Scene from An Táin

One of the gorgeous initial scenes from ‘An Táin’ by Cló Mhaigh Eo – Ireland’s only Irish-language comic producer (that I’m aware of – feel free to correct me). This involves Meadhbh and Aillill comparing their belongings to see which of them is the wealthier.

The image is by Dublin artist and animator, Barry Reynolds (who subsequently went on to do character design for ‘The Secret of Kells’ animation film.

Two Mothers

This is an interesting one from Jakub Rozalski – one of the more impressive visual artists out there. Normally, Rozalski is most well-known for his striking werewolf and fantasy battle scenes but this one introduces the intersting concept of two mothers competing for a supply of food for their young.

As with books and stories, images can take in an increased resonance or depth when you can layer more than one theme within it.

Shadow Conflicts

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.

Siúil leat, a Chrom!

Crom Ag Siúl

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.

Siúil leat, a Chrom!

Nead an Iolair/ The Eagle’s Nest

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.

Working on ‘The Hungry People’

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.

Tourism in the Irish/Oirish Otherworld

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.  

Corto Maltese in Ireland

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.

I wouldn’t put it past him.

Fionn: The Betrayal

Now that I’m back in the office, I’ve started work on FIONN: The Betrayal – the fifth book in the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series. At this stage, this is intended to be the second last book in the series.

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.

Re-release of an old Irish Classic

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.

There’s very little video of the movie available online apart from a report on its making from the RTE archives whihc you can find here: https://www.rte.ie/…/21282626-reefer-and-the-model…/

Battle Scenes

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.’

The Quiet One

Still a few more days to go back here in Ireland and my mind’s already overflowing with sensations, memories, thoughts, and concepts that I’m desperate to get down on paper.

At this stage, I have plans for three new series I want to start – on top of the series I’m currently running – so the remainder of this year looks like it’s going to be absolutely chocker.

This is an image for another Liath Luachra short story I’ve been playing with (which absolutely has to be short as my last ‘short story’ morphed into the full’length book ‘The Great Wild’).