Betwixt – A gothic short story

woman-2375822_640 Credit: Enrique Meseguer

I love gothic novels. Everything from Edgar Allen Poe to Laura Purcell, Bram Stoker to Carlos Ruiz Zafon – I find the blend of dark romanticism, ominous characters, decaying grandeur, curses and the supernatural simply irresistible. My favourite novel as a teenager was Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Set on the desolate and uninviting moors, with its harsh climate provided the perfect backdrop for a gothic romance and reminded me so much of Ireland, that I felt strangely connected to it. I was also really drawn to the anti-heroes Heathcliff and Cathy – their willful nature, their intensity. But it’s the structure of the story and the supernatural elements that infuse it with a sense of mystery and fear.

I was less enamoured by my penchant for the macabre when staying at a friend’s cottage in the middle of the Irish countryside, miles from anywhere. It was the longest night of my life (I was supposed to stay there for a week. Plans changed!). Nestled (or buried – depending on how you want to look at it!) at the base of a hill , it was a traditional thatched cottage with dinky windows and a half door. The smell of turf almost knocked me over as we walked inside, but I tried to be cool with the gloom and the damp. And the fact that, despite it being the height of summer, inside was a million degrees cooler than outside.

That night however, I stopped being cool with everything when the noises started. Every creak made me jump. It didn’t help that the room was full of religious icons, leering over me. The distinct sound of a chair being scraped across the floor left me rigid in the bed. I had to risk my arm being snatched by who knew what to switch on the lamp. I gave up on sleep and sat in an armchair by the smokey fire until it was light enough to pack up and go back to civilisation. But not before my companion told me the history of the house, and how we were not the first to leave the place in a hurry.

This, dear reader, was the inspiration for my gothic short story, Betwixt which is currently a number one bestseller on Amazon! I wrote it in 2015, before The Story Collector, as a little side project, so it’s a thrill to see it doing so well and garnering such positive reviews. Like all indie authors, I struggle to get my work promoted and break into new readerships. So I have made this short story permanently free on all platforms (Kobo ~ Apple) so readers can get an introduction to my writing before buying all of my books!

Betwixt is the perfect quick read for this time of year – it’s atmospheric and haunting and inspired by a true story (eek!) So download your FREE copy now and if you enjoy it, I would love if you could share the love by passing it on to a friend and/or leaving a short review. They make a HUGE difference to how books are ranked on Amazon, which in turn can really impact on an author’s career. True story! You can have all the PR in the world, but it is readers who have the greatest influence. So thank you to everyone who has made this book number one and to those of you about to read it, let me know what you think!

Finding The Otherworld

Life is funny.  I never thought I’d find myself down an old country lane, asking a tatooed mechanic, “Is this the right way for the portal to the Otherworld?”  Only in Ireland, as they say.  But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.

As anyone who has read my stories will know, I have a bit of a thing for magic, mystery and the unseen.  Maybe it’s down to my over-active imagination, or it could be my love of folklore, but either way, Ireland is fertile ground for superstition.  Of course it was the Irish who invented Halloween (need proof? here) or what we call Samhain.  It is the time of year when the veil between worlds is at its thinnest and beings from the Otherworld can cross over and scare the bejesus out of us.

But surely this is all myth and not really grounded in reality?  Well, being cursed with a nose for curiosity, I found myself on a bit of a road trip recently, in search of the real portal to the Otherworld ~ Oweynagat.  Oweyna-what I hear you ask?  Well, this is the anglicised version of Uaimh na gCait, which translates as Cave Of The Cats and can be found in Rathcroghan, a Royal Site in County Roscommon, where the Kings and Queens of Connacht reigned and were buried.  Rathcroghan (Crúachan Aí) is a unique complex of archaeological sites and is believed to have been the birthplace of Queen Medb, Connacht’s Warrior Queen (waaaay before Beyonce).

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Copyright M. Casey

As with many things in the West of Ireland, directions are all relative.  The signs are there, but good luck seeing them.  Rathcroghan is said to be one of the most significant but least appreciated archaeological landscapes on the island of Ireland, so while you won’t find as many tourists here as compared to Tara and Newgrange, you mightn’t find the site either!  A series of mounds are spread out across the townland of Tulsk and the fact that most of them are on private land which is currently being farmed, you could quite easily drive past.  Thankfully, there is a lovely new visitor’s centre to keep you on the straight and narrow, but you will still have to run the gauntlet of some menacing sheep to get to the top of the mound.

Rathcroghan
A really helpful sign that we spotted on the way back!

But getting back to the cave and its historical connections with Samhain.  Oweynagat is said to be the portal to the Otherworld and to prove its credentials, when Christianity came to Ireland, this cave was referred to as The Hellmouth of Ireland.  Now that’s a reputation to be proud of!  It is said that The Morrigan (an ancient goddess of war in Irish mythology) emerges from this cave on Halloween night on a chariot pulled by a one-legged chestnut horse, along with various creatures such as three-headed monsters and red birds that wither plants on sight.  Luckily, I visited during the height of summer, so it didn’t get too scary.

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Enter at your peril!

Needless to say, my companion and I drove in circles for quite a while before ending up on a long and winding road to what can only be described as middle earth.  Unsure as to how we should proceed (see my previous point about the lack of signs), I spotted a guy fixing cars in his shed and had the dubious honour of asking him whether this was the place where we could find the portal to the Otherworld.  As you do.

‘Ah, the wee man is it?’ he replied in a Donegal accent.

‘Erm, I guess so,’ I responded.

All we had to do was open the gate into the adjoining field and there we would find (let this not be underestimated) A GATEWAY TO ANOTHER DIMENSION.  It’s not everyday you do that, so I was glad I’d brought a flask of tea and some tuna wraps!  Thanks to hundreds of years of under-investment in the west, many of our archaeological treasures have been left untouched, and to be honest, that’s part of the charm.  This unassuming place has a magical atmosphere that you can sense immediately.  The entrance to the cave is guarded over by a hawthorn tree, a sacred tree in Irish folklore, so I knew we were on the right track.  The entrance has a stone lintel, inscribed in Ogham (the ancient Irish alphabet) with the text that translates as “Frach, son of Medb”, referring to the queen associated with the area.  Resembling what the mountaineer Dermot Somers terms as a “crack in the floor of time”, the narrow entrance to Uaimh na gCait, or Cave of the Cats, consists of a man-made souterrain and a natural limestone cavern.

oweynagat

It’s a bit of a squeeze to get in and in the end I slid into it (rather gracefully) on my backside.  I had such a sense of anticipation, bearing in mind that I was still wondering, ‘Is this the right place?’ and ‘Will I be cursed for trying to enter the Otherworld?’  There’s something so visceral about returning to the earth; a sensation that defies language and yet calls to our subconscious in a very primal way.  The history of the place, the myth and lore surrounding it and the fact that there was no-one else there but us, made it feel very special indeed.  Stupidly, I forgot to bring a torch and my companion revealed at the eleventh hour that they suffered from severe claustrophobia, (hardly a crack team!) so I didn’t get very far into the cave, but it didn’t matter.  Just being there, in that ancient spot, imagining all of the comings and goings sent my creative juices into overdrive!  All of the great believers have been here, even Dr. Douglas Hyde, our late president, carved his name in the stone.  Bloody vandal.

So next time I’m going to bring a torch, a chisel and an even bigger flask to see me through to the other side.  I would highly recommend a visit, if you’re in the West of Ireland.  These places have been relatively untouched over the years, so if you’re looking for an authentic experience of Ireland’s ancient past, Rathcroghan is a gem.

And if you like all things otherworldly, keep an eye out for my new novel, The Story Collector, which will be published by Urbane Publications in June 2018.  Pre-order here.

 

Fancy a quick read…

Betwixt short

To all of my readers, past and present, I hope you enjoy this atmospheric short story (with a nod to the Gothic genre), which is now available to download for free here:

Barnes & Noble     Kobo     iTunes     Smashwords  Amazon

Please leave a review and let me know what you think!  And for just 99p, you can get a copy of my debut novel, The Cross Of Santiago.  If you like history, adventure, romance and strong characters, you’re sure to love it.

The Cross of Santiago-Amazon - Copy

How The Irish Invented Hallowe’en

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Of course Hallowe’en was invented by the Irish.  We are the finest purveyors of myth, magic and skullduggery on the planet, so when it comes to a festival full of trickery and mischief, you can bet we were behind it.

Samhain, as it is referred to as gaeilge (loosely translated as the end of summer), is like a Celtic New Years Eve, celebrating the end of the old year and the beginning of a new one.  Traditionally, it was a time to celebrate the harvest and come together for a big hooley (as we say here).  All the hard agricultural work was done and now it was time to literally enjoy the fruits of everyone’s hard labour.  Large fires were lit as a symbol of light during the coming darkness, and every hearth had to be extinguished on that day and re-lit from the flames of the bonfire.

The Annals of the Four Masters (a record of medieval Irish history, in which you can also find mention of my clan name in old gaelic, Ua Gáibhtheacháin – fun fact!) shows that Samhain was celebrated in Ireland even before the birth of Christ.  And although the Catholics got a hold of it and turned it into Hallows Eve, the night before All Saints Day, even they couldn’t knock the fun out of it 🙂  However, it was also a time to remember and honour the dead, even before the Catholics came along.  Food was often set out for loved ones who had departed, but it was a tricky time as you also had to avoid any other spirits that might not be up to any good.  Samhain was seen as a kind of ‘nowhere’ time, neither part of the old year or the new.  It was a night when spirits could cross the very thin veil between the dead and the living.  Druids would wear masks to ward off evil spirits and people generally avoided graveyards and crossroads and any other place that might be a portal into the Underworld (there are more than you might think!)

Even Jack of the Lantern is Irish!  As the story goes, he managed to get on the wrong side of the Devil and ended up spending his eternity running around the Irish countryside with a turnip lit by a lump of coal (as you do).  Not to mention the big daddy of them all, Dracula, was penned by Irish author Bram Stoker – essential reading for this time of year.

So there you have it folks, the Irish are responsible for scaring the bejeezus out of everyone for centuries 🙂

And so to celebrate Samhain, you can download my short story Betwixt for free  (I promise it’s not too scary… mwaahaahaha!)

Betwixt short

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