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The Bird with the Cat’s Head

An Ceann Cait’ – ‘The Cat Head’ owl – is an intriguing part of the Irish landscape, particularly as its ‘working hours’ and natural camouflage make it extremely hard to see. That visual rarity give the bird a bit of a ‘mysterious’ reputation and, hence, there’s been a lot of mythology or folklore ascribed to it. Unfortunately, like much ‘Irish mythology’ out there on the internet, it tends to be more recently invented or the result of contemporary interpretations on topics that aren’t fully understood. To be honest, in its natural environment, the bird’s behaviour is fascinating enough and it doesn’t really need a whole bunch of fantasy background or meaning (or worse, the term ‘Celtic’) applied to make it more interesting.

I was lucky enough to see An Ceann Cait once a few years back, and although the feline ears, facial disc and broad eyes gives the animal a ‘stunned’ expression that looks quite comical, it’s actually a ruthless little predator (mostly preying on mice and other rodents but they take down small birds as well).    

I ended up using the animal in the first chapter of ‘Liath Luachra: The Seeking’ (which is also the short story ‘The Winter Cave’) as it served to present the protagonist with an effective foil for self-reflection. I intentionally kept away from any supernatural or mythological leanings, though.  As mentioned earlier, the animal’s already interesting enough in its own right and like most of the ‘magic’ or ‘meaning’ modern-day spiritualists seem so desperate to find, its often sitting directly in front of you.

Potentially on a branch.    

Ar Ais Arís

Brú Theatre are presenting an interesting virtual reality project around the Gaeltacht communities in Donegal, Mayo, Galway, Kerry and Cork from the 11th  to the 20th of June. As part of the proposed approach, small audiences will be presented with scenic views and soundscapes of Ireland’s west coast, then virtual reality headsets will be distributed to show three individual 180° short films.

The films – shot in Connermara – will present an immersive mix of Irish language, music and poetry will be based on texts from Irish witers such as Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill and Máirtín Ó Cadhain.

Brú Theatre are a small theatre group based in Galway who present bilingual works in Irish and English (they’re the one who created and produced the visually captivating ‘Fisherwives’). Ar Ais Arís was commissioned by the Galway 2020 / Áistriú project.

Needless to say, I’m very jealous I’ll miss it.

Reading Material ‘as Gailege’ for Kids

One of the big problems I experienced raising my kids ‘as Gailege’ in New Zealand back in the early 2000s, was trying to get decent reading material to teach them with. Back then, there was relatively few ‘modern’ books for children (particularly in somewhere as isolated as New Zealand) and the cost of ordering them from the likes of ‘Siopa Leabhar’ and other outlets (who insisted on charging VAT even for overseas sales) was prohibitively expensive.

Fortunately, I was able to return to Ireland on a relatively regular basis and, on each occasion, I’d scour the shops for suitable books in Irish. One series of books which my kids absolutely loved was the ‘Cití Cailleach’ series (the Cití the Witch series) translated to Irish from the original ‘Winnie the Witch’ written by Valerie Thomas and illustrated by Korky Paul.

Yesterday, my daughter (now grown up) discovered a batch of the books we’d kept and was desperately looking for the Cití Cailleach series. Sadly, I’d passed them onto other Irish parents who were trying to raise their kids ‘as Gaeilge’.

As I was looking online however, I found this excellent video resource at Glór na nGael where one of the book is very ably read by Donach. I wish I’d had this kind of resource all those years ago!

You can find the you tube video HERE

LIATH LUACHRA: The Seeking – “THE BEST BOOK YET”

After the release of Dark Dawn/An Camhaoir Fuilsmeartha, I took a break for a few weeks, however this weekend I intend to recommence work on the next Liath Luachra (The Metal Men).

I also caught up with up a few reviews on Goodreads for Liath Luachra: The Seeking and was particularly gratified to find these two from Andrea and Peter – two people who’ve been incredibly supportive since the series’s inception. I value both of their opinions highly so this was a big thing for me.

Liath Luachra: The Seeking is currently available on Amazon in paperback but in digital form only at the Irish Imbas Books website. The digital book will be available everywhere from 30 June.

I’m hoping to release the next book in 3-4 months time but I’ll revela more on that in the next newsletter.

Sinéad

An interesting segment from Sinéad O’Connor’s biography in the Irish Times today.

To be honest, I’ve always been in two minds with respect to Sinéad. One part of me thinks of her as a somewhat obnoxious and needy individual who’s desperation for attention outweighs anybody else’s opinion.

Another part of me has a bit more compassion and sees both the anguish of the extreme mental health issues she’s dealing with and the creative work she’s produced as a result of that.

Both impressions, of course, are built on nothing more than half-glimpsed newspapers headings – rarely a source of credible detail.

I may get her book (if I find the time/opportunity) but I do wonder whether she’d be a ‘reliable narrator’.

Meanwhile, judge for yourself. You can find the article HERE

Scéal

‘Scéal’ is an interesting little story-based game I came across last month (although it was actually released way back in 2016!). Originally created by Sandro Magliocco, the Slovakian-based developer drew on childhood holidays in Carlingford to set the overall look and design of the project.

‘Scéal’ tells the story of the ghost of a young girl who’s trying to work out where she came from and how she died. To do this, she has to travel through the watercolour world of a magical storybook, using paint strokes to reveal elements of her backstory.

Some of the marketing and advertising for the game suggests strong links to Irish folklore and mythology but in fact, there’s no real connection to established native folklore (or if there is, it’s fanciful and paper thin). This game is essentially a fantasy ghost story that takes place in an Irish setting with moody Irish background music but, that said, it’s a lot better than a lot of the ‘Oirish’ themed stuff coming out of the States at present.

Overall, the game is absolutely gorgeous to look at and the music (by Sean-Nós singer Lorcán MacMathúna) is particularly outstanding. You can get a sense of what it looks like HERE.

Apparently, the game can still be downloaded via Steam and other sites.

SAMHLÚ

An ingenious 2020 Irish production by Meangadh Fíbín (for TG4 – the Irish langauge content creator and broadcaster) just recently picked up the ‘Most Original and Innovative’ award at the Prix Circom Awards ceremony.

‘Samhlú’ (which means ‘fancy’ or ‘imagination’) was a cultural showcase celebrating artistic endeavour and creativity in Ireland thorugh that very challenging period of artists.

Funded by The Creative Ireland Programme, it had some big names like Tommy Tiernan and Bill Whelan etc. Beautifully produced by incorporating script, music, dance and more, it was gorgeous to watch and, honestly, deserved the award.


If you haven’t heard of ‘Samhlú’ before, here’s a little taster: SAMHLÚ 

Dark Dawn/An Camhaoir Fuilsmeartha coming 11 May 2021

Introduction:

It’s raining butcher knives and my chest aches but Fiacail has a plan. That’s the way of it!  Little more than two days’ comfort here at Ráth Bládhma and already we’re caught up in its people’s problems.

But … it’s a nice place, I’ll give them that. A secluded, V-shaped valley, deep in the folds of the Great Wild’s crinkled arse. Two forested ridges stretch north-west and south-east, a tight-curving cliff at one end to tuck it in all nice.

The expanse of pasture starts at the western woods – the single access to the valley. It stretches wide and green to a slight rise at the valley centre. That’s where the settlement of Ráth Bládhma’s located. In truth, it’s a secure position. The inhabitants have a clear view on every side. With the gateway bolted, any enemies who did manage to find the valley would not only have to cross that open ground but the barrier of the circular ditch. Then they’d have to climb the earth embankment and palisades to get at the people inside.

Yes, the people of Ráth Bládhma have strong defences.

But that’s not going to save them.

Fiacail says there’s a fian coming, a war-party more than fifty strong. The way he has it, their scouts are already in the valley for he’s seen their sign and suspects they have eyes on us. Within the ráth, we number three fighting men; myself, Fiacail and my cousin Tóla. But we’re visitors passing through. The population of Ráth Bládhma proper sits at seven inhabitants and only two of those – the woman warrior Liath Luachra and the youth Aodhán – are blooded warriors.

And I do not reckon their chances.

LAINSEÁIL AN CAMHAOIR FUILSMEARTHA/ DARK DAWN!

AG TEACHT 11 BEALTAINE!

Tá sé ag cur sceana gréasaí agus tá pian i mo chliabhrach, ach tá plean ag Fiacail. Sin an chaoi a bhfuil sé! Níl muid anseo i Ráth Bládhma ach dhá lá agus tá muid sáite i bhfadhbanna mhuintir na háite cheana féin.

Ach… is áit dheas é. Gleann amuigh ar an iargúil atá ann, go domhain i bpoll tóna an Fhiántais Fhiáin. Tá dhá dhroim faoi chrainn ag síneadh siar ó thuaidh agus soir ó dheas, agus aill chuar ghéar ag an gceann eile a choinníonn gach rud istigh. Tosaíonn an féarach ag an gcoill thiar – sin an t-aon bhealach le dul isteach sa ghleann. Talamh fairsing, glas is ea é, a bhfuil ardú beag ann i lár an ghleanna. Sin an áit a bhfuil lonnaíocht Ráth Bládhma. Déanta na fírinne, is suíomh docht daingean é. Tá radharc soiléir amach ar gach taobh ag muintir na háite. Agus an geata dúnta, ní hamháin go mbeadh ar an namhaid teacht ar an ngleann ar an gcéad dul síos, ach bheadh air an talamh sin agus an díog chiorclach a thrasnú, dul suas an claífort agus, ar deireadh, briseadh tríd an sonnach adhmaid.

Go deimhin, tá cosaint láidir ag muintir Ráth Bládhma.

Ach ní thabharfaidh sí sin saor ón mbás iad ná baol air.

Deir Fiacail go bhfuil fiann breis is caoga laoch ag tarraingt orthu. Dar leis, tá scabhtaí acu sa ghleann cheana féin. Measann sé go bhfuil a lorg feicthe aige agus go bhfuil siad ag coinneáil súil orainn. Níl ach triúr laoch sa ráth; mé féin, Fiacail agus mo chol ceathrair, Tóla. Ach níl ionainn ach cuairteoirí atá ag stopadh ar feadh tamaillín ar ár mbealach. Níl cónaí ach ag seachtar i Ráth Bládhma i ndáiríre, agus níl ach beirt acu siúd ina laochra – an banlaoch Liath Luachra agus an t-ógánach Aodhán.

Agus déarfainn féin nach bhfuil seans na ngrást acu.

Tribes (Then and Now)

One of the aspects I delve into a little deeper with the book Liath Luachra: The Seeking (and the entire series, in fact) is around the workings of ‘tribes’, at least in terms of how they related to ancient Ireland.

The concept of ‘tribe’ (tuathor treibh in Irish) is one that most westerners are familiar with on an intellectual level. Due to the individualised, ‘nation’-based societies in which the vast majority of us now live in however, we don’t really have a practical understanding of how tribal systems function or how they influence human interaction or behaviour.

If you look up a definition of ‘tribe’ from the usual sources, most English-based dictionaries will usually define it in the form of ‘a human population’ that has the basic elements of:

  • a common ancestry; and
  • a common/homogenous culture

Which is a bit simplistic, to be honest.

When you think about it, it’s a pretty fundamental for people to come together. And that’s not only for social interaction but for the purpose of survival in threatening or trying circumstances. When it comes to human beings, the established truth is that, over the longer term, groups of people tend to operate (and survive) far more effectively than individuals, particularly where there’s an established interdependency between their members. That’s summed up quite nicely by the old Gaelic saying:

Maireann na daoine ar scáil a chéile’

It’s in the shadow of one another that people endure.

In ancient Ireland, where the population was substantially smaller than it is today, the most natural groupings would have been those based on familial bonds. Like all families however, those relationships were dynamic in that once groups reached a certain size (and the interdependency or internal bonds between people weakened), members would have ‘moved out’, splitting away from the larger group to form ‘sub-tribes’, some eventually growing large enough to be recognised by others as tribes in their own right. Certain tribes of course, would have gone the opposite way, combining with other tribes to form much larger tribal confederations.

One aspect of tribal life that many modern – particularly western – definitions tend to overlook, is the importance of a common geographical territory or ‘homeland’ in which tribes operate and over which they hold authority (even nomadic tribes have established routes they follow). This element is important as land ‘roots’ the society living on it. Basically, that means that over a long period of occupation, people establish very strong interactions with – and connections to – the land, connections that strengthen tribal identity. This is one of the reasons, tribal identity tends to be far stronger and encourages far greater loyalty than ‘national’ identity’.

Losing authority or control over a territory (as expressed through a tribe’s continued occupation or presence on it) – would have had a deleterious effect in that it separated tribal members from their established cultural history and stories – critical factors of identity (and probably linked to the reasons many westerners grapple with their own sense of ‘belonging’).

Unfortunately, even today, many western nations struggle to understand tribal models as they don’t fit neatly into their paradigm and/or governance systems. Some western governments, seeing them as something that doesn’t concur with their concept of ‘nationhood’, simply don’t want to.

And that’s a loss for everyone.

Dark Dawn/ Camhaoir Fulismeartha Launches 11 May

On 11 May, the story Dark Dawn/ Camhhaoir Fuilsmeartha will finally be released online. A creative project that’s been in development for almost two years, I’m feeling both relief and excitement at finally having it ready for launch.

Set in 1st Century Ireland, it tells the tale of a dying warrior who’s been assigned to defend the isolated settlement of Ráth Bládhma (future home of Fionn mac Cumhaill) from an incursion of enemy scouts.

Presented in a unique and experimental format, the story will be available in both Irish and English.

The invitation is currently available as a Facebook event. Just prior to the launch, a link will be made available to all those signed up as ‘attending’. That link will provide access to Dark Dawn and particpants can explore it at their own time and leisure.

If you’d like an invite, send me a request through info@irishimbas.com.

I hope you can join us.

THREE YEARS/ THREE MONTHS

Apparently it’s been three years since I last released a Liath Luachra book through the usual ebook stores. I do recall that, on that last occasion, I mistakenly made the book exclusive to Amazon. As a result, it was another three months before anyone who didn’t buy it through Amazon could obtain a copy.

I don’t particularly enjoy distributing my books through a monopolistic corporate that doesn’t pay its taxes. For that reason, with the most recent Liath Luachra book (Liath Luachra: The Seeking), I released the book directly through my own website.

To be honest, It’s always bothered me to have so little control over my own creative products and to support the greed of entities who take so much and return so little to society. This decision really felt like the best for me and, longer term, I suspect I’ll continue down that route.

As a result, for those who’d like to access the latest Liath Luachra in digital form, this is currently available through this site only. THe book will be available through the corporate ebookstores in about two months time (30 June 2021). The fourth (and possibly final) Liath Luachra book will be available before the end of the year. Initially – and predominanlty – through the Irish Imbas store.

When Ireland becomes a ‘Plastic Paddy’ Theme Park

I came across an interesting graphic novel last week called Judge Dredd: Emerald Isle. Originally published back in 2002, it was written by Belfast comic writer Garth Ennis and drawn by Steve Dillon (as part of the famous ‘Judge Dredd’ series) and it plays with every possible cliché of Ireland and Irish people – to the point where Ireland and Irish culture has been reduced to a tourist theme park!!

I’ve always enjoyed Ennis’ work, particularly his earlier ‘Hitman’ series (and to a lesser extent his later series ‘The Boys – also a television series on Amazon). He can be very brutal but he’s always funny and he certainly pulls no punches with this one.

I’m not quite sure if Ennis self-identifies as Irish or Northern-Irish but I suspect a lot of this particular work is influenced by his experiences growing up in Belfast during the ‘Troubles’.  I confess that I winced a few times with his portrayal of Irish stereotypes but I can’t deny he’s got an ear for the Dublin vernacular and his exaggerated representation of the mawkish ‘diddly-dee’ Oirishness (that some Americans seem to prefer over reality) is spot on.  

In summary, the plot is as follows:

In 2113, the Emerald Isle Ambassador and his robot chauffeur are shot by terrorist group ‘The Sons of Erin’ using a weapon called a spud gun. After a Pat-Wagon discovers the body, Judge Dredd is sent in to investigate.

Once day, I’d like to produce a graphic novel of my own without all the usual ‘Oirish’ stereotypes and anachronisms.  In the meantime, enjoy this little example of what happens when ‘Plastic Paddy’ jumps the shark: HERE

How Things Work Out (or don’t!)

It’s interesting for me to look back on some of the older posts and articles in this site and see how my plans and intentions have changed over the years. I recently came an article from 4 years back where I’d outlined some of my book plans including

  • Liath Luachra: Sons of the Land
  • Bodhmhall: The Black Hag
  • Fionn: The Salmon of Secret Wisdom

The first of those (Liath Luachra: Sons of the Land) did go ahead and was, indeed, published but under the title Liath Luachra: The Swallowed. At the point in time where I wrote that article, I knew the book would have a strong wolf element to it. The Irish word for ‘wolf’ is ‘mactíre’ which literally means ‘son of the land,’ so it seemed a logical title at the time. I think I ended up changing it as ‘The Swallowed’ aligned more effectively with the theme of the book.  

Bodhmhall: The Black Hag was a book I’d intended to write as an accompaniment to ‘Liath Luachra: The Grey One’. You can read why that didn’t go ahead in the 2017 article (HERE).  

Fionn: The Salmon of Secret Wisdom is a book I still intend to write but having started the 4th in the series, I quickly realised that there were some important elements to the story that had to take place first before I could even start talking about the famous Salmon. For the next arc in the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series (three more books), Demne/Fionn takes on a far greater role than in the previous arc. He is the titular hero in this after all.

I’m hoping to release Fionn: Stranger at Mullán Bán (the first book in the new arc) during the first quarter of 2022.

Part-time Creating

Producing and distributing a professional ‘product’ takes time and effort (or a lot of spare money!).

One of the issues asociated with being a niche, part-time creator therefore, is that competing priorities generally constrict you from achieving the things you want to achieve (in the time you want to achieve them). Add in family, other work and life-altering events (Covid-19, earthquakes,etc. etc.) and the opportunity for creative output decreases even further.

Since I first started producing my own products through Irish Imbas (since 2014, I think ), I’ve been regularly frustarted at having to shut down my creative projects in response to other priorities – sometimes for years (and , yes, people are still hassling me about getting the next Beara out!). Unfortunately, that’s the cost of maintaining control over your own work while you’re still involved in another career and immersed in other circumstances. Still, like any creator, you can grow your portfolio over the years and eventually end up with a body of work you can be proud of.

This year. I’ll finally see the fruition of three projects I’ve been working on (on a part time basis) for over two years. Liath Lauchra: The Seeking is already complete, Dark Dawn/Camhaoir Fuilsmeartha is coming out in May 2021 and Liath Lauchra: The Metal Men should be avalilable a few months later.

There really is no greater satsifaction for a creator than that.

———————————

This was all triggered from a Facebook “memory” from four years back:

THE COMPLETION OF TWO PROJECTS, THE START OF ANOTHER
The first batch of hardcopies for FIONN: The Adversary arrived this morning. Fifteen copies and they’re already gone, mostly committed to people who’ve helped with the production, editing, reviewing etc. I think I have a single copy left which is remaining here on the home shelf.

Even after all these years, there’s still a great thrill and satisfaction in seeing all your intellectual work captured and consolidated into physical form. Digital copies are fine but I still prefer the tactile experience of flipping pages and the tangible weight of a book in my hand when I’m reading. [Full article at: Completion of Two Projects]

Dark Dawn/Camhaoir Fuilsmeartha coming in May 2021

Sometimes it’s best to kill a man fast.

Other times it makes sense to take it slow, to work the movements and the killing strokes in advance.

This is such a time.”

Ireland: First/Second Century

In the isolated valley of Gleann Ceoch, a dying warrior is assigned to defend the isolated settlement of Ráth Bládhma (future home of Fionn mac Cumhaill) from an incursion of enemy scouts.

This experimental format story in Irish and English will be released in May 2021 – final date yet to be confirmed.

I am the King of the World …And I am dying

Galway’s Macnas are probably Ireland’s most innovative live ‘theatre’ group – they’re certainly one of the most visually spectacular.

As an alternative to the plastic 2021 St Paddy’s experience (Covid-19 version) therefore, you might want to consider checking out their Galway 2020 commission – Gilgamesh.

As mythological epics go, this one is an interesting narrative and Macnas do their usual magic on visuals and mood.

You can find the site here: Gilgamesh