The surprising secrets to County Monaghan that will make you visit again and again.

Nestled amidst the rolling drumlin hills of the border region lies a place called County Monaghan.  We’ve given the world poets, artists, fighters, sportsmen, and much more. A son of Clones, Barry McGuigan, conquered the world of boxing with his fists. Inniskeen man Patrick Kavanagh dipped into his magic chest of words and weaved a spell that captured a nation’s heart.  Tommy Bowe strode around the Rugby pitches of the world like a colossus.
    
But Monaghan, in spite of its long list of the renowned heroes is almost like Irelands forgotten county. A mere afterthought to our masters in Berlin and Dublin. In the 15th century “The English attorney general, John Davies described the area as ‘the wastest and wildest part of all the north……proudest and most barbarous sect among the Irish’.’ If that was said on a Gaelic football field we’d take it as a compliment. Our football team is led by the illustrious Conor McManus has taken on and beaten the best.  Giants have fallen at our feet. 
 
 
monaghan
 
What can beat a game of Gaelic football in Clones, the atmosphere, the craic, the camaraderie, the pints?  Barcelona has the Nou Camp and we have Saint Tiernachs park. We wouldn’t have it any other way.  This is our Coliseum. Our gladiators battle it out upon this hallowed turf. We are the 3rd smallest county in Ireland, but that doesn’t matter, fuck the odds. We’ve beaten them all Kerry, Dublin, Tyrone, they’ve all fallen on their shields. Sometimes David really does slay Goliath. Other times bleak dark days are the only things that we can see on the horizon, but there’s always a glimmer of light. We come back. We rise again. It’s in our nature.
 
During the troubles, Monaghan was seperated from our natural cousins to the north in Armagh. We were always a place apart. A never-never land synonymous with mushrooms, diesel smuggling, cows, dung, lakes and shite weather.  If Monaghan was an island, one suspects our government would have cut us off a long time ago to drift aimlessly amidst wild Atlantic currents. No one wants it. Not that place. Let it drift, let it drift. 
 
But who cares what them shysters in Dublin think of our “thick-tongued mumble” and what about it if our own great bard also said, “oh stoney grey soil of Monaghan you burgled my bank of youth.”  If Kavanagh was around nowadays he would have seen other banks burgled throughout Monaghan and further afield, but not by the usual suspects, but by men in black suits and ties speaking in posh west brit Dublin accents. 
 
To hell with the jackeens, they can have their concrete Jungle and zombified junkies roaming the streets like a scene from the dawn of the dead.  In Monaghan, we have golf courses, clay pigeon shooting, fishing, beautiful scenery, rivers, lakes, clean air, castles, houses you can actually live in, and men that drink pints to bate the band. In Carrickmacross, you’d be more likely to get your hands on a pint of beer than a loaf of bread. The towns 19 pubs are a testament to this fact. 
 
 
But Carrickmacross has much more to it than pubs with the location being the burial place, in Bullys Acre, of the Blind Harper Patrick Byrne who enchanted the royall halls and palaces of British Aristocracy in the 19th century.  There’s also Magheross graveyard which comes complete with a macabre crossbones and skull headstone.
 
The old Famine Workhouse has recently been renovated and provides regular tours of the old famine graveyard and surrounding areas. The Artist Sting recently visited the place in an effort to discover his heritage. Carrickmacross is also the home of the world-famous Carrickmacross Lace which has graced the weddings of Princess Diane and Kate Middleton. 
 
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A Monaghan man is usually a mixture of spiteful sneery ill-humour and sometimes fun and craic. If we didn’t know a story about you he’d be sure to make one up. The bigger the lie the better and it will be sure to travel like a wild gorse bushfire that’s after being sprayed with gallons worth of petrol. Goodnews reaches a blind alley. Bad news will stampede around the place like a wild rampaging Elephant.  Who said Monaghan was a paradise? Not me, but sure what place is?
 
 And what better place to die than in Monaghan as soon as someone passes on the masses turn out in their thousands to “pay their respects.” In Dublin, you’d be pumped up the Chimney in clouds of smoke before your body even got a chance to get cold. And so what if the same locals turning up at your funeral probably wouldn’t have “pissed on you if you were on fire” if they met you on the street the week before you died. At least the pretence is there. Throw a dead dog a bone and all of that. A great place for a dead man. 
 
To the west lies our mortal enemies Cavan.  The relationship is akin to a North Korea South Korea standoff, with the men from Cavan refusing to budge when it comes to handing over them few extra pennies. They’ve been known to go on hunger strike over the rights to 2 cents that was found lieing on the footpath.  There’s always been hard borders between Monaghan and Cavan. But we’ll lay claim to Du Na Ri forest park as our own. If USA can claim Texas, we’ll claim Du Na Ri. Power grab.
 
As we’ve already seen we’ve excelled on the world stage!  Did you know an infamous cannibal came from Clones? Yes, In the 19th-century Clones man Alexander Pearce was banished to Van Diemens Land where he eventually ended up eating his fellow convicts for lunch, dinner, and breakfast! Charming eh?  What can we say, sure don’t we all like a good Snack Box after a night out?
 
Monaghan is packed full of history, stories and laughter. To the west, at the top of the Bragan Mountains, a local Celtic Chieftain is reputed to have been buried,  keeping an eternal watch over his ancient Kingdom of Farney. 
 
Near Glaslough stands Castle Leslie an 18th Century Castle that is steeped in history and a place that apparently has a ghost roaming around the rooms at night.  The Beatles Paul McCartney was married there before embarking on his doomed romance to Heather Mills.
 
 
In Castleblayney there’s the abandoned relic of Hope Castle which overlooks the stunning Muckno Lake. Monaghan is dotted with hundreds of little hidden lakes that populate nearly every nook and cranny of the countryside. The beauty of Monaghan is that you could suddenly stumble upon one of these lakes glistening and winking in the distance tempting you into her arms. These lakes are packed full of some of the best course fish in Ireland and people travel from all over to fish them. In the depths of the Drumlin belt, there’s always a monster lurking around the next corner.
 
In Inniskeen a Round Tower and the Patrick Kavanagh heritage centre awaits you. The Fane River flows through the village providing a relaxing backdrop for any visitor to the area.
Only a few miles away you have Laragh Tin Church, a striking 19th-century church made out of tin, the only one of its kind in Ireland.
 
In Monaghan, not only do we have great architecture we also are the Kings when it comes to Bog Snorkelling.  The Bog Snorkelling All Ireland Championships takes places every year In Doohamlet.  Monaghan might not win an all Ireland football title any time soon but when it comes to Bog snorkelling we are the champions. Bring it on.
 
 
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In the northern reaches of the county there’s situated the small town of Clones, the setting for Patrick McCabe’s novel turned movie The Butcher Boy. Clones seems like a town that is stuck in a time warp, a place that has never made it past the 1960s. Derelict buildings crumble onto the footpaths, abandoned shops and dreams lie scattered all over the streets.  If you turned on the TV in Clones you’d nearly expect to find the TV Show Dallas on repeat.  
 
 But appearances can be deceptive because from this seemingly innocuous border town has given birth to men of the caliber of Barry McGuigan, Patrick McCabe, Eugene McCabe, Joseph Finnegan, and many more.  Clones also has an ancient 10th Century Celtic cross right in the center of the town and lets not forget  the magnificent 12th Century Round Tower built by local Monks in an attempt to hide their wealth from raiders. But for us GAA fans all  we really care about is that Saint Tiernachs Park remains standing  and that the towns multiple bars are fit to serve hard liquor during the run-up to matches. We’ll drink to that.
 
I was once told by a man that only good thing about Monaghan is the road out of it and sure maybe he was right but then again maybe he was talking through his arse. For us locals, the place keeps us come back for more and more. What else can I say? but leave the rest to the immortal Patrick Kavanagh, “I saw the danger yet I walked along the enchanted way,” Yes, these wild Drumlin hills have a romance and magic of their own.
 
 
 
This article was compiled by Seamus Hanratty who owns and manages a content writing website and a copywriting website.
 

Is everything we know about Newgrange all wrong? Why?

@Lar Dooley
It’s all about perceptions, and understanding.
You visit a sacred space, you are rushed in, and rushed out, you are told a story, you believe you are being reliably informed, and you leave with a perception of the truth. The centre chamber of Newgrange is one of the most iconic and most visited spaces in Irish history. You pay to come in here and you expect to be told what the passage of Newgrange actually means.
 
So, you are told a story of a gigantic tomb, where the ancients ground up the bones of our ancestors to fill the tomb with. Only there are no ashes, or bones ‘because the place was open for 200 years and someone must have stolen them all’.
 
We are reliably informed that the right hand recess of Newgrange is the most important, because the right hand recess of all our ‘tombs’ are the most important. So, no one pays any attention to the left hand recess. But here is the true story of Newgrange. You see, it is here that the most significant carvings, with the exception of one other carving are. Because the left hand recess accepted the most precious gift, the gift of life, or death.
 
The carving on the front of the right hand orthostat, which no one is ever shown, and precious few ever see, is a simple carving of Spelt Wheat. The offertory platter on the floor is where the gift of spelt wheat was set, and the carving on the rear stone details the number of generations of Neolithic peoples who inhabited the land, when the giant tumulus was built.
But is this really important in the context of a Neolithic passage tomb, where no bodies were found, where no fairies exist, and where we are told a story which bears as much truth to us, as the translation we are given for Sid in Broga / Brugh na Sidh. Because ‘Brugh’ is not a palace, and ‘Sidh’ is not a fairy.
 
The story told to tourists entering Newgrange bears as much truth to it, as does the story of the Cailleach being a witch, Brugh na Sidh simply means ‘The cusp of the spirit world’. Once you climb up those steps, cross over the closed ring of kerbstones, you leave the mortal world and you enter the spirit world. THAT is the one fact you need to understand when entering Newgrange.
 
In order to decipher the meanings of imagery inside the spirit world, you do not need an Honours Degree in Archaeology — you need an understanding of Spirit and the spirit world. This is where our esteemed guides, managers and scientists fall down, they have as much spirit as alcohol free beer, and the have as much body as the empty can left after the tasteless brew has been consumed.
 
Newgrange is NOT a tomb, it is NOT a fairy palace, it was NOT designed to hold the bodies of our ancestors, and the right hand recess is where the flour was ground, to be taken outside and turned into the gift of sacred bread, the ancient equivalent of the holy bread we receive in our modern cathedrals. It has nothing to do with grinding ancestral bones. It’s about time that the people who run our ancient spiritual temples began to understand their function.
 
Corn in Neolithic times was a simple gift of life, and it’s absence was a death sentence. If there was no corn, there was no life. So, stop telling fairy stories, stop telling tales of flying witches, start trying to understand life in the Neolithic, and then you begin to understand what being Irish, and what being Indigenous Irish means. Enough of the ‘Planter mentality’ and more of the understanding of the proud heritage enshrined, by our ancestors, in our Indigenous culture.
 
Life in the Neolithic was tough, people lived to a very young age, before passing to Spirit. Their children lost their parents by age 10 at the eldest, but were brought up in a civilised society, designed to encompass the mortal world and the Spirit world. Their parents entered the Spirit world when they were young children, so the Spirit World was a huge part of their lives. Eliminate one world from Neolithic life, and all you are left with is misunderstanding — and fairy stories.
 
Simply dismissing history, and the beautiful rock carvings, and the very facts before your eyes and you are left trying to make sense of half a deck of cards. The guides in Newgrange are left playing Poker with half a deck of cards, so you only get half the story, and this is a fact you need to take on board, before you visit Newgrange. Don’t believe everything you hear, open your eyes, your mind and your Spirit, and therein lies the truth.
@Lar Dooley
 

How Roche Castle takes you back in time?

Roche Castle in County Louth is truly one of Ireland’s undiscovered gems, there is an aura, a mystique, an otherworldliness to the place. As you walk up to the ruins of this magnificent structure what first strikes you is the twin towers. The brain having become accustomed to more monotonous, boring, square houses and dreary slabs of modern living suddenly has to take a backstep as it tries to comprehend this striking relic from a bygone era.  Built on top of a rocky outcrop the Castle dominates the surrounding landscape.
 
Further adding to the mystique is the fact that nobody is here, nobody is ever here. You could almost imagine the place being the setting for some mythic fairytale where Leprechauns and fairies populate every crevice of the castle and only come out under cover of darkness on a moonlit starry night when not a soul is in sight.  
 
But this place is much more than a fairytale it is a location grounded in cold hard brutal facts. The Castle has been at the centre of some of the most dramatic and epic events in Irish history. In 1315 Edward de Bruce, the Scotsman who remarkably crowned himself High King of Ireland, took one look at the impregnable looking fortress and instead of trying to capture it instead decided that he would burn the nearby town of Dundalk to the ground.  De Bruces strategy was to try and cut off a ready supply of income for the  Verdun family who ruled over the castle.
 
The Castle was built in 1236 by Lady Rhoesdia Verdun and its earlier origins have a suitably treacherous beginning.  The story goes that Lady Verdun offered her hand in marriage to any man who would design and build her a Castle and when one Architect  took her up  on the offer and built the structure, Lady Verdun took her husband to be up to their matrimonial bed to show him the fantastic views that they would enjoy as they lived  out the rest of their lives together,  the lady then promptly pushed the architect out the window to his death onto the rocks below. Today this window is now known as “the murder window.” Beware of ladies who get what they want! 
 
For centuries the Castle was ruled by the anglo-norman Verdun family. This was the Verdun’s seat of power their centre of control as they ruled over the local peasants. They taxed the backs off the local tribes in return for the locals being allowed to keep their heads on their shoulders. In many ways, the Normans set the benchmark for government state-sponsored tax extortion rackets, extortion rackets that last to this very day.  
 
The area was chosen as the location for the Castle because of its strategic importance, it controlled a vital pass into South Armagh and into an area known as The Pale. The pale was a rebellious land which the Anglo-Normans feared.  The local Gaelic tribes were seen as ungovernable savages hellbent on bloodthirsty revenge on their Norman invaders. To the Normans, these savages needed to be kept out at all costs. To anyone whose into the TV series the Game of Thrones, we where the original wildings.  We’ve all heard of the saying ‘he’, ‘she’, or ‘that’ is “beyond the pale” meaning something that is far beyond the bounds of acceptable behaviour.  Our ancestors gave birth to these sayings and so much more.
 
The hinterland surrounding the Castle, in particular, the South Monaghan, South Armagh and North Louth areas were originally joined up as one Kingdom known as the Oriel Kingdom.The ancient terrain surrounding the Castle has been touched by the fingertips of many a legendary figure: fighters, warriors, poets, have left an indelible imprint on the spirit of the area. 
 
This was the land of  Cuchulainn, Finn McCool, Bards, and writers. More recently, a short distance away during what became known as “the troubles” local fighters fought the might of the British Army to a standstill. Stone built fortresses had been replaced by metal barracks, arrows and swords by Barrack busters, M60’s and Chinook Helicopters.  The world had moved on in 800 years but not by as much as we’d like to think. 
 
As you walk into the Castle grounds what initially strikes you is the remarkably preserved Caste walls with suitable slits for bowmen to fire their arrows and rain all sorts of objects down upon helpless attackers.  Standing here it is easy to conjur up images of archers in this impregnable fortress, raining down their venom upon the unfortunate attackers below. Castle Roche is undoubtedly a place where many a man met a gruesome end.
The unusual triangular layout of the Castle is in fitting with the rocky outcrop on which the fortification was built on.  At one time there would have been a bailey, meaning an outer perimeter defensive wall, but all that is left of this now is some marks and contours in the ground where this bailey would have resided.    Inside the grounds of the building, A small square indentation in the ground sets the mind racing as to its original purpose and my vast imagination settles upon some bleak dungeon where some poor unfortunates cry’s would have echoed hopelessly into the County Louth air.  Another contour on the ground is supposedly where a well would have been located.  Armies could have withstood most sieges if they had a ready supply of water.  There is also the grand banquet hall where the feudal lords of the area would have enjoyed grand feasts made up of some of the finest meats of the day including, venison, pork, chicken, and fish. In the 16th century, the English Army from all corners of Ireland met up for a lavish feast that was held at the Castle.  Nowadays the banquet area is overgrown with grass but the interior walls that stretch deep into the sky are a reminder of the halls former glory days. Eventually, in 1641 the Castle was laid to waste by Oliver Cromwell as his forces decimated the Irish countryside, but in spite of years, the splendour of the buildings former glory years remains intact.    These places were built as a symbol of strength, power, and dominance over the local population. Look at us, if we have the strength and power to build something like this imagine what we could do to you. Pay up or else. But the legacy of our ancestor’s struggles live on too. The folktales, battles, and toils of our forefathers have left an indelible imprint on our DNA. We can’t escape the clutches of the past, it pulses through our veins whether we want it to or not. To the north Castle Roche looks towards Slieve Gullion Mountain. An ancient slab of volcanic rock carved out by natures implacable force. The Celts saw gods hand at work in creating the mountain and so at the very top of Gullion, 5,000 years ago, they built a passage tomb to commemorate and pay homage to their dead. Perhaps the peak stretching 1,880 feet into the heavens made them feel closer to their departed loved ones.  As you walk outside of the Castle your eyes are instantly struck by the lush green and fertile grass that hugs nearly every inch of the rolling countryside. Beneath a moody grey-blue sky blossom trees blow and swoon with each breath of the wind.  Birds chatter, call, and sing their mysterious mating songs of romance. Jackdaws float and glide above the ruins keeping an eternal watch above this strategic strongpoint.  Perhaps, maybe this abandoned relic of time is more alive than we might like to think? Yes, Caste Roche truly was built on gods own country. 
 
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Summer Solstice and Midsummer Folklore.

@David Halpin Circle stories
 
As we know, for many cultures around the world midsummer’s eve is a time when fairies and spirits cross more easily into the human world. One famous piece of writing which describes this liminal time is William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Nights Dream whose characters include both the king of the fairies, Oberon, and the fairy queen, Titania.
 
In the 8th century, the writer, Bede, included a list of old Anglo-Saxon names for the pagan festivals and months, including the name Litha for midsummer. Today, some pagans and witches use this name to refer to the summer solstice as part of the wheel of the year.
As far as traditional folklore is concerned, observing the time of midsummer and the solstice draws attention to the cyclical nature of life and time. The fairy lore and spiritual aspects allow people to see beyond these earthly bonds and into the realm of eternity and timelessness.
Of course, there was also a connected magical element to the fires lit on midsummer as they banished bad luck and evil spirits. As we have seen from previous posts, this is a time when a person might inadvertently cause offence to the good people without even realising it. The wearing of flowers in a persons hair and hanging garlands upon doorways was a way to thwart bad luck in this respect.
 
In Irish lore the cycle of life is often represented by turning, spinning and circular motion. There are many other variants of this custom of making wishes while walking in a circle. Sometimes people walked around a fire or a well but in other cases it might be a fairy tree or wooden pole.
Another custom is ‘turning the pebble’ where a person would walk around the midsummer bonfire three times holding a stone in their hand and whispering a wish they wanted to come true to themselves.
Then, after the last loop they threw the pebble into the flames.
In some Scandinavian countries a type of decorated Maypole is the central focus of the dancing and rituals.
When you look at the mythology of spider-goddesses, spinning and webs you also notice these archetypal patterns. I would recommend Barbara Tedlock’s excellent book, The Shaman in the Woman’s Body, for more on this. https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/…/the-woma…/9780553379716
Another circular motif used at this time of the year is a sunwheel. Depending upon where you live these may take the form of huge balls of straw or tangles of wood which are set on fire and rolled down a hill at sunset.
The ashes of the sunwheel were then used to protect homes and animals from evil spirits. A similar fire custom which includes prophecy is jumping over the bonfire with your love. If you let go their hand during the jump the relationship was said to be doomed, though!
An interesting form of divination used in Northern Europe at midsummer is one where young girls float garlands containing their wishes, either whispered to the flowers or written on paper, on the surface of a river or lake. Depending on how the garland moves or whether it sinks was said to predict the outcome of the request.
Some versions of this custom say you are not meant to look at the garland or even go back to the offering as you are handing your wishes to the gods, goddesses and spirits to determine.
I think there is probably a connection here to the tradition of placing problems on a rag tree and allowing the material to deteriorate in the hope that the problem will too. You can also notice similarities to various Irish practices at Holy Wells in this custom. The circling and water rituals carried out at Holy Well’s, which, of course, were old pagan sites long before they were Christianised have that same context of leaving things in the hands of higher powers.
In fact, for many in Ireland today, midsummer is more associated with St. John, and many of the ancient pagan practices and lore have either been forgotten or ‘updated’ with Christian names and themes.
Fire, prophecy, fairies, ancestors and feasting are the motifs that run through all of the lore associated with this time of the year. We find parallels between South American customs and Russian lore, Irish traditions and those of North American indigenous tribes. It really is a treasure trove of comparative archetypes.
You can also notice some similarities to the Bealtaine traditions here as both of these rituals are acknowledging the long, summer days, purification and the prospect of new life in all of its manifestations. Biologically this makes sense. We are more energised having been exposed to longer hours of daylight and psychologically this is a good explanation for many of the customs involving resolutions and promises made at this time of the year.
(As an aside, it’s probably easier to feel more positive about the future in the summer than the later custom of making resolutions on January the 1st during the depths of winter!)
One Irish custom which is very easy to maintain and continue is that of lighting a candle on solstice morning and letting it burn all day in recognition of the sun and in remembrance of our ancestors. Always be careful where you place the candle, though!
Over the next few posts I’ll take a look at further folklore and rituals associated with midsummer. There’s quite a lot as you would expect which is why I’ll start posting now. There are also some customs and traditions which people might want to enact themselves so posting early will allow good time for preparation.

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!