Welcome to aliisaacstoryteller, guardian of Irish mythology.
IT’S HERE! AT LAST!
Conor Kelly’s Guide to Ireland’s Ancient Places, is an exclusive free gift to all newsletter subscribers, featuring many of the sites and locations upon which The Tir na Nog Trilogy is based. So if you haven’t signed up yet, what are you waiting for? Get more mythology straight to your inbox. Sign up to my mailing list.
AVAILABLE FROM TUESDAY 24TH JANUARY 2017
Come on a journey of ancient Ireland with me. Let’s walk in the footsteps of the Gods and heroes of long ago. Experience the mystery of Knowth, the majesty of Newgrange, the magic of Uisneach. They might be places in my books, but they’re all real, too. Come and see… the Sidhe have stories to tell, and you’re very welcome…
Today is a significant one in world history. No matter which side of the fence we stand on, we have no choice but to accept. Around the world, governments are also preparing to show acceptance. And yet, there seems to be a global sense of uncertainty, and fear.
I fear for the minorities. I fear for acceptance. For tolerance. And I am reminded of something I wrote a few years ago for 1000 voices speak for compassion, which I think is as relevant today as it was then, if not more so.
I don’t like moths. I don’t like how they enter my house uninvited, fluttering blindly about, and cluster in a seething panic around any available light source. The frenzied flapping of their dull, tattered wings gives me the creeps.
But I love butterflies. When they gate-crash, I feel privileged, blessed, and patiently herd them out to freedom for fear their short, beautiful lives might meet an untimely end within my four walls.
When I found a glorious creature with stunning red and black markings walking determinedly across my doormat one spring morning, I assumed he was a newly hatched butterfly ready to test his wings. I opened the door respectfully, and watched him take flight.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered he was actually a day-flying cinnabar moth. Who knew that moths could be so gorgeous, or that some of them flew by day and not in the shadow of night?
I was struck, then, by my own superficiality. Me, who should know better. I know how it feels to be judged on appearance, and to be found lacking. I know how it feels to be probed skin-deep, and rejected. Is the sum of our worth truly wrapped up in the symmetry of our faces and the slender lines of our bodies?
I suspect it’s a primeval thing, some kind of survival skill buried deep within that well of instinctual behaviour we no longer understand or need. Perhaps surrounding ourselves with beauty masks something ugly inside that we try to suppress. Perhaps associating with the beautiful makes us feel good about ourselves. Maybe it ‘rubs off on us’.
Of course, we’re in denial. We say brave words, like ‘Beauty is skin-deep’, or ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, or ‘Sticks and stones may break our bones but words will never hurt us.’ Admit it; they’re just empty words. We don’t live by them. And words hold enormous power. Too many young people have ended their lives after being bullied. Abused with words. They didn’t feel accepted.
Acceptance, whether it’s social or personal, requires approval and a non-judgmental state of mind. Being accepted gives us a sense of belonging. Ultimately, that’s what we all want. It’s what we’re all searching for in our own convoluted ways. But does being beautiful increase the chances of being accepted?
I was bullied at school, for many reasons; I wore thick glasses with National Health frames (definitely not beautiful), I didn’t speak with the local accent, nor was I a local girl, and I arrived in school only six weeks before the end of the school year. Bonds and social groups had already been formed. There was no peer pressure to try and ‘fit in’; I was a stranger, I looked and sounded different, and I simply wasn’t wanted. Boy, did they let me know it.
When I left school, I rebelled against this unfriendly society which had not found it possible to accept me. I defied their traditional, conservative, insular attitude.
It was the 80s: electronic music, big hair, frilly clothes and wild makeup which looked more like art. These young people were different. The disguise made us all look and feel beautiful. We were connected, united. I hid behind this flamboyant façade: it was an acceptance of sorts.
But I had to grow up. I didn’t want to work in an office or in a factory, so I joined the RAF instead. The RAF didn’t want us to be different, individual, unique; they wanted us all to be the same, their kind of same. Thrown into what seemed like chaos to us, a disparate band of females learned to pull together, accept one another, and become a team. Then the RAF split us up and sent us reeling in different directions, but it didn’t matter, because by then we were part of the machine. Acceptance was built in.
The tides of time washed me in its waters, sometimes soothing, sometimes stormy, but always eventful. I drifted, adding the roles of wife and mother to life’s CV. That’s when I ran aground, the meaning of acceptance suddenly rocketing to a whole new level.
Carys came into our lives. She was born with a rare syndrome, but we counted ourselves lucky, for she was never expected to live at all. Two days later, a tangle of blood vessels began to bloom on her forehead. It was the beginnings of a birthmark, a haemangioma, and it grew with a speed and virulence which astounded me.
Day by day it expanded, turning a deep, shiny red, a sinister parasite claiming its place on my daughter’s face. The surface began to wrinkle and pucker, forming little hills and valleys, a menacing roseate island in the soft smooth sea of her forehead.
People love to look at babies, have you noticed? A brief dip into Facebook or Pinterest throws up endless rounds of cute or amusing baby pictures with associated entertaining quotes. When my two sons were babies, I received many smiles and compliments from strangers, who looked into the stroller upon my boys’ perfect faces.
That didn’t happen with Carys. Oh, they gawped eagerly enough. Sometimes, they raised their eyes to mine in shock. Mostly, they just craned their necks and stared at my little girl as if she was something they had just scraped off the bottom of their shoe.
I can’t describe the pain that ripped through me. She was so innocent, had done nothing to anyone, just fought fiercely against all the odds to cling to the dirty, ragged scrap of life tossed her way.
When she was only four months old, she endured a long surgery to remove this ugly complex lump in the hope of saving her sight. With the haemangioma gone, I thought we would simply disappear into the masses, nothing worth seeing here. But I was wrong.
The wound developed a thick black crust. The edges were loose, and constantly seeped, but the doctors were happy, it was progressing exactly as they wanted. Now when people stared at Carys, their gaze quickly shifted to us, her parents, and I could see what they were thinking; were we simply neglectful parents, or abusive ones?
Carys, and other children like her, fall into a minority group which society as a whole has not yet found itself able to fully accept. True acceptance would, by definition, require the majority to allow the full integration and participation of the minority in all aspects of society. Even in these enlightened times, that doesn’t happen.
For example, Carys must go to a ‘special school’, which is tucked well away from the community where she lives. There is no other option. I resent that. Although the school is excellent, I would like her to attend our local school, which ideally should have an attached special care unit for disabled children.
How wonderful if Carys could be visited by her brothers during her day at school; how wonderful if the children from the mainstream school could integrate with the disabled children, help them, play with them at break, grow up never being afraid of them or developing ignorance and prejudice against them.
It’s as if society doesn’t want to be affronted by the sight, or blight, of disabled people. We hide them away and pretend they don’t exist. Perhaps their physical deformity reminds us of our own inner ugliness, something we’d rather ignore.
When participation in society is confined to only certain areas, then the majority is only practicing tolerance, not true acceptance. Tolerance and acceptance are not the same.
A decade later, Carys’s haemangioma is just a shadow of its former self; the scar has faded, but she still looks obviously ‘different’. The dangers of her syndrome are hidden within, where they can’t be seen and gawked at. People still stare, but not as much. I am less inclined to accept rudeness, but am also better able to let it go; I have grown, learned to tolerate and yes, accept these episodes of weakness from strangers.
Being Carys’s parent has broken my heart many times over, and filled and refilled it with more love and hope than I ever thought possible. She has taught me so much about what’s really important.
I want many things out of life for my sons. I work hard to set their feet on the path to achieving them. For Carys, the list is much shorter and simpler; happiness, love and a life as free from pain as possible.
And most of all, acceptance. Not just for Carys, and other children like her, but for all living beings.
I started 2017 with a trip to Teltown. It was the morning after the night before, and I looked like it, but I didn’t bring you here just to admire my good looks (ahem); I have something far more interesting to show you…
No, that’s not me, but I can see the resemblance. Ok, not really. 😁 She’s Tailtiu, last Queen of the Fir Bolg. Some say she was the King of Spain’s daughter, or even that she was of Egyptian origin, and that her name was Neffertiti. In which case, I suspect she may have looked a little different to the woman in my image…
Her husband, Eochaidh mac Eirc, was killed by the Tuatha de Danann in the First Battle of Moytura, when they invaded Ireland. After their victory, in order to establish good relations with her and her people, the Danann gave her one of their noble-born sons, Lugh, to foster. This was common practice in ancient Ireland.
Tailtiu retired to the area located on the River Blackwater between Navan and Kells now known as Teltown. In Irish, its name is Tailten. Here she established her home, and set about the back-breaking task of clearing the land for farming.
Meanwhile, she loved Lugh as if he were her own, lavishing care and attention on him. She found for him all the best tutors, and had him trained not just in the arts of battle and strategy, as befitting a high-born son, but in music, poetry, healing, the secrets of the forge, and many other skills besides.
When she died, Lugh was heart-broken. He buried her beneath a great mound at her beloved Teltown, and set up the Tailten games, known as the Oenach Tailten, in her honour every year at Lughnasadh (August 1st), that she might never be forgotten. This festival continued on, in some form, well into the nineteenth century.
View of Donaghpatrick Church across the River Blackwater
You can see the mound or platform the church appears to be sitting on from the rear of the graveyard
Teltown is a vast and complex ancient site of some significance dating to the Iron Age. Features include the remnants of mounds, ring forts, earthen ramparts, artificial lakes, and an ancient roadway, but much of these have been erased from the landscape through the actions of farming over the years.
The font and the standing stone.
The standing stone and me… just to add a bit of context so you can see how tall it is.
I came to see Donaghpatrick Church, and Rath Airthir, which means ‘the Eastern Fort’. Donaghpatrick, from Domnach Pádraig, meaning the ‘church of St Patrick’. According to legend, Conaill, brother of the High King Laoighre, gave the land to St Patrick after his baptism.
It’s kind of hard to imagine that the Irish would have handed over such an important site so willingly, but not so hard to imagine why Patrick would have wanted it. What better way to stamp out pagan activities than to establish a Christian church right there in the middle of it all?
The back of the medieval tower house attatched to the church
The mysterious stone head high on the front facing wall of the towerhouse
In fact, there are six churches in total, though not all are still in use. Donaghpatrick is itself very intriguing. It appears to be constructed upon a mound or platform, possibly an earlier ancient one, and contains a standing stone, and the old medieval font from the previous church in its grave yard. It is built upon a medieval tower house, which has a strange stone head embedded three quarters of the way up one wall, slightly offset to the right.
But most wonderful of all, if you stand with your back to the church, Rath Airthir faces directly opposite, in a field just across the road. It is a trivallate ringfort, meaning it has three ramparts circling it, and stands at around 30m (98ft) in diameter. The ramparts could not be seen from this angle, but even so, it really is quite spectacular.
Apparently, Rath Airthir has been identified by archaeologist Michael Herity as the Tredua (triple rampart) fort of Tailtú, as noted in the Metrical Dindshenchas: ‘the Tredua of Tailtiú, famed beyond all lands, where the Kings of Ireland used to fast that no disease might visit the land of Erin.’ (see Voices from the Dawn)
This, coupled with the triple rampart, seems to me to be ritual in nature, possibly the site of some ancient Kingship purification rite, but don’t quote me on that… it’s just my guess, I’m no expert.
I was gutted when I walked up the road and found a sign on the gate prohibiting entry. As much as it maddens and disappoints me, one has to respect the wishes of private landowners; trespassing does not win their favour.
Rath Airthir was, on this occasion, only to be admired from afar.
Happy New Year to you all! Athbhliain faoi shéan is faoi mhaise daoibh!
(AH-VLEE-in fwee hayn iss fwee WISH-uh deev)
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.
Kathy aka K.A. Krisko… did you see what I did there? 😁… is my lovely author-friend who I met on GoodReads years ago. I loved her Stolen series, but then I read Cornerstone: Raising Rook, and it quite blew me away! This is grown up contemporary fantasy, in the way that Stephen Donaldson writes grown up contemporary fantasy (only not at all depressing, lol!). In fact, its probably more magical realism. I waited and waited for the sequel, and then she snuck it onto Amazon without so much as a glittery fanfare or a three minute warning! Needless to say, I devoured it, but she still left me hungry for more… in a lovely, satisfied, just-room-left-for-desert kind of a way. 😍 And don’t forget to Give the gift of a book this Christmas! Have a happy one!
Jack Bright lowered his binoculars and glanced over his shoulder. The quick look provided him with a view of Kyle’s backside. His cousin’s son was draped over the aft port rail, retching into the Pacific.
Jack turned away quickly. He knew he shouldn’t have brought Kyle, but the young man had begged him, partly to show his girlfriend a good time and partly, he claimed, because he wanted to see where his brother had died.
The Boston Whaler Conquest rolled in a figure eight pattern in the swells that reverberated off the rocky cliffs. The girlfriend, Terry, sat on the forward deck, her back against the front of the pilothouse. Her expression was inscrutable beneath over-sized sunglasses. She didn’t seem to share Kyle’s nausea.
Jack braced himself against the pilothouse on the starboard deck and raised the binoculars again. He followed the cliff face to the top, where the steeple of the castle’s chapel poked into the sky: dark, Gothic and malevolent.
The castle. That damned castle.
“The end of Earth as we know it,” Jack muttered under his breath.
Kyle staggered over, face pale, and gripped the grab rail. “You think he’s still up there?” he gasped, nodding briefly at the castle. “Maybe just held captive?”
Jack shook his head. “It’s been too long, Kyle. Korrin’s gone. We have to accept that. And this is the closest we’re going to get to that thing at this point.”
The hairs prickled along the back of Jack’s neck, and he looked up at the sky. There was a big black bird up there, flying lazy circles, gradually working its way down closer to the boat. Jack wasn’t fooled by the shape; that was no natural bird, but undoubtedly the castle’s Lorecaster, its wizard, flying his shadow-form in the shape of a raven. After what Jack had done, or attempted to do, to the castle, the young Lorecaster was a sworn enemy.
Jack strode over to the pilothouse, ducked through the door, and started the boat’s motors. He swung it around and headed further out to sea, partly to relieve Kyle’s nausea. But he slowed again just a quarter-mile south of where the castle loomed on the cliff. There, a huge slump littered the base of the cliff with debris, including the remains of five houses and some of their occupants. All of them had been Jack’s friends, co-workers and employees of the environmental lobbying group Earth Natural, of which he was president.
Jack felt a twinge of guilt as the boat slipped quietly by the slump. After all, he had, at least indirectly, caused the slump when he’d tried to blow up that cursed castle on the hill. His only consolation was that all of the people who’d died had known what they were risking.
“Hey, there’s a trail over there,” Kyle said plaintively, pointing to the cliff near the slump. “Maybe we can take a little hike.”
“That trail goes right up to the castle,” Jack replied. But Kyle’s pale face garnered some sympathy. Poor kid was still seasick.
“I can put the boat in around that outcropping past the slump,” he acquiesced. “I’ve done it before. You can scramble up to the top of the rocks there, and it’s far enough away from the castle to be safe.”
“Maybe we can wait there, and you can drive back and pick us up after you bring the boat home,” Kyle suggested miserably.
“The only road to this area runs past the castle and the Lorecaster’s house,” Jack said. “Sorry. You have to go home on the boat.”
They puttered past the outcropping and Jack swung the boat around behind it, bringing the bow up close to a big rock in a sheltered cove. Terry threw the bumpers over and scrambled onto the rock holding the bow line. Jack cut the motors and followed Kyle out of the pilothouse. There were several trees rooted in the cracks of the rock, and he tied the boat off to one of them with a quick-release knot.
Terry scrambled easily over the rock and jumped down to a bit of sand behind it. Kyle, a little heavy around the middle, followed more slowly. Jack waited impatiently. He might be twice Kyle’s age, but he was fit and agile.
Once off the rock, Jack led Terry and Kyle to the cliff and picked his way up through the boulders. He had visited this cove a number of times before. It was a way to get close to the castle, to observe what was going on there, without driving up to the isolated little neighborhood where it sat. He knew he could hike around the outcropping to the slump at low tide, but he’d also figured out how to scramble up to the top of the cliff.
Stunted firs clung to crevices here and there. Animal trails wound off through the deepening forest as they gained the top. The surge of the Pacific Ocean faded and the summer heat settled over them. A few insects landed on Jack’s arms and neck.
They turned north at the top of the cliff. After a quarter-mile walk, Jack motioned Kyle and Terry to stop and he crept forward alone. A small neighborhood lay beyond, a few summerhouses in little clusters. Jack could see the raw edge of the residential road’s pavement where the slump had taken the five houses closest to the cliff down to the sea below.
Kyle and Terry came up behind him and stood staring. The lower neighborhood, at whose southern edge they stood, was tucked in amongst the firs, drowsing in the mid-afternoon heat. The houses of the upper neighborhood were more exposed, and behind them the land rose steeply. On top of that rise stood the castle, sentient and malevolent.
Jack felt his pulse quicken. This was the closest he’d been to it in a long time, and he almost imagined it knew he was there. Involuntarily he stepped a little further behind the trunk of a tree.
“I can’t believe Korrin walked into that thing,” Kyle whispered. “He had a lot of guts.”
Or he was an idiot, Jack thought, but aloud he said, “Remember it wasn’t as complete then as it is now. The bigger it gets, the more powerful it becomes. I’m sure Korrin wouldn’t have gone in there if he didn’t believe he had the advantage.”
“He took the sword,” Kyle said, his tone reverent.
“Yes. I wish we could get it back,” Jack muttered. “One of the most valuable tools we had, and now it’s in their hands.”
Terry stood with her hands on her hips, a slight smile on her lips. She was not, after all, one of the Knights of Earth Natural, like Jack and Kyle. Kyle had told her about the castle, but Jack didn’t know if she believed it.
“You want me to walk up there and get your sword?” she asked. She grinned as she said it. “I’m not one of you, your castle won’t bother me. Right?”
“I’m not sure about that,” Jack warned. “Besides, we have no idea where the sword is. Somebody would see you if you went wandering around up there and would want to know what you were doing. Most likely the Lorecaster.”
“I’ve seen him before,” Terry said. “Kyle pointed him out once in Seaside Heights. He’s not so scary. Just a skinny guy with a unibrow and a ponytail.”
“Don’t underestimate him,” Jack growled. “He’s young and he doesn’t know his power yet. But it’s there, and he most likely knows you’re connected to us, too. He was flying his raven-shadow around earlier.”
Kyle and Terry both looked up at the sky, but the raven was not to be seen.
“You feeling better now?” Jack asked Kyle. “We should get back to the boat. This is risky. I don’t know how far the castle’s influence has spread, but we’re probably at the edge of it.”
“I guess,” Kyle sighed. “Just get us back to the marina as quick as possible, okay? I feel better when you’re going faster.”
Jack led them back through the woods to where the trail dropped off towards the ocean. He paused a moment, his eye caught by motion above them. The raven was there again, circling lazily high over the boat.
He let his eyes rest on the vessel a hundred feet below them. He’d taken the 27-foot ocean sport-fishing boat as partial settlement of a suit against a developer who’d failed to follow state environmental mitigation requirements. He’d named it the Natural Seize, a play on the name of his organization, Earth Natural. He smiled a little in satisfaction.
With a jolt of adrenalin, Jack realized that the Natural Seize floated free. It was no longer tied to the tree. The bow line floated in front of it, and it backed slowly away from the shore, bobbing and rolling.
“Hey!” Jack yelled, as though the boat might respond. He scrambled down the cliff as fast as he could, slipping and sliding on the loose dirt. Several times he went down on his butt. His hands scraped against rough rock. Small prickly plants clinging to the barren cliff side stabbed him. Finally he staggered onto the narrow gravelly beach at the bottom. He edged around the big rock on slippery stones. Waves washed back and forth, wetting his shoes. The boat floated just beyond his grasp.
Jack waded further into the ocean, the seawater shockingly cold. He felt his jeans grow heavy. He thought for a moment that if he was going to swim, he should take them and his shoes off, but he didn’t have time. The boat was picking up speed as it floated further out of the cove. He needed to get to it fast.
He sucked in a lungful of air, braced himself, and dived forward into the surf. He felt his knees hit underwater rocks and was glad he’d kept his jeans on. He made some forward progress into deeper water with a breaststroke and then switched to a front crawl.
He was a strong swimmer, but open ocean wasn’t his preference. Swells splashed him in the face and he tasted salt. The cold sapped his strength quickly, and his heavy clothes and shoes dragged at him. He flipped over onto his back for a few seconds to rest. Kyle stood on the shore, Terry on top of the big boulder, watching him. The raven circled overhead.
He flipped back over and started swimming again. The rocking of the boat became more pronounced as it reached the edge of the protected water of the cove and began to encounter the larger waves of the open ocean. It was drifting southward, too. There was another outcropping that way. Another couple of minutes and the boat would slam up against the cliff. If the motors were damaged too badly he wouldn’t be able to start it and turn it into the waves, and it would eventually founder and break up against the rocks. The consequences would be dire. He was pretty sure he couldn’t make it back to shore at this point. His only chance was to get to the boat and get aboard.
He poured the last of his strength into his efforts. Another two minutes and he reached the starboard side of the boat. The outcropping loomed, each wave washing them nearer. Jack grabbed one of the bumpers and hung on to rest for a moment. Then he let go and dropped back into the water. The ladder was around the back; he worked his way aft.
The dual motors stuck out at a steep angle as he’d lifted them to avoid any rocks on his way in. The burred edges of the propeller blades caught at his arms as he went around them. For a moment he had a nightmare vision of the motors coming on by themselves, but he didn’t think the Lorecaster could do that. He was in more danger from the cliff, now just feet away.
Finally he grabbed the ladder and heaved himself up. He staggered forward and yanked open the pilothouse door. The boat shuddered as the starboard outboard struck the rocky cliff. A moment later the port motor roared to life and Jack spun the wheel to bring the lolling Conquest around into the incoming waves.
Jack steered the boat out into the ocean and swung around to make the correct approach to the cove. Bringing it alongside the rock was a little trickier with only one motor, but he didn’t want to start the starboard one until he’d had a chance to take a look at the propeller.
Terry grabbed the rail and held the boat in long enough for Kyle to step aboard, then jumped on herself.
“You want me to drive?” she asked through the pilothouse window as Jack brought them out away from the cliffs. “You need to warm up.”
Jack glanced at her. “You know how?”
“I’ll be okay out here,” she replied. “You’ll just have to take over when we get to the marina.”
He relinquished the wheel to her and stepped out into the sun on the back deck. He kept an eye on the castle retreating on the horizon as he stripped off his wet shirt and shoes. Kyle handed him a towel, and he roughed it through his hair and over his chest.
Drier and warmer, he stepped back into the pilothouse, away from the wind. Terry didn’t seem to be having a problem piloting the boat. Jack leaned against the window to her right and allowed himself to consider how close a call that had been. He realized he was shaking, from the exertion as much as from the chill.
“You think that was a coincidence?” Terry said after a few minutes.
“You think the castle’s trying to kill you?”
“Me and everyone else it doesn’t like.” Jack glanced through the back window of the pilothouse, but they were too far away now to see the steeple. “Can’t say I blame it; I tried to blow it up once.”
A long moment went by. “So you believe the castle’s alive, then,” Terry finally said.
Jack ran a hand through his wet hair. “Not exactly. It’s inhabited by some sort of entity that lives in its stones. And it’s evil.”
Terry shrugged, but she kept her eyes on the ocean in front of the boat. “What’s evil, after all?”
“Well, I’d say some alien intelligence that wants to change the Earth as we know it is evil,” Jack said. “The castle’s growing, and the more it grows, the more rocks it inhabits and the more powerful it gets.”
“Me, I’d say that evil is something that can only be done to people by other people,” Terry replied. “Maybe you should back off and quit pissing it off. Seems like it’s got all the power in this relationship.”
Jack sat down on the forward berth and rested his elbows on his knees as the Natural Seize cut the water smoothly up on plane. Backing off was one thing he couldn’t do. There was Korrin to avenge, and all his friends who’d been lost in the slump he’d created himself. That was the most important, because he had to prove to himself that their deaths were both unavoidable and meaningful. He couldn’t agree with Terry; evil had to be an external thing. And he knew where it lay: inside that castle on the cliff, not inside his own mind.
K.A. Krisko currently lives in northern Colorado with her two Australian Cattle Dogs. She grew up in the Mojave Desert and Sierra Nevadas in California, went to college in Colorado and Arizona, and received an MS in Forestry. Since then she’s lived in states from Texas to Montana. She enjoys outdoor activities like hiking, walking the dogs, mountain biking, skiing, and snowshoeing, and indoor activities like DIY, reading and writing, as well as dog training and trialing in K9 Nosework.
She has published a number of fiction and non-fiction literary shorts, a number of fantasy-fiction novels: The Stolen Trilogy (“Stolen”, “Crypt of Souls”, “Hyphanden’s Box”) and “Cornerstone: Raising Rook,” and one mystery.
Wahaaay! Author friend and blogger, Hugh Roberts has just released GLIMPSES, his first book! I’m well-jell of that gorgeous cover! Hugh is a fellow member of the Bloggers Bash committee, and I can honestly say you couldn’t meet a more lovely guy. Not only that, but he’s seriously talented when it comes to penning the quirky and the strange, and he’s a master of the compelling trademark sting-in-the-tail, didn’t-see-it-coming conclusion. Meet your new favourite author, and Give the Gift of a BOOK this Christmas!
The Truth App
London, 28th November, 2030
Melanie Carter had saved for months and was about to change the course of her life.
She left the Everything People’s Electric Gadgets store with a brand new purchase in her possession. She’d fallen in love with the ‘iPad 13’ as soon as she had read about it. The review written by Joan Withers, in a national magazine, had persuaded Melanie to buy one.
On going through the front door, the voice of her father called out to her.
“Is that you, Melanie?”
She wondered why he always asked this question given as they were the only two people now living in the house. Her mother, who had been an expert in computer technology, had died just before Melanie had reached her eighth birthday, and some mystery had surrounded her death. A man had been arrested and charged with the murder, but he had always claimed he was innocent. He had written to Melanie many times, but her father had intercepted all bar one of the letters. However, the one letter she had read had frightened her and she immediately destroyed it. She would never know that he had sent many more letters before and after the one she had read.
“Yes, it’s me, Dad. Have you eaten?”
Without answering, her father nodded his head and continued to watch television. He did little these days but watch television and occasionally surf the web to complete the family tree he had started to put together just before retiring from his job.
Melanie climbed the stairs to her room and closed the door gently, almost as if it was the middle of the night and she did not want to wake her father. She was eager to get her new purchase out of its box. It took her less than a minute to set up. The shop assistant, Greta, had offered to, but she was eager to get home and politely turned the offer down.
She immediately went to the App Store and scrolled through all the wonderful applications that were on offer. Many were free, but some would require payment. Nonetheless, she wanted to start downloading and to use some of them that evening.
Ten minutes later, Melanie had downloaded three free games and a couple of applications that promised to organise her busy lifestyle. These had cost her a few pounds each, but the reviews were very good and she thought it money well spent. Then, out of the corner of her eye and towards the bottom of the screen, something caught her attention.
It was the name of the app that intrigued her. ‘The Truth App.’ It was a strange looking app containing the face of a woman who was smiling. When she placed her finger over the app, Melanie was convinced that the woman was smiling at her, but when she moved her finger, the smile faded away and the woman began to look unhappy. She’d never seen anything like this before and thought it must be something new that only came with the new device.
“Download me,” whispered a woman’s voice. Melanie paused and looked around the room. The sound must have come from the television downstairs as only she and her father were in the house. Her finger once again hovered above the app and, this time, she pressed it.
The download took a few seconds. Melanie pressed the ‘open’ button and immediately looked for information on what the app did; nothing but a blank screen appeared. Even the review section was blank. Scrolling, she flicked her finger gently up the screen of the device. Nothing. She scrolled again, faster this time, but still nothing. When the scrolling finally came to a halt, a tiny door appeared on the screen. There was nothing else on view other than the tiny door and it got Melanie’s heart racing. Her finger hovered above it for a while before finally pressing it. Immediately, a fuzzy video clip started.
What Melanie saw took her breath away. There, in front of her eyes, she recognised her father arguing with a woman. The woman’s face seemed familiar and it wasn’t long before it struck Melanie that it was the same face of that of the woman on the app. They were arguing about money and then about not having anything in for dinner. The woman threw a plate at her father. It missed him by inches, smashing against a wall.
“I know exactly what you have done,” shouted her father on the videoclip. “When you married me you said you would be faithful to me and only me.”
The woman started to cry and held her hands to her face. Then it clicked. This was her mother and father she was watching.
“I’m so sorry, but I love him,” said her mother, as she dropped her hands away from her face. “You and I were never meant to be together, you know that!”
Melanie heard the sound of glass smashing. It was coming from the video clip, elsewhere in the house. She watched as her mother turned around to witness who had entered the house. To Melanie’s amazement her father picked up a knife and ran towards his wife. The screen then went blank.
She tapped the screen, but nothing appeared. She picked the iPad up and shook it, but still nothing. Then she remembered something she had heard many times before when this kind of thing happened with electrical items. She turned the iPad off and back on again.
For some reason the device in her hands felt strange. She fumbled for the on off switch, shaking the device hard.
“Hurry up and start again, please, I don’t have much time!” What must have been a matter of a few seconds seemed like hours, and tears rolled from her eyes as the screen of the device lit up again. She immediately looked for the apps which had been downloaded. Five of the apps were still there, but the one she didn’t ever want to see again was gone. She pressed the App Store icon and searched for the missing app by name, but it was nowhere to be found.
Downstairs, Frederick Carter had gone to the kitchen to make himself a cup of tea. He opened the cutlery draw and took out a teaspoon just as a noise from upstairs disturbed his thoughts of what he was going to watch next on television. He walked to the bottom of the stairs and started to climb them. He was sure it was Melanie he had just heard shouting yet her voice seemed different. Now, as he climbed the stairs, it was crying he could hear.
“Are you alright, Melanie?” he gently asked as he got to the door of Melanie’s bedroom. The crying suddenly stopped. He hesitated before putting his hand on the door knob. Turning it slowly, he paused noticing the house was now in complete silence. Even the television seemed to have gone silent. Fredrick pushed open the door. “Melanie?”
To his amazement it was not his daughter he saw sat on the bed but the strange ghostlike figure of his wife. Speechless, his body froze on the spot.
The figure moved off the bed and glided towards him. There was no struggle or noise until his body fell down the stairs.
As her father’s body hit the floor at the bottom of the stairs, the noise it made startled Melanie and she woke from the shallow sleep that had engulfed her.
“Dad? Is that you? Dad, are you alright?”
The door to her room was open. She was sure she had closed it when she had come into her bedroom. Melanie got off her bed and walked out of her bedroom to the top of the staircase. The sound of the television coming back on was met by a terrifying scream.
Over a hundred miles away, at exactly the same time Melanie Carter screamed, Joan Withers decided to take a look at the App Store on her new iPad. She was delighted with the review she had written and had been paid well for it. Something caught her eye on the screen of the device. She pressed the app, which seemed to have the image of her father on it. He had been sent to prison for a murder she was convinced he had not committed. She’d never seen anything like this on the iPad before.
Pressing the image of a tiny door which was the only thing that now appeared on the screen, a fuzzy video clip started.
click image to enter
Oh. My. God!
Hello, my name is Hugh, and I live in both the town of Abergavenny and the city of Swansea, South Wales, in the United Kingdom.
I have always enjoyed writing and the fact I suffer from a mild form of dyslexia has not stopped me. Yes, I get things wrong with my reading and writing but I always find those mistakes humorous and always laugh about it. I no longer allow dyslexia get in my way. Now in my fifties, I thought it about time I let my writing become public and becoming a blogger seemed to be the perfect way for me to do this.
I share my life with my civil-partner, John and our Cardigan Welsh Corgi, Toby, who I both cherish with all my heart. I have a very positive outlook on life.
I started writing short stories at school but was never really encouraged to continue writing them. Then, many years later, I discovered blogging and wrote and published several short stories on my blog. They soon became hits and I was encouraged to publish some of the stories in a book. Now, finally, my dream of becoming a published author has come true with the publication of ‘Glimpses’ the first volume of 28 of my short stories. If like me, you enjoy shows such as The Twilight Zone, Tales Of The Unexpected, The Outer Limits and Tales From The Dark Side, then my short stories will hopefully take you on twists and turns to unexpected endings.
If you decide to buy and read my book then I’d be delighted if you would consider leaving a review on Amazon. Reviews help all authors and feedback is vital to improving my writing
I’ve always considered myself as a peoples’ person and I love to hear from anyone. Please do feel free to contact me.
I drove past it three times. Eventually, I stopped in the local village shop for a bottle of water and directions.
The young woman behind the counter gave me a friendly smile. “We’re always after getting visitors in looking for that stone,” she said. “Sell a lot of bottles of water that way.”
The little old man who was flirting shamelessly with her when I walked in took me outside and pointed out the way, then mounted his equally ancient push-bike. “Used to pick ‘taters in that field when I was a lad,” he added. “The whole village turned out for it.” He gave me a wave and pedalled slowly off.
Surprisingly for Irish directions (I’m sure you know the old joke – ‘Hmmm… well, I wouldn’t start from here…’ 😭), they were spot on. A couple of minutes drive up the road, and over a stile on the right… how could I have missed it?
Because the bloody sign was tiny and hidden by an overgrown hedge, that’s how, and the stone was way off at the other end of a huge field and couldn’t be seen from the road.
It was well worth the trip, though. That thing is HUGE!
Clochafarmore, or Cloch an Fhir Mhóir in Irish means ‘the stone of the big man’, and is located in the townland of Rathiddy, at Knockbridge, in County Louth.
You might be thinking GIANT, and in a way, you’d be right… this particular man was a giant in reputation, if not in physicality. You probably know him as Cuchulainn, legendary hero of Ulster.
Cuchulainn was born Setanta, son of lightning God, Lugh Lámhfada and the mortal princess, Dechtire, who was the sister of Ulster king, Conchubar. Even as a child, he showed great skill beyond his years in the sports of wrestling, hurling, and the arts of warriors.
When he was seven, he went to train at the court of the king. It was during this time that he earned the name of Cuchullain – Cullain’s Hound – by killing Cullain’s fiercest guard dog as the brute leaped to attack him.
But everyone knows that story, so I’m not going to tell it here. As everyone also knows the other story he’s most famous for, the Tain Bo Cuailnge, or the ‘Cattle Raid of Cooley’, in which Queen Medb of Connacht starts a war with Ulster over possession of a bull, and how Cuchulainn holds off her army by fighting a series of single combats with Medb’s choicest warriors.
No, I’m not going to tell that one, either. You don’t have the time, and I don’t have the blog space for that epic.
But I will tell you how the Cloch an Fhir Mhóir got its name….
After a visit to his mother, Cuchulainn was returning to battle against the men of Connacht when he came across a woman crying and washing his bloody clothing in a stream. No matter how much she scrubbed at it, she could not wash out the stain of blood, and he knew it was an omen of his death.
He continued on his journey and after a while came across three old women roasting a dog on spits made from rowan wood, and they bid him sit down and eat with them. Cuchulainn was now in a quandary, for he was honour-bound by two geasa: never to eat dog meat, and never to refuse hospitality when it was offered.
So he decided it would be more dishonourable to refuse the food, and sat down with them to eat. But no sooner had the first bite of dog-flesh passed his lips, and he felt a weakness claim his body, and he knew this was an omen of his impending death.
After his meal, he continued on his way and soon came across his enemy who were arrayed in battle formation against him; they made a wall of their shields and strengthened it with their strongest men in the centre, and their Druids prepared to take his spears from him, for they had a prophecy in which three kings would be killed by those spears.
When Cuchullain saw them, he ordered his charioteer, Laeg, to drive straight at them…
“and Cuchulain came against them in his chariot, doing his three thunder feats, and he used his spear and his sword in such a way, that their heads, and their hands, and their feet, and their bones, were scattered through the plain of Muirthemne; like the sands on the shore, like the stars in the sky, like the dew in May, like snow-flakes and hailstones, like leaves of the trees, like buttercups in a meadow, like grass under the feet of cattle on a fine summer day. It is red that plain was with the slaughter Cuchulain made when he came crashing over it.”
“Give your spear to me,” called one of the Druids.
“You are not so much in want of it as I am myself,” Cuchulainn growled in reply (love that… Lady G.’s words, not mine, however😜). With that he cast the spear at the Druid, and it went through his head and killed the men also on either side.
Lugaid, Cuchulainn’s enemy, retrieved the spear and cast it at Cuchulainn as he charged by on his chariot, but his aim was not true, and it pierced Laeg, and so it was that the King of Charioteers was killed that day by the Hound’s very own spear.
“Give me your spear,” demanded a second Druid, and Cuchulainn dutifully cast it at him. It passed through his head, and Erc took it this time, and fired it at Cuchulainn, but he charged by in his chariot too quickly for Erc. The missile missed and went through his horse, the great Grey of Macha instead, and so it was that the King of Horses died that day by Cuchulainn’s second spear.
“Give me your spear,” yelled a third Druid, and without delay, Cuchulainn hurled it at him as hard as he could, and it passed clean through the unfortunate man’s head. Lugaid siezed the weapon and threw it, and this time it found its mark: it passed through Cuchulainn’s body, and as he watched ‘his bowels came out on the cushions of the chariot’ he knew he had received his death wound.
‘Then he gathered up his bowels into his body’ and tied himself with his belt to a tall pillar-stone standing close by so that he would meet his death standing on his feet like a warrior.
His enemies gathered at a distance but did not dare approach; no one would be foolish enough to meet the great Cuchulainn in close combat, even with his death wound upon him. Three days they waited, until finally the Morrigan landed on his shoulder in her guise of black raven feathers, and they knew he was dead.
And so it was that the prophecy was fulfilled, and the great King of Heroes was killed by his very own spear.
Stones such as these are thought to have been set up in the bronze age, possibly as memorials to some special person or event, or perhaps as territorial markers. I’d also like to point out that not everything vaguely cylindrical and upstanding has phallic significance.
The area in which Cuchulainn’s Stone is located is named An Breisleach Mor in Irish, meaning ‘the Great Carnage’, and the field is still known locally as the ‘Field of Slaughter’. Perhaps there really was a battle which took place there in the far distant past.
A bronze age spear head was found near the stone some time in the 1920s, and handed over for safekeeping to the parish priest, a Fr Seamus Quinn, after whom the local GAA pitch was named, and subsequently was lost. It’s a nice touch, though… another of those little life coincidences which connect us to the stories of the past.
Cloch an Fhir Mhóir stands over 3m (10ft) tall, and 1.3m wide. It has a deep fissure in it, which looks as if it could have been caused by a lightning strike, at least to my fanciful imagination, which would be fitting, since the Hound’s father was Lugh. I can imagine Lugh lashing out at the stone in fury and sorrow after his son was so cruelly killed there.
It’s a very peaceful place, full of light and space and wind and sky, set on top of a rolling hill, with a wonderful wide panoramic view across the valley. I leaned with my back against the stone, like the hero once did, and could almost see the approach of the army, watching and waiting fearfully for death.
No crow landed on my shoulder, and so far I’m still here…
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.
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!
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
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.
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…