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Harp

A gorgeous shot from the Irish Times.

Harp-maker Kevin Harrington handing over a new harp to Muireann Ni Mhuirthile (10), on National Harp Day, at the Featherbeds in the Dublin/Wicklow mountains. Photograph Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Found at: Image of the Day

Dead Men Standing

One thread that occasionally raises its head throughout Irish mythology is the motif associated with the burial process of some (a word often mistranslated as ‘king’ but more accurately translated as ‘chieftain’) or mythological celebrities, where the corpse is bound upright or interred in the standing position, usually in defiance of an enemy or rival population group.

The early and medieval Irish literature contains several references in this regard but the most famous is probably linked to that of Cú Chulainn who, in a final act of defiance, ties himself to a standing stone to die on his feet. Facing his enemies, he remains upright for three days after he dies as they’re too terrified to come close (clearly, nobody thought of throwing a stone!).

Another celebrity associated with upright burials was Laoghaire (son of the infamous Niall). Famous for his hostile interactions with Saint Pat, Laoighaire is recorded (by Tíreachán) as being buried on the ridges of Tara, placed upright and facing south in defiance of the Leinster tribes. This follows somewhat in his father’s footsteps, given that Neill’s body was also said to have been held aloft by his tuath as a good-luck token when heading off to battle.

Early Irish literature has a few other references to the bodies of chieftains and heroes being buried upright and although there is a possibility that might have reflected some kind of burial ritual linked to the cult of warriors, it’s very much a literary motif rather than a historical one. As a result, you really have to be careful with its interpretation.

 

The Fenian Cycle, Books and Leather Bikinis

Presenter Andy Linton interviews myself and fellow Irish writer and musician Pat Higgins at ‘Capital Irish’. You can find the interview below:

I start talking at about five minutes in and keep on talking (mostly about the Fenian Cycle, the influence it’s had on my own writing, a little bit about the proposed Liath, Celtic Warrior television series etc.) until someone wrestles the mircophone off me.

Pat Higgins finally gets a chance to talk a little about his book ‘Begotten Not Made‘ a character drama set in Galway based on true events in Pat’s family.

Saint Patrick and The Goat

I came across an interesting folk legend in Skerries last time I was home, which tickled my fancy. Like much of our native topographical narratives, the story relates to Saint Patrick (many of the pre-Christian cultural sites including holy springs, wells, and others were renamed for him by the Christian Church as their influence grew in Ireland).

This story relates to a cluster of islands off the seaside village Skerries, in County Fingal. The local and most common version of the story tells how St. Patrick was expelled from the Wicklow region by the (cough) pagan natives. Disgruntled, by his lack of success, the Saint headed north and landed on a small island (“the outer island still called by his name” – Inis Pádraig or St. Patrick’s Island) off Skerries which he intended to use as a safe base from which to convert the ‘natives’. Accompanying him on this new mission, was a goat which he used for companionship and as a source of milk.

One day, while he was off on the mainland haranguing the locals, a separate bunch of them turned up on the island where they found Patrick’s goat. Feeling hungry, and having forgotten to pack a picnic lunch, they killed the goat and ate it before heading back to the mainland.

Patrick, returning to the island after a hard day at the pulpit, was upset (inconsolable) to find his goat missing. Full of fury, he took two giant strides (the first, taking him to Colt Island, the second to Red Island) to step back onto the mainland to confront the people living in modern-day Skerries.

Gathering the natives on the beach, he accused them outright of eating his goat and when they attempted to deny it, the guilty locals found themselves unable to speak and could only respond in bleats. When they were finally ready to confess their sins and drop to their knees before the Great Saint (and the Superior God, of course) their voices finally returned.

This story is pretty typical of the religious propaganda of the day but there are also several very familiar mythological constructs running through the story (and I haven’t included all of them). Overall, the current story is pretty typical of ‘Lazy Man Folklore’ or ‘Tourist Folklore’ (where the focus is more on the entertaining and fantastical elements of the story rather than the more interesting facts behind it).  It’s a fun story but it’d still be nice if the Tourist Board could get off its butt and add a bit more of the actual history next time around.  

The Long Way Home


Tá cumha i ndiaidh an bhaile ag titim isteach orm inniu.

It’s an interesting dilemma with respect to homesickness when you’re living on the wrong side of the planet. In the past, I could always live away with the knowledge that I could jump on a plane and be back in Cork within 2-3 days.

In the days of Covid however, with its quarantines, lack of aircraft and astronomical flight costs, such reassuraces no longer carry much weight. I expect to see a lot more immersion in Irish writing over the year to come.

LIATH LUACHRA 3: THE SEEKING

I hit the 100,000 word mark on Liath Luachra 3 today and it’s still flowing nicely. The intentionis to release the finalised book cover at the end of September with a view to launching the book itself at the end of November/start of December.
 
There’s a lot of peope waiting for this so I’m feeling under a lot of pressure to get it right.
 
Although it follows on logically from book 2, it’s more closely aligned to the original.
Keep your eyes open for some kind of announcement at the end of September

The Irish Tardis

THE IRISH TARDIS

Spotted in the Wicklow hills about three years ago.
Naturally, it didn’t work.
Bloody Eirecom! (%!!$#!)!

Following the Warrior Path

 

A scene from the novel  Fionn: Defence of Ráth Bládhma which is set in the isolated settlement of Ráth Bládhma. In this scene, Bearach (a young boy) is talking with his hero, the woman warrior Liath Luachra (The Grey One) who tries to explain to him that being a warrior – gaiscíoch isn’t all it’s made out to be .

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‘I wish to be like you, Liath Luachra. I wish to be a gaiscíoch – a true warrior.’

She stared at him in genuine astonishment. A moment later, she started to laugh. It was a rare sound for her and one that was surprisingly soft, if tinged with an underlying melancholy. ‘Ah, Bearach. You are truly the only one to make me raise a smile.’

‘I make no jest, Grey One. I wish to be a gaiscíoch like you. One day I hope to equal your skill as a fighter, your ability to work through the fight in your head. I want to learn courage such as yours. You know no fear when you are Out in the Great Wild.’

‘Ah, yes. The Great Wild backs down when I tramp through its forests. Wolves shit themselves and slink into the undergrowth at my passing. Even the Faceless Ones, the ghosts of hazy glades, hide and tell each other fearful tales of the dreaded Liath Luachra who will come through the shadows to take their heads.’

The youth blushed at her gentle mockery. Picking at a loose thread on the hem of his tunic, he wound it about his index finger, tightening it until the tip of the digit grew white.

‘You are the best of us here in Ráth Bládhma.’

‘Which only goes to show how little of the Out you’ve actually seen, Bearach. There are many out there who would best me in a fight.’

‘But Aodhán says you beat Dún Baoiscne’s finest warriors. He says they fear you, that your reputation for war makes them quake in their boots.’

‘Aodhán needs to harness his tongue. And his fancies.’

‘He told me about the day you first came to Dún Baoiscne with Na Cineáltaí – the Kindly Ones – your fian of a hundred men. He says that you crushed their best fighters in single combat. Humiliated them. That you were too agile, too strong to be defeated.’

Liath Luachra ground her teeth together.

‘I did defeat them. And, yes, I did humiliate them. But that was a mistake for which they never forgave me.’ She shrugged. ‘I understand that now. I’d probably have reacted in a similar manner if I was defeated by someone I considered weaker or in some way inferior.’

‘But you showed them!’ There was a shrill enthusiasm to the boy’s voice that made her cringe.

‘You have a warped understanding of things, Bearach. I accept that the fault is not yours for you base it on the tall tales of those who should know better. I will have strong words with Aodhán about putting such stories in your head.’

The boy looked confused, almost disbelieving. ‘Aodhán has not spoken true?’

Liath Luachra shifted awkwardly on her seat. She was uncomfortable having conversations of such depth with anyone other than Bodhmhall.

‘Aodhán’s claims hold a sliver of truth. I did lead Na Cineáltaí but that band never had more than ten men at any one time. They were brutal men, little more than killers -’ Her voice trailed off. ‘You must understand, Bearach, my life back then … that was a different life. I was a different person. I had a haunting on me, a haunting so venomous that I became little better than a wounded animal: vicious, savage and very cruel.’

Unable to bear his trusting gaze, she dropped her own eyes to the floor. ‘You have seen the way a dog will snap at a wound in its paw.’

The boy nodded slowly.

‘It is the reaction of a stupid beast who knows no better. It experiences pain and immediately thinks it has been attacked. In its attempt to retaliate, to strike back, it hurts itself even more.’

She reached down into the fire and pulled a burning brand from the embers. Part of the wood had burned away and much of it was scorched and black but the tip was still red hot.

‘That was the way of me back in those days. Except that I didn’t strike at my own limbs. No, I was far too smart for that. I struck out at others instead. Bandits, reavers, murderers, sometimes even innocent people who merely looked at me the wrong way, at the wrong time on the wrong day.’

She placed the tip of the burning brand against the back of her left hand. Bearach stared in horror as smoke from the skin rose up, the stink of burning flesh filing the air. Liath Luachra showed no sign of even noticing. Her eyes flared with a ragged intensity.

‘I had a belly full of venom, a heart full of gangrene and battle rage. This world had cut me to the quick and I was determined to hurt it back, to carve its filthy influence out of my heart. I hacked and cleaved a route through blood and sinew and bone when all that time my real target, the one thing I was truly trying to strike, was myself.’

She paused and took a deep breath as she dropped the firebrand back into the fire. Her forehead was sweating profusely. Her heart thundered and there was a sickly taste in her mouth. She focused her attention on these other physical sensations, refusing to acknowledge the pain in her hand.

‘So yes, in a martial sense, that made me strong. It made me impervious to fear and, for a time, to pain. It also made me impervious to those things that make us human: compassion, friendship, affection.’

Her eyes raised abruptly to lock directly on the boy’s. ‘And that,’ she snarled, ‘is what you must sacrifice to be a true gaiscíoch.’

Liath Luachra: The Seeking

How do you catch and kill a ghost?

In the bleak Luachair valley, the woman warrior Liath Luachra’s winter seclusion is disrupted by a desperate plea for help. Raising her fian (battle group) to rescue a comrade’s abducted sister however, she quickly discovers this simple ‘Seeking’ is far more perilous than anything she could have imagined.

Traversing the wilderness of ancient Ireland in pursuit of an enigmatic raiding party, the woman warrior encounters old enemies who seek to undermine her and new allies who cannot be trusted. Meanwhile, within her own war band, secrets have surfaced that threaten her leadership and her grip on her warriors.

Faced with horrors she’d thought long forgotten, a chilling spectre from her past and new threats rising in country’s south-east, Liath Luachra must revert to the very worst part of herself to survive.

And confront the phantoms of her past and present.

 But you cannot stalk – or kill – a ghost.

Facebook and Captain Boycott

Given the growing commercial boycott of Facebook as a result of the swelling volumes of hate speech and misinformation, I thought people might be interested in the story of where the word ‘boycott’ actually comes from. In some ways, it’s actually quite a funny story.

Needless to say, it was from Ireland:

 

The Story of Captain Boycott

In 1870, almost eighty percent of all the land in Ireland was owned by the descendants of British colonists, most of them absentee landlords who hired Land Agents to manage their properties to ensure the maximum ‘dividends’ were transferred back to their owners in the ‘home country’. The native Irish, meanwhile, were often obliged to make a living by leasing their old ancestral lands (annually), a task hampered by the fact that at least 50% consisted of holdings less than fifteen acres in size. The hardships that this caused led to great tension, a situation inflamed by the risk of famine and  the behaviour of predatory Land Agents who pitilessly instigated rack-renting and mass evictions to make a bigger profit for their masters.

In an attempt to counter these injustices, a political organisation called ‘The Land League’ was established in 1879 by individuals including Charles Parnell, Andrew Kettle, Michael Davitt and others. This organisation hoped to improve the lot of poor tenant farmers by abolishing landlordism in Ireland and enabling those farmers to buy the land they worked on over time.  Soon after its establishment, during a famous speech in Ennis (on September 19, 1880), Charles Parnell proposed that individuals who took the farms of evicted tenants should be ostracized by the community rather than resorting to violence.

Several years earlier, Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott (a retired British army captain) took the position of Land Agent for John Crichton, 3rd earl of Erne near the Neale in Co. Mayo (a block consisting of about 2,184 acres). As the Land Agent, Boycott was responsible for ensuring a regular profit from the land (which included collecting rent from 35 tenant families),a task he did for several years.

In 1880, due to poor harvests, many of the tenant farmers in Mayo were simply unable to pay their rent and sought relief from Lord Erne (though Boycott). Lord Erne offered a ten percent reduction but the protesting tenants pleaded for a twenty five percent reduction, which Lord Erne refused. With the tenants unable to pay, Boycott immediately attempted to evict eleven tenant families from the land.

When the alarm was raised about the evictions however, the Land League’s new tactics were applied and Boycott soon found himself socially, and professionally, isolated, unable to obtain labourers to work on his lands or to access local services (as businesses refused to trade with him). At night, huge damage was carried out on the farm’s infrastructure with equipment broken, trees felled and various crops stolen or destroyed. To make matters worse, the heightened tensions meant Boycott and his supporters had to be escorted anywhere they travelled, by armed police.

This concerted action proved remarkably effective and soon Boycott was reduced to writing a letter in the London Times (on 14 October 1880) to seek assistance to harvest his substantial turnip crop. He subsequently received support from the Dublin Daily Express (controlled and predominantly read by his peers and other members of the Protestant Ascendency who were concerned at the Land League’s success). This helped to establish a fund to help save Boycott’s crops and a ‘Boycott Relief Expedition’.

Although Boycott only required ten to twelve men to harvest his turnip crop, during the first week of November, 50 volunteers from the Ulster ‘Boycott Relief Expedition’ (predominantly made up of Orangemen volunteers from Cavan and Monaghan), arrived at Claremorris railway station to ‘get in the Captain’s turnips’. Arriving on a particularly stormy day, the volunteers (and the large company of soldiers escorting them), had to walk all the way to Boycott’s land in driving rain as none of the local drivers would transport them. There, over the next two weeks, housed in tents on the lawns and guarded by several hundred soldiers, they harvested the turnips. During that time however, a large number of sheep, fowl and other foodstuffs ‘disappeared’ and Boycott’s carefully manicured gardens were trampled to a muddy quagmire. By the time the ‘volunteers’ and the soldiers left (27 November 1880), the crop (worth less than £350 at market) had cost the English Crown and other financial interests almost £10,000 to harvest.

In December 1880, unable to sustain the financial losses and the damage to his reputation, Boycott sold his house and left Ireland. The affair in Mayo made headlines and by the end of 1880, the word ‘boycotting’ had spread throughout Ireland and overseas. Twenty years later, the word appeared as a verb in English dictionaries

BLATHER DAY2

On the 27th of each month, I post a few independent reviews for one of my books, essentially letting other people describe their thoughts about that particular book instead of blathering on about it myself (we all dodge a bullet, that way!).

Today’s ‘Blather Day’ choice is FIONN: TRAITOR OF DÚN BAOISCNE – the second book in the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series. The reviews I’ve chosen were randomly pulled from different ebook sites so some are short, some are more in-depth, but at least they’re all from people who’ve actually read the book.

As ever, I remain very grateful for those who made the effort of leaving a review.

Go raibh maith agaibh!

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Ireland: 198 A.D. Six years have passed since the brutal attack on the community of Ráth Bládhma. The isolated valley of Glenn Ceoch is at peace once more but those who survived still bear the scars of that struggle.

Now, new dangers threaten the settlement.

The warrior Liath Luachra has discovered troubling signs of strangers in the surrounding wilderness. Disgraced druid Bodhmhall fears a fresh attempt to abduct her talented nephew. A summons from the fortress Dún Baoiscne sets them both on a perilous traverse of the Great Wild where enemies, old and new, await them.
And Muirne has returned to reclaim her son.

Come what may, there will be blood.

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.

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Just click on the image to read the review!

 

 

 

 

Irish Pirates

When people go on about “Irish Pirates” it’s always good to treat whatever they say with a grain of salt (unless they’re talking about internet sites!). In fact, piracy wasn’t that ‘popular’ in Ireland. Although there were certainly tuath (tribes) who used boats to launch attacks on rival tuath (or to obtain levy payment from boats fishing or passing through their territorial coastline), in the early- and mid-medieval periods, these were very different to what most people think of when the topic of ‘piracy’ is raised. Treasure Island and subsequent Hollywood movies tend to deal with buccaneers and the ‘Golden Age of Piracy’ which lasted between the 1650s and the 1730s) and, in truth, they didn’t have too much to do with Ireland as the Gaelic power base had mostly been destroyed by then.

In Ireland, the most active “pirates” were probably the O’Driscolls whose tribal territories were based in West Cork, an area renowned for its island-strewn coast and safe harbours. The O’Driscoll’s had a particularly long-running feud with the colonial merchants of Waterford city (further up the east coast) and spent years attacking and looting their trading ships (this actually started in 1368, when they sacked the city). The O’Driscolls ‘pirate’ activities only came to a close around 1537 when a Waterford-controlled force reciprocated by sacking O’Driscoll settlements at Baltimore and the nearby islands and destroying their power base for good.

Recently however, I learned about a 17th century alliance of international pirates, based down in West Cork, which I hadn’t come across before. The result of some detailed research by underwater archaeologist Dr Connie Kelleher, she’s just released a book on the subject and you can read about her various findings HERE.

Irish Mythological Concepts, Books and the Writing Process

This is an interview I had with Finbarr Murray of Capital Irish – the Irish Access Radio channel in Wellington – back in 2016.  I actually spent a few years as one of the presenters on this show but had to give it up a year before the interview due to competing time commitments.

In this particular episode, I discuss the context behind Irish – and other – mythology, how it developed over time and how that’s influenced the way I publish  my own materila through Irish Imbas Books.

You can listen to (or download) the episode below.

Black and Blue and Gibber-irish

Given recent events following the murder of George Floyd, it’s probably worth recalling a story from 2017 when an American cop hilariously tried to counter the popularity of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement through the use of his own (cough) Irish heritage.

The cop in question was attempting to translate the words ‘Blue Lives Matter’ into Irish – misguidedly attempting to link it with the Irish culture – presumably to give it some kind of “cultural integrity” which he (and the expression) clearly didn’t have.

The first mistake he made was using ‘Google Translate’ – a programme famously known to turn English expressions into Gibber-Irish.

The second mistake he made was having no real understanding of the culture he was attempting to reference.

In Irish, the expression ‘fear dubh’, although literally meaning ‘black man’, is commonly understood as a reference to ‘The Devil’. As a result, if we want to talk about a black person, we instead use the words ‘fear gorm’ (or ‘bean gorm’) – literally blue man (blue woman). That’s just a cultural thing. It’s how the language evolved over a very long period and anyone who truly knew their culture would know that.

In Ireland, we often see people who aren’t from the country attempting to use Irish cultural concepts (and language) in a way that doesn’t make any sense (or simply isn’t appropriate).

Sometimes, however, there are some hilariously funny ‘backfires’!

You can find the original post from The Geeky Gaeilgeoir here: Even Racists Get the Blues

BLATHER DAY

One of the problems with writing independently is that it’s hard to do marketing or advertising unless you have the time/energy to commit to it yourself.

Given that I usually have neither (and I’m essentially useless at all forms of marketing), I generally let it up to other people to spread word about my books, through’ word of mouth’, reviews at the various bookstores (Amazon, Kobo, Apple etc.) or on the Goodreads site.

Hence … ‘Blather Day’.

On the 27th of each month, I post a few reviews for one of my books, essentially letting other people describe their thoughts about that particular book instead of blathering on about it myself (we all miss a bullet, that way!).

Today’s ‘Blather Day’ choice is FIONN: THE STALKING SILENCE – the free short-story prequel to the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series (and which actually started the whole series). The reviews I’ve chosen were really just randomly copied off an Amazon page. Hence, some are short, some are more in-depth but at least they’re all from people who actually read the book.

As always, I’m very grateful for those who made the effort of leaving a review.

Go raibh maith agaibh!

Scáthach and Cú Chulainn

Scáthach – the Shadowed – is a woman warrior who turns up in the tenth century manuscript Tochmarc Emire (The Wooing of Emer). A supporting character to the narrative adventure that focuses on Irish hero Cú Chulainn, her main purpose is to add an element of depth and context to Cú Chulainn’s legendary fighting skills and, of course some 10th century feminine (cough) “pizzazz”. In the Tomharc Emire, advised by his friends that to complete his martial training he should learn from Scáthach, Cú Chulainn immediately sets sail for Alba (in modern-day Scotland) and the fortress where she’s based.

To be honest, whenever I think of Scáthach, I have this mental image of a longsuffering professional working woman, gritting her teeth and doing her best to hide her irritation at an extended visit from her daughter’s boorish boyfriend. To imagine Cú Chulainn’s visit as a pleasing or welcome one would be to ignore the other interesting elements of the tale. Most people sadly, enamoured by the romanticised aspect of a woman warrior teaching the mythological hero, tend to limit their focus on that.

When Cú Chulainn first arrives and enters Scáthach’s domain, he inveigles his way into her fortress by manipulating the romantic passions of her teenage daughter, Úathach. Despite Cú Chulainn breaking her fingers (and the slaying of the warrior Cochair Cruibne), Úathach is so besotted she casts any loyalty to Scáthach aside, advising her new beau on how to overcome her mother while she’s resting. Following Úathach’s advice, Cú Chulainn overcomes his host, places his sword between her breasts and threatens her with death unless she grants him three wishes:

• that she trains him without neglect,
• that she pays the bride price for him to marry Úathach; and
• that she uses her seer skills to warn him of anything that might befall him.

Over the course of Cú Chulainn’s visit, Scáthach puts up with her unwelcome visitor’s regular acts of violence and trains him as obliged without comment. When Cú Chulainn attacks Aífe and forces her to have his child (Úathach has disappeared from the narrative at this point), she continues to keep her silence.

In the end however, it’s Scáthach who has the last bitter laugh. Prior to his departure back to Ireland and Eamain Macha, she draws up her seer skills and recites the events she sees in store for him, foretelling the bloody slaughter of the Táin Bó Cuailgne. Cú Chulainn, preoccupied, pays her recitation as much attention as a blind man to the cinematic trailer of a subtitled movie.

The moment passes, nothing is learned.

I’m occasionally asked why I’ve never written a contemporary version of Cú Chulainn or An Táin, given that – in some ways – he’s far more well known to non-Irish, English-speaking audiences. The truth of it is I find it hard to write about characters I don’t particularly like. For a contemporary audience, the actions of the Iron Age Cú Chulainn are difficult to get across in a way that would remain true to the original stories. Particularly as, in many of those stories, he comes across as a violent meathead (and, to be honest, a bit of a bastard).

Just like some real life heroes, I suppose.

Celtic Mythology Collection Books

Two years have passed since I published the most recent book in the Celtic Mythology Collection Series. I had hoped to run another -slightly amended – competition this year but events, unfortunately, conspired to prevent it.

The original purpose of this series was to try and educate people about Irish mythology and to establish some fundamental opposition to all the misinformation published out there on the internet that purports to be authentic. Since I started publishing these books however, I’ve also found other – more effective – ways to do this kind of work and, with the slow/careful release of lockdown in Wellington, hope to be able to release some of these in the forthcoming months.

Meanwhile, the first book in the series is still out there for free. The last two remain at the very minor price of 99c/99p each.

You can find the link to all three books here.