Secret Ireland

Discover Ireland's forgotten history, hear reawakened stories and myths from yesteryear and stand on top of mountains that are carved into the Irish consciousness.

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.

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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?
 
 
 

 
 
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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.
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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.
Secreitlreand is a website owned and managed by Seamus Hanratty a freelance SEO copywriter. If you are looking to hire a freelance SEO copywriter contact us and recieve a free quote.
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The Tale of Ireland’s Ghost Ship, The Ouzel Galley: Folklore and Fake-lore!

This 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.
Secreitlreand is a website owned and managed by Seamus Hanratty a freelance SEO copywriter. If you are looking to hire a freelance SEO copywriter contact us and recieve a free quote.
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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.
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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.
 
(c) @David Halpin Circle Stories
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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.
 

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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
 

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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.

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