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Ráth Meadhbha

Ráth Meadhbha is looking a bit run down these days but after 3000 years (best estimates indicate it was constructed in the early Bronze Age: 2000–1500 BC) I suppose that’s pretty understandable.

Climb in over the shaky ‘geata’, slip through the trees and you find yourself in an open field that could be a farming meadow anywhere in Ireland. It’s only as you return to the road and notice the wide, almost indistinguishable ditches to either side that you realise you’ve been standing in the ‘lis’ of an enormous ráth.   

Although the ráth’s current name relates to Meadhbh Leathdearg (or Meabh or Cruachan) it’s obviously got little connection with the mythological character. It’s not clear when that name was assigned but at a guess (without checking) it was around medieval times (at the very least, 1000 years later) when they were just as good at self-promoting as they are in contemporary times.   

Drawing From the Well

‘Drawing from the Well’ is an expression I often use with respect to my creative work as it effectively captures the concept of returning to the comforting depth of your cultural roots to draw on inspiration for artistic expression.

Having been raised in Irish culture, I know that culture has strongly shaped my personality, the language and cultural elements influencing my formative years, guiding my value systems and pretty much defining how I see the world.

Culture, of course, is developed over many generations and involves a contribution from all those who’ve passed before us. In terms of resonance, therefore, it’s much larger and more cohesive than any individual – despite many who who’d like to think it’s the other way around.

I’ve not heard the expression used by other people, but I’ve always assumed I’m not the only one to use it. Hence, I was was pleased to see it being used as the title for a monthly series that connects Irish artists with material from the Irish archives to inspire new works.

The following is the latest in that series and outlines a work (Petticoat Loose: A Wicked Woman of Irish Folklore, Music, and Song) from musicians Mairéad and Deirdre Hurley where they explore the stories and songs associated with Waterford’s famous “Petticoat Loose”.

Sadly, a number of non-Irish creatives (the Paygans, Celtic Fantasists/ Recreationists and Droods!) are already trying to portray the folklore character as a witch (Ireland didn’t have witches – that was very much an English and Continental thing) so ignore all that and listen to the real thing.

You can find that HERE

The Metal Men

This is the cover for ‘Liath Luachra: The Metal Men‘ which completes the story commenced in the previous book (Liath Luachra: The Seeking) of the Irish Woman Warrior Series.

The first five chapters have now been edited and are in their final forms and I’m busy drafting up ‘close to final’ versions of chapter six and seven. At this stage, the plan is still to release the book in December 2021, although this might initially be to the Irish Imbas website or Vóg followers before its distributed more widely.

The background imagery is quite dramatic in this piece and I’ll be explaining the full context behind that in the next edition of Vóg (due at the end of the month).

Sad News On Irish Mythology

Sadly, I’ll be making some changes to how Irish Imbas Books operates in the future (and there’ll be more detail on that in the Vóg newsletter at the end of the month).

For the past twenty years or so, I’ve used ancient Gaelic cultural and mythological concepts on a daily basis as part of my publishing and creative work. At its most fundamental, Irish mythology is very simple (and very beautiful) when you use it correctly and with respect.

Unfortunately, over the last year or so, I’ve found a disturbing amount of the original material and research I produce, being plagiarised or misused by self-proclaimed ‘Pagans’, ‘Druids’, and ‘Recreational Celts’, desperate to cash in on the fantasy/recreationist interpretations of Irish culture driven by overseas interests. Some of these individuals follow my work with an almost parasitic intensity …

And I no longer wish to feed them.

To start with, I’ve removed all in-depth content on Irish mythology from the Irish Imbas website. I’ll also be substantially reducing the number of articles on this topic released through our social media (although minor posts will continue). l will continue to publish the more in-depth material, but only through platforms I control – my newsletter etc. (but even these will have their safeguards)

The internet (and Facebook in particular) is full of people claiming that Irish mythology is something it’s not, that it’ll fix something it won’t, that it’ll fill some gap in your soul that desperately needs filling.

Unfortunately, it won’t do any of these things because:

(a) it’s not meant to; and

(b) it’s not – and never will be – a ‘product’.

Early Fionn

This was an early sketch for one of the covers for Fionn: Defence of Ráth Bládhma. The faces of the characters actually ended up quite different in the final cover but I liked the look of them sufficiently to think about an adaptation of the book as a graphic novel at some stage when I have time.

If anyone knows a decent graphic novel illustrator, let them know I’m looking.

Draíocht faoi dhianghlasáil! (Magic under Lockdown)

Tá albam nua Rónán Ó Snodaigh (Tá Go Maith) amach agus is breá liom an amhrán ‘Tá’n t’Ádh Liom’. Tosnaíonn sé le solo giotar ach dhá nóiméad isteach, bíonn an draíocht ag titim amach.

One of my favouoite Irish songwriters has a new album out ( Tá Go Maith) which he wrote and produced over lockdown with Myles O’Rielly. The result is a minimalist gem and my favoite song ‘Tá’n t’Ádh Liom’ (Luck is with me) is absolutely gorgeous.

You can find it on You Tube (here) but its best to listen without the video.

It starts with a solitary guitar solo but two mins in it realy hits its stride.

Ar fheabhas!

Irish Comedy Horror with a shonky link to Myth and Vampires

I’m not really a horro fan but there’s quite a mad Irish comedy horror from writers Chris Baugh and Brendan Mullin (along the lines of ‘Grabbers’) doing the rounds at the moment.

Entitled, ‘Boys from County Hell’, it playfully makes use of the old and very shonky legend of Abhartach (an evil dwarf, magician), twisting the original tale’s dubious connection to Bram Stoker (the connection being that he lived in the same region for a time) to create an Irish vampire movie that foreigners will lap up with equal measures of enjoyment and credulity.

I’ll cover the mythological detail and background later this month in Vóg but the movie certainly looks funny enough as long as you don’t take anything seriously.

You can find the trailer HERE.

Irish Mythology – The Plastic Verison

Over the last year I’ve received a disturbing number of queries from people seeking advice on Irish mythology – to the point I’ve had to implement a policy that I don’t respond to such questions. This isn’t because I don’t like helping people – I generally do – but I simply don’t have the time and the topic is not one you can explain in shorthand over an email.

Trying to explain aspects of Irish mythology (or any mythology) to someone unfamiliar with the basic concepts – including the language – is like trying to explain science to someone who doesn’t know what an ‘atom’ is.

What disturbs me most, however, is the number of people seeking answers for issues that Irish mythology couldn’t possibly help them with. This demand has led to a flurry of ‘Keltic Recreationists’, ‘Paygains’, and self-appointed ‘Droods’ offering to provide such an answer and using elements of Gaelic culture as branding to sell their service.

Unfortunately, any truth based on an untruth … is not really a good truth to learn.

Following the Warrior Path

One of the challenges with writing a character like Liath Luachra – the woman warrior from the Irish Woman Warrior Series and The Fionn mac Cumhaill Series – is the need to reflect the traumatised aspect of her personality across history two different series, while also allowing her to evolve as a person over the time arc of the time periods within those books.

In the first book of the prequel Irish Woman Warrior Series, Liath Luachra is quite savage and ruthless, the result of different experiences that slowly get revealed over the remaining books in the series.  Over that time however, she establishes tentative relationships and, although she never comes to terms with her background, she does develop substantially as person.

By the follow-up series (the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series) which is set 1-2 years after the first series, although she’s still struggling with her traumatic background, the character is an essential part of a larger community, a leader of sorts, and in an established and caring relationship. But nothing burns like trauma and echoes of that remain to shape her character.

The following is a scene from the novel Fionn: Defence of Ráth Bládhma – the first in the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series – which is set in the isolated settlement of Ráth Bládhma in first century Ireland.

In this scene, the woman warrior is speaking with Bearach, a young boy who idolises her, and she attempts to explain to him how being a warrior – gaiscíoch – isn’t all it’s made out to be …

In her own inimitable manner.

—————————————————

‘I wish to be like you, Liath Luachra. I wish to be a gaiscíoch – a true warrior.’

She stared at him in genuine astonishment. A moment later, she started to laugh. It was a rare sound for her and one that was surprisingly soft, if tinged with an underlying melancholy. ‘Ah, Bearach. You are truly the only one to make me raise a smile.’

‘I make no jest, Grey One. I wish to be a gaiscíoch like you. One day I hope to equal your skill as a fighter, your ability to work through the fight in your head. I want to learn courage such as yours. You know no fear when you are Out in the Great Wild.’

‘Ah, yes. The Great Wild backs down when I tramp through its forests. Wolves shit themselves and slink into the undergrowth at my passing. Even the Faceless Ones, the ghosts of hazy glades, hide and tell each other fearful tales of the dreaded Liath Luachra who will come through the shadows to take their heads.’

The youth blushed at her gentle mockery. Picking at a loose thread on the hem of his tunic, he wound it about his index finger, tightening it until the tip of the digit grew white.

‘You are the best of us here in Ráth Bládhma.’

‘Which only goes to show how little of the Out you’ve actually seen, Bearach. There are many out there who would best me in a fight.’

‘But Aodhán says you beat Dún Baoiscne’s finest warriors. He says they fear you, that your reputation for war makes them quake in their boots.’

‘Aodhán needs to harness his tongue. And his fancies.’

‘He told me about the day you first came to Dún Baoiscne with Na Cineáltaí – the Kindly Ones – your fian of a hundred men. He says that you crushed their best fighters in single combat. Humiliated them. That you were too agile, too strong to be defeated.’

Liath Luachra ground her teeth together.

‘I did defeat them. And, yes, I did humiliate them. But that was a mistake for which they never forgave me.’ She shrugged. ‘I understand that now. I’d probably have reacted in a similar manner if I was defeated by someone I considered weaker or in some way inferior.’

‘But you showed them!’ There was a shrill enthusiasm to the boy’s voice that made her cringe.

‘You have a warped understanding of things, Bearach. I accept that the fault is not yours for you base it on the tall tales of those who should know better. I will have strong words with Aodhán about putting such stories in your head.’

The boy looked confused, almost disbelieving. ‘Aodhán has not spoken true?’

Liath Luachra shifted awkwardly on her seat. She was uncomfortable having conversations of such depth with anyone other than Bodhmhall.

‘Aodhán’s claims hold a sliver of truth. I did lead Na Cineáltaí but that band never had more than ten men at any one time. They were brutal men, little more than killers -’ Her voice trailed off. ‘You must understand, Bearach, my life back then … that was a different life. I was a different person. I had a haunting on me, a haunting so venomous that I became little better than a wounded animal: vicious, savage and very cruel.’

Unable to bear his trusting gaze, she dropped her own eyes to the floor. ‘You have seen the way a dog will snap at a wound in its paw.’

The boy nodded slowly.

‘It is the reaction of a stupid beast who knows no better. It experiences pain and immediately thinks it has been attacked. In its attempt to retaliate, to strike back, it hurts itself even more.’

She reached down into the fire and pulled a burning brand from the embers. Part of the wood had burned away and much of it was scorched and black but the tip was still red hot.

‘That was the way of me back in those days. Except that I didn’t strike at my own limbs. No, I was far too smart for that. I struck out at others instead. Bandits, reavers, murderers, sometimes even innocent people who merely looked at me the wrong way, at the wrong time on the wrong day.’

She placed the tip of the burning brand against the back of her left hand. Bearach stared in horror as smoke from the skin rose up, the stink of burning flesh filing the air. Liath Luachra showed no sign of even noticing. Her eyes flared with a ragged intensity.

‘I had a belly full of venom, a heart full of gangrene and battle rage. This world had cut me to the quick and I was determined to hurt it back, to carve its filthy influence out of my heart. I hacked and cleaved a route through blood and sinew and bone when all that time my real target, the one thing I was truly trying to strike, was myself.’

She paused and took a deep breath as she dropped the firebrand back into the fire. Her forehead was sweating profusely. Her heart thundered and there was a sickly taste in her mouth. She focused her attention on these other physical sensations, refusing to acknowledge the pain in her hand.

‘So yes, in a martial sense, that made me strong. It made me impervious to fear and, for a time, to pain. It also made me impervious to those things that make us human: compassion, friendship, affection.’

Her eyes raised abruptly to lock directly on the boy’s. ‘And that,’ she snarled, ‘is what you must sacrifice to be a true gaiscíoch.’

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A Weekender

I’m taking a whole selfish three days for writing this weekend. I’m hoping to finish one chapter of Liath Luachra: The Metal Men and make a serious dent in another.

As usual, I draft out various rough images to get the mood/atmosphere clear in my head.

Wish me luck.

The Ten Best Irish Songs ‘As Gaeilge’ (for English Speakers)

Ireland is fortunate to have an exceptionally strong oral music tradition that stretches back to a time well before records began, and which has resiliently survived the worst that historical and contemporary life has thrown at it.  Steeped in Gaelic history, language and cultural heritage, Irish singers and songwriters are also fortunate in that they have access to a reliable and steadfast well of creativity, one that they can draw on or tap into as the need arises.

Because the cultural groundwork of Irish music is so well developed, it provides those emersed in it with a framework for further exploration or innovation with new styles and influences (something that’s been particularly visible in Irish music over the last few decades).

Although the songs presented here are in Irish, most of them aren’t in the sean-nós or other styles used by our ancestors (although some are heavily indebted) and they reflect (very roughly) the changing style from the early 20th century up to the present day.

Most of the songs in this list have also been chosen with respect to their accessibility by a non-Irish audience. Listeners without knowledge of the Gaelic language may struggle with the story but not with the fundamental emotions and feelings behind them.

It’s probably also worth noting here that although some people often describe Irish music as ‘spiritual’, that’s actually a misnomer. ‘Spiritual’ tends to be a term that pops up when a person is confronted by another culture and experiences something they like and get an emotive jolt from, – but which they don’t completely understand. To fill that void, the sensation is often summarised as ‘spiritual’.

If you take a step back however, you’ll realise that English-speaking people rarely describe English music as ‘spiritual’. In the same way, because it’s such an everyday part of our lives, few Irish people will ever describe Irish music as ‘spiritual’ and it’s sometimes hard not to roll your eyes when others try to impose such ethereal interpretations on something that’s so fundamentally practical.

While making this list, I was probably even more conscious of the singers and songwriters I was leaving out than the ones I’d chosen to include. That’s the problem with trying to list anything related to Irish music. There are simply too many songs, too many tunes, too many variations and too many writers/performers to give them all the credit they deserve. To make matter worse, because lists like this are based completely on personal perspective, you can also be sure that anyone else creating a similar list would end up with a completely different set of songs and performers. 

Finally, I’ll also note here that I’ve provided ‘You Tube’ links to all of the listed songs. This, obviously, isn’t the optimal way to be introduced to new music but it will give you a taster and if you find something you like, you can always drop deeper.

THE SONGS

An Poc ar Buile

This tune has been covered so many times and by so many people now, there’s really no definitive version. Despite this, my favourite remains the version performed by the Chieftains (& Friends) in a concert down in Dingle back in 1999. If you listen to the You Tube clip, you’ll hear how all four singers use to own particular singing style that makes the piece they’re singing, completely their own.

The title ‘An Puc ar Buile’ means ‘The Furious Goat’ and it tells the story of a workman who gets caught up in an encounter with a mad goat and somehow ends up riding him through the town of Dingle. Although originally based on a poem by Dónal Ó Mulláin (it was adapted into its current form by Seán Ó Sé in the sixties), it’s a hilarious song and a lot of fun to sing with other people. It’s no surprise to hear this one rolled out any time there’s a sing-song going on with Irish speakers.

Link: An Poc ar Buile

Mal Bhán Ní Chuilleanáin

Mal Bhán Ní Chuilleanáin’, by Lá Lugh, is a variation of the traditional Irish love song ‘Mollaí na gCuach Ní Chuilleanáin’ (Curly-haired Molly Ní Chuilleanáin) but unlike most earlier, traditional versions, Lá Lugh slow the tune down dramatically (after an energetic intro) to give it a far more poignant and haunting feel

The group Lá Lugh (literally, ‘Day of Lugh’ [Lámhfhada – a mythological figure]) was established by singer/ songwriter, Eithne Ní Uallacháin and talented fiddler Gerry O’Conner (her husband) in the early 1990s. Throughout the 90s, they garnered an increasing reputation for stylistic innovation but sadly, the very talented Eithne died in 1999, just after completing their next album (‘Bilingua’). This may be one of the reasons, this version of the traditional song isn’t as well-known as it should be.

Link: Mal Bhán Ní Chuilleanáin

Dúlamán

It would be grossly unfair not to include at least one track from Clannad given their influence on the Irish music scene over the last forty years. Discovered at an early stage in their career (in the 1970s) when they created the haunting music for the BBC production ‘Harry’s Game’, their subsequent (and very clever) merging of traditional Irish music elements with contemporary pop heralded the introduction of what became known as ‘the Celtic Music’ scene and made them one of Ireland’s first supergroups.

Dúlamán is the titular song from one of their earlier albums and concerns a poor man’s attempts to convince a wealthy man to allow him marry his daughter. If you’re familiar with the source material, you’ll see how cleverly the traditional version’s adapted and remixed. The use of pumping chorus vocals means this is a song much changed and re-covered over the years but Altan’s version remains by far my favourite.

Link: Dúlamán

Dónal Agus Mórag

It’s difficult to choose which song to include from the Altan’s various albums as they’re all so good. I’ve chosen Dónal Agus Mórag (from the album ‘Harvest Storm’) primarily as the joyful rhythm and chorus make it far more accessible to a non-Irish speaking audience. The song details the preparation for the wedding between the titular couple.

Altan are a group from Donegal and they’ve been playing the Irish trad circuit for thirty years or more. The group was originally set up by lead singer Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh and her husband, flute player Frankie Kennedy (now, sadly deceased). One of the most beautiful slow reels I’ve ever come across (Sunset) was written and performed by this couple.

Link: Dónal Agus Mórag

Dá Bhfaigheann Mo Rogha de Thriúr Acu

This song from the album Dual features one of my favourite singers (Muireann nic Amhlaoibh) with fellow Danú member Éamonn Doorley and Scottish musicians Julie Fowlis and Ross Martin. The title means ‘If I had my choice of the three of them’ in English – an apt title given the flow into ‘Dhannsamaid Le Ailean’ and ‘Cairistíon’ Nigh’n Eoghainn’.

The word ‘Dual’ means both ‘native’ or ‘natural’ but it can also mean to ‘twist’ or ‘braid’ so it’s actually a very clever title given the merging of styles from Gaelic Ireland and Gaelic Scotland.  

Again, upbeat and cheerful, this is one you could listen to over and over again.

Link: Dá Bhfaigheann Mo Rogha de Thriúr Acu

Éist do Bhéal

I first heard this song in a 1999 album called Éist [songs in their native language] – a very decent collection of songs ‘as Gaeilge’. There are at least two other versions that I know of but Cork singer Sinéad Lohan’s is beautifully polished and probably the best.

Éist do Bhéal literally means “Listen to your mouth” in English – a way of saying ‘listen to the crap you’re spouting’ (i.e. ‘Shut up’). Various internet comment boards are full of people arguing over the meaning but it’s pretty simple.  Despite her popularity and career success, Sinéad Lohan retired from the music scene quite early – a real loss for the rest of us.

Link: Éist do Bhéal

Ceol Na Gaoithe

Ceol Na Gaoithe is a song by Inis Oírr sean nós singer Lasairfhíona Ní Chonaola and it appeared in her first album ‘An Raicín Álainn’ (from 2002). Sadly, this song is one that’s not particularly well known and it’s been undeservedly overlooked. Possibly this was because it was one of Ní Chonaola’s own compositions and didn’t align so well with the other songs on the album which are far more traditional.

The title means ‘Song of the Gale’.  Ní Chonaola followed this album up with ‘Flame of Wine’ in 2005. Beautiful, emotive singing.

Link: Ceol Na Gaoithe

Leath ina dhiaidh a hocht

This song from Irish band Kila (written by Ronán O’Snódaigh) first turned up on O’Snódaigh’s album Tonnta Ró, then in Kila’s 2007 album Gambler’s Ballet (O’Snódaigh and his brothers are members of Kila).

The title means “half past eight” and tells the story of someone waking up in the detritus of a party from the night-before, trying to make sense of it and the events that transpired.

The Irish lyrics are great but what makes the Kila version of the song superior (in my view) is the ingenious melding of the tune with a famous classical piece (the name of which currently eludes me). 

This one’s a lot of fun.

Link: Leath ina dhiaidh a hocht

Plait agus Domhnail

Plait agus Domhnail (Clontarf), from singer/songwriter/performer Lorcán MacMathúna is an epic song that describes the build-up and ferocious violence that occurs during the Battle of Clontarf between Scottish champion and Plait the son of the King of Norway. The song (from MacMathúna’s album ‘An Bhuatais & The Meaning of Life) draws directly on sean-nós (and almost bardic) tradition to create a composition that perfectly fits the stirring madness and blood intensity of battle. MacMathúna’s powerful performance, supported by some exceptional musicians, means it’s hard to listen to this rendition and not be moved.

Strangely enough, I first came across MacMathúna’s work in a great little video game called
‘Scéal’ where MacMathúna’s performance gave the game a level of cultural authenticity it couldn’t possibly have achieved on its own. He also pretty much blasted it out of the park in terms of ‘mood’ and ‘atmosphere development’ that made that game so effective.   

Link: Plait agus Domhnail 

Is Ainm Dom

Is Ainm Dom (from ‘The Dawn of Motion’ album) is the wild card in this list of ten songs but it also feels aptly placed given how perfectly it showcases the ongoing influences on Irish music and its inexorable evolution over time.

‘Moxie’ are an instrumental trad group that came together in 2011, mostly focussed on compositions that involved innovative stylistic takes on the usual Irish music tradition. Ever fresh and interesting, their most recent recruit – Tunisian vocalist Julia Spanu – has taken them off in very different direction, however.

Merging Spanu’s Tunisian/French roots with Moxie’s more traditional Irish sound (while also using both Arabic and Gaelic lyrics) produces something that’s genuinely unique and as this is a recent release, I’m perfectly intrigued to see where it goes.

This unusual mix of North African and Gaelic music will probably upset some people (but probably not Irish musicians).

Link: Is Ainm Dom

Oirish Gaming, Tourism Ireland and the Plastic Paddies

Look, I’ve got to confess I’m not the world’s greatest gamer. I have enjoyed games like ‘Skyrim’ or ‘Fallout’ in the past but, for me, the main enjoyment results from wandering aimlessly through dramatic landscapes (usually as I haven’t worked out the controls) or engaging in the occasional bout of senseless violence after a ‘bad day’ at the office.

Despite my limited gaming credentials however, I’ve played enough to appreciate the artistry of game design. As a writer, I also recognise good plotting and dialogue when I hear them. To be honest, some of the stuff I’ve played over the years, genuinely deserves to be recognised for the spectacular art forms they are.

Fortunately, my lack of expertise in gaming didn’t work against me when I received an approach from a game developer looking to make a video game that incorporated genuine elements of Irish culture in its narrative structure. That approach came a bit out of the blue (probably as a result of an announcement relating to the adaptation of one of my books) but, either way, it did lead to some interesting discussions.

When I first spoke to the producers, I was a bit intrigued and excited, impressed by their energy and creative drive. By the second meeting however, I was already starting to feel a tad uncomfortable, mostly with the way they wanted to portray Irish culture. It quickly became clear that we had very differing views on what ‘genuine’ meant and I ended up distancing myself from the project. Last I heard, it hadn’t progressed much further beyond those initial conversations and I believe the game now lingers in ‘development hell’.

Fast forward two years and I come across this – Wrath of the Druids – a game released in May by Ubisoft (a company far bigger than the one I’d been talking to) as part of its ‘Assassins Creed’ product line. Ubisoft do some of the better AAA games (the term used for the more complex games produced by the larger game publishing houses) and although ‘Wrath of the Druids’ has very little in common with the game I’d been approached about, some of the aspects on how Irish history/mythology were being portrayed were similar.

Aaaah! Fresh morning air and a lovely bit of sport with the ‘Oirish Wherewolvzes’!

I guess the big problem with non-native game producers making games based on Irish culture is that they tend to cherry pick aspects that they like (and omit or change what they don’t) and repackage the altered remnants as the components of a distorted, anglicized (i.e. ‘Celtic’) fantasy that appeals to the masses. That would probably be fine if they didn’t keep passing it off as ‘Irish’ to give it an air of ‘authenticity’ but when it come sto game developers, they generally seem to want to have their cake and eat it. In some ways, it feels as though the whole colonization process has continued unabated except that, nowadays, rather than stealing our land, the feckers are after our cultural identity!!!

So Who Will Protect Us? Yay! Tourism Ireland.

What’s most interesting about the ‘Wrath of the Druids’ game, was the involvement of Tourism Ireland (who approached the developers when they heard it was being produced). To their credit, by engaging proactively with the game developers, Tourism Ireland managed to get some excellent leverage through the inclusion of current day tourist destinations (based on ancient sites) into the game. From a marketing perspective therefore, you’d have to admit the final product was a total ‘win-win’. Tourism Ireland gets a rare opportunity to market directly to an extensive gaming community and Ubisoft can utilise their involvement to lend the game an air of er … cultural authenticity (even if it seems limited to topographical or architectural features).

To be honest, I have plenty of respect for Tourism Ireland and its efforts to support the Irish tourism industry. Unfortunately, its narrow financial objectives and its desperation for marketing ‘airtime’ places it in a tenuous position when it comes to representing Ireland. Tourism Ireland isn’t particularly intersted in genuine aspects of our culture. They’re interested in bringing tourists to the country so that they spend money here and they’ll sell them any oul shitedream they want to get them over. With respect to gaming therefore, Tourism Ireland are more than happy for Ireland to be marketed as a land where druids hang out doing their magic schtick (while wearing antlers), where shaggy Oirish wherewolvzes threaten to gnaw your bones, where fiery, red-haired maidens are waiting to be rescued and where every gaming tourist can have their ultimate wet-dream ‘Oirish’ fantasy come true.

Oi’ve got a roight weird Oirish accent!

Perhaps we should rename them ‘Tourism Oireland’.

I’m being a bit cynical here, of course (no, really!) but it’s important to remember that the aim of products like ‘Wrath of the Druids’ is to entertain. It’s not to inform or to educate – although commercial companies will happily make such claims unless someone takes them to task on the matter.

And, trust me, Tourism Ireland aren’t the entity to take them to task.

Ultimately, allowing non-Irish creatives in the gaming industry to represent Irish culture without credible oversight can lead to some major narrative clangers. It can also have serious downsides that include the replacment of genuine elements of Irish culture by a Plastic Paddy charicatures (anyone remember Cait from Fallout 4!).

Longer term, unless we as native Irish creators regain control of our own stories and heritage, our culture risks continuing to serve as a cheap commodity for ‘Celtic’-style entertainment.   

And the ‘MacDonald’s’ version of Irish culture is not something, we really want to pass down to our children – no matter how good the game is.

 

An Khlondike

An Klondike was an 2014 Westeren television series (consisting of two seasons, each with four episodes) produced for Irish channel TG4 by Dathaí Keane. Set during the Klondike Gold Rush, it tells the story of three Irish brothers who arrive in the fictional town of Dominion Creek to work their own mining claim.

Originally broadcast on TG4 to much national acclaim, the series was also re-edited as feature film and had a decent showing in Ireland and England.  From an Irish perspective, it was quite an ambitious creative endavour in that it involved a budget of €1.8m and required the recreation of an American mining town in Galway as well as a substantial supporting cast.  

Things with the series got even more interesting several years later when it was picked up by streaming company Netflix. Although the series was originally in Irish, the name was changed to Dominion Creek and the entire soundtrack dubbed into English (and, unfortunately, you can tell).

That said, the series is a very impressive production with plenty of action and intense set apieces and well worth a watch. If you can get your hands on a version with the original Irish soundtrack (and subtitles in English) you’ll enjoy it all the more. It continues to stream on Netflix but you can find the trailer HERE:     

Irish Reflections and ‘Dragons’ over Montreal

I’ve always had a lot of time for Irish film stalwart, Gabriel Byrne, but his latest movie ‘Death of a Ladies Man’ really seems to be his most interesting to date. An Irish-Canadian co- production, the movie concerns an Irish actor struggles with a crisis of conscience once he finds out that he doesn’t have long to live – to the tunes of Leonard Cohen.

Written (and directed) by Matt Bissonnette, one would think the film would sink under the heavy nature of its subject matter but the snappy script and Byrne’s performance lift it above the over-oppressive elements of your typical morality tale …

That and the hilarious hallucinations.

Byrne experiences some intriguing phantasms as he re-examines his life; giant geese reigning fire down on Montreal (akin to ‘Game of Thrones’), women with tiger heads, conversations with his dead father (who looks younger than he does!).

Genius!

You can find the trailer HERE

The Thinking Woman’s Warrior

I’m delighted to announce that the third book in the Irish Woman Warrior Series is now out and available at all the ususal ebookstores. The paperback version is still available only through Amazon but that will change).

Definitely the most popular of all my book series, this is a brief description of what its all about:

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The Irish Woman Warrior Series is based on the adventures of the woman warrior Liath Luachra and her mercenary fian (war party), Na Cinéaltaí (The Friendly Ones).

Set against a backdrop of encroaching forest, mythic ruins and treacherous tribal politics, Liath Luachra tells the story of a damaged young woman who can count on nothing but her wits and fighting skills to see her through. Rising above the constraints of her status and overcoming her personal tragedies, she emerges Ireland’s greatest warrior and a protector whose influence lives on one thousand years later.

You can find the full background and details on the new book here: THE SEEKING

Shake

These images from the Cork Midsummer Festival caught my eye recently. They relate to a performance called ‘Shake’ by Laura Murphy (an independent dance artist choreographer) which was part of the festival. I thought the images were an ingenious merging of humour and epic backdrop.

You can find out more about the performance itself (note it doesn’t actually take place on the Ringiskiddy mudflats!) HERE

Fionn, Fenians and Wild Irish Pigs

Wild pigs, especially boars, were exceptionally important in ancient Ireland due to their abundance throughout the wilderness and their usefulness as a food source. Wild pigs therefore form an important part in ancient stories and tend to pepper the established mythological associations.

Pigs were particularly associated with the Fenian Cycle tales and, indeed, wild pigs form an important narrative element across the range of Fionn mac Cumhaill’s life. The Macgnímartha Finn, for example, reports how, in his early years, the young Fionn defeated his first wild boar in Cuilleann in a kind of coming of age ‘warrior event’ (often used in ancient stories to give characters a certain kudos).  That goes as follows:    


Then he (Fionn) went forth to Cullen of the Uí Cuanach, to the house of the master smith Lóchán, who had a very beautiful daughter, Cruithne by name. She fell in love with the youth.

Apparently, Lóchán was very impressed with the young Fionn (although, amusingly, the Macgnímartha Finn never actually says why) and reacts – ahem – as most fathers would.

‘I shall give thee my daughter, though I know not who thou art.” Thereupon the girl slept with the youth.

“Make spears for me,” said the youth to the smith. So Lóchán made two spears for him. He then bade farewell to Lóchán and prepared to make his away.

“My boy,” said Lóchán. “Do not go upon the road on which is the sow called the Beo. She it was that devastated the mid­lands of Munster.”

But what happened was that youth travelled upon the very road on which the sow was to be found. There the sow charged him but be thrust his spear at her, so that it went through her, and left her without life. Then he took the head of the sow with him to the smith as a bridal gift for his daughter.

Hence is Sliabh Muice (Pig Mountain) in Munster situated.


That hill (no Sliabh na Muc) is located between Tipperary and the glen of Aherlow. In ancient times, the glen was an important travel route between the districts of Tipperary and Limerick so it’s no real surprise to find such stories associated with it.  

Towards the end of his life, another boar plays an important role in Fionn’s story. That occurs in An Tóraíocht when Fionn has supposedly made peace with the warrior Diarmuid Ui Duibhne (who earlier betrayed Fionn by eloping with his future bride, Grainne).

Visiting Diarmuid in his home in Sligo, Fionn joins the warrior in a boar hunt around Benbulbin. During the hunt, the creature gores Diarmuid badly and although Fionn has the power to heal him by letting him drink water from his palms, he refuses to do so.

Pressed by his grandson – the warrior Oscar – a friend of Diarmuid’s – Fionn relents but still overcome by bitterness, he twice lets the water flow through his fingers before he can raise them to Diarmuid’s lips. Finally, when threated by Oscar, Fionn does the right thing but by then it’s too late and Diarmuid has succumbed to his wounds.

Although wild boar may have once been native in Ireland, it became extinct in prehistoric times.  Since then, the environment has changed substantially, and if reintroduced, they would now be considered an invasive/pest species as they’re likely to have a huge impact on local habitats and wildlife. Despite this, there were some interesting happenings in Kerry recently when people were asked by the Parks and Wildlife Service to report any sightings of a large male boar running wild in the Cordal and Mount Eagle area.

I guess there’s always going to be some ‘eegit’ with a wild pig agenda!