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Self-Beauty in Glendalough

This year, I managed to sneak a quick visit to one of my favourite sites back in Ireland, the beautiful valley of Gleann Dá Loch (Valley of Two lakes), anglicized as Glendalough.

The valley’s always been inhabited although, given the spiel at the local visitor centres and tourist offices, you’d be forgiven for thinking life didn’t exist there until the sixth century when a Christian monastic-style settlement was founded by St. Kevin. Following a particular Christian belief system based around strict reflection and meditation, St. Kevin chose Gleann Dá Loch not only for it’s beauty but for its isolated location. The site would almost certainly have had some tribal importance as well but its isolation certainly made it perfect for the monks to live a quiet life of spiritual reflection.

Over a hundred years later, St Kevin must have been spinning in his grave for by the middle of the seventh century, Glendalough was an enormous and very wealthy monastery. By the eight century, the monastery is believed to have employed almost 1000 laypeople.

In some ways, Glendalough success was also its undoing. As a rich site, it was ripe for plundering and between 775 and 1095 it was raided numerous times, not only by Vikings but by local tribes. Generally each time it was raided, the buildings were set alight which is why you won’t find anything there today that dates from before the 10th century. By the time, English forces left it in ruins (1398), the dioceses of Glendalough and Dublin had also been united which meant that from that point onwards, its political and ecclesiastical status were also substantially eroded. By the 18th and 19th century, the site was a religious backwater, famous only for the raucous celebrations held on the 3rd of June (St Kevin’s Day) and otherwise ignored.

I was a bit blown away when I got to Gleann Dá Loch. It had probably been at least twelve years or more since I’d last visited (and even then the place was heaving) but I was genuinely gobsmacked by the sheer volume of buses dumping people off to be flushed through the visitor centre, the monastery, the lakes and of course the tourist shops. The tourism turnover at Glendalough is clearly a well-oiled machine.

Having seen the ruins and the visitor centre years ago, I bypassed all of that, making a dash to escape two busloads of westerners in orange, Oriental style ‘monk’ suits (I was tempted but I didn’t ask!). I was hoping to get to the lake ahead of them and have a minute or two by myself but instead I found it was already occupied by several Asian couples. That didn’t particularly bother me but I was struck by the huge number of them taking selfies with the lake as a backdrop.

It was only as I was walking around the Wicklow hills later that day that I began to understand the significance of what I’d seen. Gleann Dá Loch, like all beautiful scenic spots has always attracted seasonal tourists. That’s no biggie. It’s a simple fact of life and you can always enjoy it’s beauty more selfishly outside the tourist period.

No, I think what had really startled me was the selfies. One hundred years ago, fifty years ago and even twenty years ago, when tourists went to see a famous site of immense beauty they tried to capture that beauty by taking photographs so that they could look on it and enjoy it in years to come. Nowadays, when tourists go to a beauty spot, photographic memories are cheap and instantly downloadable online. As a result, they take photographs of themselves at the tourist spot.

It’s an interesting variant but I’m still not entirely sure what it means or even what it says about us as a species.

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The Tailor and Ansty- A Review

I first came across a copy of The Tailor and Ansty about 25 years ago when I was dossing in the basement of a large house in Bath (England). I’d been visiting my girlfriend for the weekend and the whole event had taken on a surreal nature as we’d broken up during a burlesque circus that was performing there. I ended up stuck, penniless, in a city where I knew no-one and had to spend a full Saturday night there before I could catch the train (and ferry) back to Cork. In the end, I was fortunate enough to find accommodation in the basement of a (very) large house in the centre of town, where a distant acquaintance was flatting.

I found the copy of ‘The Tailor and Ansty’ discarded on the floor of that basement with some old magazines. To be honest, I was a bit surprised to find that particular Irish book there – and a bit curious as well. Over the years, I’d heard it references to it at home but never fully in context, so although I was familiar with the title, I actually had no idea what it was about. I think, at the time, I simply assumed it would be similar to Joyce or Myles na gCopeleen.

With nothing else to do, I picked it up and read it.

The first thing that struck me was the easy readability. Cross had a lovely, nonchalant style that made it a pleasure to read from the very first page.

“In the townland of Garrnapeaka, in the district of Inchigeela, in the parish of Iveleary, in the barony of West Muskerry, in the county of Cork, in the province of Munster” – as he magniloquently styles his address, lives the Tailor.
His small whitewashed cottage, with its acre of ground, stands at the brow of a hill, at the side of a road which winds and climbs into a deep glen of the mountains bordering Cork and Kerry.

If you don’t know much about the story, it really is very simple and concerns Eric Cross’ record of his interactions with two elderly individuals: Timothy Buckley (the laid back and talkative Tailor) and his ever-nagging wife Anastasia (Ansty) in 1940’s Gougane Barra (West Cork). For me, it was something of a surprise to learn that not only was the setting close to where I’d lived and grown up but that the characters were (or, rather, had been) real individuals.

The book is gently humorous (very funny at times) and gives a beautiful insight into the lives of people in rural Ireland at a time when there was no entertainment apart from shaggy stories and philosophical musings. Mostly, the book concerns the Tailor’s amusingly erudite – if unscholarly – ramblings and various interactions between the couple and their friends and neighbours and their almost obsessive care of their single cow. Because of their age (the Tailor and Ansty were quite elderly and retired at the time Eric Cross knew them) both were very much set in their ways and, after over forty years of living together, had a polished routine of abuse and affection that comes through in the book. If you’re looking for action and high drama, you won’t find it here but you’ll not find a better antidote to modern life either.

Now that you know a bit about what the book, you might be surprised to learn the associated history. Back in 1942, when the book was first published, it ended up being banned by the Irish Censorship Publications Board as it didn’t align with de Valera’s view of what the new Ireland should look like (Ireland had only recently become independent). Neither did the old couples’ belief in the ‘fairies’ align with the spiritual purity demanded by the increasingly powerful Irish Catholic church. The book was described as ‘pornographic’, which was, of course, utter nonsense. That didn’t prevent a number of senior Catholic priests arriving to the Tailor’s house in Gougane Barra and forcing the old man down on his knees to burn a copy of the book.

In this respect, the Tailor and Ansty was really the first troubling signal of the potential abuse of power of the national government. It was also a warning shot for the self-justified cruelty associated with the worst of religious fanaticism (something that would eventually lead to the horrors of the Magdalene Laundries and abuse of children in Irish religious institutions).

Thirty years later, I still have the original copy I found on the floor of that basement in Bath. I’m still exceptionally grateful for finding it. Not only did it provide some timely (and well needed) distraction at a time when I needed it, it remains one of my favourite books to this day.

In case you’re wondering, I woke at dawn the following morning to get the first train out of Bath, although the whole surreal theme continued for a while. As I was making my way through the deserted – but strikingly beautiful streets – towards the station, I kept hearing an odd venting noise (something that sounded eerily like the breathing apparatus of Darth Vader’s helmet). I looked around several times trying to work out what was causing it but, on each occasion, could see absolutely nothing. Finally, something prompted me to look up and there, overhead, was a hot-air balloon in the shape of a large house, drifting low over the streets of the city.

It seemed like an apt end to the weekend.

This review originally appeared in Vóg (our monthly newsletter) in 2016.

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Then consider our monthly newsletter (below). More in-depth articles on Irish culture (contemporary or historical), mythology/ folklore, occasionally news on new books, writing or other things that amuse us.

 

 

What Comes Next: Update On Production

It’s been a while since I provided an update about what we’re working on here at present (apart from the monthly updates in Vóg, of course).

Despite two months of frantic activity and very ink-stained hands, very little is actually visible in terms of material release. If you’re a regular reader however, you’ll probably know we generally have about ten different projects on the go at any one time, some with higher priority than others (and constantly shifting in response to circumstances). At this stage, the main focus is on the following:

Liath Luachra II:
I’m currently working on Chapter 5 of this and going hell for leather to have a very rough first draft completed by Christmas. Stylistically, this is probably going to be more commercial than my other works as it veers away from the established Fenian Cycle and mythological cannon and more into fantasy territory. That said, like most of my other books, I doubt this is ever going to be a mainstream, mass-market bestseller. I have my niche and I’m comfortable there.

The books is a ‘stand alone’ although it does follow on from the events in Liath Luachra: The Grey One. A number of characters from that book turn up in this one as well.

Project Scéalta
I hadn’t actually expected to get anything done on this before Christmas but ended up spending a full week on it earlier this month. Hoping to release this towards the end of next year. I’m VERY excited abut this one.

Celtic Mythology Collection 3
The current Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition launched in September and we’ve had a few submissions dribbling in since then – less than 10 at this stage – but given that the deadline is December, that’s not unusual. We’re also finalizing the cover and the judges for that. I’m hoping to be able to share the cover sometime in the next month or so.

Project Bán
This project – a non fiction one – has been on the go for over two years and progressing very slowly. Essentially, it’s a practical field guide to Irish mythology and we hope to get it out sometime next year. Based on a ‘white paper’ that I was working on, it simply became too complex to put it out in that form.

I guess, now that I look at it, just thinking of all the work ahead would probably be exhausting if it wasn’t so personally rewarding.

Irish Fantasy Friday: 20 Oct 2017

A weekly update of Irish fantasy-related news – from an Irish perspective!

Dominated by GoT and Star Wars today!!

  • Liam-Cunningham says Game of Thrones stars are not making millions [Aaah, c’mon Liam!] (Irish Independent)
  • Impressive independent GoT Short Film (The White Wolf) by two Belfast men: (Irish News)
  • Go mbeidh an fórsa leat! — May the force be with you! Report on Star Wars VIII filming in Ireland (Ireland.com)
  • Kerry Independent TD reckons there’s more money to be milked from Star Wars VIII (Irish Independent)
  • And just in case you’re one of the few people who didn’t see the Skellig Islands Tourism Feature Star Wars VIII Trailer (YouTube)
  • Gaelcon 29 is happening next weekend: 27-30 October (Gaelcon)

Feel free to submit appropriate (i.e. relevant) posts for inclusion.

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Irish Fantasy Friday: 13 Oct 2017

A weekly update of Irish fantasy-related news – from an Irish perspective!

  1. David Freyne’s The Cured wins ‘Best Horror Feature’ at the Fantastic Fest, America’s largest genre film festival (IFTN)
  2. Liam Cunningham insists he doesn’t when the last Game of Thrones episode goes to air (ah, c’mon Liam!!) (UPI)
  3. A Fantasy Map of Ireland stirs up more strife and argument than a Games of Thrones episode [Reddit and Poliics – a match made in heaven!] (Reddit)
  4. Derek Landy (of Skullduggery Pleasant fame) tries his hand at graphic novels with Secret Empire: Uprising (Bleeding Cool)
  5. Dublin’s Brown Bag Films working with Disney on Vampirina (RTE)

Feel free to submit appropriate (i.e. relevant) posts for inclusion.

Liath Luachra: The Pursuit

Ireland: 189 A.D.
A pursuit across the Great Wild to rescue an abducted woman leads to bloody complication for the woman warrior Liath Luachra.

Previous reviewers comments on the character Liath Luachra:

“The thinking woman’s warrior”

“A female heroine who is commanding and fascinating.”

“Liath Luachra, the troubled and withdrawn woman warrior, has always been one of the best things about the (Fionn mac Cumhaill) series and O’Sullivan does a tremendous job relating the events of her early life, presenting her as a much more vulnerable character – although just as resilient.”

“An intriguing female protagonist unlike any I’ve come across before. Intelligent and competent, she’s also tragically damaged and vulnerable and yet somehow manages to cling to her fragile moral core.”

Irish Fantasy Friday

With the 2017 Octocon kicking off this weekend, we decided it’d be timely for an update on Irish fantasy-related stories.

  1. An interesting insight to the ‘extras’ casting call process for Vikings: Season 6, much of which is shot in Ireland (Project Casting )
  2. The trailer for Vikings: Season 6 – just a little bit of mayhem! (Youtube)
  3. The search on for an Irish boy to play the lead role in the upcoming movie adaptation of Eoin Colfer’s fantasy novel Artemis Fowl (RTE)
  4. With Game of Thrones’ Littlefinger now kicking up the daisies, Aidan Gillen plays the title role in controversial Irish comedian Dave Allen’s life story (Telegraph)
  5. Fairfield University screening its 10th annual movie series of “The Irish in Film” (Hartford Courant) – (beware annoying pop-ups)
  6. The ‘Dark Hedges’ Preservation Trust set up to protect the tree-lined avenue made famous in Game of Thrones being probed (Irish News)
  7. And of course …. Octocon

Getting Lost with the Ancient Hillfort Atlas

Earlier this year, a database entitled The Atlas of Hillforts of Great Britain and Ireland was made available online but, unfortunately, this wasn’t without some controversy. In particular, a lot of people were unhappy with the term ‘hillfort’ because it’s quite an inaccurate term to use for many of the sites identified in the Atlas, most of which were believed to have a ritualistic/social nature rather than a military/defence one.

Funded though through the British Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the Atlas was established through a project facilitated by University College Cork, the University of Edinburgh and the University of Oxford. The information gathered for it was collected by over a hundred volunteers who visited the sites and input the data gathered. Over time, the plan is to allow the Atlas to be updated by volunteers who upload their own images and text.

Like most projects there are pros and cons with the ‘Hillfort Atlas/Database’. The ‘pro’ is that it identifies where many ancient sites are located and by making this information available online, it encourages people to go and interact with them – certainly a positive outcome.

The ‘con’ is that although the ancient sites are identified, there’s very little information provided on the site and much of that (from the database title down) is misleading and encourages misinterpretation. In addition, there very little actual data available on the website apart from the locations, a minimal explanation of hillforts, and links to a few related (university) books.

Essentially, the Atlas project team seem to be saying

“Look, here’s a map of old sites we’re generically going to call “hillforts” – even if they’re not. Also, here’s a list of books you might like to read if you want to try and make sense of it. Good luck with all that!”

Generally speaking, therefore, the Atlas is all a bit of a half-assed job and one gets the impression the universities only carried it out to obtain some easy funding from the AHRC or as a cheap publicity gimmick. From the final product, there certainly doesn’t appear to have been any attempt to:

  • define the project in a way that would assemble some meaningful data
  • analyse and present that information to the public in a way that might actually have been useful

The Hillfort Atlas itself can be found here: The Atlas

Good luck. You’ll probably need it.

Irish Mythology, Newly Discovered Werewolves and Other People’s Spin

Much of what people see as Irish folklore and Irish mythology today, is actually a confused muddle of snippets of fact, cultural misinterpretation, Chinese whispers, intentional and unintentional misinformation. Generally speaking, the latter tends to be disseminated by bloggers who aren’t Irish (but have an interest in what they call ‘Celtic’ mythology) however most people are surprised to learn that the more proactive form of cultural misinformation started way back in the 12th century with an individual known as Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales).

Born in 1146, Gerald of Wales was the scion of a noble family (he was the son of William Fitz odo de Barry or Barri, one of Wales most powerful Anglo-Norman barons). Like his peers, Gerald had a healthy appreciation for power and for those who wielded it. Driven by ambition, he placed himself in positions associated with powerful men, ceaselessly self-promoted and worked his way up the social/political ladder until he was appointed archdeacon of Brecon in 1174 (a role he obtained by ‘dobbing in’ the previous archdeacon for having a live-in mistress).

Propelled by this success, Gerald soon managed to inveigle his way into the role of royal clerk and chaplain to King Henry II and, following the Norman invasions of Ireland (in 1169 and 1171), secured the prestigious position of accompanying the King’s son (Earl John – later, King John as of Robin Hood fame) on a tour of the conquered lands.

During this exploratory visit to Ireland, in an effort to impress his masters, Gerald commenced a propaganda piece known as the Topographia Hibernica (The Topography of Ireland). Even at the time, this document was remarkable not only for its length but the amazing depths of prejudicial description that portrayed the native Irish as depraved barbarians.

Published in 1188, Gerald’s account proved immensely popular in Great Britain with the ruling Norman classes as it’s dehumanisation of the Irish helped justify their invasion and the subsequent treatment of the natives. It’s important not to dismiss the impact of the Topographia Hibernica as many of its ‘factual’ descriptions established those stereotypes of the “wild Irish” that continued up to the early modern period (and which some would argue continue today).

Surprisingly, despite the fact that the Topographia Hibernica has been discredited for centuries, you’ll still find contemporary bloggers quoting liberally from it in an effort to justify their own particular passions or interests (usually related to fantasy beliefs or ‘Celtic Reconstructionist’ ramblings which are then linked – kicking and screaming – to Irish mythology). To be fair, reading some of Gerald’s writing is actually quite hilarious from a contemporary viewpoint but the fact that this was a propaganda document written by a non-Irish person and an official government spin-doctor for the Norman government, seems to have flown over the heads of many of the quoting bloggers. As in Geralds’ day, it seems people will still rearrange the facts to suit themselves.

Most internet content about Irish mythology tends to be created by non-Irish fantasy and ‘Celtic’ Reconstructionists – hence most of it is completely wrong.

 

One example I pulled from the Topographia Hibernica involves a fanciful ‘record’ of some Irish people being ‘part-wolf’. It reads as follows:

Of the prodigies of our times, and first of a wolf which conversed with a priest

I now proceed to relate some wonderful occurrences which have happened within our times. About three years before the arrival of Earl John in Ireland, it chanced that a priest who was journeying from Ulster to Meath, was benighted in a certain wood on the borders of Meath. While, in company with only a young lad, he was watching by a fire which he had kindled under the branches of a spreading tree, lo! A wolf came up to them and immediately addressed them to this effect.

“Rest secure, and be not afraid, for there is no reason you should fear, where no fear is.”

The travellers being struck with astonishment and alarm, the wolf added some orthodox words referring to God. The priest then implored him, and adjured him by Almighty God and faith in the Trinity, not to hurt them, but to inform them what creature it was that in the shape of a beast uttered human words. The wolf, after giving catholic replies to all questions, added at last:

“There are two of us, a man and a woman, natives of Ossory, who, through the curse of one Natalis, saint and abbot, are compelled every seven years to put off the human form, and depart from the dwellings of men. Quitting entirely the human form, we assume that of wolves. At the end of the seven years, if they chance to survive, two others being substituted in their places, they return to their country and their former shape. And now, she who is my partner in this visitation lies dangerously sick not far from hence, and, as she is at the point of death, I beseech you, inspired by divine charity, to give her the consolations of your priestly office.”

At this word, the priest followed the wolf trembling, as he led the way to a tree, at no great distance in the hollow of which he beheld a she-wolf, who under that shape was pouring forth human sighs and groans. On seeing the priest, having saluted him with human courtesy, she gave thanks to God, who in this extremity had vouchsafed to visit her with such consolation. She then received from the priest all the rites duly performed, as far as the last communion. This also she importantly demanded, earnestly supplicating him to complete his good offices by giving her the viaticum. The priest stoutly asserting that he was not provided with it, the he-wolf, who had withdrawn to a short distance, came back and pointed out a small missal-book, containing some consecrated wafers, which the priest carried on his journey, suspended from his neck, under his garment, after the fashion of the country. He then intreated him not to deny them the gift of God, and the aid destined them by Divine Providence; and, to remove all doubt, using his claw for a hand, he tore off the skin of the she-wolf, form the head down to the navel, folding it back. Thus she immediately presented the form of an old woman. The priest, seeing this, and compelled by his fear more than his reason, gave the communion; the recipient having earnestly implored it, and devoutly partaking of it. Immediately afterwards, the he-wolf rolled back the skin and fitted it to its original form.

These rites having been duly, rather than rightly, performed the he-wolf gave them his company during the whole night at their little fire, behaving more like a man than a beast. When morning came, he led them out of the wood, and, leaving the priest to pursue his journey, pointed to him the direct road for a long distance. At his departure, he also gave him many thanks for the benefit he had conferred, promising him still greater returns of gratitude if the Lord should call him back from his present exile, two parts of which he had already completed. At the close of their conversation, the priest inquired of the wolf whether the hostile race which had now landed on the island would continue there for the time to come, and be established in it. To which the wolf replied: –

“For the sins of our nation, and their enormous vices, the anger of the Lord, falling on an evil generation, hath given them into the arms of their enemies. Therefore, as long as this foreign race shall keep the commandments of the Lord, and walk in his ways, it will be secure and invincible; but if, as the downward path to illicit pleasures is easy, and nature is prone to follow vicious examples, this people shall chance, from living among us, to adopt our depraved habits, doubtless they will provoke the divine vengeance on themselves also.”

It’s quite likely that Gerald received additional brownie points from his masters for the final paragraph which essentially suggests the native Irish deserved everything they got (i.e. being invaded) as they were essentially sinful.

As you can see, Gerald of Wales had no particular qualms using fiction to portray the natives as partly inhuman (something which aligned well with the Roman Church who often likened native Irish war parties as ‘wolf bands’). This is something he also did in other sections of the document such as:

  • Of a fish which had three golden teeth
  • Of a woman who had a beard, and a hairy crest and mane on her back
  • Of an animal who was half-ox, half-man
  • Of a goat who had intercourse with a woman
  •  Yadda, yadda, yadda.

You get the idea.

I came across the above section as a result of some research I was carrying out on Irish wolves for one of my books (Liath Luachra: The Swallowed)  and, to my great amusement, discovered numerous bloggers have used this section to argue their belief that there have always been werewolves in Ireland.

On the bright side of course, we should probably thank our lucky stars they weren’t quoting Mein Kampf.

LIATH LUACHRA : THE PURSUIT being released tomorrow (or… today)

LIATH LUACHRA : THE PURSUIT

Depending on which side of the planet you’re on, the short story LIATH LUACHRA : THE PURSUIT is due for release tomorrow.

Or,… er, the day after.

This follows the adventures of the character best described as “The thinking woman’s warrior!”

The Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition – Three Years on

When we set up the first Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition back in 2015, we were pretty clear with respect to our overall goal: improving the appreciation and comprehension of Gaelic/Celtic mythology. At the time, merging that goal with the ability to increase the visibility of new authors seemed like a win-win situation and, to be honest, it still is.

That said, over the last three years we’ve learned a lot, not only about producing collections with other writers, but also around the whole concept of ‘Celtic’ and ‘Mythology’ – two words which still tend to be completely misunderstood. That’s helped our conceptual thinking on culture in more ways than I can succinctly describe here.

The third Irish Imbas: Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition has now been officially launched but there are a few changes which I’ve summarised below.

Updated Judging Process:
Last year was an eye-opener for me personally as a result of taking a much more back-seat approach to the final judging process. Having gone through the initial short-list, I was pretty clear in my head as to who the winners were going to be, so imagine my surprise when the other judges came up with something different. After the votes were counted, one story I was convinced should have been in the final collection no longer was (although to be fair all the others were, albeit in a different order). Either way, that experience really opened my eyes and to avoid bias we’re going to continue the judging process in that vein.

One shortcoming with last year’s judging process was the ratio of 3:1 males to females. I had the sense this also impacted on the final outcomes so this year we’re bringing one more female judge on board.

Updated Criteria:
If you look carefully you’ll see that we’ve amended the second criterion slightly. This now reads:

  • Any Celtic folklore or mythological reference used should be culturally accurate (for example; no dedicated pantheon of Irish Gods, no werewolves, vampires or other elements that don’t fit with the established mythology of ‘Celtic’ countries

Over the course of last year’s competition, we received a number of submissions that were really good (REALLY good) but which didn’t make the shortlist as they didn’t align with objective of the series: mythology. That was a real shame. Some of the stories were excellent but you could tell the authors hadn’t read (or possibly misunderstood) the criteria and were submitting pure fantasy as opposed to mythology-related narratives. The change is minor but we’re hoping It’ll help clarify things.

Last year’s Feedback Pilot
Last year, we also decided to trial a pilot offering the possibility of feedback (from the judges/editor) to those authors whose stories didn’t make the final Celtic Mythology Collection. Having gone through several competitions ourselves, we know what it’s like to have work rejected and this was intended as a way of giving something back to those who’d made the effort of participating.

To be honest, this was something of a failure. Because of unexpected workloads last year, I was able to provide feedback on only two of the submissions (out of the 12 requests) received so apologies to those of you who never heard back. This year, our workload is already shaping up to be substantial so we’re not going to attempt it again as we know there simply won’t be enough time.

Digital Copy to go Exclusive to Amazon
This is something we’ve ‘hummed and hawed’ about for several months but, in the end, we’ve decided to publish the next collection in the series through KDP Select (i.e. exclusive to Amazon – at least for the first three months). There are a number of different reasons for this but the main ones are:

  • The administration for a ‘free’ book has turned out to be surprisingly complex across the different ebook store platforms. Under the current process, you can never really be certain if the main one (Amazon) is going to release it as ‘free’ or not. That creates enormous problems with respect to book launches and other events for ongoing visibility. Going through KDP Select avoids that.
  • Most of the people with an interest in the digital collection tend to be based on Amazon. There are readers who receive the books on other platforms (Apple, Nook etc.) via Smashwords but due to problems with this distributor last year we’re loathe to go through them again (we’ve since used a different distributor for the second collection in the series).

The main advantage from our perspective with this approach is that it’ll reduce the amount of administration time we need to input and free us up to work on our other projects, which – looking ahead – are going to be substantial. Once the initial three months exclusivity is done we’ll review the situation.

The first two collections will continue as they are unless something changes.

The Irish Imbas: Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition 2017 is now open

Irish Imbas Books are pleased to announce the launch of the Irish Imbas: Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition 2017.

This is the third of these annual competitions and digital copies of the previous collections can be obtained free from the Irish Imbas Bookshop or from all good ebook stores.

Submissions will be accepted from midnight 2 September 2017 to midnight 10 December 2017.

First prize consists of 500 and story published in Irish Imbas Celtic Mythology Collection
Second Prize: $250 and story published in Irish Imbas Celtic Mythology Collection
Third Prize: $100 and story published in Irish Imbas Celtic Mythology Collection

Full details can be found at Irish Imbas: Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition 2018.

A further post clarifying minor changes to the competition and giving further context will go up on this site tomorrow.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh!

Strange Days in Barcelona

People are weird.

Three days ago, a bunch of mindless individuals, mostly kids between the age of 17 and 22, attacked the city of Barcelona. Zealous and driven, it’s obvious their chains were being yanked by some manipulative figure in the shadows, nevertheless, one of them mounted a van onto the pedestrian walkway at La Rambla (not an easy thing) and intentionally ploughed south-west for 500 metres, mowing complete strangers down without any hesitation. I’ve tried to imagine what absence of compassion or empathy it must have taken to cut though human beings like that, cutting them down like chaff and still ploughing on regardless. I genuinely can’t understand the state of the fucked-up mind that could actually do that.

On the day of the attack, my partner and I were in a museum about 50-100 metres from where it actually took placed. We were hurried out by concerned staff who advised us to rush back to our apartment and stay there. On the way, we were passed by a large number of people scuttling past, suitcases click-clacking noisily on the pavement behind them. Many of the hotels near La Rambla had been evacuated and they were rushing to find accommodation.

We were very lucky. Our presence in the museum had shielded us completely from the event so when we emerged about an hour later we’d already missed all the panic, the terrified survivors, the wounded and the traumatised. By the time we’d headed back into the alleyways of the Old Quarter, it was eerily subdued. People were clustered in tight groups around televisions and radios and no-one really knew what was going on. Overhead a pair of helicopters droned noisily past, the heavy sound of the rotors reverberating through the narrow streets and drowning the sound of other sirens. They didn’t leave until well after dark.

Back at the flat, I sent out a facebook post and a tweet to inform people that we were all right. After a number of severe earthquakes in New Zealand, we know not to use phones after a disaster or an emergency as the system quickly becomes overloaded and inoperable – a real hindrance for the professionals trying to help. In my tweet, I mistakenly claimed we were 500m from the area where the attack had happened (I was thinking in feet) but I didn’t bother correcting it in case my family and friends saw it and panicked. Despite all this, the phone was ringing hot for hours afterwards.
The next day at the central Placa del Catalunya, people turned out in huge numbers to protest at what had happened. It was weird – people were incredibly angry at the pointless violence, the complete absence of a credible motive for killing innocents that included children- but there was no-one they could direct that anger at, vent their outrage at. Later when ISIS made their announcement that this had all been part of some cunning plan, it was treated with immense scorn and contempt.

Despite the atrocity that had just happened however, the city just seemed to continue on regardless. Over the following days, people were certainly more cautious and glued to social media but the fact that the Catalan police had arrested a number of suspects and killed five others at Cambrils reassured everyone. It also offered at least some sense that justice had been carried out, particularly when it was learned that an even worse attack had probably been averted.

I had heard that a single cop shot four of the five dead suspect terrorists – which makes you wonder about things like ‘justice’ and ‘due process’. I don’t know if it’s actually true or not but I can understand now how violence could cause further violence. If it is true although there’s no way I’d condone such an action, given the ongoing rawness at the atrocity carried out, I’d also truly struggle to condemn it.

It’s the fourth day now since the attack and this morning was the first time I returned to La Rambla, making my way up the route from the sea to Placa del Catalunya. It was early but crowds had already gathered around the different temporary shrines where notes, messages, candles toys and flowers had been arranged. I saw several notes in English, one from someone called Conor saying “Barcelona, Canada stands with you.”

It’s the kind of thing I’d normally find mawkish and saccharine and distressingly helpless but this morning there seemed no doubt to the sincerity behind it and I felt its impact more than anything else I’ve seen since I’ve been here.

A Dead Queen and Stones on a Sacred Hill (Irish Mythology)

Heading north in County Sligo, the outline of Knocknarea is clearly visible in the distance. The origin of the hill’s Irish name has been lost to time but there’s no shortage of suggestions, varying from Cnoc na Rí (hill of kings – my preferred option) to Cnoc na Ré (hill of the ages, or possibly, moon) to many others.

Like most of the Sligo mountains and hills, Knocknarea has a cairn (an enormous mound of loose stones dating back at least 2500-3000 years that usually conceals a passage-grave beneath) which is also very visible and is probably one of the biggest in the country.

In Irish, this particular cairn is called Meascán Méabha, which roughly translates to ‘Méabh’s Lump’ and it relates of course to Méabh Leathdearg or Méabh of Connacht (anglicized needlessly to Maeve) who played such an important role in the great Irish epic Táin Bó Cúailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley). According to the remaining literature, when she died Méabh was buried upright at that site so that she could face her Ulster-based enemies.

That’s all a bit of a fanciful conceit of course, given that Méabh was originally a land goddess (a representation of Mother Earth) transformed into a human personage over the ages. Needless to say, a lot of people continue to take the Táin Bó Cúailnge literally however, and hence get a bit excited when they come to Sligo and visit it. They also tend to get a bit outraged when they learn that the cairn has never been excavated until you point out there are literally tons of cairns all over the locality and given the unlikelihood of Méabh actually being buried there, it makes more sense to focus limited national archaeological resources elsewhere.

Undeterred in their conviction that this is the final resting place of some famous queen, some of them are driven to continue uphill to gather cairn stones as souvenirs which they then carry away with them.

To the point that it’s now becoming something of a conservation issue.

It’s often part of the human condition that we can’t just look at and respect what’s directly in front of us. Driven to interfere and meddle, we often end up destroying the very thing we love. Fortunately, there are still plenty more stones on the cairn but if people keep nicking them, it’ll eventually end up being unintentionally excavated far sooner than expected.

Father Ted’s Alive and Unwell

During my visit home this week, I found myself in a surreal situation when I was shoulder-twisted into an extended family social occasion and ended up being cornered (literally) by a subgroup of religious zealots.

Just for context, you probably need to understand that religion in Ireland has suffered a huge decline over the past thirty years. Most of the seminaries where new young priests used to enter the order are now pretty much empty. Schools and colleges that used to be run and staffed by Christian Brothers or Presbeterian Brothers are now staffed almost entirely by lay people. There are very few convents still in operation and I personally haven’t seen a nun in years.

In parishes (Church defined territories) where four or five priests used to live in a church residence you now often find single priests living in a huge residence by themselves. Like their congregations, the remaining priests are getting quite elderly and the Catholic Church in Ireland is struggling to deal with empty churches, large property banks and the support and maintenance of their own aging membership. Dwindling church attendance is also an issue and some startling, if ineffective, innovations have been trialled. One ingenious solution used locally was when the priest’s mass service was transmitted out over the open radio for people like my elderly aunt who couldn’t attend due to a disability.

Unfortunately, the church hadn’t done its research properly and was forced to close the service down when they started receiving complaints from Cork airport. Apparently, the priests were using the same wireless frequency as the airline pilots communicating with the airport’s control tower. Planes dropping the gears and lining up for an approach to the landing strip on a Saturday night or Sunday morning were occasionally assaulted by a furious homily from the local priest just as they were preparing to land.

In another recent innovation, one or two priests have also been passing the Eucharist onto regular attendees who haven’t been able to make the mass. Generally, a trusted member of the congregation is given the blessed Eucharist and instructed to bring it to the home of the missing individual. This approach is outside Church policy so only the ‘in’ few get this particular service. Needless to say, it’s all very hush-hush but of course there are plenty of braggers and, as a result, everyone in the parish knows about it. Local wags are now calling them “Church take-aways”.

The Church’s cause hasn’t really been helped by its poor acknowledgement of the enormous hurt and damaged caused by abuse of children in their care, the Magdalen Laundries and of course the recent scandal of the children’s burial ground in Tuam. Neither is it helped by the members of the church itself. In the local parish for example, there are three priests, known as the Gambling Priest (who likes a bit of a flutter), the Drinking Priest (an alcoholic) and the Shagging Priest. The latter is currently shacked up with a woman and her child (but it’s not his child so “that’s all right”!). Church attendance there is pretty slim and, again, the church is struggling to pay for and maintain the priests in the manner to which they’ve become accustomed. Recently, there was uproar when a letter arrived into the mailbox of all parish households, seeking contributions towards the petrol bill of the main parish priest (The Gambling Priest). Given that most people know most of that money would end up at the bookies, the proposal was, understandably, greeted with substantial scorn.

At a family event, I was sitting at a corner table where I was joined by an elderly relative and two of her friends and finally by the Gambling Priest himself. The Gambling Priest is a bit of a pompous ass, to be honest. A family “friend”, I’ve never actually liked him as he’s always exuded a sense of self-entitlement and led a life of luxury and privilege due to his status in the community. I’ve put up with him due to family connections but otherwise I’ve generally avoided him.

On this particular occasion, the Gambling Priest started pontificating about a local derelict hospital (The Red Brick) that had recently been burned down and he was convinced it’d been put to flame by young people “on the instigation of” one of the new political parties out to make way for housing for the homeless. When K pointed out that this might actually have been a good thing, it quickly became clear he was actually against the homeless (people who were too lazy to get a job and fend for themselves – a bit like, well, priests I suppose), immigrants (including refugees), black people liberals and socialists.

Oh, and anyone who didn’t vote for Fianna Fáil.

While the Gambling Priest was talking, the other three elderly people were nodding servilely in agreement. From their subsequent comments it became obvious they were simply regurgitating the Gambling Priest’s opinions and hadn’t a brain cell of independent thought to share between the lot of them.

Having pretty much avoided religion of any kind since childhood, I was totally gobsmacked to find myself in a situation of such … almost caricature-like grotesqueness. I’d always heard the stories of course, seen snippets of the behaviour and laughed at the Father Ted mocking but I’d never personally experienced the true extent of zealot-like fanaticism that pervades certain sections of the Irish Church.

In the end, I managed to excuse myself without getting too angry but the whole incident genuinely left a bad taste in my mouth. If this is what the Irish Church is truly like, then the sooner it fades away, the better.

A New Liath Luachra Story Coming Shortly

After two pretty shocking workload months, we’re finally at a point where we can actually release some new writing. This short story (The Pursuit) should be selectively available at the end of next week (before we close down for the month of August) and more widely in September.

The story takes place sometime after the events in Liath Luachra: The Grey One. It’s a stand-alone short story but will form the first chapter of the next Liath Luachra book in 2018.

To be honest, even now it still surprises me how fiercely people like this character. When I first introduced her, I didn’t think honestly believe many readers would relate to a Gaelic, sword-wielding, gay woman. I should have got some inkling however, when despite the much smaller role planned for the character, she took on a life of her own (to the point where she ended up completely dominating the first book in the Fionn mac Cumaill series).

And then of course there was the review feedback:

“The thinking woman’s warrior.”

“An intriguing female protagonist unlike any I’ve come across before. Intelligent and competent, she’s also tragically damaged and vulnerable and yet somehow manages to cling to her fragile moral core.”

“Tough, tenacious and unflinchingly truthful, Liath Luachra is an admirably strong female protagonist. Her own inner conflict – between her past and present self, her loyalty to Bodhmhall and her own sense of right and wrong – is as engaging as her woodland exploits, and her fighting scenes are stark and exhausting.”

“A female heroine who is commanding and fascinating.”

“In the legends of Fionn mac Cumhaill, Liath Luachra is an intriguing name with minimal context, but in Brian O’Sullivan’s adaptions she becomes a most fascinating and formidable character in her own right.”

“In Fionn’s aunt, Bodhmall, and her lover Liath Luachra, O’Sullivan has created an intruiging warrior women who each provide their own strength to the narrative. I could continue reading a series about just them without any difficulty.”

Etc.
Etc.
Etc.

As a writer, you really can’t get more positive or more affirmative feedback than that and I’m extremely grateful to all of those who made the effort to write those comments. At the end of the day, I guess that as long as people enjoy those stories, I’ll keep writing them.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh.

I love my editor, Madame Palamino Blackwing

I love my editor Madame Palamino Blackwing but her presence on a different island and a preference for hand-written edits can occasionally pose a problem.

Four weeks ago, I emailed her a new Liath Luachra short story which she quickly edited and sent back by mail. Unfortunately, the roads in New Zealand’s south island were blocked with snow for several days. When the edits finally arrived in Wellington there was a storm and my postbox was flooded (seriously!). I ended up having to dry fifteen sodden sheets of paper in front of the fire.

I’m just glad she writes with pencil and not ink.

This isn’t the first time this has happened.

But she’s a brilliant feckin editor!

I’m assuming no-one else has this problem.