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Mise (Me): Drawing From the Well

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Sometimes when you live abroad, the alien nature of where you’re located can come in at you from the side. Sometimes it’s incremental – particularly if you’re living in an English-speaking culture that’s not too different from Ireland – sometimes a bit less so. It’s at such times the homesickness kicks in, a kind of ache in your gut for family, friends, the sound of accents similar to your own and old, familiar sites you grew up in.

These days, living overseas is nowhere near as bad as it was for those who went before us. We can get the RTE Player online to keep up to date with the news, we can skype with loved ones, there are even more flights home than ever before and prices haven’t really changed that much in the last 20 years (even in a place as distant as New Zealand). In most places, there are usually plenty of other Irish emigrants around to share the craic with, traditional music, GAA and so on.

What is missing, though, is that inherent sense of place, of culture. This isn’t exactly something you can recreate or reproduce, even with the technology available to us today. Sometimes you just have to go home, to walk the land and ‘draw from the well’ to get the fix you need to keep on going.

In ancient times, wells and springs – anywhere that water issued forth from the earth in fact – were considered places of significance. The ancient Celts (and probably a number of other cultures) saw wells and springs as conduits for knowledge from the Otherworld to the physical world. This is where ancient motifs such as the Salmon of Knowledge originate, it’s also why, even today, people carry out ‘patterns’ around a water source, rituals and traditions that have lost their original meaning over time and have been replaced by Christian interpretation (baptism, water conversion etc.). Its also why archaeologists tend to find so many ‘offerings’ in such areas (interpreted these days as a wishing well, for example).

Even living on the other side of the planet, I can still derive pleasure from water sources but the experiences are never as fulfilling as they would be back home. A lot of that’s because such places lack the historical or cultural context we take for granted. These places are visitor sites because they’re ‘pretty’ or ‘scenic’ but they lack the associated stories that make them relevant and meaningful. Except when it comes to local Maori of course. The natives of New Zealand have their own stories but much of these are poorly transferred for tourism purposes and, subsequently, lack authenticity. Like Irish people, they have a healthy, subcutaneous paganism beneath the veneer of civilization. When I visit these places with Maori, that is when I truly feel that I have drank the water.

My Writing: Who was Liath Luachra?

Who was Liath Luachra?

I’ve had a few people ask me whether my book Fionn: Defence of Ráth Bládhma is based on real characters and, in particular, whether Liath Luachra was real or not. I figured I’d focus this week’s post on that.

There really isn’t much information available on the original source of the character, Liath Luachra.  When I first started the initial chapters of that particular novel, it wasn’t even my intention for that character have much of a role beyond the second chapter. If you’ve read the book, then you’ll know she ends up dominating the entire story. Characters work like that sometimes when you’re writing a longer piece of fiction.

But back to the facts!

All we really know about this character is what we’re told in the 12th century text Macgnímartha Finn (the Boyhood Deeds of Fionn) and even that’s pretty sparse. The relevant part of that text reads as follows:

Cumall left his wife Muirne pregnant. And she brought forth a son, to whom the name of Demne was given. Fiacal mac Con­chinn, and Bodball the druidess, and the Gray one of Luachar came to Muirne, and carried away the boy, for his mother durst not let him be with her. Muirne afterwards slept with Gleor Red-hand, king of the Lamraige, whence the saying, “Finn, son of Gleor.” Bodball, however, and the Gray one, and the boy with them, went into the forest of Sliab Bladma. There the boy was secretly reared.

Ancient Irish Tales. ed. and trans. by Tom P. Cross & Clark Harris Slover. 1936

Hardly much to go on but, to be honest, from a writer’s perspective that’s absolutely fine. The text provides the skeleton of a story and a basic outline of a character but there’s plenty of room to have fun and to flesh out the story as you see fit.

Basically the name ‘Liath Luachra’ means the ‘Grey One of Luachair’. Why she was known as ‘The Grey One’ – it’s impossible to tell. The text collates oral narratives that were in existence well before the story was ever written down. It’s possible the character was meant to be an old woman (i.e. grey-haired). Another possibility was that she had a ‘grey’ personality or simply dressed in grey. The possibility I introduce in Liath Luachra: The Grey One is very much my own

Luachair, meanwhile, is an Irish word that means ‘rushes’ (as in reed plants) but could also mean ‘a place of rushes’. There was a Luachair in West Kerry mentioned in many of the early texts (Luachair Deaghaidh – Sliabh Luachra) but, of course, it’s impossible to tell if that was where the author of Macgnímartha Finn was referring to.

Another, possibility, of course is that the author simply made her up. Writers do that.

Folklore: A Great Leap of Faith

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Down on the Beara peninsula in West Cork, if you look hard you’ll find this beautiful spot called ‘The Priest’s Leap’ (although you’ll have to try hard as it’s poorly signposted). According to local tradition, a priest on horseback was being chased across these mountain by English soldiers and, from this particular rock, his horse made a gigantic leap that carried him all the way to another rock outside the town of Bantry. Given that this second rock isn’t visible in the photo, you’ll have worked out this is quite a long way.

Some locals claim that the priest involved in this incident was a Fr Dominick Collins who was later killed by the English forces during a siege at the (relatively) local Castle Dún Baoi, stronghold of the O’Sullivan-Beara clan. Others claim it was a different priest called Fr James Archer who also has associations with Dún Baoi. The truth, in fact, is that the tale (or rather its associated tradition) predates both of these religious men and, indeed, the entire Christian religion.

Down in the Beara peninsula with its impressive mountains, valleys and formidable topographical features, it was not unusual for our early ancestors to tell stories about the landmarks that they saw every morning on rising and before they went to bed at night. This region – and, indeed, many other parts of Ireland – abounds with tales of individuals or creatures that carried out gigantic leaps across vast precipices, valleys and wide bays.

Linking such heroic-scale acts of endeavours to the land that surrounded them was a means for our ancestors to explain – but also to come to terms with – the great natural forces that surrounded them. These stories were a means of ‘taming’ the land, making it more familiar and comfortable to interact with. Back in the day, a person’s survival depended on his/her ability to interact with the natural world. Closeted as we are today with such a significantly larger human population, technology and increased knowledge, it is difficult for us to comprehend that relationship.

Initially, therefore, our ancestors’ stories concerned mythological creatures and heroes (such as the Hag of Beara and Fionn mac Cumhal). Later, as the land became more settle and ‘civilised’, those great feats were assigned to more local, more human figures (such as the two priests in the story above).

Today, however, we no longer need such close interaction with our local topography. Many of us now live in artificially constructed environment or change the area or country that we live in at least once in our lives, further diluting that connection. Despite this, the stories that go with the land still exist in our social and cultural subconscious which is why, in later years, those of us who’ve left home (and our own descendants) find ourselves longing for something we don’t quite understand. Fortunately, although we all know you can’t return to your past or reclaim your childhood, you can go back and access the stories that filled it.

And sometimes, that is enough.

 

 

Mise: The Bird Messenger

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(Image source: James Barker at freedigitalphotos.net)

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A funny thing happened to me on the way to this office this morning. That, in itself, is quite peculiar. My office – a basement separate from the rest of the house – is, literally, ten steps down from my front door.

Anyway, there I was enjoying the sun, looking out at the green hills in the distance when this wee bird suddenly flaps down and starts hovering right in front of me at eye level, staying in place through some pretty deft, and probably exhausting, wing work.
We both kinda stayed there, staring at each other for several moments, me in shock, him in – I don’t really know what; challenge, outrage, curiosity, impossible to tell. Finally, the wing work must have got too much for him for he suddenly whipped around and disappeared out of sight. I hung around for a few minutes, wondering if he was going to come back and trying to figure out why he’d acted in such an of odd manner. Was he some kind of oblique teachtaire – messenger? Had he mistaken me for some kind of territorial invader? The only realistic possibility I could come up with was that he was trying to draw me away from a nest (seen that behaviour quite frequently in the past) but it seemed unlikely there was a nest at the front of the house and I’m pretty sure it’s out of nesting season.

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this but I actually have no idea what kind of bird it was. My best guess would be some kind of chaffinch but I really don’t know. That’s something I’ve noticed over the years I’ve spent in New Zealand. As an emigrant in another country, living for the most part in the city, I‘m embarrassingly unfamiliar with the native wildlife. I’d like to think that if I was back in Cork, this would be different and, to be fair, it probably would. I’m much more familiar with the native fauna back there. I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of time in the country as a kid and I have a pretty good grasp of Irish birds and other mammals and their behaviours. These days, I’m also much more acquainted with the folklore around them, the myths and stories we took for granted as kids.

Here in New Zealand, my interaction with my physical environment is much more stilted. I’m not that familiar with the varieties of birdlife or their birdsong (although I’ve learned to recognise some of them). More importantly I’m not familiar with the associated folklore and stories about them. As a result, I’m also ignorant of their long-term interaction with humans here. This means my interaction with my physical environment is stilted, making my connection to New Zealand more tenuous and my experience of the country that much more limited.
Back in Ireland, even up to the not so distant past, people interacted more intensively with their environment. From many years of careful and extended observation, they learned lessons on how to best ensure their own survival. As a reaching tool for their descendants, they also created stories and sayings to pass on this acquired knowledge. For example: Má lábhríonn an chuach ar chrann gan duilliúr, díol do bhó and ceannaigh arbhar (If the cuckoo calls on a leafless tree sell your cow and buy corn). Meaningless words to today’s city-dwelling audience but practical advice to a farmer in the past.

Irish draoi (druids) were also said to be able to prophesise the future from the movement of birds and, to an extent, I get that. Anyone who’s sat down and put the time into observing bird populations in their local environment will be able to identify behavioural trends for climate events, feeding patterns and unusual environmental events that might change those trends. As I said earlier, this takes time – a lot of time – and as I sit here thinking of my teachtaire this morning, it seems clear to me that I have a long wait ahead of me.

Stories: Death on the Mountain

Sligo(Benbulben)

Benbulben or Binn Ghulbain in Irish (the Peak of Gulbain) is a substantial piece of rock that dominates the country north of Sligo. I was lucky enough to catch it on a clear day and had the time to sit back and stare at it. It truly is an impressive chunk of granite.

Like many dominant topographical sites in Ireland, Benbulben’s often linked to legendary or mythological characters. This was an old trick of the ancient storytellers, their way of making stories more interesting and personally relevant. By linking a tale they’d heard elsewhere to part of the local topography well known to their audience, it added impact and resonance. This is why it’s so common to find the same – or very similar – versions of the same ancient tale set in a number of different localities (sometimes with local variations added on). A nightmare for the professional folklorist attempting to establish the true origin of the narrative but fun for the local population all the same.

Benbulben is particularly associated with the Fenian Cycle tale Tóraíocht Dhiarmuida agus Gráinne (the Pursuit of Diarmuid and Grainne). The earliest surviving text with this story dates back to the 16th century but it’s pretty clear that the material contains much older elements that go back as least as far as the tenth century (and possibly before).

The Tóraíocht – as it’s more commonly known back home – is a tragic love triangle at heart. It concerns the great warrior Fionn mac Cumhaill, the princess Gráinne and the Fenian warrior Diarmuid Ua Duibhne. The story’s striking, not only because of its rich epic tragedy, but also because it’s one of the first times in Irish literature where Fionn mac Cumhaill is shown in a poor light.

The Tóraíocht relates how Fionn – now an aging man – seeks the hand of Gráinne (the daughter of king Cormac mac Airt). An unwilling participant in the deal, however, Gráinne falls in love with the handsome warrior Diarmuid during the pre-marriage feast. Slipping a sleeping potion into the wine, she places Diarmuid faoi geasa – under a magical obligation – to elope with her.
The tóraíocht – pursuit – commences in earnest then with Fionn and the Fianna chasing the couple around the country, occasionally pulling in celebrity cameos from the likes of Aengus to help them when all seems lost. After many adventures, peace is finally made with Fionn and the lovers settle in Keshcorran.

One day, years later, Fionn and the Fianna pass by and invite Diarmuid to join them on a boar hunt. Despite the warnings of his lover, he leaves with them only to be fatally wounded by the supernatural boar. Because of his own powers, Fionn has the ability to save the warrior by simply allowing him to drink water from his hands. Still smouldering from the insult of their elopement however, he refuses to do this despite the warnings of his own warriors. On two occasions, he pretends to help but allows the water to slip through his fingers. Finally, his own grandson, Oscar, threatens him and Fionn reluctantly agrees to help. By the time he returns from the well however it’s all too late and Diarmuid’s already succumbed to his wounds.

Originally, when I was writing Beara: Dark Legends – which contains a very strong Fenian component – I had intended to include Benbulben and the Tóraíocht within the storyline. In the end, though, I decided against it and now it’s just referenced briefly towards the beginning of the novel. The way I figured it, Benbulben was very much a Sligo feature. The Beara storyline is focused very much at the opposite end of the country in a place which has strong topographical features of its own.

Maybe another time.

Stories: Dancing on the cliffs

 

By Fair Means of Foul1

One of the reasons I return home as often as I do is to collect stories, snippets of songs or local folklore that provide plot ideas or concepts for books I’m writing. Recently, I was out visiting Rathlin Island off the Northern Ireland coastline (offshore from Ballycastle) and came across a particularly striking ‘local legend’ about Fair Head. The rocky headland of Fair Head is actually onshore (not on Rathlin) and can be easily seen from Ballycastle. According to “local legend” this striking piece of rock is named after a princess who actually lived on Rathlin.

When it comes to placenames you have to treat the authenticity of “local legend” with a bit of caution, particularly if the name associated with the origin story is English. This is an important clue as an English placename usually indicates it was derived from after the early 1600s (when the colonisation process in Ireland commenced in earnest). A second thing to consider with respect to placenames is topography. In this particular case, the Irish name – An Bhinn Mhór (The Big Peak or The Big Tip) – seems more apt for such a striking topographical feature, thereby suggesting you could probably treat the veracity of the ‘legend’ with a strong keg of salt.

Despite all that, the story about the princes is quite a striking story. According to the “local legend”:

She was a beautiful creature with long blond hair. There were two particularly ardent young men amongst her admirers. Naturally, they hated each other. At a feast on the island, their hatred turned to rage. They fought and eventually one was fatally wounded. As he lay dying, he made his liegeman swear to take revenge on his behalf. The winner called for music and dancing to celebrate his betrothal. The liegeman danced with the princess. He whirled her round and round, closer and closer to the edge of the cliff and flung her over the edge. The body was eventually washed ashore at Fair Head.

So, there you have it. Love, violence, drinking and dancing and a terrible revenge. All the elements for a powerful piece of fiction in less than a hundred words.

Folklore: Stone Confessions

Actually, I have a bit of a confession to make.

I am not proud …

But the truth is …

I am a closet stone freak, a Dolmen nerd.

Oh, yes! Stone circles, standing stones, cairns, barrows, hillforts. If I had my way, I’d be out there clambering all over them every weekend, grabbing photos, jotting down stories, associated mythologies and folklore. The truth is, though, that in many Irish rural areas these ancient monuments form a key part of the landscape. They’re familiar features that we’ve grown up with, played by, and in some cases identify with and the stories associated with them are passed down from generation to generation in local families.

Take this boulder for example, located in Kileenduff, over a mile west of Easky (County Sligo).

split rock

This monument is known as ‘split rock’ ( the English name suggesting this was only applied after the late 1800s) and it’s set not too far inland from the coast. According to a Sligo County Council Geological Site report, the boulder was taken from the nearby Ox mountains and deposited in its present location by large sheets of ice during the last glaciation (about 30,000 – 10,000 years ago). As part of this process, the crack or ‘natural fracture’ occurred. Local legend, however, has a different interpretation of events that has been passed down from generation to generation. According to this, the boulder was cast down by Fionn mac Cumhal as part of a boulder-casting competition with a friend called Cicsatóin (literally: Kick in the Ass). Fionn’s attempt at throwing the boulder was a very poor miscast and he was so enraged he actually ran down the mountain and slashed it in two with his sword.

These days many people stop and pass through he crack but the legend also says that if you pass through it three times (circling the rock on your right), the two internal faces will close in and crush you on the final pass. Everyone scoffs at the legend but you’d be surprised how many people actually give up on the final pass and in any case it’s a great story to tell to your kids.

Which, from an Irish perspective, is often more important than the actual facts!

 

Words into the Void

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Starting a blog and releasing a post is a bit like throwing a stone into the bush. You never really know if you’ve hit anything.

Until some angry farmer with a head wound comes striding out, threatening you with a very large stick!!

Hopefully this won’t be the case with this blog.

This blog is dedicated to informing and educating you on various aspects Irish culture that you mightn’t usually come across. My hope is that it helps you to access Irish culture in a more personal and relevant way. I post once a week (on Mondays) and usually on the following topics:

  • Folklore: Irish folklore and/or mythology
  • Stories: Stories from Irish history and mythology
  • Mise (Me): Occasional commentary on how I use Irish history and culture in my writing
  • Updates – an occasional update on what I’m writing

Fáilte romhat go dtí Irish Imbas Books.  Tá súil agam go baineann tú taitneamh as do cuairt anseo.

 

Sleepwalking in English

A sleep-deprived Irish translator struggles to make sense of bizarre events in a foreign French city. A poignant tale of sleepwalking, dreams, loss and an urgent need to go home.

[Category: fiction – literary/contemporary fantasy].

AVAILABLE SOON AS AN AUDIOBOOK

Sex With Sarah

A consultant’s uncomplicated affair with a public service colleague proves anything but.  An intense and compelling short story on the costs and benefits of a sexual affair in the corporate office.

This short story was  written after several years of observation of compelling and extreme behaviour by ambitious individuals within the New Zealand public service. The story, of course, is complete fiction but much of the behaviour is not.

It can be purchased at Amazon.

The Morning After

A short story about an ‘Irish Lothario’ and a middle-aged American woman who awake in an unfamiliar apartment in a foreign city.  They have no recollection of who they are.  Or how they got there.
An hilarious story of two hungover victims struggling to come to grips with the previous night’s excesses.
Not for those of a sensitive nature.

This particular story was actually written after a mind-numbingly bad day at work. As soon as I came home  and sat down to write, the basic tale flowed out onto the page in less than twenty minutes.  It was a wonderful antidote.

This can be purchased at Amazon here

The Ringmaster’s Daughter

“A young woman escaping a dreary existence encounters a ringmaster’s daughter who is too implausible to be true – despite all evidence to the contrary.”

A unique and intriguing tale of magic, lies and female friendship.

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At some stage in our lives we all meet individuals that infatuate us because we see them as fresh and exotic. They might speak with an accent, come from a very different culture that we admire, have striking physical or mental traits. Some people have a whole combination of these attributes so when you meet them, they really have that ability to blow you away, to return you to a time when you believed – in the future, in possibility, in magic, in anything!

Infatuation, of course, has a limited shelf-life. Familiarity breeds contempt – or at least a sense of ‘ho-hum’ – and the ‘exotic’ eventually becomes ‘routine’. When I wrote this particular story, I was trying to imagine what would happen if you met someone who had the ability to rekindle that sense of magic, where the infatuation never really stopped.

It can be purchased at Amazon.

Fionn: The Fionn mac Cumhaill Series Pronunciation

The following tables provide the proper pronunciations for a number of the more common Irish/Gaelic terms you’ll come across in the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series. As a general principle, we use Irish words where relevant and in particular where there are no culturally equivalent terms in English.

Either way, test your own interpretation of the names, place names and other words and let us know if there’s something you think should really, really be in there.

Character NamePronunciation

Aodh (Goll) mac Morna

Aodhán

Bearach

Bodhmhall

Cairbre

Cathal

Clann Baoiscne

Clann Morna

Cónán

Fiacail mac Codhna

Fionn mac Cumhaill

Liath Luachra

Muirne Muncháem

Tréanmór

Tóla
Ultán

 

PlacenamePronunciation

Almhu

Coill Mór

Dún Baoiscne

Glenn Ceoch

Ráth Bládhma

Ráth Dearg

Seiscenn Uarbhaoil

Sliabh Bládhma

 

Common TermPronunciation

Bandraoi

Draoi

Fian

Óglach

 

Beara: Dark Legends Pronunciation

Character NamePronunciation (audio file)

Ailbhe

Bróna

Demne

Diarmuid O’Súilleabháin

Liam

Muireann (MacCarthy)

Muiris O’Súilleabháin

Púca

Tadhg (MacCarthy)

 

PlacenamesPronunciation (audio file)Note:

An Páirc Beag

Lit: The Small Field

An Páirc Mór

Lit:  The Big Field

An tOilean Mór

Lit: The Big Island

Baile Chaisleán Bhérra

Lit: The Town of the Castle of Beara

Carraig Dubh

Lit: Black Rock

Cnoc Daod

Lit: Quick-tempered hill

Cuan Baoi

Lit: The harbour of Baoi

Daingean an Poncán

Lit: The Yank’s Stronghold

Gleann na thost

Lit: Valley of Silences

Páirc an Cnoic

Lit: The Field of the Hill

Rón Carraig

Lit: Rock of the Seal

Beara: Book Notes

Texts, People and Events referenced in the novel

Texts

  • Acallam na Senorach – The Colloquy of the Ancients. A late 12th century text containing many Fenian narratives. The tales are told from the perspectives of warriors Oisín and Caílte mac Rónáin who recount many of the Fenian adventures to Saint Patrick.
  • An Cathach – The “Battle Book”. A 6th century manuscript psalter. This is Ireland’s oldest illustrated document. Only 58 leaves survive from the original manuscript.
  • Annals of Tighernach – The Annals of Tighernach are believed to have been compiled at Clonmacnoise towards the end of the 11th century. They are named after Tigernach Ua Braín, the abbot of the monastery there.
  • Codex Usserianus – An early 7th century Old Latin Gospel Book. The manuscript’s traditional name – the First Book of Uss(h)er – refers to James Ussher the Archbishop of Armagh.
  • Dúnaire Finn – A compilation of late medieval Fenian Cycle poems compiled by Aodh Ó Dochartaigh in 1627 for the use of Captain Somhairle Mac Domhnaill, an Irish mercenary fighting with the Spanish army during the Thirty Years War. The Irish Texts Society published the text in three volumes between 1908 and 1953 (vol. i, ed. Eóin MacNialll (Dublin, 1908), vol. ii, ed. Gerard Murphy (Dublin, 1933), and vol. iii, ed. Gerard Murphy (Dublin, 1953)
  • Fadden Psalter – An early medieval manuscript found in July 2006 in a peat bog at Faddan More, County Tipperary. It is considered one of the most significant Irish archaeological discoveries in Ireland for decades
  • Feis Tighe Chonáin – The Feast at Conán’s House. A late medieval text in which Fionn is given hospitality for the night in the sidhe (fairy fort) of Conán. During the text, Fionn recounts many of his adventures.
  • Leabhar Laighneach – The Book of Leinster. A medieval manuscript compiled around 1160.
  • Macgníamhartha Find – The Boyhood Deeds of Fionn. A text biography of Fionn’s youth based on Leinster folklore.
  • Springmount Bog tablets – Wax tablets discovered in a bog in County Antrim and believed to be the oldest example of writing in Latin from Ireland (around 600 A.D.)
  • Tóraiocht Dhiarmada agus Gráinne – The Pursuit of Diarmaid and Gráinne. A Fenian narrative from the 10th century. It concerns the elopement of Fionn mac Cumhal’s bride with the Fenian hero Diarmuid ua Duibhne

Places

  • Brú na Bóinne – An ancient temple constructed more than 5000 years ago in the Boyne Valley
  • Cashel – The Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary, an ancient fortress later replaced by a monastery.
  • Tech nDuinn – The House of Donn (a pre-historical deity associated with the realm of the dead)
  • Tír na nÓg – Land of the Young (literally): Also a synonym for the Otherworld

People

  • Caibre Lifeachair – Mythological High King of Ireland and son of Cormac mac Art. According to the Fenian Cycle, he initiated events leading to the battle of Gabhra because of his jealousy of the Fianna and was killed during that battle by Fionn’s nephew Oscar who later died of his own wounds
  • Éogánachta – A federation of tribes of common lineage spread throughout Munster from the 3rd century. Internal septs included the O’Briens, the MacCarthys, the O’Donohues, the O’Keefes, and the O’Sullivans, among others.
  • Lugaid of the Red Stripes – Lughaidh Riabhdhearg. A fictional king who was said to have reigned during the prehistoric period.
  • Murchiú – Muirchu moccu Machtheni. A 7th century monk from Leinster
  • Muircheartach Ua Briain – great-grandson of Brian Boru. He was King of Munster but later declared himself High King of Ireland.
  • Seathrún Cétinn – Geoffrey Keating (in English). A 17th century Irish historian poet and priest most renowned for his work Foras Feasa ar Éirinn.

Leannán Sidhe: The Irish Muse

This book was the first I published and, in a way, it was a kind of test to see if I could actually write something other people might want to read. From my own experience at least, I’m convinced short stories are a critical step to developing your skill as an author and working up the tenacity to completing a longer, novel-length work.

Although I initially published it through a very small publishing house here in Wellington, I was blown away by the response. Despite the fact that few of the larger bookshops (or the smaller ones) wanted anything to do with an untried author who hadn’t come through the traditional/mainstream route, I ended up selling about 300 hardcopies in the first month – which for a collection of short stories in a country with a small population like New Zealand was pretty amazing. Since then, I’ve revised the original for the digital version but the book continues to sell steadily despite the fact that I’ve done absolutely nothing to market it. To be honest, I’m not really sure why it’s been so popular – people just seem to like the individual stories. In any case, the back cover blurb follows below, accompanied by some of the national reviews it received at the time.

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This intriguing collection of stories by new Irish writer Brian O’Sullivan puts an original twist on foreign and familiar territory. Merging the passion and wit of Irish storytelling with the down-to-earth flavour of contemporary New Zealand, these stories will thrust you deep into the fascinating lives of:

  • a ringmaster’s daughter who is too implausible to be true — despite all the evidence to the contrary
  • an ageing nightclub gigolo in one last desperate bid to best a younger rival
  • a Wellington consultant whose uncomplicated affair with a public service colleague proves anything but
  • an Irish career woman in London stalked by a mysterious figure from her past
  • a sleep-deprived translator struggling to make sense of bizarre events in a French city.

‘Leannán Sidhe (pronounced Lan-awn Shee) is a fairy or otherworld creature in Irish folklore; a muse that accepts a lover’s affection in return for the ability to create a work of art of immense feeling.

(1) Arts on Sunday

The author was interviewed on National Radio’s Arts on Sunday program in March; a copy of the interview can be downloaded here (link removed).

((2) Wairarapa Times Age (March 2008)

In this writers’ first collection of short stories there’s a strong painterly way with words that takes you to the places and situations even if you’re occasionally left wondering with a feeling of “what am I doing here?”
Snatched moments of lust and surges of romantic pain and bereavements abound as do chilly nights, lonely wanderings, jaded machinations, tawdry affairs, Kafkaesque frustrations and grim humour, “tanks be to God”.
Settings are important (but some hard to locate) and range from Galway to Lille, Donegal, Paris, Sussex, Wellington and London – chilly winds, mist and post-coital cigarettes all over the show, to be sure.
I appreciated many of his descriptions, mist through a train window and the way foggy days and nights can transport you into another kind of reality. The last story, Morris Dancing, is a neat twist on our supposedly benign colonisation process (no Union Jacks on London bridge, pai kare!) and is a fine ending to the author’s fine beginning.

(3) The Wellingtonian (April 2007)

There’s nothing quite like a good short story. Something that pulls you in, churns your mind around and spits you out the other end … thinking about what you’ve just read.

Wellington author Brian O’Sullivan offers 13 yarns in his first book The Irish Muse and Other Stories. Overall he achieves that feeling. Most of his stories left me wondering about the characters, their lives and experiences. A couple were ordinary.

It’s fiction tinged with a bit of real life experience, set in Wellington, Ireland and France amongst other places. The stories range from chance romantic encounters in a small Irish town and haunting tales of tragic personal loss to bizarre encounters between a consultant and a career woman in Wellington and one man’s attempt to get to the bottom of his internet service woes. The finale was a thought-provoking tale that upended my perception of indigenous people’s land grievances, oddly entitled ‘Morris Dancing’. My favourite is Sleepwalking in English, a story about a
man’s attempts to come to grips with the death of his partner in a car crash – the ending was eerie.

It’s a simply written, easy to read book that you can devour in a night if the mood takes you. It’s said that you can’t judge a book by its cover. Au contraire, I liked the look of O’Sullivan’s book and the content proved to be good.

(3) Otago Daily Times (June 2007)

This is a delightful book of short stories by new author Brian O’Sullivan. The stories, which are set both in Ireland and New Zealand, are a mixture of tender whimsy and sharp irony, in a
collection that will delight. My favourites included the last one Morris Dancing which is a translation of the papers of the Maori rulers of New Aotearoa with the Parliament sitting in Westminster, London. In that same satirical vein I enjoyed The Morning After in which a couple wake up after a terribly debauched night unable to remember how they got to Paris or who they are. It has a fabulous punch line.

Less Ironic is the title story Leannán Sidhe, which is a sprawling tale about a composer with writer’s block and a flautist in a small Irish village. It has all the clichés of Ireland, but a modern tone that interweaves the magical and realistic in a wonderful, whimsical mix.

These stories were written by an Irish Kiwi and was sometimes difficult to see where stories were set until a place name was mentioned, as both countries seem to share wind, rain and rolling
green hills. This is but a tiny complaint, however, as I enjoyed the book greatly.

FIONN: The Defence of Ráth Bládhma

The Fionn mac Cumhaill Series – Book One

[Irish Bestseller and SPFBO 2016 Finalist]

The most authentic and entertaining Irish mythology/fantasy series on the market, this book includes the following extra content:

  • a glossary with explanations of ancient Irish cultural concepts
  • historical notes on the Fenian Cycle
  • a pronunciation guide and links to an online audio pronunciation guide

Ireland: 154 A.D. A time of strife and treachery.

Political ambition and inter-tribal conflict has set the country on edge, testing established alliances.

In the secluded valley of Glenn Ceoch, disgraced druid Bodhmhall and her lover Liath Luachra have avoided the bloodshed for many years. Now, the arrival of a pregnant refugee threatens the peace they have created.

Following Clann Baoiscne’s defeat at the battle of Gabhra, Clann Morna are on her trail, a mysterious war party roams the lands and a treacherous magician haunts Glenn Ceoch, intent on murder. The odds are overwhelming and death stalks from ever side

Based on the ancient Fenian Cycle texts, the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series tells the pulse-pounding tale of the birth and adventures of Ireland’s greatest hero, Fionn mac Cumhaill.