The first reviews from the paperback are just starting to trickle in. Usually, by the time I release a book I’m far too close to tell if its any good or not. As a result, it’s always a bit of a relief to find the reviews are positive.
The digital version gets released on on 15 December.
The first review from Padraig O’Mahony can be found here:
The second review, from Wayne McAuliffe is here:
Huge thanks to Wayne and Padraig. Go raibh mile maith agaibh!
All going well, I’m aiming to have this out in Oct/Nov 2023.
This current arc develops the ongoing direction of the series a little further. Demne/Fionn – the titular hero – is growing up and takes a more proactive role in the adventures but his three guardians (his aunt Bodhmhall, the woman warrior Liath Luachra, and the gregarious Fiacial mac Codhna) have their work cut out for them as they try to identify who’s behind the latest threat against their charge.
Cue more adventure, betrayals, and violence with a sprinkling of friendships and romance.
I’m just in the process of completing the last chapter in Fionn: Stranger at Mullán Bánand felt it might be timely to offer a small taster of what that book will be about.
For those of you who’ve been following this series, the events in this fourth book take place six years after Fionn: The Adversary. By now, the settlement of Ráth Bládhma is well-established, even if it’s inhabitants are still haunted by the unknown forces arrayed against over the previous three books. Demne – soon to be Fionn – is now a young teenager and dealing with the ramifications of drastic actions to keep him safe. Bodhmhall, meanwhile, continues to lead the growing settlement while dealing with her Gift and the disturbing premonitions it continues to send her.
Liath Luachra, meanwhile, continues to roam the wild, hunting and teaching the younger members of Ráth Bládhma … where this story begins
It was a death-sun that revealed the strangers’ tracks, south-east of the Bládhma mountains. Sliding in on the heel of dusk, its slanted glare cast a bloodstained hue that clearly illuminated the broad spread of footprints. Liath Luachra, the Grey One of Luachair, regarded them in silence, her expression grave and hard as stone. In all her years travelling that isolated territory, she’d never once encountered evidence of another person’s passage. To find such a number, and such a diversity, of tracks all at once, made her stomach muscles clench in unease.
Kneeling beside the nearest footprint, she chewed on the inner tissue of her left cheek and glanced warily around at the surrounding forest. The dense vegetation meant there was little enough to see: a series of endless dark walls where tall oak trees layered the ridges to the north and south, the distant blur of the Bládhma mountains peeking above the canopy to the east. Within that landscape however, there was no sign of movement or anything else out of the ordinary.
Reassured by the absence of any immediate danger, the woman warrior bent closer, probing the footprint’s shallow depth with the fingers of her right hand. Conscious that the early evening sunlight would soon be fading to grey, she scraped a piece of dirt free, raised it to her nose and sniffed.
It smelled, naturally enough, of earth.
Of The Great Mother’s moist and muddy breath.
Tossing the gritty residue aside, she wiped her hand on the leather leggings that hugged her haunches and considered the two boys who stood nervously to her right. Bran, with almost seventeen years on him, was more youth than boy and by nature tended to solemnity. That sombre temperament was evident now in the furrows that lined his forehead and the nervous manner in which he chewed at his fingernails while studying the erratic mesh of tracks. The youth was visibly troubled by the prospect of strangers in Bládhma territory. He might not have been able to remember the full detail of his parents’ brutal murder at Ráth Dearg fourteen years earlier, but he was certainly old enough to realise that incursions like this didn’t bode well for anyone.
‘Who are they, Grey One?’
The younger boy, the dark-haired Rónán, had little more than seven years on him but was markedly more upbeat than his friend. Despite being burdened with a wicker backpack full of pork and venison cuts – the prize from a successful hunt in the Drothan valley – he stared down at the scattered tracks with unbridled excitement.
The woman warrior shrugged dispassionately. ‘Read the story in the Great Mother’s mantle. Read what the earth tells you and tell me what you see.’
The dark-haired boy reacted to the suggestion with his usual animation, nodding fervently as he moved closer to the tracks. Ever keen to accompany the woman warrior on her forays into the Great Wild, he invariably responded to such tests with enthusiasm. Crouching alongside her, features fixed into a frown, he chewed on the inside of his own cheek in unconscious mimicry as he studied the tracks. His long hair was held from his eyes by a leather headband, but several strands had worked free, and he brushed them away with an irritated gesture.
Liath Luachra watched as his gaze fixed on the single footprint in front of him before transferring to the jumbled network of other tracks that surrounded them.
He’s just like Bearach. Happy, eager as a puppy.
She suppressed that thought immediately, burying it deep in a dark place where she rarely chose to venture. Some memories were best embedded in dark caverns, places best avoided, crannies where it was wiser not to light a torch for fear of what you’d see.
‘There’s five or six sets of tracks,’ noted Rónán. ‘The prints are spaced wide apart so they’re travelling fast.’
She nodded, pleased by the keenness of his observation.
‘They’re headed east.’
She inclined her head to her left shoulder but made no response. That fact was plain enough to see from the direction in which the tracks were pointing.
Sensing that he’d disappointed her, the boy tried again. ‘They’re men,’ he said warily, as though not entirely convinced of his own conclusion.
Again, easy enough to work out from the breadth of the imprints and the depths of their impressions.
‘Yes,’ she pressed. ‘But what else? What’s the pattern?’
Rónán looked down at the prints once more. Unable to distinguish any obvious configuration, he threw an anxious glance towards Bran, but the youth had already turned away, focussed on other, more distant tracks.
Realising there was little succour to be had from that quarter, Rónán turned back to scrutinise the nearest imprint, bending to examine it more closely in the fading light. Despite further study however, his efforts garnered no fresh intuition. Finally, raising his eyes to the woman warrior, he conceded defeat with a frustrated shake of his head.
By then, Liath Luachra had already changed position, moving away to lean against a holly tree, her backpack pressed against the coarse trunk to take some of the weight from her back and shoulders. She was looking towards the dying sun when she caught the movement of his head from the corner of her eye and, squinting against the ruddy light, turned back to consider him with an impassive regard.
‘It’s a tóraíocht. A pursuit.’ She shifted to adjust the balance of the backpack against her shoulders. ‘A group of men is chasing a single man, a solitary traveller from the looks of it.’
She gestured towards a particular line of tracks that had a visibly different appearance to the others.
‘See how those footprints look older? The edges of the prints are friable, the flat sections drier. All the other tracks are still damp because they haven’t fully dried out. That means they were made more recently, probably just a little earlier this afternoon.’
Rónán thought that explanation through for several moments before raising his eyes to look at her, his lips turned down in a frown. ‘Why are they chasing the single traveller?’
The woman warrior shrugged. ‘I don’t know. The Great Mother only ever reveals part of the stories of those traversing her mantle.’
Bran, who’d turned back to observe their interaction in silence, cleared his throat and shifted his weight awkwardly from one leg to another. ‘Grey One. If they’re travelling east, they’ll strike Ráth Bládhma.’
Liath Luachra rubbed her nose and sniffed.
‘Perhaps. Perhaps not. Just because the tracks here show them moving east, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll continue in that direction.’ She gestured loosely towards the forested ridges north and south of where they were standing. ‘In the confines of this landscape, it makes sense for the intruders to travel east but they might well drift to a different course once the ridges drop and the land opens out.’
Bran kept his eyes lowered and he made no response, but she sensed he was unconvinced by the argument.
Sighing, the Grey One stepped away from the tree, grunting as the full weight of the backpack settled back down on her shoulders. ‘Rest easy. Our own course to An Poll Mór follows their trail for a time yet. If they veer off the eastern path, we’ll know they’re no threat to Ráth Bládhma.’
‘What if they don’t veer off?’ asked Rónán. ‘That …’ The woman warrior gave another noncommittal shrug. ‘That’s an issue we’ll address if we come to it.
This bronze shield excavated from Lough Gur gives many ‘Cardboard Celts’ a frisson of excitement as they imagine the warriors who used it in battle. The truth of course is less violent but just as fascinating.
Contemporary theory is that this was one of a number of votive offerings deposited in the lake and it was probably never used in battle at all. The fact that the shield dates back to over 700 BC is also an eye-opener in that it shows a thriving level of craftmanship in the country well over two thousand years ago. That’s several hundred years before the time period in which the Fionn mac Cumhaill stories are set.
The shield in the image is actually a replica which can be seen at Lough Gur. The original is kept in the National Museum (for obvious reasons).
I got a bit of a shock today when a ‘Facebook Memory’ post alerted me to the fact that it was seven years since I’d published Fionn: The Adversary.
After that initial shock – and suddenly feeling very, very old – I was slightly mollified (and relieved) when I worked out that the post was actually referring to the online publication of the ‘cover image’ rather than the publication of the book itself … a mere (cough!) five years ago.
Despite the time that’s passed since publication, I do recall feeling a great sense of relief when I finally pressed the ‘release’ button and sent the finished product out into the void. As the third book in the series, Fionn: The Adversary completed the first of the two plot arcs I’d envisaged but it was something of a hard one to write due to the numerous plot lines and characters (and, of course, overlaps with the Liath Luachra Series where I had to be careful not to give too much away). It was also the last book I published with the limited stock photos I had available at the time (although the artist did a very good job in making it look far better than it probably should have).
Still, the post was an effective reminder that it has been a substantial time since I released anything in the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series and that it was well due another story. Fortunately, I can say that the next (the fourth in the series) will be out before Christmas. At this stage, I don’t have a working title but there will be more news in two to three months or so.
It’s almost a year to the day since ‘Dark Dawn’ – a free, online interactive project based on the Irish mythological Fenian Cycle was released online. Although produced on a shoe-string budget over the initial chaos of the 2020 Covid pandemic, the final product remains quite strong and garnered some very favourable reviews
Shortly after it’s release, unfortunately, I came down with a bug that prevented any marketing or any further work on the project but, Shortly after it’s release, unfortunately, I came down with a bug that prevented any marketing or any further work on the project but, for anyone who wants to give it a try, the story remains free online HERE:
I’m very grateful to Nate Aubin from ‘Grimdark Magazine’, Mike McGrath-Bryan from the ‘Irish Examiner’ and all other reviewers
This is the bird colony out in Rathlin Island where generations of guillemots, razorbills, puffins and others, have nested for centuries (and possibly longer). I visited the spot a few years ago with friends and was very struck by the amazing cacophony of noise from the birds – it sounded like a very noisy and excited crowd of people.
Last night, I realised that I was incorporating all those strong impressions while I was writing a scene in the next ‘Fionn mac Cumhaill’ book.
If you ever get a chance, I’d go visit it but beware the cranky bus company at the harbour. The company seem to have a monopoly on a section of private road that you need to access it. If you don’t pay for that section of road (and they’re pretty coy on that), they’ll drive you t the colony and then desert you on that side of the island to make your own way back.
Most striking topographical sites have mythological stories associated with them so it’s no real surprise to find so many linked to the dramatic silhouette that’s Binn Ghulbain – the peak of Gulbain (there’s still a lot of disagreement around what ‘Gulbain’ refers to, but it’s far better than the anglicized – and meaningless – ‘Benbulben’).
The Fenian Cycle has several tales associated with that mountain including the climax to ‘Tóraíocht Dhiarmada agus Ghráinne’ and, of course, Fionn’s encounter with Sadhbh.
I’m still scoping out how much of the Fenian Cycle stories I’ll cover through my ‘Fionn’ Series (and another I hope to do once I’ve completed that) so I’m not sure if I’ll incorporate these stories or not. Producing more culturally authentic versions of the story (i.e. not the sterilized and anglicized versions we were taught as children) means a number of the more common variants of these stories are difficult or unsatisfying to adapt for contemporary audiences.
I really enjoy writing dialogue – particularly when it’s a dialogue between two strong characters with diferent motivations. This is a quick sample of a conversation between the woman warrior Liath Luachra and the bandraoi (female druid) Bodhmhall, who joined her hunt for a díbhearg (raiding party) in a slightly underhand manner. At this point in the story, neither character really trusts the other and that puts a nice tension in their interactions. This particular piece comes from Liath Luachra: The Metal Men which comes out tomorrow.
The converation occurs after a meeting to discuss the continued pursuit of the díbhearg.
A Conversation with Bodhmhall
With Crimall off reviewing the guards, it was Bodhmhall who represented Clann Baoiscne interests around the fire, sidling up silently to remain standing in the background and listening without comment. When the fénnid finally finished his story and the others started to drift away, she moved to approach the warrior woman, who’d seated herself on a fallen, moss-coated tree trunk a short distance from the others.
‘All power to you, Grey One.’
Liath Luachra eyed the bandraoi without warmth. Having spent the better part of the evening preparing defences for the campsite to counter a sneak attack by the díbhearg – a possibility she couldn’t ignore – she was tired and brittle and ready to sleep.
‘Your plan to find the díbhearg trail sowed the makings of success. To reap its bounty is your just reward.’
Reluctant to be snagged in further conversation, Liath Luachra let the compliment slide by without comment, however the bandraoi settled easily onto the trunk alongside her. She cleared her throat with a delicate sound, her refined and polished demeanour looking a little more ragged after several days of hard travel.
‘In truth, I didn’t like your plan. At the time, I didn’t believe it had the makings of success.’
This time, the woman warrior eyed her in muted surprise. ‘And yet you supported it.’
The bandraoi acknowledged that truth with a wry, slightly sardonic laugh. ‘I suppose I liked the alternative even less.’
A brief lull followed this forthright admission. Despite the lengthening silence however, the Clann Baoiscne woman showed no inclination to leave. Liath Luachra scowled.
‘Why are you here, Bodhmhall? Your warning in Murchú’s regard was appreciated, but we are not friends. Distrust, between your family and I, runs too deep.’
The bandraoi remained silent as she considered the woman warrior’s response. Finally, she terminated that quiet deliberation with a sigh.
‘Given your experience of Dún Baoiscne hospitality, I can understand your grievance, Grey One. And, yes, I acknowledge the loathing my father holds in your regard.’ The bandraoi winced. ‘Actually, he bears you a measure of hatred I’ve ever only seen directed against his most gruesome enemies …’
Liath Luachra gave a dismissive sniff. Tréanmór’s hostility held little interest for her. She was unlikely to encounter the rí of Clann Baoiscne again.
‘I suspect,’ Bodhmhall continued, ‘my father’s hatred stems from the fact he’s so rarely bested. When you defeated Cathal Bog, you upended the plan he’d orchestrated for your humiliation and turned it back on him instead. That took my father by surprise. That took everyone by surprise …’ The bandraoi paused then, as though struck by a sudden realisation. ‘Myself included.’
The Clann Baoiscne woman drew back a little, eyeing Liath Luachra with greater attention. ‘In truth, it confounds me to have overlooked someone of your complex potential.’
‘I’m surprised your tíolacadh revealed no raging blaze,’ the Grey One answered, and although her words were laden with sarcasm, Bodhmhall didn’t seem to take offence.
‘There’s truth in that,’ she conceded with grace. ‘Then again, you had me at a disadvantage when we first crossed paths.’
Liath Luachra regarded her carefully. She had no memory of meeting the bandraoi prior to her sly infiltration of the fian. ‘When we first crossed paths?’
‘At Dún Baoiscne. In the gateway passage. You were on your way to fight Cathal Bog.’
Liath Luachra studied the Clann Baoiscne woman’s features with new interest. She vaguely recalled another presence within the gateway passage at that time but, focussed on her imminent combat with the Clann Baoiscne champion, she retained no clear mental image of the encounter.
Bodhmhall patiently endured the scrutiny until the woman warrior finally shook her head.
‘I don’t remember you.’
To her surprise, the bandraoi chuckled at that. ‘Ah, you wound my vanity, Grey One. Am I so easily forgotten?’
‘I haven’t forgotten you’ve not told me what you want.’
The bandraoi frowned then, a new tightness of her lips suggesting a subtle reassessment.
‘Very well. I’ll spare you words daubed with winter honey. What I seek is forthrightness, forthrightness on the díbhearg we pursue. It seems to me that you’ve a greater familiarity with the raiders than you cared to admit to my brother – that, at least, is my sense of the matter. This pursuit is meant to be a shared endeavour between our two fianna towards a common purpose. In the spirit of that arrangement, I’d ask for a sharing with respect to the díbhearg’s true motivations.’
Only years of emotional compression allowed the woman warrior to conceal her true astonishment as she returned the bandraoi’s gaze. Behind that cool veil of impassivity however, she struggled to suppress a growing swell of panic. The Clann Baoiscne woman’s startling perspicacity had caught her completely by surprise and it was an abrupt and frightening revelation of just how dangerous she truly was. Crimall and Tréanmór might possess shrewd instincts that were enhanced by their ambition but Bodhmhall, with her piercing intelligence and An tíolacadh, was on level that far exceeded them.
The Grey One put her bowl aside softly and offered the ghost of a haughty shrug. ‘Given your reputed talent with imbas forosnai, I’d have thought you better placed than I to know the díbhearg motivations. Crimall certainly holds your Gift in great reverence and the Druidic Council are constantly at pains to assure us of the mystical glimpses An tíolacadh provides.’
Bodhmhall responded to the deflection with a bright smile but there was a subtle tension to her features that she couldn’t completely disguise. Behind her assured façade, it seemed the bandraoi had secrets of her own and the imbas forosnai ritual looked to be a topic she was reluctant to broach.
To the Grey One’s surprise, Bodhmhall abruptly rose to her feet. Although it appeared at first that the Clann Baoiscne woman intended to stalk away, she stood watching the woman warrior, the flickering of the fire casting a strange set to her features.
‘Sadly, on certain subjects Crimall tends to greater conviction for things he’d like to be true than in the truth itself. The reality is that An tíolacadh’s not a Gift so much as a burden. That’s doubly so with the imbas forosnai ritual, despite what Na Draoithe would have you think.’
She paused then, and Liath Luachra regarded her warily for there’d been a weary honesty to the response she hadn’t anticipated. More importantly, there’d also been a tacit acknowledgement in the bandraoi’s eyes, a kind of diplomatic retreat or implied agreement not to pry into the woman warrior’s secrets if she chose to respond in kind.
The bandraoi made to leave but then paused in mid-step, turning to consider the woman warrior over her right shoulder.
‘I’ve told you the full truth of why I’m here, Grey One. Perhaps you’d reciprocate that with frankness of your own. Why are you here? It’s obvious you take no pleasure in leading this Seeking.’
‘There’s no secret to that, Bodhmhall. I’m here because Murchú asked for my help.’
‘For your help.’
‘To rescue his sister and deal to her abductors.’ She hesitated. ‘And perhaps to kill some ghosts of my own.’
‘You cannot kill a ghost, Grey One.’
‘Perhaps not, Bodhmhall. But I will surely give the matter my best efforts.’
She woke to the weight of that dream pressing on her chest.
That and a blanket.
And pain. Always pain.
Lying on the roundhouse floor, unable to rise, the memory of the owl lingered in her head, but she made no attempt to dismiss it. Dreams had their own distorted logic, a logic that had little application in the waking world, nevertheless she’d recognised some veiled half-truth in its twisted reasoning, something she sensed was of personal relevance to herself.
The Seeking was done.
That realisation made her wince inside, rousing the melancholy she always associated with the completion of a Tasking. Although such events should have provided a sense of accomplishment or achievement, in her own case they’d never heralded more than the removal of purpose, a lingering sense of helplessness and the dreaded prospect of a return to Luachair.
This is a recent interview/discussion I did as part of a panel on ‘Talking History‘ – an Irish radio show presented by historian Patrick Geoghegan and which specialises in exploring some fascinating topics. I was invited on as that week’s show was focussed on the development of the lore of Irish mythological hero Fionn mac Cumhaill.
The panel for this discussion included some top-notch academics, including Dr Kevin Murray (University College Cork), Dr Sile Ni Muhurchu (University College Cork), Natasha Sumner (Harvard), Dr Jim MacKillop (Editor of the ‘Oxford Dictionary of Celtic Mythology’) and Dr Joseph Flahive (Royal Irish Academy). I’m quite familiar with most of their works and it was nice to be included in such a line up.
I can promise you that the knowledge/information on Fionn and the Fenian Cycle revealed over the course of this one hour discussion will excede twenty-five years’ worth of blathering from self-declared authorities on You Tube.
You can get to the show by clicking on the image above or clicking the link HERE.
Once, as they rested during a hunt for wild deer, Fionn mac Cumhaill and his men debated what the finest music in the world might be.
“Then tell us what it is,” said Fionn to Oisín, who’d started the discussion.
“The cuckoo calling from the tree that’s highest in the hedge,” cried his son.
Fionn nodded. “That’s a good sound,” he admitted. “And you, Oscar? “What is finest of music to your mind?”
“The finest of music is the clash of a spear against a shield in battle,” the warrior exclaimed.
“It is a good sound,” said Fionn.
Working his way through the party, he asked each of his men what they thought and each gave their answer: the belling of a stag across the water, the baying of a tuneful pack of hunt hounds heard somewhere in the distance, the throaty song of a lark, the happy laugh of a gleeful girl, the whisper of a loved one in the darkness of night.
“These are all good sounds,” said Fionn.“
So, tell us, a Fionn,” one of his men ventured finally, for there was genuine curiosity amongst them. “What do you think? What would your answer be?”
Fionn considered the question for a moment.
“The music of what happens,” he said at last. “That is the finest music in the world.”
Note: This is a segment I’ve adapted from one of the ‘old style’ Fionn mac Cumhaill stories, in this case from a book called ‘Irish Fairy Tales’ by James Stephens. Stephens actually adapted it from the 12th century Macgnímartha Find [The Boyhood Deeds of Fionn] back in 1920. This is how a lot of the Fenian Cycle (and other Irish mythology) works.
This was an early sketch for one of the covers for Fionn: Defence of Ráth Bládhma. The faces of the characters actually ended up quite different in the final cover but I liked the look of them sufficiently to think about an adaptation of the book as a graphic novel at some stage when I have time.
If anyone knows a decent graphic novel illustrator, let them know I’m looking.
Wild pigs, especially boars, were exceptionally important in ancient Ireland due to their abundance throughout the wilderness and their usefulness as a food source. Wild pigs therefore form an important part in ancient stories and tend to pepper the established mythological associations.
Pigs were particularly associated with the Fenian Cycle tales and, indeed, wild pigs form an important narrative element across the range of Fionn mac Cumhaill’s life. The Macgnímartha Finn, for example, reports how, in his early years, the young Fionn defeated his first wild boar in Cuilleann in a kind of coming of age ‘warrior event’ (often used in ancient stories to give characters a certain kudos). That goes as follows:
Then he (Fionn) went forth to Cullen of the Uí Cuanach, to the house of the master smith Lóchán, who had a very beautiful daughter, Cruithne by name. She fell in love with the youth.
Apparently, Lóchán was very impressed with the young Fionn (although, amusingly, the Macgnímartha Finn never actually says why) and reacts – ahem – as most fathers would.
‘I shall give thee my daughter, though I know not who thou art.” Thereupon the girl slept with the youth.
“Make spears for me,” said the youth to the smith. So Lóchán made two spears for him. He then bade farewell to Lóchán and prepared to make his away.
“My boy,” said Lóchán. “Do not go upon the road on which is the sow called the Beo. She it was that devastated the midlands of Munster.”
But what happened was that youth travelled upon the very road on which the sow was to be found. There the sow charged him but be thrust his spear at her, so that it went through her, and left her without life. Then he took the head of the sow with him to the smith as a bridal gift for his daughter.
Hence is Sliabh Muice (Pig Mountain) in Munster situated.
That hill (no Sliabh na Muc) is located between Tipperary and the glen of Aherlow. In ancient times, the glen was an important travel route between the districts of Tipperary and Limerick so it’s no real surprise to find such stories associated with it.
Towards the end of his life, another boar plays an important role in Fionn’s story. That occurs in An Tóraíocht when Fionn has supposedly made peace with the warrior Diarmuid Ui Duibhne (who earlier betrayed Fionn by eloping with his future bride, Grainne).
Visiting Diarmuid in his home in Sligo, Fionn joins the warrior in a boar hunt around Benbulbin. During the hunt, the creature gores Diarmuid badly and although Fionn has the power to heal him by letting him drink water from his palms, he refuses to do so.
Pressed by his grandson – the warrior Oscar – a friend of Diarmuid’s – Fionn relents but still overcome by bitterness, he twice lets the water flow through his fingers before he can raise them to Diarmuid’s lips. Finally, when threated by Oscar, Fionn does the right thing but by then it’s too late and Diarmuid has succumbed to his wounds.
Although wild boar may have once been native in Ireland, it became extinct in prehistoric times. Since then, the environment has changed substantially, and if reintroduced, they would now be considered an invasive/pest species as they’re likely to have a huge impact on local habitats and wildlife. Despite this, there were some interesting happenings in Kerry recently when people were asked by the Parks and Wildlife Service to report any sightings of a large male boar running wild in the Cordal and Mount Eagle area.
I guess there’s always going to be some ‘eegit’ with a wild pig agenda!
The Sliabh Bládhma mountains are located in central Ireland and, according to geologists, they’re one of the oldest mountain ranges in Europe, purportedly once rising to a height of 3,700m. That’s hard to believe nowadays of course. Over millennia, erosion has worn the mountains down to 527 metres and they’re really more aptly considered as hills these days (although if the day is clear you can still see for miles in every direction).
Sliabh Bládhma was of interest to me, mostly because of its link to the Fenian Cycle – although, in truth, that’s something of a soft link. That comes uniquely through the medieval narrative Macgnímartha Finn) where its mentioned once in the story as follows (translated to English by Kuno Meyer)
Cumall left his wife Muirne pregnant. And she brought forth a son, to whom the name of Demne was given. Fiacail, son of Conchenn, and Bodbmall the druidess, and the Grey One of Luachair came to Muirne, and carry away the boy, for his mother durst not let him be with her.
Muirne afterwards slept with Gleor Red-hand, king of the Lamraighe whence the saying, “Finn, son of Gleor”. Bodbmall, however, and the Grey One, and the boy with them, went into the forest of Sliabh Bládhma. There the boy was secretly reared.
From a narrative/plot perspective, the story holds quite well as this isolated spot was the most apt area of wilderness contiguous to the areas in Leinster, the area which would have been most populated back in the Iron Age. It would also have been a logical place to set someone who’s on the run or in hiding.
Back in 1st and 2nd century Ireland, of course, the area would have looked vastly different to what it looks like now. On the day I passed through and walked the terrain, it was hard to associate those soft slopes, domesticated holdings and manicured forests (plantation forest as opposed to natural native forest) with the rugged and dangerous wilderness portrayed in the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series of novels. Despite this, all the descriptions conform with the overall geography. The ‘The Great Mother’s mantle’ (the surface layer) may have changed dramatically over the centuries, but the topography remains largely the same.
These days, the hills around Sliabh Bládhma are very popular with walkers and day-trippers although the local tourist board shamefully insist on using the meaningless anglicized name (Slieve Bloom) in their communications rather than the Irish name which has far greater cultural resonance. Given its age, getting an accurate etymology for Sliabh Bládhma is very difficult and rife with vague interpretations. The Metrical Dinnshenchas (which you always have to take with a healthy dose of salt) suggests a number of reasons for the name, mostly linked to a character called ‘Blod, son of Cu’. Even if it’s not entirely correct however, the stories and historical associations with that name are far better and richer than the meaningless ‘Bloom’.
Over the past three weeks, I’ve been carrying out an immense amount of work on the Dark Dawn/ Camhaoir Fuilsmeartha Project. An experimental work unlike anything I’ve done before, it’s taken up an inordinate amount of time, far more than I’d ever envisaged when I first started it. Over 2020, the non-publishing workloads I’m subject to, work on a potential television series for Liath Luachra and the impact of the Covid-pandemic have also meant I’ve never been able to give it the full focus it required.
Even at this point however, an enormous amount of work still remains and I still have no idea if the finished product will work or not. The time I’ve allotted to fart around with this creation up till Christmas is very much an early Christmas present to myself.
In terms of goals, Dark Dawn/ Camhaoir Fuilsmeartha is my latest attempt at exploring a more culturally authentic approach to ancient Irish fictional narratives, something I’ve been attempting principally through my Fionn mac Cumhaill Series. In terms of plot, its quite a simple character-based story involving the character Ultán from Fionn Defence of Ráth Bládhma.
“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.”
I’m aiming for release in the first quarter of 2021.