What are the strange statues on Boa Island County Fermanagh?

Boa Island Fermanagh

Situated on the island of Boa in County Fermanagh stands some of the most remarkable and mysterious stone figures in Ireland or Europe. These bizarre statutes hark back to an era of Paganism, sacrifice, and a whole host of other activities.So what exactly are these enigmatic figures that have the power to captivate the imagination?

The Janus figure

Boa Island Fermanagh

It is widely believed that these structures date from an early Christian period, perhaps from around(400-800AD).One of these figures is widely referred to as a Janus figure and this is because it has a head on either side of it.

The figure is 73cm in height and 45cm wide. Whilst the figure is reminiscent of the two headed Roman diety known as a Janus, but in spite of this resemblance, the general consensus is that the figure is not a Roman Janus.

It is believed that the figure represents a Celtic god or goddess. Some people reckon that the head represents the Goddess Babhbha who was the Celtic God of war and fertility. What supports this theory is that BOA island is named after Badhbh the Celtic goddess of war.

More evidence that supports this theory is that people of that era had no reading or writing skills but because of this lack of literacy they had phenomenal memory power, and consequently, could easily pass stories and place names down from generation to generation without the story ever changing or deviating too much.

Each side of this mysterious figure has an intricately carved face and a torso. Where the two separate faces are joined there is an interlace design that may represent hair joined as one. The faces are large, pointy, with straight noses and small mouths from which protrudes pointy chins.

Bizarrely, the figure has no neck with the head directly on its torso. There originally was another part to the figure which encompassed long fingers carved into the rock but this part of the structure broke away.

This section was recently discovered buried in the ground nearby. The east side of the figure faces sunrise and the bearded figure that is engraved within seems to be speaking.

The lustyman

lustyman

The second figure that is located at Boa was originally found at Lustymore Island but it was then relocated to Boa. Known as “The Lustyman” it was brought to Boa Island in 1939.

This figure measures in at 70cm in height and it has been extremely worn down by rain, weather and time. Some people believe that due to the deteriorated condition of “The lustyman” that the figure actually pre-dates the Janus.

Some of the theories that revolve around the structure the mythical woman Sheela na Gigs who was said to ward of evil spirits. These figures were usually placed outside homes or place of worship so to ward of any evil spirits from entering.

Relevance to the modern era?

boa island fermanagh

Perhaps in the modern world we have more in common with our pagan ancestors than we might like to think as we worship the gods of money and digital devices. As soon as we arise in the morning we bow down and genuflect in front of our TV’s, Laptops, and Ipads, and Iphones.

At least the ancient Irish only spent a few moments worshipping their Boa Statutes and then got on with the rest of their day, but nowadays, many people spend the entire day prostrate paying homage to their mobile phone.

The ancients might have saw visions of their gods and goddesses in the clouds but the image the modern man might see in the clouds would be the apparition of a mobile phone followed by a rumble of noise which would announce, “tweet, tweet, tweet, ding, ding….” Perhaps, in many ways we have managed to out-pagan the pagans?

Overall

Overall, I think that these figures at Boa Island are some of the most remarkable figures in Ireland. They truly have an ability to captivate the imagination.

Imagine the time, effort, and craftsmanship that it would have taken to carve these figures out of a huge solid block of rock. The makers of these enchanting structures must have laboured and laboured night and day to try and perfect the engravings.

The fact that the figures have managed to survive thousands of years is another testament to their enduring power. These figures meant something. They became a focal point for the communities of that era. Gatherings would have taken place at these statues.

What time of gatherings? Who knows? Many as the sun rose of set each day people would congregate at these locations to welcome the coming light of day or to ward of the spirits of the approaching night as the sun dipped into its sleep.

Maybe it was an attempt to try and put a face to some of the figures and spirits that the Celts or ancient Irish felt were all around them? Perhaps, these images could have been reflective of some common dream?

Maybe as the night approached the people would try and evoke whatever powers they felt the statutes had to try and protect the tribe? Remember this was an era were death would have been constant, people weren’t expected to survive too long.

We will never really know what these strange and unusual statutes stood for but that doesn’t stop us from guessing.

I’ll leave the last words to the great poet Seamus Heaney who was inspired to write a poem when he visited Boa Island and laid eyes on the statutes.

January God by Seamus Heaney

Then I found a two faced stone

On burial ground,

God-eyed, sex-mouthed, it’s brain

A watery wound. 

In the wet gap of the year,

Daubed with fresh lake mud,

I faltered near his power —-

January God. 

Who broke the water, the hymen

With his great antlers —-

There reigned upon each ghost tine

His familiars,

The mothering earth, the stones

Taken by each wave,

The fleshy aftergrass, the bones

Subsoil in each grave. 

This article was created by web content writer Seamus Hanratty.

Where is Irelands “City of the Dead”? What happened there?

portal dolmen

We all know about Egypt’s mysterious Valley of the Kings, were countless gold encrusted Pharaohs were placed into their tombs for eternity, but I bet you’ve never heard about Ireland’s ominous sounding “City of the dead”?

The very name“City of the dead” evokes fantastical images of some kind of Zombie apocalypse, but the place is real, zombie apocalypse aside, and it comes equipped with over 100 tombs whose time-line stretches back into the dark depths of Irish history.

The similarities with Egypt don’t end there with tomb raiders plundering the site in the 1800’s and not be outdone by the Tomb Raiders, in 1983 Sligo Council showed their “reverence and respect” for Irish culture and history by attempting to turn the site into a dump for rubbish. Luckily, some locals appealed to the Supreme Court and blocked Sligo County Councils grand designs.

The place I am referring to is Carrowmore Megalithich site near Sligo which is the largest megalithic site not only in Ireland but also one of the largest in Europe. Dating back to 4600BC it is believed that there are or were over 100 tombs or monuments located at Carrowmore.

Sadly, the area was extensively damaged in the 19th century due to quarrying and land clearance. But even though the site is much diminished from its former glories it is still an impressive capsule of history.

At Carrowmore, you can set your eyes on the remains of portal tombs, chamber tombs, portal dolmens, ring forts, and Cairns dating back thousands of years.

During excavations in 1837, each archaeological site was given a number a tag as an identifier. In more recent excavations that were conducted by Swedish archaeologists some of the items found in these tombs dated by as much as 4600BC.

Largest site

Passage tomb

The largest site at Carrowmore is a site known as Listoghill. An interesting fact is that Listoghill is the only site that has been decorated with megalithic art. Another interesting fact is that this is the only site were both burials and cremations took place.

The majority of the remains found at the location would have been cremated. All of the other tombs and passages surrounding Listoghill are arranged on a oval fashion which seems to suggest that Listoghill was the center point of worship and devotion.

The kissing stone

portal dolmen

The Kissing Stone was given it’s name during the Victorian era. Here, a capstone sits atop three upright stones and covers a large chamber which points towards the south east.

This particular Dolmen is rather tall and has lots of room within the chamber unlike some other Dolmens were there’s very little room for manoeuvre.

Fascinatingly enough, the kissing stone is surrounded by a circle of 32 boulders and each boulder measures 12.5 meters in diameter. There is also a smaller inner ring which surrounds the Dolmen.

Carrowmore 7

portal dolmen

When this tomb was cleared out, cremated bones weighing 1kg in weight were found. Some of the other finds at the site included an arrow head, limestone marble, and a piece of chert. A mass of unopened seashells were also found in a pit just outside the circle. The fact that these seashells were unopened may suggest that they were some left as some kind of offering to the gods.

The other satellite tombs

Most of the satellite tombs originally consisted of a central Dolmen stone that would have held up by a number of smaller stones. The majority of these tombs were enclosed by a boulder of circles which measured about 12 to 15 meters in diameter. One of the secrets to their longevity was because the structures were built upon a small platform and earth and stone which locked them in place.

What was discovered?

Portal Dolmen

Some of the items that were uncovered during the various excavations include antler and bone pins with mushrooms shaped heads. Archaeologists were also able to shine a light into the diet of the people who used these tombs with masses of mussels and oyster shells discovered at one site.

portal dolmen

An interesting discovery was that in most of the burials tombs fragments of Quartz were found, this suggests that Quartz had a hugely symbolic and ceremonial significance for the people who inhabited these tombs.

In the modern era, spiritualists believe that Quartz is a stone of harmony and is a help in romantic relationship. The mineral is also believed to facilitate a cleansing of the soul and mind.

Ornaments made from Sperm Whale teeth were also found in many of the graves. These findings are also suggestive of skilled fishermen and perhaps even a larger fishing fleet that hunted and caught large mammals and fish.

Each chamber contained human bone fragments and in some cases skeletons. Because cremation was the most popular method of disposing of a body the majority of the humans bones found were fragments. It appears that the chambers were also used as being a location were artefacts of significance were stored.

Data from the Carrowmore seems to overhaul the general consensus as to how passage tombs spread across the island of Ireland. Previous to the studies that were conducted at Carrowmore most historians believed that tombs spread from the east of Ireland to the west of Ireland with tombs such as Newgrange marking the beginning of the practice.

However, some of the results which were obtained at this site suggest that Carrowmore may have been one of the very first passage tomb complexes constructed in Ireland. Although, this is still open to vigorous debate.

The spread of passage tombs

The construction of megalithic tombs throughout Europe and further afield is a widespread phenomenon and many debates have opened up as to whether the spread of these tombs meant the spread of an ideology or a way of life.

Whatever the case may be there is no doubt that these tombs were a principal focus for ceremonies, burials, and celebrations as well as being markers of territory on the wider countryside.

Overall

I think its safe to say that Carrowore is one of Irelands most enigmatic and interesting mass of portal tombs in Ireland. Whilst some of the site may have been destroyed I think we owe a debt of gratitude to the local people who took the County Council to Court and prevented them from turning Carrowore into a dump for rubbish.

Whilst the behaviour of the council was and is abominable, unfortunately, this behaviour is nothing new and is another fine example of the utter contempt the Irish Government and their minions have for Irelands cultural heritage. Fortunately, a good chunk of Carrowore survives to this day and lovers history, tourists, and other visitors are still able

This article was compiled by an SEO Blog writing service which focuses on Blog content writing.

What is the true history of Claddagh rings? What is their meaning?

Claddagh ring
Claddagh ring

Claddagh rings are etched into the annals of Irish history, these iconic rings are associated with romance, loyalty, love and friendship. The rings which are designed with two hands holding aloft a crown heart are widely recognised as being a symbol of Ireland and enduring love. Nowadays, these rings are widely used as fashion accessories and also as a symbolic gesture.

What do they mean?

claddagh rings

The two hands represent friendship, the heart means love, and the crown represents loyalty. The earliest known record of anyone using one of these rings dates back to the 1700’s to the Irish village of Claddagh.

The Claddagh ring is a fine example of a much broader category of rings known as faith rings or fede rings. The Italian word fede means “hands joined in fidelity.” Similar to to other variants of the ring, wearing a Claddagh ring is synonymous with with love or friendship.

The history of similar rings

The power, symbolism, and magnetism of rings goes back to the era of the ancient Egyptians who considered a circular object as being a powerful symbol deserving of reverence. The circle represented eternal life and love, and an opening carved into the circle would represent a passageway into an unknown realm or world.

It appears to have been the Romans who first introduced rings as symbols of love and friendship. The most well known ring was the fede ring, which similar to the Claddagh ring, had two hands clasped together. These fede rings were extremely popular and widely used during the Middle Ages and throughout Europe.

The widespread consensus is that the Claddagh ring originated in the small Galway village of Claddagh around the 1700s but there is much dispute as to who first made it and why they made it.

Where it all began?

claddagh ring

One legend says that an Eagle dropped a fully completed Claddagh ring straight into the lap of a woman to reward her for her hard work, generosity, and loyalty.

Another tale suggests that the origin of the ring was when a poor commoner fell in love with a wealthy lady and to prove his love to her and to her father he designed and created the Claddagh ring.

But it is the story of Richard Joyce that is most commonly associated with the Claddagh ring. Richard was a fisherman from Galway who had fallen in love with a local woman named Margaret and one day when Richard was out fishing he and his crew were captured and taken prisoner by a gang of ruthless Spanish Pirates.

During his captivity Richard grew distraught because he was going to be deprived of the woman that he loved. Eventually Richard was sold as a slave to a Spanish Goldsmith who began teaching him the trade.

To keep his spirits, alive each day, Richard would steal a small speck of gold and as the years passed by in captivity he was able to design a gold ring. His greatest dream was that one day that he might escape from his prison and present the ring to his long lost love.

In the meantime, a powerful allay of King William III heard that his fellow Christians were being held as slaves and he ordered all of these slaves to be released. When Richard was released he returned to Galway and presented his ring to his long lost love Margaret who willingly accepted him back into her arms.

Overall   

Over the years Claddagh rings gained in popularity and began to be used as wedding rings in the wider Galway area. The rings also began to be associated with poor fishing families along the Galway coast who used the rings as investments.The rings were used as family heirlooms getting passed down from generation to generation.

Claddagh rings have gained widespread use and have been worn by the rich and famous. Claddagh rings have been worn by Princess Grace of Monaco and Queen Victoria. More recently Kanye West bought his wife Kim Karashian a Claddagh ring when they visited in Ireland.

One thing is for sure, that the popularity of these iconic Irish rings seems set to continue unabated.

The true history of Celtic Crosses in Ireland? What was the meaning of a Celtic Cross?

Celtic Cross

The Celtic Cross is a symbol that is indelible associated with Ireland. There is something mysterious and uplifting when you one looks at these iconic crosses. Like the Shamrock and the Harp the Celtic Cross could easily be mistaken as the national symbol of Ireland.

The power of these crosses and how they are linked with Ireland can be seen throughout the globe. If you were to walk into a Bar in New York, Sydney, Toronto or anywhere else In the world the chances of you setting eyes on a Celtic Cross would be very high. These iconic symbols have graced the sporting arenas of Basketball, Football, Rugby and many other sports.

Nowadays, these crosses are used as a fashion accessory and can be seen on the Cat Walks in Milan right up to the swankiest and most up market stores New York.

A Celtic Cross was used was in a famous scene in the smash hit film Gangs of New York were Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson) held one of the crosses aloft as he prepared to go into battle on the streets of New York.

In graveyards throughout Ireland Celtic Crosses dot the landscape. These structures are associated with modern day Christianity and also link back to our ancient pagan past.

Controversy has abounded as to who introduced these crosses into Ireland with many believing that Saint Patrick was instrumental in bringing them into Ireland, but other people argue that Saint Columba or Saint Declan were the main reason they were introduced to the shores of the Emerald Isle.

Why and how have these crosses become associated with Ireland?

celtic crosses

 These monuments first began appearing around the 9th century and feature a cross with a ring carved into the top of it. In the majority of cases, the cross is located on atop of a pyramidal base which is used to support the monument.

Some theories suggest that the origin of these crosses may have originated from early Christian crosses whereby struts where inserted to support the top arm of the cross but many other histories disagree with this theory.

Many of the earliest examples of crosses in Ireland are carved with inscriptions of ogham, an ancient Irish language. Some of the finest examples which can be seen in Ireland are the crosses at Monasterboice, The Cross of Kells, Arboe Cross and the Clonmacnoise Cross.

My theory is that the Celtic Cross is a fusion between our Pagan past and the Christian future that was being introduced into Ireland at the time. Celtic crosses were a union between past and present.

Our pagan ancestors understood circles and the power of them, and this was an inroad Christian missionaries used to try and convert the people to this new religion that was taking over Europe.

Circles

celtic cross

One of the earliest examples of the fusion between the past and the present can be seen at Calanais on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland. This site is not your stereotypical stone cross but actually a stone cross that is planted into the ground with a stone circle surrounding it. The Calanais site is unique in that the shape of cross is made out of a structure that looks like a stone fort.

Many people believe that the circle stands for the Roman god Invictus. And that as the Celts spread throughout Europe and eventually made their way across the edges of Europe to Ireland that this was when this circle symbol was introduced to the island of Ireland.

If one was to visit any site in Ireland associated with the megalithic period the chances are you would come across stones circles etched into boulders or larger stones.

The most well known example of this practice can be witnessed at Newgrange. These circles were associated with the life giving sun. The moon. The changing of the seasons. The circle of life. Birth death and rebirth a cotinous cirlce

Some modern day puritans of the Christian religion believe that the circle represents the halo of Jesus Christ but I feel that this is unlikely when one takes into account Irelands ancient past and the prevalence of the circles within that past.

The fact that the tip of the cross hovers over the circle may be indicative of a message that Christ reigned supreme when the pagan past and the Christian futures were fused into one.

Types of crosses

celtic cross

The earliest examples of Celtic Crosses in Ireland were not carved out of rock but were inscribed into stone. One example of this type of cross is the Gallerus Oratory in County Kerry. Here you can see a slab of stone standing upright with a Celtic cross carved into its surface.

Another superb example is the Killaghtee Cross in Dunkinelly which dates from around 650BC. At the top of the rock there is the carving of a Maltese Cross which is tied with a triple knot of Saint Brigid, which is said to represent the Holy Trinity.

In general, these crosses usually fall into three separate categories.

  • Standing stone crosses. It is believed that the original purpose of these structures was to mark the boundaries between different territories.
  • Celtic High Crosses. These crosses are usually decorated with a vast array of etchings and carvings which tell the story of Christ. One of the reasons for this was because during that era the majority of the population would have been illiterate and so it would have fell upon the local monks or Christian missionaries to explain the story of Christ.   How they explained the story was by carving various scenes from the Bible onto these rocks, locals would then gather around the cross as the Monks or Missionaries used the carvings on the cross to retell the story of Christ.
  • Celtic cross memorials. The majority of these crosses date from around 1860 when the upper classes in Irish society began to use them as markers for the graves of their loved ones. Nowadays, these crosses are ubiquitous and commonplace throughout the majority of Irish graveyards.

Celtic crosses are considered to be one of Ireland’s greatest contributions to medieval art in Europe. Whilst some of these structures are seen throughout Europe it is with Ireland that the connection runs deepest.

Overall

celtic cross

Celtic crosses are steeped in style, charisma and panache. The mystery and intrigue regarding their true origins adds a further layer of depth to their meaning and power. The fact that these ancient structures are etched with a whole host of mysterious designs enhances their power as being symbols deserving of reverence and devotion.

Their true meaning is disputed but the functions that they had in the past and present is pretty much certain: Teaching the message of Christ, being used as markers of territories, and for staging political events or gatherings.

Whilst we will never really know the true meaning of the circle in these crosses it is my belief that the most likely scenario is that the circle was used as means to help the local pagans understand the message of Christ.

The circle was used as an inroad to help the Celts or ancient Irish comprehend  this new religion that was rapidly sweeping throughout Europe.

The circle on the cross also might have helped to reassure our ancient ancestors that by embracing this new religion that they would not be completely abandoning the practices of old. This theory is backed up in how many pagan traditions such as the celebration of Halloween and the reverence of the Pagan Goddess Saint Brighid is still practised to this very day.

Overall, it is safe to say that Celtic Crosses will, as long as the world keeps turning on its axis, be forever associated, connected, and indelibly linked with the Emerald Isle.

Why did the 69th Irish Brigade pass into legend at the battle of fredericksburg?Who won?

The 69th Irish Brigade

The heroics of the 69th Irish brigade at the Battle of Frederickburg have gone down in the annals of Irish American history. For many, this bloody battle during the American Civil war was the moment when Irish immigrants to the US finally received some level of acceptance in their new country.

No longer could disloyal papist slurs be bandied about when referencing the Irish. The Irish had proven their loyalty to their new country by the blood that they had shed on the fields of Fredericksburg.

At the start of the Battle, the 69th Irish Brigade was made up of 1600 men but by the end of the days engagement only 256 men remained standing. The appalling attrition rate is evidence of a number of things (1). The reckless bravery of the 69th (2). The utter incompetence of the US military leadership.

Whilst needless deaths did occur, the bravery and heroics of the 69th on that faithful day is beyond question.  Commenting on the 69th the legendary Confederate commander General Robert E. Lee said,

“Never were men so brave. They ennobled their race by their splendid gallantry on that desperate occasion.

So who where the 69th Irish brigade and who led them?

69th Irish brigade

By any standard Thomas Francis Meagher led an extraordinary life. He was a leader of a failed rebellion in Ireland in 1848 and for his so called crimes he was banished to the remote and inhospitable Van Diemens land.

For most Irish convicts once they had arrived on the island that was it, there was no way off, but Thomas Francis Meagher was made of far sterner stuff that your average man, as he proceeded to bust out of captivity and sail all the way across the oceans of the world to the United States.

When the civil war was in its infancy Meagher saw a path in which newly arrived Irish immigrants could be accepted by their new country and this path was by proving their loyalty across the battlefields of the civil war. Mostly because of Meaghers influence the Irish Brigade was set up.

The brigade quickly began to distinguish themselves across the battlefields of the American Civil war. But it was to be the Battle of Frederickburg and in particular the Brigades assault on  Maryes Heights that the 69th  would be remembered for.

The Battle 

69th irish brigade

On the 13th of December 1862 the 69th Irish brigade fell in line beside the banks of the Rappahannock River. Brigader General Thomas Francis Meagher had overall command of the brigade. The brigade also comprised of the 63rd, 69th and 28th Massachusettes and New York regiments and the 116th Pennsylvania regiments. These regiments almost exclusively comprised of Irish immigrants.

General Ambrose Burnside had ordered suicidal full frontal assaults against Robert E Lee’s confederates who were positioned behind a stone wall at Maryes Heights. A number of attacks had failed when Burnside turned to the Irish Brigade to try and break the deadlock.

When Meagher was given the order to prepare for attack he ordered his men to put sprigs of evergreen on their caps so that they could be distinguished as being from the 69th. Meagher was dressed in a distinctive green suit which further impressed on those witnessing that this was going to be an Irish military operation.

When the soldiers of the brigade starting cheering and hollering the Gaelic saying, “faugh a bellagh” (clear the way) the men began to advance up the hill. As the 69th made their way up the across the bodies of the dead and the dieing waiting for them behind the wall was Col Robert McMillans Georgia Brigade which was a Confederate Brigade which also comprised of mostly Irishmen.

When Confederate General Robert E. Lee saw that his Irish contingent would have to shoot down their fellow countrymen he ordered reinforcements in case the Irishmen in his ranks wilted under the emotional pressure of having to shoot down their fellow brothers. But Lee need not have worried as his Confederate Irish brigade, in spite of conflicting emotions, were about to unleash hell upon the 69th.

The 69th Brigade made their way towards the stone wall at double quick pace as showers of musket and cannister shot rained down upon them. One eye witnessed noted how the 69th had a “half laughing, half murderous look in their eyes” as they advanced up the hill towards their inevitable doom.

Some of Lee’s Irish soldiers had tears in their eyes as they pulled their triggers on their fellow countrymen. But spite of their conflicting emotions, from a Confederate perspective, these soldiers performed their duties to last, raining musket-ball after musket-ball into the brave but hapless 69th Irish Brigade.

The men began to fall like domino’s as wave after wave red hot fire cut right through their ranks. But still the 69th marched on. Eyewitnesses were taken aback at the near suicidal bravery of the Irish Brigade.

Confederate General Pickett said of the attack, “The brilliant assault on Marye’s Heights of their Irish Brigade was beyond description. … We forgot they were fighting us, and cheer after cheer at their fearlessness went up all along our lines.”

The Brigade made it to within a few feet of the wall but they were eventually, for the first time in their history, forced to retreat during a battle.  The relentless and murderous confederate gunfire had proved too much.One eye witnesses stated “Nothing could advance further and live.”

 

The aftermath

69th

The Irish Brigade’s bravery at Fredericksburg received a great deal of international attention, The London Times correspondent wrote, “Never at Fontenoy, Albuera, or at Waterloo was more undaunted courage displayed by the sons of Erin than during those six frantic dashes which they directed against the almost impregnable positions of their foe.”

 When news of the mammoth casualties suffered by the 69th began to leak through, amongst the Irish community, the initial reaction was one of horror. For many, The attrition rate was further proof that the US authorities would needlessly sacrifice Irish lives. Over time, it seems, that scribes have romanticized the wanton destruction and needless deaths that were caused, but such is the nature of war.

In spite of it being obvious that the capture of Myers Heights would have been an impossibility, Burnside insisted on the pig headed full frontal assault upon an impregnable position, his actions undoubtedly caused many needless deaths. But his negligence wasn’t just limited to the 69th , with the entire Union Army suffering vast casualties, so I think its a bit wide of the mark to suggest that Burnside singled out the 69th for special treatment.

Overall

The heroism of the 69th was the day that the Irish finally began to be accepted by sections of the American establishment. Tales of the brigades exploits abounded in local media sources who lavished praise on the sacrifice of the men. From Generals like Robert E. Lee to senior sources in the media, to the wider public at large, the 69th’s sacrifice would endure not only in that era but would endure right through the annals of history.

This article was compiled by SEO writer Seamus Hanratty.

 Who was Grace O Malley The Irish Pirate Queen?

Grace o Malley
Grace o Malley

The province of Connaught has long been known as the “wild west” of Ireland and one of the most famous rebels who hailed from this untamed part of Ireland was the Pirate Queen known as Grace O Malley. Grace was condemned by the ruling English of the time as “a woman who hath imprudently passed the part of womanhood.

But to the Gaelic Irish Grace O Malley was known as a hero who had beaten the English in many battles that were fought on the high seas. Known as Grainne Mhaol to the natives, her exploits have passed into legend and in the modern era, she has become a symbol and icon of feminism.

A highly educated woman who was fluent in many languages included, French, Spanish, Latin, and English her personal motto was ”Terra Mariq Potens” meaning “powerful by land and sea.”

So who was this mysterious woman who managed not only to capture the high seas of Ireland but also managed to capture the hearts and minds of its people?

Early years

grace o malley

Grace was born around 1530 and was the only daughter of local Chieftain Owen O Malley who ruled much the western coast of Ireland stretching from Achill Island to Innisboffin.

The O Malleys were a powerful family who had amassed a fortune from plundering and pirating from ships that sailed along the west coast.

In order to strengthen their power, the O Malleys had built a number of formidable Castles along the western shoreline which were to serve as bases from which they could launch attacks on any vulnerable looking vessel that held treasure.

When Grace was a young girl she wanted to join her father in one of his seagoing trips but  Graces mother forbade this, saying that she was only a girl,  Grace in defiance of her mother shaved off all of her hair and when her father saw this he relented and allowed her to go on the voyage.

At the age of 15, Grace married Donal O Flaherty who ruled a Kingdom around the Connemara region. It was during this period of her life that she honed and perfected her skills in boarding ships and commandeering their loot.

When Grace was 23, Donal was killed in battle and so Grace extended her empire by inheriting Donals Castle and ships. Soon after she married another warrior and chieftain by the name of the Richard Iron Dick Burke.

Queen of the High Seas

Grace o Malley

Graces fleet has been credited with taking part in attacks along the entire Irish shoreline all the way from Donegal to the tip of Waterford. Any ships that were foolish enough to sail alongside the Irish shoreline without a vast array of military protections were immediately earmarked for attack by the Pirate Queen who greedily plundered and stole whatever loot she could get her hands on.

One day, Grace gave birth to a child when she was aboard one of her ships.  After the birth Grace retired to bed to recuperate from the stresses of the labor when a gang of Algerian Pirates attacked her Ship, upon hearing of the attack Grace arose from her bed and began to orchestrate a savage counter-attack which turned the tide of the battle. The Algerians quickly sailed away unwilling to risk any more men against the ferocious Irish Sea Queen.

In 1575,  Englishman Lord Henry Sidney visited Connaught and met  Grace O Malley and spoke of having met,  “a most feminine sea captain called Granny Imallye and offered her services onto me…..‘This was a notorious woman in all the coasts of Ireland.”

A short time after having met Lord Sidney, Grace was captured and was imprisoned for a number of years. She was eventually released in 1579 and immediately resumed her pirating activities.

A Captain Martin who was enraged with Grace plundering a large number of his ships launched an attack on Carraighahowley Castle. The Pirate Queen who was besieged in the Castle launched a number of ferocious counter-attacks that forced Captain Martin to withdraw his forces.

Observers at the time stated that,  “Martin was lucky to evade capture himself, so spirited was the defence made by the extraordinary woman.”

A fierce and determined woman who refused to accept against less than 100% during one particular battle she admonished her son for his less than courageous conduct by roaring at him, “Are you trying to hide in my arse, the place you came out of?”

On another occasion when she docked at the fishing village of Howth in order to resupply her crew she approached Howth Castle in the hope of getting some supplies but she was refused as the Lord of the Castle was eating his dinner.

Enraged by this disrespect Grace ordered her army to capture the Lords son and keep him in captivity until the Lord agreed to prepare her dinner and supplies every-time her ships docked in the harbour.

With his son’s life hanging in the balance Lord Howth agreed to this new arrangement. To this very day there is always a spare set seat set for Grace O Malley at Howth Castle.

Visit with the Queen of England

grace o malley

When Sir Richard Bingham began attacking Grace and her band of Pirates Grace decided to take matters into her own hands by traveling over to England to petition Sir Richards boss Queen Elizabeth I. When Grace was finally given her audience with the powerful Queen of England she was asked to bow down before Queen Elizabeth but the defiant Pirate Queen refused to bow as one Queen does not bow to another.

Grace explained that as she was not a subject of the Queen Elizabeth that she would under no circumstances bow. In spite of Graces proud defiance, or maybe because of it, Queen Elizabeth was quite taken with Graces company.

The two ladies began conversing in Latin and came to an aggrement whereby Graces two sons were released from imprisonment and Grace agreed that she would stop attacking and plundering English ships.

The Pirate Queen lived out the rest of her life at Rockfleet Castle, Co Mayo where she died at the ripe old age of 73 of natural causes. According to legend, her head was interned at Clare Island her childhood home. Local folklore has it that her ghostly body sets sails around the west coast in search of her head.

Overall

grace o malley

Grace O Malley was a warrior of the high seas, the Pirate Queen, mother, wife, and chieftain whose very name struck fear into the heart of her enemies.

Here was a woman who was ahead of her time, a woman who refused to be curtailed by the prejudices of her era. Whilst the true story of Grace O Malley may never been known, the very fact that her story lives to this very day is a testament to the indomitable courage and power of the woman.

I think I will leave the last words to Grace’s biographer Anne Chamber who wrote that Grace was,  “a fearless leader, by land and by sea, a political pragmatist and politician, a ruthless plunderer, a mercenary, a rebel, a shrewd and able negotiator, the protective matriarch of her family and tribe, a genuine inheritor of the Mother Goddess and Warrior Queen attributes of her remote ancestors. Above all else, she emerges as a woman who broke the mould and thereby played a unique role in history. “

The remarkable tale of the Arthur Kavanagh the limbless yachtsman, painter, writer and MP

Arthur MacMurrough Kavanagh was born in 1831 in County Carlow with no arms, no legs, and only small stumps awkwardly protruding out where his limbs should have been.

When his mother held him in her arms for the first time she proudly raised him in the air and said, ‘Thank god this child was born to me and not anybody else.’ And so began one of the most remarkable and unlikely stories in Irish history.

In one sense, Kavanagh was fortunate to be born into an ancient Irish family whose lineage stretched all the way back to the Kings Of Leinster.

His mother a formidable woman, Lady Harriet, undeterred by her son’s grave physical disabilities quickly set to work to ensure that Arthur would receive all of the opportunities that life could afford him.

Arthur was placed into the care of the much-respected Doctor Francis Boxwel who was tasked with ensuring that Arthur would not be defined by his grave physical disabilities but my his indomitable determination and courage.

In order to toughen the young Arthur up, Lady Harriet would place toys out of the reach of young boy and would ignore the boy’s cry as he pleaded with her to take the toys to him. Over time Arthur learned to wiggle his way over to the toys and get them himself.

He also was forced to take exercises that eventually resulted in the stumps in his arms becoming so nimble and skillful that these stumps could almost be mistaken for fingers.

 At the tender age of three, Arthur learned how to ride a Horse whilst seated in a specially commissioned saddle. He managed to direct the horses reigns by using the stumps of his arms. Over time, he also learned to how to fish, go hunting, paint pictures and write stories.

The exercises he partook in allowed him to strengthened the stumps to such an extent that he could hold a pistol and grip and thrust a sword. When he was reading Arthur would turn the pages with his teeth and would use the stump of his arms to write with the pen.

 His mother also arranged for makeshift stilts for him to walk on. Arthur managed to walk short distances on these stilts and then hop and jump to whatever other location he wanted to go to.

 Adulthood

As Kavanagh slowly matured into a man he began to develop an insatiable appetite for women. He secretly embarked on many affairs with women in the Carlow region who couldn’t resist his romantic advances. When his mother discovered that her limbless son had turned into a right little lothario she immediately ejected him from the family estate.

 It was around this time that a wanderlust seized Arthur and he and his brother began an epic worldwide journey which passed through Scandinavia, Asia, Iran, Pakistan and India.

Arthur relished his time on the open road and took to womanizing and drinking on a prodigious scale. When word reached Lady Harriet that Arthur had been frequenting Brothels, Kavanagh’s mother withdrew his allowance. Undeterred by this turn of events, Kavanagh got a job as a dispatch rider which allowed him to finance his nocturnal activities.

In 1851, Kavanaghs brother died and so Arthur became the sole air to his family’s estate. Putting to good use some of the economic practices he learned whilst travelling the globe, Kavanagh boosted the local economy by building a sawmill and investing in local railways.

This ensured that local farmers and peasants had a means to earn a living and feed their families. Whilst many landlords of that era were notorious for their brutal evictions Kavanagh always sought to ensure that his tenants would never go hungry. During the great famine, the Kavanaghs rather than evict their starving tenants fed and nourished them.

Politics

Kavanagh was a unionist who despised the class divisions that had arisen between Catholics and Protestants. His desire for change saw him become an elected MP of the British Parliament for the Wexford. When he was elected as MP a local newspaper wrote an article on him,

 “On Monday, Mr. Arthur Kavanagh was elected member for Wexford county………Mr. Kavanagh is descended from an ancient Irish family….but it was his misfortune to be born without feet or hands-indeed he has but very short stumps in the place of either of his four limbs.

He has a handsome face and robust body, with what is still more to the purpose, he has a quick and powerful mind, which has enabled him in a most wonderful manner to triumph over his sad physical disadvantages. He writes beautifully with his pen in his mouth, he is a good shot, a fair draftsman, and a dashing huntsman.

He sits on horseback in a kind of saddle basket, and rides with great fearlessness. He lately wrote and published a lively and smart book called “The Cruise of the Eva.” He has married a lady of beauty, and has a large family of handsome children. He will make a sensation in the House of Commons.”

In that era were getting to Parliament would have been an arduous task which meant taking five hour journeys via train and then boarding a steamer which would have taken another five hours. Arthur sidestepped all of these issues by learning how to sail his own Yacht which he moored right beside the Houses of Parliament.

During his time in Parliament he was a staunch supporter of the Land Act which afforded Irish farmers more protections and enabled them to purchase the land which they lived on.

Arthur MacMurrough Kavanagh died of pneumonia in 1889 and thus ended one of the most extraordinary tales in Irish history.

Overall

 It’s safe to say that in spite of all of the obstacles put in front of him Arthur MacMurrough Kavanagh led a remarkable life. Here was someone who was born with no arms and no legs but someone who still learned how to walk, write, paint, ride horses, sail yachts and become an elected MP.

Every conceivable physical disadvantage was put in front of Kavanagh but he still managed to transcend these disadvantages by ingenuity, creative thinking, and dogged determination. His is a tale that is a testament to the limitless human spirit that can thrive and succeed even in the direst of circumstances.

 Now, what’s your excuse?

Why did the Saint Patrick’s Battalion change sides and fight for Mexico?

saint patricks brigade mexico

The story of how an Irish Battalion defected to the Mexican Army during the Mexican American war is a story of courage, a story of right and wrong, a story of men who answered the call of their conscience.

Known as the Saint Patricks Battalion or in Mexican as the San Patricios, the men mostly made up of Irish immigrants decided to down tools and switch sides during the brutal conflict that took place in 1846-1848.

Every year, on the September the 12th, Mexicans gather to honor the men of Los San Patricios. Flowers are placed close to a marble plaque where a list of engraved names are read. A Mexican band plays both the Irish and Mexican national anthems in honour of the sacrifices that the Irish brigade endured during the conflict.

On the 12th of September 1997 Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo paid tribute to the special sacrifice of these men where he stated in his speech:

“One hundred and fifty years ago, here in San Ángel, … members of the St. Patricks Battalion were executed for following their consciences. They were martyred for adhering to the highest ideals, and today we honor their memory. In the name of the people of Mexico, I salute today the people of Ireland and express my eternal gratitude.” The president finished by, saying: “While we honor the memory of the Irish who gave their lives for Mexico and for human dignity, we also honor our own commitment to cherish their ideals, and to always defend the values for which they occupy a place of honor in our history.”

Why they deserted

San-Patricios

There are a number of theories that abound as to why the men switched sides.  The most common theory is that the men were subject to widespread anti catholic and anti Irish sentiment in the US Army.

And that by coming from a small impoverished land that had been continually battered, bruised, and bullied by a bigger neighbour that these Irishmen saw common cause with the Mexicans in their fight against US imperialism.

The Irish soldiers where also denied the rights to to practice their religious beliefs and where routinely flogged and beaten for any minor indiscretion, leading to simmering resentment festering against those in power. It was said that Mexicans Generals who where watching from afar noticed the ill content amongst the US Army and offered any deserters land and money for switching sides. This story may have been made up by the US authorities in an attempt to blacken the name of the San Patricos.

Another story goes that Irish catholic conscripts heard the church bells ringing in a nearby Mexican church and decided to down tools and practice their catholic faith in defiance of their commanders in the US army. Over time they built up a relationship with some of the Mexicans and found that they had much more in common with the impoverished Mexicans than they had with the greedy land hungry American army.

Another thing that must have played some part in the minds of the Irishmen was that Mexico had abolished slavery, and that the unconscionable and widespread use of slaves by the United States must have been abhorrent to an embattled and abused race like the Irish. Whatever the real story is, soldiers began to desert in droves to fight for the Mexicans.

The leader

Saint Patricks brigade mexico

The deserters where led by a man from Clifden in Co Galway, Captain John Riley. In 1846, Reilly began organising an artillery unit which was mostly comprised of Irish Catholics. This unit formed the nucleus of the San Patricios brigade.

A number of months after the creation of the unit over 200 soldiers formed part of it, which was enough to form a battalion and two companies. Some historians reckon that at the battalions peak there were over 700 men who part of the San Patricos.

Whilst the majority of the battalion was made up of Irishmen there were other volunteers of European descent. The Galway man set about forging a distinctly Irish identity to the battalion by commissioning a green flag with an image of Saint Patrick on one side and a harp and a shamrock on the other.

O Reilly when asked about what he thought of the charcater of the Mexicans stated that, “Do not be deceived by the prejudice of a nation at war with Mexico, because you will not find in all the world a people more friendly and hospitable than the Mexicans.”

Battles

saint patricks brigade mexico

The San Patricos where responsible for some the most ferocious resistance experienced by the US army during their invasion of Mexico.

At the Battle of Buena Vista, the Saint Patrick’s Battalion fought with real courage with the unit being instrumental in the capture of a large number of American Cannon. Eye witnesses described the ground held by the Patricos as, “ a strong Mexican battery….moved….by dint of their extraordinary exertions….that commanded the entire plateau.”

At one stage during the battle, The commander of the US forces General Zachary shouted in frustration at his troops, “to take that damned battery” but on that particular occasion the assault failed. Ultimately, the Mexican army were forced to retreat with the Irish contingent covering their withdrawal with ferocious tenacity.

Even though the heavily out-gunned Mexicans lost the battle the bravery of the Irishmen was acknowledged by the Mexican General Mejia who wrote in his battle report that the San Patricos where “worthy of the most consummate praise because the men fought with daring bravery.”

A number of the Irishmen where awarded the Mexican medal of honour “The War Cross” for their heroism in the heat of the battle.

But it was at the Battle of Chrubusco where the San Patricos passed into legend. In this engagement witnesses from both the US and Mexican sides stated that the unit had, “fought like demons.”

During the heat of the battle, as ammunition began to run out, the Mexican army tried to raise the flag of surrender but Officer Patrick Dalton tore down the white flag. Members of the Irish Battalion urged the men, if necessary, to fight on with bare hands.

When the Mexicans attempted to raise the white flag two more times members of the San Patricos shot and killed them. Some brutal hand to hand fighting ensued with bayonets and swords being the order of the day.

The legendary Irish brigade only surrendered when they ran out of every last piece of ammunition and weaponry and were completely surrounded by the US Army. The great American General Ulysses S Grant stated that it was “the severest battle fought in the valley of Mexico.” The Irish Battalion lost over 60% of their men in the engagement and the rest were taken prisoner.

The execution

saint patricks brigade

And so, just after down on September 10th, 1847, the villagers of San Angel a small on the outskirts of Mexico City, awoke to the sound of carts rustling into the center of the village. Inside the carts where members of the Patrick’s Battalion who where chained and bond and guarded by members of the United States army.

The carts drew to a halt beside specially constructed gallows which had been erected in the center of the village. The gallows consisted of 40 foot long beams,in which 16 nooses dangled in the Mexican air. Five Catholic Priests who were present at the time began to hear the prisoners confessions and administered the last rites.

The nooses where then placed around the necks of the prisoners and the order was given to drive the carts forward, whereby some of the prisoners fell to their deaths. Other captives where not so fortunate as they dangled in the air slowly choking to death.

A number of days after the executions at San Angel another thirty San Patricos where hanged at the village of Mixcoac. Anyone who escaped the hangman’s noose was branded and scared with a D on their face with a hot iron. The D identified them as deserters from the US army. Reilly was one of the fortunate ones to avoid the hangman’s noose.

One of the reasons for this, in spite of being instrumental in the formation of the Battalion, was because O Reilly had deserted from the US army before the war had actually began. Reillys punishment was to be branded with the D on his cheek. In all, over 50 members of the Saint Patrick Battalion were hanged, the largest mass execution in US history.

Side note

It’s also an interesting fact that the Irish have a well established history of fighting for other nations throughout Europe and the world.  In the 16th and 17th Century many Irishmen fought for the Spanish army during the continental wars, these soldiers became known as the “Wild Geese”.

Irish soldiers have also played a significant part in many South American wars for independence. During the Boer war many Irish soldiers deserted the British Army and took up arms to fight for the Boers.

Overall

The tale of the Saint Patricks battalion is a tale of people rising up against widespread discrimination and prejudice. These human beings where brutalised and discriminated against in their famine stricken homelands, and when they immigrated to another country for a better life, they were once more on the receiving end of hatred and abuse.

It seems that the members of San Patricos had enough of being treated like the refuse of the world and decided that they would rather die fighting for the Nobel cause of freedom than for the cause of imperialism, colonialism, and oppression.In the eyes of any right thinking man the San Patricos where and are heroes to the underdog standing up against impossible odds.

You can read more Irish immigration stories  by seo writer Seamus Hanratty here.

Sacred Lodges and Smoke Walkers.

sweat lodges

This article was written by @ (c) David Halpin from Circle Stories

Sweat lodges seem to have been used in every indigenous culture for both healing and ritual purposes involving communicating with departed ancestors and spirits.
That said, there is a distinction to be made in terms of each individual culture’s ceremonial approach to these constructions as well as the term ‘sweat lodge’ itself.
Often, the building of a place of ritual is a task which requires both the respect and knowledge of a people’s traditions and taboos.
So, comparing a sweat lodge ceremony of the many North American indigenous cultures and that of the Australian Aboriginal tribes and the various European peoples is not, nor indeed should it be, considered the same.
Ireland’s tradition in this respect is without surviving written or oral evidence yet the similar practices of indigenous cultures thousands of miles apart may be able to help us in understanding the possible rituals which may have taken place at our own sacred sites.
In this context we can also look to the San people of Southern Africa where we do have examples of oral tradition describing both sensory deprivation and isolation trances used to achieve higher-consciousness states.
I recommend David Lewis William’s book, The Mind in the Cave, for those who want to look more into this, as well as the collection of San lore traditions collected by German Philologist Wilhelm Bleek and his sister-in-law, Lucy LLoyd, and later continued by Bleek’s daughter, the anthropologist, Dorothea Bleek.
http://lloydbleekcollection.cs.uct.ac.za/
https://www.sacred-texts.com/afr/sbf/index.htm

A clochán, then, is a small beehive-like stone hut dating back to at least the Bronze Age.
The corbelled roofs of clocháns are also found on many types of Neolithic structures all across Europe. Knowth, as an Irish example, contains fantastic spiralling stonework.
Another famous site is that of the settlement on Skellig Michael. Initially believed to be hermetic cells, today archaeologists and anthropologists see a deeper ritualistic and, indeed, more ancient function behind these structures.
According to the archaeologist Lloyd Laing, “There can be little doubt that these buildings belong to a long-established Celtic tradition though there is at present no direct evidence to date the surviving examples before 700AD.”
Laing is speaking specifically about Irish clocháns here but in fact, outside of Ireland there is a long documented tradition of similarly shaped buildings.
The beehive huts of Harran date before 2000 BCE, for example.

As Laing correctly observes, the clochán does indeed belong to an ancient Celtic tradition but the Celts themselves inherited their use from older people including the Scythians, Thracians and the Kurgans, as postulated by Marija Gimbutas and Andrew Sheratt of The University of Oxford. Sheratt researched similar 5’500 year old structures in Eastern Europe which contained cannabis incenses and ‘smoking cups’ found to hold traces of charred hemp seeds.

An interesting line of thought is to think again about the so called ‘fulacht-fiadh’ in this context. A fulacht fiadh is a small horse-shoe shaped mound containing charcoal enriched soil and usually a heat-cracked stone or stones.
When it comes to clocháns, many archaeologists have noted the difficulty in carrying hot stones and water in through the tiny entrances. Perhaps if the earlier versions were built over fulacht-fiadhs using animal skin and sods this might explain the now absent covering and the fulacht fiadhs themselves? This idea was also suggested by Professor Michael J. O’Kelly (Early Ireland – An Introduction to Irish Prehistory. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. pp. 223–227.)
There is no agreed consensus on the etymology of fulacht fiadh among Irish historians.

Looking for early evidence of sweat lodges and rituals involving steam we find a very telling description of Scythian and Thracian shaman. They are described, both men and women, as ‘Kapnobatai’ which translates as ‘smoke walkers.’
When in these altered states the Kapnobatai would divine prophecy and speak to the dead.
An interesting aside relating to witchcraft is that the Scythians were known for the conical hats, some made of gold, and which have been discovered in graves said to be those of shaman. Perhaps there is a link to the origin of the witch’s cone hat here?
Writing about a Tarin mummy from 800 BCE, Elizabeth Wayland Barber, the American professor of archaeology and linguistics observes, “Yet another female – her skeleton found beside the remains of a man – still wore a terrifically tall, conical hat just like those we depict on witches riding broomsticks at Halloween or on medieval wizards intent at their magical spells.”

The clochán on Slievegad is badly damaged at this point. The site itself also contains an ancient cairn whose stones were later used to build a Christian church inside the original structure. If it ever had an alignment it is no longer determinable but it is interesting to imagine what once took place on this mountain.
Speculating, we might imagine that before a particular constellation appeared overhead at night an ancient shaman-type figure conducted the appropriate ritual in the clochán before directing their thoughts to the spirits and stars.
Perhaps this was the natural order and the veil between the Otherworld and earthly world was one that was seen to be permeable?
Placing a monument high on a mountain top may have demonstrated both the reaching towards a higher realm as well as giving the ‘smoke walker’/ shaman-type figure, the isolation required for such journeys.
As the trance took hold, the participant’s consciousness would fall into a psychedelic state where the ancestors and spirits waited.

Might there even be a connection to the sidhe here in that the legends tell us that they retreated into the mounds and underworld?
Maybe the clocháns and cairns were the entrances to these spirit-places where the participant crossed the threshold between the physical and non-material and in a heightened state entered the Otherworld?
What we notice with the many types of sweat lodge and site is that even though the means to achieve sacred consciousness mindsets were different, the purpose behind the rituals share the same ecstatic and transcendent consequence.

(C.) David Halpin.

The Mythic Consciousness and Fairy Archetypes

fairies

The article was written by David Halpin of Circle Stories

I recently read Alan Garner’s excellent book The Owl Service.
I won’t spoil the story in case people want to look it up and read it themselves but the premise behind it is interesting when it comes to examining both fairy lore and fairies themselves.

In this case we will have to be aware that using the term ‘fairy’ has a connotation for people which is only the surface level of how they are rooted in landscape and myth.
Also, it’s worth keeping in mind that ‘fairy’ does not only refer to one class of non-human being but potentially a whole diversity of otherworldly forms, including the place or places of fairy.

What is interesting is how here in Ireland many fairy encounters might reflect a recurring conflict, property or aspect of a tradition and local population.
This draws the fairy experience from the personal, through to the communal, and into the mythic and collective memory.
This can seem like an abstract concept but, for me, it is only because of how hard it is to define the fairy purpose that this is so: folklore tells us that fairies are outside of our understanding of time in the first place.
It is akin to tying ourselves in knots if we try to restrict ‘themselves’ to how our physicality shapes and filters our sensory experience.

In The Owl Service something archaic and powerful is occurring: the myths associated with the location where the story is set begin to manifest through the characters who live there.
The novel is set in Wales and so the archetypes which appear feature in the Mabinogi.
http://mabinogion.info/

The main narrative they unconsciously re-enact involves that of Blodeuwedd, a woman created from flowers and oak by the magicians Math and Gwydion.
She is made for a man who is cursed to take no human wife but she ultimately betrays him for another man.
Blodeuedd is then transformed into an owl for inducing her lover to kill her husband.
There is much more to the myth, obviously, but in The Owl Service three teenagers in contemporary times find that the myth is recurring again through their lives and it is hinted that it is a never ending cycle which will repeat again once this story has completed.

Of course, the idea that we relive mythic narratives all the time is nothing new. Thinkers like Joseph Campbell, for example, have written extensively on this subject with ‘the hero’s journey’ motif perhaps most identifiable in this context.
However, it is the agency and individual consciousness of the mythic archetypes which separate the fairy aspect from the more philosophical and perhaps abstract understanding of such concepts.

In Irish fairy lore, for example, fairies often appear in the form of communal fears or concerns such as the association with the dangers of childbirth at a time when infant mortality and that of pregnant women was very high.
There is an interesting reversal here, though, in that it is usually the human midwife who helps the supernatural being as opposed to the other way around.
One explanation for this is that it is a psychological reinforcement regarding the strength of women themselves and their ability to overcome the dangers of labour.

We can see a similar emergence with respect to the sickness of animals thought to have been struck by elf shot or fairy darts. The fear of the community encompasses the folkloric traditions of fairy association in this instance with various remedies and cures carried on in order to thwart the evil or negative influence.
Again, the security of knowing that a particular ‘spell’ or work of a bean feasa or fairy doctor can overcome the sickness creates a communal strength and confidence even within the landscape where such perils lie permanently on the periphery of daily life.

These fairy dangers seem steadfast in Irish folklore to the point where fairies seem to lose any sense of individual identity and instead occupy a force akin to what Garner writes about in The Owl Service. It is the archetype of fairy behaviour and influence which penetrates into the consciousness of the community, as opposed to any single fairy being.

Perhaps the mythic influence is inescapable for all of us and it is a matter of using the stories and wisdom in order to transition ourselves to a more beneficial place in our own personal narrative.
Understanding the lore as a construct or landscape in which we can navigate ourselves past dangers and pitfalls is why such stories remain so potent and relevant.
And yet, we still have the enigma of fairy and mythic agency to explain: often it is the beings of the Otherworld who deign to pass us on the wisdom in the first place.
So, do we put this down to the deeper wisdom of our subconscious or should we go further and perhaps consider that there is a plethora of further levels and worlds awaiting us once we find the way in?
I don’t have any answers but I do enjoy thinking about such questions!

(C.) David Halpin.