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“[4.19.1] Heracles, then, delivered over the kingdom of the Iberians to the noblest men among the natives and, on his part, took his army and passing into Celtica and traversing the length and breadth of it he put an end to the lawlessness and murdering of strangers to which the people had become addicted; and since a great multitude of men from every tribe flocked to his army of their own accord, he founded ad great city which was named Alesia after the “wandering” (alê) on his campaign.
[4.19.2] But he also mingled among the citizens of the city many natives, and since these surpassed the others in multitude, it came to pass that the inhabitants as a whole were barbarized. The Celts up to the present time hold this city in honour, looking upon it as the hearth and mother-city of all Celtica. And for the entire period from the days of Heracles this city remained free and was never sacked until our own time; but at last Gaius Caesar, who had been pronounced a god because of the magnitude of his deeds, took it by storm and made it and the other Celts subjects of the Romans.”
Extract from LIBRARY OF HISTORY BOOK IV by Didodorus Siculus
The Greeks were so in awe of the Celts that they took credit for their creation. Greek demigod Heracles, or Hercules was not only closely linked to the Celts, but he was credited as being their physical father. The Greeks were a lot shorter in stature to the Celts, so it seems natural that they would spring from a giant among them.
The tenth labour of Heracles
To accomplish his tenth labour, Hercules had to journey to the end of the world. Eurystheus ordered the hero to bring him the cattle of the monster Geryon. This creature had three heads and three sets of legs all joined at the waist. He lived on an island called Erythia, which was near the boundary of Europe and Libya. On this island, Geryon kept a herd of red cattle guarded by Cerberus’s brother, Orthus, a two-headed hound, and the herdsman Eurytion. Hercules set off on for Erythia, encountering and promptly killing many wild beasts along the way, and he came to the place where Libya met Europe. Here, Hercules built two massive mountains, one in Europe and one in Libya, to commemorate his extensive journey. These mountains became known as the Gates or Pillars of Hercules. The strait Hercules made when he broke the mountain apart is now called the Strait of Gibraltar, between Spain and Morocco, the gateway from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean.
Sailing in a goblet which the Sun gave him, Hercules reached the island of Erythia. Not long after he arrived, Orthus, the two-headed dog, attacked Hercules, so Hercules bashed him with his club. Eurytion followed, with the same result. Another herdsman in the area reported these events to Geryon. Just as Hercules was escaping with the cattle, Geryon attacked him. Hercules fought with him and shot him dead with his arrows.
When he carried away the oxen of Geryon, he visited the country of the Scythians. Once there, while asleep, his horses suddenly disappeared. When he woke and wandered about in search of them, he came into the country of Hylaea. He then found the Echidna in a cave. When he asked whether she knew anything about his horses, she answered, that they were in her own possession, but that she would not give them up, unless he would consent to stay with her for a time. Heracles accepted the request, and became by her the father of Celtos, Galatos and Iberus, the ancestors of the Celts, Galatians and Iberians.
Although this tale is considered mythology, the names of the Celts, Gauls and Iberians were bestowed on us by the Greeks. Many mythological tales have their beginnings in truth and are embellished over time. However, there is evidence that the Celts, Gauls and Iberians accepted Hercules as their father. Let’s look at some of these.
Breogán, founded a city called Brigantia and built a great tower. From the top of the tower, his son Íth glimpses Ireland. The Gaels, including some of Breogán’s sons, sail to Ireland from Brigantia and agree to divide it between them and the Tuatha Dé Danann, the Irish pagan gods, who take the Otherworld. Brigantia likely refers to A Coruña in present-day Galicia and Breogán’s tower is known as the Tower of Hercules. A Coruña is a city and municipality of Galicia, Spain.
The battle of Alesia in 52 BC that marked the defeat of the Gauls under Vercingetorix by the Romans under Julius Caesar corresponds with Diodorous’ description of a great Celtic city founded by Hercules. Caesar described the battle in detail in his Commentarii de Bello Gallico (Book VII, 69–90). The battle’s outcome determined the fate of all of Gaul: in winning the battle, the Romans won both the Gallic Wars and dominion over Gaul.
After being conquered by Caesar, Alesia became a Gallo-Roman town. It featured a town centre with monumental buildings such as temples, a theatre and a forum. The location of Alesia was unknown for many centuries until Emperor Napoleon III developed an interest in the location of this crucial battle in pre French history. He was writing a biography of Caesar and saw the command of Vercingetorix over all Gaulish armies as a symbol of the French nation. At the same time he realized that the future French nation was heavily influenced by the Roman victory and centuries of rule over Gaul.
In 1838, a find with the inscription: IN ALISIIA, had been discovered near AliseSainte-Reine in the department Côte-d’Or near Dijon. Napoleon ordered an archaeological excavation by Eugène Stoffel around Mont-Auxois. These excavations in 1861–65 concentrated on the vast Roman siege lines and indicated that the historical Alesia was indeed located there. It was protected by a wall enclosing the area, with at least two pincer gates and in 52 BC it possibly had a population of 80,000 including refugees and men under the command of Vercingetorix.
Later archaeological analysis at Alise-Sainte-Reine has corroborated the described siege in detail. The remains of siege rings said to match Caesar’s descriptions have been identified by archaeologists using aerial photography validating these findings and ending the long debate among archaeologists about the location of Alesia.
A Symbol of Strength and Power
Whether you accept that Heracles/ Hercules was the father of the Celts or not, we can certainly see attributes of him through our Celtic ancestors. The strength and determination he displayed during his trials is echoed in the determination and fighting spirits of the Gauls, Iberians and Celts against the Romans, Saxons, Vikings and Normans. The fact that Celtic culture has survived to this day, despite tremendous odds, is a testimony of strength just like Hercules, so he is a great figurehead and role model. I’d be proud to acknowledge him as my father.
Was Lupercalia a Precursor to St. Valentine’s Day?
Lupercalia was held every year, on the 15 February in ancient Rome. It took place in the Lupercal, where Romulus and Remus were said to have been nurtured by a she-wolf. The Lupercal contained an altar and a grove sacred to the god Lupercus. Since St. Valentine’s Day is celebrated on 14 February many believe that there is a link between this ancient celebratory ritual and the romance of the latter. What actually happened on Lupercalia and is there a link to Valentine’s Day?
The Luperci, who were priests dedicated to Lupercus, assembled on the day of the Lupercalia. They sacrificed animals, namely goats and young dogs, to Lupercus. Lupercus was a fertility God and these animals were specifically chosen because of their strong sexual instinct. Two male Luperci youths of noble birth were then led to the older Luperci. One of the priests then touched their foreheads with a sword dipped in the sacrificial blood. Another priest immediately wiped off the bloody spots with wool dipped in milk. The two youths were then expected to break out into a shout of laughter. This ceremony is believed to be a symbolical purification of the shepherds Romulus and Remus.
After the sacrifice was over, the Luperci partook of a meal, at which they were plentifully supplied with wine. They then cut the skins of the goats which they had sacrificed, into pieces. They covered parts of their body in imitation of the god Lupercus, who was represented half naked and half covered with goatskin. They cut other pieces of the skins into thongs, and ran through the streets of the city, touching or striking persons whom they met in their way, with the thongs.
Women especially came forward willingly, since they believed that this ceremony rendered them fruitful and eased the pains of childbearing. Running with goatskin thongs was considered a purification of the land and that of touching persons a purification of men and women. The goatskin itself was called februum and over time the festive day became “dies februata” and the month in which it occurred Februarius.
Apart from similar dates, links between Lupercalia and Valentine’s Day are tenuous. The two only get equated in the 20th century, partly due to fundamentalist Christians wanting to attack Roman Catholic celebrations and discredit them as pagan. A lover’s festival, however, doesn’t necessarily derive from the ancient fertility rites and flagellation by goats.
There is actually no shred of historical evidence for the connection. In fact, St. Valentine’s Day was established by Pope Gelasius I in 496 CE in honour of the Christian martyr, St. Valentine of Rome, who was executed on that date in 269 CE.
Saint Valentine was imprisoned for performing weddings to soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians persecuted by the Roman Empire. According to legend, Valentine restored sight to the blind daughter of his judge and wrote her a letter signed “Your Valentine” as a farewell before his execution.
1 February is St. Brigid’s Day, which has been celebrated for hundreds of years in Ireland. Who was St. Brigid, how is her day celebrated today and what are her links to a much older Celtic Goddess?
According to the story recorded by an Irish Catholic priest, Saint Brigid was born Brigit and her mother was Brocca, a Christian baptised by Saint Patrick. Her father was Dubthach, a Leinster chieftain and Brocca’s slave master. When Dubthach’s wife discovered Brocca was pregnant, she was sold to a Druid landowner.
When Brigid was born, she grew up pure and virtuous and the stories state that she fed the poor and healed the sick. At age ten, Brigid was returned to her father’s home, as he was still her legal master.
Brigid’s charity did not end when she left her mother, and she donated Dubthach’s possessions to anyone who asked. Dubthach tired of Brigid’s charitably nature and took her before the king of Leinster. Whilst Dubthach spoke to the king, Brigid gave Dubthach’s jeweled sword to a beggar, so he could barter it for food for his family. The king witnessed this and convinced Dubthach to grant her freedom saying, “her merit before God is greater than ours.”
On being freed, Brigid returned to the Druid and her mother, now in charge of the Druid’s dairy. Brigid took over from her mother and often gave away milk. However, the dairy still prospered and the Druid eventually freed Brocca.
Brigid’s father Dubthach, had arranged for her to marry a bard, but she refused and made a vow to always be chaste. She devoted her life to the church and at age 40 founded the Church of the Oak, a monastery, which was built above a pagan shrine to the Celtic goddess Brigid, beneath a large oak tree.
Whether St. Brigid is a real historical figure is a matter of great debate. Her feast day was originally a Celtic pagan festival called Imbolc, which marked the midpoint between winter and spring.
Some scholars suggest that St. Brigid is a Christianisation of the goddess Brigid. Others believe she was formerly chief druid at the temple of the goddess Brigid. When she converted to Christianity, she then transformed the temple into a Christian monastery. After her death, the name and characteristics of the goddess became attached to the saint. St. Brigid was made one of Ireland’s three patron saints, alongside St. Columba and the more famous St. Patrick.
Since 2018, St Brigid’s Day Festival in London has become an annual celebration. St. Brigid’s Day is a time to celebrate the enormous creativity and talent of women and is now celebrated at Irish Embassies and Consulates worldwide. From February 2023, St. Brigid’s Day will become a Bank Holiday in Eire.
Continuing with our series on Celtic Diet, here’s a couple of recipes for Beltane.
Beltane Bannock is an oatcake, made and eaten on Beltane morning to ensure the health of crops and your herds. An old folk magic ritual was performed where the bannock is separated into nine ‘knobs’, each one dedicated to something they felt preserved their livestock or a plea to local predators before being shared and eaten. A rhyme like this was recited: – “Here to thee, wolf, spare my sheep; there to thee, fox, spare my lambs; here to thee, eagle, spare my goats; there to thee raven, spare my kids; here to thee, martin, spare my fowls, there to thee, harrier, spare my chickens.”
1 1/2 cup oatmeal
1/8 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tbs. lard or butter
1/2 cup hot water
Combine oatmeal, salt and baking soda in a bowl.
Melt the butter, and drizzle it over the oats.
Add the water, and stir the mix until it forms a stiff dough.
Turn the dough out on a sheet of wax paper and knead thoroughly.
Separate the dough into two equal portions, and roll each one into a ball.
Use a rolling pin to make a flat pancake that is about ¼” thick.
Cook your oatcakes on a griddle over medium heat until they are golden brown.
Cut each round into quarters to serve.
Caudle is a warm, thick and sweet drink that was often prescribed to those who were sick, pregnant or to new mothers. This can be served with the bannock, which can be dipped into mix. The oldest surviving recipe is just a list of ingredients; wine, wheat starch, raisins, and sugar. Later recipes state ale or
wine is heated and thickened with egg yolks and/or ground almonds, then optionally spiced with sugar, honey, saffron, and/or ginger.
1/2 pt (1 cup) milk
1 tbsp oatmeal
2 beaten eggs
1 tsp sugar or honey
pinch of salt
nutmeg or mixed spice
whisky, ale or white wine
Heat the milk in a pan with the oatmeal and a pinch of salt.
Stir well and bring to the boil, then simmer until it starts to thicken.
Stir in the eggs, sugar and spices (added according to taste), and keep simmering for at least five minutes – stir well to make sure the mixture doesn’t burn or stick to the pan.
Remove from the pan and add in as much whisky, ale or white wine as you prefer.
Serve immediately, either on its own or poured over bannocks or a dessert.
Bel from whom Beltane receives its name is also known as Belenus and is one of the most widely worshipped Celtic deities. He is a sun god known as “The Shining God”. Like the Norse Sol he was thought to ride the sun across the sky in a horse drawn chariot. In the 3rd century, Bel was the patron deity of the Italian city of Aquileia. Some ancient images of Belenus show him to be accompanied by the Gaulish Goddess Belisama.
Of the four main Irish celebrations, Beltane and Samhain were the most important. In the story of the “Wooing of Cu Chulainn”, the ancient celebration of Beltane is described. The year is described as being in two divisions of summer from Beltane (the first of May in our modern calendar to Samhain and winter from Samhain to Beltane. At Beltane Druids used to make two fires and made magical incantations as they drove the cattle between them every year. This was to protect the cattle against plagues. The young ox and cows were entrusted to the God Bel, whose protective powers were believed to be in the flames, smoke and ashes of the fires.
The people of ancient Ireland would also walk between the bonfires, and sometimes leap over the flames or embers. People would take embers and re light their home from the Beltane bonfires. They would feast and offer food and drink to the Aos Sí. Homes would also be decorated with yellow May flowers. People used morning Beltane dew on their faces to stay young and beautiful. When Christianity arrived, many of these customs and more became part of May Day. Beltane is also a celebration of love and this harks back to the ancient tale of Cúchulainn and Emer, or the divine pairing of Belenus and Belisama.
The May Pole
Primarily found within the nations of Germanic Europe and the neighbouring areas which they have influenced, the May Pole maypoles are believed by scholars to have been erected “simply” as “signs that the happy season of warmth and comfort had returned.” They are of ancient Germanic pagan origin and the true meaning has been lost in the midst of time. Their shape allowed for garlands to be hung from them and were first seen, at least in the British Isles, between AD 1350 and 1400 within the context of medieval Christian European Culture.
The May Queen
In the British Isles and parts of the Commonwealth, the May Queen or Queen of May is a personification the May Day holiday, and of springtime and the coming of summer (the transformation of maiden to sexual maturity). The May Queen is a girl who rides or walks at the front of a parade for May Day celebrations. She wears a white gown to symbolise purity and usually a tiara or crown. Her duty is to begin the May Day celebrations. She is generally crowned by flowers and makes a speech before the dancing begins.
A May Day festival is held on the village green at Aldborough, North Yorkshire on a site that dates back to Roman times and the settlement of Isurium Brigantum. A May queen is selected from a group of 13 upward girls by the young dancers. She returns the next year to crown the new May Queen and stays in the procession. The largest event in this tradition in modern Britain is the Beltane Fire Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland.
A May Day celebration held annually since 1870 in New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada, has the distinction of being the longest running May Day celebration of its kind in the British Commonwealth.
Morris dancing is common during Beltane and May Day celebrations. Morris dancing is a form of English folk dance usually accompanied by music. It is based on rhythmic stepping and the execution of choreographed figures by a group of dancers, usually wearing bell pads on their shins. Implements such as sticks, swords and handkerchiefs may also be wielded by the dancers. They clap their sticks, swords, or handkerchiefs together to match with the dance.
While the earliest (15th-century) references place the Morris dance in a courtly setting, it appears that the dance became part of performances for the lower classes by the later 16th century. In 1600, Shakespearean actor William Kempe Morris danced from London to Norwich, an event chronicled in his Nine Daies Wonder (1600).
As you can see there are many ways to celebrate Beltane and May Day. It is a time of the turning of the seasons. Beltane and Samhain are also both times when the veil between Annwn, Mag Mell and Tír na nÓg are at their thinnest.
At Samhain the veil between the worlds of the living & the dead is thin enough that we can connect & convene with our beloved dead.
At Beltane it’s the veil between the human world, and the world of the fae, aes sídhe & nature spirits that has grown thin. These spirits & faeries are thought to be especially active at this time of year. Offerings can be left at the ancient faerie forts, the wells and in other sacred places in an effort to appease these nature spirits to ensure a successful growing season.
Wherever you are, celebrate in whatever way you can. Honour your ancestors and ancestral spirits and keep old traditions alive.
When the sun begins to rise on this morning a flame will be lit signaling the beginning of Summer and blessing the fertility of the upcoming harvestide……
The Bealtaine Festival was often the first chance for neighbouring tuatha to greet each other after the long winter months and great celebrations ensued. Goods were exchanged and gifts offered to the various Gods and Goddesses.
Feasting, dancing, music, tournaments and trade were all avidly partaken in as the festival proceeded. It was also customary to drive cattle around the fire with the belief that the smoke from the sacred fire would protect them from harm.
The Bealtaine Festival was revived on the Hill of Uisneach in 2009 and todays’ festival remains much as it was in ancient times, a chance to meet old friends and make new ones. A family-friendly event that welcomes all the different tuatha to celebrate the beginning of summer at the sacred centre of Ireland. In 2017, the ceremonial fire was lit by the Uachtarán (President) of Ireland, Michael D Higgins; making him the first Irish Head of State to do so since the last Ard Rí or High King, nearly a thousand years ago. Introduction to President Michael D Higgins on Hill of Uisneach – by Ruairí McKiernan – YouTube .
The origins of Uisneach lie far beyond recorded history with surviving monuments and relics dating from the Neolithic (3700-2500 BC) and Bronze Ages (2500-500 BC) which confirm its ceremonial status in pre-historic times. There is no definitive translation of the word Uisneach as it likely predates the Irish Gaelic language. It is translated as “place of the hearth” or “angular place”, indicating a ceremonial sanctuary.
In early written sources, the area in which Uisneach is located, is recorded as ‘Mide’, meaning ‘middle’. Originally a name for the hill itself (i.e. Uisneach Midi, the ‘hearth’ at the centre), over time the territory expanded to become the medieval Kingdom of Mide which gives its name to the modern counties of Meath & Westmeath.
The first known map of Ireland, created by the Greek cartographer Claudius Ptolemy in 140 A.D. is thought to have shown Uisneach (which Ptolemy called ‘Reba’) at its centre. It is just above Annica in small writing in the picture below.
Since pre-Christian times the hill has been regarded as the ceremonial & sacred centre of Ireland; the meeting point of the ancient provinces, where laws were struck and divisions agreed. In later years, when Tara became the political seat of the Ard Rí of Ireland, Uisneach retained its position as the country’s spiritual centre.
It was customary for the Ard Rí to ritually ‘marry’ the sovereignty Goddess (representing the land) at an inauguration ceremony known as the ‘Banais Righe’ (wedding feast of kingship). This ceremony may have been part of the ‘Ard Fhéis Uisneach’, a great assembly and fair held at the beginning of Bealtaine when the great fire was lit on the hill to mark the onset of summer.
In the first millennium AD, Uisneach became the chief residence and assembly site of the Clann Cholmain kings, who ruled over the Kingdom of Mide with some even becoming Ard Rí of Ireland. The last of these was Máel Sechnaill Mór, who became Ard Rí in 980. His reign lasted until 999, when Brian Boru came to Uisneach to claim sovereignty over Mide and ultimately the Ard Rí of Ireland. However, after Brian’s death at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, Máel Sechnaill was re-instated as Ard Rí and reigned until his own death in 1022.
As well as royalty, Uisneach was the residence of important families of poets. Taigh Mór O Coffey, described as being ‘Chief Poet of Ireland and Scotland’ was born at Uisneach in the mid-sixteenth century. In the 19th and early 20th Centuries, Uisneach was the site of great political rallies, with Daniel O’Connell, Padraig Pearse and Eamonn De Valera addressing huge crowds from atop the Ail na Mireann (the famous landmark stone). The famous Irish writer James Joyce was a regular visitor, enthralled by Uisneach’s many stories. He later mentioned the hill in his novel ‘Finnegans Wake’, referring to Ail na Mireann as ‘the mearing stone’.
I won’t be able to attend the festival in Uisneach myself this coming weekend as I have family commitments but will be travelling to ‘Na Séisear’ at Beenalaght in North County Cork (you may have seen the video) and will be conducting a personal decompression at the oncoming sunrise. Hopefully, the weather will be better than it was at Castlenalacht last Winter Solstice. Andrew (Filtiarn) and I have discussed the unnecessary need to build our own fire pits for ritual purposes. It would be poor judgement with the current climate. I will be on private land and I don’t think the farmer would welcome the idea of me burning a piece of his property. Filtiarn will be conducting a group ceremonial decompression at Brockholes Stone Circle in England which is a Nature reserve, and I don’t think fires are welcome there either. I will be symbolically lighting a candle just before the sunrise.
Bíodh spraoi agaibh ar an lá naofa seo agus beannachtaí Bealtaine oraibh féin agus ar do chlainne.
Here we seek and stand before the giant ancestral stones.
Na Dhia agaibh go léir,
Níl a fhios agam cén fáth ach inné bhí sé i mo cheann ag rothaíocht suas go dtí seanchlocha ár sinsir i gCorcaigh Thuaidh. Chuaigh mé ar rothar ó mo theach sa Chathair Thuaidh ag dul thar chaisleán na Blarnan, thaistil mé taobh istigh de ghleann agus suas sliabh beag. Tá an gleann go hálainn le haillte aolchloiche ar an dá thaobh agus abhainn bheag ag déanamh a bealach ar ais go baile na Blarnan. Bhí neart coiníní le feiceáil ach chonaic mé iora rua ag rith suas crann go han-tapa. Thóg sé 1 uair agus 20 nóiméad orm an tuas “Na Séisear” a fháil. Bhí an turas 25 ciliméadar ar fad agus bhí an ghaoth ag dul i neart mar a chuala sibh go léir sa chraoladh ag an suíomh.
I don’t know what put it into my head but I decided to get out on the bike and travel up to the standing stones up in North Cork. I left my home from north of the city, passed Blarney castle, travelled through a valley and up a small mountain. It’s a beautiful valley with outcrops of limestone either side and a small river making its way back through Blarney village. There were loads of rabbits around and I got to see a red squirrel dart up a tree. It took me about an hour and 20 minutes to get to the field of ‘the Sixers’. The journey was 25km and there was a wind getting stronger which interfered with a live broadcast.
When I arrived at the field, I went to the farmhouse and asked permission to go up to the bronze age site. We had a good conversation about the area but unfortunately, he had no local folklore stories associated with the ‘Sixers’ even though he is a fourth-generation farmer on this land. He also gave me permission to return on the morning of Bealtaine at sunrise in a few weekends time. The site itself is impressive but I failed to locate the adjacent stone which was probably either gone missing over time or was hidden in the little woods behind the stones themselves. This particular site, much like the one in Castlenalacht south of the county was, as archaeologists have worked out, used for measuring the length of the day to ascertain what time of the year it was for bronze age farmers.
I am pretty lucky where I live. 25km North is ‘Na Séisear’ in the Beannsalaght townland between New Tipperary and Bweeng villages. 25km South are the Casltenalacht standing stones where I conducted a live personal decompression at the previous Winter Solstice morning, 5km West is the site of an unexcavated ringfort in Ballincollig village, 25km North-West is the triangular locations of Knocknacoille stone circle (conducted numerous personal decompressions), the Tobar Eoighan Naofa (Well of the 3 Goddesses, conducted live last Spring Equinox) and a wedge tomb, and finally, there is a portal dolmen tomb in Rostellan 25km East.
Now this particular portal dolmen tomb is one of a kind in Ireland and is also a large one as well. Portal dolmen tombs are megalithic monuments which take their name from the two large upright stones which form an entrance or ‘portal’ to the chamber of the tomb. The monuments are generally of a simple rectangular plan with a chamber formed by upright stones and the two portals. The chamber is covered by a capstone which in some cases can be massive. It is believed that portal tombs were once an integral part of a large cairn or mound. These monuments are thought to date to the Neolithic period, and from the available evidence it would appear that they served as communal graves. “Nearly submerged by the tidal waters of Cork Harbor’s Saleen Creek, the Rostellan Dolmen (portal tomb) is the only example of such a Leaba Dhiarmada agus Gráinne (Diarmuid and Gráinne’s Bed) in Ireland to wear a garland of seaweed. It is also unique in that it opens to the east, rather than facing the setting sun, as does the normal, land-locked portal tomb. There is no trail leading to it, nor is it mentioned in most modern guidebooks. The Shell Guide of 1967 calls it Carraig a’ Mhaistin, which may mean “Bully Rock.” While it now sits in the sea ten meters (33 ft) below the high-tide mark, when it was built in the Early Neolithic the oceans were lower and it likely sat on beachfront, rather than aquatic, property. A kilometer to the west along the rocky shoreline are the crumbling ruins of “Siddons’ Tower,” built in 1727.” (www.ringofcork.ie). I was showing this to a very good friend of mine who lives in Whitegate which is 1km away and we are going to try to get out to it when the occasion arises. I must also mention that ‘Diarmuid and Grainne’ is one of the best Irish mythological romances which can be found in the Óisinic Cycle based on Fionn mac Cúmhail. I found an old picture of the dolmen online which gives a rough idea of it’s dimensions.
The poems deal mostly with the legendary rulers of the Laigin ( modern day Leinster and South-East Ireland) in the pre-Christian period and their ancestors. They are linguistically archaic, and the majority of the verses may date back as far as the 7th Century. Several modern authorities have labelled these as artistically poor poems but nonetheless, they highlight certain heroic values that are seen in their later more ambitious literary cousins.
The early poets or filí were attached to particular ruling houses and as part of their work, they had to praise the generosity and martial valour of the ruler as well as praising the illustrious lineage of the patron, back to the legendary founder of the dynasty. That is what these lists are doing. A genealogy was an instrument of political propaganda for the Celts, as in many other cultures in which inheritance is a factor in determining leadership. A legitimate dynasty had to have reputable ancestors. Rival families had to be undermined as unrightful by having their ancestral lineage portrayed as ‘anflaithi’ or unkings. Before the advent of the written word, poetic genealogies were more than likely more easily remembered by the learned retainers of the ruling class than the use of unembellished written lists. Poetry was also considered to be a more valid form of oral testimony in a dispute, because it was harder to make up on the spot or modify for one’s own purposes.
In the Middle Irish Period ( circa 900-1200), poems of this sort formed parts of the basis for the greater literary works of Irish legendary pseudohistories that followed.
Here are two examples of this style of early Irish Dynastic poetry based on two persons of note:-
Mál Ad-Rúalaid íathu marb, A prince who has reached the realm of the dead,
Macc sóer Sétnai, the noble son of Sétnae,
Selaig srathu Fomoire laid waste the vales of the Fomoire
Fo doíne domnaib. Under the worlds of men.
Dí óchtur Alinne From the heights of Ailenn
Ort tríunu talman, the powerful tribune great in
Trebun trén túathmar, dominions Mess-Telmann of the Domnonian tribe
Mess-Telmann Domnon. Slew the mighty of the earth.
Ailenn (aka Dún Ailenn,) was an important hillfort of pre-Christian Leinster (aka Laigin). It was its political centre located in the county of Kildare. The Domnonian tribe seems to be an early Latinisation of Fir Domnann. It is worth remembering that Fomoire was used as a negative description of a rival Tuatha or family for the leadership seat and it has been noted by Irish archaeologists that it may also be a localised name (non-Latin name) for a different Celtic tribe as is Domnonian/Domnon.
An grén gríssach, A brilliant burning sun,
Goires bréo, Bressual- that heats the flame, Bressual-
Bress Elce, aue Luirc, fair one of Elg, descendant of Lorcc,
Lathras bith-Beolíach. who lays waste the world-Beolíach.
This is an interesting one. Elce is an early Latin name (Elg maybe a localised Laigin variant) of Ireland. Both poems are directly translated from Old Irish by John T Koch and found in the page 50 of his book ’The Celtic Heroic Age’.
The one that follows is a longer one and is translated from the German notes of K Meyer on his findings from early Irish manuscripts in his work ‘Uber die alteste irische Dichtung’ published in 1914 and translated by J Carey. It brings a history of the ArdRí of Tara and it seems that the poet of the house of Tara was learned of the names of the different rulers and how they got the seat from their victory in battle.
Nidu dír dermait
It ill beseems to me
To forget the affairs of every famous king,
The careers of the kings of Tara,
Mustered tribes on warpath.
A noble battle hero,
Fair and tall was Moen, Labraid Longsech;
A cruel lion, a lover of praise,
A mighty lover of battle.
A fair warrior was Ailill in battles
Against the frontiers of Crothomun;
Abratchaín shook the ranks
Of the field of Ethomun.
Dreaded master of Ireland
Was glorious Oengus Amlongaid.
He dwelt upon the slopes of Tara:
With his own will alone he conquered it.
Citadels magnificent amongst strongholds,
Fortresses which an illustrious, powerful, spear-wielding royal host would smash.
Bresal Bregom ruled the boastful world;
Fergus was blood-red;
Fedelmid was a seemly ruler,
Who reddened pure Ireland.
The prince Feradach Find Fechtnach
Ruddy righteous Crimthann Cosrach
Mug Airt illuminated it;
Art, the champion laid claim to it,
Alldóit ordered it,
Núadu Fuildiu was a princely champion.
Feradach Foglas was an illustrious man;
Ailill Glas cleansed it;
The violent one seized it,
Fíachra Fobrecc overpowered it.
Bresal Becc smote it,
A king great in blows and treasures;
A lion seized it,
Lugaid Lúathfhind, a manly princely king.
Like wolves the army of Sétnae Sithbacc ravaged it;
He cast it down;
Núadu Necht freed it;
Fergus put it in bonds.
Fairrge, Rus Rúad:
The thrust of his will impelled him.
On the battlefield
His great sons divided (it) with battle-fury.
Find Fili, harsh Ailill,
The mighty king
Brought a path of destruction (even) to kings.
The over-king of Macha,
The mighty chariot-warrior,
Overcame the territories of mighty fortresses,
Destroyed boundary ditches.
Mug Corb, Cú Chorb,
Nía Corb the battle-king,
The ex-king Fedelmid ruled the land.
For fifty years Cathaír dwelt there,
An enduring reign,
Fíachu Aiccid, the truly brave,
Was a vehement prince famed for agility.
Bresal Bélach overcame (his adversaries),
A hulking bear, a conquering champion;
He broke the hosts of Conn [ Cétchathach]’s descendants,
A triumphant hero, a stern fighter.
The strong king contended for the inheritance,
He triumphs, he impoverished them(?);
He smote the sons of Lifechar of Liffey,
He drove them to their ship.
Muiredach Mo-Sníthech, of noble race,
Pursued the great ones:
A famous distinguishing sign,
The heir of fair lineages.
The youthful king Moenach, a strong offspring,
Conquered the walls of the great plain;
Son of Cairthenn, lover of warfare,
Was a nobly born lover of praise.
And Buidb was a severe hero, a victorious king,
Son of Erc Búadach,
An aristocratic bellower of firm agreements,
A stern king ordering armed encounters.
Blood-red heroes prevailing in combat,
Dominant men beyond the border army,
They cast a challenge from the slopes of Tara,
(warriors) honourable and brilliant in battle.
This next poem looks like it was written late in the Middle Irish period because of the inclusion of Christendom fables. One name to note is Góedel Glas who is also the famed ancestor of the Gaedhil or early Irish. In the later Medieval manuscripts, he was a leader in Egypt who migrated his people to Spain. Again, this version is translated by J Carey from K Meyer’s ‘Uber die altese irisch Dichtung’. It is possible that Núada’s Tuatha was Christianised, and the house poet duties were being slowly replaced by a monastic (I already discussed how the filí changed their roles in order to keep their high class status in medieval Irish society in the ‘Pseudohistory’ series) or this could have been transcribed to the monastic from the poet his/herself and the Christian elements added later. It mentions the Gáileóin which was an alternative name for the Laigin.
Núada Necht did not endure an un-king:
The overlord Etarscéle,
of the race of Iár,
A brave king of fiana
Against a ruddy prosperous king:
Blood-red were the taxes
Of the swift grandson of Lugaid.
Swift in ships,
He traversed the sea as a warrior of the west:
A red wind,
Which dyed sword-blades with a bloody cloud.
Fergus Fairrge, Núadu Necht strong and brave:
A great champion
Who did not love punishment from a rightful lord.
As a wave does not
(merely) visit the land,
Thunder from across the sea,
An advance against a cliff.
When Art’s grandson struck down
He was not timid behind another’s back
Ordering the battle.
Firm (?) contenderagainst an army
Was Sétnae Sithbacc,
Enduring field of ruin,
Mighty horror, reaping-hook of death.
Brecc’s grandson has earned victory-song;
According to the harsh tale of battle.
Lugaid rushed to their aid,
Against a lean warrior;
A protracted battle,
The overswearing of Sedrach.
Sturfdy against the onslaught of champions,
Against the fury of champions;
Swift he rushed,
The roar of the vast sea.
Deedful was battle-mighty Bresal,
Fiachra the princely champion;
Ailill the old champion
Was a deedful lord.
Foglas was violent,
Who equipped a hundred forts:
A king of battles,
Who ruled realms with vipers venom.
Núadu, son of Fuildiu
He flattened them;
With red blades he made the brave kings of the world his subjects.
With great masses of troops,
He harried the land of Ethomum:
Troops, horror of destruction,
Upon the territories of Crothomum.
The destroyer shook worlds
with his armies,
Art and fierce Mug Airt,
Who brought ruin.
With great showers of blood
He cleansed the swarthy world;
The heaven-hued cloud
Flowed (?) with ruddy men.
Fair Crimthann Cosrach
Was not a holy inheritor;
Feradach Find Fechtnach
Was no milder.
He left the world orphaned,
The sturdy support of the host of Carmun;
Fedel Fortrén, the savage chariot-warrior,
Smote a picked battalion.
He ploughed three hundred battlefields,
Nimble in the heat of conflict,
When Fergus Fortamail
Loosed his fury upon the Britons.
Bresal Bregom, a contentious youth,
Who loved no feeble strength;
Fair-browed Ailill was a battle hero,
Fierce and renowned was Oengus.
He razed eight towers in the land of Iath,
He destroyed the fields of Idrig,
He ravaged eight camps of the men of Skye,
He smote the armies of Siblig.
Swift on the sea, good at rowing,
A mighty blood-red dispenser (of booty);
He fought three times fifty battles in Morc
Labraid, son of Lorc’s son.
Every Monday he waged
A bloody battle against Fergus;
Every Wednesday he razed a wood;
Every Saturday he lay waste a bog.
He harried the great sturdy sea-realms
Of the the Fir Fagrig,
Phantoms burnt their ships,
Labraid grandson of Lorc.
He ventured against the many Orkneys,
He the Sábeóin;
For thousands of months he occupied Irrus,
He divided the Gáileóin.
He cleansed the possessions of sixty kings,
A manly distributer of gracious favours;
He divided the south of Ireland,
Labraid grandson of Lorc.
With broad spears,
He smashed the territories of Carmun;
In dire battles the ravager smote men.
He fettered Gaulish hostages
As far as the five peaks of the Alps;
Scores of fierce lords, of armoured legions,
Go into hiding.
The race of the Gáileóin stormed Tara,
A mighty march:
Fál wails at the conquest
Of the troop of Fáireóin.
So long as he reigned,
Áth Cliath asked for no aid;
Labraid grandson of Lorc
Was like a golden door.
The high-hearted Loingsech,
A great rich diadem,
Around which the princes of the stormy land of Iath
Arrayed their troops.
An occasion of fear arose
(when) he bound a violent race:
The reincarnation of his grandfather Lorc
Defied the armies of Suibig.
A noble company were
Fergus Fortamail, Bresal Bregom,
The lordy Oengus Ollam.
Of lofty irresistible courage,
Ugaine, Eochu the noble,
Dui Ladcrai, a red goad,
Was the wild Muiredach Bolcrai.
Victorious was Senén,
Ethén was a bright harsh king;
Young and radiant was Núadu,
The fierce high king.
Ailill Oalchloen of battles,
Sírna, Dian, a brave king;
Demál who was violent,
Rothait,Ogamuin, a king of the plains.
Great was Oengus son of Fiachu,
A lordly judgement.
Etherél was eloquent,
Illustrious in dispute;
Éremón was great,
Míl sturdy and familiar with the sea.
Bile was rich in treasures,
With a bear’s strength, noble and fair as heaven;
Bregon was a sky of strength,
Bráth was illustrious and handsome.
Deáith was powerful,
Bold Eirgid was a radiant one;
Alldóit was a champion,
Núadu a noble one.
Góedel Glas uniquely fair;
Glúnfind was a radiant one,
Lámhfind, Etheoir was fairer.
Banb, a victorious one;
Noble Seim was a champion,
Mair was a stately one.
Great was Ethecht,
Aboth, Aos, Ara,
Sara, Seth, the peaceful and deft.
Lordly was Zru, Esru,
Ethrocht, Baath was kingly (?);
Ibath was a cliff of glass,
Gomer was sun-like.
Though Japhet was fair,
A famous lordy battle-warrior;
More illustrious than the men of the world
Was the saintly Noah.
It was not a petty fellowship
Of kindred brothers,
(but) a mighty splendid company
Of fathers and mothers.
Sons of the lofty god,
Angels of white-cloud heaven,
Bright white Methuselah.
Malaleel of worthy race,
nobly born (?) Seth.
Nobler was Adam,
Father of mortally descended men;
A man shaped by god,
A noble unique offspring.
Only offspring of the god
Of the mighty peopled earth,
A hero who inhabited
The dwelling of the strife-filled world.
Lofty single three,
Wonderous sole king of heaven,Infant, holy champion.
As always, thank you for your time in reading this quite lengthy piece (Andrew will have a fair few words ready for me, no doubt).
Equinox blessings throughout the Earth. May there be Peace and Harmony on this day of balance.
The Equinox is at 15:32 GMT (Greenwich Mean Time-UK) throughout the Earth. This is the exact time the Sun hits the equator directly. In the tropical (or seasonal) zodiac this point is 0 degrees Aries and marks the start of the Western zodiac. The tropical zodiac is split into 12 lots of 30 degrees with the four cardinal signs being represented at the Equinoxes and Solstices.
In the Northern hemisphere it is a time of planting and fertility. In the Southern hemisphere it marks the time of harvesting.
Day and night are balanced throughout the Earth at this time. With the turbulent events of recent times, let’s hope we see peace and balance restored soon.
Christians and pagans have denounced Ostara or Easter as pagan festivals. However, the facts show that Easter is still very much Christian. Unlike most pagan Orders we will not be celebrating Ostara, but the coming of Spring, typified by Sheela-na-gig.
If you want to call it either of those names, that’s your personal choice, so long as you know there is no factual foundation whatsoever to these festivals.
Linguistically Ostara is an Old High German cognate of Eostre, the ancient spring goddess, worshipped by the Anglo-Saxons, but there have no evidence of a festival to honour Ostara.
Eostre has only one mention by Bede in his ‘Reckoning of Time’, which gave rise to the Anglo-Saxon month Eosturmonath, but there is still more foundation to honour Eostre than Ostara.
“Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated “Paschal month”, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance” (Venerable Bede).
It was later replaced by the Christian festival of Easter. It is interesting to note that in other countries Easter is known in its different translations of Paschal (eg Paques in French) so this might give an indication that Eostre was so deeply rooted in the culture of the English peoples of the time that they simply carried the name over.
With regards to Ostara as the Spring Equinox and Mabon as the Autumn Equinox, these were invented by American occult writer, Aidan Kelly, in the 1970s, who also invented a few other things that seemed to have been accepted as traditional within some pagan communities. These inventions seemed to take root in the 1990s in many US neo-pagan and ‘Wiccan’ books and imported to the UK and elsewhere, and as they were presented as fact, many pagans accepted them as true or traditional names.
Here then are some facts to help you make an informed decision about celebrating the Equinox or Ostara:
1) The festival of Pascha was celebrated for centuries before the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons who named it ‘Easter’ in their own relatively small part of the world. (It’s still called Pascha, or a variant thereof, outside those areas.) So no, it wasn’t ‘originally pagan’ or about a Goddess of sex and fertility.
2) Bede, our only source for the Goddess Eostre, states that the festival of Easter was named after the ‘old observance’ of Eostre’s feasts during the month of Eosturmonath. He does not say that anything survived of these feasts except that name. Some scholars have suggested that Bede made her up, and academia is still divided on this point, although it remains unclear what his motive for doing so might have been.
3) Eostre’s symbol wasn’t a hare. That was an unsupported guess made by the folklorist Adolf Holzmann in 1874. Holzmann was baffled by the Easter Hare tradition, finding it ‘unintelligible’, and guessed that ‘the hare was probably the sacred animal of Ostara’. Later writers misrepresented his guess as a statement of fact.
4) Eggs were not symbols of Eostre either. There are no known symbols of Eostre in the single surviving text.
5) Hot cross buns weren’t eaten by the pagan Saxons. That extraordinary claim comes from the long-outdated 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
6) Eostre is not the root of the word ‘oestrogen’, which comes from Latin ‘oestrus’ meaning ‘frenzy’, used in sexual context since 380 BC. Oestrogen was only discovered in the 1920s, the human ovum in 1827.
7) Jehovah’s Witness literature equates Eostre with Ishtar or Astarte. That comes from Christian fundamentalist beliefs that all pagan gods are the same group of demons. Ishtar was ancient Babylonian, Eostre (if she existed) Anglo-Saxon; thousands of miles and many hundreds of years apart.
8) Ostara is not an old name for the Spring Equinox. Only modern pagans use it in that way. The Spring Equinox was first called ‘Ostara’ in the 1970s.
9) Hares and rabbits were introduced to Britain by the Romans and are not an indigenous species, so it is impossible for rabbits to have been sacred to any indigenous Goddess.
People who debunk pagan myths about Easter aren’t all Christians. In fact, many fundamentalist Christians don’t like Easter; they think it’s unbiblical and unchristian to celebrate it. It suits them down to use claims that Easter was originally Pagan. The number of ill informed pagans, sadly, is also growing.
The advice of the Order of Celtic Wolves is always to check the facts before you share them.
Equinox blessings to you 🙏 and Easter also doesn’t fall until the next full moon and we’ve already had one earlier in the week, so Easter will be later this year.
Once Cú Chulainn was beside the river Boyne in his chariot, and Lóeg mac Riangabra along with him, and the feat (cles) of nine champions was above him; he was killing the salmon in Linn Féic. They saw a little man in purple clothes, (sitting) in a bronze skiff, travelling (?) on the Boyne without rowing at all.
Cú Chulainn set him and his boat on the palm of his hand. “Here you are,” Cú Chulainn said. “So it seems,” he said. “I will give you my cloak and my tunic as reward for my safety. They have a special property: they fit anyone, whether small or big. No one is drowned or burnt so long he wears them. No deterioration will come upon them nor upon him who wears them, and every colour which anyone likes is upon them.” “I have them already,” Cú Chulainn said. “Take my shield and my spear, and no battle or combat will be gained against you; and you will never be wounded as long as the shield protects you.” “I have them all,” Cú Chulainn said, “in the hollow of my fist.” “You are hard on me,” said Senbecc grandson of Ebrecc, from the Síde.
“What is that thing there,” asked Cú Chulainn. “A little timpán (stringed musical instrument),” said Sebecc; “shall I play it for you?” “I would like that,” Cú Chulainn said. He drew his finger across it so that Cú Chulainn was lamenting at the wailing-strain. Then he played the laughing-strain until Cú Chulainn was carried away with laughter. He played the sleeping-strain so that Cú Chulainn fell into a deep sleep and slumber from one hour to the next. Senbecc went home………………
(‘Revue Celtique’ Kuno Meyer and translated by John Carey)
Senbecc grandson of Erbrecc, from the Síde, came from the plain of Segais seeking imbas, and Cú Chulainn encountered him upon the river Boyne. Cú Chulainn captured him, and he explained that he had come looking for the fruit of the nuts of a fair-bearing hazel. There are nine fair-bearing hazels from whose nuts he got imbas: it used to drop into the wells, so that the stream bears the imbas into the Boyne. The Senbecc sang to him some of his lore, and a song:
I am not a lad, I am not a man,
I am not a child in learning.
The mysteries of God have made me gifted.
I am Abcán, a sage of learning, a poet from Segais.
Sembecc is my name, Erbrecc’s grandson from the Síde.
(These are the names of the nine hazels: Sall, Fall, Fuball, Finnam, Fonnam, Fofuigell, Crú, Crínam, Cruanbla.)
The Senbecc offered great rewards to Cú Chulainn for letting him go free, and Cú Chulainn would not grant it. Then he stretched out his hand to his harp. He played him a wailing-strain, so that he was wailing and lamenting; he played him a laughing-strain so that he was laughing; and finally, he played him a sleeping-strain so that he cast him into slumber. Then Senbecc escaped down the Boyne in a bronze boat…………….
(‘Ériu’ EJ Gwynn)
The Irish (one could say international as well) National holiday, Seachtain na Gaeilge (Irish speaking week) and Féileadh Sheelagh/ Spring Equinox is coming around the corner and I could be here sharing related anecdotes, experiences and such with you but more serious world events taking place currently take precedent.
Both of these similar tales of Cú Chulainn and Senbecc come from The Ulster/Ulaid Cycle. The first and earliest rendition is from the ‘Book of Lecan’ whereas the last is from the later ‘Book of Armagh’. In these two Cú Chulainn is shown to have a flaw in the otherwise ‘Champion of Ulster’ where he is the aggressor attacking a seeming weaker opponent and taking what is not his as well as ignoring the pleas for release. (There is another later manuscript that has a tale without the mention of Senbecc but has the Síde as the attackers of Cú Chulainn while he seeks imbas along the Boyne). Although trapped, Senbecc uses his quick wit and skill to peacefully subdue the Ulsterman and carry on his travels along the Boyne. Quite similar to what is currently happening in Ukraine where it’s people are subject to the tyranny of a Russian madman. And the Ukrainians are no easy push-over either.
Although our country leaders cannot impose military action on Russia without sparking off World War 3 and remember Putin has an arsenal of both nuclear and chemical weaponry as his disposal (as well as arresting his own people for anti-war protests), the imposed economic sanctions are having the desired detrimental effect. Western Europe has opened its door and spare beds to welcome the mass displacement of women and children. Aid is sent in large convoys by volunteers who are more than willing to donate their time and efforts. People are standing with the people of Ukraine and protesting in the streets outside the Russian embassies worldwide. If you haven’t seen or heard, there has been funny occurrences outside the Russian embassy in Ireland. A catholic priest spray painted the outside walls and gate with the Ukrainian colours, a lone driver drove a van full of ecclesiastical supplies through the gates (he was arrested by unwilling gardaí, represented himself at court who just called him a ‘naughty, naughty boy’ and don’t do it again…..wink, wink….) and the gardaí parked their car outside the damaged embassy gates (look at the car markings lol).
I am not appealing just to the Pagan community but to all communities. I know the knock-on effect of oil prices are driving up prices in all our communities and we are all moaning and groaning about it. Thoughts and prayers are nice but physical acts are more positive a force to aid our Ukrainian kin. Remember that we are empowered via our personal rituals to physically act in order to make a reality. Donate to charity drives if possible. Peacefully stand with the protesters outside Russian embassies if possible. Let’s all do our part within the legal framework. Let’s all try to see a peaceful resolve occur between Russia and Ukraine with no further atrocities being committed. Next Thursday I will be celebrating my country’s heritage and the approaching Equinox and I will be standing for Ukraine at both in solidarity as most of us will in such events but I will also be donating my time and effort whenever possible and so hopefully will you. Tyrants fall.
I was going through my old vinyl collection and came across a LP from the Cork Black Metal band ‘Primordial’ that was released in 1995 called “Imrama”. It has a beautiful cover art depiciting a druid meditating in the centre (why the depictions of the rare statue of Boa Island, co. Fermanagh is used is beyond me but artistic licence is what it is) of a stone circle which reminds me of the 9m diameter Reenascreena stone circle (also known as the ‘Ring of the Shrine’) 18km away from Drombeg in West Cork. Now the metal scene is not for everyone but Irish mythology is used a lot by Irish metal bands as well as Irish traditional music bands. Sometimes especially in the Irish metal scene, traditional musical instruments are used in harmony with the music and the end result brings us on a ‘journey to the Otherworld’ or as the title of the album which is spelled ‘imrama’ and this written piece ‘immrama’.
‘Immrama’ is by definition, a collection of a type of story dating from the 8th Century onwards and written by the learned classes such as the filí (bards and poets) and the early Christian monastics. They mainly concern a hero’s voyage to the Otherworld of Irish pre-Christian lore and will contain more Christian and classic European elements than the earlier 7th Century ‘echtrai’ which contained mainly native elements. Echtrae means adventure (the modern Irish word is eachtra) and immram means voyage (modern Irish is iomramh). Normally the tales are based on a course setting off from the west coast of Ireland for either the pursuit of adventure or fulfilment of destiny and reaching mythological islands on the way. They either stay on these lands or return.
‘Immrama’ can mean many things to us but ultimately it is the journey that we take to reach a goal be it how we perceive our own unique individual paths or an actual physical adventure or journey that is path of our path. A good example was the recent trip I took with my family to Carrigapooca castle and stone circle just off the N25 on the west side of Macroom town in county Cork. Preparation involves researching how accessible the site is, it’s history and whether or not it is on private land (will permission from land owner be needed). I am always cursing ‘Google Maps’ because it doesn’t update the maps (and not give the best or safest route), There’s a by-pass under construction near to the site and it was going to be trial and error to get there. And it was. I finally managed to locate the farmyard entrance eventually as the castle was easily seen from the road but not the way in. I got permission from the Healy family who also gave me the key to the door of one of the most haunted castles in Ireland and directions on which fields to take to get to both the stone circle and castle. The small one, my partner and her guide dog, Kali, had great fun crossing the fields, getting stuck in the nearby bog, and watching me grip an electrified fence (a shocking experience) by accident until we reached the base of the castle. It is very impressive and has a long history relating to the MacCarthy’s. It is a 14th century military Norman style castle that is four storeys high that is built on the Carrig an Phúca or ‘rock of the spirit/shíde’. The nearby land is called Lissardnasig (Old Irish for <geographical-feature> of the Shíde) on one side and Gleannarua (Glen of the Reds) on the other side. There is also a hoax associated with the castle that became viral and I am not going to entertain it. It’s ridiculous beyond belief. The stone circle is only a field away with solitary Holly trees hiding the site from view. Once I got to the top of the stone steps, I was hampered by a lock on the door that was heavily weathered and untouched since the lockdown (or it could be the Púca having a laugh at my expense and keeping me out). Believe me, I tried my best with it but unfortunately not to be. We had a family picnic at the base of the castle and then made our way over to the stone circle. I was disappointed with the neglect of the Bronze age site but it has been there since roughly 1800 to 1500 BCE and in the middle of a worked field. A lot of the stones have fallen over and the concrete sign with “‘fógra’(notice) property of National Heritage Council” face down in the mud. One of the portal stones was erect as was the axial and the centre quartz stone (never came across a d-style stone circle with one of these in the centre before) more or less in roughly the correct position for observing the sun rise during the solstices. I brought back the key to the owner and explained the situation with the lock in which she agreed that it needed replacing. Okay, I couldn’t get into the castle and the stone circle wasn’t a good example of one but the journey wasn’t wasted. The trek to it was fun. It was inspiring to see a building built upon a rock outcrop and imagining how any siege could successfully take the castle. It was picturing the sun rise strike the quartz pillar onto the axial stone on a clear solstice morn and how it would like. A door shuts but another opens. It’s still a story to tell.
I still find it an important part of Irish culture and heritage and told it’s tale on live feeds on social media pages as well as writing this here. Despite the negatives, the journey has its positives also. We all have personal ‘immrama’ that contain sorrows and joys, monotony and enjoyment. Never underestimate what you do and what your goals are on your own path.