Leabhair (Books)

The Cló Gaelach Or Irish Typefaces


The Irish news and current affairs aggregator Nuacht1.com is a good example of a Cló Gaelach font in contemporary use

Following on from the popularity of a recent post examining some online sources for Irish literary studies I thought a few of you might be interested by information on the Cló Gaelach (literally “Irish Type”), the family of typefaces formerly used in Ireland for Irish language texts. They originated in the 16th century with the creation of a type intended for the new technology of block printing, one partly based on contemporary handwritten Irish scripts (which already had a thousand years of development behind them). The font eventually gave birth to multiple variants, from the ornate to the mundane, and remained in poplar use for the next five hundred years.

Unfortunately from the late 1940s to the early ’60s the government of Ireland, largely for utilitarian reasons based upon costs and pressure from business-interests, decided to phase out the body of Cló Gaelach print types and replace them with the Cló Rómhánach, the Western Latin types we are all familiar with today (these was already in use by some publishers). At the same time the Western Latin script replaced a form of the Irish handwritten script which was being taught in many schools across the country. Predictably this (along with the government-dictated “spelling reforms” of the 1950s) severely impeded the ability of many adult Irish-speakers in the 1960s and ’70s to understand new publications printed after the legislative changes, something of particular significance for those living in rural districts. Inter-generational use of Irish as a vernacular language was restricted in many families as Irish-speaking parents and grandparents found themselves unable to help children who were being educated in a language increasingly unfamiliar to them. Effectively several hundred years of Irish publications in their original form were made obsolete for later generations of Irish-speaking readers, including many editions published in the last two or three centuries. As an act of self-inflicted cultural vandalism it is hard to imagine worse. With one fell swoop of a ministerial pen the centuries-old continuity of Irish language publications was ended. A Year Zero was established from which the language has arguably never recovered.

Two excellent overviews of all this have been written by Mathew Staunton in “Trojan Horses and Friendly Faces, Irish Gaelic Typography as Propaganda” and the shorter “Types of Irishness: Irish Gaelic Typography and National Identity”. I strongly recommend a read but expect some of your preconceived notions about the Irish Type to be overturned. A more upbeat if now slightly dated examination is found in Mícheál Ó Searcóid’s “The Irish Alphabet” who points out the poorer functionality provided by the use of Latin scripts for Irish language texts, especially for native speakers. Michael Everson has probably done more than most in recent years to modernise and popularise in digital form the use of Irish fonts and he provides a very useful record of the development of Irish printing types in “Gaelic Typefaces: History and Classification”.

At the moment several websites provide digitised Irish fonts reflecting both print and written forms, some free some requiring payment. A very wide selection of digital types are available over on Gaelchló and I suspect that this is the most popular source for Irish fonts on the internet (all pages in Irish). As well as downloadable files in also contains useful information on installing fonts and in setting up a Microsoft Windows keyboard for Irish use. The site is owned by the prolific Vincent Morely, another notable moderniser of Irish types. CeltScript from Michael Everson is a series of downloadable fonts in different styles that can be purchased through the MyFonts website (plus another useful guide on keyboard layouts for the Celtic languages). Séamas Ó Brógáin provides a free font, Gadelica, on his wide-ranging (and fascinating) personal website.

The excellent Scríbhinn provides an overview on all of the above with some great introductory articles and links. In a similar vein is Scríobh.ie. The latter in particular is something of a one-stop shop for online Irish resources. Then there is the United States – Gaeilge keyboard layout, another slightly dated guide, for American Irish-speakers. You should also check An Cainteor Dóchais for modern use of a Cló Gaelach font.

Note: The term “type” normally refers to print (as in typography) and “script” normally refers to handwriting (as in calligraphy). Many people seem confused by the technical distinctions between both. So the Cló Gaelach is the “Irish Type” for printing while the Lámh Gaelach “Irish Script” (literally “hand”) is the written equivalent. The advent of computing means of course that both can now be printed which possibly explains some of the confusion in contemporary discussions.

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Electronic Irish

A lot of people seem unaware of the two best online resources for historical texts relating to Ireland, both of which are entirely free to use. The first is “CELT, the Corpus of Electronic Texts”, a collection of hundreds of manuscripts and books in digitised form mainly written in Irish and English (of various periods) but also featuring works in Latin, Norman-French, German and several other languages. The 1300+ entries cover nearly one-and-a-half thousand years of literary and scholarly output on this island nation and are incredibly important, representing some 15 million words in total. The project is maintained and regularly updated with new materials by University College Cork (UCC) so you can be confident of its academic credentials. If you prefer the printed word to the electronic kind some of the texts are available through the Irish Texts Society and the School of Celtic Studies which is part of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. Fair warning, many of the published texts are quite expensive (though DIAS has a sale on at the moment with a few good discounts on offer).

CELT is continuously in need of funding so if you have a few euros, pounds or dollars to spare you can donate them here.

A second and a closely related site is Irish Script On Screen, a collection of digital images of Irish and Scottish manuscripts in various languages found in the collections of several universities and institutions in Ireland, Scotland and Australia. It is stored and maintained under the auspices of the School of Celtic Studies at DIAS and is growing every year with scanned images that span the centuries from the early Medieval period to the Industrial Age. I have to admit that I love this site and I’ve spent literally hours searching through it. It will make you ache that traditional Irish lettering is no longer in popular use, either in printed or written form. Like some Arabic texts there are manuscripts here, even relatively late ones, that are almost works of art so beautiful are they to the human eye (trying to link to specific images or pages is almost impossible due to the way the site is set up, so apologies if I can’t provide any ready examples. Take my word for it and explore for yourself).

I should also mention a useful addendum to both of the above which is eDIL: the Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language, maintained by the Royal Irish Academy and Queen’s University Belfast. It is a digitised and much expanded version of the early 20th century “Dictionary of the Irish Language based mainly on Old and Middle Irish materials” originally published by the RIA in several parts. The latest revised online edition, again free to use, is fully searchable and is genuinely groundbreaking in terms of research into the earliest literary forms of the Irish language. In a similar vein is In Dúil Bélrai, a less comprehensive but again searchable English-Old Irish glossary from Sabhal Mòr Ostaig in Scotland. There is also a very useful list of other dictionaries and resources in general kept up-to-date by the excellent SMO. For comparisons or follow-ups on particular words you can use the Foclóir, the modern Irish-English/English-Irish digital dictionary maintained on behalf of the Government of Ireland along with Focal – Bunachar Náisiúnta Téarmaíochta don Ghaeilge, a more technical database of Irish terms (the former should eventually supersede the latter). Finally there is the now antiquated but still highly useful Foclóir Uí Dhuinnín from the University of Limerick which contains lots of old words and phrases no longer encountered in vernacular Irish (unfortunately).

Hope you might find one or two of those sites interesting over the weekend.

Fight The Power! An Interview With The Authors

Fight The Power! A Visual History of Protest Among the English Speaking Peoples by Seán Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson

Fight The Power! A Visual History of Protest Among the English Speaking Peoples by Seán Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson (Íomhá: Seven Stories Press 2013)

In the 18th and 19th centuries one of the more popular forms of protest against authoritarian governments or regimes was through the publication of satirical illustrations or short picture stories frequently created with both literate and semi-literate audiences in mind. Using familiar or reoccurring images, symbols and caricatures political dissent or contrary opinions could be disseminated far and wide, the readers understanding and appreciating the visual cues presented to them. From the revolutionary struggles in France and North America to industrial unrest in England and Germany artists and cartoonists offered partisan commentary to the masses. By the latter half of the 1800s many of the larger newspaper or magazine titles in Europe and the United States maintained small teams of artists on their staff, some illustrating contemporary news events while others specialised in grotesque caricatures that appealed to notions of national or class chauvinism.

With the development of photography and later film the field of political cartooning was gradually narrowed to the role of comedic-satire and ephemeral “cartoons of the day”. However the emergence of the liberal and at times anarchic “counterculture” of the 1960s and ‘70s gave birth to a new genre of “underground comics” some of which were activist-inspired publications presented in a seemingly non-political form that proved attractive to rebellious youth. Since that era overtly radical comics have not disappeared entirely though they have largely remained in the domain of the “small press”. Occasional ventures by mainstream publishers have proved problematic, more often than not the contrarian views being subsumed by traditional story-telling techniques or sacrificed for commercial gain (notable early examples in Europe are the late 1980s’ British comics “Crisis” and “Deadline“). In most cases political messages were safely hidden behind a non-political front, a misdirection created by the use of familiar genre tropes such as “super-heroes”.

So it is still relatively unusual to see an avowedly political graphic novel being issued, one that wears its heart on its cover (so to speak), which in some ways harks back to an earlier era of instructive pamphleteering. “Fight The Power! A Visual History of Protest Among the English Speaking Peoples” is a collection of illustrated potted histories from across the last two centuries of political and social struggle in Europe, the United States and Africa. Written and edited by long-standing comic-creators Seán Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson with artwork by Hunt Emerson, John Spelling, and Adam Pasion the book ranges in time from early 19th century England and the Luddite movement to the contemporary United States and the Occupy protests of the early 21st century. Each era and the events within it are given several pages of an overview, some more detailed than others. The chapter titled “Irish Rebellions (1791-1922)” is the most sparse in some ways since it tries to cover the furthest ground while others are more successful by focusing on one point in history. However though the quality of the artwork can sometimes be uneven all of the stories are of interest especially those that highlight some of the more unusual – and largely forgotten – events in the struggle for social equality (the unprecedented Boston Police Strike of 1919 and the 1934 The Battle of Toledo spring to mind).


The Luddittes and Swing Riots, 1811-1832 (Íomhá: Seven Stories Press 2013)

An Sionnach Fionn has been lucky enough to secure a Q&A with authors Seán Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson.

ASF: Can you tell us a little about your background and that of the other members of the team behind “Fight The Power! A Visual History of Protest Among the English Speaking Peoples”? What prompted you and your collaborators to produce such an avowedly political work at this time and why in the format of a graphic novel?

Seán: I’m a professional comic book writer born in Scotland (from an Irish family), who now lives in Japan. I’ve had more than a dozen books published with a variety of US, UK and Japanese publishers. I write both ‘western’ style graphic novels, such as adaptations of classical novels, and manga style books with Japanese and Chinese artists. I’m currently writing books for big Japanese publisher Kodansha, being the only Scottish writer to do so (or indeed the UK or Ireland – but I don’t mind a few more of you coming over! Dozo yoroshiku…). I’m also  the editor of the critically acclaimed collection “AX:alternative manga” (one of Publishers Weekly’s “Best ten books of 2010″). I often do comic books that are different from the normal superhero/fantasy brands, working with a variety of “non-comic book” organisations in the process. My main influences remain British and American creators – such as Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Eddie Campbell and Harvey Pekar.

The other folk involved in the book are Benjamin Dickson, my co-writer, who I’ve invited to answer some of these questions too. The artists are Hunt Emerson, who is yer actual “living legend” of UK underground comics since the ’70s. A real pleasure to be working with him, especially since I first read his stuff when I was 13 years old! John Spelling is an excellent artist living in Devon, and Adam Pasion is from the US, but a guy I got to know here in Japan. The cover art was by an Australian, Eva Schlunke working in tandem with left wing cartoonish, Polyp. A good team!

Benjamin: It was Seán’s idea initially, so I’ll let him answer that one!  But in terms of why a graphic novel, we’re both comic writers, it’s our chosen medium as creators, and being active in the comics scene is also how we know each other. So we never really considered doing it in any other medium – but to answer your question more directly, comics as a medium are inherently good at communicating complex ideas in ways that are easy to access and understand.  If the purpose of this book was to introduce the layman to the subject of protest and its historical importance in the shaping of society, the graphic novel is a good format to work in!

Seán: Initially, the idea for this book first came to me as a parody of the history series by Winston Churchill (A History of the English Speaking Peoples). Instead of “great leaders” and battles, I thought why not do one about ordinary people’s struggle? Calling it “A visual history of protest amongst the English speaking peoples” occurred to me as a joke at first, then I thought, “Actually, that could be good.” Obviously it’s visual because it has illustrations. I decided to keep the “English speaking peoples” aspect, to give the book some focus and because that already encompasses a lot. But we intend to do a volume 2 that looks at popular rebellion in the wider world.

Why a graphic novel? Because it can – there is still a very silly outmoded idea that comics are just for kids. That is wrong and always has been. So, us doing this Fight the Power book as a comic book is just one more little example of how comics can be used to do sophisticated stories and take on culture and history, etc. In fact, there’s a case to be made for saying that comic books can do this type of thing better than normal text books. Because the interplay between the visual aspect and the textual helps to bring these kinds of complicated issues to life. The text can remain complex while the visual aspect makes it easier to take in, and the combination is apparently more memorable than text alone.

ASF: The book ranges through a history of political agitation across the globe, from industrial unrest in 19th century Britain to the Occupy Movement in 21st century United States. How were the subjects chosen?

Benjamin: There were so many subjects that we could have looked at that it really became a matter of what we couldn’t afford to leave out rather than what we wanted to include.  We started with the Luddites because that happened around the time of the industrial revolution, which is when the modern world, and modern Britain in particular, as we know it was born.  Before then it’s quite hard to connect society as it was back then to society today, so it seemed a good place to start.  Then we just threw a whole load of suggestions into an online Google document, argued and bartered over who was going to write what, and pretty much went from there.  We tried to include a broad range of stuff, ideally not covering more than one protest per decade/era.  But we didn’t really have a specific agenda over what to include.

ASF: Were there any subjects that were proposed but excluded? Were there any additional ones that you wished to see included?

Benjamin: Yes, lots!  The Miners’ Strike, Bloody Sunday, Cable Street… We could easily have tripled the size of the book without ever expanding our remit, but we had to have a cut-off somewhere.  It’s a shame that many stories weren’t included, but then the idea of the book was to serve as both an introduction to protest, and as a demonstration that political change usually comes from the ground upwards – 14 examples was enough to show that I think.

ASF: The book is published by Seven Stories Press, an independent publishing house in New York, and is now available for purchase from Amazon amongst others retailers. Was it difficult to secure publication and distribution of the collection?

Seán: Not difficult to get publication, as this is about my 17th book published so far, so I have a good track record. Seven Stories (and the UK publisher, New Internationalist) have a pretty good distribution system too. The main problem is sales. Even nowadays, with all the higher level of appreciation of graphic novels, these kind of mature books don’t sell much. Not that selling a lot and making tons of dosh is the aim. Few people in comic books achieve that! But we do need to sell a decent, medium, amount – for two reasons: to help us creators pay the bills and to encourage the publishers to continue doing this type of graphic novel. If, in 5 years time, the many good publishers now doing great comic books, have got to cut back because there is simply not enough sales, then we will soon see this recent comics renaissance fall back into the dark ages. These publishers operate in a capitalist world where sales are the bottom line. That is a very bad state of affairs, and yet another example of how capitalism is a barrier to creativity (despite pretending that is helps it). I have written an article about how in an anarchist system (that I favour), comics books would prosper much more than now. But, for the time being, what we need is for folks to go out and buy interesting graphic novels. For the sales to be good enough to keep things moving ahead nicely – so we can all keep on making good comic books.

ASF: Who are you hoping to reach with “Fight The Power!”?

Benjamin: Personally I’m hoping to reach people who aren’t involved in protest movements, who maybe thought Occupy was a little pointless or who think protest doesn’t really change anything.  I see little point in preaching to the converted, though this book should provide plenty of information for people who do think protest is important.  In terms of age, I would say it’s aimed at an audience from teenagers upwards, though there is no sex or swearing in the book (apart from the word “tits”!) so you could certainly show it to a younger child if you wanted to.

ASF: Tariq Ali, the well-known Pakistani-British author, journalist and activist has written an introduction for the book. How did you secure such an impressive recommendation?

Seán: Basically I just asked him. I find that if you simply ask, and the idea is good, that you get a decent response much of the time. Or I suppose if the figure involved can see that you have a past record of doing other such good stuff, they think it’s worth getting involved. As it goes, my previous “social issues” type book, “Parecomic“, has an introduction by Noam Chomsky. That was his first official connection with a comic book, and he had previously been rather dismissive of them. So perhaps Tariq noted that. To be rather shallow about it, the first thing that impressed me about Tariq is that he influenced John Lennon and the Rolling Stones song “Street fighting man”. It’s hard to top that, in my books!

ASF: I know that some promotional appearances are planned for “Fight The Power!” in the UK. Have you any plans to promote it elsewhere, including Ireland?

Benjamin: It’s a little difficult for Seán as he lives in Japan, but I’d love to come to Ireland!  I’ve never actually been, but if someone invites me then I’ll come…

Seán: Coming from an Irish family I’ve been to Ireland many times, of course, though I was born in Scotland. Bit hard for me to pop over, as Ben says, living in Japan now. But since there is a chapter in the book on Irish popular movements I want to do some promotion of it in Ireland. We look at United Irishmen of the 1790s, the “monster meetings” of Daniel O’Connell, the Young Ireland movement of the 1840s, Parnell in the 1880s and right up until the establishment of the Irish Free State. There is also a chapter which looks at the “Bloody Friday” protests in Glasgow in 1919 and how that was an important stage in the development of a far more socialist inclined Scotland. So, we’re doing some promotion in Scotland too.

ASF: On a personal note, being a Scottish writer and editor living and working in Japan, what are your views on the forthcoming independence referendum in Scotland? Are you eligible to vote?

Seán: I’m not eligible, because I live in Japan now. But that’s fair enough, the residence rule is ok. Emotionally, I think I’ll be happy if the vote is a yes. But I’m not keen on narrow nationalism, I’m an internationalist! In practical matters what is important is the chance for Scotland to become a progressive left wing country, since most Scots in the last 50 years or more, seem to favour that. If Independence can help that then I’m for it. And, if that is successful – we would have to make sure we don’t balls it up – then the model would hopefully have a good influence on the region in general.

“Fight The Power!” is available directly from the publishers,  Seven Stories Press in the United States and New Internationalist in Britain, or can be purchased on Amazon. You can follow the authors on Twitter at @boychild23 (Seán) and @Beniswriting (Benjamin).


The Trial of Nelson Mandela, 1964 (Íomhá: Seven Stories Press 2013)

Sladmhargadh, Karl Uhlemann

Sladmhargadh by Donach de Róiste and illustrated by Karl Uhlemann (Íomhá: Foilseacháin Náisiúnta Teoranta, BÁC, 1968 / Hitone, Vintage Irish Book Covers)

Sladmhargadh by Donach de Róiste and illustrated by Karl Uhlemann (Íomhá: Foilseacháin Náisiúnta Teoranta, BÁC, 1968 / Hitone, Vintage Irish Book Covers)

I’ve written before about my love of vintage book covers, especially those to be found in the genre fields of Science-Fiction and Fantasy (see my posts on Bruce Pennington as well as Chris Achilléos). So here is a wonderful in-your-face example from the mid-20th century Irish artist and designer Karl Uhlemann who illustrated some of Ireland’s best-known publications during his long career. The book is “Sladmhargadh” by Donach de Róiste, published in 1968 by the Dublin-based Foilseacháin Náisiúnta Teoranta (FNT), and taken from Hitone, a fascinating blog dedicated to Irish book covers and designs.

That Alan Moore Interview

Alan Moore

Alan Moore (Íomhá: © Comic Vine)

The Ard Rí of Irish Sci-Fi and Fantasy fandom, Pádraig Ó Méalóid, has managed to secure a lengthy Q&A with the elusive and frankly legendary British comics writer Alan Moore over on his Slovobooks blog. Even more impressively it has been highlighted by Britain’s Guardian newspaper and others which has probably sent his stats meter into meltdown. I highly recommend a read of something which has stirred up much controversy in the world of genre fiction.

[With thanks to An Lorcánach for the link]

A Stranger In Olondria By Sofia Samatar

A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar

A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar

I don’t get much time to read works of fiction these days which somewhat pains me since some books have been a more faithful companion through life’s myriad rises and falls than many an erstwhile friend or partner. However reading a vivid opening paragraph like this makes me want to return to my former page-turning ways:

“I knew nothing of the splendour of its coasts, nor of Bain, the Harbour City, whose lights and colours spill into the ocean like a cataract of roses.  I did not know the vastness of the spice markets of Bain, where the merchants are delirious with scents.  I had never seen the morning mists adrift above the surface of the green Illoun, of which the poets sing; I had never seen a woman with gems in her hair, nor observed the copper glinting of the domes, nor stood upon the melancholy beaches of the south while the wind brought in the sadness from the sea.  Deep within the Fayaleith, the Country of the Wines, the clarity of light can stop the heart; it is the light the local people call “the breath of angels” and is said to cure heartsickness and bad lungs.  Beyond this is the Balinfeil, where, in the winter months, the people wear caps of white squirrel fur, and in the summer months the goddess Love is said to walk and the earth is carpeted with almond blossom.  But of all this I knew nothing.  I knew only of the island where my mother oiled her hair in the glow of a rush candle, and terrified me with stories of the Ghost with No Liver, whose sandals slap when he walks because he has his feet on backwards.”

So begins Sofia Samatar’s novel “A Stranger in Olondria” and if it reminds one of the writing found in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea series or Jack Vance at his most florid that is no bad thing. There is an excellent review of the book by Abigail Nussbaum with a recommendation that has inspired me to make a purchase.

Publishing News From Scotland And Ireland

Tim Armstrong, author of the award-winning Scottish language Sci-Fi novel Air Cuan Dubh Drilseach

Tim Armstrong, author of the award-winning Scottish language Sci-Fi novel Air Cuan Dubh Drilseach (Íomhá: Scotsman)

Congratulations to the author Tim Armstrong on his award from the Saltire Society, one of Scotland’s premier cultural organisations, for his Scottish language Sci-Fi novel Air Cuan Dubh Drilseach. From the Scotsman newspaper:

“AN AMERICAN writer has landed one of Scotland’s flagship literary prizes – with the first ever Gaelic science fiction novel.

Tim Armstrong, a former singer in a Gaelic punk rock band, has scooped the Saltire Society’s prestigious “first book” prize with his book “Air Cuan Dubh Drilseach” (On a Glittering Black Sea).

The debut from 46-year-old Armstrong, a trained biologist who is now an academic at the Gaelic college Sabhal Mòr Ostaig on Skye, features two musicians at the centre of the book’s plot.

Unveiled at the Aye Write festival in Glasgow earlier this year, it is billed as a mix of “space-opera adventure, dark cyberpunk, romance and rock-band road-trip drama.”

Armstrong, who was born in New York but brought up in Seattle, moved to Scotland 13 years ago and quickly immersed himself in the music scene in Edinburgh, where he formed a Gaelic punk band “Mill a h-Uile Rud”, which translates as Destroy Everything, while he was studying the language. 

Armstrong cites the late Iain M Banks and Frank Herbert as major influences on his writing, which has been championed by the independent Gaelic publishing firm Clar, based in Inverness. 

The judging panel for the first new book honour – which was first awarded by the Saltire Society in 1988, said of “Air Cuan Dubh Drilseach”: “Tim Armstrong has brought the counter-culture of his native Seattle to shape the first genuine sci-fi novel in Gaelic. 

Armstrong’s novel was one of two Gaelic books on the Saltire Society’s main shortlists for literary honours this year. 

One of the contenders for its overall Scottish Book of the Year was Màiri Dhall (Blind Mairi) by Duncan Gillies, who hails from Ness, on the Isle of Lewis.”

President Michael D Higgins with Micheál Ó Conghaile, one of the editors of Leabhar Mór na nAmhrán, and Colm Ó Raghallaigh, who published the graphic novel version of Gráinne Mhaol

President Michael D Higgins with Micheál Ó Conghaile, one of the editors of Leabhar Mór na nAmhrán, and Colm Ó Raghallaigh, who published the graphic novel version of Gráinne Mhaol (Íomhá: Irish Times/Johnny Bambury)

Some good news for Irish writers and publishers too in the Irish Times with the announcement of this year’s winners of the Leabhar na Bliana:

“President Michael D Higgins was in attendance to give the top awards to two books from publishers in the west: Leabhar Mór na nAmhrán, which won Gradam Uí Shúilleabháin best book in Irish for adults; and Gráinne Mhaol, which was awarded Gradam Réics Carló for the best publication for young readers.

Connemara-based Cló Iar-Chonnacht have produced a bible of a book in Leabhar Mór na nAmhrán, the big book of songs, with 400 sean-nós songs from the four corners of Ireland brought together under one cover. Collected and edited by Micheál Ó Conghaile, Lochlainn Ó Tuairisg and Peadar Ó Ceannabháin, the book contains the complete text of each song with notes on who composed them and where they originated.

Meanwhile, Mayo’s Cló Mhaigh Eo travelled the high seas themselves in search of Gráinne Mhaol, a full-colour graphic novel which tells the story of the famous pirate queen Granuaile.

The text, written by Brazil-based Gisela Pizzatto and illustrated by Bruno Bull, has been translated into Irish by Donegal native Iarla Mac Aodha Bhuí.”

The Shadow Of The Torturer, Bruce Pennington

Wraparound cover illustration for Gene Wolfe's science-fantasy classic The Shadow of the Torturer, drawn by Bruce Pennington, 1980

Wraparound cover illustration for Gene Wolfe’s science-fantasy classic “The Shadow of the Torturer”, drawn by Bruce Pennington (Íomhá: © 1980 Bruce Pennington)

For lovers of science-fiction and fantasy book art from the 1970s and ’80s the name of Bruce Pennington looms large. He is indelibly associated with some of the greatest writers of the era, his baroque images gracing the covers of such diverse publications as Frank Herbert’s “Dune” or Harry Harrison’s ” Stainless Steel Rat”. However for many his most accomplished professional creation is the atmospheric jacket illustration he produced for the first hardback edition of Gene Wolfe’s 1980 novel “The Shadow of the Torturer”. Frequently copied, rarely matched, it remains a textbook example of book art, technically perfect in almost every respect. Though collections of his work are now long out of print they are certainly deserving of a new compendium. There are more Pennington book covers here.

Scottish Sci-Fi With “Air Cuan Dubh Drilseach”

Over at Bella Caledonia writer Paul F Cockburn has an interview with Tim Armstrong, author of the Scottish language Sci-Fi novel Air Cuan Dubh Drilseach.

Meanwhile some Irish related stuff here.

Swords? Check. Boobs? Check. Giant Gun-Toting Alien Lizards? Check!

Good Show, Sir – and the cover of Wicked by L.A. Banks

I love book covers, as some of you may know (pop over here to see why). I especially love what some pseudo-intellectuals pigeon-hole as “genre” fiction. That’s Science-Fiction, Fantasy and Horror to you and me (though a lot of other stuff is lumped in there too).

The wonderful website, “Good Show, Sir”, collects some of the best – or rather, worse – book covers out there. Many are very American in style and feel thanks to that nation’s fine tradition in pulp art. One of my joys is taking the same book title from the US and European markets and comparing their frequently quite divergent cover illustrations. Unfortunately, in these increasingly bland and homogeneous times, more and more jacket art is becoming identical, with only details of language and currency to tell works apart.


Good Show, Sir – The Little People by John Christopher

Jeremy Brett – The Quintessential Sherlock Holmes

Arthur Conan Doyle (Artúr Conán Ó Dúill) on the Western Front, Europe, WWI

I’ve always been a bit of a Sherlock Homes fan (or the much more impressive Irish form, Searbhlach de Hoilm!), especially since he was born of the imagination and pen of an Irish-Scots writer, one Artúr Iognáid Conán Ó Dúill or Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle. Doyle’s relationship with his ancestral homeland was problematic, to say the least, and there is a strong argument that he tapped into the anti-Irish prejudices of his day for the Sherlock Home’s stories, most tellingly in the Irish surnames he choose for Holmes’ two chief protagonists: Moran and Moriarty. He himself veered in his politics over the span of a lifetime from un-apologetic British Imperialist and Unionist to possessing somewhat more nuanced and socially liberal views of the world and Ireland in particular (by 1911 Doyle was convinced of the need for Home Rule or limited autonomy for Ireland within the so-called United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, though that is as far as he could bring himself to go).

Arthur Conan Doyle’s interests in Irish revolutionary movements and the covert (and at times not so covert) war between them and the British colonial state in Ireland clearly influenced his writing. The Fenians in particular, both the Irish and Irish-American arms of the movement, were a major concern to him and at times he allowed himself to be caught up in the hysteria of the late Victorian age and its obsession with “Irish secret societies” (the surnames of Moran and Moriarty were regularly identified in British newspaper reports with alleged Fenian officers operating in Britain in the late 1800s). In some ways the “Irish question” became central to the Sherlock Holmes canon, always implied though rarely stated.

Scholar Catherine Wynne details the Irish influences in the works of Doyle and his Sherlock Holmes’ tales in particular with her short study Mollies, Fenians, and Arthur Conan Doyle, which I highly recommend for any enquiring Sherlockian – or indeed anyone interested in how British society and culture viewed (and feared) the Irish people in the late 19th century. You can also read a full account of all this in her excellent book The Colonial Conan Doyle: British Imperialism, Irish Nationalism and the Gothic, especially the section Imperial War and Colonial Sedition (preview via Google Books).

All this has helped me in my own writing (with a nod to Kim Newman), in particular my subversion of the Sherlock Holmes tales by turning them on their head and writing them from the point of view of Professor Moriarty, or rather Séamas Ó Muircheartaigh, 19th century Irish famine-child and exile turned revolutionary (and the efforts of his arch-nemesis to thwart him: the conflicted British Imperial agent Sherlock Holmes, and his baleful older brother Mycroft). Whether those tales of mine will ever see the light of day is, of course, another matter ;-)

Jeremy Brett – Searbhlach de Hoilm (Sherlock Holmes)

But for now, a slight twist, as I turn to the Guardian and an excellent article on the late great Jeremy Brett, the British actor who for many of us was Sherlock Holmes. A true thespian (and a genuinely courageous person who overcame many personal problems and tragedies in his life until his untimely death), he defined what Holmes should look like, sound like and act like for a whole generation of television viewers (and still does). From the retrospective by Natalie Haynes:

“You can keep Basil Rathbone, fond as I am of him. You can keep Robert Downey, Jr, Benedict Cumberbatch and Peter Cushing. You can even keep Michael Caine in Without A Clue (my secret favourite portrayal of Sherlock Holmes on the big screen). You know why you can keep them? Because, in exchange, I get Jeremy Brett, the Sherlock for the connoisseurs.

Jeremy Brett is the Sherlock Holmes of my childhood, and perhaps (as with the Doctor or James Bond) we simply attach ourselves to the first one we see. But I don’t think so. In the ITV series which began in 1984, and ran until a year before Brett’s early death in 1995, Sherlock Holmes was as close to his literary roots as he has ever been on screen.

Brett understood completely how mercurial Holmes could be. And he could play every variant of him: loyal friend, relentless pursuer, bored logician, avenging angel and mischievous impersonator. Brett’s performance is an astonishing exercise in dynamics: he murmurs advice, whispers hints, bellows irritation, barks laughter. He is also the master of the subtextual glance. When the King of Bohemia (A Scandal in Bohemia, series 1, episode 1) wishes Irene Adler was his social equal, Brett turns to him with every facial sinew screaming contempt, for just a fraction of a second. Then he agrees, with such seeming politeness that the king is impervious to his real meaning, that Adler was indeed on a very different level. No wonder Adler leaves the country, declaring him too formidable an opponent, even though she knows she has beaten him in this encounter.

Even if Brett had not been so ill when filming the series, his Holmes is intrinsically fragile: he really looks like he forgets to eat for days on end, and that he carries the lead weight of ennui between cases.

In re-watching The Red-Headed League last week, I also detected a disdain for poshness that verges on the revolutionary. He describes John Clay (Tim McInnerny) thus: “His grandfather was a royal duke and he himself was educated at Eton and Oxford. So, Watson, bring the gun.” And because he is Jeremy Brett, he slightly rolls the r of “bring”, just so we know Holmes knows that he is funny.”

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson

This weekend I will be indulging my Brettian-Holmes passion by watching the British television drama The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes back-to-back (thanks to a lovely DVD collection grabbed – quite literally – for a ridiculously cheap 10 euros), but here, for the rest of you, is a mere taster:

Get Your Gael On!

There’s an interesting site with some fun games for Irish language learners at Digital Dialects. The vocabulary seems correct and so far I’ve not seen any mistakes. It’s all very simple but something for some enterprising gaelgoir to build upon…?

For more online Irish lessons I’d highly recommend the award-winning Talk Irish, a popular new kid on the block that has so far gained nothing but praise (and nearly 12,000 members!). It’s a very comprehensive site largely aimed towards those with little or no Irish, and it utilises the latest technologies to bring Irish language learning to a truly global audience in a fun and easy manner. However, unlike some other online educational courses, there is no lessening in academic quality and the materials on the site are carefully drawn up and vetted. In other words it is a site you can trust. Money well spent!

Another professional site is Ranganna, though one aimed at the slightly more serious online learner with a more academic tone overall. It has courses geared towards second and third level students in Ireland, as well as specialist courses for teachers, civil servants, IT specialists, lawyers, etc. However its general Irish language courses are highly recommended by experts and it has the added advantage of linking to live courses in venues around Ireland run by Gael Chultúr, as well as the Irish language book group Club Leabhar and the online Irish language bookshop Siopa.

A more traditional site is Bitesize Irish Gaelic, which though lacking the glossiness and comprehensive nature of Talk Irish or Ranganna has gained a loyal following. It is run by the same company that hosts the similar Learn Irish Gaelic, the travel group Gaeltacht Travel, and Irish Gaelic Translator. The latter is a well regarded online Irish language forum with over 65,000 members (mostly from Britain, continental Europe, North America and Australasia) though the level of fluency varies greatly. In recent years it has become better known for providing free Irish language translations for tattoos, children’s names and people’s houses though it retains its very active – and at times fractious – message boards. In recent years the site has helped found and drive the collaborative online Irish dictionary, Irishionary.

However the “official” online Irish language dictionary remains Focal, which is funded by the Irish state and is the result of an ongoing academic program. This is the one favoured by most enquirers because of its professionalism and government status. It is also linked to Logainm, the official list of placenames in the Irish language across the island of Ireland (and a hugely popular site for visitors), and Ainm, the national biography of historic figures in the Irish language.

For general enquires and help with the Irish language the now famous online discussion board Daltaí na Gaeilge is second to none. It has been helping people learn Irish since 1981 and was probably one of the first Irish language groups to go online. An incredible feat for an organisation that is in fact based in the United States and Canada and not in Ireland! Its forums are a legendary and any enquirers generally receive a warm welcome. It also has the added advantage of providing information on language courses throughout North America and beyond.

For more learning materials the web-based retailer Litríocht (the “Irish Amazon”) is generally regarded as your “one-stop-shop” for books, CDs, DVDs, etc. with low-cost shipping available to a host of international destinations. You can also try the excellent Udar, another major online shop, or the Irish publishers Futa FataCló Mhaigh EoCló Iar-Chonnacht and Cois Life all of whom sell direct to the public as well as through online retailers and highstreet stores.

For more Irish language resources please try these sites:

Conradh na Gaeilge 

Gael Linn

Oideas Gael 

Foras na Gaeilge 

Cumann Gaeilge na hAstráile 

Conradh na Gaeilge Shasana Nua 




Finally, if you want to experience the real thing, then Gael Saoire is the travel service for the Gaeltachtaí or Irish-speaking regions of Ireland, with a host of information and links for visitors.

My own personal bit of Gaeltacht heaven? Now that would be telling!

Irish Books For Irish Children – A Success Story

The Irish publishing industry has always struggled against the domination of the book market here by overseas English-language publishers, particularly those from Britain. The effective “dumping” of British titles on Irish bookshelves has left little room for native publishing houses and writers to flourish and this has only gotten worse with the steady decline in book sales over recent years.

However one small but shining light in all the doom and gloom has been the performance of Irish-language publishers who have carved out a market of their own that continues to slowly grow. The Irish Times reports on the health of Irish children’s book publishing:

“THIS YEAR, aged 75, Dublin grandmother Catherine Sheridan fulfilled a huge ambition. After a life filled with family commitments and a long-held interest in art, she published her first children’s picture book. What makes the achievement – and the book itself – more intriguing is the fact that it’s published in Irish even though she is not a fluent speaker of the language. Réiltín agus Banríon na Gealaí (Twinkle and the Moon Queen) was inspired by a personal story.

“I was always interested in art,” says Sheridan. “I went to classes and lectures, and whenever I drew, I veered towards toys and witches and fairies. Some years ago I found a photo of my eldest granddaughter, where she was sitting under the Christmas tree. I painted a version of it and it became part of this story.”

The tale concerns a tattered Christmas fairy and Sheridan liked the idea of our connections with the past and how old, well-loved things should be valued, rather than binned.

The book is the first publication by the newly founded Páistí Press, run by Jean Harrington, an experienced publisher.

…crucial to its ethos is the publication of bilingual books. “It wouldn’t dawn on many parents to buy books in Irish. For some it’s because they don’t speak the language, and are embarrassed by that. We’re hoping that it might encourage parents to get back into the language and share that experience with their children who are learning Irish in schools.”

Harrington points out that 80 per cent of the books on Irish bookshop shelves are by UK publishers, and that print runs of Irish language books are small.

“ Réiltín has glitter on the pages, which makes production expensive, so you need higher print runs to bring costs down. But while we’re competing with huge publishers, there is a level playing field for all of us in Irish language publishing and we support each other.”

Tadhg Mac Dhonnagáin echoes Harrington’s sentiments, having set up Futa Fata (which means “a buzz or babble of excitement”) in 2005. “There are now more books for children published in Irish than English in this country and because we are working in Irish, we’re more immune to the very challenging competition that Irish publishers working in English face.” He cites publishers such as Móinín, Cló Mhaigh Eo and the oldest Irish language publisher (which is Government run), An Gúm.

Futa Fata published 15 children’s books this year, aimed at babies and readers up to the age of 12. Picture books dominate and in January they will launch a new series of books – Danger Zones – that take a humorous look at history. The fact that picture books fare so well, is not surprising, says David Maybury, editor of Inis children’s books magazine.

“Irish language publishers react faster to market changes and tastes and with more publishers joining the market next year we have some great books to look forward to.” Maybury also cites the long career of Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, who has written several young people’s books in Irish. Ní Dhuibhne, along with authors Úna Ó Boyle and children’s laureate Siobhán Parkinson, was nominated for this year’s Reics Carlo Irish language book prize.”

The article also lists some current best-sellers:

“MAC RÍ ÉIREANN by Caitríona Hastings, illustrated by Andrew Whitson (An tSnáthaid Mhór)

This story about a king who must banish his son was shortlisted for the Reics Carlo 2011 award.

CACA DON RI by Ailbhe Nic Ghiolla Bhrighde illustrated by Steve Simpson (Futa Fata)

A tale of a baker who enlists the help of some mice when he must bake a cake for the king.

FAINIC, A FHIACHRA! by Art Ó Súilleabháin, illustrated by Olivia Golden (Cló Mhaigh Eo)

The tale of a curious boy who can’t stop exploring.

ÉASCA PÉASCA by Áine Ní Ghlinn (O’Brien Press)

One of the most popular titles borrowed in Dublin libraries tells the story of a mysterious babysitter with magical powers.

FUNGIE by Ann Marie McCarthy Ré Ó Laighléis (Móinín)

A fun book aimed at 4-7 year-olds, starring Kerry’s most famous dolphin (comes with a DVD).”

All these titles are available from the publishers or from Litríocht, the “Irish Amazon”, whose bilingual website features a huge range of Irish books, e-Books, CDs, DVDs and many other items, all shipping internationally. Or try Cló Iar-Chonnacht for another large range of Irish materials.

Some Classic Irish Language Book Covers

I love books, especially old books (much to the detriment of my bank account). I’ve managed to gather a wide and varied collection of my own, from 19th century Fenian memoirs to mid-20th century Sci-Fi pulps, and lately I’ve started looking around for more Irish language publications (particularly the various Seanchló editions). Happily one can often combine a love for books with an interest in illustration and design (though as any SF fan can tell you, great covers don’t always make for great books. Chris Foss has a lot to answer for!).

So it was great to come across this posting on 50Watts of a series of Irish language books covers from the 1930s. Some really interesting finds here, all of which were published by the Irish state through Oifig An tSoltáthair or Oifig Díolta Foillseacháin Rialtais (this back in the day when governments cared about culture and learning). It well worth taking a look for anyone with an interest in the Irish writing or graphic design. More can be seen here on Hitone, with a wide variety of Irish publications in Irish and English.

Irish Language Publishing – A Success Story

If one wants to hear “good news” stories about the Irish language, or something positive about Irish speakers, it is often better to look to our regional rather than national press. There one finds that the post-colonial mindsets of the many monolingual English speakers who control our national news media is often absent, along with their racist attitudes towards the nation’s Irish speaking community.

So it is from the Connacht Tribune that I highlight a story about Futa Fata, the award-winning bilingual publisher based in An Spidéal:

“Climbing the timber stairs to the top floor of a converted garage, along a narrow road just outside Spidéal, it doesn’t look like you are entering a publishing empire. And indeed maybe ‘empire’ is an exaggeration. But the small Irish language company Futa Fata, which publishes beautiful picture books for children, is beginning to make its mark internationally.

Two Futa Fata authors Bridget Bhreathnach and Ailbhe Nic Giolla Bhrighde have just had their stories – Lúlú agus an Oíche Ghlórach, and Cáca don Rí translated into Chinese and Korean respectively. Both of these stories are beautifully illustrated by Steve Simpson.

Ailbhe is also reading at this year’s Baboró Arts Festival for Children, as is Patricia Forde, another of Futa Fata’s authors, whose latest book, Binjí – Madra ar Strae has just been published.

Just two weeks ago Futa Fata launched its latest home produced book, An Coileach Codlatach. It was a poignant occasion, as the book’s author Nuala Nic Con Iomaire died last year, but it was also a happy one, explains the founder of Futa Fata, Tadhg Mac Dhonnagáin.

“It was a lovely night. Her daughter Iseult Harvey and her cousins read from the book,” he says.

Tadhg’s journey from his birthplace in Mayo to publishing in Connemara was an eventful one, taking in primary teaching, television and music along the way. During the 1990s, he presented RTÉ’s Irish language Cúrsaí Éalaíona. Throughout, he retained a keen interest in his own musical pursuits, releasing two CDs.

When he moved to Connemara over 10 years ago, Tadhg continued his involvement with TV, working on the TG4 series Ros na Rún. More recently he was co-creator of the TV series Aifric, writing several episodes.”

All these books are available from Litríocht, the “Irish Amazon”, with a bilingual website featuring a huge range of Irish books, e-Books, CDs and DVDs, all shipping internationally.