FÉILE FIDELMA 2006!:
SISTER FIDELMA'S WORLD AT CASHEL
Be sure to check back here for details of this inaugural event shortly... we will be updating this section of the site with numerous photos and commentaries from attendies and speakers as they are received.
PETER TREMAYNE'S OPENING TALK AT THE
FÉILE FIDELMA, CASHEL PALACE
Friday, September 8, 2006
After the formal opening of the Féile Fidelma 2006! by the Mayor of Cashel, Cllr. Paddy Downey, with short addresses by the chairman of the Cashel Arts Festival Committee, John Murray, the vice-chairman of South Tipperary County Council, Cllr. John Fahey, and Peter Tremayne himself, the main business of the weekend began in the Long Room of Cashel Palace.
John Murray, who chaired the talk, introduced Peter Tremayne.
Giving his personal welcome to all those attending, Peter commented that he little dreamt thirteen years ago, when he wrote the first Fidelma short story, that his creation would command such an international following or that there would be such a gathering in Caiseal na Rí - Cashel of the Kings.
Setting out in a light hearted fashion, he told the audience that, contrary to his custom, he was not going to give a lengthy talk - he added, or at least not much of one.
`You will be hearing some very erudite people over the next few days so I feel a wee bit like John the Baptist - some are coming whose shoe laces I am unfit to latch. What I am going to do is give an introduction and, if you are a really bad audience, I'll read to you part of the latest book - A Prayer for the Damned [ed. which had been published the day before], `then you can put questions to me. Let's have a dialogue instead of me standing here and giving you a monologue.'
Peter went on to say that reading a book was a very subjective activity. Each one of us has our own imagination, our own perceptions and interpretations. It's a wee bit like watching an interesting incident on a street corner. If seen by half a dozen people, when asked what happened, they come out with half a dozen different accounts.
`I am aware that in this illustrious gathering most of you probably know more about Fidelma's histrionics than I do. Writers can be liable to forget what they have written about their characters. Conan Doyle, in his Sherlock Holmes stories, forgot Watson had been wounded in the left arm in the Study in Scarlet and transferred the wound to his leg in The Sign of Four. If I can't remember specific incidents in the 15 novels and 32 short stories, I plead a literary precedence. I know you all have your own interests and views. So I want to hear your questions about Fidelma and her world and I will do my best - hopefully - to supply answers.
`Over the next two days you'll be hearing some leading academics talking about Fidelma's period of Irish history. I would like to stress from the outset that I make no other pretensions for the Sister Fidelma stories other than that they are written as fiction - as entertainment, as mystery thrillers - although, admittedly, set in an unusual historical time and cultural background. But if they are not enjoyed as entertainment, if readers cannot relax and get carried along with the stories and accept the background, then I would have failed in what I have set out to achieve.
`Now, having said, I do accept that for some it is the unusual historical and cultural background that causes a great deal of interest. A learned critic, early on, pronounced that it was the historical background that was my MacGuffin. Many of you may know what a MacGuffin is. It was an expression coined by screenwriter Angus MacPhail, often wrongly attributed to his friend Alfred Hitchcock. I think the critic used it in a slightly wrong context as it really means the device that gets the story going, after which the writer can carry on addressing the plot, characterisation and universality of motivations. However, I could understand what the critic was attempting to point out. That in crime writing, as in any story telling form, there are but limited plots and motivations and he viewed the MacGuffin as that which sets the story apart - the background setting or the type of hero or anti-hero. In others words, he felt it was not what you say but the way you tell it.
`So, in choosing a female sleuth living in 7th Century Ireland, one who was not only a religieuse but qualified in the law system of the time, had I found my MacGuffin? To be truthful, I am happy to leave that question to others more capable of such literary analysis such as Dr John Scaggs who you will hear tomorrow morning.
`I know many readers are very intrigued with the background and perhaps many of you will have read the `frequently asked questions' pages of Dave Wooten's amazing Fidelma website. You will have seen that I have often had to write long essays to answer questions that range over many of background topics that arise form the stories.
`From the responses and reactions I have heard it seems that one of the results of the Fidelma books has been to bring 7th Century Ireland out of the university lecture rooms and into a growing awareness among the fiction reading public. It has been flattering to hear from friends in Celtic Studies departments that several of their students tell them that they were inspired to take up those studies by reading my books. You may have read in the David Wooten's magazine The Brehon that one California lawyer was inspired by Fidelma to go to Cork University College to take a master's degree specialising in Brehon Law. It's flattering but a heavy responsibility!
`A large part of the correspondence from readers across the world express their surprise that Ireland had such a social system at this time. Some, however, express open scepticism.
`Years ago I was giving a talk in St Hilda's College, Oxford University, when a member of the audience accused the Fidelma books of displaying `an anachronism of attitude'. I did have to think what that meant for a moment. I found that I was accused of putting modern attitudes - such as the feminist approach which has been read into the stories - into 7th Century Ireland where such attitudes, so my accuser assured me, could not possibly belong. So I had to abandoned my set text on historical murder mysteries, and give a lecture on the 7th Century Irish social system and Brehon Law that is pivotal to the Fidelma books.
`Now I do accept that this scepticism is not the fault of the readers. They are coming to Fidelma with the general perception of the so-called Dark Ages. It was thought to be a time without law, of slaughter, rape, pillage and anarchy. And the general understanding of religious institutions of the time is based on the image of the strict rules and celibacy of the late medieval Roman Church. Few people knew anything about this early period of Irish history and, certainly outside of Ireland, generally people have distorted ideas about the country, its history and culture in general. This is, frankly, due to Ireland's colonial experience with its big neighbour. It would be natural therefore for some to express their doubts whether I was simply making it all up.
`Well, that was the burden I had laid on myself as a writer. But then I had not consciously set out to write an international best-selling murder mystery series. Had I done so, with all due respect to the land of my fathers, would I have chosen 7th Century Ireland and restricted myself to containing the stories within the strict parameters of the ancient Irish law system? It would surely have been much easier to choose another historical period and another country, which the general readership was more familiar. But, as the short stories turned into novels and novels into a series, I was faced with the problem that I was writing about a time period that few people knew about, about a culture that was unknown to most people and about a law system that was not usually discussed outside of Celtic Studies departments of universities. How could I communicate this to a general readership of murder mystery stories? Even Umberto Ecco, in Name of the Rose, with his medieval Italian setting, had an easier task. On the surface medieval Italy was more accessible to general readers than 7th Century Ireland.
`I had to rely on my own enthusiasm for 7th Century Ireland, which I have always been fascinated by - both in time and place. Irish society at that time was in a state of great flux and change. And the tensions were just right as a background to present the mysteries Fidelma has to solve. The plots were often inspired directly from the ancient records themselves, the annals and chronicles or from references in Brehon Law judgments. Where possible, I have always tried to get back to original sources or as close to original sources as possible.'
Peter mentioned the importance of original sources and told the audience a joke about how monks could make an error in copying the ancient manuscripts that brought laughter and applause.
He went on to say that 7th Century Ireland had only comparatively recently converted to Christianity and there were pockets of people who obviously still adhered to the old faith. Even with Christianity, the Irish had remoulded it with their own cultural attitudes.
`Today we speak of a Celtic Church, although there was no such centralised entity, just a collection of distinct cultural attitudes - the churches still looked to Rome as a centre but without conforming with Rome's rules. At the same time, there were some Irish clerics who believed that a complete absorption with Rome should take place, that the churches should accept Roman rules. There were conflicts between the native law system - the Law of the Fénechus or land tillers which today we call Brehon Law after the Irish word for a judge breitheamh, and the harsher Roman inspired Penitentials. And there were those ascetically minded who wanted to enforce celibacy on all religious as well as those who did not.
`During this weekend Professor Máirín Ní Dhonnchadha will be talking about one tragic story from this period - one of my favourite early Irish love stories - it is a tale from Fidelma's period the 7th Century, which survives in a 10th Century manuscript - and is about a female and male religious who fall in love but unlike Fidelma and Eadulf, fall foul of St Cumín Fada of Clonfert who did believe in celibacy.
`The 7th Century was a period when Ireland was also the great centre of European learning. It is often called Ireland's `Golden Age'. It was a time when students from all over Europe flocked to Ireland for an education. At Durrow - the name means Plain of the Oaks - founded by St Columba about AD 563 - we have a record that students from no less than 18 different countries were attending studies there in Fidelma's day. It was there that the famous Book of Durrow was compiled, one of the great highly ornamented Gospel books. You'll be hearing from Dr McCarthy from Trinity College, Dublin, tomorrow speaking about how the great ecclesiastical and secular colleges were advanced astronomical observatories during this time. Having read Dan's papers, it is truly astonishing how accurate their celestial observations. They were astronomers and astrologers.
`And, of course, during the 7th Century there were jealousies and tensions between clans and ruling families as well as the normal between human beings in all ages, love, hate and jealousy. The conflict between the Uí Fidgente and Eóghanacht really did exist. The historical background events in the stories is in accordance with details given in surviving Annals and Chronicles, and the characters, where possible, are historical characters of time. Fidelma's father Failbe Flann and her brother Colgú really did exists as kings here at Cashel.
`What has amazed me is, that in spite of the task of portraying what is to our modern perceptions an alien culture and its values, the Fidelma books have achieved a resonance in many countries. They are now appearing in 13 languages, the Russians have recently joined the Fidelma family; they've been broadcast as radio plays in Germany, optioned for developing as a television series, which we hope may come to fruition. Having been concerned in trying to interpret this ancient world to English language readers, I am particularly looking forward to hearing my Dutch publisher and translator, Hans van den Boom, talking about the problems of translating Fidelma into other languages.
`But, to return to what I said at the opening, for the general readership, the narrative is, or should be, self-explanatory and the history and the cultural elements should not get in the way of the stories. The stories are, as I have said, primarily written for entertainment, as mystery thrillers, and I hope, judging by their continued and growing international popularity, readers of the books, such as yourselves, agree that this has been achieved. You might however disagree and I am anxious to hear your views and questions. I should add that at the end of the Féile, Dave Wooten, the director of the International Sister Fidelma Society, will be discussing with you, after five years of the Society's existence, what you want from it and how he can improve the services it renders. And to paraphrase the words of John F. Kennedy, I believe he may be asking you to also think not what the Society can do for you but what you can do for the Society.'
Continuing in an amusing tone Peter then said that in spite of the audience being impeccably behaved, he would inflict on them a reading from the latest book A Prayer for the Damned, which had been published on the day before.
`As I often explain, the ideal way to hear a reading of the stories is in a resonant Munster accent that I only possess in my imagination. Being the son of a Corkman born in Coventry, Warwickshire, and educated in Sussex, I'm afraid you'll have to bear with me. I should also warn you that I am no professional reader.'
Peter then read the Prologue from the new novel, which was extremely well received, and the floor was then opened to questions which, as was expected, were many and finally the chairman had to reluctantly bring the session to an end.
DR JOHN SCAGGS OF MARY IMMACULATE COLLEGE, LIMERICK UNIVERSITY
Dr Scaggs was introduced as the first speaker of the Saturday session by Seamus J. King, who chaired the talk.
The Impact of Sister Fidelma on Irish Crime Fiction
There are two questions that need to be asked from the outset. The first, ‘Who is Sister Fidelma?’, in the present company requires no answer. The second, ‘What is Irish Crime Fiction?’, is the one that demands a little more attention at this point, and I want to briefly consider what seem to me to be the three main reasons for identifying something as an example of ‘Irish Crime Fiction’. It is only be considering what we mean by the term that we can really understand the impact that Sister Fidelma has had.
In this particular category, it seems to me that Peter is in good company, coming as he does from Irish stock. Edgar Allan Poe, generally recognised as the ‘grandfather’ of the mystery story, also had Irish roots. The Poes were, according to Peter Haining in his introduction to Great Irish Detective Stories (Pan Books, 1994), tenant farmers in Co. Cavan until John Poe, Edgar Allan’s grandfather, emigrated to the New World in 1750. Poe himself, however, never visited Ireland. Some of you may have noticed the significance of Haining’s book, Great Irish Detective Stories. This collection of short stories includes one of the first Sister Fidelma stories, ‘Murder in Repose’ (1993).
Wilkie Collins, author of The Moonstone (1868), which none other than T.S. Eliot described as ‘the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels’, also had Irish roots. There are aspects of the sensation novel, of which The Moonstone is an example, which are evident also in the Sister Fidelma novels.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, was born in Scotland of Irish parents – Mary Foley, and political cartoonist John Doyle. Doyle, as most of you will by now be well aware, is a good Irish name. Not only that, but in the Holmes canon, the great detective is said to have visited Ireland several times on cases, and certainly Dublin, Belfast, Waterford, Maynooth, and (strangely) Skibbereen, are mentioned in this regard.
I mention these writers not just to indicate that Peter, whose family hails from Cork, is in good company (as if it weren’t enough of a blessing to have Irish roots in the first place!). No, I mention these three writers because there is, in Peter’s Fidelma novels, a re-engagement with the themes, techniques, and devices of these writers that forms an important part of contemporary crime fiction. This is something that I will return to later in this talk.
There are other writers with Irish roots, of course, some more contemporary than Poe or Doyle. Raymond Chandler’s mother, for example, was Irish, and Chandler’s letters reveal that he was proud of his Irish ancestry – and why wouldn’t he be? More recently there is Dublin-born Ruth Dudley Edwards, whose crime novels are in the tradition of the great Golden Age writers like Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham, and Ngaio Marsh. Again, the writers of the Golden Age are invoked here because the Fidelma novels, as I will outline shortly, revisit the themes, techniques and devices of the classic whodunit, albeit by reinventing them and relocating them in seventh-century Ireland.
However important the ‘Irishness’ of the crime writer might be in identifying what exactly constitutes ‘Irish Crime Fiction’, there are still two more reasons that a novel or a story might be characterised as such, and the first of these is how prominently Irish characters feature in the story – and, by extension, how prominently Irish history, culture, politics, and so on, feature.
2) Crime fiction featuring Irish characters, history, politics, and culture
There is a sense in which novels featuring Irish characters, history, culture, politics, and so on, can be considered Irish crime fiction, but it’s difficult to know where to draw the line. Certainly, without these elements it’s difficult to identify something as ‘Irish’ crime fiction, but even with these elements in place it can be difficult. Peter Lovesey’s Invitation to a Dynamite Party (1974), the plot of which revolves around the attempts of a group of Fenians to use a bomb to assassinate the Prince of Wales in 1884, while it features Irish characters and turns on the political question of Home Rule, could hardly be described as ‘Irish Crime Fiction’. A novel, like Les Roberts’ The Irish Sports Page, set in Cleveland and featuring a Slovenian PI, but whose plot focuses around the Irish Community in Cleveland, would similarly be difficult to describe as an example of Irish crime fiction.
Of course, neither Lovesey nor Roberts has Irish roots, so perhaps it is a combination of the three points mentioned before, rather than the presence of merely one or two of them, that can help us to define what it is about Irish crime fiction that makes it Irish crime fiction. In which case, the third situation, that the novel or story be set in Ireland, is clearly significant to our understanding of Irish crime fiction.
3) Crime fiction set in Ireland
What is interesting here, in relation to the Fidelma novels, is that the novels are not always set in Ireland. In fact, it is not until the third novel in the series, Suffer Little Children (1995) that we are treated to the first novel to be entirely set in Ireland, and it is not until the fourth novel in the series, The Subtle Serpent (1996), that the Fidelma/Eadulf partnership is featured in an Irish setting. The first novel in the series, Absolution by Murder (1994), is set at the Synod of Whitby in what is now England, while Shroud for the Archbishop (1995) is set in Rome. Despite this fact, few would disagree with the identification of these, and all of the Fidelma novels, as Irish crime fiction. So clearly the requirement of the story being set in Ireland is not set in stone. Again, this reinforces the point that we tend to identify Irish crime fiction not by one element alone, but by the relationship between the three elements outlined above.
It is at this point that we can begin to understand the central importance of the contribution to Irish crime fiction that Peter’s Fidelma novels have made, and it is this: It is only in the last ten or twelve years that a recognisable body of Irish crime fiction began to develop, and the Sister Fidelma stories were in the vanguard of this development. Absolution by Murder in 1994, Shroud for the Archbishop in 1995, and so on. A quick survey of what little critical commentary there is on the field reveals that the overall consensus is that Irish crime fiction, until recent years, has been very thin on the ground, and that even now there is far less, per capita, then in the United States, Britain, or elsewhere in Europe.
Bob Flynn, writing about Ken Bruen’s first Jack Taylor novel The Guards (which is set in Galway), says that it has ‘few, if any antecedents’, and describes it as ‘one of the curiously rare Irish crime novels’ (The Guardian, Saturday June 9th, 2001). Flynn was writing his review of Bruen’s novel in 2001 – not so long ago, although crucially, in terms of highlighting the importance of the Sister Fidelma series, seven years after the publication of Absolution by Murder. Gerry McCarthy, writing three years later in The Sunday Times in a review of Cormac Millar’s An Irish Solution (2004) points out that crime fiction ‘has been undergoing a boom in Ireland’, and I think it is important to note that far from being merely a part of this boom, the Fidelma novels were one of the contributing factors that set it in motion.
There is another key point to make here. The two novels by Bruen and Millar mentioned above, frequently cited as key texts in the developing field of Irish crime fiction, are both contemporary novels. They are novels which are set in, and reflect on, an Ireland characterised by increasing affluence, a fast-growing multi-cultural population, rapidly expanding urban centres, and increasing levels of violent crime. When James Joyce wrote, in ‘The Hanging of Myles Joyce’, that there is less crime in Ireland than in any other country in Europe, his observation was far from prophetic. Importantly, the Fidelma novels offer an insight into an Ireland before the arrival of the Celtic Tiger, even before the destructive forces of foreign occupation, political upheaval, and civil war. Interestingly, though, the world that the novels depict is not so different in many ways to the Ireland of today. There is a simple reason for these similarities. As Gerry McCarthy points out, in his review of Millar’s novel, crime fiction tends to flourish ‘in a society with a pervasive aura of corruption, where nobody can be trusted’. Speaking of the Ireland of today, he identifies how the country ‘is steeped in chicanery and broken promises’, and how it offers ‘an ideal backdrop for genre fiction’.
The importance of the Fidelma novels, then, is that they reflect both on Ireland’s past, and on her not-so-different present. Significantly, as the Fidelma novels make clear, particularly in the way that their plots crucially depends on events, hidden or otherwise, in the past, Ireland’s present is a child of its past. In this way, despite the fact that they are historical novels, the Fidelma stories are also a part of Ireland’s Celtic Tiger present (political double-dealing, civil war, and even hunger strikes are also alluded to, or form the focus of the plot, in most of the Fidelma novels).
The Fidelma novels contribute to the growth of Irish crime fiction in other ways too. In general, as Bruen’s Jack Taylor novels make clear, hard-boiled detective fiction, normally identified as a distinctly American genre, is popular with Irish crime writers. This has something to do with the identification that the Irish feel with rule-breaking, anti-authoritarian, individualistic, and often heavy-drinking hard-boiled Private Eye heroes in the mould of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade or Continental Op, and Robert Parker’s Spenser. It also has something to do, I think, with the Irish abhorrence of the spy and the informer – something instilled in the Irish mindset by what Bruen describes as a tortuous history of betrayal. Significantly, the figure of the amateur detective, as he or she appears in the Golden Age fiction between the two world wars, has much in common with the figure of the spy and the informer.
What the Fidelma series has done is to reinvent the figure of the analytic detective for the contemporary reading audience, by reinventing her in the figure of Sister Fidelma. As a dálaigh, or lawyer of the Brehon system, she represents the forces of law and order, but she is no slave to the ruling elite. On the contrary, she is presented as fiery, independent-minded, and not easily swayed by the consensus, and her appearance reinforces this, with ‘rebellious’ strands of red hair which frequently escape from the confines of her headdress (Absolution by Murder, p.2, Shroud for the Archbishop, p.9, and so on). Her rebellious nature is attractive to a people who pride themselves on that same quality.
This is important, because what it allows the Fidelma novels to do is to re-engage with a tradition of crime writing which, for various reasons, has been long overlooked by Irish writers – the Golden Age whodunit. The whodunit, of course, drew on an even older tradition of crime fiction established by Edgar Allan Poe, and taken up some fifty years later by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I did mention earlier that I would return to these two writers, but for those of you reading this talk online, you will have to refer to my earlier article in The Brehon for more details on Peter’s appropriation of the techniques and devices of the whodunit, and his reinvention of them in a seventh-century Irish setting.
DR ANDREW BREEZE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF NAVARRA, PAMPLONA, SPAIN
DR DAN MCCARTHY OF TRINITY COLLEGE, DUBLIN
Seamus J. King introduced and chaired Dr Dan McCarthy's talk on `Astronomy in the Colleges of 7th Century Ireland'.
Dan began his talk by quoting from the first Sister Fidelma mystery Absolution By Murder (1994) from an event described on page 56-7 of a total eclipse at the Synod of Whitby and the different reactions by the Saxon and Irish delegates. He asked the audience, was Peter right in describing the event and such reactions. Could Sister Fidelma and the Irish delegation to the Synod really have known what the phenomenon was and the Saxons did not?
Even after the event, the Venerable Bede was inaccurate with his date and timing of it.
Dan, as the expert on the subject of astronomy in the Irish ecclesiastical and secular colleges of the period, went on to show how he had studied the ancient Irish annals and chronicles of the period. He had put times and dates on a computer to assess their accuracy. The lists of astronomical sightings, of bright stars, comets, eclipses and so on, recorded in the annals and chronicles were as accurate as they were advanced. The records of Irish astronomical observations in the Irish annals extend from AD 594 to AD 1133.
The Irish annals preserve during this period a total of thirty-six astronomical records of observations of solar and lunar eclipses, comets, aurorae, volcanic eruptions and a supernova in the Crab Nebula.
These records imply the continuous existence in the Irish monasteries for over five hundred years of well-trained astronomical observers in observing and interpreting sky phenomena.
In paying tribute to the scholastic research shown in Peter Tremayne's background to the Fidelma Mysteries, Dan assured the audience that they might safely assumed, therefore, that as an educated member of the 7th Century Irish monastic community, Sister Fidelma did, indeed, possess a comprehensive knowledge of astronomy.
PROFESSOR MÁIRÍN NÍ DHONNCHADHA, NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF IRELAND, GALWAY
Emily Kirwan, secretary of the Cashel Arts Fest and a former student of Professor Ní Dhonnchadha, introduced the speaker bilingually in Irish and in English.
Professor Ní Dhonnchadha's talk was on a love story from the 7th Century that has survived in a 9th Century manuscript - Comrac Liadaine ocus Chuirithir. It was the story of Líadain, a female poet, and of Cuirithir, a male poet and warrior, who both become religious and fall under the rule of Cuimine Fota, the abbot of Clonfert, who believed in celibacy.
The audience were enthralled with Máirín's presentation as she recited from her own new translation of the poem and showed her interpretation of the symbolism of the phrases from Old Irish and intent of the story. Unfortunately for us, Máirín is still polishing her work prior to its academic publication and we cannot publish her text but many will look forward to it when it does become available.
This ancient love story really anticipates the better known doomed love of Héloise and Abélard, from the neighbouring Celts of Brittany that dates from the 12th Century.
It is fascinating that Peter, in his current book, A Prayer for the Damned, admits to using the theme of the doomed love of Líadain and Cuirithir as part of the background to his story, although not exactly the central theme. Peter comments that Máirín's interpretations have brought the story into a better understanding for him, showing the conflict in Líadin's mind, the story from a female perspective whereas previous accounts by Kuno Meyer (1902) and Gerard Murphy (1962), more or less, dismissed Líadin's motivations as being, in modern parlance, `a tease'. It was good to hear such a refreshing approach.
HANS VAN DEN BOOM. OF DE LEESKAMER
Introduced by Emily Kirwan, who chaired his talk, Hans is not only the publisher of the Dutch editions of the Fidelma books but also prefers to translate them himself.
On audience reaction, Hans delivered what was certainly the most amusing talk of the weekend and kept the audiences in fits of laughter, although there was much to be taken seriously from it. Some of the problems of finding equivalent concepts that would be understood by the audience in the translated language had, perhaps, not occurred to many people. Indeed, we set off, thanks to Hans' slides, to what was translated from Japanese as the `Grammar Crisis Room'.
But even the hilarious signs had a serious intent. Being advised to `Please refrain from barking to avoid nuisance to neighbours' was, indeed, fairly understandable. But it was a little bit perturbing to come from the `Bureaucracy Centre' and arrive at the `Civilised Airport' to find your way barred by a sign announcing `Execution in progress'! You could always slip into the `Retarded flights restaurant'. Perhaps you might choose a dish of `Fatty cow in the United States in dad in sand'?
Well, there is always the bin marked for `Poison and Evil Rubbish'.
However the search for a toilet might be a problem as the sign read: `The second floor is under preparation now. Please be afraid, and although it is needed, use the seat for audience of the first floor, use the toilet of the second floor.'
Confused? Well, there is also the sign advising: `If you would like to join us, rubbish will never be homeless.'
If you thought it was hopeless you could always present yourself at the `Help yourself terminating machine'. And if that didn't work, don't worry. Take a chair and table but remember the sign: `Please keep chair on position and keep table clean after dying. Thanks for your co-operation.'
The ability to translate concepts from one language into another, however, is serious work and the problems of avoiding anachronisms is also problematical in dealing with historical works. Writing in English, Peter Tremayne can avoid gender identification of his villain but how to do this in other languages where the feminine, masculine still exist with neuter forms? Even simple expressions such as `you' creates problems - is the person addressed a stranger, a friend, or an intimate? The word `you' changes in other languages. Is it the Dutch `u', `je' or ``jij'? And sometimes when one things words are the same there is a problem - the English `rooster' is not a chicken in Dutch but a toaster!
Hans left his audience with much to think about as well as one of the most hilarious experiences of the weekend. He also left the audience in the belief that the Fidelma books are in caring and capable hands with their Dutch translator and publisher.
Photos taken by Hans during his trip to Ireland may be seen HERE
DAVID ROBERT WOOTEN, DIRECTOR, INTERNATIONAL SISTER FIDELMA SOCIETY
Emily Kirwan, secretary of the Cashel Arts Fest, introduced David to thr group.
'I have known OF Peter Berresford Ellis for many years – mainly because I was a history major lo those many years ago in college. While my main field of study was Ancient Near Eastern history, I strayed during my graduate years into a broader spectrum of history, including medieval European literature. At the same time I was investing more and more effort tracing my genealogical roots, which by happy occurrence, and through no real effort on my part, proved that I was a fortunate descendant of individuals of this fair island.
'Years later, through our mutual membership in a now-defunct organization best left to the dust of memory, I became more aware of Peter’s widely varied writing projects. Imagine my surprise to learn that the pre-eminent Celtic historian of our time was actually the pen behind recent incarnations of zombies, Dracula, a hound of Frankenstein, and more. Surely this was a different fellow – not the keen intellect behind the incredible wealth of Irish history on which I was weaned. But, a bit further studied showed that, not only was he a well-respected Irish historian, but a prolific author of fiction as well. For those who aren’t aware of Peter’s extensive output, I would recommend a review of our website for complete details.
'In 2000 I worked up the courage to ask the permission (and cooperation) of Peter to set up a website devoted to the Sister Fidelma Mysteries. Now, let me say right from the beginning – I am NOT an avid fiction reader. I simply can’t sit still through even the best of books. I am much more likely to be found PRODUCING than reading – though I am in no way a writer. My productivity falls in the realm of graphics – artwork for websites, creation and redesign of websites, production of marketing material for various clients, and the like. My other primary love is heraldry – something which piqued my interest while doing my aforementioned genealogical research, and a science and art form which has held my attention for over 3 decades, leading me to my current position as Executive Director of The American College of Heraldry.
'So, if I am not an avid reader of fiction – though I can devour nonfiction – why would I have an interest in promoting some obscure 7th century nun and her author? Simply put – the Sister Fidelma mysteries held my attention like no other fiction I had come across before. While I don’t live, breathe, eat and sleep the series – I don’t wish to shock, but must be honest with you – I do appreciate the mix of the historical setting with stories that keep the mind enthralled and eager to watch the stories develop to their conclusion.
'So, back to the website, for which I asked permission to develop. Originally it was intended merely as a reference site to “catalog” the works of Peter Berresford Ellis (and Peter Tremayne – I guess I HAD to include him). Within a few months of it being posted, an overwhelming number of people contacted the website to ask if some association or society for enthusiasts of the series could be formed. Hadn’t thought of something like that – I was, and am, already involved in numerous other societies and organizations, usually handling the creation and/or editing of their publications, creating and maintaining their websites, etc. – but it didn’t originally occur to me to develop any sort of Society. After all, I was not a rabid reader of Peter’s fiction – but that’s where the bulk of the inquiries were coming from.
'So, again, I pestered Peter, who, though I was certain was becoming annoyed with this upstart American constantly badgering him, was delighted to become the official patron of such a Society.
'Thus, in January, 2001, The International Sister Fidelma Society was launched. The website was expanded to include a great deal more information on Peter, and his books, focusing primarily on Fidelma.
'Almost immediately a modest print magazine, The Brehon, was launched and distributed to everyone in our small but die-hard circle of members throughout the world as part of their subscription. The magazine has appeared regularly ever since and we have attracted quite a number of distinguished contributors, from authors and anthology editors such as Peter Haining and Mike Ashley, to academics such as Professor Ed O’Rielly, Dr Michelle Klingfus, and Dr John Scaggs (who is graciously contributing his time to be here with us here this weekend). Likewise, we have published article from US attorney Wallace Johnson, as well as our highly prized regular contributor, Maurice McCann, a founder member, who is also an author.
'Peter himself has allowed us to publish some of his articles, and even given us rights on the first publication of two Fidelma short stories as a tribute to his fans – hopefully only the beginning of such a trend (hint hint).
'It has been truly amazing to see the diversity of people who are united in their admiration of the books. The membership roster for the Society justifies the “International” part of our moniker – with members from the United States, Ireland, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, Australia, Japan, South Africa, France, Canada, Brazil, Austria and Scotland. And those are strictly fans of Peter’s one series of fiction works - we should also remember that he is widely admired for his scholastic non-fiction books written under his real name of Peter Berresford Ellis.
The praise that critics have showered on the Fidelma Mysteries continues to pour in. One recent critical review from G.V. Whelan (also known as the novelist O.R. Melling), writing in Books Ireland about The Leper's Bell and Whispers of the Dead, stated:
What a concept! A seventh century Irish Nancy Drew in the guise of a young female cleric who is a trained legal advocate in ancient Irish law ... Fidelma is an original and complex character; brilliant, analytical, emotionally withdrawn, touchy and testy, and conflicted over her relationship with the Irish-trained Saxon, Brother Eadulf. As with the other books in the series, this is a good read, well-paced and suspenseful, sprinkled with Old Irish terms and fascinating detail of early Irish life, food, habits, dress et cetera. I confess to being a fan of the intrepid Sister and this collection of fifteen short stories provides an excellent opportunity for any reader to discover if he or she, too, will succumb to Fidelmania. I'm not surprised there's talk of a television series. An Irish heroine for both the seventh and twenty-first centuries, here is a character more credible and captivating than Xena the Warrior Princess!'
'In fact, Signet Books of New York recently summed up the general consensus of the reviews as being nothing less than “stellar.”
'As “Fidelmania” continues to grow, we continue to build new members across the world. Since the Society was launched, one of our long-term intentions was to hold an international gathering of enthusiasts of the Sister Fidelma stories. Yet it was the Cashel Arts Fest committee here, in Fidelma’s “hometown,” which had the inspiration that this was the natural venue of such a gathering. We, in the Society, have been delighted to fully support it and to use all our best efforts to help make it happen. And we hope this may be the first of many such gatherings.
'2006 marks the Society’s fifth vibrant year, and the membership shows no sign of flagging. I know that many of you attending here today are members of our Society, and I wish to thank you for your continued support. Many of you are not yet members, and I would like to take this opportunity to encourage you to join. I would also ask the favor of spreading the word about our organization – invite fellow readers to visit our website to discover the wealth of information available therein, and to consider becoming members as well.
'What does the future hold for the Society? Ideally, our ranks will swell to overflowing, and we will require a much larger venue for future gatherings – though I would like to acknowledge once again the great work that the Cashel Arts Fest folks have done to pull this all together for this year’s events. As to our humble publication, The Brehon, you will have noticed we have upgraded to a color cover, usually highlighting one of the latest editions, domestic or international, on the reverse. We may ultimately convert this to an all-color publication – again, if the ranks swell enough to merit the cost. And, hopefully, we will have additional content to merit an expanded issue from time to time.
We will also look to expand the Society itself – possibly seeking out enthusiastic members in other countries who may wish to establish “branch” versions of our organization, allowing for local fans of the series to more regularly meet and discuss the good Sister and her adventures.
'I believe we honestly offer quite a value for a reasonable membership fee, and welcome input of members and non-members alike to help us improve the Society and our publications to the benefit of all Peter’s fans. I would welcome your ideas here as to what the Society can do better, or if you wish to mull this weekend’s events over and email me on your return home, I will eagerly entertain any and all suggestions.'
Here David paused from his discussion to acknowledge and congratulate Olivia and P.J. Quinlan on their magnificent work in "recreating" their successful bed and breakfast into Bruden Fidelma - the Sister Fidelma Guesthouse (whose website may be seen at www.sisterfidelmabandb.com).
'In closing, I would like to say a very sincere thank you to Peter for being the reason for our gathering. May your inkwell never run dry, and may Fidelma never run out of trouble in which to involve herself.
'Hopefully next year, and for many years to come, I will be standing here addressing a much larger group of our mutual friends and enthusiasts. If there are any questions I can answer, I will be happy to do so now or privately.
'Thank you all for coming.'
THE END OF THE FÉILE COMMENT BY SEAMUS J. KING
The main organiser of the Féile Fidelma, Seamus J. King, of the Cashel Arts Fest committee, praised the varied and fascinating topics of the speakers as well as their professionalism and manner of delivery which had enthralled and amused the audience. He pointed out that all the speakers had paid tribute to Peter Tremayne's scholarship as well as his ability to bring 7th Century Ireland into vivid life in his Sister Fidelma Mysteries. The Féile Fidelma had been the first but it would certainly not be the last of such gatherings.