In the first and second century AD, the island of Ireland is a rugged land of dense, green forest that stretches from coast to coast, treacherous brooding marshes and clear, rivers that run fierce and deep. Scattered throughout this forest wilderness are magnificent stone ruins of an ancient Neolithic people, long since departed. Standing stones, dolmens and passage graves, erected more than a thousand years before the Celts arrived in Ireland, they are older than the pyramids and the native population treat them with awe and wonder.
Set at the edge of the European Continent, that isolated island is a mysterious land that intrigues the minds of many neighbouring classical intellects. Writing in the sixth century B.C, Himilco, the Carthaginian, makes vague references to an enigmatic island he calls ‘Iernei’ and to Celtic tribes based on the North Sea. In 50 BC, Julius Caesar refers to the distant land of ‘Hibernia’ in his account of his Gaul campaigns. Around the same time, Greek philosopher Strabo marvels at the shadowy country of ‘Ierne’ located on the limits of the known world, and the stories he’s heard of the savage, man-eating inhabitants and their sexual practices.
Ptolemy, the famous geographer and astrologist, produces the first map of ‘Hibernia’ in the middle of the 2nd century AD and lists native tribes said to live upon its distant shores; the Erdin, the Nagnate, the Menapii, the Iverni and others. Several decades later, in 81 AD, the Roman general Agricola also looks across the Irish sea from Wales and dreams of invasion.
For all of these men, that distant, mist-shrouded island is a strange and mysterious place that’s open to infinite possibility and interpretation. The few snippets of fact from infrequent traders mingle tantalising with tales of gold mines and wolf packs, of outlandish savages and fearsome, magical inhabitants.
Meanwhile, on the island, oblivious to the ponderings of those distant strangers, the native peoples have secured footholds within the land’s green mantle, settlements on open sections of coastline or inland waterways. Tribal communities led by their chieftains, advised by their druids and protected by their fian – their tribal war parties – stick close to their own, ever cautious of the surrounding forests, ever watchful of dark shadows between the trees of the untamed ‘Great Wild’.
Suspicious of strangers and jealously defensive of their territory, the different tribes trade warily amongst themselves, form alliances and sometimes wage war. Occasionally, they’ll intermarry to re-establish a more lasting peace and some expand and grow to form mórtuath – tribal confederations. But all tribes rise and fall relative to the quality of their leaders and the strength of their warriors.
This realm of tribal societies, of visceral physical experience and intimate connection with nature, is the world from which most Irish mythology originates. One name from that world still resonating amongst the descendants of those people today, is that of Fionn mac Cumhaill. Hero, warrior and seer, his adventures have inspired millennia of tales and stories known as the ‘Fenian Cycle’ and are often considered the original basis for the magical tales of King Arthur of Britain and Wales.
Fionn’s life was filled with chaos and danger, and it was only through the skills of his guardians that he survived his early years to become the legend he was. Key among those guardians was the woman who taught him how to fight, who taught him how to lead men but, more importantly, who taught him how to overcome adversity in all its forms. That woman was the woman warrior called Liath Luachra – The Grey One of Luachair.
Set against a backdrop of encroaching forest, mythic ruins and treacherous tribal politics, Liath Luachra 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.
The Irish Woman Warrior Series is a series of three books based on the adventures of the Irish woman warrior Liath Luachra and her mercenary fian (war party), Na Cinéaltaí (The Friendly Ones).
The events in the series take place prior to the events in the first Fionn mac Cumhaill Series book (FIONN: Defence of Ráth Bládhma).
The three books in this series are:
The character Liath Luachra originally appears in the 12th century text Macgnímartha Finn (the Boyhood Deeds of Fionn) but historical/ mythological information on her is very sparse.
Essentially, the name Liath Luachra means “Grey One of Luachair”. Why she was known as ‘The Grey One’ is impossible to tell. The text collates oral narratives that were in existence well before they were ever written down.
“Luachair”, meanwhile, is an Irish word that means ‘rushes’ (as in reed plants) but could also mean ‘a place of rushes’. There was a Luachair in West Kerry mentioned in many of the early texts (Luachair Deaghaidh – Sliabh Luachra) but, of course, it’s impossible to know if that was where the author of Macgnímartha Finn was referring to.