The past and present are stitched together with threads of magic, if we could only open our eyes to see them…

Welcome to aliisaacstoryteller!

I blog about my writing, my experiences living with a special needs child, and anything else which takes my fancy. Feel free to have a look around.

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The Friday Fiction Featuring Jane Dougherty

jane

 

“Ali has very kindly invited me to her blog to bend your collective ear about my books,” says author of  The Green Woman Trilogy, Jane Dougherty. “We have similar influences, Ali and I, both steeped in the magic of Irish legend and history. Culture is like a genetic marker; it finds its way into our writing, inviting itself in even when it wasn’t asked.

“This August, I published the third volume of my Green Woman trilogy, a fantasy series aimed at mature young adults and old adults who like a good yarn with mythical heroes and villains. It’s a story I started years ago for my own kids, only one of whom was old enough to be considered young adult at the time. The goal posts have moved since then, and almost every kid out of nappies is considered YA. My definition hasn’t though; you need a certain maturity to enjoy my books. The story isn’t a high school romp and the issues go beyond boyfriends and nail varnish. In fact neither of those things exist in Providence; the Elders wouldn’t allow it.

“The world of The Green Woman is post-apocalyptic, a survivor city beneath a hermetic dome, run by priests and a brutal police force. Women are vessels, to be filled and emptied. Nothing more. To stamp on any objections, there are the Black Boys, a brutish militia, and the sinister Pure Ones, secret police who call at midnight.

dark Citadel

“But things are about to change. The nuclear desert Outside is greening, unrest is stirring within Providence, and the Green Woman is giving life to memories of the world as it ought to have been. The Dark Citadel is the story of Deborah, the Green Woman’s daughter, and her escape from the nightmare of Providence to track down her mother. But there’s a bigger picture, a hellish, metaphysical picture. The man-made evils of war and the Elders’ brutal repression have opened the gates of Hell. The old bogeymen are on the loose, those of popular imagination. But this time they mean to claim their rightful inheritance—the earth.

“The Green Woman is the force that will redress the balance, and Deborah is the next in line to carry the burden. Thank goodness she meets a force of nature to stand by her when things get tough—Jonah.

“In this story, I wanted to get across the idea that totalitarianism—political and religious—brutality, misogyny, ignorance are not just the fault of ‘society’ or ‘the devil’, they are found in the actions of ordinary human beings too. We all, no matter how young or old, have to stand up and defy what we know to be wrong. The Green Woman could be called eco-fantasy, utopian or dystopian fantasy, allegorical, or metaphysical (if you’re into Amazon categories). Whatever it’s called, it has a message that I hope will uplift and sweep readers away.”

Here’s an excerpt from beginning of The Dark Citadel


 

Shrill voices shattered the orderly silence as the pupils from Providence Central Institute for Girls made their way home from school. As they approached the corner of a narrow, dusty street, a tall figure broke away from the group and turned aside with a determined stride. The other schoolgirls bunched together at the corner to watch her go, then carried on up the main thoroughfare, their shapeless garments fluttering.

“My name is Deborah, not Serpentspawn, you foul-mouthed bunch of bitches!” the girl shouted over her shoulder after her departing classmates. “You think I care what your cretins of parents say about me?”

“Serpentspawn!” The catcall, followed by a burst of nervous giggling, wafted faintly back to her.

“You think I care that you all asked that I be moved to another class?” she whispered. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes glittered. A grey-robed man hurrying by on the opposite pavement caught her eye and clicked his tongue in disapproval. The girl held her head high and glared at him, the budding tears drying as hurt gave way to anger. With a defiant gesture she wrenched off the hated headscarf and shook her hair free.

“Get yourself home, little trollop,” the man gasped in indignation.

“If you don’t like what you see, don’t look,” the girl spat at him and, hitching up her flapping robes, ran towards the unlit end of the street.

She ran, her hair streaming behind, feet clattering loudly, defying the silent watchers from dark windows. No voice snapped at her, no window opened to let fly insults. If they had, the tears would surely have come. It was too much to bear. First there had been the humiliation of the snide comments from the sewing matron about how she probably got her sewing skills from her father. Then those bitches had taunted her with their moronic jokes about how many sacks her imprisoned father had sewn that afternoon. Was it her fault if they were all too stupid to see that their own fathers were just pig ignorant brutes? The pious temple creeper insulting her like that had been the last straw.

Get yourself home, he said. The girl shot a glance full of loathing up and down the shabby street. Home!

Dust clouds rolled up over the crystal dome, and the light dimmed further. The dark end of the street, where the girl lived, seemed unusually menacing in the gathering gloom. The sound of her running feet was suddenly too loud, too lonely. She stopped.

A scream rang out, a harsh, evil cry from the depths of the cloud. She clutched the headscarf, wanting to hide in its folds but refusing to show her fear, and cast about, searching for the source of the cry. Standing firmly in the middle of the street, with clenched fists, hair loose and wild, she raised her eyes to the unseen crystal dome, defying whatever was hiding in the murk to show itself. The cry came again, harsher, strident, and the girl, with a last angry glare at the blanket of cloud, ran for the shelter of a tenement doorway.


 

“Thank you, Ali, for letting me loose on your blog to spout about myself and my creations. Below are the links to my Amazon author pages where you can find links to the books in The Green Woman series. There are also several short stories that give an introduction to her world. I should point out that as the story unfolds, the tangential stories have become more adult. No, not dirty, just about grown-ups.”

You can find all Jane’s books on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. You can read more of Jane’s writing, including her wonderful poetry, on her blog, and you can tweet tunefully to her on Twitter.

Thanks, Jane, for dropping by Aliisaacstoryteller, I am delighted to feature your writing on this week’s Friday Fiction!

If you are an independent author, and would like to see your writing appear on the Friday Fiction, please do contact me here. Have a great weekend, everyone, and happy reading!

 

Lough na Suil | Mysterious Disappearing Lake of Irish Mythology

 
 

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I first came to Moytura in Co Sligo in search of the places linked with the tales of Irish mythology upon which I was basing my books. Moytura, or Moytirra as it is still called today, is reputedly the site of the Second Battle of Moytura between the Tuatha de Denann and their long-time enemies, the Fomori.

Located between Geevagh and Riverstown in the townland of Ballinphuill, Lough na Suil (which means ‘Lake of the Eye’) lies on the edge of the battle site, not far from Heapstown Cairn. It is said that once in every hundred years the lake mysteriously empties overnight and refills itself. Records show that this did indeed occur in 1833, 1933, and then at intervals of twenty years or so, until most recently in 2006 and 2012.

The most popular reason given for this sudden mysterious draining of the lake lies in the structure of the ground beneath it. The basin of the Lough rests in a karst limestone layer which is full of underground caverns and rivers. As water seeps through cracks and fissures in the limestone, they eventually widen over time to become sink holes. These holes often become blocked with mud, silt and other debris which on occasion collapses, causing the Lough to appear to empty almost overnight.

There is another reason, though. Some believe that the lake empties once in every hundred years to ensure people never forget the atrocities of the Battle of Moytura which took place there. Needless to say, I like this idea!

In mythology, Lough na Súil is where Denann High King and Master of All Arts, Lugh Lámfhada defeated his grandfather, the Fomori Giant-King, Balor of the Evil Eye. He killed him by famously throwing his spear (although some versions of the story claim it was a sling-stone) an incredibly long distance into Balor’s eye, thus earning himself the epithet ‘Long Arm’, or in Irish Lámfhada (pronounced La-wa-tha). Balor fell face down into the ground, his evil eye burning a great crater in the earth which filled up with water, and so the Lough was formed.

After the battle, Lugh cut off Balor’s head and hung it in a nearby hazel tree. Over the course of many years, the poison from his evil eye dripped down into the tree’s roots. Finally, the tree was overcome by the poison and split apart. Seeing this, the sea god Manannán decided to harness the powerful properties of the wood and make a shield from it. Unfortunately, in the felling of the tree, eighteen men were killed by its poison, and a further nine killed as they fashioned the wood into the shield. Manannán covered it with the skin of a sacred bull and marked it with druidic symbols, probably Ogham. Eventually, he gave the shield as a gift to Fionn mac Cumhall.

There is a Neolithic court tomb with a U-shaped court leading to a gallery of four chambers located on the battle site, known as The Giant’s Grave. The cairn infill material is long since gone, but the stone outline can still be seen. As Balor is the only giant mentioned in the mythology of the battle, it is quite possible that his body was carried here by his men and the cairn raised over him.

In 1929, Fr Sharkey, a local parish priest marked the 3000th anniversary of the Battle of Moytura by predicting the emptying of the Lough, and organised a huge festival in celebration of the event. Unfortunately, the waters failed to recede to order, and the Lough did not drain until 1933, four years later. Apparently, a huge number of fish were found wedged in a muddy hole in the lake bed some fourteen feet deep, and consequently shared out amongst the astonished local population.

Merman | A Poem

Merman with TridentI haul you in,

I, the Fisher Girl

and you, my greatest prize.

 

You lie, wet and shining,

in the bottom of my boat,

weak, frail, spent.

 

You are dying.

Caught in my net, trapped too long.

You flounder feebly in the bilge.

 

You open your mouth,

whistle, like a dolphin, or a bird.

Accusations I half understand.

 

I give you back to the ocean,

watch you drift away,

each of us in our element

both gasping like fish out of water.

Perception

Coffee cup

“She’s retarded!”

The word slipped out and hung in the air like a banner between us, dancing with flashing lights and big pointy arrows. There was no clawing it back through the shocked silence which followed.

Such an ugly word, yet it had tumbled from the mouth of a friend in defence of my daughter, not attack. Brief as it was, however, it spoke volumes. For an awkward moment we regarded each other warily, neither of us quite sure how to react. In her shoes, I would have apologised, but she chose to simply look away, guiltily I like to think. There was no retraction, no offer of apology. Wearily, I decided to forgive. After all, it was just a careless throw-away comment between friends, wasn’t it? Just a slip of the tongue. Or was it a sign of something deeper, darker?

We were sitting at a lovely table in the bright bay window of our local cafe. Carys was much younger then, and discovering her voice, exercising the full range of her vocal chords at extreme decibels. Truthfully? You would not have described it as a pretty, delicate or even tuneful song, but how to stop her without a gag? You can’t reason with a child who has no understanding.

It was early, and while the cafe was empty, it was not a problem. After a while, two older women meandered in. They also sat in the bright bay window. Near us. Too near, in fact. Carys’s squeals and squawks drowned out their attempts at conversation, and probably even their thoughts, too. Naturally, they were none too pleased; their pleasant morning outing and cosy chat had been hijacked by a very noisy, spoiled child whose mother made no effort to control her. They began grumbling, and showering us with disapproving looks. Finally, they got up, lifted their trays and decamped to a quieter table in the furthest corner of the room.

Unaccustomed to dealing with such open contempt, my poor friend spoke up while I burned… for her, for Carys, even for the two hags. “It’s not her fault,” she declared hotly. “She’s retarded.” 

Now, the two women were not only cross, but shamed and humiliated also. Their plans for a pleasant  relaxing morning were completely shattered. Not surprisingly, they soon abandoned all semblance of their coffee date and departed, leaving me wondering where exactly I had gone wrong.

I’m not sure which I felt worse about; my daughter being labelled a retard, being responsible for ruining a stranger’s day, or failing in my duties as a mother. Whatever choice I made, the outcome was still the same; I couldn’t win.

Until that moment, I had never thought of Carys as a retard. The only labels I had ever given her were CFC (the name of her syndrome, Cardiofaciocutaneous) and Special Needs. With the emphasis on ‘special’, of course.

Some might say I am just dressing up something ugly in pretty words, that you can’t make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear. In a way, I kind of agree; what Carys is won’t change whether you callously caller her a retard, or go all pc and politely say she is developmentally delayed. 

But when I look at Carys, I don’t see something ugly. I see a gorgeous little girl, truly filled with love and light. She accepts everyone at face value. She doesn’t judge anyone, or find them lacking. She bestows her love and attention freely every day. And she will love you for the tiniest thing; making a funny sound, singing her a song, a tickle. She doesn’t deserve thoughtless labels and derogatory comments. She has enough challenges to cope with.

It is strange to see how some people perceive those with special needs. I once had a friend who always compared Carys to her dog. Whenever I mentioned something Carys had done, she would immediately say, “Yes, my dog does that!” She took all the silly little songs my boys and I had made up for Carys and sang them to her dog, substituting Carys’s name for that of her dog.

Carys may be developmentally delayed, but she is a happy, beautiful, smiley little human being. You don’t need to look at her through my eyes to see that. How could anyone equate her with their family pet?

When my hyper-sensitivity finally threatened to explode, my husband said, “Is it really worth putting your friendship on the line for the sake of a little thoughtlessness?”

I double-checked at that. Sometimes, I just get so exhausted with all the biting of my tongue I have to do; with always being the considerate, understanding forgiving half of a friendship. Why did that become my role? Why did I have to learn to be better than human? And if the friendship ran so deep, how could she not know what she was doing to me? 

Conor said I didn’t always have to burden myself with perceived insults on Carys’s behalf, but I knew he was wrong. I was her first line of defence, it all had to be filtered through me first.

You would think I could relax in the company of other mothers who have special needs kids, but sadly, this is not always the case. All syndromes are not the same. Delayed development is as unique as each child labelled with it. Some other mothers, whose children suffer from more well known syndromes, seem to assume that my child would benefit from the same treatments as did their child, and cheerfully coerce me into inflicting them on Carys. Call it a mother’s intuition, but I can see what will or won’t work for her, I can sense how she will react… or not. Her lack of achievement is reflected back on me, my negativity is noted, I can see it in their eyes and fixed smiles, and suddenly the tables are turned and this time it’s not Carys they have perceived as inadequate, but me.

The sad thing is, I often feel it in myself. But perception is, by its very nature a subjective and therefore unreliable thing. How I see myself and my daughter, how others see us, is in the end, quite irrelevant; it changes nothing.

All that matters, is that we keep on going; we can’t ever stop, we can’t ever give in. That’s what others need to see, the hard work, the good work, the love, the fun and the joy. Maybe then, people like Carys won’t be perceived as retards any more.

 

The Irish Road in History and Mythology

irish Road 1

A stretch of the R438. Could it have followed the route of a more ancient Irish road?

I was driving along the R438 on my way from Sneem in Co Kerry to my home in Co Cavan yesterday, when it occurred to me, not for the first time, how very long and curiously straight certain stretches of this road are. And it’s not the only one I’ve come across whilst driving around Ireland.

We have always credited the Romans with building incredibly straight roads as they advanced on their campaign of dominion across Europe, but the Romans never came to Ireland in anything other than small groups to trade and barter. What  if the Romans were just making use of a network of roads which already existed? I mean, why go to the extra trouble and expense of excavating and building new roads, when all they had to do was lay their stones over the top of a pre-existing system? (I know, here she goes again with her crackpot ideas and theories…)

What people don’t realise, is that the so called ‘Celts’ were great road builders. In Irish mythology, the Annals of the Four Masters claim that there were five main roads, or slighe (pronounced slee)  radiating out from the Hill of Tara to various parts of Ireland.

Slighe Asail (pronounced slee ass-il) ran west from Tara to Lough Owel in Westmeath, and may have continued in a north-westerly direction.

Slighe Midluachra (pronounced mee-loo-hra) went north from Slane, past Dundalk, round the base of the highest of the Fews mountains called Carrigatuke (but formerly known as Sliabh Fuad) near Newtown-Hamilton in Armagh, to the ancient Navan Fort (Emain Macha), and on to Dunseverick on the northern coast of Antrim.

Slighe Cualann ran south-east through Dublin, crossing the River Liffey by the hurdle-bridge that gave the city the ancient name of Baile-atha-Cliath (pronounced Bol-ya ah Clee-ah, meaning ‘the town of the hurdle-ford’). It then passed what is now known as Donnybrook, before heading south through the old district of Cualann from which it took its name, and then heading up the coast to Bray.

Slighe Dala ran south-west from Tara through Ossory in Co. Kilkenny.

Finally, Slighe Mór, also known as An tSlí Mhór, (meaning ‘The Great Way’) led south-west from Tara, joining the Esker Riada near Clonard, along which it continued until Galway. The current M6 motorway also follows this route. This is the one which intrigues me the most. It has a fascinating story.

An example of a road following the line of an Esker, this one in Scotland, courtesy of Wikipedia.

An example of a road following the line of an Esker, this one in Scotland, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The word Esker derives from the Old Irish word escir, meaning ‘a ridge or elevation dividing two plains’. These long flowing ridges are formed from deposits of glacial material as the ice of the last ice-age melted. The Esker Riada ran for 200km connecting Dublin with Galway, passing through counties Dublin, Meath, Kildare, Westmeath, Offaly, Roscommon and finally Galway. A section still exists today between Kilbeggan and Tyrrellspass in Westmeath. Riada means ‘road’. Since the Esker Riada provided solid, higher ground, and thus a firm, reliable way through the bogs of the Irish mid-lands, it was inevitable that our ancient ancestors would use it as a highway connecting the east and west of Ireland.

In the year 123 AD, following a battle at Maynooth (Magh Nuada) between High King Conn of the 100 Battles and Eoghan Mor, a truce was agreed, and the decision made to divide Ireland between the two rulers along the natural boundary of the Esker Riada. Thus Eoghan took the southern portion, and named it Leath Mogha after himself, and Conn took the northern portion which he named Leath Cuinn. To cement the agreement, Conn then gave his daughter in marriage to Eoghan’s son.

An tSlí Mhór provided strategic and commercial advantages to the monastic settlement of Clonmacnoise (Cluain Mhic Nóis in Irish, meaning ‘meadow of the sons of Nós’), constructed at the point where the River Shannon passes through the Esker Riada. Initially, Clonmacnoise was just a simple wooden church founded in 546AD by St Ciarán with the help of Diarmait Uí Cerbaill, who later became the first Christian High King of Ireland. St Ciaran died only a year later from yellow fever, and is supposed to have been buried under the floor of the original wooden church, on which site now stands the C9th oratory named Temple Ciarán. Clonmacnoise went on to become a major centre for religious learning and fine craftwork, famous throughout the land, and attended by scholars from all over Europe until it’s decline in the C12th. Interestingly, the R438 I was telling you about runs close by Clonmacnoise… could it be an old Irish road connected with the holy site somehow?

Although these ancient roads are mentioned in early tales of mythology, such as The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel, which belongs to the Ulster Cycle, according to the Annals, they continued in use into early medieval times.

Early medieval law describes five types of road including the highway (slighe), the regional main road (ród), the connecting road (lámraite), the tolled side road (tógraite), and the cow road (bóthar). In fact, bóthar is the most common term for ‘road’ in modern Irish; bóithrín (pronounced bor-een) is a very narrow, rural lane.

A reconstruction of a togher, Corlea Trackway Visitor Centre, Co Longford. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

A reconstruction of a togher, Corlea Trackway Visitor Centre, Co Longford. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

An actual wooden plank taken from an ancient Irish trackway now on display in my local Co Cavan Museum.

An actual wooden plank taken from an ancient Irish trackway now on display in my local Co Cavan Museum.

So, what were ancient roads made of?  Usually, they were made of wood, and enabled travel either on foot, by horse, or by cart, across Ireland’s marshy bogland. These tracks across bogs were called togher (tóchar in Irish), and remains have been found by archaeologists all over Ireland. A Bronze Age trackway (c.2000 BC) was found at Ballykillen Bog in Co Offaly which was wide enough to carry wheeled vehicles. A 1km section of wooden track approx. 1 metre wide, was identified in Co Leitrim dating to approximately 1500 BC . In Co Antrim, a 2m wide track made from oak beams and planks was found, its width suggestive of carrying wheeled traffic. In Munster, a 22km stretch of Iron Age road with a stone surface was excavated, but this was a rare discovery.

It seems that in ancient times, the roads were very well maintained; the Brehon Laws set out rules and regulations in great detail for building them, keeping them in a state of good repair, and for cleaning them, something sadly lacking in today’s infrastructure.

Interestingly, though, the development of Ireland’s roads then seemed to enter a period of deterioration until in the C18th , when a network of turnpike roads was built. A turnpike was a primitive type of gate across the road preventing access. The traveller had to pay a toll to pass through the gate.

I will leave you with a lovely, if quite wacky little legend about the origins of Ireland’s roads, as related by Lady Gregory in her book ‘Of Gods and Fighting Men’.

“And one time Manannan’s cows came up out of the sea at Baile Cronin, three of them, a red, and a white, and a black, and the people that were there saw them standing on the strand for a while, as if thinking, and then they all walked up together, side by side, from the strand. And at that time there were no roads in Ireland, and there was great wonder on the people when they saw a good wide road ready before the three cows to walk on. And when they got about a mile from the sea they parted; the white cow went to the north-west, towards Luimnech, and the red cow went to the south-west, and on round the coast of Ireland, and the black cow went to the north-east, towards Lis Mor, in the district of Portlairge, and a road opened before each of them, that is to be seen to this day.”

 

Some Good News and a Thank You!

Fireworks BouquetA while ago, I submitted an article to the on-line newspaper, Irish Central, about my experiment with Iron-Age eating. It did quite well; it had 4.5k views, and 1.5k shares, which, for an article within that category was a very good result (although it could not surpass granny’s recipe for Irish apple pie lol!).

On the strength of that, I was invited to become a regular contributing writer, and have been asked to submit an article a month based on my personal interpretations of Irish mythology and history, much as I do here on this blog. I can’t believe it… I’m so chuffed! (You can’t see it, but I’m capering a very clumsy Irish jig right now… thank goodness you can’t see it, lol!)

I have had another article published today, based on one which I wrote for this blog back in March, about my take on the idea put forward that the Irish bog bodies displayed in the National Museum in Dublin are the victims of ritual Kingship sacrifice. I’m not convinced. If you want to read it, you can read it on Irish Central, or the full version here.

Next week, another article will be published entitled ‘The Tuatha de Denann | Irish Gods or Aliens?’. Intrigued? This one does not appear in any form on my blog, so you’ll have to wait till it’s published. I’ll post a link when it is.

I’d just like to thank all my lovely blogger friends and social media friends who visited my first published article, and liked, shared and commented. I really appreciated your support, so a big, genuine, heart-felt THANK YOU! to you all!

PS. I don’t expect any of you to read them, but I’m posting the link just in case anyone might want to!

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