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Fierce Times at the Black Fort (Irish mythology)

We did some exploring around Na hÁrainneacha (the Aran Islands) for a few days this month, carrying out research on a number of the prehistoric fortresses and hoping to get a few photos that we could work into future covers for the Fionn mac Cumhaill series.

Most people tend to associate the islands with the more famous Dún Aoghonsa and although that fortress is undeniably spectacular, our favourite actually turned out to be the lesser known Dún Dúchathair. Incorrectly translated into English as ‘The Black Fort’ (the name is more correctly translated as the “Fort of the Black Stone”).

the-black-fort-aran-island

This formidable site sits up on an isolated cliff promontory on the south-eastern side of An Árainn Mhór (Inishmore), the largest of the three islands. As prehistoric buildings go, this one is old, so old there’s very little actually known about it (although it’s believed to be contemporary with the equally dramatic Dún Aoghonsa which was built around 1110 BC). On a bright day, seeing the edifice silhouetted against the startlingly vivid horizon you can also understand the origin of its Irish name.

Although An Árainn Mhór is only nine kilometres long, the Black Fort is surprisingly difficult to access, set as it is on the far side of network of rocky channels that have to be traversed with some caution. Crossing the flat – but very pitted and uneven rocky surface – is a bit like walking across a benign minefield. It’s all very possible but you’re obliged to keep your eyes on the ground at all times unless you stop moving. If you don’t, it’s inevitable that you’ll become a cropper. That was one thing that really struck me about the entire island. Because the terrain’s so rough, unless you’re walking on a modern road or flat, you always have to walk with your head bowed.

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aran-islands-black-fort-1

The most immediate thing that comes to mind as you approach Dún Dúchathair is that it was obviously built with a defensive purpose in mind. Even today, it’s a site that’s not easily approached due to the reasons outlined above. Add to that, the cliffs on three sides, the chevaux de frises (dense series of rock obstructions placed in a vertical position that make the difficult surface even harder to traverse) and a six-metre high wall spread across the edge of the promontory, and you’re seriously left wondering how successful a land-based assault could possibly have been. Even with dramatically superior numbers, any attacking force would also have been exposed to sling-shot, javelins and spears and suffered losses that were almost certainly unsustainable.

aran-islands-black-fort-2a
Ironically, despite its immense defences, Dún Dúchathair turned out to be most at risk from its own defensive positioning. At some stage in the distant past, a large section of the flat promontory making up the interior of the fort, fell into the sea, its base eroded over centuries by the crashing power of the waves below.

dún-dúchathair-aran-islands

dún-dúchathair -aran-islands-2

Broody Days in the Galway Gaeltacht

Broody days in the Galway Gaeltacht under skies like a mottled bruise.

beautiful-irish-landscape

I’m travelling around Ireland at the moment, catching up with old friends and family and doing a lot of research. Some of my travels took me up through the Galway Gaeltacht – a place I haven’t been in a long time.

irish-landscape

I couldn’t get over how manicured the land around Lake Corirb looked compared to the Beara peninsula.
Even the sheep looked neat.

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irish-landscape-galway

HURRAY! I THINK I WON SOMETHING (ah, crap! No, I didn’t)

(Fionn amended aspect ratio)

Earlier this year I entered a competition (initiated by author Mark Lawrence – of ‘Prince of Thorns’ fame) called the ‘Self-Publishing Fantasy Blog Off 2016’. This basically sees three hundred self-published and small-publisher fantasy books assessed by ten different speculative fantasy book review bloggers and … (well, yes. A bit difficult to explain and I haven’t quite got my own head around it yet). Just click on the link. That’ll explain everything.

Having entered, I promptly forgot about it so it was a nice surprise this afternoon (having returned from the temporarily internet-free Aran Islands) to receive an email from a fan telling me that I’d won my heat (not sure what that is but apparently the competition is still ongoing and there isn’t an actual prize per se). In any case, the book received a nice review from the Bookworm Blues blog (attached below):
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FIONN: DEFENCE OF RATH BLADHMA BY BRIAN O’SULLIVAN

You know how some books come out of left field and just shock you? Well, this was one of those. If you’re looking for an action/adventure fantasy that is different than the normal, look no further. This book has some welcome diversity, and a story that is absolutely unforgiving. This is a novel based on some ancient Irish texts, and is full of myth and magic and I just loved it for that. The writing is tight and the book is well edited. I welcomed the strong female characters, the obvious twist on tropes, and the way the author genuinely owned the book he wrote. Some of the names were a bit of a mouthful to try and pronounce (even mentally) but that’s not the author’s fault, and as far as complaints go, that’s not even one that’s worth registering.

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Interestingly, I’d also entered Liath Luachra in the same competition. This was reviewed by a different blogger but it got dumped about a month or two ago (which I hadn’t been aware of). They also did a quick review as follows:

LIATH LUACHRA: THE GREY ONE BY BRIAN O’SULLIVAN
Dark historical fantasy. It is 188 A.D in Ireland, a land of tribal conflict. The book starts with a young warrior woman called Liath Luachra (the Gray One) fighting a battle with her fellow band of mercenaries. Pleased by her prowess and potential, her battle leader offers her a mission that she cannot refuse. Writing is good, though there’re a lot of straight-up translations for the large number of Celtic terms used, which can be very distracting. Despite the battle at the beginning, the story is also slow to take off, though soon enough an interesting conflict presents itself and the character finds herself in a bit of a bind. This book was a strong contender, but it didn’t hook us as quickly as a few others did. Still, we loved the atmosphere, and there are some very strong grimdark fantasy vibes here, so it’s worth checking out if you are a fan of this sub-genre.
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It’s always interesting to see how different people react to my books. That’s the beauty of individual tastes, I suppose – it’s different for everyone.

Sentinels in An Irish Doorway

It’s always the little things that get you.
Wandering in from the yard back in Cork yesterday, this cluster of wooden sentinels triggered a twinge of emotion as I recalled playing hurling myself as a kid.

an-irish-doorway

I was never a particularly gifted player but there really is no sport like it in the world (in terms of speed and sheer acrobatic watchability). Given my lack of access to the game over the last few years (oddly enough, there isn’t that much hurling going on in France or New Zealand), having a chance to watch my nephew and his friends battering the sliotar (the hurley ball) around over the last few years has proven much more satisfying than anticipated.

Judges’ Submission Tips From the 2015 Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition

kaboompics.com_Top view of desk with typewriter

In September 2015, we initiated our inaugural Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition. At the time, the plan was to publish a compilation that included the best of the submitted stories but also some explanatory commentary (in terms of the mythology/folklore aspects covered in the stories). This was, we figured, an effective means, not only of disseminating good cultural information, but encouraging authors of Celtic heritage to draw on aspects of their background they might not otherwise have previously considered.

The three criteria we used for judging the submitted stories were as follows:

  •  Celtic mythology or folklore forms a fundamental element of the story (i.e. the characters can be characters from Celtic mythology, the action can take place in a mythological location, mythological concepts can be used etc.).
  • Any Celtic folklore or mythological reference used should be as authentic as you can make it (for example; no dedicated pantheon of Irish Gods, no werewolves or vampires etc.)
  • A compelling story/theme, engaging characters. You’re a writer – you know what we mean

In total, 37 submissions were accepted, a relatively small number for such a competition but then, understandable given that we were an unknown entity and had never run this type of competition before. This time around we’re hoping to increase that number slightly.

In order to help those authors who might be considering an entry for the forthcoming 2016 Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition, the three judges recently met over a bottle of wine (amazing how fast that became a tradition!) and compiled a number of guiding notes that they were (roughly) able to agree on.

(1) Mythology/Folklore are not the same as fairy tales: Stories of beings known as ‘na daoine maithe‘ or ‘fairies’ form a part of folklore but the contemporary representation of them really has nothing to do with Celtic culture. We actually received queries from two people who wanted to submit stories from their kids (again, thinking that this was a ‘fairy tale’ competition). They were pretty miffed when I tried to explain the above which just goes to show how little people understand about Celtic culture out there. Having said that, the winning story from last year’s batch hit the whole ‘fairy’ aspect perfectly.

(2) Submitting a story based on lesser known aspects of Celtic mythology will probably give you an advantage: Of the 37 submissions we received last year, a full quarter of these were based on the Selkie (Enough with the Selkies already!) and we essentially chose two of these because they were very good. Fair enough, they were last year’s mythological ‘Bête du jour’ but you might want to broaden your subject appeal.

(3) You might want to submit a story based on (or using) cultural aspects that weren’t already covered in the 2016 Celtic Mythology Collection: This is just generic advice. Given that our stated aim is to provide information on different aspects of Celtic mythology, you’ve probably worked out that something different to last year’s subjects is probably a good thing. That said, if your story on Selkies (sigh) is good enough, we’re still very interested.

(4) Don’t confuse Vampires with Leannán Sidhe: This creature came second in the list of most covered cultural elements but there seemed to be a lot of misunderstanding around what a leannán sidhe was. To be fair, these are two relatively similar concepts but they come from two very difficult cultures (and in fact, the leannán sidhe is actually a kind of Gaelicised derivation of the Belle Dame Sans Merci muse tradition). WB Yeats really deserves a kick up the arse for confusing the two of these (which really is a good lead into the next tip).

(5) Avoid writing a story based on Cultural Advice from W.B. Yeats: W.B. Yeats’ books are regularly published by publishers because they’re out of copyright protection and there are no royalties to be paid for the use. Having said that, W.B. Yeats’ books are a BAD source to go looking for culturally accurate advice. I’ll repeat that in case you haven’t got the message. W.B Yeats = BAD!!!
This Shite that W.B Yeats Says article explains a little better what I’m talking about.

(6) Edit your stories (or at least get someone independent to peer review them) before you submit: Last year’s winner (Sighle Meehan) had, I think, three minor editing issues which gives some indication of what you’re up against. There’s always going to be some minor editing needed of course, and if we really, really like your story we’ll work with you on finalising it (but VERY rarely). There was one excellent shortlisted story that we wanted to publish in last year’s batch but, in the end, this just wasn’t sufficiently well-edited to get through to the final round (which was a shame – as it had great potential).

(7) Now – Did I mention the whole Selkie thing?

At the end of the day, of course, it all comes down to a matter of judgment (hence, the … em …judges). It also has to be said that, even between the three judges, there was some substantial disagreement on the final stories included in the collection (except for the first three prize-winners) although we did everything we could to be consistent and fair.

Hopefully this article provides some useful guidance but, without doubt, the best thing you could do is to download the free digital copy of the first Celtic Mythology Collection and check for yourself.

The Celtic Mythology Short Story Collection 2016

It gives us immense pleasure to announce the launch of the 2016 IRISH IMBAS CELTIC MYTHOLOGY SHORT STORY COMPETITION .
Submissions will be accepted for this competition from 1 September 2016 to 10 December 2016.

celtic-mythology-short-story-competition
This is the second year that we’re holding this competition and we’re coming into it a little wiser, a little less ambitious than the last time around but just as enthusiastic. Despite the almost overwhelming amount of work that went into it, the initial competition was a success (from our perspective, at least). Although this was a new and untested competition, we received a very respectable number of submissions, many of then of excellent quality. It was also particularly enjoyable to work with a number of new writers on the cusp of launching their writing careers. We’ll be watching their ongoing progress with interest and a certain satisfaction that we’ve helped that to some degree.

For us, a key objective of the competition was to try and increase the understanding of Celtic culture. We don’t really have any delusions that we’ve come anyway close to achieving that but we do feel we’ve made an important first step. By merging the creative short stories of the authors with our own cultural expertise, we’ve managed to release a free product that we’re exceptionally proud of and which fulfils the vision we established two years ago – cultural narratives that are entertaining and informative at the same time.

In terms of the 2016 competition details, we have made some minor changes (predominantly extending the word count to a maximum of 4000 words) but the value of the prizes are the same as last year.

First Prize

$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

What We’re Looking For

Once again, any kind of fiction short story will be considered (action, romance, drama, humour etc.) as long as they meet the following criteria:

  •  Celtic mythology or folklore forms a fundamental element of the story (i.e. the characters can be characters from Celtic mythology, the action can take place in a mythological location, mythological concepts can be used etc.)
  • Any Celtic folklore/mythological reference or context used should be as authentic as you can make it
  • A compelling story/theme, engaging characters.

Next week, we’ll be publishing a blog post that summaries learnings from the judges that might prove useful to potential entrants. Otherwise, the necessary details can be found here at Rules and Conditions. Important dates to note are:

  1. Submissions will be accepted from midnight 1 September 2016 
  2.  Submissions close at midnight 10 December 2016
  3. The shortlist will be announced at irishimbasbooks.com and on the Irish Imbas Books Facebook page before 1 January 2017. An Irish Imbas Books Twitter account has also been set up and we hope to provide updates and commentary on that throughout the competition.
  4. Prize money will be paid to the authors of the three prize-winning stories in February 2017
  5. The Irish Imbas Celtic Mythology Collection will be released in March 2017.

Update on Forthcoming Productions

Yes, its that time of year again when we give some indication of where things are at on the (cough, cough) ‘production line’.

Fionn: the Adversary (Fionn mac Cumhaill Series: Book 4):
It’s been something of a frustrating month with this book. Although I’ve been working quietly on the various scenes, given its burgeoning length I’m starting to wonder whether this is going to be split into two separate books. If you receive the newsletter you’re probably aware that plot wise, the two key protagonists are moving in different directions which creates some nice tension but also two different storylines. One is very much following an action-adventure story along similar lines to the previous books, whereas the other is travelling more of a character development/mystery path.

I still have to make up my mind on how best to approach this and it’ll very much depend on how the writing flows (and where it flows) goes over the next month before we close down for the month of August.

If you really, really want a taster of what it looks like you can download the first chapter (sorry PDF only) here at: Fionn: The Adversary but that’ll have to do until later this year.

Audiobooks:
We’ve started development on the next audiobook (The Irish Muse) which should be available on this website later in the year next, probably sometime in September. We’re seriously considering the possibility of starting Beara Dark Legends as an audio series later this year.

The Celtic Mythology Short Story Competition 2016:
This is all set for launch later this month although we’ll be accepting submissions from September until December again this year. The final details will be here on the Competition Page at the end of July 2016, dependent on the finalisation of the cover illustration. Meanwhile, here’s a sneak peak at the initial ‘concept’ drawing for that. Can you guess what it is? [Clue – Not the Children of Lir]

Concept 1

Other Stuff:

We’ve been commissioning a whole bunch of images for book covers and other projects over the last month or so. The biggest of these (a complete redesign of the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series covers) involves one designer doing a photography shoot with a model outside of Dublin. This was, in fact, meant to be completed by now but, unfortunately, we’ve had to delay it due to trouble with Vikings.

It turns out that the series ‘Vikings’ – much of which is filmed in Ireland – has about 2500 extras for the current season and they’ve pretty much snatched up every scrap of costume clothing to be found in the country. We were going to give them some grief on this but, in the end, demurred because “they were fierce scary looking feckers”.

What Ireland Looks Like as a Woman

national-representation-of-Ireland

Like many other Western countries, poets, politicians and artists in Ireland also fell into the trap of trying to personify their nation, that is, trying to characterise the concept of the country as a person, usually a beautiful young woman.

Such personifications are mostly restricted to the western world and were most popular in the late 19th and early 20th century. Usually, they tended to be used by governments in times of upheaval to ‘bolster’ the population when that nation was at risk (or portrayed to be at risk) from other influences. This is why most of the personifications are actually quite militaristic in their visual manifestations (they were often modelled on female war goddesses). If you look closely at the classic examples such as Britannia (England), Germania, (Germany) Marianne (France) and so on you’ll see they all carry weapons.

In Ireland, things were slightly different in that our first national personifications were usually a helpless young woman of great beauty (or an old woman) beset by oppressors. This is probably because they were created from a subjugated society as opposed to an oppressive (and foreign) government. Certainly, they were all intended for propaganda purposes but at least the independent earlier creations had (slightly) more depth than those military representations used by the latter.

The personification of Ireland as a nation originally started with the Aisling (Dream) poetry genre produced by Gaelic poets such as Aodhagán Ó Rathaille and Eoghan Rua Ó Súilleabháin from the mid-to late- 1600s right up to the late-1700s. In these poems, Ireland is represented as a young woman/old woman (generally referred to as ‘spéirbhean’) who lament the excruciating existence of the Irish people and prophesises the imminent coming of heroes to save thsem. They were very much political poems, of course. By the mid-1600s, most of Ireland was pretty much under the military yoke of the English Crown and the Penal Laws (forbidding many basic Gaelic cultural expressions) had been introduced. This, then, was the Gaelic poets’ attempt at rallying the people and giving them hope against the invaders.

Unfortunately, of course, the heroes never came. All elements of Irish military resistance were overcome, the English Crown secured complete control of the country and over the next four hundred years the Gaelic language and culture was substantially eroded.

As with all oppressive regimes, however, rebellion and nationalised sentiment fermented and arose once more, particularly towards the start of the early 20th century. By then, of course, Gaelic culture had been largely eradicated but in an effort to revive some of the old traditions, the Aisling poems were brought out and dusted off. The original 16th century Irish spéirbhean was updated and reframed into more contemporary versions such as Róisín Dubh (by the likes of James Mangan and Pádraig Pearse) or Cathleen Ní Houlihan (by WB Yeats and lady Gregory) in 1902. Ironically, the English Punch magazine introduced their own version (called Hibernia) around this point but it never really took off back home.

Kathleen_Ni_HoulihanCathleen Ní Houlihan

Following the Easter 1916 rebellion and the War of Independence, the Anglo-Irish treaty was signed. Keen to have its own national personification to show how unique and different this new country was, the Irish Free State government immediately mimicked other countries by inviting an artist (Lavery) to create one for the new Irish banknotes.

John Lavery was something of an anomaly and an interesting choice for creating the national personification picture. A Catholic-born painter (from Belfast), he’d been offered the post of official artist for the British Government during the First World war and later awarded a knighthood. Lavery was a rare individual in that he was equally at home in both the English/Protestant and Irish/Catholic/nationalist camps. With a foot in both, he must also have been one of the few people of his time to be made a free man of both Dublin and Belfast.

Lavery used his wife (Chicago-born, Hazel Martyn – also known as Lady Lavery because of her husband’s title) as the model and its her likeness on the personification of Ireland that’s probably the most well known today. This likeness was reproduced on Irish banknotes from between 1928 until the 1970s but when these were superseded, it continued to be used as a watermark on some notes until the euro was introduced in 2002.

In conclusion therefore, the personification of Ireland is a painting of an American woman created by a Belfast-born Catholic and based on a 20th century regurgitation of a 16th century Gaelic poetry concept.
In an odd way, that seems to quite accurately summarise where Ireland is today

Creating an Irish historical fantasy series (Part one)

In May 2014, I was champing at the bit to start a new creative writing project. Feeling somewhat tired and shagged out from publishing Beara Dark Legends (that particular epic took about two years out of my life) however, I was keen to try something different, but different in a way that let me use some of the material I’d collected during my research on Beara. The Fenian Cycle is made up of thousands of narratives collected over hundreds of years from many different Celtic countries. In a creative sense, there are several lifetimes’ worth of material to draw from and despite all the research I’d put into Beara Dark Legends, I felt that I’d barely scratched the surface.

irish-historical-fiction-irish historical-fantasy

Initially, I wasn’t sure what aspect of the Fenian Cycle I’d write about but it seemed logical to do a more action-based narrative. The prospect of a simple, linear plot line appealed and I’d been mulling over a fresh – more Irish approach – to what many people think of as ‘Irish mythology’ for years.

The startling truth is that very few contemporary Irish authors actually write Irish historical fiction or Irish historical fantasy for adults. Despite the huge amount of native mythological material available, fewer still revamp or produce contemporary versions of Fenian Cycle stories (although some use elements of it to spring of into their own particular stories).

It’s always struck me as bizarre that although Fionn has probably been the key figure in Irish literature since the sixth century, the Fenian Cycle-related literature that exists on the adult reading market today consists predominantly of:

  •  the republished ‘dry as bones’ sanitized stuff from the Celtic Twilight period (late 1800s to the early 1900s); or
  • modern interpretations of Irish mythology from non-Irish authors.

In terms of reading entertainment, there’s nothing wrong with the above although my research to date suggests that the Irish reader (generally) finds the former a bit childish and patronising and the latter overly romanticised. Although there’ll always be exceptions, neither appear to reflect the aspirations or yearnings of contemporary Irish culture and hold little resonance for Irish people. It seems a bit ironic but most are published to target the international market as opposed to the market from which the material actually originates.

It’s interesting that this trend also appears to be reflected in the mainstream Irish publishing market. Few Irish publishing houses actually publish Irish historical fantasy for adults (to be honest, I don’t actually know of any – but I’m happy to be corrected). It’s unclear whether this is an effective reflection of market taste or simply a case of literary snobbery. No-one’s ever looked close enough to tell so it could be either, neither or both.

The challenge then (as least, as far as I saw it) was to write something that was true to the established mythology but which Irish people wouldn’t snort at in derision, something that downplayed the fantasy elements of the Cycle and focussed on a grittier, more realistic and more culturally authentic narrative.

I’ll tell you how I got on next time.

The Death of Irish Mythological Heroes

irish-mythology-hero

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

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!!

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.

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!

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.

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.

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