘The Hungry People’ as I felt this captured how this distressing cultural characteristic of the Romans might have been expressed from a native Irish perspective. This, however, is really only a best guess on my part as the truth is we’ll never know. In the final book (Liath Luachra: The Metal Men), I haven’t used the Gaelic term as I felt the book (and the series) was already sufficiently loaded with Irish concepts/language for a mainly English-speaking audience.
The naming of the ‘The Metal Men’ – the military forces of’ ‘The Hungry People’, uses the same creative approach and is, I think, self-explanatory.
Macnas have put together another impressive art creation for the Halloween celebrations in Galway (down at Fisheries Field, on the banks of the River Corrib) this year. It’s accessible on Saturday 29th & Sunday 30th October. [Images from Macnas]
The blurb is as follows:
Inventors and explorers from all over the world are baffled by startling evidence of an ancient giant living underneath the Fisheries Field in Galway city. Professor Marjorie Morrigan, an expert on “Giants & Where They Come From”, reported – “This giant seems to have been here for centuries. There is a very large iron nose, so big and rusty, you could park a car in one of the nostrils.”
Professor Marjorie Morrigan went on to confirm that this big giant is called Con Mór and originates from the ancient ‘Island of Giants’ off the coast of Connaught. Con Mór was so famous across Ireland for his love of birds and nature, his friends used to call him ‘The Bird King.
Some of the fantasists are probably going to miss the fact that this is a production with kids in mind, so I’ll just clarify here … This is not true!
I really enjoy making landscape and topography part of a story but of course in ancient Ireland you also have neolithic structures and other features that add a new level of resonance to the land.
When writing the Fionn or Liath Luachra series, this kind of inclusion is critical, not only for imbibing the landscape with a character but also to add atmosphere or when setting up a plot.
This short segment from ‘Liath Luachra: The Grey One’ is the first mention of Carraig An Fhírinne Buí? (The Stone of the Yellow Truth), an ancient standing stone of importance to the Éblána tribe. This particular scene sets up some of the background context for later plot development but also allows a bit of dialogue to further develop the characters of Liath Luachra and her band of mercenaries.
It was quite fun to write.
Liath Luachra grunted. ‘And Carraig An Fhírinne Buí? Does this hold significance for the Éblána?’
Flannán shook his head. ‘No particular significance. Although there are some who say the stone is a marker.’
‘What does it mark?’
He shrugged. ‘Boundaries. Spaces that are different. I don’t know. You’d have to ask the draoi.’
There was a snigger from the others at this and even Liath Luachra had to wonder at the Éblána man’s obtuseness. A draoi was the last person anyone would approach for information. Jealously possessive of their restricted knowledge, they resented any efforts to make them share their secrets. Powerful in terms of magic and tribal authority, everyone knew they were best avoided.
Flannán bristled, misunderstanding the reason for their laughter. His lips formed a thin line and his forehead furrowed so deeply that the circular tattoo halved in size. ‘You can laugh but I tell you sites like Carraig An Fhírinne Buí are best avoided. That stone marks the entrance to a pretty little valley and yet none of the Éblána dare to venture there.’
‘How do you know?’ asked Sean Fergus, scratching his beard with thick fingers.
‘How do you know there’s a pretty valley? You said your tribe do not venture there.’
Flannán looked at him askew. ‘A kinsman of mine entered the forest beyond the stone by accident, when he was hunting and veered astray. He saw the valley through the trees but he was too fearful to go there for he swore it was haunted.’
The Éblána man paused, as though struggling to recall something he’d been told a long time before. ‘He said the air was wrong. My kinsman is not a man prone to false embroidery of a tale. Neither is he one to panic easily so his words bear the weight of truth for me.’
‘What did he see?’ asked Canann, his eyes bright with nervous curiosity. ‘Your kinsman. What did he see?’
‘Hah!’ roared Conall Cacach.
Flannán tossed the large warrior a heated look, infuriated by his blatant disrespect. ‘My kinsman did not see anything but he felt something.’
‘He felt something? What did he feel?’ Canann was leaning forward eagerly now, like a child hearing a ghost story for the very first time.’
‘He felt a coldness, an unnatural texture to the air. It frightened him deeply.’
Conall Cacach snorted. ‘Your kinsman must shit himself every time the wind shifts to the east.’
Flannán reddened. ‘If you are a man of such courage perhaps you would spend the night at Carraig An Fhírinne Buí by yourself.’
Conall Cacach sneered. ‘I have better things to do than sit around a piss-coloured rock, Éblána man.’
‘Of course, of course. You are so very, very busy.’
The bickering continued until Liath Luachra growled at them both to shut up. Furious, Flannán retreated into himself and said nothing more. Conall Cacach, for his part, led a fresh discussion on a subject that was the fénnid’s unfailing favourite: their plans for their newfound wealth and reputation following the completion of their service.