The Irish Keening Tradition: Singing the Soul Home

This article was written by David Halpin of Circle stories

Keening, which was once an integral part of the Irish grieving process, began to vanish from before the 1880’s. In many academic papers it is implied that keening was strong until the mid-20th century but the Irish folklore archives contradict that view. There are still isolated accounts of keening taking place but it is now extremely rare. There have also been some recent attempts to bring back this ancient practice and perhaps we will see a resurgence at some point. There are a few different reasons for why keening disappeared but two in particular seem to form the basis of opinion for many of today’s researchers.

The first reason is that keening was always considered a pagan practice and the church felt that it had no place in a Christian ceremonial context. Keening and a form of death wailing is found in indigenous cultures from Europe to the Americas and throughout Australia, Africa and Asia. In some traditions there is a form of wordless cry but in others there is a recounting of the persons deeds and traits; a plea at times and perhaps an attempt to sing a scar upon the memory of those left behind in order to never forget.

In ancient Greece mourners called Goetes would howl and chant next to the dead in order to secure safe passage to the heavenly realms. Although the term ‘Goetes’ is sometimes said to mean ‘sorcerer’ or ‘magician’ its original translation was to ‘moan’ or ‘howl’. It was believed that these shamanistic-type ‘songs’ somehow attached to or carried the soul of the dead person and helped to navigate its way past the obstacles and dangers of the underworld. Although the term ‘shamanistic’ is often used outside of the original cultural context, in this instance there is a direct relationship to the Asian forms of chanting and singing at the funerals of the dead. We can trace many of the practices of appeasing ghosts, for example, from Asia to Mesopotamia and onto Greece. We see a separation of sorts when we look at the Buddhist prayers or reading from The Tibetan Book of the Dead/ the Bardo Thodol (Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State) and the many indigenous and non-formal Asian funeral practices. (Personally, I would tend to think that all cultures and indigenous magicians knew this art of keening/ chanting for the dead and there is no real need to look for one original source of the tradition.)

In Ireland the Banshee is a fairy associated with death and keening. Rather than go over a description I’m sure most readers know already I thought I would mention another specific interpretation of this supernatural being associated with keening you may not have heard of, The Bow. From the Irish folklore archives, “The Bow is said to be the demon of the air. The old people in Ireland always believed in the bow. It is said that she is a small woman and that when she was a girl she had a long head of hair which she was always combing. She was very proud of her hair and it is said that when she died she was too bad to go to Heaven and too good to go to Hell and God sent her on this earth to cry after certain people when they die. She makes her path through the fields and on the hills. She goes around at night crying and keening and her cry is like the cry of a young child…” Full account of The Bow here: https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/5009342/5008793/5130356 (Notice the description of The Bow as being not good enough for heaven, nor bad enough for hell which is also applied to the Christian explanation for the origin of fairies.)

Returning to why keening disappeared from Ireland, Marie-Louise Muir, who made a BBC documentary about keening called Songs for the Dead believes that it was the giving way to the keening women, in particular, at funerals which angered priests. When this happened the church felt that its authority was being undermined by something more archaic and, indeed, authentic. The primal nature of keening perhaps resonated with people more than the reciting of memorised and formalised prayer. Of course, for the priests, giving way to a woman, and one who in their view might be uneducated and an advocate for superstition, was something that had to be stopped. An example of an account of keening here: “Long ago when a person died the old women of the neighbourhood would come into the wake house crying over the corpse and reciting the praises of the dead man or woman. This would generally be repeated from time to time until the corpse was taken to be buried…” https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4921781/4906668

It is this difference in social context which contributes to the second main reason for the demise of keening. People began to believe that keening was something that *should* be left behind as it was part of the old Ireland. In many cases people felt embarrassed about the keening women themselves. As I have mentioned, it was usually a specific person who led the keening. This woman was very often associated with folk-cures, fairies and the old ways. As Muir goes on to say about this factor, “People said they didn’t want to be part of this regressive, backward-looking culture — ‘I want a bit of modernity.” In this account from the Irish Folklore Archives we have an example of the keeners being laughed at and deciding not to keen at the next funeral. “John F Senior made a laugh of the keeners and said if they did not stop they’d waken his father. There was a laugh and the keeners felt so wronged that they refused the next funeral.” https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4605955/4605647/4644054

A recent fictional account of the keening tradition can be found in Hannah Kent’s novel, The Good People. The scene in question is when the village ‘Bean Feasa’, Nance Roche, comes to keen at Nóra’s husband’s wake. The suspicion and embarrassment of the villagers is palpable as Nance begins the keen and makes those gathered reflect on who they are and where they come from. However, maybe it is how Nance reminds them of where they are ultimately going which instigates a more subtle separation between her customs and those of the village. The practice of keening was raw and emotional as opposed to the quiet repetition of the rosary. While many saw the outpouring of keening grief as cathartic and all-encompassing instead of liturgical and formal, others felt self-conscious and ashamed of it.

Today, when we think about our ancient, megalithic monuments aligned to the sun and stars you sense that perhaps the ancient Irish people were well aware of the necessity to preserve a universal perspective of death and lamentation. These sacred places point outward in some ways, yet they also draw light down from solstice dawns and cradle it momentarily within their stones as if to acknowledge the fragility and wonder of life. Then, from around the 1850’s as the church discouraged keening, the traditional Irish funeral took on a more sombre tone and celebrating a life and death often became a custom of inward constriction. For the ancient Irish, and the keening women, though, death was a moment of outward release.

(C.) David Halpin.

Photos.

1. Boleycarrigeen stone circle on a misty morning.

2. Ireland’s only Viking Hogback Stone in the grounds of St. James’ Church, Kildare.

3. The Ring of the Rath, Co. Wicklow.

Doors to the Otherworld: The Fairy Folk of Ancient Wicklow

“At this Rath in Krishuna it is said the fairies gather on certain nights. They ride on the wings of the wind and retreat at cockcrow to the rath of Mullaghmast in Kildare. The people of this neighbourhood are said to keep a black cock in order to defeat the more evil minded of the fairies and to preserve them from harm.”

This is a description of the fairy parade from an account regarding the locality of Kilranelagh, Co. Wicklow. https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/5044724/5034696

Kilranelagh is an ancient Wicklow site probably best known for its ancient graveyard within which lies the remnants of much older previous Pagan structures, including megaliths and a cairn. And, of course, Kilranelagh is the site of an ancient Holy Well and sacred spring which I have written about before and which is now dedicated to Saint Briget. I thought I’d post this picture of the spring which gives an indication of how primal it must have seemed to our ancestors. Truth be told, if you can block out the sight of the much later gravestones, as ancient as they are, the site becomes much more functional and understandable as a sacred space. For example, we have a pure water spring emerging from the earth on a high hilltop. The remnants of a megalithic structure stand close by, perhaps as a type of ritualistic companion, which would have been the case in other cultures and traditions, certainly. The site is surrounded by further cairns, raths and stone circles all of which emphasise the importance of this place to ancient people, even if today we cannot fully understand the true context.

Unfortunately, here in Ireland, much information regarding the ‘old ways’ has been lost or processed through the filter of later religions. We do still have the ongoing and recorded experiences of those who visit these places, though. What should we make of those when they describe otherworldly beings and doorways into magical worlds? Fairies, ghosts and strange lights in the woods are continuing motifs in the lore of Kilranelagh and the surrounding countryside but what is most fascinating are the various layers of folklore experience and how they interact.

For example, cups are placed at this well so that newly interred children can offer a drink of water to the spirits who have always resided here. So, already, before Christian people took to burying their dead here, the site was already connected in some way to the Pagan Otherworld and much older deities. If we return to the excerpt I posted at the top of this piece we see that not only do the spirits and fairies emerge from the nearby rath, but they have the means to travel to other sacred sites by following fairy roads.

We should not make the often cited mistake of believing the fairies or Aos Sí are the vanquished Tuatha Dé Danann. The ancient mounds and sites of Ireland are much, much older. Ireland’s spirits and indigenous deities were here long before any later conquering people. For our ancestors, the movement of spirits was often tied to their evolution, perception-wise. Spirits were believed to be within things, but not the things themselves. In this way a sacred site, once venerated might lose its power, or, as has been recorded, a spirit of a place might travel some distance in order to manifest when a previous sacred site is destroyed. This is best demonstrated by the example of fairy trees and their destruction. The fairies, in these instances, seem still quite capable of exacting revenge even when the tree is gone.

Returning to this specific locality, Kaedeen Mountain, which towers over Kilranelagh, has its own stories of strange bright lights and fairies who seem to enjoy transporting local people away for a day or two before returning them seemingly unharmed. All of this lore barely scratches the surface of what has been recorded here and hints at multiple levels of perception still to be processed. The motivations of the good people, of course, can also only be guessed at. Maybe our ancient ancestors, without the distractions of contemporary life, were better able to attune themselves to these sacred sites and their function. Perhaps we shouldn’t underestimate their choice of places to better experience the Otherworld and the doorways into it.

Of course, another perspective might be that it is not us who chooses these places as being sacred at all, instead it is the places, and the associated spirits, themselves, who choose us.

(C.) David Halpin.

Photos.

1. Kilranelagh’s ancient Holy Well, now named after Saint Briget.

2. View from the ruined cairn upon Keadeen Mountain.

3. Entrance to Seefin monument, Co. Wicklow.

#irish #fairies #faeries #fairy #fae #witch #pagan #healing #holywell #druid#irish #folklore #mythology #fortean #elves #banshee #otherworld#norsemythology #witchcraft #megalith #ghosts #paranornal #spirits#wicklow #kilranelagh #stonecircle #irishhiking #irishmountains

Ireland’s First Witch Burning: Petronilla de Meath

(c) David Halpin @ Circle Stories

There is a famous Jonathan Swift quote about how the law impacts upon the rich and poor in unequal measure which reads, “Laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through.”

This interpretation was certainly the case three centuries earlier when Irish law decreed that Petronilla de Meath was to become the first woman to be burnt to death following accusations of witchcraft on November 3, 1324. Because witchcraft was not yet listed on the statute books in Ireland the term used to convict Petronilla was actually ‘Heresy’.

Petronilla de Meath, a maidservant, was 24 years old when she was accused and convicted of being an accomplice of her employer, Dame Alice Kyteler, who was the real and intended target of the accusations. Alice Kyteler was a powerful noblewoman who had outlived three husbands and was onto her fourth marriage when her various stepchildren came together to bring accusations of sorcery, murder, and witchcraft. The probable reason for this was just how powerful and rich Alice Kyteler had become at her step-children’s expense and some of them felt that she had cheated them out of their rightful financial legacies. But because Kyteler was, by this time, so well connected and influential in her own right, she was able to flee Ireland and escape the charges. Unfortunately, this left her workers and servants, including Petronilla de Meath, to face the fury and wrath of the accusers and the Bishop of Ossory, Richard de Ledrede.

During her incarceration, Petronilla was tortured and flogged and brought through six different parishes to be humiliated and persecuted before she eventually confessed to the charges brought against her. Considering the punishment and pain being inflicted upon her it is surprising that Petronilla even lasted as long as she did before conceding to the accusations.

Many of these charges were typical of the time and were concocted based upon church superstition and a wilful attempt to suppress and distort ancient folkloric practices and cures. These accusations included the sacrificing of animals and burying their remains at crossroads so as to conjure demons. Petronilla was also charged with making potions from the body parts of children and participating in lustful associations with an entity who appeared as a dark-skinned man and who could transform into a cat.

In 1233, Pope Gregory IX had issued the Papal Inquisition against heresy which clergymen and church leaders were using to suppress ancient and indigenous European pagan beliefs and practices. Included in this decree was a description of a black cat which Pope Gregory claimed would appear to witches and heretics. This demon would then supposedly transform into a shining man with cat’s legs that the sect’s members would proceed to kiss on the hindquarters before a group orgy would ensue. Catholic teachings would then be banished from the minds of these neophytes and witches as they pledged loyalty to heretical deities. Pope Gregory’s edict also describes the ingestion of toad emissions to replace the Eucharist and it is interesting that included in the charges against Petronilla is the claim that she concocted potions to influence and kill.

Toad emissions were also associated with flying ointments and another of Petronilla’s later confessions was that she and Alice Kyteler would rub a ‘magical’ potion on a wooden stick which would then enable them to fly.

Aside from the typical symbolism of the witches’ familiar included in the charges, there are also specific Irish folkloric associations which remind of a fairy being called a Púka, or Pooka. This was an Irish spirit or elemental often thought to be able to change shape and they are usually associated with ancient places and pagan sites.

There are many variants of the etymology of Púka which link it to similar fairy spirits in Scottish, French and North European lore. Another version is the English Hobgoblin, ‘Puck’ or Robin Goodfellow. One explanation for this is that the word itself comes from the Old Norse term ‘Pook’ which is most often translated to mean ‘nature spirit’.

Some descriptions of the Púka speak of a black horse or cat, whereas others describe a demon or fairy exhibiting both human and animal physiology, so today we can appreciate how people at the time might have also noticed this archetypal succession.

As is often the case with myths and legends, though, many descriptions exist with slightly different cultural translations. Depending on where you live, a Púka might be helpful or mischievous, good or bad, or, most likely a mix of many trickster-type characteristics. For Petronilla and her fellow accused this was just a further proof of their guilt, unfortunately, and a tangible way to influence not only the well-off gentry but the rural poorer population who would have been well aware of Ireland’s spirit lexicon.

It is beyond imagining what Petronilla must have gone through during her long and torturous incarceration and we can only wonder how she lasted through such a period of suffering, agony, and distress. Finally, Petronilla’s short life was brought to a grizzly end when she was burned at the stake before a huge gathering of onlookers in Kilkenny on November 3, 1324. It has been suggested that Petronilla’s son, Basil, was also accused of witchcraft but, somehow, Alice Kyteler managed to have him smuggled away and save his life. Whether this is true or not is hard to say as it has never been proven one way or another.

Today, the inn where Petronilla worked for Alice Kyteler is still standing and has become a tourist attraction in its own right. Some guests have claimed to see the ghost of a lady on the premises and although this apparition is often cited to be Lady Kyteler herself, one must wonder whether Petronilla de Meath has more reason to impress her life-story upon the patrons visiting the location of her accusations and the town of her eventual demise.

During Ireland’s civil war many buildings were destroyed which included libraries of historical and legal documentation relating to trials and criminal charges.

To this end it is impossible to say how many women were ultimately accused and convicted of witchcraft and heresy in Ireland. Based upon popular academic opinion the number is deemed to be quite small compared to other European countries, but we really have no way of knowing for sure. While the sensationalism of witch burning is something that might sear itself onto the consciousness of a town or village, it was often the case that many of those accused of witchcraft were punished by other means. Women were banished from their homes and sent out into an unforgiving landscape where they would die a slower and less visible death.

What we also know is that many of those accused of witchcraft were also associated with fairies and spirits of the land.

Perhaps this also created an environment of both respect and wariness within rural populations and, of course, many of these ‘wise-women’, the Bean Feasa as they were known, were often the same women a family would turn to in times of childbirth, sickness, and for remedies and cures pertaining to love, healing and curses. Ireland’s recorded figures relating to witch burnings may be incomplete, but remembering the case of Petronilla de Meath we at least have the chance to imagine the terrible injustices that strong and independent women had to face.

(C.) David Halpin.

#witch #fairies #faeries #puca #pooka #blackcat #pagan #wisewoman #cunningfolk #folklore #mythology #kilkenny #healing #biddyearly #banshee #cailleach #alicekyteler #petronillademeath #druid #heathen #irish #devil #elves #beanfeasa #stonecircle #witchcraft #samhain

Photos.

Secrets to Carlingford County Louth

Visiting the small village of Carlingford in County Louth is like opening the door to the wardrobe in Narnia and setting foot inside a magical land that enchants you from the very first moment you step foot inside of it. Carlingford is special. There is an aura to the place, an uplifting atmosphere that sets the butterflies swirling in the stomach as soon as you enter into its magical arms.

One of the first things that strikes you as you drive into the village is the sea waves lapping to the shore beneath the stunning backdrop of the Mourne Mountains. Straight ahead and towering over the village stands the impressive Slieve Foye mountain which looks over this ancient village-like an ever watching parent. And perched on top of a rocky outcrop on the shores of Lough you’ll set your eyes on the 12th century Saint Johns Castle.

Carlingford makes an impact on you from the very first moment you set your eyes upon it.

There is something about it that sets the place apart from anywhere else you’ve visited. With its medieval castles, ancient archways, fine bars, sea air, mountains, history, adventure centres, and much more. It’s a place that’s full of possibility, full of hope.

As you walk into the atmospheric little village you’ll be greeted by a number of little shops, restaurants, and bars that are all painted in vibrant eye-catching colours. Right at the entrance to the village stands Taaffes Castle, a tower house that was built by Theobald Taaffe in the 16th century. Nowadays, parts of the original structure is converted into a cosy little bar and restaurant. During the week the village itself has a relaxed and calm atmosphere but suddenly to spike you out your slumber Slieve Foye Mountain stands there with its chest puffed out daring you to its summit. If you’re fit and ready, It would be rude not to answer the call.

The first section of the hike includes an old stone path which is enclosed on either side with large stone walls. You are met by the noise of a stream which trickles down towards the mouth of the Lough. The stone walls and overhanging trees and bushes that make up the path act to form something akin to a hidden passage way that adds to the anticipation of the hike. Once you clear the stone wall you walk across steps which lead you out onto the open green expanse of the mountain itself.

Even at only a quarter of a way to the summit the views that welcome you are breathtaking. Whatever thoughts that might have ailed you before you started your hike slowly begin to recede into oblivion as the mind soaks in the jaw-droppingly beautiful landscape before it. As you hike towards the summit the mountain gradually begins to reveal her bounty of secrets. Out of nowhere a patch of the mountain is covered in bright purple heather. Nature is full of surprises.The golden-green landscape and seas surrounding Slieve Foye take on a startling array of rapidly changing colours, almost as if, in front of your very eyes, the canvas is being painted by the hand of god himself.

Down below at sea level you can see the waves of the ocean shimmering and beating along the shoreline. Without warning a sudden ray of sunshine beams down from the heavens, illuminating this ancient land of Cuchulainn and Finn McCool. Boats dart and sail across the Lough. Right across the Lough the jagged rolling edges of the Mourne Mountains stare across at you.

Little houses dot the landscape and one can’t but help think of the owners inside watching some mundane mind-numbing drivel on their flat screens and mobile phones. If they would only cast their gaze a little further to the skys they might discover that a whole new world lies within their grasp. Up here amidst the mountains is real living.

As you reach the top of the mountain for a brief moment, out of 128,000 people living in County Louth, not a single soul is standing higher. You’re the king of Louth. All of the little human dots you see moving around below appear as insignificant as ants.

An added bonus is that Slieve Foye mountain isn’t a place that’s overspoilt by masses of tourists (the same cant be said for village at the weekends). If you decide to hike the mountain during the week you’ll practically have the place all to yourself. The treck down the mountain allows you to stop and savour some scenery that you may have missed on the way up and if you like a cold beer after a hike maybe the thoughts of this will put a spring in your step as you’re descending.

When you reach the ground level the lively little village usually will have a stream of enthusiastic tourists exploring all the nooks of crannies that this vibrant place has to offer. For me, one of the great pleasures in life is having a pint of beer and looking up at the 1961 foot mountain you’ve just summited. Slieve Foye stands there looking at you like a trophy that you temporarily held in your arms.The smooth creamy head of Guinness has an added touch of magic to it as it flows down your welcoming throat. The euphoric feeling is practically unmatched. Pints normally go down well in Carlingford but when you add in Slieve Foye into the mix you’ll be on the receiving end of an intoxicating and euphoric mix of nature, history, scenery.

But there’s much more to Carlingford than pints and mountains with an action-packed adventure centre which includes paintballing, abseiling, canoeing, and much more. Once here the whole day lies ahead of you full of infinite possibilities.

Right at the shores of Carlingford lough stands King Johns Castle which was built in the 12th century by the anglo-norman Hugh de Lacy. The Castle was named King Johns Castle when King John of England stayed at the location for a number of nights in 1210. The King had come across from England with a large army intent on engaging in battle with Hugh de Lacy because Hugh hadn’t given the King an adequate share of the plunder and wealth he had gained when he conquered parts of Ulster. The castle has had a suitably dramatic history with a number of armies surrounding and laying siege to it. During the battle of the boyne, the castle was used as a Williamite hospital.

One of the most fascinating sites in and around the Carlingford area is a place called the Famine Village. The village consists of Stone built houses standing roofless and falling into natures suffocating hold. The place is an abandoned village which some people believe was deserted due to the great Irish famine which caused millions of people to die of starvation and millions more to leave the shores of Ireland in the hope of a better life abroad. Local archives provide evidence that a number of families resided at the locations around the 1850’s but other evidence suggests that the houses are much older.

Another bizarre feature to this strange village is that it contains what is believed to be a medieval sweat bath, which predates much of the ruins by nearly 1,000 years. Whatever the truth of the matter, it is fascinating to think that only 4 or 5 generations ago that people lived in this little village, that there hopes, dreams, trials and tribulations all resided in this little picturesque corner of the universe but that now all that is left is some stones crumbling into the Cooley Mountains.

Another place that is synonymous with the Carlingford area is the Long woman’s grave. The long woman’s grave, as the place name suggests, is a tall tale indeed. She was said to have been a very tall Spanish lady who fell in love with an Irishman. The Irishman in an effort to win the Spainish ladys heart had pledged that he owned a nice patch of land back in Ireland. The Spanish lady agreed to marry the wily Paddy but when she came over from Spain to look at her new house she instantly dropped dead of a heart attack when she saw the rocky windswept land that she would now be inhabiting.

It seems that the long womans love only extended so far as whatever plush surroundings she thought she would be living in. Now it is said by locals that the ghost of the long woman still roams the hills of Carlingford. Legend has it that, sometimes she can be heard wailing and shouting at night in lament that her husband’s wallet wasn’t as long as her legs.

The medieval Dominican abbey in Carlinford is another place well worth a visit. The Abbey was founded by Richard de Burgh around the year 1305, with its erection dedicated to Saint Malachy. Over the years the ownership of the Abbey has changed into the hands of many an infamous owner.

Not far away in Greennore you cant take the ferry across the Lough to Greencastle in Co Down but beware of Ghost ships as apparently these ghost ships are spotted every few years in the Carlingford area. The origins of this local myth began In 1833 when a 200 tonne ship which embarked from nearby Warrenpoint to Liverpool sank with nearly 100 souls on board. A sighting of this ghost ship is said to herald a coming disaster in the local Louth area.

Overall, Carlingford is a place that is not only worth a visit but is a place that is worth many visits. Carlingford has everything scenery, castles, history, mountains, good food, sea air, and an unrivalled atmosphere that will keep you coming back again and again.

This article was written by SEO Ireland expert Seamus Hanratty.

The Jumping Church, The alcohol treatment center, Mellifont Abbey, and the Monasterboice Cross

The Jumping Church, The alcohol treatment center, Mellifont Abbey, and the Monasterboice Cross

Setting off to visit a place called the “Jumping church” might sound bizarre. A Jumping church might be something someone would see after eating a bucketful of magic mushrooms but alas, “The Jumping Church” is a real place, and apparently, according to legend, it really is a jumping church. The site is situated just outside Ardee in a townland called Milockstown. I parked at the side and hopped across the fence and there before me lay the infamous building.

Bizarrely, a huge portion of the bottom area of the foundation the bricks are positioned at an angle that does appear to suggest that the church did actually do some kind of jumping. Certainly, some kind of structural damage did occur at the site. There are two local legends that proport to explain the anomaly 1. That the Church was lifted from its foundations during a great storm in the 1700’s and, 2. That when some man, whom had been excommunicated by the church, was buried inside the grounds of the structure and that the church registered its disapproval by jumping away so that this man wouldn’t be buried inside sacred ground.

A plaque on the site reads: “This wall by its pitch, tilt and position can be seen to have moved three feet from its foundation. Contemporary accounts mention a severe storm in 1715 when the wall was lifted and deposited as it now stands but local tradition states that the wall jumped inwards to exclude the grave of an excommunicated person.”

My theory is that maybe the bricks were laid down by some bricklayer who had consumed too much poitin. In fairness, maybe the church was right to jump out of the way- there are a few bastards in my own home town where the church would be well advised to do a bit of skipping and jumping.

The jumping church also has a connection to the the Knights Templar who had a base at the location during the 13th century. Over the years the Templars been associated with the holy grail, the ark of the covenant and loads of other conspiracy theories. But isn’t it remarkable to think that this infamous organisation resided and lived here in small little townland in County Louth.

After I was finished visiting The Jumping Church I then decided that I would go visit Mellifont Abbey an 11th century Monastery that was built by Cisteran Monks. As I was driving up the road to Mellifont I saw a signpost for a place called Smarmore Castle so I decided to turn back and pay this previously unheard of place a quick visit.

As I drove up to the Castle gates there was a large sign saying “No entry.” The gates were wide open so I decided to ignore the sign and drive on in for a quick nosey. It quickly became apparent that this place was no ordinary castle when I spotted another sign emblazoned on the front of the castle which read, “Alcohol treatment centre”. Almost immediately Images began flooding into my mind of a pack of drink starved alcoholics flocking around my car like a pack of zombies demanding that I supply them with some hard liquor. Before this imaginary mob descended on me I put the boot down and left Smarmore Castle and drove towards for Mellifont Abbey.

The Abbey was founded in 1142 and continued to be a functioning Monastery until 1539 when King Henry VIII confiscated the land on behalf of the English crown.

Mostly all that is left of the site now is some ruins, but you can still make out that at some stage that there would have been a significant settlement located there. I also learned that on the night before the Battle of the Boyne many of King Williams officers stayed in the Abbey.

An interesting side story to the Battle was that on the day before the momentous encounter a few hundred of King James soldiers went on a massive siege of drink and couldn’t be awoken from their drunken slumber to take part in the fight! Allegedly, the Poitin that they were drinking was nearly twice as strong as there normal brand and so during the most pivotal battle in Irish history these soldiers spent it trying to shake themselves out of a drunken stupor.

After visiting Mellifont I then decided that I would visit the Monasterboice Celtic cross which is located only a few miles away. The Monatersboice Cross is one of the most iconic crosses in Ireland. Its image has graced everything from flags, stamps, T-shirts, bodily tattoos, necklaces, and much more.

After visiting Mellifont I then decided that I would visit the Monasterboice Celtic cross which is located only a few miles away. The Monatersboice Cross is one of the most iconic crosses in Ireland. Its image has graced everything from flags, stamps, T-shirts, bodily tattoos, necklaces, and much more.

One of the reasons that the Monks would have made these crosses was because it allowed to them explain to the illiterate locals the story of Jesus Christ. The cross stands robust and strong and is packed full of intricate little carvings that supposedly tell the tale of Christ. One image that stands out is a engraving of two devils sticking their pitchforks into a person who has found himself in the pits of hell.

This huge 21 foot cross exudes presence and power. The effort that is must have taken to carve out the cross and make it into the magnificent structure that it is must have been monumental.

At the location there also is the Monasterboice round tower, a place that undoubtedly would have witnessed many a tragedy as greedy Viking hordes sought to get their hands on whatever riches where hidden inside the tower. The Vikings would have sailed up the Boyne in their Longships and laid siege to places like this. This was one of the reasons why these large tall towers built so that the monks could climb up into them and hide inside.

The location also has a large graveyard which some headstones giving dates that stretch back hundreds of years. In a hectic world of hustle and bustle, there is a strange peacefulness to a graveyard.

I always find that in a graveyard by reading some of the headstones that there’s always a story to be learned, a lesson to be learned, wisdom to be gained. In old graveyards like this, which stretch back centuries, what sometimes catches my eye are the new graves and at Monasterboice one particular plot of a young man in his late teens caught my attention. His grave was covered in tributes, including the touching tribute of a football.

Curiosity got the better of me and I decided to Google his name where I quickly came upon a news article that told his tragic story. The kid had been going to celebrate a birthday when he was trying to cross the road and was hit by a car. What strikes me time and time again is the cold-hearted, indifferent, ruthlessness of the game of life.

One minute the lad was walking across the road towards a party, with his whole life ln front of him, and the next minute he was dead. In the end, there are no prisoners taken. There never are. Such is life. Now the boy rests in the cold wet clay of Monasterboice with his ancestors and his ancestors before him and so the story goes on and on. But here at Monasterboice, in spite of all the tragedies, the sun still shines down illuminating the gravestones with a heavenly glow. The birds still sing their songs of hope. The green fields and trees wave, flutter, and twinkle in the wind. The world goes on.

This article was written by an SEO Ireland writer and SEO expert Seamus Hanratty.

How are Cuchulainns Castle and Cuchulainns Stone connected with Irelands greatest Celtic Warrior??

The legendary Celtic warrior Cuchulainn is an iconic symbol of Ireland, a symbol nearly on the scale of the Shamrock or the Harp. But who is this mysterious man who has managed to captivate us down through the pages of history? and what locations and areas helped shape his mercurial character?
 
Two places that are synonymous with the legend are, Cuchulainn’s Castle on the outskirts of Dundalk and Cuchulainn’s Stone only a few miles away in Knockbridge.  As we will see in this blog The county Louth and South Armagh areas are integral to the Cuchulainn story itself. 
 
There are few figures in the annals of Irish History that have had as large an impact on our consciousness as Cuchulainn. Whilst the man himself, in all probability, may have been a myth the stories and tales that revolve around this heroic character are very real and have left an indelible impact upon the Irish Psyche. The tales of Cuchulainn have passed down from generation to generation.
 
In the tale of the Tain bull of Cooley in spite of being hopelessly outnumbered by Queen Maeaves Army of Connaught, Ulsters Cuchulainn choose to stand and fight. He died a hero’s death strapped to a stone, daring his opponents to approach him even as he drew his last mortal breath into his lungs.
 
Our ancestors gathered around campfires in the dead of night and bards and druids whispered these tales of heroism to members of their clans. In bleak dark times here was a warrior, a fighter to be looked up to and revered.  In the modern world, we learned these tales as schoolchildren.  A huge Bronze sized statute of the man lies in the GPO in Dublin.
 
His iconic figure has graced stamps, flags, books, and so much more. He stands for defiance, an unquenchable warrior spirit, courage, defiance, and determination in the face of insufferable odds.  The great mans fiefdom was said to have been the County Louth and South Armagh areas so what better place to get a feel for who he was then to take a tour of some of the areas that are commonly associated with the legend itself.
 
The first place I decided to visit was Cuchualainns stone in Knockbridge, which is only a few miles outside Dundalk. For anyone who decides to visit the location please be aware that the only thing that marks the spot is a small green sign at the edge of the field which is covered in grime.  You can park across the road but take care when walking across the road as cars can suddenly be on top of you in a matter of seconds. 
 
When you hop across the fence that leads into the field you’ll find yourself inside a large cornfield and right In the centre of that field you’ll see Cuchulainn’s stone stretching out of the ground like a giant finger.   It will take a few minutes for you to make your way across the uneven and muddy ground until you reach the legendary stone. Also known as the Clochafarmore Standing Stone. Clochafarmore translates into “Stone of the big man.”
 
Chillingly enough the field where the stone is located is said to be called by locals as “the field of slaughter.” As you stand at the location, you are met by a peculiar silence which is then suddenly interrupted by ranks upon ranks of slowly drifting and moving corn. This all adds to the feel of a strange atmosphere, almost as if the spirits from yesteryear are watching over their former place of homage. 
 
One of the first thing that strikes you is that the stone has no earthly business standing where it is. Normally you would find other similar stones within the general vicinity but as far as I could see there were no other boulders or rocks even remotely resembling the gigantic Clochafarmore stone. This all begs the question as to, How did it get there? If it was put there by human exertion it must have taken a momentous effort to relocate it.  Standing at over 30 feet high and roughly 4 feet wide the stone is located amongst the stunning backdrop of the Cooley Mountains. 
 
According to the legend of the story Cuchulainn was fatally wounded by a spear after a mysterious spell cast over him made him lose half his strength. The great warrior wanted to die facing his enemies standing up so he tied himself to the Clocnaformore stone. Such was the power of the man, even though he was fatally wounded his enemies wouldn’t dare approach him for three days and three nights until a raven landed upon his shoulder and then and only then had his enemies know he was dead and that it was safe to approach him.
 
The manner of his death has entered Irish legend but it is for the story of the Tain Bull of Cooley that Cuchulainn is best known for.  In the Tain Bull of Cooley he single handily fought off Queen Maeve’s army of Connacht.  The Queen of Connaught was determined to capture ulsters prize bull but the armies of Ulster had other ideas and so they decided to wage war to defend Ulsters honor but on the day of the battle, a spell was a cast over Ulsters army that made them all fall asleep, all except Ulsters greatest warrior, Cuchulainn.
 
Instead of fleeing in the face of such impossible odds Cuchulainn decided to invoke the ancient right of single combat, which meant that he would fight the best warriors from an opposing army one on one. For weeks Ulsters most fearsome soldier defeated opponent after opponent until eventually the rest of Ulsters army woke up from the spell that was cast over them which ultimately allowed them to finally defeat Queen Maeve’s army. 
 
With such epic stories at play, it is not surprising that the Celts choose the jaw-droppingly beautiful  Cooley Peninsular as the setting for the Tain Bull of Cooley.  In the distance, the Cooley Mountains and the Mourne Mountains stand watch over this ancient terrrain as the sea waves laps to the shore. Maybe the Celts picked this location because the stone was in alignment with the passage tombs that they built at top of the Cooley mountains? 
 
It is clear from the locations of stones and monuments like these that our ancestors worshipped nature, the moon, the stars, the sun, the trees, the rivers, the birds. They were in tune with the rhythms and beats of nature and the world.  As one stands at these majestic locations sometimes you can’t but help think of so-called modern world and wonder as to how  progressive we really are? In the modern world, we worship digital devices, TV.s, Laptops, and iPhones, and most of all money. The man with the big bank account thinks he’s free except he’s imprisoned, unknown to himself, imprisoned by the thoughts of the next dollar bill. 
 
He can’t hear natures orchestra of birds or he’ll never see a dieing blood red sun setting on the Cooley Mountains as a dark blue star-speckled sky begins to tentatively twinkle its way to life. All the modern human hears is the ring of the cash register. But it doesn’t matter how much money he gets, he’ll never be happy, because all the money in the world cant fill the void inside his soul.  He uses drugs and alcohol to fill that void which is akin to using a band-aid to stem the flow of blood from a decapitated leg. He doesn’t know it yet, but he’s worshipping a fools gold. Who knows, maybe those primitive nature sun-loving Celts were more modern and progressive than we might like to give them credit for? Are we the modern world, the real primitives? Primitive in spirit and soul?
 
 
 

 
 
Want to add a caption to this image? Click the Settings icon.
 
 
 
After visiting the place where the great warrior met his heroic end I decided that my next port of call was going to be Cuchualainns Castle located on Mount Avenue, only 2km away from Dundalk Town.  The Castle is also known as Castletown motte. This site is important in Irish mythology as it is said to be the birthplace and burial place of Cúchulainn. As you walk up the steep hill to the site you begin to get a feel for its historical significance. Halfway up the hill and in a field to the right-hand side of the large mound of earth there is a stumpy stone about 60cm long which sticks out of the ground. This small little stone, legend has it, is the burial place of Cuchulainn himself. I find it remarkable that in many of these places in Ireland that have such historical significance that there is essentially nothing to acknowledge the sacred and special nature of the locations.   
 
You can see that the current castle tower that stands on the site is a relatively recent erection. The modern building is a place known as ‘Byrnes Folly.” It was erected by an infamous local pirate called Patrick Byrne.  Whilst the word “pirate” might evoke images of a marauding one-legged pirate with a black eye patch hitting the high seas, the reality, was much different. In that era smugglers of alcohol and all sorts of other goods would have been referred to as Pirates.  These men sought to avoid paying taxes to the authorities so they were labelled as Pirates in an attempt to blacken their names.
On the way up to the Castle itself there is a motte, which basically means a huge mound of earth. It is thought that this motte originally was a pre- Christian fort which was named Dun Dealgan. For anyone familiar with the Gaelic language they would be able to tell you that Dun Dealgan is the Irish version of the word Dundalk. 
 
 In spite of the story being thousands of years old the tale of Cuchulainn still resonates to this day. He faced death and his enemies head-on. Refusing to bow down even as the lifeblood slowly dripped away from him. Cuchuliann choose to die standing up. What isn’t heroic about such a story, such a saga? To face our fears but not only face them but defy them even in the most difficult of circumstances. To unsheath your sword and ride straight towards your darkest hell.
 
 In the bleak dark days of the winter the Celts needed heros, they needed stories that could be told around campfires that might warm those winter nights of the soul. The Greeks have Hercules, we have Cuchulainn. He may, as the story goes, have died at the Clochnafarmore stone but the legend and story of Cuchulainn will live on and on, for he, Cuchulainn,  is one of the immortals.

Fire, Fairies and Candlelight.

This article was written by (c) @David Halpin Circle Stories
 
For many, today is the beginning of a week long celebration of Lughnasa right up until the 7th of August, the astronomical cross-quarter.
The twin concepts of fire and light are two motifs which appear frequently in Northern Hemisphere mythology related to this time of the year. That said, there are also other aspects of fire, fairies and light within folklore and customs which are less well known.
 
Before electrification, and the lights we take for granted today, the encroaching darkness of early autumn evenings would have possibly felt much more ominous, perhaps, or at least it would have been respected to a greater degree.
What I mean is that people would have been more in tune with the seasonal change. Routine would have incorporated instinctual time-keeping within the shrinking hours of daylight.
Going back a little bit further and the woodlands and mountains would have held the risk of encountering wolves which roamed Ireland as recently as the late 18th century.
And, of course, there was always the possibility of a person straying into the company of the good people or one of their haunts. Ireland has lost an inestimable amount of megalithic sites over the past two or three centuries. It is sometimes easy to forget that so many have been destroyed. As mentioned in a previous post, in some counties up to 80% of earthworks have vanished. It is no wonder that Ireland has so many stories of both wolves and fairies connected to these sites.
 
As far as houses and villages were concerned, one of the ways people brought light into their homes was through two particular types of candle: Resin and Rush. The Resin candles were made by melting a lump of Resin and when melted, dipping it in twisted pieces of cloth about eight inches in length.
For Rush candles, rushes which were chosen for strength and length were collected, then cut into equal pieces before being peeled, leaving a tiny strip unpeeled on each rush. Then grease was melted in a boat shaped iron pot called a grisset. The peeled rushes were dipped into this one by one and left to dry on a board. There were other types of candle and other methods of making them but in rural Ireland the way mentioned above was probably the most widespread.
 
As well as bringing light into homes, the candles also had a magical and ritual use. One of the most popular ways to protect cattle from fairies, as well as curses, was to circle the cow and pass the candle under it. You might notice some similarities to the Uisneach fire protection rites here. In this instance entire herds of cows were driven between huge fires for a similar type of ‘cleansing’, purification, and warding off of evil.
 
Another magical property of these candles was that if the flame began to turn blue it was an indication that a spirit was nearby. Obviously throughout the entire world candle and fire magic has specific properties related to individual cultures but it is interesting to observe how many of these ‘spells’ share similar steps and rituals.
 
Many accounts of people encountering fairies at night in old Irish folklore begin with the spying of a strange and unusual light near a rath, stone circle or in the woods. Sometimes the entire mound itself is recounted to have lit up, basking the observer in an unearthly brightness.
Perhaps we too often overlook the aspect of darkness itself in these stories before electrification. Including information regarding light might not be the most anomalous factor for us today in the 21st century, but hundreds of years ago this aspect of the encounter lent yet another layer of strangeness and otherworldliness.
Andrew Lang, in his 1893 introduction to Robert Kirk’s The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies (1691) writes that inside the fairy mounds the light is ‘artificial’ and glows softly. Kirk himself says of the fairy abodes, “Their ‘places’ are large and fair, and unless at some odd occasions are unperceivable by vulgar eyes.” He writes that they, “…have continual Lamps, and Fires, often seen without Fuel to sustain them.”
 
So, as we can see, perhaps we take this documenting of strange lights less seriously than we should. Perhaps the primal darkness is also necessary in order to immerse ourselves back into natures patterns and all of the sensory input that brings, including the anomalous.
Wolves, though, are something we don’t need to worry about anymore if we get caught at dusk on a mountain summit.
That said, as you trudge back down, through bog and knee-high mist, through tangled forests, glimpsing the first stars through the tree branches, it’s easy to have your doubts.
(C.) David Halpin.

The Tale of Ireland’s Ghost Ship, The Ouzel Galley: Folklore and Fake-lore!

his article has been written by (c) David Halpin of Circle Stories.
 
I was recently asked about an Irish ‘Ghost Ship’ which supposedly sailed to Tir na nÓg. Now, this is puzzling as I had not heard of such a story before. There are, of course, many accounts of ghost ships in Irish folklore. This one from Co. Donegal describes a phantom ship which disappeared when it was approached. https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/4493789/4420626/4537130
 
There are also accounts of Irish sailors who supposedly landed on the mythical island of Hy Brasil. They reported meeting a wizard who lived on the island with giant rabbits and who, in some accounts, gave the men great treasures before they returned. https://www.ancient-origins.net/…/hy-brasil-legendary-phant… This wasn’t the story that the person meant, though.
 
It was then that I remembered the tale of the Ouzel Galley.
Although all kinds of folklore and tall tales surround this ship I have never heard the association with Tir na nÓg before and this brought to mind the concept of ‘fake-lore’. Fake-lore is sometimes innocent or the result of a misunderstanding. Other times it is deliberate, albeit a way to add colour or drama to an event or location.
When someone writes a description about an event or image which they know not to be true is also considered fake-lore. Unfortunately, this happens quite a lot here on Facebook. Another recent example of fake-lore was when a TV channel created the legend of a banshee for an Irish castle in order to promote a documentary. So, fake-lore, then, is a the adding of untrue information in order to sensationalise or romanticise the actual circumstances. While it may seem harmless it does in fact distort and compromise the authentic folklore.
 
The Ouzel Galley seems to have attracted elements of fake-lore to add to the overall mystery of what happened to this ship and her crew. The story of this ‘Ghost ship’ is one with a resolution but it is the ships missing years which mystify many to this day.
 
The Ouzel Galley set sail from Dublin in the autumn of 1695. The intended destination was that of the Ottoman Empire and the area which today is known as Ízmir in Turkey. The trade mission was supposed to take one year after which the Ouzel would return to Ireland. However, to everyone’s surprise the ship did not return after one year. After the third year of the ship’s absence the Ouzel was presumed lost along with all of her crew. Following a meeting with the insurers all on board were officially declared dead and payments were issued to both the insurers and the families of the crew.
The Ouzel had vanished into thin air or the murky depths, so it seemed, and various tales regarding what may have become of the Ouzel entered the realm of the folkloric, the conspiratorial and even the supernatural.
Had the ship been attacked by pirates? Did it encounter some strange sea monster which smashed the ship into pieces or did it encounter another ghost ship which spirited away the captain and crew?
After a further two years had passed the most incredible event occurred. A tattered and worse for wear Ouzel sailed up the River Liffey to the astonishment and bewilderment of the people of Dublin. This surprise quickly gave way to open celebration and crowds lined the Liffey walls cheering and calling to those on board.
Here were men presumed dead now miraculously returned to Ireland. They were fathers, brothers and sons whose families believed they would never see them again. Indeed, many of the crew discovered to their dismay that their wives had remarried. Some accounts say that some of the returning shipmates found new children awaiting them at home. In Ringsend, children born in unorthodox circumstances were said to be referred to as “ouzelers” but there is no mention of this in the Duchas.ie archives that I can find. Perhaps this too is an added piece of fake-lore?
But what had happened to the Ouzel Galley?
The ship’s Captain Massey recounted a story of high adventure and peril. He claimed the ship had been commandeered by pirates, Ottoman Corsairs, who took the crew to North Africa before enslaving them on the ship.
They were made to serve the corsairs and act as pirates for years, attacking other ships returning with cargo from the Caribbean and Mediterranean shipping lanes. After five years of this Captain Massey claimed that one night the pirates became so drunk that he and the original crew were able to carry out a daring escape and return, finally, to Dublin.
Now, this seemed both too strange and too unbelievable to many in Ireland. People began to wonder whether in fact it was Captain Massey and his own crew who had committed the acts of piracy. The reason for this was that it seems the Ouzel had been sailing and looting in seas that it was legally forbidden to enter.
What better way to negotiate a way around this than to claim the ship had been hijacked. This would have been the ideal cover for Captain Massey and his crew should it have been the answer to the Ouzel’s disappearance.
 
When the Ouzel had returned it was loaded with bounty and goods which had been taken from other ships. Had this been the intention all along? The next question of course was who now owned the plunder and goods? After much negotiation it was decided that they would be sold and the money used to pay the insurers and the ships owners. Anything left would be given to a charity fund for Dublin’s ‘decayed merchants’.
Needless to say, the crew were not too happy about this. In 1705 the panel which had arbitrated in the case of the Ouzel Galley was formally established as an arbitration body to deal with shipping disputes. This body lasted until 1793 when it was amalgamated with the newly formed Dublin Chamber of Commerce.
 
The first account of the Ouzel Galley appears 100 years after the supposed events occurred so perhaps this is why there is still such an element of mystery attached to its story: nobody can definitively prove the facts of the matter.
Finally, in 1988, the Ouzel Galley Society was reconstituted, primarily as a charitable institution. It still exists today and is itself subject to many conspiracy theories and rumours regarding its function. You can read more about the society here. https://www.historyireland.com/…/never-let-the-facts-inter…/
So, ultimately, I’m still not quite sure where the Tir na nÓg association has sprung from. That said, such fake-lore is something that we will probably see a lot more of in the future, I’m afraid.
(C.) David Halpin.

The Glengarry Fairy: An Account of a Changeling.

This article was written by (c)@David Halpin
 
 
The precise definition of a changeling can vary from place to be place but generally we can say that they are a fairy who has exchanged places with a human child. Some accounts will end with the human child being spellbound in the Otherworld but reasonably well looked after, whereas others, such as this tale, end with the child being discovered or recovered in a terrible state of neglect. In many cases the human child does not recover from the experience.
 
After some suspicion based upon the changeling’s unusual behaviour, many of the accounts end with the human mother somehow tricking the fairy into revealing itself. In Irish folklore this may be achieved by pretending to leave the house and spying on the changeling child who, thinking it is alone, may sing about its deeds and age or play a musical instrument or exhibit tremendous skill at a spinning wheel, for example.
Many reasons have been put forward for the belief in changelings and some of these are associated with illness and dire social circumstances.
For this post we will examine the folkloric beliefs as opposed to the more tragic psychological and physiological possibilities.
 
Folklore, then, tells us that changelings choose a human child for a number of reasons. Throughout European stories of this fairy-being there is a recurring factor regarding both fairy birth and midwifery. Previous posts have documented accounts from Ireland and mainland Europe where a woman has been taken to the Otherworld in order to assist with a fairy birth. In comparable instances young men are taken in order to father fairy children. We see this motif in contemporary UFO lore which also shares many other common aspects of changeling accounts.
Joshua Cutchin, author‘s recent book, Thieves in the Night, may be of interest to those who would like to read more about this. https://anomalistbooks.com/book.cfm?id=100
Some folklorists have argued that earthly sustenance is required by the fairy child but contradicting this are the many tales in which the changeling turns out to be hundreds of years old.
Another reason given for a changeling to take a child is that they must pay a tithe which may be for a certain number of years or, alas, a permanent one in some cases. A Christian interpretation of fairy origins account for this belief as in some traditions fairies must pay a seasonal tithe to the devil, or every seven years in other cases.
 
Another interesting difference in how changelings are perceived is in relation to babies being born with a caul over their faces. The caul in changeling tradition signals a likelihood that the child has been marked by the fairies or, worse, already taken.
This contradicts many ancient European traditions where this occurrence was seen as being lucky and the sign of a healer or witch. The Good Walkers or Benandanti of Italy are a famous example of this. These people were an agrarian cult who were able to travel to the spirit realm and battle against evil spirit forces.
For more on this I recommend Carlo Ginzburg’s book The Night Battles: Witchcraft and Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Night_Battles
Although a belief in changeling-type beings is pre-Christian, a later factor which was seen to determine whether or not a child might be taken was whether they were baptised or not. Another was that if the child was particularly striking or beautiful it was more likely to attract the good people.
 
In the following tale the changeling does not seem to hide his true form as it allows the mother to witness his withered features and long teeth. The act of crossing water is one that is renowned for breaking a fairy spell and in this case, along with throwing the changeling into a deep pool, is one which the mother utilises in order to have her child returned.
A final observation on this account is the sound of a flock of birds the mother hears as the veil between the human world and fairy world is crossed momentarily. This turns up in many accounts of fairy abductions and is one of the less explained associated phenomena. A similar example is that of the maid who was abducted by the good people close to Boleycarrigeen stone circle. In this case the maid reported that she heard a sound similar to a horses bridle or reins being shook just before she entered the Otherworld.
The Glengarry Fairy.
 
” There once lived in Glengarry a widow with a young child who was a boy. One day she went to the well for water; and when she was returning to the house, she heard the child, whom she had left sleeping quietly in the cradle, screaming as if he were in great pain. She hastened in, a gave him a drink as quickly as she could. This quieted him for a little while, but he soon broke out again as badly as ever. She gave him another drink; and while he was at her breast she looked at him and saw that he had two teeth in his mouth, each more than an inch long, and that his face was as old and withered as any face she had ever seen. She said to herself: “Now I am undone, but I will keep quiet until I see what will come of this.”
 
Next day she lifted the lad in her arms, put a shawl about him, and went away as though she was going to the next farm with him. A bug burn ran across her path, and when she was going over the ford, the creature put his head out of the shawl and said: “Many a big fold have I seen on the banks of this stream!”
 
The woman did not wait to hear more of his history, but threw him into a deep pool below the ford, where he lay for a while, tumbling about and reviling her, and saying if he had known beforehand the trick she was going to play him, he would have shown her another.
She then heard a sound like that of a flock of birds flying about her, but saw nothing until she looked at her feet, and there beheld her own child with his bones as bare as the tongs. She took him home with her, and he got gradually better, and was at last as healthy as any other child.”
 
Original Source: James MacDougall, Folk Tales and Fairy Lore in Gaelic and English, Edinburgh: John Grant, 1910, pp. 115-119
(C.) David Halpin.

Ancient Irish Pagan Festivals Of August and What They Mean??

c)@David Halpin Circle Stories
 
Lughnansadh is a cross-quarter day festival dedicated to the god Lúgh, although there are similar festivals in European Paganism, with many associations to other incarnations of this figure.
Although it is usually observed around August the 1st, this year the astronomical date of Lughnasadh will fall on August the 7th. It is remarkable how many similar symbols and customs are shared with other countries and, indeed, other deities.
 
And yet, looking at what the harvest represents, perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised at the attributes and myths associated with the gods and goddesses celebrated at the end of July and early august.
This is the time when the fields are ready to be harvested, the trees are heavy with late summer fruits and the days are warm, calm, and still long. It is a time of plenty and also a time of reflection.
 
From the grain aspects of Osiris, to the Roman grain goddess, Ceres, through to more obscure harvest deities such as the apple goddess, Pomona, our Northern Hemisphere ancestors saw aspects of the divine in the fulfillment of the earth’s bounty and they honoured this life-giving process accordingly.
In fact, even before Osiris, in ancient Egyptian religion there existed a god of grain called Neper. He was linked to both a goddess of grain, Nepit, as well as a goddess of weaving, Tayt, which is very interesting in light of some of the other myths covered here. Ultimately, as Osiris became a more popular god associated with life, death and resurrection, Neper’s seasonal life-cycle was amalgamated into this larger myth and Neper became an aspect of Osiris.
This is one example of how complicated and intertwined the stories of gods and goddesses can become.
It also sometimes becomes a reason why there are so many different origin myths for deities. Symbols and variations were shared as people moved from one place to another and encountered groups who worshiped and acknowledged their own gods, goddesses, and spirits watching over the same seasonal patterns.
 
Lugh himself has similarly tangled roots. He is associated with the sky, the sun and storms in the main, but is also considered a master of many arts, writing and contracts. Some consider him the same deity as Lugus and Lleu Llaw Gyffes and there are good arguments for a shared root with Loki and even Odin, for some people. This trickster characteristic also ties Lugh to the Gaulish Mercury figure I have written about in other posts.
Some academics believe that Lugh’s name comes from the Proto-Indo-European root, ‘Leuk’, which means ‘light’. Others argue that the name in fact comes from the root, ‘lugios’, which means ‘oath’. There are cases for both in my own view. Whether it is the solar imagery or the link to contracts, it is hard to see one side winning out over the other at this time. Perhaps the answer is indeed that both are true.
 
The most surprising connection for many people is Lugh’s link to Prometheus and Lucifer. Now, it should be clarified that Lucifer is not Satan but a hugely complicated figure linked to light, knowledge and rebellion. Although the personas of Lucifer and Prometheus differ, their intentions as light bringers are what concern us.
Rather than falling down that rabbit hole in this short post I would direct people to Peter Grey’s thorough examination of this archetype, Lucifer: Princeps. https://scarletimprint.com/publications/lucifer-princeps/
Although many Lughnasadh celebrations take place on the last Sunday of July, the original, astronomical date would fall halfway between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox. So, as we can see, this is a cross-quarter day celebration and one which was recorded well before the Celtic celebrations by Ireland’s ancient people in many monuments through stone alignments.
This year, the Lughnasadh cross-quarter day will actually fall on August the 7th. In later Irish mythology, Lughnasadh was a festival in remembrance of (some say) the earth goddess, Tailtiu, who perished having prepared the land for agriculture. There are some interesting parallels between Tailtiu and the Cailleach, not least the aspect of cleared land, but more on that another time.
Lugh, according to The Book of Invasions, was Tailtiu’s foster-son, and it was he who started the tradition of games in her honour.
Traditionally, some of the events which would take place were athletic contests as well as feats of physical prowess. Matchmaking was another association with Lughnasadh, as well as making bargains and deals. We can notice the ‘oath’ and ‘contract’ motifs here. Perhaps the Irish lore linking the sky battles over mountains between Lugh and Balor tie into the later customs of physical contests?
 
The folklorist Márie MacNeill also mentions the idea of Lugh stealing the ‘treasure’ of life and crops from the god, Crom Dubh, for mankind. As we can notice, this has very interesting similarities to the Prometheus and Lucifer stories, alluded to earlier in the post. Some believe that the figure of St. Patrick replaced Lugh in this battle and the figures of Balor and Crom Dubh became representations of Paganism through Crom Cruach, the vanquished god. This also ties in to the custom of climbing mountains and in particular, Cruach Aigle, now known as Croagh Patrick.
 
Recently, engravings and prehistoric art have been discovered on the Croagh Patrick pilgrimage route, demonstrating the pre-Christian, Pagan importance of the mountain. The art has been dated as being at least 5’800 years old.
The ceremonial and sacred practice of ‘rounding rituals’ which takes place at this time is also ancient and worldwide. There is a strong tradition of visiting Holy Wells around Lughnasadh where this practice also takes place. Circumambulation is really a meditative and, some say, a magical and shamanic practice, which also has variants in many esoteric spiritual traditions and witchcraft.
We can also link this practice to what I would term ‘witchwalking’. https://www.irishtimes.com/…/megalithic-rock-scribing-found…
I’m sure most are aware of the transition and crossover of Lughnasadh over time to the celebrations of Lammas and Reek Sunday. As we have encountered on the Circle Stories journey, the old, Irish Pagan celebrations were given a Christian makeover in order to assimilate them into the ‘new’ religion. Of course, the original reason for acknowledging the feast is easily revealed by paying attention to the symbols and celebrations associated with the date.
 
@David Halpin Circle Stories