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.
The title in the image above – Camhaoir Fuilsmeartha – is the Irish title for a project I currently have on the back burner. The English title – Dark Dawn – is one you may have come across elsewhere (it’s a bilingual Irish/English project).
As with all languages, translation often doesn’t work the way you’d expect and Irish is no exception. As a literal translation, ‘Dark Dawn’ just doesn’t work particularly well in Irish. That’s probably because it doesn’t have the same cultural connotation in English (at least, not in my head). Rather than resorting to béarlachas (the word we use where an Irish language or cultural concept is forced into an English structural form or word pattern), I’ve therefore used a different translation instead.
Literally, ‘Camhaoir Fuilsmeartha’ means ‘Bloodspattered Dawn’. The meaning is slightly different from the English title but, more importantly, the connotation is correct, from a cultural perspective it’s far more apt and it still captures the theme of the story (a dark, action-adventure tale set in the Fenian Cycle).
Because I work in Irish mythology, a lot of my books tend to end up in the ‘Fantasy’ genre where I see a lot of writers (particularly, the Celtic Fantasy genre authors) use Irish terms to try and give their books a bit of (cough!) ‘cultural integrity’. The main problem I come across is where such authors use Google Translate for various terms in their books and the results are often disastrously hilarious. At it’s best, this tool is really a kind of ‘béarlachas machine’: with Irish, it translates everything literally and therefore gets at least 80% of it’s translations technically correct but culturally and socially wrong.
At its worst, you could say that Google Translate is like a global colonisation tool where any foreign concept from a different language/culture is sanitized to a ‘nice’, English-comprehensible equivalent.
Even where the original concept is left behind and rendered meaningless.
Note: This project was originally due for release in January 2020. Unfortunately, workloads have now delayed it’s publication until March/April 2020.
The original stories from the Fenian Cycle (the stories of Fionn mac Cumhaill and the warrior band mistakenly called Na Fianna) are believed to have first originated in Leinster (that’s on the eastern side of Ireland if you’re unfamiliar with it) which is why so many of the Fionn mac Cumhaill stories take place in that region. Over the subsequent centuries however, as the character’s popularity increased, professional storytellers from other parts of the country also started to adapt the tales for their local audiences and often incorporated nearby topographical features that these audiences would be familiar with. That’s why, today, you’ll struggle to find anywhere in Ireland that doesn’t have at least some kind of reference to Fionn or the Fianna.
The twelfth century Macgnímartha Finn (The Boyhood Tales of Fionn) on which the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series is based, retains those very strong links to Leinster. Here’s a map showing some of the key locations:
- Ráth Bládhma: As a child, Fionn (or Demne, as he was originally known) was reared by two female guardians (Bodhmhall and The Grey One) in the forests of Sliabh Bládhma/ Sliabh Bloom in County Laois). This isolated spot was the most significant area of wilderness adjacent to the areas in Leinster which would have been most populated back in the Iron Age. As a result, it would have been a logical place to set the story of someone who was on the run or in hiding.
- Seiscenn Uairbhaoil: This Leinster marsh (where the warrior Fiacail mac Codhna was said to be based) is believed to be located in present day County Wicklow. It’s placement on the map is an estimate on my part.
- Almhu: This was the site where Tadg mac Nuadat was originally said to live. According to one or two references, the fortress was painted with alum (Almhu) from whence it gets its name. This was also the childhood home of Muirne Múncháem (Fionn’s mother). These days many people still use the anglicized (and meaningless) version of the name: The Hill of Allen.
- Dún Baoiscne:This is the one site in the Fionn mac Cumhaill series which is pure fabrication on my part. For the purposes of the series, I needed Clann Baoiscne to have a tribal territory based around a fortress which I arbitrarily named Dún Baoiscne (literally: the fortress of Clann Baoiscne). To be fair, if there had been a Clann Baoiscne and they had a fortress, that’s probably what it would have been called.
Many of these place names may pose a challenge for non-Irish speakers to pronounce but why not have a go and then check it against the audio guide to see how close you were.