Slane Village the Jewel In Irelands Ancient East?

The small idyllic village of Slane is a location steeped in history, folklore, poetry, and myth. Situated in the Boyne Valley It would be safe to say that Slane is at the very beating heart of Irelands ancient Celtic past.
 
The  River Boyne winds and cuts through the village like an eternally watching serpent, a serpent that would have witnessed Slanes many tears, triumphs, and disasters. The historical legacy of Slane and its hinterlands have had momentous repercussions for the Irish nation.
 
A short distance away from the Village in 1690 the Battle of the Boyne took place, a battle that was to change the political landscape of Ireland for eternity. In this day and age we talk about Brexit and hard borders but it was in this small little village that the seed was planted  for a story that would ripple down through the pages of history. The results of the Battle of the Boyne are alive and well and live amongst us.
 
It was the Celts who stamped their early mark on the strategic strong point and then came the turn in the 12th century of the ruthless Anglo Normans who ruled over the territory with a proverbial rod of iron.  
 
Nowadays, one of the most recognisable feature of the village is the iconic Slane Castle which has entertained some of the goliaths of the Rock industry, bands such as U2, Mick Jagger, Queen, The Rolling Stones, Guns and Roses and many more have all rocked the natural outdoor rock coliseum.
 
The road trip
 
With all this in mind, I decided what better way to spend a lazy Sunday then to explore this  area that is steeped in Irish history. My first port of call was to inspect the huge stone bridge that stretches from one side of the river to the other, a bridge that would be a familiar site for any traveller going to and from Dublin. Down at the water’s edge I discovered that there was walkway along some lush green grass. A great place for a run I’d say! As I gazed out at the flowing artery of the Boyne I couldn’t help but wondering what undiscovered treasures lie beneath the murky depths.
 
After a quick tour of the bridge I then drove through the Village itself which is decorated with some eye catching Georgian Houses. My next port of call was Slane Castle and as I drove up the road to the gates  a menacing looking security guard came charging out in front of my car, looked inside, and then, thankfully, waved me on. I quickly realised that the beefed up security was in place because of the impending Metallica Concert that was to take place inside the grounds within a matter of weeks.
 
After parking my car I walked over to the Slane Whiskey Distillery which is located on the Castle grounds. Slane Whiskey  is another brand of whisky which is attempting to capitalise on the insatiable lust Americans have for the drink. After doing a quick tour of the Distillery I popped  into the local gift shop and looked around the small bar.
 
I then prepared myself for the main course, the castle itself.  I walked the short distance over to the Castle and down the side entrance where there was a number of people drinking and relaxing outside the impressive Castle battlements. The place has real medieval feel. Its certainly not your bog standard open air drinking area.
 
Inside in the foray there are loads of picture’s on the wall that marked pivotal occasions in the Castles history, one picture that stood out was a headline from a newspaper in relation to Lord Henry MountCharles, the owner of the castle, which  read “my lifes work has been destroyed.'” The story was referencing when the Castle was burned to the ground in the 90’s but thankfully it has since been rebuilt.
 
I walked into the packed restaurant for a wee nosey and inside the decor was mostly wooden with some suitably arranged stone walls. It looked like a splendid place to have a meal. I briefly  popped into the small bar area where more people where relaxing and enjoying themselves.
 
I learned that the area around Slane was originally controlled by the Fleming family but the land which the Castle now resides on was confiscated during the Williamite confiscations of 1701. The modern Slane Castle was built by the Conyngham family in the 17th century and it is now owned by the charismatic and eccentric Lord Henry Mountcharles.  An interesting fact which I learned on my trip was that a Cannon was fished out of the Boyne in 2003 which is believed to have originally belonged to the Castle estate.
 
The front of the building and the Castle itself has a real impressive feel and look. As  I was exploring the side of the building there was a sign reading “public not allowed beyond this point” Naturally enough I ignored the sign walked on to see if there was anything worth seeing. There was a set of steps which led down to the back area of the building where you could see the rear of the structure and some outdoor section that looked like a private area.
 
When I walked inside the main hall of the Castle I was greeted by a  number of huge portraits that hung on the wall. I asked the man working at reception when the next tour was on and then I started taking some pictures with my iPhone when the receptionist informed me that you are prohibited from taking photographs inside the Castle. I apologised and informed him that I was breaking laws all over the place.  
 
In the field beside the Castle workmen were just setting up the stage and for the Metallica Concert. I tried to figure what areas I would have drunkenly rampaged around when I was attending many a concert in the area but all I was left with was some hazy drink filled recollections.
 
Surprise visit
 
After leaving the Castle I intended to drive home but then I saw a sign for the Hill of Slane heritage site so I took a short detour up to the Hill where I was met with a sign explaining the history of the site. I was shocked to discover that this was the location where  Saint Patrick had lit a fire in defiance of the King Laoghire but instead of Laoghire butchering Patrick as would have been custom, he decided to spare him because he was impressed with Patricks bravado and courage in lighting a fire in defiance of his will.
 
At the top of the hill lay the ruins of a Francisan Abbey that was built around the 15th century. The ruins are remarkably well preserved with spiral staircases that lead up to the upper parts of the structure. Much of the old structure still remains intact and are almost like a portal into another era  Its not surprising that this area was chosen as a place to live in with  with panoramic views that stretch for miles into the countryside.
 
Across from the Abbey there was graveyard  where a  statue of Saint Patrick marked the spot where the revered Irish Saint allegedly lit his fire that sparked off a revolution on the island of Ireland. The graveyard was very peaceful, and looking at the headstones I discovered that some of the plots are still in use with some relatively recent burials. Behind the ruins of the monastery, I noticed a large mound that was covered in trees- this mound is apparently the burial place of some ancient Irish King.   
 
As I gazed out at the mountains in the distance it struck me that whilst many things would have changed over time at the Hill of Slane, dreams and hopes dashed,buildings falling into ruin, beating hearts that beat no more, that them there Mountains that I was looking at would have been the exact same mountains that Saint Patrick  would have gazed out at centuries ago. In many ways the mountains are a testament to the enduring power of nature and the contrasting frailty of humanity’s transient beat.
 
Overall, I have to say I spent an enjoyable few hours in the village and will definitely return for a more detailed look at some of the sites on offer. In particular, I intend to take a look at the Francis Ledwidge museum. I also intend to take a look at the ominous sounding Gallows Hill and will also take a tour of the nearby 5,000 year old Loughcrew passage tombs. 

Who Really Where The Anicent Irish?

@David Halpin Circle Stories.
 
One of the most puzzling omissions when it comes to Irish archaeology is the naming and observation of the ancient Irish shaman. Although there are some different views about who exactly the ancient Irish people were, what we can say for certain is they all came from cultures which allocated a position of the ultimate importance to this tribal role.
And yet…the evidence is there, it’s just that the interpretation is half-seen due to the world view of those who made the early pronouncements about ancient Irish beliefs and veneration. For example, many of the 5’000 year old ‘tombs’ contain ashes and body parts but they also contain art, offerings and reusable passageways and entrances. Looking at the shaman’s role in antiquity we can notice that the preservation of ancestral shrines were not places of mourning. They were places of continual communication and ritual.
This task was performed by the shaman.
 
As the world view of ancient people began to change from the Palaeolithic into the Mesolithic and onto the first farming groups the type of veneration also began to include ancestors. The sun, moon and star cycles were continually observed but now people saw the shaman as someone who might bring back information and healing from the members of the tribe who had passed on.
There is no definitive time-frame here; cultures ‘progressed’ in different stages and as the assimilation of various peoples and traditions occurred so too did their practices and beliefs. One thing is consistent, though, and that is the shamanistic function which took place at ancient sites. This is what is missing from the Irish record. While archaeologists talk about graves and shrines they ignore the living tradition which these places were used for. Obviously our own view of death has filtered our perception of how ancient people might have behaved. Add in the fact that most early Irish archaeologists grew up with an Abrahamic view of religion and you can see why they might have been both reluctant to and unable to take into account the nuances and complexities of a spirituality that challenged their own.
 
Perhaps one factor which exemplifies this, and also might shed light on the multifaceted Irish concept of fairies, is the concept of the multiple-soul. This belief recurs in indigenous societies from Austronesia to Europe and is probably one you have heard of at some point before as well.
Most likely it was the view shared by ancient Irish people as well.
Simply put, this belief understands that the soul is divided into various parts. One part might stay within the body and remain on earth after death, whereas another part might travel in dreams or be the summation of the deeds of a person’s life.
Another part of the soul might remain outside of the body and follow it around, sometimes offering advice. It can get quite complex as the Egyptian example demonstrates with the various souls representing the personality, the cumulative deeds, the shadow, the breath and, indeed, the spiritual essence of a person. The practice of soul-retrieval is another indigenous ritual common to cultures all around the world from Siberia to Africa and from Australia to North America. Often there is a reincarnation or soul transmigration aspect to this as well which we know was part of the Celts cosmology.
 
Why the multiple-soul is interesting in relation to fairies is because there has always been a contradiction between the fairies being of the Otherworld as well as being the dead themselves. However, when we view fairies from the perspective of those who believed the soul was multifaceted then these contradictions make sense. The fairies, ancestors, goddesses and gods might dwell in the constellations but they would also be here, as the ancestral dead.
(C.) David Halpin.

Did The Celts Use This 5,500 Year Old Water Basin To Take Drugs?

@David Halpin Circle Stories
 
Rainwater collects within the 5’500 year old basin on Baltinglass Hill, Co. Wicklow.
Although this monument was originally covered, the passageway would have allowed light through.
Perhaps the sun, moon and stars were thought to infuse whatever the bowl contained with magical properties?We can only speculate, of course. As the researcher and writer Tom Four Winds once wrote about the basin, “Was it blood, bones, ashes or water that filled it?” Another possibility is that of an entheogen.
Recent findings in comparable structures have found traces of cannabis and other psychedelic substances.
 
A method mentioned in ancient texts concerns burning incenses with psychoactive properties. Certainly, in contained structures like cairns and mounds this would have been an ideal way to enter trance states, much like sweat lodges of other indigenous cultures.
As far as I am aware there has never been testing for these substances in Irish monuments but the work of scholars such as Professor Carl Ruck has highlighted an ancient shamanic tradition of burning psychedelic substances within enclosed structures going far back into antiquity.
Recently, Russian scientists discovered the 2,000-year-old mummified remains of a Scythian queen. She was laid out in white silk alongside horse harnesses, a mirror, dishes and a small ceremonial container of cannabis.
 
Writing in 450 BCE, Herodotus describes an ancient practice of the Scythian people, “ …when, therefore, the Scythians have taken some seed of this hemp, they creep under the cloths and put the seeds on the red hot stones; but this being put on smokes, and produces such a steam, that no Grecian vapour-bath would surpass it. The Scythians, transported by the vapour, shout aloud.”
You can read more here: http://www.herbmuseum.ca/node/1552
Dr. Alexander Sumach, in his work, A Treasury of Hashish, writes, “The sorcerers of Thracian tribes were known to have burned female cannabis flowers (and other psychoactive plants) as a mystical incense to induce trances.”
 
So, as you can see, although never investigated by Irish archaeologists, there is good reason to suspect that many of our ancient structures were much more than repositories for the dead, which many were as well, of course. Instead, there is a good chance that these sacred structures were a way to continue contact with the ancestors and spirits through shamanistic trance. Literally, they may have been gateways to the Otherworld as the oral traditions have always told us they were.
 
In this context, the magical significance of alignments at certain times of the year would seem to have had a major ritualistic purpose. Combined with the darkness, silence and isolation, the inhaling of these substances have a profound effect upon the senses. Perhaps in future years we will be able to integrate the latest findings by non-Irish researchers into the overall picture regarding our ancient structures and sites.
Tales of spirits, ancestors and good people may have been a very real and living shamanic interaction as opposed to the mere superstition of later arriving people and interpretations.
 
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What Was The Winter Solstice In Celtic Tradation?

@David Halpin Circle Stories
We have arrived at the winter solstice, the moment when the most northern point of the earth is tilted furthest away from the sun. This results in the fewest hours of light and the most hours of darkness. The word solstice itself means ‘still sun’ or standing still sun’, depending on your definition preference.
 
The sun will ‘appear’ to stand still at this point for 3 days after which it will begin to move again and the hours of light will begin to grow. The reason for the sun being said to stand still is because before and after the solstice the declination speed is less than 30 arcseconds per day which is undetectable to the naked eye. To the ancient people this was representative of the ending of one cycle and the beginning of another. Solstice myths often contain this auspicious moment of the renewal of the sun on the 25th of December.
We can find this within the various ‘sun gods’ said to have been born at this time as well as the various ancient traditions which celebrated the re-emergence of both nature and life after the moment of the deepest dark.
 
Perhaps one of the most controversial sun gods associated with the Winter Solstice is Horus. Around this time of the year you will come across posts about Horus being born at the Winter Solstice and comparisons to Jesus and other similar deities.
This is one of those arguments that seems to inexplicably confuse people when the answer is quite simple to find with a small amount of research. The mistake many people make is to immediately look for an association with the adult form of Horus as a representation of the sun. However, it is Horus in his child form, Harpocrates, who is associated with birth following the winter solstice.
According to primary sources, which is all we should be looking for, such as Plutarch, writing in 65 BCE, “Isis, when she was aware of her being pregnant, put on a protective amulet on the sixth day of Phaophi, and at the winter solstice gave birth to Harpocrates, imperfect and prematurely born.” (Plutarch, On Isis and Osiris)
Writing before the Christian church had begun celebrating Christmas, Marcobius writes, “…at the winter solstice, the sun would seem to be a little child like that which the Egyptians bring forth from a shrine on the appointed day, since the day is then at its shortest and the god is accordingly shown as a tiny infant.” (Macrobius, Saturnalia, 1.18:10)
Egypt has a much older tradition of acknowledging the winter solstice as the alignment at Karnak Temple demonstrates but that’s another subject. So, is Horus in his adult incarnation a pre-Jesus sun god born after the winter solstice? No. But Horus in his child form, Harpocrates, definitely is.
The work of James Frazer and Joseph Campbell are recommended for anyone who would like to explore the psychological aspects of this ‘monomyth’ further.
The American writer, Denele Campbell, has a great article which summarises the various sun gods and solstice links. You can read it here:https://denelecampbell.com/tag/winter-solstice/
It should be noted that the solstice is celebrated as a period known as midwinter but the point of astronomical solstice is only a moment in itself and does not always occur at the same time. Again, we can understand this in a much more comprehensive way using scientific instruments. Our ancestors most likely understood time differently and they certainly utilised their own astronomical, mathematical and construction knowledge in order to frame this time within the structures of their monuments.
Although Newgrange is probably the most famous example, the growing discipline of archaeo-astronomy is discovering more and more ancient structures with celestial alignments.
You may even live near one and don’t even know it.
 
Examples of ancient solstice celebrations are worldwide and too numerous to list but here are some of which people may have heard of and not known too much about. Beginning with northern Europe we have the pagan festivals of Yule (Jul) which is associated with both Odin and The Wild Hunt. This was also supposed to be a time of heightened spirit activity and a person might encounter supernatural beings, fairies and ghosts by venturing out at night. Many of the Yule attributes are said to have emerged from pre-Bronze age customs of ancestor veneration which may account for these beliefs. This is a wide-ranging topic so I won’t delve too deeply into it in this short piece but there are lots of previous posts to help any interested reader discover the various scholarly findings and assertions relating to Yule.
Another example is the Iranian celebrations of Yalda night which come from Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrianism itself is said to date to before 2’000 BCE so this is another very ancient custom and observance of the solstice. Strangely enough, even though it is not generally remarked upon, there are tantalising links between Yalda night and Yule, not least the wariness of encountering supernatural entities at this time but also in the tribal and familial gatherings, story-telling and feasting.
 
Two other festivals you may have heard of are the feast of the unconquered sun, Sol Invictus, and Saturnalia. Both of these individual cultural expressions have their own mythologies, traditions and beliefs but are connected through the observance of the solstice and the motif of reversal and rebirth.
 
The Indian festival of Lohri is a solstice festival but it is different in that it takes places after the month of the solstice has been observed. So, in this instance the celebration of new life takes place in January and it focuses upon the arrival of longer days after the winter solstice. Punjabis celebrate on the last day of the month during which the winter solstice takes place.
These are just a few of the many worldwide customs and celebrations associated with the winter solstice. The chances are that no matter which ancient cultural expressions you research, you will find a winter solstice festival.
 
Finally, while this idea of renewal and rebirth is demonstrated within ancient structures and monuments, and within the renewal of nature and life, there is also a more contemporary example of acknowledging this time of new beginning.
For many, making new year resolutions and tying oneself to fresh hopes and habits for the coming year is a way to let go of the past of old fears and old scars. As the maxim of ‘as above, so below’ tells us, we too can look to the new year with renewed optimism and dreams and this is really what the solstice celebrations remind us of at the most primal level.

“The Day Of The Wren” Celebrated On The 26th Of December??

@David Halpin Circle Stories
 
This ancient custom takes place on the 26th of December. The roots of The Day of the Wren extend back to pre-Christian times and its significance is most likely tied to the beginning of the new solar year following the winter solstice.
However, there are a number of theories as to the origins of this sometimes grizzly parade but most agree that it is the remnants of a type of sacrificial offering in order to acknowledge the death of winter.
 
Another link to this interpretation is because the wren was said to be a bird that would continue to sing even in the deep midwinter and in some north European countries the bird is known as ‘the winter king’. Much later Christian reasons for hunting the wren were said to be because of the bird’s treacherous nature and betrayal.
The tradition up until recently has been for mostly boys and men to dress up, hiding their faces and call house to house usually with the greeting of, “Penny for the ‘wran’ or “Bury the ‘wran’” which was the offset pronunciation. These groups are called Wren Boys or Mummers. Today it is mostly a dummy bird which is used but the traditional custom was to capture a live bird which would eventually be killed. The bird was then placed on top of a pole which was decorated with coloured ribbon, cut material or paper.
But why hunt and kill the wren in the first place and why was it mostly men who carried out this practice?
The reasons seem to be related to Samhain or Solstice celebrations and a strange tale involving either a Banshee or Queen of the Fairies, depending upon your source. A name most commonly associated with this being is Cliona, who was said to emerge from either the ocean or the underworld and sing and seduce young men before luring them to their watery deaths.
This has parallels to legends of the siren and other similar archetypes in world myths. In the Isle of Man Cliona is known under the name Tehi Tegi but the story is the same. Tehi Tegi would seduce the local men and lead them to the shore before drowning them. It is said that this queen of the underworld would transform into a wren when she was confronted and was cursed to return to land in this form every year after the winter solstice.
Another possible reason for hunting the wren was because of the birds association with Druids. When Christianity came to Ireland and began to ban and sometimes incorporate traditional pagan practices the etymology of the word ‘wren’ had strong links to these wise people.
The Irish for ‘wren’ is Dreolin from Draoi Ean, which means ‘The Druids Bird’ so the connection is easy to see.
The Day of the Wren customs are not as widespread as they once were but there are still many towns and villages in Ireland where this ancient custom takes place. The biggest celebrations in Ireland today will take place in Dingle where there will be a large parade. Some of the mummer’s costumes are strange and wonderful and others are quite scary and disturbing.
Finally, although mostly associated with Ireland, this custom has many incarnations worldwide with similar themed myths appearing on mainland Europe and even the Bahamas.
 
 
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The Mysterious Orgins of Irelands Anicent Wells

This ancient well is a natural spring which was built around and enclosed in various stages. The stones around the well were placed in 1933 and the last section of fencing 20 years later in 1953. It is the earlier history which fascinates people much more.
Like many Holy Wells around Ireland this well was supposedly blessed by St. Patrick. It is also said to be the spot where the Pagan King of Leinster, Crimthann mac Énnai, was baptised. These stories come from hagiographies written hundreds of years after the existence of the historical Patrick and replicate themselves throughout Ireland so many times that it would have been impossible for one person to have christened so many wells.
Most likely, in my own opinion, anyway, the ‘St. Patrick’ in these much later stories is a kind of short-hand for Christianity itself and not a factual account of a person. The memory of Christianity taking over Pagan sites is given a personal association in these contexts over time and generations.
Some of the cures said to have occurred at the well include toothaches, ear aches and sight being restored. There is even an account of a sore leg being healed.
One of the most glaring observances at this well is the lack of ribbons, medals and votive offerings. The well looks very pristine and bare in comparison to many others. This is not a new phenomenon and was remarked upon in documentation going back to the 1930’s and further.
Natural springs have always been associated with magic and cures as well as with spirit deities. As I have mentioned before, women would come to these places in order to divine prophecy, speak with ancestors and make offerings to the spirits associated with the water.
Sometimes these spirits were quite fearsome such as the each-uisge or aughisky, which was a type of water-horse who could shape-shift into a man. It was said that women could capture this fairy spirit and tame it as long as it did not set its eyes on water again. As is usual with this folklore, there are quite a few regional variations.
There are also Irish stories of creatures called a merrow, which are a type of mermaid or mer-man. I don’t know of local stories involving them being this far inland and living in freshwater but it was said that their hypnotic music could travel over fields and mountains and entice anyone who heard it and draw them to the sea.
That said, Thomas Keightley, writing in 1828, mentioned that a merrow would capture sailors in Wicklow and keep them in cages similar to lobster pots. As Carlow isn’t too far away maybe we should be careful about any strange and eerie music that drifts in the air!
One other thing; if you take a step backwards off the stones you will fall into the water and the other part of the spring which is well hidden by growth and reeds! Now who would be so silly as to make that mistake? Ahem!

Patrick Kavanagh, The Poet Who Turned The Muck And Clay Into Gold.

Patrick Kavanagh is widely acknowledged as one of the great Irish poets. Born in County Monaghan on the 21st of October 1904 in the rural village of Inniskeen Kavanagh rose from his obscure roots to become one of Ireland’s most beloved poets. In many ways, Kavanagh was the great alchemist. Here was a poet who turned the plod, the muck, and mundane of everyday rural life into poetic gold.
 
But it wasn’t always plain sailing for the poet. In the area where he grew up in Kavanagh was viewed as a bit of an oddity. In the rural Inniskeen area there were only two ways to make a living and one was via labouring and the other was starting a trade, and anyone who bucked this well-established trend was viewed as a virtual outcast.
 
And not only did Patrick decide to buck this trend, he decided to burn the house down by becoming a poet. His father became enraged with the young Patrick when it was discovered that instead of ploughing the land like he was supposed to be doing he would wander off into the fields reading books and writing poetry.
 
 
Kavanaghs first big break through came in 1936 when Macmillian published his collection of poems titled the  Ploughman and Other Poems. In 1938 Kavanagh was catapulted to an entirely new level when he published the acclaimed book The Green Fool. But the book wasn’t without its controversy when he was successfully sued for libel by rival author Oliver Saint John Gogarty.  
 
In spite of some of his early success’s the Monaghan man was viewed with great suspicion by Dublin’s literary elite who never entirely grew to accept him as one of their own seeing him in many ways as being a country bumpkin who had no real right to be in their midst. Kavanagh’s literary output continued when he published the Great Hunger which received rave reviews in the New York Times.
 
But it is for the poem on Raglan Road that he is most remembered for. At the time when Patrick was 40 years old a young beauty by the name of Hilda Moriarty challenged him to write something more than his usual country/land type topic and the lovesick Kavanagh rose to the challenge by producing the iconic poem on Raglan Road. But it wasn’t until he met Luke Kelly one night in a pub and he asked the great singer to sing the poem that it really took off. Nowadays, the song is one of Ireland’s most beloved.  The poem/song came equipped with some spine-tingly powerful lines which included,
 
“On Raglan Road on an Autumn Day, I saw her first and knew That her dark hair would weave a snare That I may one day rue.
I saw the danger, yet I walked Along the enchanted way And I said let grief be a falling leaf At the dawning of the day.”
 
 
As the years progressed the great Bard grew despondent at what he would have seen as being the lack of recognition that he was afforded. He turned to liquor for solace and could regularly be seen drinking whiskey and gambling in bars in Dublin. As Patrick Kavanagh went towards the end of his years his poems where subject to a spirited revival when a body of work titled Nimbus was published. Eventually, in Kavanagh’s last years, he was afforded the recognition and respect that he long and yearned and craved. He died on the 30th of November 1967.
 
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Would You Like To Buy An Irish Castle And Island?

Would you like to own your very own Irish Castle and not only an Irish Castle but the place where Ireland’s Romeo and Juliet story took place? That’s right, McDermotts Castle situated on an island off Lough Key in County Roscommon is on sale for only €90,000.
 
The iconic castle built in the 12th Century comes equipped with 0.54acres of land, tonne loads of history, and even more scenery.  One of the most fascinating story’s that is associated with the place is the legend of Una Bhan, the story of Irelands very own Romeo and Juliet.
 
The fact that the tale revolves around the hauntingly beautiful Castle Island only adds to the spine tingling power of the tale. Surrounded by water Castle island is one them places that leaves a long imprint on your memory. The place evokes images of fairy tales, spirits, and all sorts of other supernatural activities. But it is for the story of Una Bhan that the Castle Island is most remembered for. The heart rendering tale of two star crossed lovers goes like this:
 
 The chieftain of the Celtic Kingdom of Roscommon was a man by the name of MacDermott. The chieftain had a beautiful daughter by the name of Una Bhan and she was named this because of her eye dropping long blond hair. The local neighbour was a young man called Toms Laidir Costello who was honest, hard-working, and strong person who looked out for other people.
 
When Una Bhan and Tomas met each other they both caught each others eye and over time both of them fell madly in love. Tomas Laidir asked Una Bhans father for his daughters hand in marriage but he refused believing that Tomas was not good enough for his beautiful young daughter. The furious chieftain ordered that Tomas was to leave the area for good and was to never return. To protect his daughter, or so he believed, he confined her on Castle Island, Lough Key. The Castle which was covered in water on all sides meant that Una would have no chance of escaping and eloping with the man that she loved.   
 
Una Bhan then fell into a deep grief because she could not be with the one she wanted. When Tomas Laidir heard of her grief he couldn’t help himself and decided that he would go and visit Una. Her heart was mended when she seen her lover but Tomas when he was leaving sent a messenger to Una’s father stating that if he did not send a message to him to return and be with his daughter by the time he crossed the river that he would never return. MacDermott never got to send his message on time. Being a man of utmost honor Tomas Laidir refused to break his vow never to return.
 
Una Bhan then went and died of a broken heart and was buried on Trinity Island, a small island on Lough Key. Tomas used to swim out to the island to be by his former lovers graveside. Eventually, after swimming across to the island countless times in the cold dark waters Tomas picked up incurable pneumonia.
 
Realising he was about to die Tomas requested that he be buried right next to Una Bhan and so in death the two lovers where eventually reunited. Local legend has it that two trees grow together on the island and that these two trees have joined up together forming a lovers knot, in which Una Bhan and Tomas Laidir form their eternal watch over the island.   
 
And so there you have it, why not own not only an Irish Island, not only an Irish Castle, but the very island and castle where Ireland’s very own Romeo and Juliet took place.

How Was Irelands Scottish High King Really Killed?

Last month marked the 700th anniversary of the death of one of the most extraordinary characters in Ireland’s long and bloodied history- the death of Edward de Bruce, the Scotsman who crowned himself High King Of Ireland. De Bruce died at the Battle of Faughart on the 14th of October 1318.
 
The date was marked with very little fanfare in the County Louth location where De Bruce perished. But there was a wreath sent over from Scotland which was placed on the grave by the extended de Bruce clan. So what was this incredible saga all about? And how was he really killed?
 
Edwards more famous brother Robert had beaten the English at the battle of Bannockburn and he had hoped to open up a new front against the English by inspiring a Scottish led uprising with their Celtic cousins in Ireland.  So on the 26th of May  1315, Edward landed on the shores of Ireland with a Scottish force of about 5,000 men to try and drive the English out.
 
Initially, Edward’s army secured a number a number of notable victories but as time advanced his army became ravaged by famine and starvation. Another factor that played against de Bruces was the sheer brutality of the Scottish army, a brutality that ultimately turned much of the local population against them.
 
The English Army was initially caught on the back-foot by the invasion force but they then began to organize a force in an attempt to push back against the Scottish led rebellion.
 
On the 14th of October 1318 an English led force commanded by John De Birmingham set out to finally crush de Bruce once and for all. Edward who was stationed around Faughart upon hearing notice of the approaching army appeared to be cocksure of certain victory but history would ultimately tell a different story as he was cut down during the battle.
 
Reports vary as to how he was killed with some suggesting that the headstrong commander was killed due to his hot-headedness and over-eagerness to beat the English but other more recent evidence suggests that de Bruce was killed in almost comical fashion.
 
The end
Edward de bruce
 
In 1845 local historian Bryan Geraghty compiled an account on the battle which was published in a County Louth Archaeological Journal. Geraghtys account was taken from a manuscript that was written shortly after the battle so it must carry some weight when it comes to finding out what actually happened on the day. Geraghtys account goes like this,  
 
“after the initial battle when Bruce’s men were in high spirits because they were certain of victory, the different divisions of the army set down to take food at the request of the King and his noblemen, so that they might be refreshed to finish the battle with success, rout the Galls (English) to their fortresses. At their meal which they were enjoying with good zest, the King walked alone to explore among his people who lay dead on the hill, and view the gory carnage of the morning of that day.
 
He was not long engaged in this manner when they, his men, perceived a shameless idiot (later named as John De Maupas, a burgher of Dundalk) enveloped in a bundle of straw ropes, instead of clothing, wending his way towards the King across the hill. All were disgusted and astonished at seeing such a figure approach the King, but supposed that message impelled him to come there, and that a sense of fear was not in his heart for they conjectured, and their conjections were well founded, that he came towards the King from the camp of the Galls”.
 
“When this demented person came before the King, he saluted him, and the King returned the salution in like manner. This demented fellow held in his hand an iron ball to which a long chain was attached on one end of which was tied round his waist and there displayed many frantic and very trifling tricks.”
 
“When this madman presented himself before the King and said ‘ O Gentleman I am a professor of arts, who have excelled all other professors of arts in Ireland and since I am determined to display my achievements before the King in order to obtain wealth and the honour of knighthood from him, and since I suppose you to be the King of Ireland’s people I find it necessary to display my feats before you if you wish to view them’.
“I do” the King replied smiling “what feats do you perform ?”.
“I perform the feats of the iron ball” said he.
“Well then” said the King “perform your feats for me and I myself will introduce you to the King”.
 
“The frantic fellow thereupon began to play his uninteresting feats, until finding an opportunity of the King, he gave him a stroke of the ball on the head by which he scattered his brains around. After this act he ran as fast as he could across the side of the hill in the direction from which he came”.
 
When his people saw the King fall close by them, they raised piercing and most sorrowful cries of lementation, and armed and unarmed as they were, pursed the treacherous and accursed idiot who committed the great act of destruction and though they were swift couriers, and active and nimble-footed kearns among them, it was not in their power by the speed of running and nimbleness of nerve to overtake the iron fool until he took refuge among the Galls”.
 
“persons worthy of credit who have been intimate with the King assert that he was an upright pious man, on whose heart the fear of God and the love of man was deeply impressed-that he held injustice and treachery in utmost destestation- that he was a valiant hero, sensible and affable, and friendly towards his subjects-and he was a learned man well skilled in the various languages of Europe, acquainted with the liberal sciences, but proud of the truly royal blood from which he sprung”,
“Those who survived returned the same night after the Galls retired from the field of battle and carried the body of the King along with them to the house of a gentleman of the family of O’Roddy, who resided on the Hill of Fochart, where a wake and funeral was held over it, and it was interred with great honours by O’Roddy and his people in his own family burial ground in the country of Fochart of Saint Bridget and they set a coarse unhewn mountain stone over the grave to distinguish it as that of the King of Ireland”.
 
And to this day Edward de Bruce’s body, or what remains of it, lies buried on top of a windswept hill in Faughart Co Louth.
 
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Is Ashford Castle The King Of All Castle?

There are castles. Then there is Ashford Castle a place so sublime that you’d nearly need to pinch yourself into not believing that you’d just set foot inside some mythical Hollywood fairy-tale. Steeped in opulence, grandeur, and history Ashford Castle has it all: Epic sieges, romance, splendour, jaw-dropping scenery, breathtaking architecture, and loads more!
 
The people who have entered these hallowed grounds reads like a who’s who of world history- Princess Grace of Monaco, Ronald Reagan, Oscar Wilde, Johnny Cash, Sharon Stone, John Wayne, and the list goes on and on and on.
 
In many Ashford Castle is an irresistible force, it seizes your mind like a rip-tide that refuses to release its grip. Every inch of the place is scrutinised to ensure that you receive maximum pleasure. At Ashford Castle perfectionism knows no bounds. Even the grass takes on a certain aura with the lawns manicured and tended to with all the care and perfection that a heart surgeon would bestow upon a much-loved patient. You could almost imagine the greenkeeper getting down on his knees and using a pair of scissors to clip a single strand of grass that rebelliously waved in the wind. That is the level of detail and class that this location personifies.
 
 
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The History
 
But where did it all begin? What was the acorn in the ground that was to grow into such a magnificent edifice?
 
The original structure was built in 1228 by the De Burgo Family also known as the Burkes. The De Burgos where an Anglo-Norman family who ruled over this area for three centuries until disaster struck when a greedy English Solider by the name of Sir Richard Bingham demanded that the Burkes and other local chieftains pay a tax towards the crown. The Burkes refused.
 
 Ashford Castle then became the scene of one of the most epic sagas in Irish History. The battle that was fought at the Castle in the 16th century between the Burkes and Sir Richard Bingham would make the TV series Game Of Thrones look like a kindergarten play. Eventually, after a bloody battle, the stronghold fell to Bingham who went on to refortify Ashford in preparation for any retaliatory attacks.  
 
In around 1670 the estate, by royal decree, was passed on to Dominick Browne who was Mayor of the Province of Galway. The house of Browne proceeded to build some further works in the site in the style of 17th-century French château.
 
Most of the modern Victorian style structure to the castle was added in 1715. Other styles that were added to the premises include, as we have already seen, a French- style chateau and also a neo-gothic touch. The many different styles of the castle all combine to make this castle one of the finest of its kind not only in Ireland but the world.
 
In 1885 the estate was purchased by Sir Benjamin Guinness who went on to further renovate the structure and make it into the place that we now all have come to know and love. When Sir Benjamin died his son Lord Ardilaun oversaw the development of a huge area of woodland surrounding the location.  The castle stayed in the possession of the Guinness family until 1939 when Noel Huggard had the honour of purchasing the property. In 1951 the legendary film the Quiet Man was filmed a short mile away from the grounds. In the meantime, a number of other owners purchased the place, most notably the legendary Irish American Businessman Chuck Feeney.  
 
Nowadays, the Castle is like a living breathing museum. Everywhere you look there is something that grabs your attention and not only grabs it but demands your attention. Ashford Castle is one of them places that leaves a long imprint on your memory.
 
A secret here, a secret there. An ancient story from the past that still has the power to send a shiver down your spine. Just when you think you’ve seen it all Ashford Castle reveals something new. Almost like the wonderment one feels when they come across a beautiful flower in some place that it has no earthly right to be.
 
 
Back From The Dead
 
But with such a splendid structure upkeep becomes vital and in the early 2000’s the place began to fall into disrepair. But like Knights in shining armour The Tollman Family road in and rescued the stricken maiden. All it needed was a bit of love, care, affection, and of course, plenty of money and the ancient edifice was breathed back into life.
 
Ashford Castle arose like the Phoenix from ashes to not only become an Irish Castle but THE Irish Castle. Not satisfied with becoming the premier Irish establishment for luxuriousness in 2015 an influential Las Vegas travel company crowned the place best hotel/castle in the whole world.   
 
The premises boasts a number of luxury suites that ooze relaxation, elegance, and all-round comforts. An added benefit of staying here is that each bedroom offers breathtaking views across the gardens and out into the stunning waters of Lough Corrib.  Dining at Ashford Castle is an experience in itself with some world class food on offer that will be sure to have you salivating at the mouth.
 
If you visit during the May to September period you’ll be able to take advantage of the Connaught Room which offers a mouth-watering French a la carte menu which is prepared by a world-renowned Michelin Star Chef.  If you favour a more lively setting you can always take a trip to the Dungeon Bar which is located on the Castle grounds. You can always decide to take in some of the delights that of the cellar which boasts over 600 premium world-class wines which act to ensure that no visitor will ever go thirsty.
 
There are a number of other activities that Ashford Castle offers such as a 9 hole golf course and some prime fishing on the world famous Lough Corrib. The place also boasts one of the most prestigious Equestrian Centres in the country and so if you are into your horses well then this is the place for you! An unusual activity you can partake in is Falconry with the Falconfirst Faconry School giving you the rare chance to get up close and personal with some killer birds of prey.
 
 If the weather is overcast and damp, fear not, because Ashford Castle boasts a superb health and beauty centre which comes action-packed with a sauna, steam room, and a full offering of beauty treatments.
 
You could always decide to take in some of the daily showings of the classic film “The Quiet Man” which was filmed in the nearby village of Cong.  
 
Overall, it is safe to say that Ashford Castle is a special place offering visitors the ultimate fairytale castle experience. The place affords visitors some exquisite views inside and outside the grounds and if you are looking to visit some of the best Castles in the world look no further than Ashford Castle.   
 
Where does this never-ending river of gifts actually end? The answer is that it doesn’t because Ashford Castle is the place that keeps on giving and giving. Like a passionate romance, just when you think your partner has shown you all she can she then goes and pulls another astonishing surprise out of the hat.  To truly know this location is impossible but what you do know has your gasping in admiration. The connection between Ashford Castle and the true connoisseurs of life is a romance for the ages, a romance that is to go on and go.