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A Visual Representation of Irish Prehistory and Mythology

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

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

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

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

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

Surviving Christmas And an Irish ‘Sword’ Film

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

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

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

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

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

Ah, that’s nice – Our Books Available for Half Price on Kobo

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We’re not really that fussed one way or the other about different devices or ebook platforms but a recent sale announcement from Kobo took us a bit by surprise and we thought we’d share. Obviously this is really only of interest if you have a Kobo reader or similar ePub device.

Essentially, Kobo are supporting small and micro publishers like us by making our books half-price. The announcement we received is as follows:
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On the heels of our successful 50% off promotion in August–which was fully supported by us–we’re excited to announce we’ll be holding a second 50% off sale.
Customers will be able to redeem 50% off of any title published by KWL using the promo codes below an unlimited number of times—so please, let your readers and fans know about this incredible opportunity to stack up on eBooks while they can! Unlike last time, the sale runs in different dates by territory, and each territory has it’s own promo code. See below for the full details.
Canada: October 28th – October 31st
Promo Code: CA50SALE
United States/Australia/New Zealand
October 27th – October 30th, Promo Code: GET50SALE
United Kingdom
October 30th – November 2nd, Promo Code: UK50SALE

Promo code is valid for 50% off select eBook purchases from this list. Discount will be confirmed at checkout. Offer valid from October 28, 2015 at 12:00 AM EST through October 31, 2015 at 11:59 PM EST. This offer is not valid in conjunction with any other offer or promotion and cannot be used to adjust amount paid on previous purchases. Promo code must be entered at time of purchase to qualify for this discount. Discounts cannot be applied nor the discount value refunded once a purchase is complete. Rakuten Kobo Inc. reserves the right to change or cancel this offer at any time without notice
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Normally we wouldn’t even bother mentioning this but it does seem like pretty good deal. And there are plenty of other books out there apart from ours.

Sample Chapters for ‘Liath Luachra – The Grey One’ now available

 

Liath Luachra cover

After numerous interruptions, distractions and rewrites, the final draft of “Liath Luachra – The Grey One” is nearing completion and a two chapter ‘sampler’ ‘is now available here on the Irish Imbas Books website.

I’m in the process of tidying up the last chapters prior to final editing but the finished book should be available at the end of November (about 6-7 weeks). For those who are interested, the back cover summary reads as follows:

Ireland 188 A.D. A land of tribal affiliations, secret alliances and treacherous rivalries.
Youthful woman warrior Liath Luachra has survived two brutal years with mercenary war party “The Friendly Ones” but now the winds are shifting.
Dispatched on a murderous errand where nothing is as it seems, she must survive a group of treacherous comrades, the unwanted advances of her battle leader and a personal history that might be her own undoing.
Clanless and friendless, she can count on nothing but her wits, her fighting skills and her natural ferocity to see her through.
Woman warrior, survivor, killer and future guardian to Irish hero Fionn mac Cumhaill – this is her story.

*********************

I have to admit, the story’s been an interesting one to develop in that it’s darker, grittier and much more character driven than some of my other work – particularly interesting when writing from the perspective of a woman with violent tendancies (a big thanks to my ‘advisors’). Although it’s a stand-alone work, it’s also a prequel of sorts to the Fionn Mac Cumhaill series in that it deals with the backstory to one of the main characters from that series.

Unfortunately, the sample’s available in PDF form only as we’re holding off on ebook conversion until the final draft has completed the editing process.

Numerous people have expressed interest in getting their hands on this so I will keep posting as things develop.

I received a personal message from the Rain Gods

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Thank God it’s spring!

After a long and particularly arduous winter we were rewarded last weekend with this stunning double rainbow over the Miramar peninsula. Set at the very end of the peninsula, it really was an amazing sight from the other side of the harbour. In some respects it felt like a personal message from the Gods along the lines of “All right, lads! Enough’s enough. You can have some sun now.”

When my kids were growing up here in Wellington, I taught them a little poem to help them remember the names of the colours in Irish. It went:

Dearg agus glas – red and green
Gorm agus buí – blue and yellow
Feach sa spéir – look up at the sky
An bogha báistí – the rainbow!

Because of their sheer scale and striking visual impact, it’s hard not to be impressed by a rainbow, particularly the big ones that span large swatches of space. Its’ hardly surprising so, that every culture has some associated mythology or folklore. In Hindu mythology, their Thunder God uses a rainbow as a form of bow to shoot arrows made of lightning. Maori have a legend about Hina (the mother of Maui), the moon, who causes a rainbow to span the heavens for her husband to return to earth. In Ireland of course, the most famous legend is the story of the leprechaun’s pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Although most Irish people hate the plastic paddy shite associated with leprechauns, I have to admit the central concept of this particular story is quite clever. Rainbows don’t have an end so you can never get the gold. In fact, to see a rainbow you have to have the sun behind you. Hence it’s only got one side as well – truly a no-win situation!!

Ironically then, I once saw the end of the rainbow. This happened when we were kids and my Dad was driving the family home from a weekend in Beara. Naturally, this being West Cork, it was raining but as we drove through the Cousane Pass the clouds cleared and this beautiful rainbow opened up, one end filling the field with the standing stone at the top of the Cousane.

Needless to say, the event caused some consternation amongst the four kids stuffed in the back of the car. My poor Dad nearly crashed when we started screaming at him to stop so we that could run in and get the gold. We were smart. We all knew that you could only reach the gold for as long as the rainbow remained.

For some reason, my father ignored the screeching from behind and kept on driving but I’ll never forget how galling it was to see the rainbow’s end just alongside, marking untold wealth and riches. And us driving placidly (not) by.

I’ve never really forgiven my father for that excruciating lapse of judgement. If he’d only stopped the car for twenty seconds, we’d all be multi-millionaires today.

I Don’t Believe in Countries

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Over the last few years, I’ve slowly ceased to believe in ‘countries’. Nations and borders always have been an artificial construct, basically created in the past by ruling dynasties to maintain power over a territory. I can’t think of many examples where they were actually intended to represent the population that actually resided within its borders. The only exception to this are those smaller ‘countries’ who broke away from larger ‘countries’ who did not represent them or failed to recognise their culture (think Bosnia and Herzegovina and other states who broke up from Yugoslavia, East Timor which separated from Indonesia, Kosovo, Ukraine etc.). In fact, 34 new countries have been created since 1990.

The concept of a country seems to serve exclusive minorities because it allows a large population to be structure and controlled, often to their own detriment. That’s why some nationalist governments (the new ruling classes) continue to condition their young, programming them to obtain an emotional response from a waving flag or the tune of a national anthem. People are essentially trained to love their country without questioning why.

From an early age, we’re encouraged to adhere to a false concept – that we’re part of some mutually beneficial collective or brotherhood. Here in New Zealand, there’s currently a laughable attempt by the government to divert attention from its poor management of the country by trying to rally interest in the design of a new national flag. Unfortunately for them, it’s like the party that nobody turns up to. People actually aren’t that stupid, despite the money desperately being thrown at it.

It’s true that some countries have populations of a similar cultural background and heritage. Ireland is a classic example of this, particularly as our island status ensured a relatively consistent cultural system over the centuries. Northern Ireland of course is the exception. Planted with a new population that had different belief systems to the existing system, such an act was bound to create adversity and violence. It’ll take a few more generations to smooth that particular wrinkle out but it is inevitable (despite what politicians with their own agenda tell you).

When you see growing inequality within a nation, when your ‘countryman’ is more than happy to screw you for his own personal benefit, you have to ask yourself if you really want to be associated with that particular grouping?

If you’re someone who flies your national flag outside your house – something I confess to having done in the past – you might want to consider the potential that you’ve been manipulated.

Final Cover for Liath Luachra – The Grey One

Liath Luachra cover

Some months ago I mentioned that I was writing a prequel to the Fionn mac Cumhaill series entitled Liath Luachra – The Friendly Ones. The latter part of that title referred to the mercenary group Na Cinéaltaí (The Friendly Ones) originally mentioned in FIONN: Defence of Ráth Bládhma and to which the character Liath Luachra had at one point belonged. After some feedback from various people, the title name was changed to Liath Luachra – The Grey One and the final cover completed (at last!).

Some of you will have recognised An Grianàn Ailigh (the Grianán of Aileach) there in the background. An ancient stone structure up in Donegal that’s believed to date back to around 1700 B.C.,  I passed it by on my way to visit the ever-amazing Mel and Ruairidh last year. For the purpose of the the story, I actually transferred the Grianàn south and east to northern Leinster. It’s a pretty amazing place with spectacular views that I’ll write about again at some stage.

This particular book basically came about about as I was keen to explore some research I’d carried out on tribal dynamics and on the use of fian (the original word for a ‘war party’ but also the word that later became ‘fianna’) in pre-fifth century Ireland. I was also keen to provide some additional background context to the character of Liath Luachra in the Fionn mac Cumhaill series.

The book currently has it’s own page on this site and although it won’t be released until September/ October this year, I will be putting a sample chapter up in the next two weeks or so.

The back cover blurb reads as follows:

Liath Luachra – The Grey One
Ireland 188 A.D. A land of tribal affiliations, secret alliances and treacherous rivalries.
Youthful woman warrior Liath Luachra has survived two brutal years with mercenary war party “The Friendly Ones” but now the winds are shifting.

Dispatched on a murderous errand where nothing is as it seems, she must survive a group of treacherous comrades, the unwanted advances of her battle leader and a personal history that might be her own undoing.

Clanless and friendless, she can count on nothing but her wits, her fighting skills and her natural ferocity to see her through.

Woman warrior, survivor, killer and future guardian to Irish hero Fionn mac Cumhail – this is her story.

————————————————————————

To be honest, it always feels a bit weird doing the whole back cover blurb thing. Obviously, you want to give people some idea what the book’s about and try to make it sound interesting (with a limited number of words). At the same time though, it’s hard not to find yourself falling into cliché. To my ear, the blurb often rings wincingly melodramatic at times. I guess this was as good as I could make it without taking it all WAAAYY too seriously.

Hope you enjoy!

The Moving Statues and Me

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When people talk of 1985 in Ireland, a lot of them mention how awful the weather was that summer. Oddly enough, for me it was one of the brightest and sunniest summers I can recall. It’s all down to perspective, of course. In the summer of 1985, I was in Kinsale, a beautiful seaside town/ tourist centre on the Cork coast. Having completed my university exams (successfully, for once!), I’d been unable to find work (Ireland was in mid-recession at the time) and a result, I was living on my Dad’s boat on Kinsale marina. I had a whole summer of sailing, drinking and partying ahead of me and I was blissfully unaware of the storm blowing in from about five miles off to the south west, a storm that was about to set the country alight.

The story of the moving statues started in Ballinspittle one evening in July. I have memories of meeting a French girl I really liked so around that time so I was desperately preoccupied trying to win her affections. Over in Ballinspittle however, two local girls had just told their parents they’d seen a roadside statue of the Virgin Mary move while they were praying. Most people who’ve been to Ireland will be familiar with these roadside grottos and their statues of the Virgin Mary. There are hundreds of these statues dotting the country in all sorts of places as a result of the religious fervor during the Marian Year in the 1950s.

By late July, the French girl was well gone, continuing her tourist trip around Ireland. I consoled myself by sailing with my family at the Schull and Baltimore regattas and then returning to skim around Kinsale harbour on my Lazer (a very fast and fun one-man sailing dinghy). Most nights, I’d end up drinking at a friend’s house (or at my cousins) as I rarely had enough money to actually get to a pub. By then, people were already talking about the “Ballinspittle Miracle” and the small groups of four or five congregating around the grotto. By the time I got back from Schull a week or two later, the Cork Examiner was reporting on the matter at length. The one thing that really indicated how serious things were getting however, was the sudden and startling presence of a double decker bus on the tiny streets of Kinsale as it brought the faithful down from Cork city to see the miracle.

Looking back now, in many respects it seems strange that nobody really took notice or reacted to the event for such a long time. I guess, the truth is that most of us kind of took it for granted. Miracles weren’t exactly unheard of. In Ireland, we’d always been raised with tales of the miracle up at the Knock shrine in Mayo. My parents – and most of my friends’ parents – had visited Lourdes or Fatima at least once to see the miracle sites there. I don’t think my friends were ‘believers’ by any stretch of the imagination but our generation had been raised to adhere to the beliefs of those that preceded us. The interesting thing was that although we accepted their religious beliefs, we were never truly confronted with them (not, really). They were our parents’ “thing”, not ours and we were fortunate in that we had sufficient freedom that they didn’t really touch us as much.

In August, the country started to get a bit crazy when a Marian statue was reported moving at the grotto in Mount Melleray (County Waterford). The papers picked up the story and connected it with Ballinspittle and almost immediately, competing Marian statues started shifting at thirty other grottos around the country. Everybody was now talking about it – mockingly or fervently – and it was becoming a phenomenon that could no longer be ignored. A tangible religious fervor was picking up amongst the more fanatical believers although the developing sceptics movement was just as strong. Thousands of people had started to gather at Ballinspittle every Sunday, although it has to be said that not all of them were believers. A large proportion were going out of sheer curiosity, for the craic, or simply to take the piss (something not unheard of in Ireland).

Even at the time, feckless youth that I was, I remember being surprised that the Catholic Church were so silent on the whole matter, refusing to be drawn on whether this was a genuine miracle or not. Fortunately, I’d discovered the joys of sex by then. That and the sheer physical pleasure of skimming across the waves in the Kinsale’s outer harbour held much more appeal than discussing the theological strangeness of moving statues although the subject seemed impossible to ignore. At this stage, reports of moving statues were on the television every night and public opinion seemed to be polarised predominantly along the lines of:

  • Yes, this is some kind of supernatural event and God is sending us a message (we’re just not exactly sure what it is)
  • No, it’s all an illusion driven by religious hysteria

Keen to get in on the action, a group of scientists from University College Cork (the Psychology Department) declared that the visions were either optical illusions caused by staring at static objects too hard in the evening light or a general psychological and sociological reaction to the recession, the crippling unemployment, the wet summer (WTF? It’s raining?!). Given the fact that I was actually studying Science at University College Cork, I was immediately skeptical, although for no particularly strong reason. I ‘knew’ many of the scientific ‘experts’ (albeit more for their personal foibles than for their professional competence and when you know people in one light it’s hard to accept them in another). To be honest, I suppose that even back then I was something of a cynic. Personal experience with both groups meant that I distrusted the religious ‘experts’ just as much as I distrusted the scientific ‘experts’.

In September, the situation took a sharp turn off Bizzare Street to career precariously down Wierdo Avenue. Up in Culleens (County Sligo), another moving statue had been spotted and strange things had started to appear in the sky. People were reporting ‘red balls of fire’ and ‘lights descending from the sky’ and for a moment, attention switched away from Ballinspittle. One night, watching the Late Late Show, I saw an interview with some local boy talking wide-eyed about ‘angels in the sky’ (the actual interview can still be found here: http://oldportal.euscreen.eu/play.jsp?id=EUS_F2B237A5C9B1497786593EBDF0F4B31F).

Even then, I felt things were balancing precariously on the hysterical. Despite this, another two or three weeks passed without major event. Life went on. Leaving the freedom of Kinsale behind, I returned to University for another gruelling year of study and socialising. The weather grew colder, it rained more often. Slowly, but surely, the statues started to reclaim their immobile pedestals. Despite the transfer of attention to Sligo and the subsequent ‘statue fatigue’, crowds of people (markedly smaller) kept flocking to Ballinspittle but it was clear the party was drawing to a close.

On Halloween (October 31st), it all flared back to life again when the Ballinspittle statue was attacked by three men wielding axes and hammers. Destroyed in front of a number of praying onlookers, the men (led by a man called Robert Draper) were arrested by Gardaí and the ensuing court case filled the headlines for weeks. The three men were some opposing religious group who disbelieved in praying to false idols. Like all fanatics, rather than protesting or getting their own message across though peaceful means, they’d taken it upon themselves to ensure nobody else could pray to them either. Despite boasting publically of what they’d done, the men were never sentenced. This caused immense resentment but the response was remarkably restrained (apart from a number of broken windows at Draper’s home). Apparently, buoyed by success, Draper went on a roll smashing other statues and ended up doing six months in prison in 1987. Whatever you believe however, following the Draper attack, I’ve not heard of the Ballinspittle statue ever moving again. Things went all quiet and the resulting silence was ear-splitting.

Thirty years have passed since the whole Moving Statues event and yet, despite all the weirdness, the thing I find most striking is the total silence surrounding the topic since 1985. In some respects, it’s as though it never happened. Loathe to be ridiculed, few people are willing to discuss the subject (although there have been one or two small documentaries where the original witnesses were sticking strongly to their stories). To be honest, to this day, I still don’t completely understand the madness that overtook the country.

A few years ago, when I was back home I finally went down to the grotto in Ballinspittle. Ironically, despite everything (and the fact that I was living just a few miles up the road) I’d never actually got around to visiting the site of all the action. On two separate occasions, I’d actually been invited to join a group of friends going over to the statue for a ‘squizz’ but on both, I’d declined. The first time, because I was still chasing the French girl, the second because of more ‘generic’ party reasons. I’ve never really regretted either decision.

It was early morning when I got there. I’d driven over from Kinsale where I’d spent the night revisiting some old friends and some old haunts and I was in a melancholic state of mind. Conscious of the fact that my plane back to New Zealand was in two days time, I was feeling ‘homesick’ although in hindsight, I think it was a homesickness for my youth and the freedom I’d enjoyed in Kinsale rather than for my country.

The grotto is actually a pretty place that reminds me of my childhood, with its white balustrade and blue concrete letters reading “The Immaculate Conception”. The new statue has small electric bulbs around its head in the form of a halo. Because it was so early, there was no-one else around although I’m not sure if people still come here anymore. Before I hopped into the car to drive back to Cork, I looked up at the statue one last time, waved and shouted goodbye.

But it didn’t move.

FIONN: The Adversary

The Fionn mac Cumhaill Series – Book Three

Ireland: 198 A.D. The druid Bodhmhall and her nephew Demne have survived a bloody ambush but the cost has been substantial. The Ráth Bládhma allies have been decimated and the ragged survivors lie strung along the banks of a harsh river valley.

With their pursuers closing in.

Despite the odds, Bodhmhall must reach the fortress of Dún Baoiscne where the shadows of her childhood await her. Only there can she confront her tribal competitors, her scheming father and finally unearth the identity of the mysterious Adversary.

The woman warrior Liath Luachra however, pushed to the edge of her abilities, has a more direct approach in mind.

The future is balanced on a precarious sword edge. No-one will escape unscathed.

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

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

Liath Luachra – The Grey One (Initial Draft of Cover)

Liath Luachra 03

2015 has been a bit of a tough year on the work front so far but I’m pleased to say that we’re actually making good progress on the book and website fronts (amongst others).

At this stage, I’m approximately two thirds of the way through Liath Luachra – The Grey One (which is something of a prequel to the Fionn Mac Cumhal Series). I usually find that by the fifth chapter, the plot lines are cohesive but that I need to go back and rewrite/amend some of the earlier sections to ensure the linear flow of the narrative. This tends to delay the completion but it really is the most important part for me in terms of ‘plot quality’ so getting over that ‘hump’ is important. Everything after this feels like “walking downhill” (as one of the Ents in LOTR says).

I know other writers are much more focussed in terms of outlining their plot but I find that when I do that, the emotional resonance of the story tends to falter. Everyone has their own way of doing things, I guess.

Word count with Liath Luachra at this point is 54000 words or thereabout. I realise some people are waiting for Fionn 3: The Adversary but I needed to get this story done first as part of it is relevant to  the plotting in the latter. Fionn 3 is sitting at about 48000 words. Both will definitely be complete in the last quarter of 2015.

The above is an early draft of the cover image for Liath Luachra but the finished version is quite different. I’ll be putting out the back cover blurb (the summary of the plot) next week with an updated version.

Thank you for being patient with the – ahem – creative process!

Are Irish Clans and Tribes Gone Forever: Part One?

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In European countries, when people talk of ‘clan’ (from the medieval Gaelic word ‘clann’) they’re basically using a more localised word for ‘tribe’. Both relate to a community or social grouping established from a common kinship or family tie although, over time, as the grouping grows larger, that definition can change. Most people believe the concept of a tribe has pretty much had its day in Ireland but if you look carefully you’ll still see remnants of it around in certain parts of the country.

The first clue is the link between family names and homeland location. Most Irish genealogists and social researchers are more than aware how closely aligned the two are in Ireland, not only in terms of country but in terms of townland as well. In Beara, for example, the old adage is that “you can’t throw a stone in the bush without hitting an O’Sullivan” and anyone who’s ever studied the shop names in Catletownbere knows that to be true.

Needless to say, that holds just as well for the Harringtons and, of course, the Murphys who, judging from their numbers and geographical spread, seem to have single-handedly dominated reproduction in Ireland for several centuries.

‘nuff said!

Living in New Zealand, I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to compare the impact of colonization (the invasion of another country and the oppression of its native people/culture) on Maori tribal societies here with Gaelic tribal societies back home. This has been exceptionally useful when writing the Fionn series not only because Clan politics play an important part of the story but in terms of cultural authenticity – a key part of what I’m trying to do with Irish Imbas Books.

Unlike Ireland, where the undermining of Gaelic culture commenced in earnest from an early date (early 1600s), the colonization process in New Zealand didn’t truly kick in until the mid- to late-1800s. Even then, because of its relative isolation compared to the invading countries and its tough topography, the colonization process was never fully completed to the point that the Crown and associated business interests would probably have liked.

Although it was pretty much brought to the brink, Maori society has managed to retain/reclaim very strong elements of its culture as well as parts of its tribal structure. What’s fascinating to watch, though, is that with the legal power of the Treaty of Waitangi (the treaty signed between the English Crown and most tribes) and subsequent financial compensation (albeit minimal) for lands stolen and damage sustained, Maori communities are now, once again, re-establishing their tribal organisations. There are of course, major differences to the structures of 150-200 years ago but this is still something I’ve not seen anywhere else in the world (although I understand something similar may be occurring in Canada and the United States). I don’t think people here have truly understood the impact those changes are going to have (hopefully better –  but who knows?) in society over the next ten to twenty years.

By studying the tribal dynamics here, I find that I can extrapolate quite a lot of the cultural subtleties to the Gaelic context, to work out how Irish (or rather, ‘Gaelic’) clan/tribal structures worked long ago – and,  potentially – how they might work in the future.  I’ll be covering that in more detail in my next blog article.

Irish Stories: Survival in Beara

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In 1602, Donal Cam (also known as The O’Sullivan Beara) was caught between a rock and a hard place.  In actual fact, he was caught between many rocks and many hard places, trapped as he was in the bleak valleys around Glenn Garbh (Glengarrif) on the Beara peninsula. Having played his hand and backing the losing side at the Battle of Kinsale, Donal Cam and his followers had lost their home, their herds and were increasingly constricted by English forces. In the middle of a freezing Irish winter, without supplies or sanctuary the situation was pretty desperate.

Most people know the story of how Donal Cam and a thousand of his supporters escaped from Glenn Garbh during the night of 31 December 1602, travelling 250 miles from Beara to the O’Rourke stronghold in Leitrim in the middle of winter. Because of the poignancy and drama associated with that particular struggle most people are unaware of the story related to the survival of his wife and child in hiding back in the valley of Coomerkane.

According to local folklore, Donal Cam left his wife and child in Glenn Garbh with one of his most trusted men so that they could secretly take a boat to Spain while their enemies were focussed on capturing him. To do this, however, they had to endure a freezing winter with no food in the valley of Coomerkane. In order to survive, the story is that Donal Cam’s man climbed up to this spot (the central white ledge) where a pair of eagles had their nest. While the parent eagles were away hunting, this brave individual tied some cord around the eaglets’ throats so that they couldn’t swallow the food. As a result, when the parents returned with the food from their hunt then flew away once more, he was able to climb up to the nest again and snatch the food which he then shared with Donal Cam’s wife and child.

In terms of facts, the story does seem a bit fanciful. European eagles tend to start nesting in March/April – by which time Donal Cam would have been well gone. From the little I know of eagles, it does seem that that the male parents tend to do most of the hunting until at least 4- 6 weeks after the eggs have hatched (when the female parent joins the hunt). The sheer physical practicalities of actually climbing a cliff, manhandling the eaglets so that they can’t swallow (while at the same time not strangling them) and then getting away without being seen by their parents also stretches the limits of credibility.

What is more likely is that someone extrapolated this story from the behaviour of cuckoos – invading the nest, taking the food intended for the young etc. etc. Whatever the case – made up or not – its still a pretty amazing story and one that effectively captures the human imagination. I’m still pretty firm in my belief that its untrue. Having said that, I’m more than happy to be corrected if anyone ever comes across any additional information they’re willing to share.

Words into the Void

newgrange-image

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.

 

What Irish People want for ‘Samhain Christmas’

‘With ‘Sam Hayne’ (that legendary Country & Western singer) almost on us again, it’s time when Irish people everywhere must gird their loins for the annual discharge of ‘Oirish Culture’ from Facebook.

This year, out of curiosity, we asked other Irish people what they’d like to see for ‘Samhain Christmas’ and collected a bit less than ninety replies. Fortunately, we’ve managed to consolidate them – very generically – to the eight ‘Samhain Christmas’ wishes below.

So suck in deep, firm those tummy muscles, cross those legs, and … Ádh mór leat, a Sheamais!


What Irish people want for ‘Samhain Christmas’

1) Formally legislate the removal of ‘Happy Samhain’ from the internet (a greeting that makes no sense from either a cultural or language perspective – it’s like being told to “have a Happy Colonisation Day!”)

2) Remove all photos of redhaired ‘Oirish’ children from Oirish Facebook Groups (they’re almost invariably Dutch or Belgian kids)

3) End online ‘Oirish’ Pagan Spirituality (apparently ‘Wicca’/’Celtic Reconstructionist’ wasn’t a good commercial model, hence the name change – still hawking Irish culture for branding purposes, though)

4) Impose a ‘Culturally Offensive Use’ fee on all North American productions of twee Oirish movies (‘Wild Irish Thyme’, not looking at you!)

5) Transport ‘Nazi Celts’ to their own planet (a bizarre cosplaying subgroup of the ‘Oirish White Supremacists’ – usually American – they insist on telling everyone that they’re Celts … despite – apparently – not seeming to know what a ‘Celt’ is).

6) Force ‘Celtic Reconstructionists’ to rewatch ‘Darby O’Gill and the Little People’ three hundred times. No, not a bunch of ‘born-again-Celt’ building professionals, but a group of hobbyists who cherry-pick specific elements of Irish culture as padding for their own fantasy lifestyle. (We’ll take the ‘nice’ parts from your culture and … Eh? What do you mean Famine? Northern Ireland? 80s’ recession? Unemployment? The Sultans of Ping? Bono? … Er, no thanks. We don’t want THAT part of your culture!)

7) Make non-Irish people who use Gaelic forms of their names for branding purposes, introduce themselves as Gaeilge (Dia dhaoibh a chairde! Is mise, Dilín O’Deamhas!).

8) Legislate for people who insist they’re the scions of Irish kings to call their first child, ‘Prince

Please feel free to add your own suggestions for ‘Samhain Christmas’! Given the lack of respect shown by those borrowing our culture, it feels like time to take it back.

Back on ‘The Island’

Walking home on ‘The Island’ three (maybe four?) years ago. I’d gone up to visit the Martello Tower and it was such a beautiful day I decided to walk back to the village.

The place hadn’t changed that much since I’d last been there although the Government has shut off access to the old submarine pens with a half-hearted, delapidated wire fence. The houses were all in a far better state than I remember as a kid. ‘Back inthe day, the Island’ used to suffer some pretty serious poverty and the houses were in far worse nick.

As were the cars.

I remember once seeing an oul fella parking his battered old Volkswagon on a hill in the village. The car was in such a bad state, he had to get a kid to jump out and drop a cement block in front of the tyre to stop it rolling away.

Some overseas individuals with Irish heritage seem to yearn for this ‘simpler’ time. Given the complexity inherent in the world today (plus the sheer effort necessary to operate effectively in society), I can understand that … to a degree but there are some things, none of us in Ireland want to go back to.

Exploirng the Irish Otherworld

Four years ago, I got to visit my favourite of the four main entrances to the Irish Otherworld. Generally speaking, these places tend to be quite difficult to get to (for obvious reasons) and have important topographical features that make them stand out from the rest of the terrain.

Practical tip: If you visit the Otherworld, you should always bring a torch!

Yes, progress is being made

I have to confess I always get a kick posting this image up on Facebook. Several months back when I first released the book, I put it on the Facebook shop only for it to be rejected as “the sale of animals is forbidden” (the Facebook algorithm thought it was a zebra!).

When I resubmitted it a second time, the cover was judged as ‘offensive material’ and therefore unsuitable for the Facebook shop. Neeldess to say, I won’t be adding any more products to the Facebook Shop. Ironically, of course I can still post the image without any qualms whatsoever.

Aaaah Facebook!

The conclusion of this story started in this book will be released in December (porbably through the Irish Imbas website) and through the ususal suspects some time afterwards. Further detail on that over the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, here are some of the Amazon reviews for Liath Luachra: The Seeking. As always, I’m very grateful to those people who’ve made the effort to do a review.

GAME OF THRONES TAPESTRY IN BELFAST MUSEUM

Fascinating to see what happens when fantasy becomes commercially strong enough to impact on reality.

In New Zealand, Tourism New Zealand often sold the country as ‘Middle Earth’ (i.e. where LOTR was filmed) but with the Game of Throne television series, Northern Ireland started to give it some serious competition.

This 253-foot-long tapestry (based on a style similar to the Bayeux Tapestry) was hung in Belfast’s Ulster Museum for a time and depicted a scene from each episode. With the completion of the series, the tapestry was transferred to the Bayeux museum (in 2019).

You can see it online HERE