Houses, Ráth and Dúns

cropped-img_0322_edited1.jpgCeltic Iron Age homes were generally timber framed round houses with conical thatch roofs. Doorways were low and protected by a porch to keep out wind and rain Spaces between the timber posts making up the walls were filled with woven branches of willow and plastered with straw, clay, mud and animal dung on the outside to form a waterproof shield (wattle and daub) and then whitewashed with lime on the inside if you wanted to be ThumbDCP04603_1_fancy. Roof timbers were covered with a thatch made from reed or straw. Grain was kept in underground pits or storerooms and domestic animals often shared the same space as their owners. While most houses were round, the great halls at Eamhain Macha or Cruachain were rectangular.

Noble women often had exclusive use of a Grianán (a sunny bower) but furniture was limited to rough boards or trestle tables and stools or benches. Beds usually comprised of mattresses made of straw covered with animal skins and nearly all residences were surrounded by strong defensive walls.

Lake villages were built on artificial islands – crannogs – linked to the land by narrow wooden bridges.

Settlements were called Ráth or Lios and situated at or near the mouths of rivers. Something a bit more substantial or a noble residence was called a Dún. These, usually, hilltop forts were made by heaping up huge banks of earth around the summit of a hill and then topping these ramparts with wooden walls made by rows of sharp stakes driven into the steep earth banks.

Photo from

A rod for my own back

I know, I know,  I should be beavering away, churning out the pages of my new bestseller – oh, by the way, I think I am up to four sales so far on Raiding Cúailnge, not counting the two I made myself – and the fact that I didn’t do any writing at all on the day after Raiding Cúailgne made its debut, despite having publicly sworn to do so here on this blog, should make me feel guilty.

However, the truth is that I couldn’t sleep  (for the excited anticipation of Hollywood calling?) the night before my novel entered the world of readers and I got up and started to scribble in a notebook and then swapped over to the computer and banged away at about two or three different scenes before going back to bed and sleeping until late that morning.

Anyway, I haven’t done any other writing since and I don’t feel bad because I have the perfect excuse for not doing anything.  I mentioned a while back about a distinction between horizontal and vertical writing.  Well, I’ve decided to go vertical again and if it takes me another dozen years, I don’t mind!

Lighting & Candles

cropped-img_0322_edited1.jpgEvery habitation, whether it was a hut, hall, shed, lean-to or bothy, was dark and smoky inside.

To avoid the trouble of relighting it and for light and cooking, wood or peat fires were kept burning continually. A cauldron could be suspended from the roof beams above the central hearth.

No smoke hole or chimney overhead meant that the fish and meat hung among the roof beams were preserved by the chemicals in the smoke, giving the food a rich, tangy taste. Some smoke would eventually dissipate and seep through the thatch.

Early clay oil lamps were imported from Gaul, usually with no handle and the wicks made from pith of rushes.

Among the “barbarian” tribes of the colder climates of the North, beyond the reach of the legions, candles were made of tallow and animal fat due the scarcity of olive oil.

The tallow was rendered down in the cauldron over the hearth and then poured into shaped bronze moulds.

With the decline of the Roman Empire and the consequent disruptions to trade, luxuries like olive oil became scarce and tallow candles became increasingly widespread.





Gestation periods

cropped-bookcase.jpgUntil recently I have felt a little embarrassed – ashamed even – that it has taken me so long to produce Raiding Cúailnge, my first novel – all in all, a gestation period of 12 years, more or less.

I remember the first words I scribbled, a rather awkward description of a fight between two, at the time, nameless and faceless characters. I had just finished The Gates of Rome, based around the childhood life of Julius Caesar, the debut novel by Conn Iggulden, a former schoolteacher, and I was inspired to something similar. With time on my hands – I was staying on an idyllic beach on Koh Samui – a favourite spot I have constantly returned to since 1982 – I went out and bought a cheap child’s exercise book and a pen and, fuelled with, initially, soda and lime, later cold beer in chilled glasses and much later cheap Thai whiskey, I started to write. That was, back in 2004 and it is only today, 20 April 2016, twelve years later that my book comes into the world.

A fairly lengthy gestation period, as a friend recently pointed out which made me stop and consider how I compare to the natural world.

Camels have a gestation period of more than 400 days while walruses carry their young for 15 – 16 months, Even more impressive is the killer whale or Orca with a gestation period of about 17 months while some sperm whales need up to 19 months before producing their young to a wondering world. Unlike most fish, sharks are classified as “K-selected reproducers,” meaning they produce a small number of well-developed young as opposed to a large number of poorly developed young. Basking sharks can carry their offspring for as long as three years before giving birth.

Elephants have the longest gestation period of all mammals, carrying their young for nearly two years before giving birth. Long developmental periods are common among highly intelligent animals and I suppose I should take a renewed pride in the length of time it has taken me to produce my novel.

Interestingly, for me anyway, there has been a recent upsurge of interest in what is referred to as horizontal as opposed to vertical writing*.

Horizontal writing refers to the amassing of words and pages in the putative hope that a body of work will emerge after days spent pounding away at a keyboard or scribbling in a notebook (I do both, actually).

Vertical writing, on the other hand focuses on depth, valuing the building of setting and character rather than on merely conveying the essence of the plot, allowing the salient features to develop and grow over time so that organic growth can occur.


* Gestation of ideas: On Vertical Writing and living, an essay by Nick Ripatrazone on the Millions website.Gestation

Self Imposed Deadlines

cropped-bookcase.jpgI was withering on a while ago, either here in Curves or in Book Stuff, about knuckling down to it and beginning to write my second book – I’ve got loads of notes and ideas and scraps and bits of dialogue and that sort of thing – the day after my first book, Raiding Cúailnge, makes its appearance on an unsuspecting reading public on 20 April.

Days away from that now and I am getting cold feet.  After all, the first book took me twelve years plus to write and now I seem to have given myself a rod to beat my own back with by announcing to the world that I am going to start work on “Three Spears” on 21 April 2016.  (By the way, Three Spears is a title that popped into my mind about a year or two ago when I first contemplated the – at the time – absurd notion that I would ever write another book again in my lifetime.  Anyway, that was all very well when I considered just tinkering with a novella of about 60 or 70 thousand words but now the concept of a full length novel  of about 110,000 words has wormed its way into buy head and I lie awake at night, feverishly wracking the brains to find a way to connect all my scattered notes and form them into some type of cohesive and coherent whole.

So, a cautionary word – do not impose deadlines on yourself unless you are a) capable of delivering the goods and b) do not, especially vaunt to the (cyber) world what your plans are.  Not, that is, if you want to leave a loophole so that you can escape from the awful responsibility you have dumped upon your own slender and sloping shoulders!



Vessel from Ciempozuelos (Spain) dated from the Bronze Age (National Archaeological Museum of SpainMadrid)

The Beaker Culture refers to a widely scattered European culture extending into the bronze age and is best seen not only as a style of pottery but as an entire and complete culture which developed a high standard of metal work in copper, gold and bronze along with certain stylised forms of decoration, while at the same time sharing certain cultural and religious traits among the various peoples at the time. Typical patterns used were straight and angular lines, curves and circles and overlapping waves. This so called Beaker Culture was a time of incredible cultural contact along the Atlantic seaboard and western Europe.


Some claim that the spread of this Beaker culture is linked to the prevalence of alcohol consumption and that the use of alcohol may have helperd to spread the attraction of the beakers. Certainly, beer and mead have long been associated with the beaker culture.  Nevertheless, not all Beakers were drinking cups. Some were used for food storage and others for use as funerary urns.

In addition to large numbers of the beakers found in Ireland and the technical innovation of ring-built pottery it seems certain that the makers of these distinctive artefacts were also present and the tall, graceful vases with smoothly curving sides were produced on a potter’s wheel.

Later examples of pottery bowls s and dishes were more elegant with pedestal feet and handles were also in common use

More mundane objects like buckets were made out of wood or leather.

Mirrors of highly polished metals were treasured possessions as were ornaments and jewelery of gold, copper, tin, amber, jadeite but these were the reserve of the higher status groups in society.

Two Hands

Ok, I was wrong the other day – I mentioned something about two hands and speculated that it might have been a weird drawing by  René Magritte.

I just checked – it wasn’t.  This is what I was thinking of at the time – and this is by a Dutch artist called Maurits Cornelis Escher


This is something that I have always liked by Magritte (the Lovers) – a bit different, I know.rene-magritte-les-amants-1928-49301988

Okay, I hear you – what has all this to do with Learning Curves?

Well, … emm… ehhhh, ok, I had to go and look for these pictures somewhere and then I couldn’t just click and copy or drag them from wherever they were into my blog – I had to do other stuff first.  Ok, I know, not a huge deal at all but – well, for me, I did it so there you are and … never mind.


The Táin and the Manuscripts

cropped-img_0322_edited1.jpgAn Tána – or in English, the Táin – is the Old Irish word for a raid or a foray, usually involving attacking a neighbour and carrying off slaves and cattle and whatever else was available, although most wealth in those days involved cattle. The most famous examples are the Táin Bó Fraoch or the Cattle Raid of Fraoch and the Táin Bó Cúailnge, or the Cattle Raid of Cooley (an area in the north east of Ireland).

The latter is the central tale in the manuscripts dealing with what is known as the Ulster Cycle comprising almost eighty tales of heroes. Unfortunately, most of early Irish literature has been lost. Originally, tales were passed down in a strictly oral tradition until the advent of Christianity in the mid fifth century. The mythological and heroic tales were then recorded by scribes in the early monasteries and centres of Christian learning and it is not surprising that they overlaid the pagan tales with Christian overtones. The manuscripts that survive show clear linguistic signs of having been copied from earlier manuscripts, now lost, having been destroyed between the eight and eleventh centuries during the incessant Viking raids of that period. Much of what was saved was then, in turn, destroyed during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by the organised policy of the English Penal Laws in a deliberate attempt to destroy Irish culture.

The oldest of the surviving manuscripts is the Book of the Dun Cow, or Leabhar na hUidre, an 11th century manuscript written in the monastery at Clonmacnoise, now preserved in the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin. Unfortunately, the MS contains a rather jumbled version of the Táin Bó Cúailnge, which is augumented by another jumbled account in The Yellow Book of Lecan, a 14th century manuscript now held at Trinity College Dublin.

The origins of the Táin are much older than the surviving manuscripts. The language of the earliest versions of the tales have been dated to the 8th century while some of the verse elements are possibly two centuries earlier. Most Celtic scholars now believe that the tales of the Ulster or Heroic cycle must have had a long oral existence before they were given a Christian overhaul bu monastic scribes.



I know, I know, this has nothing to do with parenthood.  This is all about errant posts and categories and the hierarchy within them – hence the notion of parents and aberrant children and my dismal attempts to herd posts from one category into another.

A note on Irish Kingdoms that should have been catalogued (by who?) under the overall heading of, for example, Celtic Trivia somehow ends up under Book News while a post like Celtic Weapons ends up in the Curves folder.

I’m more used to filing , i.e. keeping similar documents in one folder and I suppose I was expecting wordpress to be the same, or at least that it would be relatively easy to assign any post, no matter how grossly mis-categorised, to its proper and intended location.

Not so, it seems, despite the fact that, even with help from a friend, it still took us half the morning to figure it out.

Anyway, so now shoot me if any of my childlike posts end up in the wrong parent category!


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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