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COMING SOON: Conor Kelly’s Guide to Ireland’s Ancient Places, an exclusive free gift to all newsletter subscribers, featuring all the sites and locations upon which The Tir na Nog Trilogy is based. So if you haven’t signed up yet, now’s the time to do it!

The Friday Fiction with Michael Bolan

I am delighted to introduce Irish author Michael Bolan to you today. Like me, Michael bases his books on Irish myths. Here is an excerpt from his latest book, The Stone Bridge; check it out,  and give the gift of a book this Christmas… even if it’s to yourself! Enjoy!


Michael Bolan’s latest book

Isabella’s good mood stayed with her as she walked her horse slowly through the ancient trees of the forest. It seemed that most of the world was covered by trees, something she never complained about. The soft sounds of the forest soothed her, the rustling of the leaves overhead helped her forget the perils that lay ahead.

She kept thinking about her mission and about the family she had left hours previously. Their life was etched in sweat and toil, bound by the cycle of the seasons. It was so different to the pampered life she had enjoyed in Leuven, or even the unusual existence she had built for herself within the warband, something she had only been able to do because of the education, both formal and informal, that she had received as Duke Henry’s daughter. And yet, despite being simple, uneducated folk, Dentek and his family were happy; happier than most.

Spending time with them had refreshed her; as a long bath washes grime from the skin, her brief sojourn with the farmer left her feeling more alive than she had for weeks. Her burning need to rejoin her people was lessened, her desire for Conor banked like an overnight fire, as she found her thoughts repeatedly returning to the simple family. Leaving Dentek without offering some form of recompense for their hospitality galled her, so she slowed her horse and wheeled the beast around. She would hide her coinpurse where it would be easily found. She found herself humming a gentle ditty as she moved through the woods, dappled in the sunlight.

The sun was beginning to sink towards the western horizon when she smelled the smoke. Assuming that one of the farmers in the hamlet was burning stubble in the fields, she thought nothing of it and continued riding. Something struck her as odd about the smell. It was early to be clearing fields; that was done post-harvest, the ash serving to enrich the soil for the next year. And the smell was strange: not the golden dryness of burning straw, redolent of leather and sunshine; but a more acrid smoke which made her think of Leuven’s ironworks. Frowning, she picked up her pace, bouncing in the saddle as she trotted her horse towards the hamlet.

As she crested the ridge overlooking the shallow valley in which the homestead lay, she felt bile rise in her throat. The thatched rooves of the farmhouses were ablaze, the livestock running wild. Of Dentek, his family and his neighbours, there was no sign. She felt a curious detachment settle over her as she slipped from her saddle and unhooked her packs. Without haste, she loaded her four pistols, strung her bowstaff, checked the fletching of her arrows, and loosened her throwing knives in their sheaths. Satisfied she was ready for battle, she remounted and kicked her heels hard into the horse’s sides. Well-trained for war, the stallion galloped headlong through the trees towards the village.

*****

The roan steed crashed through the treeline like a cannonball, hooves ripping up great clods as it raced towards the homestead, rider clinging centaur-like to its neck. As they neared the village, Isabella could smell the metallic tang of blood and knew her worst fears would be realised. The dispassion that had taken her deepened. Her mind focused on what was to come.

Rider and mount burst into the open space between the houses, unable to stop. Her eyes caught glimpses of dead bodies strewn between the buildings, and she almost crashed into two demons running from one of the houses, swords dripping garish blood onto the hard-packed earth. The pistol in either hand boomed, and the two demons fell, their twisted carmine masks alive as they screamed. Her hands holstered the spent guns and raised her second pair. Hoping that the madcap ride had not loosened their deadly load, she raised and fired, dropping another pair of demon-masked men. And then she was through, her mount barrelling out of the homestead and back into the open fields.

Isabella paused at the treeline to reload her guns and then trotted the lathered horse along the edge of the fields to approach the village from a different angle. Her horse gathered speed once again, and she used her knees to steer it between houses, surprising yet another pair of attackers. One gun rang true, dropping a fifth, while the other misfired. With the grace of an acrobat, she drew her spare pistols and kicked her leg over the saddle, dropping to the earth and rolling, the farmyard dust coating her dark leather armour. She regained her feet with grace, sighting the attacker as she did so. Firing both pistols, she killed him without qualm.

Her senses were fast becoming overloaded with the rank charnel-house odour when stone chips exploded from the wall of the house behind her. She hadn’t even heard the report of the musket. Another shot boomed out, pinning her down behind the low stone wall of the communal well. A brief lull suggested that there were only two marauders left, and that they were reloading their guns. Thinking it likely they both had pistols as well as their muskets, Isabella’s mind raced, unfettered by emotion. Knowing her current position was untenable, she looked around for ideas.

The well-bucket lay on its side, its contents long soaked into the dry soil. Hefting it with her right hand, she used a throwing knife to saw through its rope before throwing it backwards over the well, towards the muskets’ position. Two shots rang out immediately, and she burst from cover, sprinting in a crouch towards the byre. The large double doors were barred shut, but the small picket hung open. Inside she could hear the bellowing of the bull, driven mad by the noise and smell. She dove headfirst through the door, hearing two more shots ring out, higher-pitched than before. Pistols, she noted, as she skidded face-first through the fragrant loam of the byre floor. She rushed to the doors and lifted the stout wooden bar that held them closed, before spinning and flipping the latches of the bull’s pen.

The enraged beast burst from its stall like a horse at the beginning of a race, knocking the byre doors from their hinges as it escaped its confines. Twelve hundredweight of prize beef made no attempt to pause for the man before it; in fact the bull’s weak eyesight didn’t register the obstacle until it was too late. Isabella followed the beast from the byre to see one of the remaining attackers crushed to a messy pulp under its broad hooves, dead before he could scream. She ran for cover, throwing knives in hand as she sprinted.

“A woman!” roared a voice behind her, astonishment colouring the anger it contained. “You demonic bitch!” it screamed, the irony of the statement lost. Isabella skidded to a halt beside the wall of one of the houses, realising with a start that it was Dentek’s. At least, it had been. Fury rose inside her, as she stood and walked into the open.

Before her stood a heavily-muscled man, his six-foot frame clad in blood-red leather armour. He cast his pistol aside, having no time to reload it, and drew a shortsword from his belt. His left hand held a long dagger, blade crimson with the spilled blood of the villagers. As Isabella walked towards him, he spat and stretched his neck from side to side, readying himself to pounce. “Who are you, whore? I would know your name before I fuck your dead body,”

The pair were separated by no more than three yards. Isabella dropped her knives. “I am the bull of seven battles; I am the eagle on the rock.” She undid her belt buckle, allowing her empty sheaths to fall to the earth, doing the same with her shoulder quiver. “I am a flash from the sun; I am a strong wild boar.” Her voice grew from a whisper, gaining strength as she stared at the man. Never had she felt such hatred, such righteous anger.

Impatient to finish her, the man attacked. His shortsword slashed crosswise before swinging back, as he stabbed his dagger towards her belly. He was fast, but Isabella was not where he had thought. She skipped aside. “I am a salmon in the water.” Her right foot shot out, catching the warrior in the side, knocking the wind from him. He whirled, both blades swinging low to catch her legs. She jumped, smashing a foot into his face as she spun sideways. “I am the word of knowledge,” she cried as he attacked again, his blades finding nothing but air as she spun away.

The man stepped back, ripping off his mask, exposing a cold face reddened with anger. “Who are you, bitch?” he shouted. “Ach, it matters not, you will die!” He leaped forward again, swinging both blades in sequence, chopping and scything as if cutting wheat. Isabella’s hands darted out, blocking the insides of his forearms, deflecting his blows, seemingly at the last possible moment. Her punches began to take on force, beating him in the stomach, the chest, the neck, the head, as she shouted in his face, “I am the head of the spear in battle!

Her hands flew back, striking his wrists at the same time, knocking the blades from unfeeling fingers. With all her force she drove her right fist forward, her bunched knuckles hitting the man’s throat. She heard the gristly crunch as his windpipe collapsed. He flew backwards, landing on his back.

Isabella stared down at his gurgling countenance. “I am the god that puts fire in the head. I am vengeance. I am Nemesis. And I will wait for you in Hell.”

She stamped her heel down on his face.




Michael Bolan: nomadic Irish storyteller

Author Michael Bolan
Author Michael Bolan

It took Michael Bolan over two decades of running in the corporate ratrace to realise that all he actually did was tell stories.

There was no Damascene revelation for Bolan which caused him to pen his first work of fiction, “The Sons of Brabant”. An avid reader, he simply felt that he could do as good a job as many of the authors he read and decided to put his money where his mouth was.

Living and working in many countries left him with smatterings of a dozen languages and their stories, and his love for history focused his ideas on the Thirty Years War, the most destructive conflict that the continent has ever seen.

Now living in Prague (again), Michael brings alive the twisted alleys of the 17th century and recreates the brooding darkness of a fractured Europe, where no-one was entirely sure who was fighting whom.

Michael writes while liberally soused in gin, a testament to Franz de le Boë, who was mixing oil of juniper with neat spirit while the thirty Years War raged around him.

His website (http://www.michaelbolan.org) is a place where he can post his thoughts and feelings – along with reviews of books he finds lying around the internet.

 Twitter: https://twitter.com/michaelbolan225

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/michaelbolan225

LinkedIn: cz.linkedin.com/in/bolanov

Author Central: https://www.amazon.com/author/michaelbolan

Cavan’s Hidden Historical Treasure | Saint Fethlimidh’s Cathedral

A blast from the past! Seems like only yesterday, and I still haven’t been back for a look inside! Time just flies…

aliisaacstoryteller

St Fethlimidh's Cathedral, Kilmore, Co Cavan St Fethlimidh’s Cathedral, Kilmore, Co Cavan

We were driving through the Cavan countryside last weekend, and whizzed past this little gem! We almost crashed whilst we did a double take, then turned around  and drove back to have a closer look.

St Fethlimidh’s Cathedral is only located a few kilometres outside of Cavan town on a beautiful wooded hillside close to Lough Oughter, but if felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately, it was closed and locked up, so we weren’t able to go inside.

St Fethlimidh was the son of Carill, and great-great-great grandson of Nial of the Nine Hostages. His mother was Dediva, whose grandfather was Dubhthach moccu Lughair, Chief Ollamh of Ireland, and royal poet to High King Lóegaire mac Néill, so he was descended from an illustrious lineage. He also had seven brothers and sisters; all of them bar one were also saints…

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The Truth About Irish Mythology

I learned something devastating last week, and it was not what I wanted to hear.

There is no such thing as Irish Mythology. It doesn’t exist.

Me last week, when I found out the truth about Irish mythology...
Me last week, when I found out the truth about Irish mythology…

Truth hurts, right? I wanted to crawl into a hole and cry. I actually want there to be some possible reality in heroes like Cuchulainn and Fionn mac Cumhall; in great ancient kings like Cormac mac Airt and Nuada of the Silver Hand, and in powerful women like Medb. I want the tales of Druids and magic and battles and tragic love to be based on some elusive fact. Not only do they help me escape from the horrors and hardships of the modern day world, but in looking back, those stories give me hope for the future: they tell us that even in dark times, there is a light in humanity that still shines. And that elusive quality, like mist drifting over still water, is what draws me in… I lost myself in that mist, and drowned in that water, and it was like swimming in wine… my favourite white sparkly kind! 😋

So what do we have, then? Those stories must come from somewhere.

What we have is a bunch of texts written during the medieval ages. Whilst they may be masterpieces in themselves, and they truly are, there is no evidence that they are anything more than the fiction of talented and imaginative medieval writers.

Think about it: those stories were written down between six and nine hundred years after the events they tell were supposed to have taken place. What did medieval scribes know about the Iron age? They had no books or writings from the peoples of that time, no archaeology to give them an insight. All they had was their imaginations.

I know what you’re thinking; what about the oral tradition these stories were copied from?

We have no evidence that such an oral tradition existed. Even if it did, and non-literate societies all have an oral tradition, so more than likely it did exist, but even so, we still have no evidence. We can make assumptions, but assumptions are not reliable, they are just guesswork.

And, as my lecturer explained, anthropological studies in non-literate communities in Africa, for example, have shown how stories from the oral tradition are subject to change, not only from one re-telling to another, or embellished in the individual style of each storyteller, but altered in quite monumental ways, from one generation to the next. If you ever played the game of Chinese Whispers as a child, you will know exactly what this means; words that are not recorded in some physical way are subject to distortion. It’s inevitable.

We cannot assume that these medieval scribes were fixing these spoken words in ink on vellum. It is quite likely that they were, but there is no evidence of that. What we have are faded manuscripts written by medieval scribes collected into ancient books preserved by subsequent generations and interpreted as history.

Even as late as the 1980s and 1990s, scholars believed that these texts offered a ‘window on the Iron age’. No one looked at them critically. But since then, a new way of thinking has developed. Archaeologists’ findings do not support the view that these medieval texts are describing the Iron age, and this has made people look more closely at the medieval writings. What they found was that these texts actually reflect medieval society; more than likely, they are commenting on their own society, but setting events in what they believe, or imagine, the Iron age to be like.

But why? Why would they do this?

Perhaps it was safer to criticize society by displacing it, and setting it in an earlier, far distant time.  Perhaps it is pure imagination, or speculation. Perhaps they wondered what Ireland was like before Christianity and civilization came and saved it. Maybe they wanted to show how tough and dangerous life was then. Maybe they just wanted to tell a good story. We just don’t know.

Maybe I should close this blog, get my coat, and go home.

But all is not lost, for I am the Guardian of Irish Mythology, remember?

In Celtic and Irish Medieval Studies at the moment, we are reading the 1st rescension of the Táin Bó Cúailnge, the Cattle Raid of Cooley, probably the most famous and well scrutinized of all tales of Irish mythology. It’s crazy-mad stuff, and I love it! I do wonder if these scribes were high on magic mushrooms when they were writing… perhaps that’s something a few of us modern writers should try. LOL!

Anyway, as you will know if you have been following this blog, Queen Medb is made out to be something of an egotistical, battle-crazed, irrational harlot who goes to war over possession of a big brown bull, just to prove a point to her husband, which is that she is just as equal as he in terms of wealth.

This story does not show women, particularly powerful ones, in a very flattering light. Medb consistently makes irrational decisions and judgements throughout the story and is rescued each time by the logic of her male companions, such as her husband, Aillil, and her lover, Fergus.

As my lecturer says, this story is designed to prove that women make bad leaders in battle, and bad Queens in general, that the female mind is incapable of strategy, logic, wisdom etc.

I don’t deny the story does this… it’s obvious. But I wonder why, in the Christian world of medieval Ireland, where women had been living a subservient and domestic role in society for hundreds of years, why was this message necessary? Women did not hold military power, and Queens were such in name only, usually through marriage. What was happening in the wider medieval period which necessitated the reinforcement of this message concerning a woman’s proper place?

Medb is given an inglorious death (click to read my post on 5 Weirdest Hero Deaths); she is killed by a cheese (yes, a cheese!) hitting her on the head while she is vulnerable and unprotected, just a weak and unaware woman bathing in a lake. A fitting end for the terrible Queen?

Could the Táin really have come from the tattered remains of a much older, perhaps popular, story after all, in which a Queen really did lead a battle? Was it taken and manipulated by medieval scribes to show that no; women make terrible leaders and should never be allowed such power? There is no evidence, so in my new guise as a student, I should not even be suggesting this. But I’m going to anyway.

The earlier part of my course focused on archaeology of the peoples labelled as ‘Celtic’ who lived in central Europe. We looked at the evidence of burials under huge mounds, particularly , at the most high status burials. Among them there are burials of women which clearly show they are of very high status indeed, equivalent to their male counterparts at the time; the burial of the ‘Princess’ at Vix, for example, and the chariot burials of women at Wetwang (video) in Yorkshire.

These are Iron age female burials, but they are not Irish Iron age female burials. However, they do indicate that some women could rise to power and hold as much wealth as men at that time.

I see no reason then to doubt that Ireland could have had its own powerful Queens during the Iron age, and if it did, undoubtedly there would have been stories circulating about her. Many of them may have been lost, perhaps deliberately, as they did not describe the ideal Christian woman. Others, such as the Táin, may have been retained, and ‘adapted’ to teach the true nature of a woman, and her proper place.

I’m just a newbie student at the beginning of my studies, but I think you know by now that I don’t just accept what I’m told, I question it. I’m quietly taking all this new information in, and digesting. The cogs are whirring, albeit loudly and rustily. I have no evidence to support that last paragraph, but I’m sure going to look for some.

By the way, scholars who believe that the medieval texts do in fact refer to the Iron age are called ‘nativists’; those who don’t are called ‘antinativists’. Apparently, people get quite passionate and heated during conferences and debates, even leading to fisticuffs! Who knew mild-mannered and studious bookish people and scholars could get so aggressive over their points of view? A little bit of the spirit of Cuchulainn still lives on in those who study him, I guess. 😂


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COMING SOON: Conor Kelly’s Guide to Ireland’s Ancient Places, an exclusive free gift for all newsletter subscribers, featuring all the sites and locations upon which The Tir na Nog Trilogy is based. WANT ONE? It’s FREE, and coming to a newsletter near you soon! All you have to do is sign up to my Marvellous Myths newsletter.

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Conor Kelly and The Fenian King | An Excerpt

So sorry if anyone just received a blank post notification from me… somehow in the seconds between finishing this post and hitting the publish button, wordpress managed to lose my entire content. There have been some weird things going on at wordpress lately,,, gremlins in the machine?

Ali Isaac - Conor Kelly and the Fenian King

Hugh from Hugh’s Views and News has very kindly featured my book, Conor Kelly and the Fenian King as his Book of the Month… cue sparkly lights and glitter! Yaaay! Thanks, Hugh! In tandem with this, you can find the book at only 99c/ 99p on Amazon, and completely FREE on Smashwords and associated retailers. And now, here is an excerpt…


Chapter Forty Two – The Disappeared

the present day…

 

Conor coughed and spluttered as the dust rose in clouds around him, then admonished himself; his body and lungs were safe in his aunt’s little Micra at the bottom of the hill. As a free roaming spirit, he couldn’t be harmed by clouds of dust, or collapsing masonry, or landslides, or whatever it was that had caused Sidhe Finn to cave in.

But Ciara could. What if she was killed, crushed beneath a fallen orthostat? What if…

Conor felt waves of panic swell inexorably through him like the tides of the sea. He couldn’t find her. He couldn’t see her. Even with his spirit eyes and his supernatural senses, he couldn’t detect any sign of her presence. It was as if she had simply vanished.

But that was impossible. Maybe she had got up and wandered outside, dazed and confused. Maybe she had a head injury, and didn’t know where she was. She could be out there, floundering about in a state of bewilderment.

Oh my God! She could fall off the cliff and plunge to an untimely death in the quarry…

He had to get out, had to find her. He took another quick look around. Many of the orthostats had fallen inward, held up from the floor only by the central pedestal which supported the coffin. A couple of the ancient stones had cracked in two. The coffin had been smashed into matchwood, but Conor saw no evidence of bones. Fortunately, much of the loose rubble which traditionally comprised the infill between the chamber ceiling and the mound had been removed by Aylmer’s builders, and replaced with blocks and mortar, thus forming a secure foundation for the tower. The old mortar had cracked and crumbled in places, releasing some of its bricks, but had mostly held firm. The devastation was not as terrible as he had expected.

But his heart jumped into his mouth when he realised that one huge, carved orthostat had collapsed directly onto the spot where Ciara had crouched the last time he had seen her. Its fall had not been halted by the softness of a body beneath it; no pool of blood lay spreading on the ground around it. The relief Conor felt on observing that was short-lived. Where was she?

Beside the stone, the flagstone with the Ogham symbol lay smashed into several pieces. It had been lifted from its resting place, and placed beside a small pit. Which, Conor noted with disappointment, was completely empty. Had Ciara found the missing mouthpiece and removed it? Or had she lifted the flagstone to find only an empty space and a sense of despair? He had to find her. Where was she?

Convinced at last that the chamber was completely empty, Conor allowed himself to drift up through the ceiling and into the circular chamber above. The stairs leading down from the entrance had collapsed into nothing more than an unstable pile of rock. He floated over it and out through the devastated doorway.

It was dark. The weak wash of moon and stars showed Conor that the hillside was deserted. After the explosions and collapse of the tower, it was eerily silent, almost as if nature itself was shocked at this traumatic turn of events.

He wandered around the remains of the tower, dejected and overwhelmed with guilt. There was no sign of Ciara.

Am I to blame? Did I cause this with the ferocity of my lightning attack on the tower? Or was it the quarry? I’m surprised the hill didn’t collapse years ago after such extensive mining. Surely it was an accident just waiting to happen; we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time…weren’t we?

Pushing his way carefully between the yellow gorse bushes, Conor stood on the edge of the cliff and contemplated the drop. Was Ciara down there, broken and battered and bleeding? Far beneath him, a tear trailed down his face as, in the car, his inert body responded to his desolation.

The only way to find out was to leap down after her. Even knowing that he could not fall or be hurt, it took Conor a good few moments to find the courage to jump over the edge. He found it much easier to control his descent this time around. As the ground rushed up to meet him, he saw that the quarry men were running about in a panic. Alarms were sounding, people were shouting, but the drills were silent, and the trucks which transported rock and rubble lay abandoned.

Hmmm…looks like there’s been a bit of a disaster down here.

Conor levelled out a couple of metres from the ground and glided slowly along the base of the cliff, searching for Ciara. Eventually, elated, he had to conclude she had not fallen. His only other option was to search the path on his way back to the car. Perhaps she was already waiting there for him. With his spirits lifting, Conor retraced his journey. But Ciara was not there.

For what felt like the hundredth time, he wondered where on earth she was.

The car was waiting on the far side of the car park, just as they’d left it. Conor felt anxious now; for Ciara, and also for himself. His body was lying in wait for him on the back seat, but what if he couldn’t get back into it? He hadn’t stopped to contemplate how that part of the process was achieved. He might not be able to do it. What then? He had been outside of his body for quite a long time. He might not be able to readjust to its rhythms and limitations.

He went first to the front of the car, half expecting to see Ciara sitting there, impatiently waiting for him. She wasn’t.

What do I do now? Do I re-join my body, and wait? Or do I go out looking for her again? I’m really tied by my mobility if I re-enter my body at this stage. But the longer I leave it, the harder it’s going to get.

Conor wavered between his choices. Then the decision was snatched from him. When he looked in at the rear window, his body was gone.

smashwords-button  kindle-button


allen-collageAylmer’s Folly and Sidhe Fionn are real places. I visited them when I was researching for this book. You can read about them in my post, Almu | Home of Irish Legendary Hero Fionn mac Cumhall.


Want more mythology straight to your inbox? Sign up to my mailing list.

COMING SOON: Conor Kelly’s Guide to Ireland’s Ancient Places, an exclusive free gift for all newsletter subscribers, featuring all the sites and locations upon which The Tir na Nog Trilogy is based. WANT ONE? It’s FREE, and coming to a newsletter near you soon! All you have to do is sign up to my Marvellous Myths newsletter.

Or try one of these…

Book Of The Month – Conor Kelly And The Fenian King – by Ali Isaac @aliisaac_

Thanks to my lovely blogger and author friend, Hugh, for featuring my book, Conor kelly and the Fenian King, as his Book of the Month… I am proud and honoured! In tandem with this, you can now get my book FREE in any format you care to read it on SMASHWORDS, and for 99c/99p on AMAZON, if you fancy a copy! Just click the links in Hugh’s blog post.

Hugh's Views & News

Ali Isaac recently popped by to tell me all about her new book. It was a welcome break from the formatting I’ve been doing for my new book.

Over to you Ali…

What’s the name of the book?

Conor Kelly and The Fenian King.

Ali Isaac - Conor Kelly and the Fenian King Ali Isaac’s latest book – Conor Kelly And The Fenian King

What inspired you to write it?

This is the second book in my Tir na Nog Trilogy. I was inspired to write this series, basically because when the Harry Potter story came to an end, I felt there was a void. I turned to the Percy Jackson series, which was fun, but just didn’t have the same depth. So I decided to write a story based on Irish mythology, which most people have never heard of, and give it a truly flawed hero.

Tell us a little about the story and the characters.

Teenager Conor…

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The #Halloween Legacy of Ireland’s Witches

It’s a popular enduring image of Halloween. How many little girls will be donning black, and a wide-brimmed pointy hat, painting their faces green, and gluing rice crispies to their noses to represent warts tonight? And when all those little girls are lying asleep in bed, faces scrubbed clean, how many older little girls will be sallying forth on the high street, brooms in hand, adorned with green face paint and the addition of mini skirts and high heels in a not-quite-so-traditional version of the Halloween witch?

Most people today don’t believe in witches, although among the pagan community there are groups who call themselves witches; they practice a nature based faith called Wicca. However, it seems more than likely that witches and witchcraft were a lie originally invented by Christianity to control powerful, knowledgeable women, and have people scurrying to the church for protection. That the notion of the witch struck such fear into people’s hearts that they were willing to collude in accusing any woman of the crime if it meant saving their own skins.

The punishment for women accused as witches was barbaric: burning, or drowning were common as anti-witchcraft fervour swept Europe, usually after torture and humiliation in order to extract a confession. In Ireland, however, common law dictated that women accused of witchcraft should be hung, although this did not happen in all cases.

black-hoursIf you want to know more about the persecution of witches, you should read this book. The Black Hours by Alison Williams is a no-holds-barred, powerful account of a real event based on real people. The research is meticulous, and the writing flawless and engaging. I found it very disturbing to read, and it stayed with me for a long time afterwards.

The first woman in Ireland to be officially denounced as a witch was Dame Alice Kyteler in the thirteenth century. By all accounts, she was quite a character, and did not at all fit into the social norms for women at that time. With hindsight, it’s perhaps not surprising that she was singled out for retribution.

The daughter of wealthy Norman immigrants who came to Kilkenny in Ireland in the mid thirteenth century, Alice met and married William Outlawe, a local banker, and bore him a son, also named William. When her husband died suddenly a few years later, leaving her all his wealth, she quickly remarried.

Her second husband, Adam de Blund of Cullen, also died suddenly and unexpectedly within a few years of their wedding, leaving her the full extent of his fortune. Not one long for grieving, Alice married Richard de Valle, and it wasn’t long before he too died suddenly.

Alice was by now an extremely wealthy woman in her own right. She ran a very popular inn, staffed with a bevvy of beautiful young women. This was seen as questionable at the time, and many people were jealous of her wealth and popularity. She married local landowner, Sir John de Poer, but he became ill shortly after. Just before he died, he amended his will, making Alice and her son, William, his sole heirs.

Sir John’s family were outraged that Alice had cheated them out of their inheritance. They accused Alice of witchcraft and sorcery, claiming she bewitched him to rewrite his will. The families of her previous husbands jumped on the bandwagon, hoping to win a slice of her fortune for themselves.

The Bishop of Ossary, Richard de Ledrede, was a zealous man obsessed with church law and morality. When the families of the dead husbands brought their complaint to him, he vowed to eradicate witchcraft from Ireland. In addition to poison and sorcery, he accused Alice of denying the Christian faith, sacrificing animals to demons at crossroads, holding secret gatherings in churches at night to carry out black magic rituals, sleeping with a familiar, Robin Artison, a demon of Satan, and the murder of four husbands… quite a list, huh?

Richard tried to have her arrested, but instead, he himself was thrown in jail by  Sir Arnold le Poer, Seneschal of Kilkenny, who was related to Alice through her husband, Sir John. On his release seventeen days later, the Bishop wrote to the Chancellor of Ireland, Roger Utlagh (Outlawe) demanding Alice’s arrest, but the Chancellor, who was also related to Alice through her first husband, William, ordered Richard to drop the case. Ledrede, however, was on a mission to stamp out witchcraft in Ireland, and had no intention of backing down.

Alice fled the country, supposedly to London, and was never heard of again. Meanwhile, the Bishop rounded up all her less fortunate friends and servants and had them tried for witchcraft and heresy.

Alice’s son, William, confessed and repented; he was forced to attend three masses a day, and give aid to the poor. Alice’s maid, Petronella de Meath, was tortured until she confessed and implicated her  absent mistress, Dame Alice. She was then publicly flogged and carted around the city streets as an example to the city folk.

Finally, on the 3rd of November 1324, poor Petronella was burned at the stake. As if she hadn’t already suffered enough. Compare this to the punishment William, a man, received. Um… yeah, no comparison at all, really, is it?

Petronella was the first woman to be burned at the stake in Ireland for witchcraft and heresy, but she wasn’t the last.

In 1710,  on Islandmagee, on the east coast of Antrim, eighteen-year-old Mary Dunbar accused eight local women of witchcraft and causing her to be demonically possessed. This was the last recorded witch trial in Ireland. As with Alice, these women did not fit into accepted notions of female behaviour; they drank, smoked and were old and hag-like, some of them were actually disabled. The women weren’t burned, so far as we know; records show that they were jailed for a year, and pilloried four times, as it was a first offence. What happened after that is not known, as  the public records office holding many Church of Ireland records was burned down during the Irish Civil War between 1922-1923.

Poor Bridget Cleary is often cited as the last witch burned in Ireland, but this is not true. She was murdered by her deranged husband in 1895, who claimed that when she became ill, she had been abducted by fairies, and a changeling left in her place. So he set her alight and burned her to death.  Hmmm… nice guy. Bridget had never at any point been accused of witchcraft. Michael Cleary was found guilty of manslaughter and imprisoned for only fifteen years, after which he emigrated to Canada.

Incidentally, Alice’s inn is still going strong to this very day… it’s now known by the name of Kyteler’s Inn, and is reputed to be frequented by Alice’s ghost.

To get the full Alice Kyteler story, you can download a FREE copy of A contemporary narrative of the proceedings against Dame Alice Kyteler : prosecuted for sorcery in 1324, by Richard de Ledrede, bishop of Ossory


Want to know more about Halloween and Samhain? You might find something of interest here…

Samhain | The Original Halloween

For our ancient ancestors, the day began not with the arrival of dawn, but with the fall of dusk. Therefore, Samhain (pronounced sau-win, and believed to derive from the Old Irish sam, meaning ‘summer’, and fuin, meaning ‘end’) began on the evening of 31st October, and continued until dusk on November 1st. Similarly, their New Year began with the arrival of the dark season, Winter, not halfway through it, as ours does today. Some say this equates with a belief that life is born into the light from the darkness of the womb.


 

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Tlachtga | Goddess of Earth and Fire

At Tlachtga, I felt a great sense of peace. I know you will say it’s because it all happened so long ago, in fact, probably never happened at all, because these are just ancient stories. But I think forgiveness washes a place clean, floods it with peacefulness and makes it wholesome again.

It didn’t even feel like a hill, but as I walked out onto the summit, I was amazed at the wide open 360* panorama which unfolded around me. From here, other famous ancient sites can be seen, if you know where to look, such as Tara (19kms), Loughcrew, Slane (23kms) and Teltown (12kms).


Magh Slecht, Site of Human Sacrifice or Holy Massacre?

The legend of Crom Cruach is a sinister one. The ancient texts of the Metrical Dindshenchas claim that the people of Ireland worshipped the God at Samhain, by offering up their firstborn child in return for a plentiful harvest in the coming year. The children were killed by smashing their heads on the stone idol representing Crom Cruach, and sprinkling their blood around the base. This stone idol has been identified as the Killycluggin Stone.


An Irish Ghost Story for Halloween | Sabina of Ross Castle

My father was not known for his kindliness; the Black Baron, they called him, and with good reason. He couldn’t abide lawlessness, demanded obedience, and ruled with an iron hand.

That grim, grey castle was not the place for a young girl to grow up in. For the most part, I was left alone, save for my poor governess. I was always tricking her with false errands, that I might escape her sharp eyes and those unforgiving walls.


 

Samhain Legends | Donn, Lord of the Dead

As far as we can tell, the ancient Irish people  never had a God of the Dead. The Otherworld was said to be the domain of Manannán, God of the Sea, but the myths and legends do not tell of him being a God of the Dead. However, there is someone, a mere mortal, who has come to be associated with this role.


Aillen of the Sidhe sprays fire from his mouth upon the roof of Tara.A Samhain Story | Fionn mac Cumhall and the Sidhe-Prince of Flame

“Tomorrow is the eve of Samhain,” whispered the Filidh, the High King’s Royal Bard. The crowd stilled, straining to hear through the smoky atmosphere of the King’s hall.

It was the night before Halloween. As always, the High King had invited all his favourite nobles to celebrate the festival at Tara. They crowded his hall, feasting at his table. The air was thick with smoke from the hearth fires, the scent of candles, the aroma of roasting meat, chatter, music and song. Now, when bellies were full and hunger sated, folk sat back and turned to their cups. It was time for the storyteller to weave his magic.


A Witches LamentA Poem for Samhain | A Witches Lament

They hide the truth,
these gaudy costumes,
the carved lanterns,
the trick or treat…


A Samhain Poem | The Princess on the Hill

She lies upon the hill, ragged and torn,
Borne of the night her three sons bold.
Told a story heartless and cruel,
Fuel for revenge of an act most foul…


warrior-2A Samhain Story| Lugh, Master of All Arts

Lugh hammered loudly on the palace gates, his men gathered about him. They had been travelling many days, and darkness would soon be falling. They had no intention of spending yet another night sleeping on the hard ground with just their cloaks to warm them.

“Be off with you!” someone shouted down to them from the shadows atop of the palisade wall. “The gates to the King’s palace are closed for the night. We are accepting no visitors this Samhain Eve.”


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The Friday Fiction Featuring Helen Jones

My dear author-friend and fellow blogger, Helen Jones, has just released her fab new book, A Thousand Rooms, and I was honoured to be able to offer my beta-reading services… all part of my cunning plan to read a great new book by one of my fave authors before anyone else, lol! Helen is already well known for her delightful fantasy series, the Ambeth Chronicles, but A Thousand Rooms takes her writing to a whole new level… this is very much a grown up story, and in its own unique way, sits perfectly with the season. Read on to find out why…


get your copy of A Thousand Rooms

Katie is thirty-two, single, and used to work in advertising. She’s also dead. Killed suddenly, hit by a car while crossing the road. But then… nothing happens. No angels, no loved ones arrive to help her. Instead, she’s left to wander the streets of Sydney alone, a lost soul in a big city. In this excerpt, she’s just attended her own funeral, and is now wondering what to do next. Then a light in the window of a nursing home catches her eye…

Another glow catches my eye. It’s in a window on the third floor, like a light coming on then gradually fading to off again. It’s golden and sparkling and intriguing and something in me is drawn to it, shaking me out of my fugue state. I wonder what it is, feeling a little tug under my breastbone. And, just like that, I’m inside.

I am in someone’s bedroom. I rub at the ache in my chest as I look around. The pale pink walls can’t completely disguise the fact that this is a sickroom, the ceiling hoists and metal trolley hinting at infirmity, the wheelchair folded and leaning against the wall proof of it. Yet there are touches of home. An old cushioned rocking chair next to a low table holding photographs that span decades, laughing babies grown to tall adults, young lovers to wrinkled companions. Two small paintings of ocean scenes hang on the walls, a quilted dressing gown draped across the chair. Despite the medical apparatus, it is a peaceful place. And I am not alone.

A frail old woman with soft silver hair is lying on the bed, wearing a dark pink dress and lighter pink knitted wool jacket. Her legs are bone slender in tan stockings that wrinkle around her ankles, her hands crossed on her stomach. A small group of people are gathered around the bed. Two men and a woman, all of them teary, while a teenager leans against the wall, wiping her eyes, black mascara smeared. A nurse is pulling a blanket up over the old woman, her voice gentle as she speaks to the bereaved family. The energy in the room is one of sorrow but also love and acceptance, joy of a long life lived, of life given to others. As the blanket covers the old lady the woman turns to one of the men and he holds her close, his hand on her hair as she sobs on his shoulder, his own eyes red rimmed. The other man also wipes at his eyes, his shoulders hunching. There is so much love here you can feel it, as though the air is thick and golden and warm with it, weaving soft tendrils around the little group. My own eyes tear up in response and I feel an easing inside me, as though the tense knot of wires is starting to relax, coils loosening.

But where is the old woman’s spirit? You know, the bit of her that’s like me? I can’t see her anywhere, but there seems to be a sort of glow near the door, like a faint trail of sparkles that dissipates as I watch. I stare at it for a moment and an idea hits me.

I need to be there when someone dies.

God, that sounds awful and macabre but hey, I’m already dead. I’m not some snuff film fan, someone who gets their kicks from watching others leave this world. I just want to see what happens to everyone else. To see if perhaps I can meet someone who can help me, or at least not be alone anymore. After all, it shouldn’t be too hard to find – this is a big city, people being born and dying every day. Pushing aside the idea that I’m in some sort of Purgatory to be judged, I figure this could, just maybe, work. I start to feel excited, considering the possibilities. Perhaps I could even tag along with them, if they know where they’re going, like some sort of buddy system to get you to Heaven. I giggle a bit at this, thinking of the ad campaign you could run. Something in nursing homes, you know – ‘Heaven – it’s harder to get to than you think.’ ‘Don’t die alone, take a friend.’ I imagine Darryl in the boardroom showing mock-ups to clients and I laugh even more then clap my hand over my mouth, shocked at myself. But seriously, I need to try this. I need to do something. I can’t be like this forever.

Decision made, I walk out of the room. I know, I can drift and go through walls and all that, but sometimes I just want to feel normal, you know? And walking through open doorways is a normal thing to do. I find myself in a long hallway carpeted in tasteful dark grey, the walls a restful shade of pale green. It’s deserted, thank goodness. There are doors along both sides of the hall, each with a number on them except for the occasional sign saying ‘Nurse’ or ‘Staff Only – Private.’ Paintings hang at intervals in between, peaceful scenes of landscapes and mountains and leaves.  I start to wander along, knowing what I’m looking for but not sure how to find it, wondering what the odds are of two people dying on the same night in the same place. But I can’t think too much about that so I keep going, turning a corner into another hallway, the same as the one I just left. Rubbing at my chest where I felt the little tug before, I wonder if that’s what I need to follow. Concentrating, I look at each door when I pass, but there’s nothing.

When I reach the end of the hall there’s a set of swinging doors that open onto a stairwell. I go down one level, emerging through a similar set of doors into a large dining room, a small vase of flowers on each table. One end of the room is set up with rows of chairs, many of which are filled with elderly people who are all watching a film, projected onto the large screen set into the wall. I stop for a moment to watch the flickering black and white images, a love story, by all the kissing that’s going on. The ancient faces watching range in expression from teary to dreamy to unaware, eyes in wrinkled sockets gleaming like marbles in the reflected glow from the screen on the wall.

Then I feel something, a sort of tingle in the centre of my chest and my head turns. Something is happening, nearby. Following the feeling, I’m led out of the dining room into another grey-carpeted hallway, once again lined with doors. But I know exactly which one I need. I can see the glow, golden and unmistakeable as it comes around the edge of the closed door. I think myself inside, and then I am.

Another peaceful room, pale lemon walls and another padded armchair. There are paintings on the walls here too, but these ones are religious in tone, Jesus with his heart exposed, a sad faced Madonna clutching a plump baby. A small statue of the Virgin Mary is on a small table in the corner, a lit candle in front of it. There is a pool of melted wax around the base, colourful flowers scattered on the table, their bright petals mingling with the wax.

And the glow is all around us, as though the air is full of gold sparkles, floating gently like dust motes. An old man with wisps of grey hair is lying in the bed, looking small and wizened, his eyes closed, his skin slack. His covers are pulled up to his chest, his head supported by several soft pillows. A young woman sits in a chair next to him, holding his hand, tears gleaming soft on her cheeks. A young man stands behind her, his hands on her shoulders as if to support her. She is speaking softly, almost under her breath. I can only just hear her.

‘I am here, Tio, dear Tio, we are here. And if you need to go, you go, just know that we love you, so much, we will see you again one day, we know it.’ Her voice is softly accented and it gives the words a beautiful cadence, like a prayer, as she keeps talking and rubbing the old man’s hand so very gently, as though he is unutterably fragile and precious.

Then he dies.

Just like that, his last breath going in and then no more. No exhale. It’s so peaceful, especially when compared to the crash bang of my own demise. It’s as though everything stops moving for a moment, even the gold sparkles hanging still in the air. They glow brightly and disappear, winking out like fireflies at dusk. Then, and this is really weird and kind of creepy, the old man sits up. Except it’s not his body. That’s still lying there, his hand still being held by the young woman who is sobbing now, her head bent. The dead man’s spirit turns to look at her, sorrow on his face. He reaches out as if to touch her cheek and I swear she feels it, lifting her head to look around and then up at the man behind her. Once again there’s a feeling of love, pure energy throughout the room.

A young woman comes in through the door and she is gorgeous. Caramel skin and dark eyes, curling dark hair pinned up with colourful flowers like the ones on her dress. She is smiling as she goes straight over to the dead man whose face lights up when he sees her.

‘Maria!’ he cries, taking her outstretched hands and it’s as though she pulls him completely from his body and away from the bed. He pulls her into a hug, kissing her smooth skin, burying his face in her hair. And, again, this is weird but he is starting to look younger – his back straighter, hair going from grey to black again, wrinkles smoothing away from his face until he looks the same age as the young woman.

I make a face. This has not happened to me, I’m sure. If I could find a mirror that reflected me I’m sure I would have the same crow’s feet and dark circles as always. I’d been thinking about having them ‘done,’ you know, some sort of injections but couldn’t stand the thought of filling my face with stuff. Still, doesn’t matter now. Whoops! Looks like they are getting ready to go, holding hands as they move towards the door, smiling lovingly at each other. The air is starting to glow again, but just around them. As it gets brighter I lunge forward, managing to step into the glow with them just in time. We start to ascend, surrounded by whirling lights and colours, painted Mexican sugar skulls interspersed with the Virgin Mary, fairy lights twinkling and it all spins around confusingly in a mad mix of imagery, lifting us as though we’re in the centre of a tornado but it’s not frightening at all. In fact, it’s amazing. Whee! I’m finally on my way to Heaven! I guess the fact that I know I’m dead helps – after all, what else can happen to me? We land, and I look around in wonder.


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Author Helen Jones
Author Helen Jones

Helen Jones was born in the UK, but then spent many years living in Canada and Australia before returning to England several years ago. She has worked as a freelance writer for the past ten years, runs her own blog and has contributed guest posts to others, including the Bloomsbury Writers & Artists site. When she’s not writing, she likes to walk, paint and study karate (when housework and family life permit!) She’s now working on several other novels, enjoying the chance to explore new fantasy worlds. She lives in Hertfordshire with her husband and daughter and spends her days writing, thinking, cleaning and counting cats on the way to school.


Where does Helen hang out?

Blog: http://www.journeytoambeth.com
Facebook: Author Helen Jones
Twitter: @AuthorHelenJ
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/author/helenjones
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