Paul Collins is hard at work rekindling the fires of an Irish legend – a legend supposedly buried close to his family home, but one he never paid much attention to until recently.
“Maeve has been around my family for quite some time; my late mother was born in County Sligo, in the north west of Ireland, famous for its beauty and its surfing,” Collins recounts to Celtic Life International over Zoom. “The legend has it that Maeve – who was Ireland’s first warrior queen, and who would have lived around Roman times – is buried at the top of a mountain in Sligo called Knocknarea. Apparently, she was buried standing up to face off her enemies for all time.
“My mom’s house is at the bottom of that mountain, and we have been going up to visit Sligo for school holidays and stuff like that for years. Amazingly, I never looked at Maeve twice in that entire period.”
Collins is a journalist by trade, having worked in radio across Ireland.
“I worked in a number of different radio stations across Ireland, all in their early days. I helped set up a radio station in Tipperary and, in 1977, I was part of a founding and launch team of Today FM, which is our national radio station.”
Collins plied his on-air trade until 2019, then joining Ballywire Media, a company that lends journalism-quality production experience to different events.
“Ballywire Media was established in 2007, and having worked in journalism for as long as I did, I could see that brands and organizations were looking to harness the internet to share their messaging.”
As for many of us, however, things changed because of the pandemic. Collins explains that, upon visiting Sligo again after the lockdowns were lifted, he saw the cave at the top of Mt. Knocknarea – and the warrior queen supposedly resting there – in a new light.
“Perhaps it was being locked up for so long, or maybe it was my late mother communicating to me from the skies above, or maybe it was Maeve herself, or a combination of all three. Whatever it was, I developed an urge to look into the whole Maeve story.”
Collins soon discovered that Maeve had gone a few thousand years without much fanfare, with many academics debating if she even existed at all. In fact, the first-ever colour depiction of her appeared in an old New York magazine called The Century, rendered by Joseph Christian Layendecker, and commissioned by Theodore Roosevelt, who had heard of her tales from Irish immigrants.
Part of the reason that there is a dearth of Maeve’s tales is that the Celts only began writing their history down in 800 AD.
“Everything prior to that is lost in the mists of time, and things are handed down through oral storytelling,” notes Collins, adding that the only archeological hint she existed at all is a carving on Mt. Knocknarea that says, “I was here. I was the son of Maeve.”
“That’s the only literal piece of physical evidence that there was ever a Maeve in the first place.”
Seeing the success that similar semi-legendary cultural figures like Thor, Loki, Odin, and others have found by permeating pop culture via the Marvel Universe, Collins teamed up with writer Suzanne Stapleton and illustrator Jennifer Ryan Kelly to bring Maeve back to life for a modern audience.
“We take up the story from when she turns 18, and – spoiler alert – her father decides to involve her in an arranged marriage,” he regales. “But for some reason, she’s not really – pardon the pun – wedded to the idea of marrying a 75-year-old balding guy who has difficulty with his mobility. However, it is a good strategic partnership from her dad’s point of view.
“The vision for Maeve has a number of episodes in it, and we also expect to bring other famous Irish warriors into her universe.”
Along with the comic, Ballywire Media is planning on filling out Maeve’s story with original art, songs, poetry, and more. They are also offering Maeve-based merch on their website, in part to fund the book, and in part to raise funds for two charities: Cuan Saor Women’s Refuge and COPE Galway. The company is also planning a Kickstarter to help fund the novella.
Collins is thrilled to have rediscovered the myth that long loomed over his mother’s home. He feels that Maeve’s philosophy, one of being strong in the face of adversity, is one that will resonate today.
“We feel that we have a good heritage here that we can explore with all those kinds of ideas. It is a rich vein for us to explore.”