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The Death of Irish Mythological Heroes

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I recently came across this cartoon which quietly tickled my fantasy. In itself, the caricature is quite amusing but the cartoon also effectively captures the immense societal change in in Ireland from pre-history (as in ‘before records were kept’) to the early medieval period. The Cúchulainn and Fionn mac Cumhaill tales all predate the introduction of literature in Ireland and most had probably been circulating in oral recitation for centuries beforehand.

Literature (reading and writing) came to the island with the Church sometime in the fifth century (supposedly with missionaries like Saint Patrick) and helps to clarify how and why religion spread so rapidly. The skills of reading and writing conferred huge advantages to those who learned them, not in terms of improved management or societal standing but also in terms of intellectual interest, etc.). Sadly however, those who controlled the pen also controlled the recording of history and thus the record of many of the existing cultural belief systems were belittled and eventually transformed into children’s stories. Literature was the beginning of the end for early Irish/Celtic belief cultural beliefs and their view of the world in which they lived.

PS: The cartoon is by the talented Scott Maynard of Happletea.com and can be found here

Cock Ups to Avoid in the Publishing Business

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This is kinda embarrassing so I’m not going to dwell on it.

Three months ago, in preparation for a sales event on St Paddy’s Day, I ordered a box of hard copy books from Createspace (over 50). During the online order process though, I must have been tired because I inadvertently selected ‘Niger’ instead of ‘New Zealand’ in the delivery address drop down box.

To be fair, I caught it almost immediately when I checked it the next day but by the time Createspace got my email asking them to amend it, the order had already been processed. Even worse, according to Createspace, it was simply not possible to change that address once something was dispatched (until the incorrect address was noted by the transporter and the box returned).

So there I was, watching online for over two months as I helplessly tracked my parcel of books doing a victory lap of the planet. The worst irony was that, having been initially sent from the States (?!) it ended up in … CORK!
At that point I was leaping up from my chair, screaming at then to leave it there, that I’d get my family around to the warehouse to pick it up.

But, on no (wagging of finger!). That simply wasn’t possible.

Sadly, following the inexplicable vagaries of international travel, the parcel was subsequently dispatched to London, then onto Germany then back to Amsterdam where it remained sitting in a warehouse for weeks. Needless to say, I was a tad … well, pissed, actually as I’d missed the deadline for St Paddy’s and had to cancel the event I’d been planning. Of course it was my own fault and I had no-one else to blame (dammit!).

On the positive side however, I think I must grown a little more mature because I started to get a zen-like pleasure from going online to see where that box of books ended up next (OHHHMMMMMM!). I really did have high hopes for Africa and was secretly hoping it might reach Capetown or Nairobi. Seriously, there’s still some smidgen of the exotic in international deliveries like this. It all reminds me a bit of when I was living back home and used to get those blue and red-striped international airmail letters from around the world. At the time, that was really cool! (no, really!).

Anyway, the whole caper came to an unexpected end this week when the box turned up unannounced. In fact, my son actually brought it in and it was sitting in the hall for two days before I actually noticed it!
It’s kind nice having a large selection of books at home an all but … Sheesh!

PS: If you really, really absolutely want to see what’s happening with the next Fionn that’s a draft of Chapter six off to the left that I was editing this morning.

Irish Folklore/ Mythology: The Danger of the Hungry Grass!

 

In ancient Ireland there were patches of grass called ‘Hungry Grass’ that leapt off the ground to swallow you whole, digest you down and spit you out like a …

Actually, er … No, wait .. Hang on.

Oh, yeah!

Hungry Grass was actually a patch of grass that was completely indistinguishable from other sections of grass but if you stood on it you were immediately overtaken by a great hunger or weariness.
And, there was A GENUINE RISK you might swoon to your death.

There you go. That’s much more credible.

As you can see, there’s a fair amount of fantasy spinning out there on the internet with respect to ‘Hungry Grass.’ Read through some of the blogs on the ‘Celternet’ and you’ll discover some fascinating hypotheses (for example, that “Hungry Grass” was caused by fairies [the Little People!] or leprechaun spirits [Dun-dun-dun!]. Or green Aliens).

The Wikipedia entries on ‘hungry grass’ and ‘féar gorta’ are pretty bad and use some very nefarious links as ‘references’. Another site I’ve come across, describes with great -if incorrect – cultural authority that Hungry Hill (a mountain in Beara, West Cork, get its name from the belief of local peasants that “many patches of Féar Gortha grew on it.” To anyone from Beara, this is, of course, not only remarkably annoying, but a bit insulting.
[Note: The Irish – and real – name of the mountain is Cnoc Daod and is more likely related to the changeable weather around the summit].

The problem of course, is that most of the Celternet bloggers usually copy verbatim from discredited sources such as books by 18th and 19th century authors like William Carleton (a writer in the vein of W.B. Yeats who wrote somewhat disparagingly about jolly Irish peasants and their foolish cultural beliefs). The internet, being what it is of course, means that these errors are continuously being reproduced.

Today, given the impressive amount of grass in Ireland, the whole concept of ‘hungry grass’ could be a bit alarming if people believed in it. One or two hundred years ago, when scientific reasoning wasn’t particularly widespread however, it was probably a fair attempt at rationalising the unexplained deaths or episodes of fainting that would occur from time to time. The psychological impact of An Gorta Mór (the Great Famine), would also have remained very strong in the minds of those people living after the 1850s. This is why, in most variations of the ‘hungry grass’ folklore, the effects are attributed to a person stepping on the grave or burial plot of a victim from An Gorta Mór. It’s also why (probably) the Irish term is ‘féar gorta’ which may be more accurately translated as ‘famine grass’ rather than ‘hungry grass’.

Although the superstition of ‘hungry grass’ is pretty much outdated nowadays, it’s still quite a curious concept that seems very specific to Ireland and has a lot of narrative appeal. I used the concept myself as a minor plot device in one of my books some years ago where the protagonist has the supernatural power of being able to detect where dead people are buried. In that book, the protagonist is an archaeologist/historian and his success at finding ancient historical sites and bodies is very much based on that ability.

In hindsight, I suppose I’d probably have been better off making the character a mortician or a police pathologist although, to be honest, that wasn’t really my area of interest.

It does beg the question however – how cool would it be to have a television series about an Irish pathologist?

Investigating the death of people killed by Hungry Grass!!

What you believed in Celtic mythology, probably isn’t true

It’s with some pride and some relief that we released the first in our proposed set of Irish Imbas: Celtic Mythology Collection books this week. For those of you not familiar with the intent, this is an anthology of fiction and non-fiction writing that collates winning submissions from the Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition, all based on different elements of the Celtic mythology.

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This book is slightly different from most of the Irish/Celtic mythology books out there in that it also provides a contextual explanation of the cultural elements used in each story. It’s pretty much the first in what we see as a series of books that will attempt to debunk the huge volume of misinformation out there on the web relating to Celtic mythology.

And, there really is a hell of a lot!

The Irish Imbas Celtic Mythology Collection can be downloaded for free either on this website or through your favourite ebookstore. A complete list of where you can download can be found here.

We’re very proud of this work and delighted at the stories submitted by each of the authors (Sighle Meehan, Sheelagh Russell Brown, Marc McEntegart, Corla Atkinson and Marie Gethins). We genuinely hope you enjoy reading this volume as much as we enjoyed producing it.

Update on Forthcoming Productions: Irish Imbas Books

It’s always difficult writing these particular updates. I sometimes feel a bit like a minute cork on the ocean, floating around at the whim of waves and tides that can change direction at a moment’s notice (and generally drag me along with them). As a result, despite the best of intentions laid out here, circumstances can often force us to amend the programme.

The Celtic Mythology Collection:
Keep an eye out as this book will be released in digital form at some stage over the next 2-3 weeks. The initial book will probably be available here and then in the other major ebookstores. Its an anthology of Celtic Mythology short stories but with a difference in that each of the five stories is accompanied with a cultural context explaining where the mythological concept originates. Its essentially our first book that attempts to balance and counteract all the misinformation about Celtic mythology that’s out there on the internet these days.

Fionn 3: The Adversary: I had hoped to finish an initial draft of this over the Christmas holidays but unfortunately, given the fact that we actually took a real holiday, I’m still only on Chapter 8. Because of all the work going on with the Celtic Mythology Collection at the moment, completion of this particular book looks like it will be delayed by 3-4 months and won’t be out until mid-2016. Once completed, I’m going to lay the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series aside for the rest of the year to focus on other projects. I love writing the series and it allows me to research a number of historical concepts I wouldn’t otherwise get to but I just need a short break from it to keep it fresh. In the meantime, here’s an alternative picture of the cover for this particular book. We didn’t go for it in the end as it was a bit “too fantasy” for what we wanted.

The Adversary small

Project Tobar: This is a non-named, non-fiction book related to Irish culture that I’m hoping to release later this year. It’s based on about ten years of thinking and observation and although I haven’t written a word yet I have quiet a lot of unpublished work which will make up most of the content. Later this year, I’ll be taking a weekend away by myself to scope it out and design the final structure. I won’t give a date at this stage but we’re relatively confident of releasing it later this year. Expect a more detailed outline and a final title in about 3-4 months.

Beara 2: Cry of the Banshee
I’ve been dying to get back to Beara for a while as various ideas and scenes have been fermenting at the back of my head, repressed while I work on other projects. We won’t get this published this year but I do want to get a substantial part of it written by next Christmas. There is a bit of research I need to do back in Ireland for this so that’s a good excuse to go home!

Short Stories
I’ve been writing short stories less and less as the larger projects tend to take up most of my creative energy and there’s only so many plots you can hold together in your head at one time. I have a book of short stories in process (The Kinsale Trilogy) of which two are almost complete but one (the longest remains to be written). This will remain on the ‘to be completed’ pile for a while. I also have a new short story for the 1916 celebrations (The Fenian) which I would love to finish before Easter. I suspect I’ll have to lock myself away for another weekend to find the time to do this. Alternatively, I suppose, I could lock the family downstairs in the office. Hmmmm.

Project Nua: This is an intellectually based tool that I’m hoping to convert into something that be used in a much more practical sense. I’m still mulling around how to do this effectively and I’ve decided to hold off and use the learnings from ‘The Celtic Mythology Collection’ and ‘Project Tobar’ before I do so. There’s a lot of subconscious thought going into this (pre-sleep analysis and post-waking reflection) but until I manage to formulate an approach I think will work, this remains to one side.

Audiobooks
We’re currently in the process of cleaning up two short stories (The Morning After and Sleepwalking in Irish). Both of these will be available on this site in a month or so. The next audiobook will probably be ‘The Irish Muse’ and, if a suitable narrator is identified, Defence of Ráth Bládhma.

Celebrating Our Two Year Anniversary with a Complimentary Book

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost two years since Fionn: Defence of Rath Bladhma was first published (by accident, incidentally – we really were new at this whole publishing stuff at the time!). Personally, I certainly never imagined it would be so many people’s favourite book or go on to spawn two sequels and a prequel.

We published Fionn: Defence of Ráth Bládhma and Beara Dark Legends about the same time. The Beara book had been completed first but it took so long to learn the various ropes that Fionn 1 was actually finished by the time we went live.

(Fionn amended aspect ratio)

Ironically, I’d been intending to get a less ‘fleshy’ cover for the book over that entire period as well but just never found the time despite constant piss-taking from my partner, my editor, family members etc. I say ‘ironic’ because a lot of people have described the book as ‘feminist’. To be honest, I don’t think I’d go that far and, besides, I’m genuinely fond of the covers because working with the designers and Chirinstock has been really enjoyable (they’re all very nice people). It’s also been a real pleasure writing such strong female protagonists. I’ve probably mentioned this before but the book was originally supposed to be centred around the character of Fionn mac Cumhaill (hence the title). The two leading female characters were so strong however, they simply shouldered their way onto the page and pretty much took over the series.

Defence of Ráth Bládhma minor

In any case, to celebrate two years of publishing we’re making this book available without charge through this website until the end of April 2016. If you’d like to get a copy just sign up to the monthly newsletter on the RHS of the webpage. When you sign in you should be able to get an option to download an ePUB (Apple, Nook, Kobo etc.) or mobi. (Kindle) version of the file.

We hope you enjoy it.

Praise youth and it blossoms!

Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí
Praise youth and it will blossom (or literally, “praise youth and it will go!”).

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Last week I attended a powhiri (a Maori welcoming ceremony) up in Fielding for the uptake of new Maori students joining Manukura, a Maori kaupapa-based school/sports academy. It was a two-hour drive up from Wellington and an early start but we had time and it was important to support our niece who was starting an exciting new milestone in her life.

Powhiri can be drawn out affairs. They follow a strict etiquette with a formal welcoming, the exchange of songs between hosts and visitors, speeches from both sides and of course, there’s always time put aside for individual people to stand up and say their own piece if they want to (they did!).
It was a dazzling 31°C by the time we took our seats and the speeches (in Te Reo – the Maori language) started. I thought the ceremony would drag but, in fact it sped through relatively easily and quickly, assisted by some beautiful singing from the school’s students and a powerful haka. Afterwards, all the students and staff lined up to hongi (press noses in greeting) the visitors. Given there were a few hundred on each side this was quite a challenge and I almost had a flat nose by the time we’d finished.

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There’s something really powerful about attending powhiri for they’re one of the few occasions where the true strength of Maori culture is given full and authentic expression, not only in terms of language and haka and songs but in terms of the cultural concepts and rituals that inform them. Many westernised people (including some New Zealanders) often experience a sense of impatience at the time taken at powhiri (and I’m guilty of this myself). They feel the event should be wrapped up a bit faster, that the traditional rituals should give way to the needs and time pressures of contemporary life. Naturally, when people think like that, their expectations are based on their own cultural and personal experiences. Attending a Maori ritual like a powhiri is a rare event for most people and as a result, the Maori cultural concepts are sometimes not only unfamiliar but not relevant to the way they live their own lives. Sometimes, this leads to individuals who believe that Maori cultural concepts are unimportant and they can end up displaying a startling lack of respect. Such scorn is very much a symptom of where two cultures exist together but one is dominant over the other in terms of population, resource or political power-sharing.

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As I was sitting there, listening to the speeches and the songs, I got to thinking how Maori managed to save at least some elements of their culture from the oppression of colonization and how similar that situation was with the impact of Norman/English colonisation back in Ireland. Colonisation is a mechanism to suppress and destroy a competing culture that encompasses a different way of thinking. It’s a way of forcing people in one culture to adhere to the way of thinking of a more dominant culture. In truth, its best to think of colonization as the competition between cultures as opposed to countries, the latter being little more than a red herring when you talk about societies.

In Ireland, from the mid-1600s onwards (when all native military power had pretty much been extinguished), the Gaelic way of thinking was systematically eroded through the Penal Laws and other social repressions enforced by the English Crown. Between the mid-1600s and today, the vast majority of the Irish population lost their language and their societal infrastructure and belief systems. Nowadays, despite 400 years of resistance, the War of Independence, the sacrifice of 1916, the cultural concepts of modern day Ireland are more like those of modern day England than the Gaelic culture pre-1650. In some respects you could say that Irish-Gaelic society won a few battles but they lost the war although you could argue that this is a good or bad thing.

It’d be a bit like looking through rose-tinted spectacles however to believe the old Gaelic social system was any better as a society than the newly imposed English rule. It might have been but then again it might not. We don’t know – and never will – but there are plenty of examples of how the Gaelic political leaders of the day could be just as big a pack of bastards as the invading colonists. No, the big loss here is the ultimate demise of a unique way of thinking that was developed over centuries (and possibly millennia). By supressing the culture of one society and forcing its members to adapt to another society we’re actually suppressing the intellectual diversity of the human race (not just the biodiversity). This, of course, has longer term and larger scale ramifications for our ability for long term survival.

Back in New Zealand, Maori lost a huge proportion of their culture and have been forced to adhere to the British system of governance, the English language and property control systems. I think the truth is that they’ll never regain their original culture (although they’ve managed to salvage important and impressive elements of it). Sitting there in the sun, listening to the songs being sung by future leaders of Maoridom (and possibly New Zealand), I realised that I was seeing something new, a resurgence, a re-melding. Despite all the oppression, these kids are still singing in Maori, talking in Maori, performing haka. More importantly, Maori have even managed to insert some of their cultural concepts into modern-day, western-dominated New Zealand (the concepts of mana, whanau, manaakitanga, tangi and so many more) so its no longer a one way road. If this can happen here, I wonder whether Irish Gaelic concepts can, or already are, working that well back home.

Irish Imbas: Celtic Mythology Collection 2016

Irish Imbas: Celtic Mythology Collection 2016

Over the past centuries, many of the most important Celtic cultural narratives and tales have been relegated to the status of children’s stories or cartoonish caricature, misunderstood and misinterpreted for as long as most of us can remember.

This collection by a new wave of contemporary authors hauls Celtic stories out of the dusty shadows and with succinct mythological analysis, places them back into the light where they belong. Love, mystery and drama, these fascinating tales mark a new movement of more authentic and original Celtic-based writing and a better understanding of Celtic cultures.

Subjects covered in this collection include the ‘Fairies’, the ‘Salmon of Knowledge’, the ‘Children of Lir’ and the ‘Selkie’.

Na Ceiltigh, abú!

A Visual Representation of Irish Prehistory and Mythology

When you mention the word ‘prehistoric’ to people, most of them immediately conjure up images of Neanderthals walking around, scratching their arses and dragging huge heavy clubs on the ground behind them. What ‘prehistoric’ actually refers to though, is that period of time before which historical records were maintained. In a sense, you can think of ‘prehistory’ as a distant undiscovered country or a kind of ‘dark web’ for history. It’s an unknown territory, full of immense, untapped potential, deception and people who have an interest in controlling it.

When I imagine pre-historic Ireland therefore, it looks a little bit like this.

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The problem with history, of course, is that it’s something we all think we understand whereas if you actually stand back and kick the conceptual tyres in the same way you’d kick those of a new car, you’ll quickly work out how much of it is based on dangerous assumptions and potential falsehoods. The ‘recording’ of history has always been the privilege of societies’ winners and most powerful. The problem, unfortunately, is that those in power often have an agenda of their own when writing or recording history, mostly linked to retaining that power. What actually happened in the past comes in a distant second.

Napoleon Bonaparte is often quoted as saying ‘history is a bunch of lies agreed upon’. If he did actually say that, then he was an exceptionally insightful individual because he recognised how the reporting of the truth (not the truth itself) can be manipulated.

Essentially, history in most countries only comes into existence with the establishment of written records and therefore, the arrival of literacy. In Ireland, written records were first introduced with the arrival of Christian missionaries in the early fifth century. For that reason, for Ireland, anything that happened before that period is generally referred to as a ‘prehistoric’ event. Naturally, the first people holding the pen in Ireland looked at the world through a Christian religious lens and many of the early historical accounts are often very biased in that regard. With the spread of the church-dominated written account we can see the first steps in the ongoing erosion of native (non-Christian) belief systems. This is what we now refer to as ‘mythology’.

Winners of the Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition (2015-2016)

Irish Imbas Books are pleased to announce the winners of the 2015-2016 Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition. These are:

First prize ($500): Sighle Meehan for ‘Hawthorne Close
Second Prize ($250): Sheelagh Russell Brown for ‘A Mainland Mansie Meur
Third Prize ($100): Marc McEntegart for ‘In a Small Pond

All three stories will appear in the forthcoming Irish Imbas Celtic Mythology Collection 2016 due for release in March this year with two additional stories:
• ‘Transit Hours’ by Marie Gethins
• ‘Lir’ by Coral Atkinson

As well as the short stories, the Irish Imbas Celtic Mythology Collection 2016 will contain explanatory context/notes on the various elements of Celtic Mythology associated with each story. A key purpose of this competition is to provide a source of authentic context and information on aspects of Celtic mythology for the general public.

Comments from the judges:

In total, 37 submissions received (initially there were 40 but 3 were withdrawn). The vast majority of stories covered aspects of Irish mythology. Stories related to elements of Welsh mythology were the next most popular (in terms of numbers).

The three criteria used by the judges were:

  1. Celtic mythology or folklore forms a fundamental element of the story
  2. Any Celtic folklore or mythological reference should be as authentic as possible
  3. A compelling story/theme, engaging characters.

Submissions were received from all over the world, including countries such as Australia, New Zealand, America, Canada, Norway, Denmark, France etc. The majority of submissions came from Ireland.

In terms of the mythological content used within the stories, the most common were:

  • Elements from the Fenian Cycle (Fionn mac Cumhaill and related stories)
  • Seilchidh (Selkie)-related stories
  • Beansaí (Banshee)-related stories

The quality of submissions varied extensively both in terms of writing quality and authenticity of mythological content. A number of the submitted stories were excellently written but used elements of mythology in the wrong context. It was a difficult decision not to accept these submissions

We’d like to thank all entrants for taking the time to make submissions.

An announcement on the 2016-2017 Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition will be made later this year.

Update on the 2016 Irish Imbas Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition

We’re pleased to announce the short-list of submissions for the 2016 Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition. Please note that submissions are listed in alphabetical order and a final decision on the winners has yet to be made:

A King’s Fancy’ ‘ by Ann Rhodes
A Mainsland Mansie Meur’ by Sheelagh Russell-Brown
Hawthorne Close ‘ by Sighle Meehan
In a small Pond ‘ by Marc McEntegart
Letting Go’ by Alison Walker
Lir’ by Coral Atkinson
Muse’ by Catriona Murphy
Oisin and the Hunt ‘ by Nicola Cassidy
Tara and The Yoke ‘ by Emlyn Boyle
The Great Birds of High Imbolc ‘ by Derek Fennell
The Seafarer and the Lord of Inis Mean ‘ by Mairead Rooney
Transit Hours‘ by Marie Gethins
Wondres Spelle‘ by Rina Bruinsma

The winning entrants will be contacted by email in the next week or two. A final decision on the stories to appear in the 2016 Irish Imbas Celtic Mythology Collection will be made by the end of January.

We’d like to thank those of you who entered this competition but did not make the short list. Having entered several such competitions ourselves in the past, we’re aware of the disappointment that can accompany such outcomes. As a result, the judges have decided to offer all entrants a complimentary digital copy of the final collection as a ‘thank you’ for taking the time to submit.

Update to Competition conditions:

Although it was originally envisaged to place the top 9-10 stories in 2016 Irish Imbas Celtic Mythology Collection, this number is now likely be reduced to 5-9 stories. This is to allow sufficient room for explanatory notes etc.

Surviving Christmas And an Irish ‘Sword’ Film

If you ever decide to invade New Zealand, I’d really recommend you do so over the Christmas period. Because of the fact that the Christmas holidays here take place in the middle of summer, you essentially end up with a double-whammy of a summer holiday and everything – everything! – comes to a complete halt for several days.

I love New Zealand during this period. Even if you wanted to work (and, hell, I’ve already got a crippling work schedule!) it’s actually quite hard to do so. And that’s not just because of the sun beckoning in through the window every morning.

In Wellington, we’ve had an amazing few weeks of sun this year, despite a harsh winter that dangled us by the short and curlies for several months. I had great plans to achieve a great many things but, in the end, I just gave in and went with the flow and feel so much better for that!

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In between eating, running, drinking and reading I also surfed the internet for an extended period and one of the little gems I came across was this interesting mini-film on You Tube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VYAcYNg64UY ). Called ‘The Last Grasp’, it’s a short film project by Claíomh Productions (Claíomh is the Irish word for sword). To quote from their website, “Claíomh are an Irish military ‘living history’ group that re-create ‘live’ images of the country’s past, particularly related to the turbulent late medieval to early modern history period”. I’m personally more interested in the pre- [pre-5th century] history, myself but these guys stuff has always impressed me.

The film itself is about four years old or so. It’s pretty short with a limited story-line but I do like the camera work and the attention to detail, which marks the company’s fantastic research and high production values. More recently they did some reproduction work for 1916 so I’ll be interested to see what they get up to during the centenary events. Their Facebook page (here: ) has a number of photos which display their work and I’d highly recommend a visit.

Free Ebook

Ireland: 192 A.D. A time of strife and treachery. Political ambition and inter-tribal conflict has set the country on edge, testing the strength of long-established alliances. Following their victory over Clann Baoiscne at the battle of Cnucha, Clann Morna are hungry for power. Meanwhile, a mysterious war party roams the ‘Great Wild’ and a ruthless magician is intent on murder.

In the secluded valley of Glenn Ceoch, disgraced druidess Bodhmall and her lover, the woman warrior Liath Luachra, have successfully avoided the bloodshed for many years. Now, the arrival of a pregnant refugee threatens the peace they have created together. The odds are overwhelming and death stalks on every side.

Based on the ancient Fenian Cycle texts, the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series recounts the fascinating and action-packed tale of the birth and adventures of Ireland’s greatest hero, Fionn mac Cumhaill.

We hope you enjoy the read.

Download now

Sex Education (or lack of) with Diarmuid and Gráinne

For many years, most Irish schoolkids had the dubious pleasure of studying the Tóraíocht Dhiarmada agus Gráinne (the Pursuit of Diarmuid and Gráinne) as part of the national Irish school curriculum. An epic Irish narrative, the oldest remaining copy is believed to date from the 15th century but it’s generally agreed to contain elements that date back to the 9th century. This proved little solace to most of us although we could, at least, console ourselves with the fact that it wasn’t Peig Sayers mind-numbing biography.

Remember this anyone?

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Years later, I can now finally look at the Tóraíocht with less ‘negative’ eyes. The tale is actually quite unique in that it’s one of the first narratives (and one of the very few) in which mythological legend Fionn mac Cumhaill is portrayed as ‘The Bad Guy’ and shown to have human foibles. In this particular tale, he’s portrayed as an old man set to marry a much younger woman (Gráinne). Not enthralled at the prospect of being taken to bed by the elderly Fionn, Gráinne instead opts to put one of warriors at the wedding banquet that she fancies – Diarmuid – faoi geasa (under a magical obligation). While all the other guests are snoring under the influence of a sleeping draught, Diarmuid is forced to elope with her and the subsequent pursuit across Ireland by Fionn forms the basis of the narrative.

In Ireland, the Tóraíocht proved exceptionally popular (until it was made a compulsory school book!!) because it has all the elements of a good melodrama; a love triangle, young lovers, a pursuit, a revenge quest, action and adventure, etc. Given the story’s popularity and the scope of the legendary pursuit, local storytellers, back in the day, often stretched the chase to include topographical features in their own area to make the story more interesting for their audience. This is probably one of the key reasons for the many different existing variants.

Although some elements of the tale are difficult for a contemporary audience (and incomprehensible to a modern schoolkid), there are some motifs that stand out more than others. One of these is the sexual restraint displayed by the hero. While being chased by Fionn and his men, Diarmuid marks his loyalty to his leader and the abstention from sexual activity, by leaving an uncooked fish behind. This way, when Fionn subsequently locates their campsite, he knows that there hasn’t been any hanky-panky.

In fact, a prolonged period of time (and many adventures) passes before Diarmuid actually succumbs to temptation. This occurs when Gráinne is crossing a small stream and a spray of water spurts up to splash on the inside of her thigh. Looking at Diarmuid, Gráinne remarks – cuttingly – that the water is actually bolder than he is. Spurred by her words, Diarmuid takes her and “makes a woman of her”. Needless to say, absolutely no clarification of this particular scene took place during my school reading at least.

Another interesting motif of the tale is the constant need for the lovers to sleep in a different location every night (due the constant harrying by Fionn and his hunting dogs, always on their trail, always just behind). Over the subsequent centuries, this particular motif was absorbed into local folklore through the dolmans – neolithic burial portals that consist of a large flat rock overlaying two support rocks. Again, local storytellers started to explain the presence of these startling monuments by describing them as the ‘leaba’ (beds) of the fleeing lovers.

Beware! Ancient Mythological Sex Site!

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Examples of these ‘leaba’ exist all over the country and many still retain names associated with the Tóraíocht (e.g. Labby Rock in county Sligo). One of the more interesting folk beliefs that also developed from this interpretation, was that young women had a much better chance of becoming pregnant if they slept on the leaba (linking this action to that of Gráinne who became pregnant over the course of the chase).

Looking back on my own schooldays, I can actually understand why those in charge wanted to include the Tóraíocht in the national educational curriculum. It’s a very important piece of our culture that everyone should be familiar with and … (yaaaawn!) etc. etc. To be honest, the effort to inspire kids with this mythological tale was doomed to failure. Kids in my class never received any explanation as to what the story really entailed, had no comprehension (or therefore, appreciation) of the many references it contained. Many of the actions and events were obscure to the point of ‘alien’ and therefore had no real relevance or meaning to us. It’s hardly surprising most of us yawned our way through it and hoped against hope the bloody bell would ring soon.

Toraiocht

Fortunately, nowadays, there are other – more accessible – versions of the tale available. One of my favourites is Colmán Ó Raghallaigh’s graphic novel (entitled: An Tóraíocht) but there are several others including the recent movie ‘Pursuit’ by Paul Mericer (which, admittedly, I haven’t seen). Hopefully, these more contemporary versions (or equivalents) are used nowadays. Even the sex scenes wouldn’t have saved what we were being taught all those years ago.

FIONN: The Stalking Silence

The initial short story that started the popular Fionn mac Cumhaill Series.

Ireland 192 AD:
A pregnant refugee, fleeing through the wilderness, encounters a relentless predator.
Only by drawing on all her courage and cunning can she hope to survive.
This book is available to download in ebook or audiobook versions.

This free short story is based on ‘Macgnímartha Finn’ (The Boyhood Deeds of Fionn) and is a prequel to FIONN: Defence of Ráth Bládhma – the first book of the Fionn mac Cumhaill series. It comes with the first three chapters of that book.

FREE ebook (mobi. or ePub) available at: Fionn: The Stalking Silence

FREE AUDIOBOOK available at: Fionn: The Stalking Silence

Beauty That’s Just Too Big to Absorb

Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s impossible to truly appreciate beauty when other people you know are present. When you’re in a group staring at a beautiful view, person, piece of art, for example, you’re often conditioned to vocalise it out loud and invariably end up saying things like “Wow! She/he/it’s beautiful, stunning …[insert appropriate adjective here]”.

This weekend I spent a weekend tramping with friends (in between intense periods of drinking and eating) down in New Zealand’s south island. The sheer scale of some of the scenery there is on a level of grandeur we don’t seem to get in Ireland. Even while I was staring at it however, I felt oddly detached. I found myself looking at it much in the way I’d look at a television screen or a computer monitor. It was beautiful but oddly two dimensional. It did not touch me.

For me, the beauty of the landscape back in Ireland tends to be smaller, more contained and easier to digest. Cutting through the Healy Pass or heading out of Glengarrif for Beara, I can have an equally dramatic physical terrain stretched out before me but when I pull the car over and step out to look at it I can genuinely appreciate it. I’m pretty sure this is because I have a familiarity (a connection) with this landscape. I know how Irish landscape ‘works’. I know its contours, I know the dynamics of the sea, the cliffs, the fields. Down in West Cork, I also know the stories associated with the land, stories of my own family working it or living on it. I’ve lived and grown up on it and that gives the land an emotional resonance that makes it particularly accessible.

Which is most beautiful? Depends on so many things!
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Personally, I think to truly appreciate beauty (in terms of landscape at least) you need to have an aesthetic AND an emotional/cultural connection. Up in New Zealand’s high country, I knew – theoretically – know how things worked. I watched the people on the stations (a bit like American ranches) operate the land. My friends explained how the rivers and the mountain slopes interlinked, how the climate affected (or restricted) the use and transport across the land. But the problem, of course, was that I’ve never personally walked it before or known those who had. I’m also unfamiliar with the physical dynamics (which is why so many Irish tourists can get into trouble over here) and I have no cultural or emotional connection. I can genuinely appreciate it – and I do – on an intellectual and aesthetic basis but my connection is purely visual. I love coming here but if I want beauty I can break down and warm the soul then I know I’ll always need to go home.

Deadlines and Deadlines

There are now eight days left until the closing date for the Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition. While we’re waiting, we’ve been busy preparing the draft cover for the final collection (obviously based on the original poster image – see below) and attempting to plan out the formatting.

3D Book Preview

The latter is actually something of an impossibility in that we still don’t know the range and style of the stories with any certainty. I suspect there’ll be feverish mutterings as we attempt to add the background mythology facts for each of the stories chosen. I must admit it’s something of a struggle to resist having a peek at the submissions but I’m forcing myself to hold off. It’s not really possible to judge a number of different works properly unless you look at them all at the same time and do your best to judge on an equal basis.

In terms of numbers, at this stage, we’ve received just under twenty-five entries which is a pretty low number – but we’re not particularly fussed. It’s only natural for any new writing community to grow and gain credibility slowly and we’re still within budget. It’s also nice in that – unlike many of the major international competitions (which I stopped entering many years ago) – the odds of actually winning one of the prizes are substantially more realistic.

In any case, don’t forget the deadline for entries is midnight 10 December 2015.

Meanwhile, for those of you in Wellington, we’re delivering our Secrets of Celtic Mythology seminar in the mezzanine of the central library at 6:00 on 11 December. This will be the first seminar I’ve run in a while so I’m a bit nervous and hoping to God the technology holds together.

Wish me luck!

Secrets of Celtic Mythology

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For those of you based in Wellington, you may be interested in a seminar we’re holding on Friday 11 December at the Mezzanine in the Wellington Central Library. The seminar is called ‘The Secrets of Irish Mythology’ but will actually focus predominantly on Irish mythology, which is what we know best.

I’m still working through the structure of the seminar but it will probably involve some initial explanation of mythology (what is it, exactly?) followed by some living examples of it in Ireland today. I’m also keen on running through the practical ramifications of this for society as this is an area I’m quite keen on and hope to do some more of in the future.

In any case, the details are below:

“Irish Imbas Books presents Secrets of Celtic Mythology at the mezzanine of Wellington Central Library from 6:00 to 7:30 on Friday 11 December 2015. This one hour presentation will explore the background to the development of mythology, examine some practical examples of Irish mythology in Irish folklore and explain why this is relevant to us all. The event is free to enter. Irish Imbas Books will have a selection of books available for sale for those who are interested.”

Location/venue:
The Mezzanine, Wellington Central Library 65 Victoria Street Wellington
Date:
11 Dec 2015