cropped-bookcase.jpgI just want to let everyone know that my book Raiding Cúailnge will be published on Wednesday 20 April 2016 as a multi-format ebook. As many of you may know, the book is an historical / fiction novel based on Old Irish manuscripts. I hope you’ll take time to take a look at


where you can download the book for free with this coupon YR29P which is valid for one month, when you go to the check-out.

Could you also take a moment to spread the word about my book to everyone you know?

Thank you so much for your support!



PS Of course besides being available (free) on, my book is also available on


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Only Me?!

I have just noticed that I am the only person following myself!  I didn’t know that was possible.  Rather like a snake eating its own tail or that weird picture (by Magritte?) of two hands.

Anyway, poking around on the site – which I had imagined I had down pat at this stage – I discovered that I had one follower and that was me, myself and I!

So, ready to plunge into the cyber abyss, I clicked on Sharing and then connected this whatyamacallit to Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

No idea what is going to happen now.

I feel a bit daft having posted a few snippets about Celtic Trivia, and other Book Stuff and now discovering that I might as well have been posting them into a hole in a tree in the local park.

Might get a better result doing that, actually!


cropped-img_0322_edited1.jpgIf the old story-tellers and later scribes can be believed, beauty was an essential attribute to the Celtic way of life with analogies drawn from nature and the language was rich with similes such as “Eyes bright as flowers” or; “eyebrows dark a s a beetle’s wings”; and “teeth white like pearls” and “cheeks pink like foxgloves”.

Women seemed to have had long hair in braids while men kept their hair short – about level with the ears.

Warriors preferred to have blond hair –often bleached with crushed and burnt limestone mixed with water used to bleach and stiffen the hair! Grease was added to make their hair stand up before a battle. This mode was often favoured by warriors who had adopted the horse as their totem. The hair piled on top of the skull also served to protect the head from blows. However, extensive use of lime burnt the scalp and caused premature baldness!

Soap was made from urine and woods (Whose job was that, I wonder? But why would you bother?)

A blue dye made from woad – a plant related to flax – was used to paint and decorate the skin much like modern henna “tattoos today

Black Magic Wedding

cropped-bookcase.jpgI haven’t had much inspiration recently for my next book.  Just over a week before Raiding Cúailnge is available as a free Ebook and I know I should be getting on with the next one.  Ebooks tend to sell better, apparently, if they are part of a series, a trilogy at a minimum.  On that point, I read somewhere, God knows where that Nora Roberts(?) has published over 200 books.  How is that possible? Anyway, I know what my next book will be about and the who, what, where and when aspect but I just haven’t gotten around to building it into  a story.  I make excuses about not having enough time or being too busy to actually sit down and write.  Another great excuse is that I have been attempting to make and maintain this blog thingy.

Anyway, enough excuses (soon) I will officially begin to write book 2 the day after Raiding Cúailnge appears in the retailers.

In the mean time, here is something I wrote some time ago which has nothing whatsoever to do with Celtic stuff.

A Black Magic Wedding

Aedh was getting worried about her cough which had just started recently. She coughed gently, incessantly and she couldn’t stop. She had to cough. It was a slow, dry cough deep down in her throat, but it was what was causing her to cough that worried her the most. And what was causing her to cough was the feeling of something stuck in her throat, a fish bone, perhaps, or a thorn that had fallen into her food, she didn’t know what or how. All she knew was she had to keep coughing.

It was a few days later, after she had been to the pharmacy and gotten some medicine that hadn’t helped, that she knew for certain. This was no accident or a temporary thing. Somebody had done this to her. She had been cursed by someone; someone had laid a spell on her – but who? It was then that she resolved to visit the black magic woman who lived nearly a day’s journey from there.

Sure enough, she was right, someone had laid a curse on her all right. To both prove this and, at the same time, lift the selfsame curse, the black magic women took a chicken egg and then gently rubbed the intact egg, in its shell, slowly and gently around Aedh’s neck. This she did several times muttering prayers and incantations all the time in a low, throaty voice. Then, the two women squatted on the floor and the black magic woman gently cracked the shell and the contents of the shell slipped out into the shallow earthenware dish on the floor.

Aedh still remembered that terrible moment, the shock of recognition, the stab of certainty when she realized that somebody had deliberately set out to harm her, for there protruding from the yolk was a small metal fish hook and already she felt her cough to be easing, the blockage in her own throat mercifully melting away.

So when Peta told her the story about the son of her older sister, Bhin, who was suddenly getting married to a young girl he had only known for a few months and that nobody in the family cared for – she was such a quiet little thing with not a word out of her and yet Bhin’s son was dead set on an early marriage – Aedh immediately knew then, she just knew it, that the girl had probably used some type of black magic spell or potion to make the boy, Cang, love her and never leave her.

However it was not until the boy’s sister, Bran, arrived from the outland across the waters that Aedh felt compelled to tell Peta and Bhin and now, Bran, her suspicions.

To her surprise, Bran not only accepted the idea that someone had used black magic on her brother, she also provided more proof that the couple, Cang, her brother and his betrothed, Morr, were ill-suited to each other. All you needed to do, she said, was to look at their star signs. Peta too was quickly convinced that black magic must be involved to cause her nephew to ignore all her advice and suggestions, even though she had been more than willing to throw herself into preparations for this impossibly rushed wedding.

Bhin was the least convinced that black magic was involved but she had to admit to herself that she too did wonder why Cang, so recently out of a 6 year relationship with Bee, a woman in the outland across the waters, with whom he had fathered a boy Aegon, now three years old and never to be seen again now by her hungry grandmother eyes, was so determined on this precipitate course.

And the girl Morr – she was such a little mouse, what could she possibly have that would make her son rush headlong into such a sudden and unpopular marriage? Although Binh lived next door to her son, she hadn’t made an opportunity to meet and talk privately, woman to woman, with the girl. There always seemed to be so many other things to do in preparation for the wedding that she really hadn’t had time to talk to the bride, a virtual stranger to her and the rest of her family. And besides, as Peta pointed out, Morr never had anything to say for herself.

And meanwhile the family was gathering. Binh was proud of her family. She herself had four children and six brothers and sisters. And then there were her cousins and uncles and aunties. As head of the family, she would have an important position in all of the wedding arrangements As was the custom in the country, she, in the role of the groom’s parents, would have to personally invite the bride’s family by visiting them at their home. The bride’s family would then host a bride party at their home, to be paid for, of course, by the groom, and already they were demanding a feast of roast suckling pigs and sticky rice.

And then there was Bhin’s ex-husband, Lang. An ex for more than 20 years now, he still regarded Bhin jealously and often acted as if they were still a couple, although everyone knew the truth and many had even seen her new outland husband, Sheff. At the last wedding, 10 years ago for Bran, Lang had danced outrageously with each and every woman sitting at his table. It was mortifying. As far as Bhin was concerned, he brought shame on her side of the family and at this time she knew he was going to do the same.

For that she could never forgive him. She just knew that this time was going to be exactly like the last time when she would have to endure his gross breaches of etiquette. And yet she knew that the day after the bride’s party, she and Lang would have to stand together as parents of the groom and greet the 200 guests arriving for the final reception in the restaurant in town. What her outland husband, Sheff, would think of that was another story and he would have to be handled diplomatically.

But for now all she had to do was get his help in sending a photo of her son from her phone to Bran so that she could give it to Aedh to take to the black magic woman. It seemed easy enough to send the photo and it only took a few seconds so she was quite surprised when Bran immediately phoned her and told her the photo was no good as the black magic woman would need a photo of the couple, not just one of them.

Anyway, that problem was easily solved – Peta could go to Cang’s paternal grandmother’s house and she would find a photo there of Cang and Morr which she could give to Bran who in turn would pass it on to Aedh to show to the black magic woman.

Aedh said the photo was fine but that she would have to leave to meet the black magic woman at 3:30 in the morning in order to get a number. Many people needed to see the black magic woman and in order to see her, you had to get a number, just like going to the doctor. If Aedh left at 3:30, she would be in time to get an early number. In fact, she managed to get number 9 so she didn’t have to wait too long.

Anyway, the news was bad. Yes, the black magic woman was sure that Cang had been placed under a spell. That news, combined with Bran’s assurance that their star birth signs, that of horse and chicken, were totally incompatible, seemed definite proof.

There was only one thing to do, the black magic woman assured Aedh. Get the boy, Cang, to keep this black stone on him at all times, she said, handing a small oval shaped stone to her. Hang it around his neck and leave it there. And, here, take this too, and the black magic woman had given Aedh a piece of paper on which she had written a special incantation. What Aedh must do was give the paper to one of the boy’s close relatives and get them then to burn the paper and mix the ashes into a glass of water. When the ashes had settled, the boy was to drink the water. Later the ashes should be mixed into a bucket of water and the boy should wet himself all over with the water to remove all traces of the spell.

The only problem now was what to do with the stunning revelation and how to save the boy from entering into such a tainted relationship which would not only destroy him but also tarnish the whole family.

One week exactly before the planned date for the bride’s party, Bhin, Peta and Bran called to the boy’s house where he was living with the witch and took him out for a coffee so that they could tell him what they had discovered.

Cang listened to his three women relatives, his mother, his sister and his auntie lay their facts before him and beseech him to abandon all thought of his wedding to that little witch. At first Cang thought it was all some sort of practical joke and he sat there politely, listening with respect to the women. But as they went on, telling him that they loved him and didn’t want him to make the same mistake that he had already made with the other woman Bee and the child, Aegon, in the outland, a slow anger began to rise in him. The anger was cold at first as the reality of the situation began to bear down on him but he already knew how that coldness could turn to a fiery explosion if he stayed much longer. Drawing on his reserves of restraint, he stood up and faced the three women. Speaking directly to Bran, his sister, he told her that she would not be welcome at his wedding the following week. Fighting to keep his emotions in check, he walked home and, unable to face Morr’s enquiries, fell into a deep sleep.

Bran decided that she and her husband would take the opportunity to travel outland with her husband’s family, returning to the town the day before the bride’s party. Just tell him that we love him and are doing this for his own good, she told her mother and auntie as she left the next morning.

Peta, too, discovered that actually she was quite busy also and that she hoped Bhin would be able to talk some sense into Cang’s head because, oh God, she had tried often enough to point out that Cang’s wedding was too rushed. I mean, she said, nobody would want to get married that fast and to a slip of a girl like that.

And that left Bhin with the disaster sitting fair and square on her hands. Perhaps she could just attend the bride’s party with her son, but she wouldn’t go to the groom’s reception because that was sure to be ruined by the antics of her ex husband who would only add shame to the anguish she was already feeling.

Perhaps the best thing would be to contact Peta and ask her to help cancel her whole side of the family’s acceptance of the invitation to the wedding. Then, maybe, Cang would realize the error of his ways and cancel the wedding. That would solve everything. But if Cang didn’t cancel the wedding what could she do? How could she hold her head up? But, oh God, she loved her son and all she wanted for him was to be happy. Her own first marriage had been a disaster even though her union had produced four wonderful children but this, this was threatening to tear her whole family apart.

Bo, her eldest son, was due to arrive in town in two days time. What would he do – would he side with his brother and support the imminent marriage or would he side with his sister and urge Cang to cancel everything? Either way, the family, all that she had ever worked and hoped for, the family would be split, sister against brother, auntie against nephew, grandmother, her own mother, in opposition to Cang’s paternal grandmother who now seemed to be taking over more and more of the wedding preparations as both Bran and Peta, having thoroughly stirred the pot, now absented themselves from the immediate consequences, knowing full well that the particular pot would boil over in less than a week.

Cang, waking the following morning felt the black cloud press down on him immediately and rolling over her took Morr in his arms and told her the whole story. Alone together they swore their love to and for each other and vowed to continue their wedding plans and determined to enjoy the happiest day of their lives, but without the presence of Peta and Bran.

Knowing that whatever occurred, one thing was certain, Cang knew the family would never be the same again. His auntie would never forgive him for excluding her from the party while he and his sister would never speak to each other again. The problem now was what to do about Bhin. Cang knew that she had no hand in this meddling and interference in his life other than her tearful confession of sending his photo to Bran. However, she had sided with his sister and auntie against him and that was what really rankled. But the nagging thought persisted, it would be his actions, and his actions alone in marrying Morr, that would break up his family and sear the divisions into their lives forever.

What had the women been thinking when they had told him of their suspicions and fears? Did they really think he would break off his relationship with Morr and cancel the wedding when it was less than a week away? One thing though, whatever about his mother, his auntie and his sister would not be welcome at his wedding.

When Sheff, Bhin’s outland husband, heard the story from a troubled Bhin, he was incredulous that such stupidity had been undertaken in the name of love. He ridiculed the notion of black magic and pointed out that Bran, being a devout Nazrene, could not include black magic among her beliefs. However when Binh went on to explain that she would have to stand side by side with her ex during the groom’s party to welcome the guests, Sheff began to realize the situation was no laughing matter. He suggested talking to Cang, man to man, in the role of a surrogate stepfather to find out how matters stood with him and to finalise the definitive wedding invitations. Bhin wasn’t sure what that would achieve but could think of no reason to oppose it.

During dinner that night with Cang, Sheff sympathized with Cang about the situation and told him how furious he would feel if such black magic accusations had been made against him. Nothing, it seemed, could change the date, both Cang and Morr were set on it. However, as Peta and, to a lesser extent, Bran and even Cang’s mother Bhin, had a significantly reduced presence, Cang’s paternal grandmother took over more and more of the proceedings, further isolating Binh from all the arrangements. Neither the auntie, the sister or his mother were invited to attend the bride’s party in her home village, although, by rights, the mother of the groom should have gone, the only attendance being some close male friends of Cang.

Peta, effectively barred from all wedding preparation and attendance, was disconsolate while Bran, in a bit to ingratiate herself, busied herself with minor touches to the groom’s party. Bhin put a brave face on things and focused on the embroidery for both of the traditional costumes she was having tailor made for the occasion.

As a special concession, on the morning of the groom’s party, Cang allowed his mother to accompany him back down to the bride’s home village in order to collect her for the final celebration. Back in the town, Bran fussed over decorations and the flowers, all ready for the big account. She had organized the food too and was inordinately proud of that.

Much to Bhin’s relief, her ex, Lang, behaved impeccably, probably because, as Bhin later uncharitably put it, there was no room for him to dance because of the size of the venue. The only dancing took place just prior to the bride and groom entering the function room. A troupe of young men and women pranced up the main aisle in the room, for all the world like the warm up act for the main event. Certainly if dance and song could banish evil spirits, the dancers with radiant faces, as they swooped and shimmied past and between the tables, easily achieved that.

The spell seemed broken and the chatter and loud music resumed as the couple made their final entry. Uniformed attendants escorted the parents, the bride’s mother and father and an obviously reluctant Bhin along with her ex, Lang, up onto the stage. The MC extolled the virtues of all and passed the mike to the bride’s parents. A few muttered pleasantries before the mike was passed to Lang. Exquisitely dressed and coiffed, Lang was the consummate showman with suitably exaggerated gestures and much bowing and scraping. Binh, on the other hand was more reticent, knowing full well that the family was damaged and the antics of her ex could never make up for that.

After the wedding celebrations were finally over, an unhappy Bran returned to her outland home and told the whole story to Bee, Cang’s former partner and mother of their child. Bee sympathized with the treatment Bran and her family had received when all they had tried to do was stop a disastrous wedding, but inwardly she was secretly delighted at the suspicions, recriminations and hurt that had arisen among not only Cang’s siblings, but also among the extended family of grandmothers and aunties of the man who had lied to her that he had loved her. Every penny was well spent, Bee reflected, on the long distance spell that could reach out over the far waters from the outland to wreck Cang’s happiness. Let him now endure the consequences of the effects of love on the family he deserted and the natural family of which he had been so proud to be a member of.

Celtic Weapons

cropped-img_0322_edited1.jpgCeltic Weapons

Let’s get down to a bit of nitty-gritty and look at Iron Age Celtic weapons.

The weapon of choice was, of course, the sword. Heavy iron swords were used for cutting and slashing. With the advance of smelting technology, high quality, flexible blades with a sharp cutting edge were developed. Swords forged from meteorite iron were rare and considered invincible.

Swords scabbards were made of bronze, wood or leather while highly decorated swords hilts were considered a sign of the high status warrior.

In addition to the sword, the spear, a large, heavy one used for thrusting, was the primary weapon used both in  hunting and in war . A smaller lighter one was used for throwing from horseback or chariot and for close quarters use. Spear blades were often serrated to lacerate the flesh on withdrawing. Note the extraordinary weapon Cú Chulainn used with such devastating effect, the Gae Bolga – a short stabbing spear, which opened up its thirty barbs when jerked back, making it impossible to withdraw it.  At one point in the epic, Cú Chulainn orders his charioteer to cut the weapon free from the body as the only way of retrieving the spear.

Kill shots with the spear would be to the face, the throat and groin. Against enemies with shields, often only the top of the head and shins are exposed.  Warriors would stand perpendicular to their enemy in one-on-one combat, their knees bent to lower their centre of gravity, aiming to provide a narrow target to their opponent.

celtic-shield-1520617Long rectangular shields, unlike the later round shields of the Viking era, were made of wood or leather with a central, external boss (a central hub) made of bronze to protect the hand on the inside.

Helmets were made of leather, soaked, salted and then covered with lacquer to harden it.

Iron mail shirts were first invented c 300BCE but were worn only by the noblest and most high status warriors.

Cloth and leather slings, bows and arrows were not considered to be a warrior’s weapons. The warrior’s goal was to engage the enemy in single combat and behead him. To kill from a distance and not to see the victims face, where was the honour in that?  Nevertheless, throughout the Táin, on which I based my novel, Raiding Cúailnge, Cú Chulainn, in his single handed defence of the north from the invading army of Connacht, relies on picking off Queen Medb’s forces with skilful, long distance sling shots, using river pebbles or hard-baked balls of clay.


Kingdoms of Ireland

cropped-img_0322_edited1.jpgKingdoms of ireland

Ok, at the time of my novel, Raiding Cúailnge, Ireland – the far-flung western isle – was divided into five large kingdoms – Connacht (Connachta), Ulster (Ulaid), North Lenister, South Lenister and Munster.   The Lenister side of the Great Plain of Ireland was known as Magh Breagh. The Hill of Tara (Teamhair) is located there and is the most famous assembly (Feis) place in Ireland and traditionally the seat of the Irish High King, the Ard Rí

Cruachain was the royal seat of power for Connachta (and Queen Medb), while Eamhain Macha was the pre-eminent site in the Ulaidh, ruled over by Conor mac Nessa, as detailed in my novel, Raiding Cúailnge in the chapter called The Taking og the Kingship.


The Secret of Santa Vittoria

cropped-bookcase.jpgWell, I have just finished another blast from the past – first published in 1967, and written by Robert Crichton, The Secret of Santa Vittoria was a world-wide best-seller that topped the popularity charts all over the world, according to the back cover of the copy I have.

The New York Times claimed “An irresistibly engaging book.  It bubbles with gaiety and wit, bursts with laughter, throbs with the sheer joy of life.  It will bring joy to the hearts of thousands.”

The Times merely stated “Will give enormous pleasure” while Daphne Du Maurier simply stated “Superb.”

I have to say it is all true. What a lovely book and with such great characters – Bombolini, the old soldier Vittorini, the haughty Malatesta and the love struck Fabio. I used to live in a small village outside the tangenziale surrounding Milan and this book brought back so many memories of the dark, rich Barolo and the weird idiosyncrasies of the local people there.

The sad thing is that this wonderful book has all but disappeared.  I defy you to find a copy anywhere – out of print, gone, pulped, who knows but just no longer available  in a casual search on Amazon or The Book Depository or Abe Books or Barnes and Noble or Sony or Apple’s iBook anyway. So, what is the life of a book?  Shakespeare, Dante, Homer, Dickens – are these the immortals? How long do books that top the best seller lists last?  Are these books that perched for eleventeen weeks at the top of these lists preserved somewhere, in libraries, in gigantic reserves and are they accessible?  Someone mentioned recently that Amazon produces / publishes 6,000 new books each day.  Where are they all kept and how many copies?

I have no idea but in less than two weeks my own book, Raiding Cúailnge, will be added to this outpouring of words and, no doubt, will be immediately lost in this colossal welter of words being produced every day

Two Weeks to go!

cropped-bookcase.jpgI wrote a recent post somewhere  where I was almost gloating about having cracked this blog thingy and I wrote something just now, destined, I though, for the Book category and then I did something – probably not saved the bloody thing – and it all disappeared.  I know if that happened in Word or something like that, I could probably get it back but here, I am a mere suckling in the wilderness.

Anyway, what I had written about was that this day two weeks from now, my first novel , Raiding Cúailnge, will be published.  Published, is that the right term?.  My novel will be available as an Ebook at all major retailers.

Does that demean, diminish or belittle the work?  Does it open the floodgates to vapid twaddle if everyone has a “licence” to write?  What do the gatekeepers of traditional publishers feel about the inroads being made into the preserves of the privileged few who landed a contract with a publishers?  To tell you the truth, I don’t care.  I couldn’t care less about it but Iam just thrilled to have my novel, my brainchild, out there, available online to God knows how many countless millions if they could only just find it!



I feel like an eejit.  I’m just beginning to figure this damn thing out.  It really is easy.  I am appalled at how difficult I must have made it appear in my mind because I genuinely found the whole experience a bit off-putting and whenever I attempted to do anything, it was with a vague and undefined feeling of apprehension.

Does that make sense?

It was almost as if I half believed that this technology, this social media communication stuff, would all be a bit beyond me, which, of course, is nonsense, given my (kind of) earlyish start in computer literacy – that’s what it used to be called then, although I don’t know if that term is still in use nowadays.

Having said that, there is always the possibility that things (i.e. me) can go wrong again and in attempting to do some minor task, like drag the post “realisations” under the blog Curves, I will inadvertently bring disaster down on my head.  See?  There I go again, the vague feeling of … almost trespassing, as it were.

I remember, a couple of years ago, in Hong Kong, well, actually more like a dozen years or so now, some kids wrote in their journals that their parents used email while they used SMS or something that I had never heard of.  I realised then that I was the same age as their parents and that I used only emails, having long abandoned  the former conventions of landline phones and handwritten letters.

So, did I make an active decision then to stop learning new things?  I wouldn’t have thought, so but what then explains my reluctance to embrace  – is it a new technology or a new way of communicating?


Ornaments & Jewellery

cropped-img_0322_edited1.jpgOrnaments and Jewellery

By the third Century BCE a distinctive and clearly recognisable Iron Age Celtic society emerged. Known for its widespread use of jewellery and ornaments, its common artistic designs were developed first in central Europe by Celts and became known as the La Tène style from the area on the north side of Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland, where thousands of objects were discovered in 1857.

3385221167_2d87308566_z The Torc is a twisted metal ring usually worn around the neck and could be of gold, bronze or iron. It was almost certainly a symbol of rank. Gold, pretty much like today, was out of reach of all but the nobility and champions.  Far more common were bracelets and necklaces of bronze and polished stones or pottery beads.

Examples of Celtic art include torcs, or neck rings, with the two open ends ornamented with animal heads; the silver repoussé Gundestorp cauldron (circa 100 bc, National Museum, Copenhagen); a bronze lozenge-shaped shield with circular medallions and small enamel circles (1st century bc-1st century ad); and a bronze mirror with enameled decoration (1st century bc).

Brooches were made from silver and gold studded with amber and pieces of glass, used to hold a cloak in position.

Glass was made from salt, crushed limestone and sand and coloured by adding powdered minerals. Glass was also used as enamel, a thin transparent layer bonded to metal underneath.

Personal ornaments include pins, fibulae, beads, bracelets and neck ornaments. Simple collars of twisted gold strips are known but there is also the sumptuous gold collar found on the seashore at Broighter, Co. Derry.

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