Today, I’m scoping out a short series based around a little known Irish battle.
At this stage, it’s looking like a limited series with only three books and I’m hoping to start writing it about mid-way through next year. This is so I can allow myself time to finish another Liath Luachra Series(and hopefully aFionn mac Cumhaill Series) book.
At present, the cast of characters include a womanizing warrior, his wife, and a warlike religious zealot. The characters, supposedly based on real people, are one of the key reasons I was drawn to this story.
Further announcements on this project will come once, I’ve completed the first book.
This bronze shield excavated from Lough Gur gives many ‘Cardboard Celts’ a frisson of excitement as they imagine the warriors who used it in battle. The truth of course is less violent but just as fascinating.
Contemporary theory is that this was one of a number of votive offerings deposited in the lake and it was probably never used in battle at all. The fact that the shield dates back to over 700 BC is also an eye-opener in that it shows a thriving level of craftmanship in the country well over two thousand years ago. That’s several hundred years before the time period in which the Fionn mac Cumhaill stories are set.
The shield in the image is actually a replica which can be seen at Lough Gur. The original is kept in the National Museum (for obvious reasons).
I’ve been asked several times where the ‘look’ of Liath Luachra came from.
I’d have to say, the main ‘look’ began with a canvas print from Luis Royo, a Spanish artist famous for his fantasy style images back in the 1980s and 1980s (although he’s still going). A lot of Royo’s work from that period reflected the sexualised fantasy portrayal of women of the time – usually half naked, occasionally with armour and swords (google his name and you’ll see what I mean).
I think I came across Royo’s ‘The Wait’ around 2014 when I first started writing notes for the initial Liath Luachra book (which was really mean to be nothing more than a short prequel book for the Fionn Series). I already had a clear image of the woman’s personality and physical appearance at the time, as the character was pretty well developed for Fionn: Defence of Rath Bladhma. The ‘Grey One’ book however was far darker and far deeper and I needed an image to reflect that. In my head, I had no idea until this turned up on my screen.
The Wait is from Royo’s book ‘III Millenium’ which depicts women in scenes from a harsh future landscape. The character in the image really appealed as it captured a tangible sense of solitude and loneliness but also avoided the sexualised cliches which I really wanted to avoid.
When I had the initial cover brief developed, I included this but sadly a miniscule budget meant I was restricted to stock photography. Fortunately, I received permission from a gracious pair of Australian artists/cosplayers to use one of their photos and that’s the Liath Luachra who turned up on the first cover.
That said, there is a secret to Liath Luachra that most people aren’t aware of and which I’ll be writing about in the next few weeks.
There’s a lot of fun to be had visiting the many old megaliths and cultural sites back home, particularly in Cork and Kerry where we’re absolutely spoilt for choice. With numerous ráthanna (avoid using the English term ‘ring-forts’), galláin and many others, most are located in beautiful locations that are often as worth visiting as much as the sites themselves.
With the growth of mass ‘cultural heritage tourism’ here over the last few decades and the huge increase in visits to such sites from overseas travelers however, many of the sites are now starting to be littered with junk; coins, ribbons, shells, papers, bits of string – you name it, you’ll find it.
Most of these are left as “votive offerings” by people who don’t really understand what the sites were or the cultural context behind them. Others mistake them as areas of adoration or supplication to ‘gods’, ‘saints’, wise women’ or impose their own interpretations on something that makes little sense to them.
Even if you don’t agree with them, you can understand the motivations but it’s getting to the point where some of these important cultural locations are being turned into litter beds.
If you do visit such sites, appreciate their location and the history for what they are. Don’t drop rubbish offerings there. If you want to offer something, make a donation to charity.
The Abha Mháirtín/Martin River which flows through Blarney has a wide, flattish boulder a few hundred metres upstream from where it hits the village. Locally, there’s an old story about a tailor who was being chased by two policemen who managed to escape capture by leaping to that stone from the bank and then crossing to the Ardamadane woods on the far side.
A lovely riverside walk passes the area where the supposed boulder is located (the bank is too overgrown this year to see it). As usual, though, you have to take these ‘legends’ with a grain of salt and focus more on the pattern beneath them.
Far more interesting for me is the derivation of the woods into which the supposed ‘tailor’ escaped. ‘Ardamadane’ is the anglicization of ‘Ard Amadáin’ – the ‘Height of the Fools/Rogues’.
There’s bound to be a far more interesting tale behind that!
It’s just about four years since I published the second Liath Luachra book and, keen to distinguish it from the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series, I had the action take place much further south in the area that was once called ‘Usraighe‘.
I also incorporated a number of elements from ancient stories associated with Usraighe as part of the plot. As a result, the final story is often described as a kind of Irish version of the movie ‘The Thirteenth Warrior’ (itself based on a book called ‘Eaters of the Dead’ by Michael Crichton which I’ve never actually read). That was never the intention but I can certainly understand the comparisons.
‘The Swallowed’, therefore, was very much a standalone novel and although it contributes to the Irish Woman Warrior Series and reveals elements of the character not found in other books, it’s not necessary to have read it to follow the series. This is also why, when the series was originally optioned as a potential television series, this book was not included with the other three as part of the final deal.
A potential site of interest for those with a cultural history/mythology bent is Drogheda ( a port town on the eastern coast) that came up with an interesting artistic initiative over the course of the Covid pandemic.
‘Drawda’ (a very clever play on words) was acurated public arts programme that took take place in the town from November 2021 until it culminated in a one-day, fun day in April 2022. Consisting of six murals, it involved six national and international mural artists working to the theme of key figures from Irish Mythology associated with the Boyne Valley and region (an area which is linked to a huge proportion of our national mythology and belief systems) .
The first of these was Ciaran Dunlevy’s magnificent mural (on Wogans wall) which depicted part of the story of Fionn Mac Cumhaill and the Salmon of Knowledge.
The second mural features Etaín by Dutch artist Nina Valkhoff.
The third mural (near Abbey Lane) represents Bóann (the personification of the Boyne) by Spanish artist Lula Goce.
The fourth work is ‘The Morrigan‘ by Friz (a Northern Irish artist). Have to say, the man’s already earned my respect as he’s spared us the usual ‘Goth’/Fantasy representation of ‘The Morrigan’ that non-Irish people love (blackness, doom and bloody crows!)
The fifth work is An Dagda ( an ancient representation of fertility – no he’s not a feckin god!) by the French artist Russ (in Lawrence Street)
And the final mural (on Drogheda’s port wall) is Amergin by French artist Aero. Again, it’s pleasing to see how he avoids the ususal foreign cliched representation of Amerigin.
Overall, the works are unique but hold the core of the old stories and, for the most part, avoid the hackneyed Anglo representations. Well done to all involved in the project!
This charming story is associated with Áed Uaridnard, who was one of the senior Northern Uí Neill chieftains. According to the source, he was passing through monastic land controlled by Saint Muru when he stopped to wash in the river flowing through the town. As he did so one of his men warned him not to do so.
‘Oh, rí. Do not put that water on your face.’
‘Why not?’ asked the rí
‘I’m ashamed to say,’ he said.
‘What shame is on you for telling the truth?’ asked the rí.
It’s this. The clerics latrine is over the water.’
‘Is that where the cleric, himself, goes to defecate?’ asked the rí.
‘It is. indeed,’ said the youth.
‘Then, not only will I put it on my face,’ said the rí. ‘I’ll also put it in my mouth, and I’ll drink it – drinking three gulps of it – for the water his shit goes into is a sacrament to me.’
Obviously, this somewhat extreme example of piety reflects a fanatical sense of Christian dedication, but you’ve got to avoid the temptation of jumping on the anti-Christian outrage wagon to get your head around this particular story.
That said, there there are plenty of other valid reasons to be annoyed with Christian (and Wicca and Pagan and etc. etc.) interpretations of ancient Irish culture.
A blast from the past with this old post (and draft cover) from 2015.
At the time, I was still writing the first Liath Luachra book with the intention of using it as a prequel for the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series.
That plan went kinda sideways. After an initial lacklustre reception on it’s publication, more and more people started writing and asking for a second book. Four books (and a few short stories) later and the Liath Luachra series has now surpassed the popularity of the original series it was meant to introduce.
Add in subsequent screen options and the character seems ot have taken on a life of her own that I’d never really anticipated.
LIATH LUACHRA – THE GREY ONE (VERY EARLY DRAFT COVER)
2015 has been a bit of a tough year on the work front so far but I’m pleased to say that we’re actually making good progress on the book and website fronts (amongst others).
At this stage, I’m approximately two thirds of the way through Liath Luachra – The Grey One (which is something of a prequel to the Fionn Mac Cumhaill Series). I usually find that by the fifth chapter, the plot lines are cohesive but that I need to go back and rewrite/amend some of the earlier sections to ensure the linear flow of the narrative. This tends to delay the completion but it really is the most important part for me in terms of ‘plot quality’ so getting over that ‘hump’ is important. Everything else after this feels like “walking downhill” (as one of the Ents in LOTR says)
‘Turning Roads’ is an innovative anthology of short narratives centred around the theme of ‘Irish Folklore’ and told through the medium of comics. Consisting of 18 different stories contributed by a range of creators from Ireland and overseas, it was edited and produced by Paul Carroll in early 2022.
It’s probably worth noting up front, that themed anthologies generally come fraught with complications for the people who produce them. Collating works from a wide range of different creators and creative styles can often feel like herding chickens (chickens with ADHD and attention disorders). For ‘Turning Roads’ however, those challenges are even more substantial.
The first challenge is the ‘narrative format’. It’s actually quite hard to write an effective, stand-alone, story so that it fits into a set number of pages and, to achieve that, writers have to use great innovation and practical creativity in terms of compressing the plot and dialogue. Produce those shorts stories in ‘comic’ or ‘graphic’ format however, and suddenly the task becomes that much harder as you also have to take the visual element of your story into account as well.
The second challenge is ‘theme scope’. To put it bluntly, the scope of a theme like ‘Irish Folklore’ is absolutely huge. Sadly, outside of Irish academia and various Celtic Studies circles, there’s actually a very limited understanding around the concept of ‘folklore’. Similar to concepts such as ‘Irish mythology’, it has vastly different interpretations, depending on who you ask, where you ask and when you ask.
Such a wide thematic scope was bound to result in an enormous swath of thematic variety and, of course, that’s what happened here. That issue was astutely picked up on by writer Michael Carroll (no relation to the editor) in the foreword where he openly admits to being thrown by the sheer diversity of the stories. He nicely explains that off as the typical reaction by Irish people when they’re being told what to do – and, to be fair, there’s a certain amount of truth to that.
As a result, the final collection of stories careering down ‘Turning Roads’ incorporates a range of works from ‘ould schtyle’ tales your grandad would have told you, to contemporary sci-fi and fantasy narratives, to hoary plastic paddy pastiche, where every cliche under the sun is dragged out to play. Throw hugely different writing and artwork styles into the mix, and your anthology can start to feel like the first stirrings of a Sunday morning hangover.
So, given the limitations of format and thematic scope …, does it work?
Well, yes and no. The more ‘plastic paddy’ stories (usually those dealing with faeries and leprechauns – ochón, ochón!) tend to be the weaker ones as they’re trapped within established cliches (that’s not always the case, of course and sometimes a weak narrative is effectively saved by impressive artwork).
The stronger stories tend to be those that integrate the visual and written elements to create an interesting or original narrative concept, within the restrictions of the page/panel count. Where the stories successfully manage to incorporate genuine elements of folklore, that’s an additional bonus. Sadly, only a few of the stories actually achieve the latter.
The following were my favourites from the anthology, those stories where the contributing elements of script, artwork, and folklore (not always) combined to produce an effect I appreciated or admire. Needless to say, these were MY personal favourites. I’m pretty sure you’d choose something completely different based on your own taste and personal background.
Bansi (script and art by David Byrne and coloured by Fawn Blackwood) A tight, tense little story based around two women awaiting the possible end of the world – or Dublin, anyway. Despite the extremely tenuous link with Irish folklore (the ‘Bansi’ computer system of the title is nicknamed ‘Banshee’ – that’s it!), I really enjoyed the stark, yet intimate, atmosphere of two women smoking cigarettes on a Dublin city rooftop, waiting to find out if some foreign missiles are going to destroy the city or not. A very clever, moody story.
The Cycle (written by Gerry Moloney with art and letters by Colin Crakey) This, the first story in the collection, genuinely caught me by surprise, and it took me a moment to work out what was going on. An ingenious sci-fi reinvention of the battle of Áth Fhirdiad (Ferdiad’s ford – in Ardee, Co Louth), where Cú Chulainn fought his best friend and foster brother Ferdiad, this is a very cleverly done reinterpretation, particularly within such a small panel space.
Mythic Miners (by Dave Hendrick and Pete Marry) Mythic miners is also a clever reinvention, this one relating to the cliched ‘crock of gold’. The ending is sudden and a bit weak, but the story’s sly humour still works well. I cracked up at the concept of the ‘Bitcoin Billionaire’ discovering ‘trader’ leprechauns in his field.
Long Live the King of the Cats (story by Hugo Boylan with art and letters by Hugh Madden) King of the Cats is based on the old Cork version of the original tale (which is actually believed to originate from Great Britain). The design and artwork is cleverly orchestrated with the larger cat ‘art’ pieces. I particularly enjoyed the reinterpretation of the story’s ending which is actually far better than the original (the ending in the original tale is far more vague, and weaker for that). Tell everyone that Irusan Balgury is dead!
The Banshee (story by Kerrie Smith, art by Leann Hamilton) To be honest, I tend to dislike cliche – particularly where it relates to Irish mythology/folklore. As a result, I wasn’t overly impressed by the simple story but Leann Hamilton’s art blew this out of the water. I’m come across some of her work before, but this is certainly the best I’ve seen to date.
Although the breadth of this anthology was probably over ambitious, as an introduction to Irish comic writers and artists, ‘Turning Roads’ works respectably well and Carroll and his team deserve praise for pulling together a product that achieves that.
For the Irish Comic scene to grow, it needs publications like this, opportunities for budding creators to develop their skills and for the work of more established creators to be exposed to wider audiences. Kudos to O’Carroll for achieving this and for runnning a kickstarer to help fund it. I hope Creative Ireland have the nous to recognise the value of such publications and help fund this in future on an annual basis.
This is a selection of some of the images I used when I was originally conceptualising the woman warrior Liath Luachra.
This particular set (from Spanish artist/photographer Lídia Vives) visually captured the savage/thoughtful aspect of the character and proved a helpful prompt when writing. I’ll probably be using these again for the next book (Liath Luachra: The Great Wild) – which will actually be a prequel to the Irish Woman Warrior Series, and involve the character when she’s far younger and far more feral.
I have a number of key scenes already sketched out and I’m looking forward to getting them down on paper.
A selection of production shots from Macnas’ ‘Gilgamesh’ (a Galway 2020 project). The final product was a short 20 minute movie, of which you can find various snippets online.
The Macnas visuals – as always – are sublime but I didn’t think the script worked particularly well. Given theat the original myth takes places in Mesopotamia, the Irish setting – albeit beautiful – also feels a little wrong.
You can try one of the visual snippets here: Gilgamesh
It’s already been a year since I released the first ‘Irish Imbas Catalogue’, but of course its already out of date! In any case, if you want to know a little more about what I do and why I do it, you can find it here: Irish Imbas Catalogue
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’ 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
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 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.