Irish Book Sales

For lovers of Irish mythology books, Irish historical fiction books, Irish historical fantasy books, Irish adventure books and Irish action books!

Circumstances beyond my control mean I won’t be returning to the office until the end of July. As a result, the sale of our two bestselling Irish adventure books:

Fionn: Defence of Rath Bladhma

and

Liath Luachra: The Grey One

will continue until 31 July.

When it was first published, ‘Fionn: Defence of Rath Bladhma‘ became a finalist for the 2016 SPFBO competition (it came in at 4th place)

Liath Luachra: The Grey One, meanwhile, was adapted for the screen as a potential television series by Graisland Entertainment.

Needless to say, we’re very proud of both books.

Out Communing with … er … Trashing Up … the Ancestors

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.

Rivers and Tailors and Fools

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!

An Irish ‘Thirteenth Warrior’

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.

Drawda: Boyne Mythology

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 a curated 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!

The Saint’s Potty

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.

Certainly, too many to cover here.

Almost eight years of Liath Luachra

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)

Review of Turning Roads

‘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.

A vulnerable – but feral – savage

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.

Bog Walkers

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

Upcoming Irish Mythology Projects

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.