One glance at the magnificent illustrations by Donegal-based artist Sean Fitzgerald in his new book ‘The Last Battle of Moytura – The Wars of Celtic Gods and Druids’ and his impressive talents become more than obvious.
As fellow illustrator, Courtney Davis, writes in the book’s Foreword about Sean, “His art carries that essence of the Celtic warrior and artisans that decorated themselves and their weapons with beautifully flowing pattern work that would eventually become absorbed onto the intricate illumination on books such as Kells and Lindisfarne.”
Being based in Donegal, the beating heart of Celtic legend, ‘Ireland Writing Retreat’ is delighted to announce that Sean (48) will be a special guest speaker talking about intriguing tales of ancient times – of the mythical map of Ireland, demons and Druids, Droim na Tine (the Hill of Fire), Balor of the Evil Eye, and superhuman beings such as the Formorians, the People of the Nemed, the Fir Bolg (Men of Bags), the Tuatha De Danaan (Tribe of the Goddess Danu) and the Milesians.
The meeting with Sean look like it will be one of the most fantastic – in the truest sense of the word – events ever hosted at any retreat, never mind just our own.
As background, here is a short Q&A conducted with Sean in the last few days.
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Q. Where are you from?
A. I am originally from Cork and moved here in Donegal in 2004. At the foot of Muckish mountain with a view to Tory island is the perfect place to raise children. Here you have much more freedom and have a choice to live simply with a focus on well-being. If you have an interest in Irish Mythology and Celtic lore, you are surrounded by it here. From the Goddess Medb cairn that sits high on Muckish mountain, to the story of the birth of the mighty Lugh Lámfada and the many tales of the Tuatha Dé Danann and the hostile Fomorian tribe that raided and fought along this coastline. There is even the large stone in Falcarragh, 'Cloich Cheann Fhaola' where Balor of the Evil Eye is said to have cut off Cian MacAneely's head, who was the father of Lugh, the Irish God of Light. Many of the local megalithic sites are also linked to these stories. Like Diarmuid and Grainne's cave in Dunlewey and their bed in Ray. This links into the story of legendary warrior Fionn mac Cumhaill, who chased them throughout the country.
Q. How long have you been an artist and have you explored different styles? A. I decided I wanted to be an artist when I would see my father coming home shattered from a long day of manual work. So, at age eleven, I knew I loved drawing so I thought, I'll draw pictures and people will buy them. I had an awful lot to learn. Since 1989 a friend and I were running an underground music magazine that covered obscure underground music and activist news in Ireland at the time. I would work on layouts and illustrations for the publication. The layout had lots of cut and paste style collage as well as some very primitive Celtic knotwork. I then studied Fine Art in Dún Laoghaire, but dropped out as I just didn't like it. I have always had a passion for ancient Irish/Celtic wisdom and traditional skills so, in 1992 along with Pádraig Ó Duinnín in Cork, I started building traditional naomhóg currach boats. We also built an ancient style Celtic boat known as a coracle too. The group is still going and is called 'Meitheal Mara' which means "Workers or community of the Sea”. Through Meitheal Mara I also worked on Celtic style coracles and currach illustrations for schools. I then went onto study Classical Animation and Multimedia in Dublin. I then worked on album covers, E-learning for schools and lots more. I stopped this after moving to Donegal to very much get away from the rat race. After my father died I decided I wanted to focus more on the Celtic style which I preferred doing.
Q. When did you become interested in ‘Celtic art’? A. The Celtic artist Jim Fitzpatrick was very popular here in the eighties. Everyone knew of him, he reinvented the style, he mixed in Art Nouveau and lots more into it. You could see his influence everywhere. The word 'Celtic' is used for this style, it is a broad term that covers Insular art, Hallstatt and La Tène art styles. Growing up I was also very influenced by the comic Sláine, it was based on various Celtic myths which reintroduced Tír na nÓg and told of the old Irish Pagan God Crom Cruach. By the mid-eighties, I discovered lots of other great artists like Courtney Davis, George Bain, and others.
Q. How did you become interested in the ancient Celtic Gods and Druids? A. My father's family were from an area well known for storytelling in Co. Kerry. The traditional Irish 'Seanchaí' Eamon Kelly was from this area. So any time he was on the radio or telly there would be absolute silence as the whole family listened. My father also told lots of stories of older times when he delivered food on a donkey and cart with a friend of his. Through these stories, I learnt and feared of who guarded the blackthorn tree and learnt about the Irish supernatural that you didn't dare mess with, in nature. I think Celtic Gods and Druids were a natural progression.
Q. How did the idea of the book ‘The Last Battle of Moytura’ came about? A. I always liked walking the Derryveagh Mountains here. After my father died in 2010 I found a lot of solace in these hikes around the mountains. I noticed that Tory island really stuck out from many places along the mountains. I used to imagine what it was like here in pre-Christian times and what they would have seen from the mainland as they looked at the island. I drew two maps representing Cloughaneely in these times. I then decided it would be nice to do a book about Balor and the Formorian tribe who lived on the island. This became all I drew and wrote. The first chapter of my book was written ten years ago around this time. In 2013 and 2014, some of these illustrations were used for The Evil Eye Festival in Falcarragh. Then in 2017 Seán Ó Gaoithín, Cathal Ó Searcaigh and I worked on a highly illustrated book called "Lugh Na Bua - Lugh the Deliverer,” where again a lot of the drawings I had done were used.
By 2018 I had started regularly visiting the ancient ceremonial Hill of Tara in Co. Meath. I used to meet up there with Amanda Healy to work on an Irish Mythological Tarot deck. While there I would hang out in the studio of well-known Celtic artist Courtney Davis. He asked about publishing a portfolio of my work. I asked could I link the images together with all these stories, so that there would be a deeper understanding of the work. Courtney is very easy going and told me I could develop the book in any way that I wanted. The writing progressed and the research increased to where I felt the writing covered as many elements as possible. It was great working on it, as I would stay on the hill and hang out with Courtney. I could go through the masterfully crafted knotwork that he has been doing since the late seventies. Druids, Pagans, tourists, and locals come and chat at his studio all day. This was all hugely influential on the book too.