Nice, atmospheric image by artist Joseph Feely depicting a spear volley by a group of Ceithrenn (normally referred to as ‘Kern’ by non-Irish speakers).
I get a lot of overseas fantasy militarists visiting the website who get quite turned on by the idea of Ceithrenn. Some of these have quite strange views about what they were and how they operated (usually based on information from other non-Irish-speaking militarists), much of which doesn’t align with what we know of them from a historical context.
As a general rule, I wouldn’t put too much fate in anything you see on the internet relating to Ceithernn unless it comes from a recognisable Irish historian/academic.
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 beautiful painting is entitled “Oisin Rides to the Land of Youth”. Painted in 1936 by American artist Newell Convers Wyeth. it represents a more Anglophile view of Irish mythology that many non-Irish creators continue to produce today.
You can’t fault Convers Wyeth however. A talented illustrator and painter, he produced a huge body of work in his time. This included well over a hundred ‘action/adventure’ style images for book covers.
The first book of the Irish Woman Warrior Series has been on a trial sale for the last two weeks but this will soon be coming to a close.
Liath Luachra: The Grey One is probably the favourite book (and Liath Luachra is the favourite character) of readers who follow my mythological adventure stories, so if you want to get a ridiculously cheap introduction to her, you only have a few days left.
Set against a backdrop of encroaching forest, mythic ruins and treacherous tribal politics, the Irish Woman Warrior Series (or the’ Liath Luachra Series’) is a series of books based on the adventures of the woman warrior Liath Luachra and her mercenary fian (war party), Na Cinéaltaí (The Friendly Ones).
It tells the story of a damaged young woman who can count on nothing but her wits and fighting skills to see her through. Rising above the constraints of her status and overcoming her personal tragedies, she emerges Ireland’s greatest warrior and a protector whose influence lives on one thousand years later.
Some very strong portrayals of Gaelic culture in this image (the Tara broach, the tartan, the bodhrán etc.) but, in fact, this is from the Polish ‘Witcher’ Card Game.
The talented artist was Anton Nazarenko but it aligns with Sapkowski’s borrowing of other culture’s constructs. The naming patterns in the Witcher, for example, often include garbled mixings of Gaelic, French etc.
Today, I’m scoping out a short series based around a little known Irish battle.
At this stage, it’s looking like a limited series with only three books and I’m hoping to start writing it about mid-way through next year. This is so I can allow myself time to finish another Liath Luachra Series(and hopefully aFionn mac Cumhaill Series) book.
At present, the cast of characters include a womanizing warrior, his wife, and a warlike religious zealot. The characters, supposedly based on real people, are one of the key reasons I was drawn to this story.
Further announcements on this project will come once, I’ve completed the first book.
I’ve been asked several times where the ‘look’ of Liath Luachra came from.
I’d have to say, the main ‘look’ began with a canvas print from Luis Royo, a Spanish artist famous for his fantasy style images back in the 1980s and 1980s (although he’s still going). A lot of Royo’s work from that period reflected the sexualised fantasy portrayal of women of the time – usually half naked, occasionally with armour and swords (google his name and you’ll see what I mean).
I think I came across Royo’s ‘The Wait’ around 2014 when I first started writing notes for the initial Liath Luachra book (which was really mean to be nothing more than a short prequel book for the Fionn Series). I already had a clear image of the woman’s personality and physical appearance at the time, as the character was pretty well developed for Fionn: Defence of Rath Bladhma. The ‘Grey One’ book however was far darker and far deeper and I needed an image to reflect that. In my head, I had no idea until this turned up on my screen.
The Wait is from Royo’s book ‘III Millenium’ which depicts women in scenes from a harsh future landscape. The character in the image really appealed as it captured a tangible sense of solitude and loneliness but also avoided the sexualised cliches which I really wanted to avoid.
When I had the initial cover brief developed, I included this but sadly a miniscule budget meant I was restricted to stock photography. Fortunately, I received permission from a gracious pair of Australian artists/cosplayers to use one of their photos and that’s the Liath Luachra who turned up on the first cover.
That said, there is a secret to Liath Luachra that most people aren’t aware of and which I’ll be writing about in the next few weeks.
It’s just about four years since I published the second Liath Luachra book and, keen to distinguish it from the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series, I had the action take place much further south in the area that was once called ‘Usraighe‘.
I also incorporated a number of elements from ancient stories associated with Usraighe as part of the plot. As a result, the final story is often described as a kind of Irish version of the movie ‘The Thirteenth Warrior’ (itself based on a book called ‘Eaters of the Dead’ by Michael Crichton which I’ve never actually read). That was never the intention but I can certainly understand the comparisons.
‘The Swallowed’, therefore, was very much a standalone novel and although it contributes to the Irish Woman Warrior Series and reveals elements of the character not found in other books, it’s not necessary to have read it to follow the series. This is also why, when the series was originally optioned as a potential television series, this book was not included with the other three as part of the final deal.
A blast from the past with this old post (and draft cover) from 2015.
At the time, I was still writing the first Liath Luachra book with the intention of using it as a prequel for the Fionn mac Cumhaill Series.
That plan went kinda sideways. After an initial lacklustre reception on it’s publication, more and more people started writing and asking for a second book. Four books (and a few short stories) later and the Liath Luachra series has now surpassed the popularity of the original series it was meant to introduce.
Add in subsequent screen options and the character seems ot have taken on a life of her own that I’d never really anticipated.
LIATH LUACHRA – THE GREY ONE (VERY EARLY DRAFT COVER)
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 Cumhaill 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 else after this feels like “walking downhill” (as one of the Ents in LOTR says)
‘Turning Roads’ is an innovative anthology of short narratives centred around the theme of ‘Irish Folklore’ and told through the medium of comics. Consisting of 18 different stories contributed by a range of creators from Ireland and overseas, it was edited and produced by Paul Carroll in early 2022.
It’s probably worth noting up front, that themed anthologies generally come fraught with complications for the people who produce them. Collating works from a wide range of different creators and creative styles can often feel like herding chickens (chickens with ADHD and attention disorders). For ‘Turning Roads’ however, those challenges are even more substantial.
The first challenge is the ‘narrative format’. It’s actually quite hard to write an effective, stand-alone, story so that it fits into a set number of pages and, to achieve that, writers have to use great innovation and practical creativity in terms of compressing the plot and dialogue. Produce those shorts stories in ‘comic’ or ‘graphic’ format however, and suddenly the task becomes that much harder as you also have to take the visual element of your story into account as well.
The second challenge is ‘theme scope’. To put it bluntly, the scope of a theme like ‘Irish Folklore’ is absolutely huge. Sadly, outside of Irish academia and various Celtic Studies circles, there’s actually a very limited understanding around the concept of ‘folklore’. Similar to concepts such as ‘Irish mythology’, it has vastly different interpretations, depending on who you ask, where you ask and when you ask.
Such a wide thematic scope was bound to result in an enormous swath of thematic variety and, of course, that’s what happened here. That issue was astutely picked up on by writer Michael Carroll (no relation to the editor) in the foreword where he openly admits to being thrown by the sheer diversity of the stories. He nicely explains that off as the typical reaction by Irish people when they’re being told what to do – and, to be fair, there’s a certain amount of truth to that.
As a result, the final collection of stories careering down ‘Turning Roads’ incorporates a range of works from ‘ould schtyle’ tales your grandad would have told you, to contemporary sci-fi and fantasy narratives, to hoary plastic paddy pastiche, where every cliche under the sun is dragged out to play. Throw hugely different writing and artwork styles into the mix, and your anthology can start to feel like the first stirrings of a Sunday morning hangover.
So, given the limitations of format and thematic scope …, does it work?
Well, yes and no. The more ‘plastic paddy’ stories (usually those dealing with faeries and leprechauns – ochón, ochón!) tend to be the weaker ones as they’re trapped within established cliches (that’s not always the case, of course and sometimes a weak narrative is effectively saved by impressive artwork).
The stronger stories tend to be those that integrate the visual and written elements to create an interesting or original narrative concept, within the restrictions of the page/panel count. Where the stories successfully manage to incorporate genuine elements of folklore, that’s an additional bonus. Sadly, only a few of the stories actually achieve the latter.
The following were my favourites from the anthology, those stories where the contributing elements of script, artwork, and folklore (not always) combined to produce an effect I appreciated or admire. Needless to say, these were MY personal favourites. I’m pretty sure you’d choose something completely different based on your own taste and personal background.
Bansi (script and art by David Byrne and coloured by Fawn Blackwood) A tight, tense little story based around two women awaiting the possible end of the world – or Dublin, anyway. Despite the extremely tenuous link with Irish folklore (the ‘Bansi’ computer system of the title is nicknamed ‘Banshee’ – that’s it!), I really enjoyed the stark, yet intimate, atmosphere of two women smoking cigarettes on a Dublin city rooftop, waiting to find out if some foreign missiles are going to destroy the city or not. A very clever, moody story.
The Cycle (written by Gerry Moloney with art and letters by Colin Crakey) This, the first story in the collection, genuinely caught me by surprise, and it took me a moment to work out what was going on. An ingenious sci-fi reinvention of the battle of Áth Fhirdiad (Ferdiad’s ford – in Ardee, Co Louth), where Cú Chulainn fought his best friend and foster brother Ferdiad, this is a very cleverly done reinterpretation, particularly within such a small panel space.
Mythic Miners (by Dave Hendrick and Pete Marry) Mythic miners is also a clever reinvention, this one relating to the cliched ‘crock of gold’. The ending is sudden and a bit weak, but the story’s sly humour still works well. I cracked up at the concept of the ‘Bitcoin Billionaire’ discovering ‘trader’ leprechauns in his field.
Long Live the King of the Cats (story by Hugo Boylan with art and letters by Hugh Madden) King of the Cats is based on the old Cork version of the original tale (which is actually believed to originate from Great Britain). The design and artwork is cleverly orchestrated with the larger cat ‘art’ pieces. I particularly enjoyed the reinterpretation of the story’s ending which is actually far better than the original (the ending in the original tale is far more vague, and weaker for that). Tell everyone that Irusan Balgury is dead!
The Banshee (story by Kerrie Smith, art by Leann Hamilton) To be honest, I tend to dislike cliche – particularly where it relates to Irish mythology/folklore. As a result, I wasn’t overly impressed by the simple story but Leann Hamilton’s art blew this out of the water. I’m come across some of her work before, but this is certainly the best I’ve seen to date.
Although the breadth of this anthology was probably over ambitious, as an introduction to Irish comic writers and artists, ‘Turning Roads’ works respectably well and Carroll and his team deserve praise for pulling together a product that achieves that.
For the Irish Comic scene to grow, it needs publications like this, opportunities for budding creators to develop their skills and for the work of more established creators to be exposed to wider audiences. Kudos to O’Carroll for achieving this and for runnning a kickstarer to help fund it. I hope Creative Ireland have the nous to recognise the value of such publications and help fund this in future on an annual basis.
This is a selection of some of the images I used when I was originally conceptualising the woman warrior Liath Luachra.
This particular set (from Spanish artist/photographer Lídia Vives) visually captured the savage/thoughtful aspect of the character and proved a helpful prompt when writing. I’ll probably be using these again for the next book (Liath Luachra: The Great Wild) – which will actually be a prequel to the Irish Woman Warrior Series, and involve the character when she’s far younger and far more feral.
I have a number of key scenes already sketched out and I’m looking forward to getting them down on paper.
It’s already been a year since I released the first ‘Irish Imbas Catalogue’, but of course its already out of date! In any case, if you want to know a little more about what I do and why I do it, you can find it here: Irish Imbas Catalogue
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
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.