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.’

A Short Irish Film Gem

One Irish film gem I’ve been keen to see for a while is “Abe’s Story”, a short animation produced by Snackbox Films way back in 2019 (and not to be confused with Abram Korn’s novel of the same name).

The story itself is set in Victorian London, where an overworked Irish writer draws inspiration from his day job in the theatre to write a bloody horror novel. With a running time of 12 minutes, I’d always imagined it would be easy enough to find online but, oddly enough, it never turned out that way.

Funded by Screen Ireland and RTÉ, it was written by Garry Walsh and Adam H Stewart (who also directed), the final product is quite beautiful to look at (you can see the trailer here: Irish Film

Fortunately, it does tend to emerge during film or art festivals and can now be found with a host of other Irish film shorts through the online Seoda Festival.

Liath Luachra: The Consent

One plotline that I’d hoped to return to in more detail with ‘The Metal Men’ was Liath Luachra’s relationship with Bressal Binnbéalach – Bressal of the Sweet Tongue – her old rígfénnid and sly ex-leader of Na Cinéaltaí.

The interaction between Liath Luachra and Bressal was always one of my favourite elements from the first book in the series (Liath Luachra: The Grey One) and it’s a relationship I’ve always intended to go back and explore a little further. Unfortunately, the subsequent plotlines meant that wasn’t really feasible.

Over the course of writing ‘The Metal Men’, I wrote about two chapters on this, but, in the end, as the story already had enough plotlines, I culled those sections from the text. Instead, I started writing a ‘long’ short story called Liath Luachra: The Consent, which focusses on Liath Luachra’s promise to obtain Bressal’s consent to undertake the Seeking (one of the conditions required by the Uí Loinge, in Liath Luachra: The Seeking).

This is a separate story which takes place after the events in The Metal Men. It’s not critical for anyone following the series. For that reason, I’ve intentionally kept it separate and, as a result, it’s only available at the Irish Imbas website.

The story is still unfinished (about 13,000 words) but the plan is to have it completed for around the 16th March so that anyone who wants it after they’ve read ‘The Metal Men’ can get it. Work permitting, I’ll get this out to Patreon patrons before then. 

The draft blurb is as follows:


Ireland: 1st century A.D. A land of tribal affiliations, secret alliances and treacherous rivalries.

Although ‘The Seeking’ is complete, to fulfil her word to the Uí Loinge Elders, Liath Luachra must reconnect with Bressal Binnbéalach – the previous leader of Na Cinéaltaí – and obtain his consent.

But Bressal hasn’t forgotten her actions against him at Dún Mór.

A story about Joyce I’d never heard before

One story about James Joyce I hadn’t come across before – even when I was growing up in Cork – concerned a business trip he carried out to the ‘real’ Capital back in 1909. In league with some Trieste-based businessmen, Joyce had come searching for a suitable place to open a cinema. Finding no suitable premises in Cork however, he returned to Dublin where he subsequently opened the ‘Volta Electric Cinema’ in December that same year.

Sadly, although he displayed a level of entrepreneurship ahead of his time, Joyce’s lack of gritty business acumen meant that Ireland’s first commercial cinema was a failure, closing down in April the following year and sold at a loss a few months later.

I came across this story through a link to Cork’s Crawford Gallery where they’re marking the centenary of Joyce’s Ulysses with an exhibition called ‘Odyssey’ that examines Joyce’s connections to Cork and – more vaguely – a consideration of how odysseys or journeys have been portrayed in art over the years. The exhibition includes artworks from over thirty artists, including works of historical figures like James Barry and more contemporary artists such as Brian Maguire and Aoife Desmond.

The exhibition is centred around a six-minute documentary call James Joyce: Framed in Cork. This follows an investigation by a Department of English lecturer at UCC (University College Cork) of Joyce’s connections to the city.

You can find a link to the exhibition here at Joyce Exhibition and it’s on until the third of April). Even if you have no interest in the exhibition, I highly recommend the teas rooms for a catch-up friends.

As Joyce himself said:

What is better than to sit at the end of the day with friends – or substitutes for friends.

Night View

The night view of Wellington City from Matiu Island – a small island in the centre of the harbour which is owned by the local iwi (tribe) and protected as conservation estate.

I was privileged enough to spend a night out there recently and finished the last chapter outline for Liath Luachra: The Metal Men that night (and wrote it over the next two days). I’m pretty sure it affected the mood of the piece.

Pilgrimage

I watched the movie ‘Pilgrimage’ (2017) again last night. Set in 13th century Ireland, it does a decent job of capturing the events in Ireland at the time (monks, Norman lords, Irish tribal resistance etc. etc.).

It would have been nice to have a few more Irish actors in lead roles (although to be fair, a lot of the lead roles were ‘Norman’ roles) but it’s still a decent adventure movie watch.

You can find the trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPDIbTvoYXk

Liath Luachra: The Metal Men is done

Liath Luachra: The Metal Men (4th book in the Irish Woman Warerior Series) is now complete. I’m currently working with the artist to get the final covers sorted but all looks good for the planned release in March (patrons will get it earlier).

I’m really pleased with the final result.

The new back cover blurb is below.


“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.


Liath Luachra: The Metal Men is the fourth book in the Irish Woman Warrior Series and continues the story of the 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.

A Gentle Seismic Shift

I have two books coming out this year which I’m hoping will create a gentle seismic shift around Irish culture and how Irish mythology is understood and portrayed. Both, however, are very different.

The first (Liath Luachra: The Metal Men) is ‘historical fiction’ but it’ll be taking Irish mythological fiction narratives to a place they haven’t been taken before (and hopefully amend some misconceptions along the way).

This will be released on 16 March 2022.

The second (the working title is ‘Irish Mythology:The Fundamentals) is non-fiction and is intended to be the definitive book explaining how Irish mythology (and other mythology) works and should be utilised. This one is anticipated to create a lot of reaction. The proposed release is October 2022.

One way or the other, I suspect this will be an interesting year.

The Púca

I was intrigued by the furore around a sculpture by Aidan Harte based that was based on the mythical Púca back in Clare last year (it’s called the Púca of Ennistymon). The sculpture – paid for by Clare County Council – was originally intended to be installed in Ennistymon, but after feedback from the community, those plans were scrapped.

Given that it’s already cast (i.e. paid for), the sculpture’s since being offered to other towns around Clare to see if anyone wanted it.

The most interesting things about this topic is the way the story was carried by the media with a lot of national and overseas media trying to dramatize the story by giving the impression the opposition was the result of some (unnamed) priest denouncing it from the altar as a ‘pagan’ idol. That was also picked up by various Pagan social media groups who were outraged that they were being oppressed by the Catholic (presumably) Church.

If you actually go back to the original releases however, its’ pretty clear the opposition to its installation in Ennistymon was primarily because people thought the sculpture was really ugly. Given that it’s two meters high, constructed from bronze and not linked to any local stories, I can understand their reticence, particularly if they’re paying for through public rates.

It all seems such a wasted opportunity though. If the Council had linked an appropriate artist to local cultural experts from the start, the resulting joint venture could have been amazing.   

The Irony of an Irish Literary Icon

You’ll see a lot of publicity around the centenary of James Joyce’s Ulysses tomorrow (it’s a hundred years since it was published) but I’m already growing a little cynical about the inevitable over-the-top lauding of its praises and self-congratulatory hoo-balloo.

When Ulysses was first published in 1918 (for context, this was just two years after the Easter Rising), it was serialized in parts via an American Literary Journal until 1920 before being published in its entirety in 1922. The book was subsequently blacklisted and banned from publication due to its ‘obscenity’ (although there were many pirated copies) until the mid-1930s.

Joyce had already left Ireland by then however (in 1902) and he was very much an ex-isle by the time his ‘success’ kicked in. It certainly seems that he didn’t have much patience for much of Irish society at the time. He despised the Catholic Church, he was openly contemptuous of the various political movements (and there were a lot during that period) but he seems to have reserved a particular level of scorn for the Irish literary sector, most particularly for the romanticised (and very anglicized) Celtic Twilight representation of Irish culture as pushed by W.B. Yeats, Lady Gregory and other members of the Irish Literary Renaissance.

Joyce was essentially pilloried in Ireland for two decades by the established hoi-polloi and literary gatekeepers of the time but, in a sense, he had the last laugh. His huge success later in life means that today, it’s that exact same group of government-sponsored literary organisations who’ll be out there telling everyone what a literary genius he was. Most of them, will probably not even have read the book.

I’m sure if he was still alive, he’d appreciate the irony.

Awakening

She woke to the weight of that dream pressing on her chest.

That and a blanket.

And pain. Always pain.

Lying on the roundhouse floor, unable to rise, the memory of the owl lingered in her head, but she made no attempt to dismiss it. Dreams had their own distorted logic, a logic that had little application in the waking world, nevertheless she’d recognised some veiled half-truth in its twisted reasoning, something she sensed was of personal relevance to herself.

The Seeking was done.

That realisation made her wince inside, rousing the melancholy she always associated with the completion of a Tasking. Although such events should have provided a sense of accomplishment or achievement, in her own case they’d never heralded more than the removal of purpose, a lingering sense of helplessness and the dreaded prospect of a return to Luachair.

And the ghosts awaiting there.

[Segment from Liath Luachra: The Metal Men – 2022]

Image ref: Segment from ‘Lonely Girl’ by Luis Royo.