Search Results for: V

A Viking Called Reginald

A friend of mine passed two books on to me last week as he knew he’d get a rise. Both books were in the Celtic fantasy genre, a genre which often involves fantasy stories loaded with ‘Oirish’ cultural elements for branding purposes. Sometimes that’s not too much of an issue but, on this occasion, both books (one written by an Australian and one by an American) dropped a clanger within the first few pages through the names of their protagonists; ‘Liam’ and ‘Seán’.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with either name of course. Most people on the internet have a cousin or friend called ‘Seán’ or ‘Liam’. The issue in this case however was that both characters, Seán and Liam, happened to be having fantasy adventures in a prehistoric time period set several hundred years before either name was even derived (both names are actually far more modern, derived at the very earliest from the 12th or 13th century onwards but not gaining popularity until far later).

Again, you wouldn’t think there’s anything wrong with that. This is fantasy after all …

Except that from an Irish perspective it’s a bit jarring, like watching an episode of the television series “Vikings” where the heroes are called Ragnar, Loki, Steve and Reginald.

Irish names are a lot of fun when you get into how they’re derived. Up until the 20th century, the long-term impacts of colonisation meant that many people had already given into various social pressures and aped their colonial masters by assuming English names or English derivatives. From the start of the 20th century however, the period leading up to (and following on from) the war of independence, there was a major revitalisation of old Gaelic names. It actually became quiet trendy about ten to fifteen years ago, to find really obscure Gaelic names for your children.

There were winners and losers there too of course.  Fechín, a very old name associated with a saint in Mayo, was never going to be particularly popular as most non-Irish speakers would pronounce it ‘feckin’ (it’s actually pronounced ‘feck-een’). I also heard a funny story (and I don’t know if it’s true) that there was a competition to come up with a name for the baby of an Irish-speaking woman who had the family name ‘Gunn’. Apparently, one wag came up with the winning submission, which was the old Gaelic name ‘Sonobha’ (possibly a derivative of the Norwegian name Synnove). That makes a lot more sense when you remember that ‘bh’ in Irish often has a ‘v’ sound.

Sonobha Gunn.

The ‘Official’ Story of the Long Woman’s Grave

When I get back home, I usually do at least three or four folklore or mythological site visits to test out various bits of research I’m working on. The Long Woman’s Grave near Carlingfor Lough is a bit of a feint but it’s hilarious marketing would put many other, far more authentic sites to shame.

This is the ‘official’ story of the Long Woman’s Grave (which is situated up in the mountains overlooking Carlingford Lough).

Lorcan O Hanlon was the youngest son of the “Cean” or Chieftain of Omeath. His father, upon his deathbed, ordered that his lands be divided between his two sons, Conn óg and Lorcan.

However, Conn óg tricked his brother Lorcan by bringing him up to the Lug or Hollow in the mountains at Aenagh, telling him that he would give him the land “as far as he could see”. The mist and the bleakness of the hollow was Lorcan’s only legacy (as the walls of the hollow blocked any sight of the surrounding land).

However, Lorcan owned a ship and began trading in the East, making his fortune and becoming prosperous. On one of his voyages to Cadiz, he bravely saved the lives of a Spanish nobleman and his daughter. Lorcan was enchanted by Cauthleen, a Spanish descendant of the great O’Donnells of Ulster and he fell in love with her. The pair made a handsome couple as she was 7ft tall, only three inches smaller than Lorcan.

Cauthleen was already engaged to be married but was wooed by Lorcan’s professions of love and the promises of the the good life they would have back in Omeath. The pair eloped. When the couple arrived in Carlingford Lough the locals were enchanted by this tall beauty adorned with jewels.

The couple set along the mountain path until they came to the Lug or Hollow in the rocks. Lorcan bade his bride to stand in the centre and look around as far as she could see as he “Was Lord of all she could survey”. Cauthleen looked around, so great was her disappointment at the realisation of what she’d left behind in Spain, she fell to the ground and died.

Lorcan was horrified that his duplicity had caused his wife to die and flung himself into the murky waters of the marsh at the crossroads. His body was never recovered. The locals found the long woman’s body and dug a grave for Cauthleen in the “Lug Bhan Fada” (Long Woman’s Hollow) where she lay. Each person laid a stone on the grave to raise her burial cairn and here she sleeps today in the hollow of her disappointment and unfilled promises.

 

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Needless to say, the story is complete tosh used for the more gullible tourists (but, holy hell, there’s quite a few who actually believe it!). Last time I was there (last year) there were two minibus loads of tourists hanging around, taking pictures. For the cheap investment of a story and a few hastily arranged rocks, the site has proven a remarkably effective (and hilarious) income stream for the locals.

 

The marketing campaign for ‘The Long Woman’s Grave’ hit another notch in 2016 when … Well, just read it yourself. This is from the ‘Irish Independent newspaper:

October 29 2016 12:00 AM Irish Independent

As proposals go it was daring, divisive, and imaginative. Self-proclaimed Leprechaun Whisperer Kevin Woods, whose leprechaun cavern is listed on TripAdvisor as the second most popular thing to do in Carlingford, announced that he was going to exhume the remains of the Spanish princess who is buried at the Long Women’s Grave and re-inter her a grave over looking Carlingford Lough.

He told the willing national media that the Spanish Nobel woman had dropped dead on the spot after being deceived by Lorcan O’Hanlon from Omeath who had wooed her with his boast that he owned all the land the eye could see. When she saw his kingdom at a hallow near the Windy Gap she was so shocked that she dropped dead and later buried on the spot by locals.

‘It was a horrible thing to do and it needs to be put right. No one deserves an end like that” said Kevin. “I intend to write to the Spanish Minster of Foreign Minister Affairs José Manuel García-Margallo of the People’s Party (PP).to secure support and to Charlie Flanagan own Foreign Minister.’

Local Cooley Tourism Officer Frances Taylor an employee of The Omeath Development Company, entered the fray commenting: ‘I believe Kevin’s heart is in the right place but the people of Omeath will fight tooth and nail to keep her where she is.’

The Omeath Development Association responded, organising a protest march at the Long Women’s Grave on Friday night, which according to Frances was attended by ‘around 180-200 protesters including five of the land owners and locals that work in the Midlands and Dublin travelled to be present.’

The story of the Long Woman was recounted and it was suggested that an annual wake be held at the grave in her honour. The possibility of increasing security at the site was also discussed. Comments on the Association’s Facebook page, however, show that people were unsure whether Kevin’s proposal was a serious threat to remove part of their heritage or a publicity stunt.

Suspicions that it was the latter were fuelled by his announcement: ‘In view of the magnificent turnout by the people of Omeath to protect the Long Woman I have decided to end my efforts to have her moved and will concentrate instead on moving the magic hill at Jenkinstown to Carlingford.’

The truth may never be known but it certainly got people talking.

If you’re ever thinking of starting a business in some out of the way location, ‘The Long Woman’s Grave’ is certainly a good working model!

Vikings in Ireland

An interesting study in the Journal of Archaeological Science suggests that Viking intervention through colonisation etc. had an important impact on Ireland’s population.

Over the last twenty to thirty years or so, the actual impact of Viking influence really only started to become recognised and nowadays it’s pretty much accepted that the vast majority of Irish people carry at least a trace of Scandinavian DNA (which must create some interference for those companies selling DNA tests to people who want to prove that they’re ‘physically’ Irish).

Again, its really only in the last few decades that we’ve also started to understand the cultural links as well. A lot of Irish mythological stories have parallels in Scandinavian mythology and often its hard to know which is the chicken and which is the egg (i.e. whether the story started in Ireland and was adapted in Scandinavia or vis versa). Either way, there’s still plenty under the cultural bedcovers that remains to be discovered.

You can find the link here: https://theconversation.com/viking-migration-left-a-lasting-legacy-on-irelands-population-122148?fbclid=IwAR0ajrg7Y1IVRBvdgyUFgjtXu2d2pRfR7SUMsyqZ3XAUQ6NkbnoerqOKOKw

DO’G (and the Village Little People)

Darby O’Gill (and the Village Little People)

Walt Disney aimed the film at Americans with ‘shamrocks in their eyes’. He missed

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I learned today that it’s the 60th anniversary of that famous “Irish” film Darby O’Gill and the Little People (which came as something of a surprise). Burdened by stereotypes, loaded with clichés and struggling beneath the weight of a hundred-thousand mawkish factual errors, DoG was a fantasy movie that doesn’t even try to get the basics right but at least it introduced some brilliant new Irish actors (Sean Connery and Janet Munro!).

For me, riding into town on my High Shetland Pony (couldn’t afford the horse), this Disney production epitomises everything that’s wrong with how Irish people and Irish culture/mythology have been represented by overseas entertainment productions to date.

I’m always ready to be corrected but I suspect it’s probably the one movie most hated by Irish people all over the world.

Either way, there an excellent article in this week’s Irish Times on the making of the movie, which is fascinating in itself. You can find it here: OIRISH FILM

An Interesting New Irish Movie

Working with Irish stories and such, I follow a number of Irish writers. One of those I usually enjoy is Limerick author Kevin Barry so the recent news of a film based on his Dark Lies the Island is interesting, if unexpected news.

For those not in the know, Barry’s ‘Dark Lies the Island’ is actually a collection of short stories so, collating that into a workable narrative for a visual feature is no mean feat. I haven’t seen the film myself yet but all the reviews suggest it’s probably one that most hibernophiles should at least be aware of.

To rally the different characters and their individual journeys from the short stories into a meaningful central plot, the film is cleverly based around the activities of the inhabitants of the small town of Dromord. Dominated by the vicious Mannion clan (led by patriarch, Daddy Mannion – Pat Shortt) Dromord’s existence swerves into new territory when a mysterious and scarred newcomer (Tommy Tiernan) arrives in town and … buys the local chip shop.

Given the unwieldy provenance, this film could have been a disaster but, fortunately, Kevin Barry’s screenplay is supported by a very able director (Ian Fitzgibbon – who did Perrier’s Bounty) and cinematographer Cathal Watters (Papi Chulo). As a result, most reviews to date indicate that although unwieldy at times, the final product works. The trailer is quite gorgeous and, overall, the story is intriguing.

If you’re interested in Irish movies, you can find the trailer here: Trailer

Surviving Another Sunset

I got shot in the arm once when I was living in Lille (Northern France), walking from the metro to my place of work. Fortunately, it was with an air-rifle so I wasn’t badly hurt although my arm hurt like a bastard for the rest of the day. It took me a moment or two to work out what had actually happened and I was out in the open for several seconds before I understood and legged it for cover. From there, I tried to work out where the shot might have had come from but, surrounded by apartment blocks it was impossible to pinpoint. There were simply too many open windows, hundreds and hundreds of them.

For a while, I considered calling the cops (les Flics) but in the end I decided against it. I’d never really got on with French cops and had always found them somewhat arrogant and pugnacious, often hassling Algerian friends at the local Wazemmes market. That’s a gross misrepresentation of course, but it’s how I felt at the time.

From that point on I took a different route from the metro so, fortunately, the incident didn’t become a big thing and after a few weeks I forgot about it. It was probably some stupid, unsupervised kid after all, and there was nothing I could realistically do to find him. That said, I do remember the fury and helplessness I felt for about two or three weeks afterward.
Those sensations came back earlier this month when some white supremacist nutter chundered through Christchurch on a self-defined death mission. Armed to the teeth, dressed in combat gear, he bravely slaughtered fifty unarmed and mostly elderly men, a few women and kids. A true hero for such a warped cause!

As an Irish person living in New Zealand, I often feel outside some of the cultural events here but I was very moved by the country’s incredibly compassionate and dignified response. To be fair, I think a lot of that is due to the leadership of the current Prime Minister – she’s a politician but since she first appeared on the scene there’s never really been any doubt concerning her genuine empathy. I think this country was very lucky to have her here at this time. To be honest, I can’t imagine any of the leaders of the opposition parties demonstrating the sheer scale of leadership she did. Her decision to put a silence on any mention of the terrorist and focus on the victims was very much in line with the Norwegian approach when another white-supremacist nutter killed over 70 people in 2011 – mostly children, unarmed of course (you can see the recurring pattern). Shunning individuals who’ve caused immense distress or extreme crimes against society has always been an effective and appropriate response in ancient cultures. That mechanism is just as relevant today, probably even more so in the age of unregulated and unaccountable social media. Such individuals deserve no further mention in our world. We don’t need them. We don’t want them. Their actions meant that they no longer have the right of relevance in our communities.

Two weeks after the massacre, I get the sense that people are finally coming to grips with the violence, processing it. Legislation outlawing automatic weapons was passed rapidly and has the support of the vast majority of the population. A large number of New Zealand women have been wearing hijab – the headscarves worn by some Muslim women – to demonstrate their solidarity and support for the Muslim community. It’s hard to believe that this piece of headgear, which a number of politicians have been using as a means to create division within society and rally up support around a false issue for political purposes, has ended up being used a mechanism to bring us all together. That was an incredibly empathetic and emotional response which, frankly, took everyone by surprise.

Photo from https://stuff.co.nz

Last week, there was some anger here when the American NRA got involved and tried to lobby against the change in gun control. The sheer gall of their greed to interfere in another country’s affairs was pretty spectacular. In general, I find New Zealanders exceptionally polite and friendly but as a result of that I certainly noticed a cold contempt here for the NRA and political leaders who by not denouncing such attacks are essentially, in stealth, supporting the people who carry them out.

Two years back, I was in Barcelona and got caught up in the terrorist attack there as well. On that occasion, some 22 year-old jihadist ran a van down La Rambla and killed over thirteen people just around the corner from where I was standing. That involved a bunch of disaffected kids who’d been brainwashed by some fanatical Iman (who, in a nice twist of justice, blew himself up by accident the day before). Despite the difference in political ideology, of course, there’s really no difference between him and the 28 year-old loser who carried out the murders in Christchurch. Both had twisted social /political agendas that the vast majority of people don’t agree with. Both were individuals who blamed others for their own problems. Both were weak men who decided to attack innocent, vulnerable people instead of confronting the true cause of the issues they were unhappy with.

I haven’t thought much about the kid in the Wazemmes tower block for almost twenty years. Over the next few years, I’m sure I’ll think of the victims in Christchurch but I have no interest in hearing of that white supremacist again.

Irish Mythology Conversations for Six Year Olds

There’s quite an amusing story in the Guardian Newspaper site about an ‘ancient’ Scottish stone circle that actually turned out to be built in the 1990s (you can find it here: Stone Circle Story). It’s also a good example of how disconnected people from the “Celtic” countries can be from their own cultural heritage (and I use the term ‘Celtic’ with caution).

Most people in modern-day Ireland, Wales and Scotland tend to have a cultural understanding that’s still tainted by centuries of ‘colonial overlay’. Much of that understanding is garnered from what we were taught at school and what we see in the commercial entertainment sphere (films books, games etc.).

Unfortunately, we now know that much of what we learned in school wasn’t correct. In addition, given that most of the commercial entertainment sector output rarely has any kind of cultural integrity, that leaves us at a serious disadvantage in terms of authentic learning about our own culture.

Two years ago when I was back home, I was asked for an interview around the “scandal” of Danny Healy-Rae, an independent TD (Irish member of parliament) for County Kerry who suggested that “there was something in these places you shouldn’t touch” when speaking about a road that passed through an area rich in fairy-related folklore and which was constantly requiring repair.

The Irish press at the time were useless, most of their reports going for the cheap jab story along the lines of “Politician believes in Fairies” rather than looking at the fundamental belief systems underpinning the issue. What was particularly striking was the fact that the Irish newspapers and television news programmes were still referring to ‘fairy forts’ instead of ‘ráth’, as though the entire findings and learning of the past century had completely passed them by.

Most Irish newspapers are still comically inept when it comes to reporting on Irish mythology and cultural belief systems. Others, like the American Irish press, have veered so far into the commercial “Celtic Fantasy” interpretations that they have very little residual connection to Irish culture at all.

One thing is clear, however. As a society, we need a fundamental and commonly understood terminology to genuinely discuss those elements of our own cultural heritage. We also need a certain amount of cultural maturity to achieve that. Until then, any conversation we have around Irish culture/mythology is pretty much like trying to explain nuclear physics to a six-year old.

Finn (cough) MacCool versus Ming The Merciless

Because we specialize in culturally accurate Irish ‘mythology’, we come across a lot of examples where our culture is misrepresented (or manipulated to be something it’s not) but one of my absolute favourites of this whole “Oirish” genre is the following trailer for a film called “Finn MacCool” (they couldn’t even get the name right!). This regularly turns up on You Tube and other sites.

As far as I can tell, the trailer is actually a promotional piece because (fortunately) the film was never released and, possibly, never completed. This happens sometimes when a movie’s being proposed and talked-up but the funding is never actually raised. It’s also unclear as to whether this was an Irish movie or one made by an overseas company – so if you know please give me a yell. Either way, though, you have to give the producers credit for using Irish actors (or at least someone who can successfully put on an Irish accent – not looking at you, Tom Cruise!) although the Ming the Merciless character who plays … actually, I’m not entirely sure who he’s meant to be, does seem a bit miscast. Having such a strong Dublin accent several centuries before Dublin ever came into being, well….

It’s also easy -if unfair – to mock the movie as it looks to be very much a product of its time (seventies or eighties, at a guess). There’s plenty of commentary (in the comments) on the long hair, the terrible special effects, the fact that Fionn – sorry, Finn – is fighting Vikings (who didn’t turn up in Ireland until the 8th century) etc. etc. My personal favourite is the way that people killed in the battle scenes do this amazing kind of pirouette when they die, spinning off to the ground with an enthusiasm they clearly didn’t have when they were fighting. Honestly, it looks as though the battle scenes were choreographed by Ballet Ireland – it’s that good!

But I’m only joking. I’m actually very fond of this piece of film as it represents how people saw the whole Fenian Cycle back in the seventies, how insecure we were in terms of our own culture and how easily we were influenced in our attempts to monkey others.

There was a rumour going around two years ago about a movie on Cú Chulainn being developed by Michael Fassbender however that now seems to be languishing in “development hell”. Maybe in a few decades, we’ll have something to compare with this trailer!

QUEEN MAEVE’S VULVA AND OTHER MATTERS

QUEEN MAEVE’S VULVA AND OTHER MATTERS

This article in the Irish Times gives a very nice rundown on the astounding work carried out by the Placenames Branch of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. In a sense, this particular group carries out a similar kind of preservation/conservation work to the very effective Irish Folklore Commission (who started work back in the 1930s and finished in 1971).

Ireland’s extremely lucky to have such a treasury of placenames because each placename carries elements of language, history, geography, beliefs and so on. Some names are based on people or events who have disappeared from societal history but there are enough in the reminder to establish overall patterns that give insights into our ancestors’ lives and how we ended up where we are in the world today. This is particularly important when it comes to a placename for a townland or field, which often has a more immediate relevance for families living in a particular area.

Although it’s a great article overall, there’s an amusing irony in the fact that the author refers to ‘ráth’ and ‘lios’ as fairy forts. At this stage, most people know they had very little to do with either fairies OR with forts.

The link is just below:

Placenames

An Irish Adventure Story with Cultural Depth

I’m always a bit wary when new films, books or games that use Ireland or Irish culture as a core part of their story are released.  Many of these tend to target the “Oirish” market (the overly romantic Irish-identity market that flows from the Irish diaspora) or the “Celtic fantasy” market, which joyfully whips key elements of Irish/Gaelic culture and uses them out for context for entertainment purposes. Overall, it’s rare enough for Irish creatives to have genuine control of a large budget production, not to mind one that actually reflects their culture with any degree of accuracy or authenticity.

I was pretty stoked then, when I finally got around to watching Lance Daly’s “Black 47”, a film that had been on my peripheral vision for over eight months prior to its release. At the time, it had struck me as a bit odd to choose two Australian actors for the main roles and the thought of a commercial release around something as culturally sensitive as An Gorta Mór (The Great Famine) seemed incredibly insensitive, particularly given the British Channel Four’s misjudged attempt (in 2015) to do a comedy series based on that traumatic period. Fortunately, all baggage aside, “Black 47″confidently and competently stands on its own.

A grim, broody “Irish Western” and revenge thriller, “Black 47” follows the adventures of Feeney, an Irish soldier who deserts the British army in Afghanistan and returns home, only to discover the true scale and effect of colonisation. Learning of his mother and brother’s death and observing first-hand the evidence of his family being allowed to die in squalor and misery, Feeney ends up opposing the people and the administration that has allowed this to happen.  Repurposing the military skills gained in Afghanistan, Feeney follows a trajectory of violent opposition to the landlords, land agents and their constabulary, becoming an almost “Rambó Gaelach“,  an implacable force of justice against the rampant greed and cultural prejudice of that period. Soon, a ‘posse’ consisting of reluctant English hunter, Hannah (Hugo Weaving), and Pope (Freddie Fox), a fanatical British officer and Empire enthusiast, are set on his trail.

Fortunately, the movie is not just a simplistic revenge thriller. The Australian actor James Frenchville is impressive as the brooding Feeny, his immense physical presence and ready use of Irish language adding real depth to his character, but the real strength of the narrative is the cleverly-woven social commentary provided through the supporting characters. Conneely (Stephen Rea), a wry translator hired by the pursuing party, serves as an excellent foil to the over-privileged and obnoxious Lord Kilmichael (Jim Broadbent) who frequently releases statements such as:

‘Soon, a Celtic Irishman will be as rare in Connemara as is the Red Indian on the shores of Manhattan.’

When Kilmichael boldly states:

“I love this country. The scenery. You peasants are all the same, no appreciation of beauty. “

Conneely slyly replies:

“Beauty would be held in much higher regard, sir, if it could be eaten.”

It’s the wry and insightful gems like these, hidden throughout the script that give this movie it’s real resonance. That, the smattering of Gaeilge, the historical accuracy and the melancholic but beautiful scenery of Connemarra.

Overall, Black 47 can be enjoyed as a simple action movie but there really is much more going on than that. The film also serves as a subtle reminder of the ongoing cultural-PTSD that pervades Irish society as a result of 300 years of colonization and why most Irish people speak English today.

You can find the official trailer here: Black 47

 

 

 

The Fate of Irish women taken as Vikings Slaves

In local Beara folklore, most people are pretty much aware of how Oileán Baoi (Dursey Island) was used by the Vikings as a staging depot to export Irish slaves (mostly female) to overseas markets. A recent study from Iceland however gives some idea of where some of those women might have ended up.

Building on previous research around the Iceland genome (a geneticist’s wet dream because of the isolated population), a team led by the University of Iceland and biopharmaceutical company deCODE Genetics carried out a whole genome analysis on the ancient remains of twenty-seven Icelanders buried across the island. These were estimated at about 1000 years old – clearly some of the earliest human settler population.

That study showed that the settlers had a roughly even split of Norse (from modern-day Norway/ Sweden) and Gaelic (modern-day Irish or Scottish) ancestry, an interesting insight into the fate of thousands of slaves – mostly women – who were taken by Norse Vikings from Ireland and Scotland before they put down roots on the North Atlantic island.

Medieval histories suggest Iceland was first settled between 870 A.D. and 930 A.D. by seafaring Vikings and the people they enslaved, who possessed a mélange of genes from what is now Norway and the British Isles (Ireland was first ‘visited’ by Vikings in about 750 AD).

To be fair, however, slavery already existed in Ireland prior to the arrival of the Vikings. Centuries earlier, it was pretty common for Gaelic raiders to cross the Irish seas and raid current day Great Britain (which, in fact, is where we nabbed our patron saint!)

Song of Granite – A Review

As an Irish publisher, I’m always interested in Irish stories no matter what the medium used, hence I’d heard of the film Song of Granite long before I finally got a chance to see it earlier this month. A movie by Irish art-house director Pat Collins, Song of Granite tells – or rather illustrates – the life story of Seosamh Ó hÉanaí (known in English as Joe Heaney), the famous Irish sean-nós (unaccompanied, old style) singer from County Galway.

No one could deny Heaney was an accomplished singer and the folklorists adored him as his repertoire reputedly included over five hundred different songs in Irish, many whose origins had been lost and which were impossible to date definitively.

Collins approaches the story in an interesting way, splitting the film into three parts: Heany’s childhood in Carna, his life as an emigrant labourer in Glasgow and his later his years in America where he eventualy died in 1984. On a cinematographic level, the first part of the movie is certainly the most spectacular with many scenes – including the opening scene of the boats – reminiscent of the famous ‘Man of Aran’.

Although Collins approaches Heaney’s story in an indirect manner, it seems to suit the subject of the movie. Heany, by all accounts, was something of an elusive and prickly figure. Never entirely comfortable with his life in the city and his growing reputation as a singer, he often disappeared without warning, deserting his family for periods of over a year, sometimes returning back to the country where he worked on simple labouring jobs. It’s never stated directly that he’s fleeing the city but there’s one telling shot where he’d looking down at his kids in Glasgow, where they’re trying to play football in the concrete confines of a narrow alley-way. After the panoramic freedom and grandeur of Carna, the comparison is obvious.

The singing, of course, forms an essential part of the story and is present throughout the film. My favourite scene is one very-well recreated pub-scene where Heaney (played by Micheál Ó Confhaola) sings while getting that supportive touch of another sean-nós singer, something that’s totally distinctive to that particular art-form.

One aspect of Heany that came across (and which I wasn’t aware of) was his refusal to sing songs derived from the Irish music-hall stage (the ‘Oirish’ songs overseas audiences were used to hearing, and which many people demanded). Most people feel comfortable when another culture is presented to them in a familiar (i.e. in their language, in concepts they’re accustomed to dealing with etc.) and I really appreciated the way that Heany appeared to see himself as much more than that.

Either way, if you’re interested in sean-nós singing, Joe Heany’s life or a beautiful and poetic rendition of an earlier time and art-from, than this is very much the film for you.

An Historical Irish Revenge Thriller

For those with an interest in film, an interesting ‘Irish film’ premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in February this year and although I’ve been keeping an eye out for it on the international scene, it seems to have pretty much disappeared beneath the radar. Entitled ‘Black 47,’ it refers of course to 1847, the nadir of The Great Famine – An Gorta Mór.

Irish films based on An Gorta Mór are pretty few and far between (I can’t actually think of any), probably because as a tragedy and cultural injustice so epic in scale, the topic is still a somewhat sensitive subject, at least for our older population.

Fortunately, director’s like Lance Daly are young enough to avoid the worst of that burden so it’ll be interesting to see how he manages to balance that interaction between respect and voyeurism.

Daly was smart enough to approach the topic through the medium of a historical thriller/revenge movie – the plot basically concerns an Irish soldier who deserts and returns to the west of Ireland to seek revenge during the famine. Interestingly, Daly chose two Australian actors in the two major roles (Hugo Weaving and James Frenchville). The latter – in the attached scene – speaks pretty good Irish but I must admit I’m curious as to what it’ll turn out like.

Has anyone seen it?

A Bad Cover for a Great New Fantasy Novel by Award Winning Irish Author

Proud of Modernity is a new novel by Irish author Brian O’Sullivan. Although a mind-shattering and life-altering novel (in a good way!), the cover is very bad. Laughably bad.
So let’s have some fun with it. Tell us what you think of it in the poll below by suggesting some new responses and we’ll pick ten random entries to win a signed copy of the hardcover. We’ll pick the ten winners on March the 1st (2070). Everyone’s welcome to play. Just cast your vote and post a comment.

Thanks to Terry Goodkind for this awesome idea!!

This cover is good enough to:

  • make me stop drinking for ever
  • make me cut my hand off to free myself and flee
  • makes a pig’s arse look oddly attractive
  • makes me feel suddenly kinda sexist

[Note: For those who are a bit slow on the uptake, this is a pastiche of the recent scandal wrt Terry Goodkinnd’s cover for a book called Shroud of Eternity(?), Modernity … something like that].

The Truth About Irish Woman Warriors – What They Never Tell You

Lagertha, from the television series: Vikings - often misrepresented as 'Celtic' or 'Oirish' warrior online

[Pic: Lagertha, from the television series: Vikings – often misrepresented as a ‘Celtic’ or ‘Oirish’ woman warrior online]

There’s a lot of fantasy out there when it comes to women warriors, particularly where it relates back to those in the Irish or “Celtic” realm. To be fair, the subject of women warriors is hardly a new one. Since the development of literature itself, writers (usually male) and readers have been enamored by tales of fighting women (particularly Herodotus with his notes on the inaccurately-named Amazons), probably because they’re such a rarity in ancient warfare, an area generally dominated by men.

The role of women in ancient warfare certainly differed between different cultures but in ancient Irish, Scottish, Welsh and Manx societies – a far more physical society than today –  warfare was generally left to the men. That’s not to say that women didn’t fight, of course. The histories of these countries are full of examples of women fighting to defend themselves, fighting to protect the ones they love, or fighting each other. In terms of recognised warrior status warrior in actual warfare context however, this would have been a rarity indeed.

When it comes to women warriors in the ancient Irish mythological context (i.e. not historical), we certainly seem to have more references in the surviving literature than other contemporary societies of the same period. Some people mistakenly use this fact to argue that female fighters were common in early Irish society and that it was a far more ‘gender equal’ society but that’s a pretty big leap to make.

As an Irish person I’d LOVE to boast that ancient Ireland was the role model for gender equality but I think it’d be pretty dishonest of me if I did. At their most basic level, people don’t tend to change too much. Human societies have always been based around the established holders of power and, in ancient Ireland, most of that power was held by men.

Whatever you believe, the mythological tales still have to be treated with caution and never treated literally. The writers/recorders of that time were not above a bit of creative licence or prejudice and people often forget that just because something was written a long time ago, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true.

 

The Pattern of Women Warriors in Irish Mythology

If we look at Irish mythology then, the most well-known women warriors referred to in the literature tend to include:

  • Scáthach– a woman warrior who appears in the Ulster Cycle who was based in modern-day Scotland. She instructs the hero Cú Chulainn in a number of martial feats and (depending on the version) when he catches her with her guard down, is forced to take him as a lover
  • Aífe– a rival of Scáthach who Cú Chulainn forces to lie with him at swordpoint and who subsequently bears him a son
  • Neasa (Ness)– a woman warrior forced into marriage at swordpoint by the warrior/druid Cathbad and future mother of the famous Conchobhar mac Nessa
  • Liath Luachra – a guardian of the young Fionn mac Cumhaill, briefly mentioned in the Fenian Cycle

The surviving literature is very limited when it comes to these characters but with the first three, there’s an overpowering impression that the character of the powerful woman warrior was created specifically to highlight the sexual domination and military prowess of the male ‘hero’ who subsequently overpowers her (a pattern also found with other women warrior characters in mythology).

The final figure (Liath Luachra) is probably the only one that doesn’t follow this pattern. This is predominantly because as a guardian to the much younger hero (Fionn mac Cumhaill), any relationship between them is desexualised.

Other figures in Irish Mythology cited as Women Warriors

Other female figures from Irish mythology occasionally offered up as examples of women warriors include:

  • Meadhbh (also spelt Medb, Maeve etc.) – Queen of Connacht in the Táin (The Cattle Raid of Cooley)
  • The Morríghan (or Mór-ríoghain)

Again, if you look at either of these in any detail, you’ll immediately find that neither actually make the cut. All of the literary and archaeological evidence to date indicates that these figures were personifications of female deities as opposed to warrior women. Articles or literary works suggesting that they were warriors usually indicates that the authors haven’t even done the most basic of homework or they’re pushing an argument driven more by wish fulfilment than fact.

Irish Women Warriors in Literature

For a long time, Irish women warriors pretty much lingered as an ‘interesting’ footnote in the republications of old academic works on Irish mythology. Over the last thirty to forty years however, representation of women warriors has become far more prevalent in commercial fiction, particularly in the fantasy genre where mythological characters occasionally end up “borrowed” for contemporary stories.

The final products are usually fine from a basic entertainment perspective even if, from a cultural perspective, things can get a little … ‘iffy’, when creators miss the underlying cultural context. Unfortunately, with Irish warrior women, this can particularly result in works that are not only overly romanticised but which ignore some of the strong negative gender undercurrents associated with the characters, something of which the authors often seem – disturbingly – unaware.

Note: This is an updated version of an older article published on this website and later published on the Fantasy Hive.

The Tailor and Ansty- A Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It seemed like an apt end to the weekend.

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

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