Sue Leonard in the Examiner, December 17

Beginners Pluck

 By Sue Leonard

Saturday, December 17, 2011


Tom grew up on a farm in Co Carlow, and was enmeshed in the storytelling tradition, in the countryside, and in folklore.

“It worries me that that’s been lost to the current generation.”

After college Tom taught science in Kimberly, South Africa. “Then I travelled as an educator, helping science teachers set up labs.” He set up an IT company in Cape Town.

Who is Tom O’Neill ? 

Date/place of birth: November, 1960/Carlow.
Education: Secondary school in Tullow, then University College Cork, (Science.)
Home: A farm near Kilkenny.
Family: Wife, Paula Leyden. “We have five children between us.”
The day job: Runs a business based in Cape Town providing E learning.
Hobbies: Tinkering around on the farm. Playing cards.
Favourite writers: Cormac McCarthy. Flann O’Brien. John Steinbeck.
Second novel: It’s a follow up to Old Friends. I’m accessing the field monuments a bit more. It’s called, Missing Stones.
Top writing tip: Be courteous to the reader.


Old Friends. The Lost Tales of Fionn MacCumhaill. Little Island, €9.99; Kindle, €7.02

When his father dies, Dark moves from the city to a rural area. Wandering the fields he visits the Rath, and meets characters from the past, getting pulled into the magic of their stories. There’s adventure, heroism, treachery, weakness and redemption, as Dark finds himself belonging in two very different worlds.

The core stories are based on ones Tom made up for his children. “We were living in Cape-Town and I would tell them a story every day on the way to school. I centred the characters around folklore, but the book isn’t a retake of mythology. The stories are set in (the) 2nd century, and they draw on field monuments. The book takes a city child of the PlayStation generation, and introduces him to the magic of folklore.” From 12 years upwards

The Verdict:

Eminently readable. Anyone who enjoys a good adventure story will love this book. It’s well researched, and beautifully told.

— Interviewed by Sue Leonard

Legends of Celtic Mythology

review by Gemma Hussey

Fionn Tales

Gemma Hussey, is former Minister of Education and widely respected commentator, writer, and rights activist)  This is a wonderfully irreverent, engrossing series of the untold stories of Fionn Mac Cumhaill. Tom O’Neill brings hundreds of heroes, villains, and fabulous creatures to us in a tour-de-force of story telling. Our young hero Dark,(aka Arthur McClean)  grappling with his own sorrows and disruptions finds himself straying into mysterious magical places on the small farm where he lives, and is thrown head first into a wild world of exciting and wide-ranging experiences in the rath near home. Is it really happening or is he escaping from reality? His mother struggles to survive, and to understand her son who is disruptive at school (and we the readers know exactly why) but brave and kind around the farm with all its hard work. He is the victim of bullies – and worse – at school and in life but we learn to admire his steadfast courage. The big bugbear is Sullivan, the epitome of what a teacher shouldn’t be. As for the school principal, he is a perfect study of a misfit. Dark’s secret life at the rath brings him across the centuries and time-zones; he listens to great legends of Celtic mythology, the battles, wanderings, and romances. He forges a relationship with a cast of characters in his parallel world, a world which he desperately needs. The final triumphant solution brings the two worlds together in a surprising and satisfying conclusion. We find out that, after all, neither we nor Arthur  have to leave the great world of legends and heroes.Gemma Hussey

LED Lighting and Fairy Raths – Irish Times

‘[O’Neill] takes his young teen readers time-travelling with protagonist Dark through tales that straddle the knowable and the imaginary. There is nothing implausible about the emotions that course through these latter-day folktales that bring LED lighting to fairy raths; no false notes dim their sense of loss and betrayal or, indeed, O’Neill’s idiomatic style. This is a book straight from the oral tradition – it would sparkle if read aloud’

Mary Shine Thompson, The Irish Times

A book to be savoured and read again and again

– Inis Magazine

Review by Liz Morris

In the acknowledgements, O’Neill thanks those ‘reverberations of voices from other parts and times’ and their ‘spirit of storytelling’ that have so influenced him. And well he might, for this is a book rich with the colour, depth and atmosphere of tales embellished over many retellings by generations past who kept the history and mythology of Ireland alive with their stories and poems of warriors and kings and epic battles.

Old Friends is also a book set firmly in a world of laptops, eBay and PayPal accounts – and those trying to do their best to cope with a largely unsympathetic modern bureaucracy. Arthur, or Dark, harassed and bullied by his sadistic teacher and vindictive, spineless principal, and unsupported by form-filling social and HSCL workers, finds comfort in the company of the ‘old friends’ he meets in the ancient rath on his uncle’s farm.

Every night he sneaks out to listen to stories of bravery and treachery and friendship, of banshees and bandraois, of bronloiders and brehons, stories in which Fionn and his contemporaries struggle with fears, jealousy, pride, rage and other human emotions not always respected by the inhabitants of the fairy world. There is great humour in these stories of times past, and wisdom to illuminate modern ethical questions such as the dangers of ‘selective memory’ and ‘cosy relationships’.

This is a book to be savoured and read again and again by all who, like the people of Corca Dhuibhne apparently, appreciate a good story, ‘regardless of how concentrated or diluted the truth’ contained therein.

Liz Morris, Inis #33

O’ Neill captures the imagination with mythological tales

‘By Naoise CooganA Kilkenny author has written a novel for children/youths aged 12+ which has captured the minds and imaginations of both young and old. Old Friends -The Lost Tales of Fionn Mac Cumhaill is Tom O’ Neill’s first book penned for young people and already it has been critically acclaimed. Mythology and old stories from times past have always interested O’ Neill and he illustrates this interest by juxtaposing the modern boy with the mythological child in his first literary offering, which is particularly aimed at young people but has been also critically acclaimed by adult readers.The story unfolds when a young boy is uprooted from his city life following the death of his father. ‘Dark’ is called into a rath as he wanders the fields near his new home. There, he meets people big and little, whose magnificent stories of warriors, monsters and the fairy people provide an escape from Dark’s crumbling school and home life and take him away from the present to the world of Fionn Mac Cumhaill and the Fianna.

O’Neill’s powerful tales of adventure, heroism, treachery, weakness and redemption entwine with ancient Irish folklore as Dark realises that he, like his eccentric uncle Connie, belongs to two very different worlds.

Speaking to the Kilkenny Advertiser this week, Mr O’ Neill said that he is very excited about his first published work, which has been taken on board by Little Island. However, he has been writing for decades and has many stories that he hopes will be read by children and teenagers the world over.“I have always written – from a very young age. And it was more for my personal entertainment that I did it but I had great fun writing and I still do and that is why I write. I was very happy when Little Island informed me that they were interested in publishing my stories. This book is one that I believe can be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys old Irish fables but with their contemporary twist – they will also appeal to more modern readers. I try and bring the playstation- playing youth into the mythological world of stories, make-believe, fairies and monsters and show that youngsters of today can enjoy the stories of a world gone by.”

Mr O’Neill began his working life as a teacher and inservice trainer in poverty-stricken schools in Cape Town in South Africa. Nowadays he prefers to run his farm on the Johnswell Road in Kilkenny which is home to some 27 equine creatures including Irish draught horses, Clydesdale horses and foals, cobs and donkeys. Along with horse breeding he also keeps cattle on the farm.

When not writing or farming Mr O’ Neill runs his own computer-based education company promoting e-learning.

“I write in my spare time and I love it – it is a big part of my life. My wife and children are my biggest critics and a lot of the editing I did was as a result of their advice.”

Mr O’ Neill is adamant that he never contradicts old mythological (Fenian cycle) stories with his contemporary edge but he compliments the older tales with modern characters such as Dark.

“I think that Dark belongs in both worlds. Ireland has a great store of recorded mythology but my problem was it can be quite inaccessible. I wanted to make it more accessible and to remind everyone that fundamentally all the great story telling was about entrancing and entertaining.

“The landscape of these stories is still very much alive once your eyes are opened to the field monuments and the old settings such as raths, standing stones, fairy bushes, fulacht fiadh, holy wells, and burial monuments that are all around us. Even the fields and the way that they are laid out tell a story of their own. There is a spirit in Irish storytelling and it is still very much alive,” he points out.

And Mr O’ Neill is hopeful that the storytelling doesn’t just stop here.

“I have a sequel already written to Old Friends The Lost Tales of Fionn Mac Cumhaill and it is currently being assessed by the publishers. Fingers crossed it will also be published – I should know within a few months,” he says.

Old Friends The Lost Tales of Fionn Mac Cumhaill is on the shelves of all good bookshops. It is recommended reading for both children and adults.

Kilkenny Advertizer, May 07, 2010

Christmas Preview 2010 | Children’s Books

December 21, 2010

By Editor

Irish Publishing News  

Little Island, the now stand alone imprint has a number of fine books out this year, but by far my favourite is Tom O’Neill’s, Old Friends:The Lost Tales of Fionn Mac Cumhaill  

Eoin Purcell

Buying options

Wiki Article

Shady characters

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