Brighid, Goddess or Saint??

“A match flares to life, and a woman’s voice speaks:

In Brighid’s name, I light my flame …

 Alone at her kitchen table, she tenderly applies match to candle, and the twilight-darkening room is illuminated in a golden glow.

 Brighid is my protector; Brighid is my maker of song …

 Lifting a cup in a ritual gesture, she sips pure sweet milk in grateful communion.

 Brighid is my sword and my shield; Brighid is my guide …”

(Tending Brigids Flame, Lunaea Weatherstone, Llewellyn Publications)

As the time of Imbolg or outside of Éire, Imbolc, draws near it is time to reflect on the seasonal change in the Northern Hemisphere as the land begins to warm and nurture new growth for the upcoming cycle of Nature. Symbolically, the deity Brighid is born under the flame of the rising Sun and is nursed by an Bó Bán (the White Cow) who resides between both worlds. Traditionally, February 1st has been  just a Catholic church holiday in Ireland but after the recent pandemic, it was declared a public holiday in remembrance of those who passed from the virus and complications that arose from the infection ( COVID-19 Deaths and Cases Statistics – CSO – Central Statistics Office ). It is a fitting symbol of healing whether your belief system be Pagan or Christian (maybe even a mix).

Andrew/ Filtiarn will be celebrating Imbolc and more importantly, the deity Brigantia, with his Grove in Northern England and I will be celebrating the deity Lasair at Imbolg in North county Cork at the Tobair Eoighan Naomha. Both are deities that share similar archetypes as Brighid and have the same feast days. I will leave the history and mythologies relating to Brigantia for Filtiarn to discuss as this written piece is a more in-depth exercise of Brighid and her associated mythologies compared to other lesser known Irish goddesses that share similar archetypes. This is also comparable to Patrick who has feats/legends that other lesser-known saints had accomplished but were later attributed to the Irish Catholic Patron saint.

Firstly, I will start with the mythos of Lasair. Tobair Eoighan Naofa is a sacred well found near the summit of Sliabh Mushra in the barony of Duhallow in North county Cork. At the time of the Summer Solstice, a Catholic pattern is held there in honour of St. John and it has a healing ritual done there. This particular John had three sisters as well; Lasair, Inghe Bhuidhe and Latiaran who were nuns. These nuns all have miraculous legends of healing bandages and blacksmith forge incidents associated with them among others. Archaeologists have investigated that the three were agricultural Goddesses associated with the sacred well and the names were associated with seasonal change. Lasair is also Irish Gaelic for ‘flame’ and was associated with the first season of growth. The time for Imbolg is also indicated by some larger liathciorcal (stone circles) such as Dromnagorteen in county Kerry and Drombeg in West Cork. In the following passage from the website https://historicgraves.com/ where John Tierney hosts a collection of localised folklore you can see a legend based on the healing bandages of a revered local nun or a former local goddess that is similar to Brighid:-

“Saint Latiaran does not appear on our calendar of saints but folklore instead has handed down to us the story of Saint Latiaran and the Blacksmith. Smith’s history of Cork together with other Journals refer to her but of course local tradition by the people of Cullen is very strong. In Cullen this ancient site which is a holy well has a pattern day on the nearest Sunday to her  feast dayon July 25th. Saint Latiaran and the holy well go back as far as the fifth century. She may well have been a member of a community. Tradition has it that Latiaranand her sisters met for prayer or mediation weekly in difficult times environmentally and that on one occasion a group of angels appeared to them and prepared  path for them to follow between Cullen, Dromtarriffe  and Kilmeen. 

We are told that Latiaran went to the local forge  each  morning  to take live coals from the fire in her apron or habit to her cell to start a fire. Because of her great holiness she was able to take these red hot coals in her apron without getting burned in any way. It must be said that other a number of other Irish saints are also credited with this miraculous power. One morning the Blacksmith watching the saint lifting her habit to collect the red hot coals complemented her on having a nice pair of legs. Latiaranwas so much taken in by the Blacksmith’s compliment that she looked down and did agree that she had nice legs.

Next we know her apron was on fire and she completely lost her head and cursed the poor Blacksmith for the compliment he paid her .She prophesied that the sound of a smiths hammer would never again be heard in Cullen. Apparently this is the case. After this incident at the forge folklore tells us that Latiaran disappeared down through the ground and ended up in her cell. This spot is marked by a heart shaped stone where she entered the ground, but others would say that this stone marks her grave. This stone is at the holy well. Nearby ruins show where a church once stood and a tree from which items can be hung to so that their ailments can be taken away. Many cures are recorded as  having  taken place there. Crippled  people  walking away cured leaving behind their crutches and sticks.”

This is local folklore, and you can find the same, if not similar, story with a lot of localised nuns/ female saints. It’s important to note that a lot of these “nuns” are not officially recognised by the Vatican as with Brighid. A lot is recorded in Annals by monastics from the 10th Century CE onwards. Other lesser known would be Cranat of Fermoy, North Cork who shares a similar story of self-mutilation to Brighid as described in the medieval works Bethu Brigte ( The Life of Brighid {old Irish/ seangaeilge}) and Vitae Prima Sanctae Brigitae (Scared Life of Brighid). The story of Cranat rejecting the 6th Century Munster king, Capre Crom, was monastically recorded in Betha Cranatan  as:-

“… ro chinn ina menmain na raghadh go fer 7 nach millfedh a hoige… Ocus ro bhen a dí súil asa cinn 7 dosfucc i llaimh na dí chailleach battar ina farradh .i. Maelbracha 7 Laithche. …she made up her mind that she would not go to a man and that she would not ruin her virginity…. And she struck her two eyes out of her head and she put them into the hands of the two nuns, Máel Bracha and Laithche, who were in her company”

(I need to point out that in early Irish medieval script, 7 was the shorthand symbol used for “and”)

Travelling up to Sligo, we recount another 5th Century CE female saint, Attracta of Killaraght. Her legend was first written by the Cistercians in the 12th Century CE. The 17th Century CE book Acta Sanctorum Hiberniae (The Acts of Irish saints) compiled by John Colgan has a more detailed account of Araght of Killaraght. He writes :-

“On learning that her parents did not approve of her decision to lead the monastic life and wanted her to marry (the girl was beautiful and had several suitors), the young Attracta left her parents’ home, taking two companions with her. First the saint moved to south Connacht. Then she lived as an anchoress in Killaraght in south-east Sligo, on Lough (Lake) Gara, and later—at Drum (subsequently renamed Drumconnel because her brother, Bishop Conel, also worked there) not far from Boyle in what is now County Roscommon. The holy woman founded communities for nuns in these places, which grew into famous convents; although according to tradition, the convent at Killaraght was purposely built by St. Patrick who made her abbess there. (It was written that when St. Patrick tonsured Attracta a veil fell on his breast from heaven. Patrick gave it to Attracta and told her to wear it as a special blessing of God till her death. Feeling unworthy of this, she reluctantly agreed only after much persuasion).

The venerable mother also established a number of churches and monastic communities on the territory of the modern Irish counties of Sligo and Galway (on the west coast in the province of Connacht). St. Attracta may also have served as abbess of the convents she had founded there. Notably, the ascetic chose crossroads (“where seven roads met”) as the places to build her convents, because many wayfarers and strangers would pass by them. In all her convents special attention was devoted to care for the sick, and hospitality was extended to everybody. There is ample evidence that numerous healing miracles were performed in these monastic settlements through St. Attracta’s prayers. There were many accounts of cases of healing of paralytics, and in one case the holy abbess raised a drowned man from the dead by her fervent prayer. According to another popular story, St. Attracta by the sign of the cross and a touch of her staff destroyed a “monstrous beast” that used to steal the livestock of rural residents of the Lugna district and terrorize the population.”

In the above passage, we read that Araght possesses a sacred veil and has healing powers similar to Brighid as well as her origins being of 5th Century CE. Similar to Lasair and Cranat, she is a part of a trio. Again, these stories have been passed in the oral tradition up until an account had been written by the medieval monastics.

Going north into Ulster we have Saint Cinnia, a former daughter of a prominent chieftain, Eochaidh, during the 5th Century CE and as well as having similar legends of healing, she even shares her feast day with Brighid  on the 1st of February. Very little is mentioned of her but there is a legend of her surviving in the book Orthodox Saints of the British Isles, John Hutchinson-Hall, Eadfirth Press. It mentions that to avoid marriage, it was agreed that she was to be given the veil by Patrick upon receiving her holy orders.

Before we go to the Lagan or the old territory of Leinster, I want to take you to Mide which was the fifth provence of old Ireland and was home to the seat of the Ard Rí. This is the county of Meath and Tara. Ireland has no shortage of Tobair Naofa and it has been discussed numerous times that these were dedicated to Irish goddesses before the advent of Christianity. There is one that is of particular interest and this is Tobar Damhata.

“In the seventh century Dympna, Damhnait in Irish, was the daughter of an Irish chieftain. Some stories state that her father was a pagan and her mother was a Christian. Her mother died when Dympna was young and the little girl was raised by a nurse. Dympna grew up to be a beautiful girl and a rich chieftain sought her hand in marriage. Her father favoured the advantageous match. Dympna regused the offer of marriage as she wanted to dedicate her life to the service of God and so fled her home. Accompanied by her teacher, St Gerebernus, Dympna and her little band came to Kildalkey before fleeing to the continent. At Gheel, in what is now Belgium, they set up an altar to worship God and began to work with the sick and the poor. Her father followed the group to the continent and searched until he had found them. St Gerebernus was seized and instantly beheaded. The king tried to persuade his daughter to come back to Ireland but she refused and so was beheaded by her own father as his soldiers refused to carry out the deed.”

This narrative differs slightly as it is based in the 7th Century and instead of self-imposed mutilation to avoid marriage, the ‘nun/saint’ is martyred because of refusing to marry a chosen suitor (another chieftain more than likely). In the Annals of the Four Masters, it is recorded that a great plague had ravaged the island of Ireland and called the year 664, Buidhe Connail (Yellow fever of 664-666 CE) and a large number of monastics and chieftains had died as a result (Concise History of Ireland, S Duffy, Gill and MacMillan ). It can be argued that the legend of Damhnait is a narrative with a hidden meaning (which the romantic monastics of the 11th Century onwards held poetic licence to doing) which describes the failure of the marriage between the Ard Rí and local Goddess of Nature. This ancient custom also relates the highest ranking chieftains of  the next territories such as Connachta, Muin, Lagan and Ulaid. In the Ulaid Cycle and in particular the saga The Intoxication of the Ulaid, Concubhar asks the local chieftains (Cu Chulainn is one) for their vote for his succession as the Rí of Ulaid. He is given their vote but Cu Chulainn warns his old friend that should the crops fail, Concubhar’s head would join his trophy room in the Red House. This is also the century of the last Ard Fhéis of the region of Tara where St. Adomnán proclaimed that women were ‘freed’ from military service and he made illegal for them to accompany to the battlefields on a national level ( Adomnán of Iona: Life of St Columba, Richard Sharpe, London Press).

If I was to make a full list of local Goddesses/ venerated nuns, this essay would become a book. It can be argued that a lot of these ‘saints’ are not officially recognised by the Vatican and never existed as a lot of Wiccan and neo-Pagan narratives are pointing out in the past few years on saint Brighid herself. The few of the earliest written texts in relation to Irish gods and goddess are found in the 11th Century CE Irish medieval manuscripts onwards and one of the earliest of these is the Lebor Gabala Erenn. This famous text on the pseudo logical and biblical legend of the different races who had conquered the island has been rewritten and added to, up until the epic 14th Century CE version. Copies of the original manuscript can be found in the Celtic Heroic Age, John T Koch and J Carey, Celtic Studies Publications. The Lebor Gabla Erenn which itself is only an 11th Century CE manuscript written by the Four Masters (monastics themselves who painted a Christian narrative) based on the Historia Brittonum written in the 9th Century (828 CE) by the Welsh monastic Nennius. Up until the end of the 10th Century CE monastic manuscript work mainly consisted of poetry praising the lineage of the chieftain depending on which tuatha the cleric lived in as well as gospels for the monastary. In a previous 6 part series of essays, Irish Pseudohistory and Lore of the Master Poets Part 1 – Home | Order of Celtic Wolves (wordpress.com) , I explored this.

It is worth mentioning that Brighid does not turn up in the lineage and sagas of the Tuatha Dé Danann in the original 11th Century CE text but does in the later manuscripts such as the 14th Century CE Leabhar Buidhe Leacáin (Yellow Book of Lecan) and Book of Ballymote. However, She is described in Sanas Cormaic (Cormac’s Glossary) by the 10th Century CE Cormac mac Cuilennán, Ard Rí of Munster(some claim him to be a bishop but this has been disproved historically), as such in his many footnotes:

“Brigid, that is, the female poet, daughter of the Dagda. This is Brigit the female seer, or woman of insight, i.e., the goddess whom poets used to worship, for her cult was very great and very splendid. It is for this reason that they call her the goddess of poets by this title, and her sisters were Brigid the woman of leechcraft and Brigit, the woman of smithcraft, i.e., goddesses, i.e., three daughters of the Dagda are they. By their names the goddess Brigid was called by all the Irish.”

 Saint Brighid of Kildare has a manuscript dedicated to her life in a 9th Century text named Vita Prima Sanctae Brigidae. It is also just as important to mention that this was first penned in Germany not Ireland. Also a more detailed tome was compiled by the same Order of Benedictine monks called Vita beate Brigitte virginibus in the 14th Century BCE. This is easily explained as second hand information or tales from travelling monks coming from Ireland as missionaries would have been passed on to the various Orders around Europe.

Brighid, one legend of the Saint:

“There is much debate over her birthparents, but it is widely believed her mother was Brocca, a Christian baptized by Saint Patrick, and her father was Dubthach, a Leinster chieftain. Brocca was a slave, therefore Brigid was born into slavery.

When Dubthach’s wife discovered Brocca was pregnant, she was sold to a Druid landowner. It is not clear if Brocca was unable to produce milk or was not present to care for Brigid, but legend states Brigid vomited any food the druid attempted to feed her, as he was impure, so a white cow with red ears sustained her instead.

Many stories of Brigid’s purity followed her childhood. She was unable to keep from feeding the poor and healing them.

One story says Brigid once gave her mother’s entire store of butter, that was later replenished after Brigid prayed.

When she was about ten-years-old, Brigid was returned to her father’s home, as he was her legal master. Her charity did not end when she left her mother, and she donated his possessions to anyone who asked.

Eventually, Dubthach became tired of her charitably nature and took her to the king of Leinster, with the intention of selling her. As he spoke to the king, Brigid gave his jeweled sword to a beggar so he could barter it for food for his family. When the king, who was a Christian, saw this, he recognized her heart and convinced Dubthach to grant her freedom by saying, “Her merit before God is greater than ours.”

After being freed, Brigid returned to the Druid and her mother, who was in charge of the Druid’s dairy. Brigid took over and often gave away milk, but the dairy prospered despite the charitable practice, and the Druid eventually freed Brocca.

Brigid then returned to Dubthach, who had arranged for her to marry a bard. She refused and made a vow to always be chaste.

Legend has it Brigid prayed that her beauty be taken so no one would want to marry her, and the prayer was granted. It was not until after she made her final vows that her beauty was restored.

Another tale says that when Saint Patrick heard her final vows, he accidentally used the form for ordaining priests. When the error was brought to his attention, he simply replied, “So be it, my son, she is destined for great things.”

Little is known about Saint Brigid’s life after she entered the Church, but in 40 she founded a monastery in Kildare, called the Church of the Oak. It was built above a pagan shrine to the Celtic goddess Brigid, which was beneath a large oak tree.

Brigid and seven friends organized communal consecrated religious life for women in Ireland and she founded two monastic institutions, one for men and one for women. Brigid invited a hermit called Conleth to help her in Kildare as a spiritual pastor.

Her biographer reported that Brigid chose Saint Conleth “to govern the church along with herself.”

She later founded a school of art that included metalwork and illumination, which Conleth led as well. It was at this school that the Book of Kildare, which the Gerald of Wales praised as “the work of angelic, and not human skill,” was beautifully illuminated, but was lost three centuries ago.

There is evidence that Brigid was a good friend of Saint Patrick’s and that the Trias Thaumaturga claimed, “Between St. Patrick and Brigid, the pillars of the Irish people, there was so great a friendship of charity that they had but one heart and one mind. Through him and through her Christ performed many great works.”

Saint Brigid helped many people in her lifetime, but on February 1 525, she passed away of natural causes. Her body was initially kept to the right of the high altar of Kildare Cathedral, with a tomb “adorned with gems and precious stones and crowns of gold and silver,” but in 878, during the Scandinavian raids, her relics were moved to the tomb of Patrick and Columba.”

Brighid the Goddess;

According to the various translations of Sanas Cormaic and Lebor Gabála Érann , the three goddesses, Brighid were born under the fiery sunrise at Brú na Bóinne who suckled the white cow that exists between both worlds.  Their parents were the Tuatha Dé Danann, an Dagda, the good God and Boann/Boind ( Bó ind is also seangaeilge for ‘white cow’) of Ségais and learned the art of the filid, the art of smithingand the art of the healer at their feet. She bore the smith Ruadán while married to Brés of the Fomorans. He fell at the hands of the smith Goibnú of the Tuatha Dé at the second Caith Maige Tuiread. There She keened a lament for her fallen son.

There isn’t a lot of actual written data in relation to Brighid as a Goddess found in the early manuscripts. What is intriguing is that Cormac mac Cuilenán writes about 3 separate Bríg’s; the poet/seer, the healer and the smith. In seangaeilge or old Irish, bríg literally means ‘force’ or ‘power’ and from this we have three separate titles; bríg filidacht (power/force of poetry/insight), bríg liacht (power/force of healing), and bríg gabhacht (power/force of smithing). Cormac isn’t writing about one named person here but three separate entities or deities in his Glossary (Sanas Cormaic is one of four known ‘Glossaries’ written by medieval scholars). There is no actual name used. Usually in these texts a title would have a name to accompany it such as an Dagda whose name is Eochaid . Boind I described in the previous paragraph is a title also. There are some manuscripts that claim the Goddess Macha to be the mother of Brighid as well but it is important that the sagas were recorded by different monastics over the medieval time period in Ireland.

From the evidence gathered, it would be safe to assume that Brighid is just a title of a sovereign goddess of Nature herself. She has also been called Mhuire na nGael or ‘Our Lady of the Gaels’. A lot of Scared Wells are named after various saints and their apparent sisters but the ones not given a male patronage are named Tobair Mhuire Naofa and these have always been associated the Earth Mother in the preChristian era. You could argue until the stars fell out of alignment about who Brighid is, is She Pagan or Christian in origin, etc., etc. Does it really matter? From the above research, Brighid is, to me personally, an honoury title for the Goddess of Nature of my/ your Tuatha. She is the Goddess of Nature whom I choose to honour on Imbolg this coming Bank Holiday Weekend on 4-6th February in Éire.

“Seo é an t-am Imbolg,

Tá tú lasair na filidacht,

Tá tú lasair na liacht,

Tá tú lasair na gabhacht.

Tá tú an brig i mo ceann,

I mo corp agus i mo chroí.”

Le meas,

Seán Ó Tuama.

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Learn from the Young

“Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12, New Living Translation

The Order of Celtic Wolves is proud to have a variety of ages of all sexualities and genders support it. Sometimes, though, even in pagan circles, some sadly delude themselves that age gives them greatness. We are fellow travellers, and I am always greatly impressed by the unique insight of younger people today, including my own son. They have been raised in a different world to the one I grew up in, and whilst we were taught respect, they seem a far more enlightened generation.

They are brought up with more inclusivity and diversity than my generation. There is less segregation, and a lot genuinely do care about the world and environment. We can learn from each other, and I am grateful for a mixture of ages in my own Druid Grove, the Wolves of Brigantia.

The Colloquy of the Two Sages from The Book of Leinster, a medieval Irish manuscript, recalls the tale of a confrontation between an older Bardic Druid called Ferchertne and a younger Bardic Druid called Nede: –

Ferchertne an older Bardic Druid was angry, and on seeing Nede, a much younger Bardic Druid, he said:

“Who is this poet, wrapped in a splendid robe
Who shows himself before he has chanted poetry?
According to what I see, he is only a pupil,
His beard but an arrangement of grasses.
Who is this contentious poet?
I never heard any wisdom from Adne’s son!
I never heard him ready with knowledge!
A mistake it is, his sitting in this seat.”

And Nede answered Ferchertne honourably:

“O ancient one, every sage tries to correct another!
Any sage may reproach an ignorant man,
But before he does so, he should see what evil is present.
Welcome is the piercing dart of wisdom,
Slight is the blemish to a youth until his art is questioned.
Step with care, O chieftain –
You belittle me with knowledge,
Though I have sucked the teat of a wise man.”

Nede the Bardic Druid by Heartinator

Ferchertne obviously has no or little regard for Nede, questioning his wisdom or knowledge. Despite his disparaging comments, though, notice how Nede sees through the jealousy and warns Ferchertne of his own evil within and of belittling to assert himself as superior.

No matter how wise or aged we are, we should never stop learning. We should also listen to the young, including children. As the Proverb says, “Out of the mouths of babes comes truth and wisdom.” That is because children don’t have the same filters that adults have, and they say things how they see them. Whereas adults are more restrained.

So whatever your age, benefit from wisdom and knowledge of all around you and let no one look down upon your youth.

Finding Your Path

It is better to be great at just one thing, than try and fit too many things into your life. I have found this to be true personally. So for 2023 I am deciding what I will personally focus on. The Old Religion is of particular interest to me.

Witches raise hailstorms (15th century woodcut)

A Druid is a title of a particular role, but Druidry and Druidism are modern terms to describe a religion that didn’t need a name at the time. Julius Caesar equated the Druids to the Mages of what is now Northern Iran. From which term we get magick or magician. Sadly, many miss the magical connection with Druids and somehow separate them from witches. But both have much in common. A Druid was very much a Celtic witch (with sub divisions of Bards and Vates), with witch deriving itself from Anglo Saxon. Some, though, have used the term DruidCraft to re-establish the link.

DruidCraft by Philip Carr-Gomm

The religion of the Tribe, or group of Tribes was nameless and just part of everyday life, whether they go by modern day names of Celtic, Norse, Heathenry, etc. It was the religion that united Shamans worldwide with their connections to the unseen supernatural forces. Even the Abrahamic religions believe in supernatural forces and the Bible actually contains much magick, especially the Old Testament.

The unseen forces or spirits are all around us, but if we simply live by being part of the concrete jungle, we lose our connection to the unseen forces. These forces can help us by calling upon them in ritual or prayer (which in itself is a form of ritual). We can draw power from them, and they can give us insight. Whilst not denying science and physics, I acknowledge a higher science or magick, which mortals can tap into, but not fully understand because our spirits are inside a physical body. We must also not neglect the physical since we are here to have a physical experience. Balance is needed.

Order and Chaos – Kobay

We must also ground ourselves because the universe is a balance of chaos and order. I do not use the words good and evil because these do not describe a being, or person, but the acts they do. All are capable of both, but chaos and order aptly describes the constant changes in ourselves and in the universe. One thing about the ancient Gods is that they learn and progress. Gods such as Odin (Woden in Heathenry). Odin discovered the runes when he hung himself from the world tree Yggdrasil in order to learn wisdom. He learned the magical art of prophecy from Freyja.

Kemetism reconstruction

Kemetic (ancient Egyptians) recognised their Gods and Goddesses as elemental forces. Followers of Kemetism generally worship a few gods (Maat, Bastet, Anubis, Sekhmet, or Thoth, among others), but recognize the existence of every god. This worship generally takes the form of prayer and setting up altars, but there are no set guidelines for worship. Similarly, when you are part of a Coven or Grove, you might use commonly accepted protocol, such as casting a circle of protection and calling the quarters, but intent is the most important thing. And you must do whatever works for you. Experiment and see what works and what doesn’t. Ritual is a means of connecting with the unseen forces around us.

If you believe that one God is omnipotent and all powerful, then you must accept that this diety is responsible for both good and evil. Otherwise, bad things wouldn’t happen. This is brought out in Isaiah 45:7 – “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD (YHWH) do all these things.”

I am very fortunate to be part of a Grove, but each of us must consider our strengths. What attracts us most? Necromancy, Alchemy, Astrology, Crystology, Divination, or are we musical or a story teller, or do we just feel a connection with animals, trees, plants, and nature. All these things were practised as part of the Old Religion. Find your path and practice it. The effort is worth it. Even if you never settle on a path, the search in itself is enlightening. The ultimate goal is enlightenment.

Bean Sídhe Abhainn an Laoi

This is originally a short story written by Michael Scott and found in his 1991 book “The River Gods: Irish River Legends”. It is fiction based on folk legends of the main rivers of Ireland. I made a few changes in the narrative as some of the fiction got a tad outlandish. It is based on the river Lee which flows though my native county Cork.

Le meas,

Seán Ó Tuama.

This river gives me life. Its waters sustain me. While it flows, I live. I feed not on flesh and water, but memories and emotions.

I was once human, now I am legend.

I am the Bean Sídhe.”

“My people were the Tuatha Dé Danann, the people of the Goddess. I was with them when we sailed from the Dé Danann Isle in the Western Ocean. In our ships of gold and silver we fled across the sea in search of a new homeland. Some of my people settled on Lyonesse… but Lyonesse is no more, sunk beneath the waves for that same reason the Dé Danann Isle sank. Perhaps those who settled there were just especially stupid, or perhaps the arrogance that had destroyed our own race still drove them to believe that they were invincible. It matters little now: what matters is they had not learned the lesson of our own land. On Lyonesse, they used their magick to raise buildings, palaces, observatories and theatres in a day and a night. The wild uncontrolled magick stripped the earth of much of its power and allowed the sea to encroach. It was the tragedy of our own land all over again, but it had taken centuries to overwhelm the Dé Danann Isle – though the end came in a day and a night – with Lyonesse it was only a matter of decades and the end, when it came, was sudden and cataclysmic. Now only the water-folk inhabit its watery depths and swim through the once proud towers.

              “I was amongst the group which came to the land which one day be known as Erin. This was a wild and mysterious land then….nor was it unaccustomed to magick. When the world was young, the Old High Magick from the land of the Egyptians had been used to make the island grow from little more than a rock to something approaching its present size. That same magick had permeated the very rocks and lakes possessed a consciousness. Here was a land in harmony with the peoples and the beasts who walked its fields, here was a country sensitive to the moods of its people.

              “We too used our magick to make the land grow, but what we drew from the earth, we returned to the earth….even the beasts replenish the fields which nourish them, though they were fierce and fearsome warriors and cost us dearly in warriors and leaders. But once we had defeated our estranged kin, the Fir Bolg, we set out about making the land of Erin something like our magickal homeland.

              “For generations, we ruled this place, until the Sons of Mil came in their ships of wood and leather. We laughed at them. What could they do to us?

              “Our laughter was short-lived when we discovered that the Milesians had brought with them a fearsome weapon, something we could not hold, could not bear to look upon: the metal, iron.

              “We resisted the invaders for many seasons, but the end was envitable. The Milesians’ iron tools and artifacts slowly poisoned the land, the rivers, the very air we breathed, and so the Tuatha Dé began to retreat from the world of mortals. And by the time a new invader had entered our world. These were the brown-robed followers of the blood thirsty White Christ. And these were even more dangerous than the Milesians, because they turned the people away from us, gave them a false god to believe in, a new magick to worship. There were few of us left by that time though; most had already gone, even before the last of the Tuatha Dé had leftErin, the new people were beginning to called us the Sídhe, the faery-folk, magickal folk.

              “We finally left the land of Erin on the morning when the world turned and the seasons changed. Some went into glens that were hidden from human sight by rite of spells of magick; others retreated beneath the ground into the hills and mounds, Still more went to the magickal islands – Tir na nÓg, Tir Tairnigiri, Hy Brasil, Magh Míl – or the land beneath the waves, the Tir Faoi Thuinn.

              “I came to this river.”

“I had lived in a rath close to its source, in the Shehy mountains. It’s metallic tinkling had wakened me each morning, lulled me to sleep in the evenings. I had drunk its sweet waters, bathed in its icy chilliness. It had become such a part of my life that I saw no reason to leave it. But in accordance with the decision with the Ard Nasad – and through necessity too – I moved apart from the world of mortals, slipping slightly into the Otherworld.

              “And so now, existing partly in the Otherworld, partly in this realm, I wander the banks of the river that had been such a friend in life. This is not life as the humankind know life, nor is it death: but something between, I have no need to eat, no desire to drink. Now the emotions of the humans sustain me, keep me alive. I share their pain and passion, their fear and loathing.

              “I find death the hardest emotion of all to bear. Perhaps it is that humankind fear death so much. There is always much pain then, so much agony. There are times that I fear it will overwhelm me. Emotions are always so acute at the time of death.

              “And I am cursed with a little of the Sight. I know when one of them has been marked for death. I can see dark Macha spread her invisible crow-like wings and enwrap her next victim. Once death has claimed them, they are doomed……….and sometimes I cry aloud, venting my despair and agony.

              “And those unfortunate enough to hear me, those with a little of the Sídhe blood in them, will stop and whisper, Banshee…bean sídhe….faery woman.

              “My cry has become a portent of death.

              “Some of the human kind – those with a drop of the old blood in their veins- have seen me too. Occasionally they chance upon me as I sit on the riverbank combing my hair. When I am at ease that spell that cloaks me sometimes slips, rendering me visible. Others have stumbled upon me as I wash my robes in the river’s pure water. Sometimes they see meas a young maid, or a matron and sometimes a crone. They are not seeing me, they are seeing a reflection of their own desires. But they have all come to fear me…and without cause too. The Bean Sídhe heralds a death, she does not cause it.

“The human-kind have nothing to fear from the last remnants of a once-proud race.

              “Even now my power wanes. I wander the banks of this mighty river seeking, searching. Waiting…for one of the human kind to spare me a kindly word. I have been waiting from centuries. I doubt it will happen now. Soon I will be gone, but the legend will remain.

              “Bean Sídhe…..Banshee…….Baaaaansheeeeeeeeeeee……….”

Ag bealach isteach na beatha. Ag iarraidh banDia an Tobair Naofa

A Return to the Source. Searching for the Mother Goddess at the Well

Recently, I set out to find an Ogham stone that is northward of Midleton in north-east county Cork. Funnily, it’s a 40 minute drive both from my home in Cork city and my family home in Mogeely . The townland is called Rathcobane and is a few kilometres from the village of Bartemly.  The drive ended with a slow drive up a very narrow boreen/botharín (or one of those narrow roads that hints that it once had tarmacadem millennia ago) back in the which ended in a farmyard. Google Maps was saying that it was in a field that was full of cattle and there was no sign of a public access point (nor was there an OPW heritage signpost for it). I went up to the farmhouse and rang the bell. There was no answer and there was no sign of anyone around the farmyard. I waited for a bit in case that someone would eventually show but had to chalk it down for another time to visit. The 3D image and a small history of it’s discovery is found here Rathcobane ogham stone – Download Free 3D model by oghamin3d (@oghamin3d) [a20b515] (sketchfab.com) . But the journey was not an entire waste of time.

I came across an old grotto which was used by Catholics during the Penal Regime. After the time of Cromwell, there were laws passed that were anti-Catholic in both Ireland and Britain which one was that any kind of Catholic religious service was illegal and punishable (sympathetic protestant landowners turned a blind eye to this a lot of the time and let Catholics hold their rites in rural locations away from the public eye on their land). Nearly 500m down the road, there is a parking area for two cars and a small pathway with a sign reading St. Bartholomews Well. You follow a path through a field, over a small footbridge and then to a clearing with wooden benches that surround a natural spring well. The stone structure and steps are from the early 1900’s made by a local builder and there is a recess on the left of the entrance going down to the water which has a plastic jug. At the bottom of the well are plenty of coins left by modern day pilgrims (all Euro coins). The townsland is called Garrynataggart or , as gaeilge, Garraidh an tSagairt ( garden of the priest). This is not the only ‘Holy’ Well named after Bartholomew as there is another in Kinsalebeg, west county Waterford close to the Blackwater river and this one isn’t that far from that river either. According to Christian lore, Bartholomew was one of Christ’s apostles who brought Christianity to Armenia. Apparently, he was martyred by being flayed alive and then crucified as punishment for converting the Armenian king. His feast day is August 24th and the medieval pilgrimage to both sites (there are probably others).

‘Holy’ Wells are natural springs and have Goddesses usually associated with them. The most famous of Irish Tobair Naofa is the Well of Segais. According to medieval texts, this is the site of the death of the mother Goddess Boann which gave birth to the life giving river Boyne of the Lagan or Leinster area. Another is John’s Well up in Mushra mountain in north west Cork which I have written about quite a lot. It is originally the Well of Lasair, Inge Bhuidhe and Latharian who are associated with the harvest cycle or nature cycle which brings us to the characteristics of the mother Goddess archetype. The medieval pilgrimage here is at the Summer solstice. All of these Wells have legends of miraculous cures of afflicted pilgrims. A pilgrims reply to a blog linked below describing Bartholomews Well:-

“Your original blog post provided the knowledge and impetus. This evening, I travelled from Cork for my first ever visit to Bartlemy and to St. Bartholomew’s Well.

It was wet – both overhead and underfoot. When I first arrived, there were only four and I was told that one drank from the well but one should take the water from the flow of water over the rocks having left the well enclosure as it is there that the blind man is reputed to have stumbled and wiped his eyes with the water and regained his sight.

By seven, there were 25 – 30 present. Most appeared to know many present so I expect that the majority were local. The five joyful mysteries were recited followed by a man from the locality thanking all for attending and giving some history of the well.

The weather did not permit note taking so please forgive the missing bits but:

The well is located on private lands (Mr John Arnold who campaigned against the post office closure and regularly writes in the Evening Echo). The bridge was constructed about twenty years previously. Prior to that those visiting the well travelled down an old mass path from the main road up by the adjoining cross. The mass path would have been used historically by locals to attend the local church but would have fallen into disuse with the construction of the roads. One man present, who was resident in the locality for 40 years, recalled clearing the overgrowth from the path to access the well on the pattern day.

There was some thought as to whether the celebration at the well was carried out on seven (or maybe nine) days as a ‘rogation’.

There is a poem/song which includes reference in the first verse to the blind man who gained sight at the well.

The well is understood to come from a deep spring as the height and temperature of water tends not to vary much with the seasons. The well enclosure was constructed in around 1900 upon the direction of Fr. Barry – a priest who is buried in the grounds of the local church and is apparently well known for his deeds. A mason’s name is on a plaque at a nearby well (I cannot recall the mason’s name but it may have been Greaney or similar) and it is assumed that he also constructed the enclosure.”

There is no known explanation as to why the well is called after St Bartholomew – he being one of the apostles, then known as Nathaniel. He headed east to Armenia where he was burned alive and so martyred. He is the patron saint of butchers and so his image generally has a butcher’s knife.
The date of celebration of St. Bartholomew was 4th September but was brought back to 24th August with the Gregorian Calendar.

I was unsure as to which came first – whether the well was named in honour of St. Bartholomew after the name of the village or whether the village (and associated horse fair) were named after the saint.

The well is located in a glen. It is thought to possibly have pre-christian origins as many such traditions were encouraged, adopted and Christianised by the church.

It was an evening where I learnt much but also realised that there is very much more to learn

Here is a link to Medieval Pilgrimage Ireland detailing Bartholomew’s Well both at Bartemly and Kinsalebeg St Bartholomew’s Holy Well « Pilgrimage In Medieval Ireland (pilgrimagemedievalireland.com)

What is interesting to note is that the Christian pattern was originally in September or Mean Fomhair (mid harvest is the direct translation for the month in Irish). Was the Well originally associated with the autumnal equinox? There are some passage tombs dotted around the country which were constructed to herald both equinoxes at sunset as were some larger stone circles (the Dromagorteen stone circle that I visited in Bonane, county Kerry is one such example). The autumnal equinox is also the Irish mid-harvest celebration before the end of harvest celebration of Samhain. I am not claiming that Bartholomew’s Well is traditionally associated with this celebration but local folklore does often hold hidden clues to the past of that particular area. It’s best to look at the river Blackwater. It is 168km long and originates in the Kerry mountains of Mullaghareirk. It travels along north Cork and exits into the Celtic Sea by Youghal town on the Cork/Waterford border. The Blackwater or  An Ábhainn Mhór, has a legend associated with it:-

“The ancient kingdom of Caoille covers approximately 250 sq miles of the Blackwater Valley. In the 3rd century AD, High King Cormac mac Airt decided to raise taxes from Fiacha, King of Munster. Fiacha felt that he paid enough tax, and so inevitably, they went to war. Cormac’s Druids made the river and springs run dry, thus depriving the people of Munster access to water. Fiacha called upon Mogh Ruith, a powerful blind magician, for help. Mogh Ruith restored the water and conjured up terrible magical hounds that devoured Cormac’s Druids. His breath turned into storms which blew devastatingly over Cormac’s warriors, turning them to stone. Cormac was defeated, and Fiacha gave the lands of Caoille to Mogh Ruith in reward.”

If we look at this legend, Mogh Ruith’s daughter is Tlachtga, who is a famous and powerful druid who gave birth to three sons and died on the hill in county Meath which is named after her but that is too far from the south of Ireland and rules her out as the associated Divinity.

Fermoy town has a medieval history associated with it and has a historical link with monastic orders such as the Cistercians and neighbouring Carmilites. Viking raids were frequent via the Blackwater from the Youghal Viking port. Fermoy has two female saints associated with it, Cranat and Canir. Both are holy virgins which hints at a Christianisation of Goddesses of Nature such as the famous Brighid and also the three nuns of Mushra, sisters of St. John as well as many others in Ireland. Both of these ‘saints’ defy the typical submissive female role of medieval Irish writings.

“Cranat, a saint of only local importance, was affiliated to Fir Maige Féne, a mid-ranking Munster people who have given their name to Fermoy. The saint, who seems to have flourished in the sixth century, is not mentioned in the annals and was probably little known outside Fir Maige. Her two major church dedications, Kilcranatan (Cell Cranatan) and Hermitage (Dísert Cranatan), are in that people’s territory. Indeed, the link between saint and Fir Maige is underlined by the claim that Cranat was the uterine sister of their king. It is possible, although unlikely, that she is the same as the Cráebnat commemorated on July 17 in the Martyrology of Donegal. Meagre details can be supplemented by a short later medieval Life of Cranat that draws on early medieval traditions and is certainly indebted, as will become apparent, to the Lives of Brigit. There is no reason to think it is anything other than a male product. The question remains as to whether it records female aspirations. The Life is no more than an anecdote which purports to describe the defining moment in Cranat’s career, a moment when she successfully opposes Cairpre Crom († 579/80), King of Munster, and asserts her autonomy. Cairpre attempts to marry the saint against her will, with the full approval of Fínán, her half-brother and king of Fir Maige Féne. Cranat, being a woman, would have been legally at the mercy of her male kindred, but she is more than a woman and, as a saint, adopts miraculous strategies. She decides to preserve her virginity through the tried and trusted ascetic method of self-mutilation. Cranat’s mutilation is arresting—she plucks out both her eyes. This is described in the following scene: … ro chinn ina menmain na raghadh go fer 7 nach millfedh a hoige… Ocus ro bhen a dí súil asa cinn 7 dosfucc i llaimh na dí chailleach battar ina farradh .i. Maelbracha 7 Laithche. …she made up her mind that she would not go to a man and that she would not ruin her virginity…. And she struck her two eyes out of her head and she put them into the hands of the two nuns, Máel Bracha and Laithche, who were in her company.

Canir was a little known saint of Benntraige in south Munster and, if her association with Senán is anything to go by, she flourished in the sixth century. Senán was a major saint and his monastery, Inis Cathaig on Scattery Island in the Shannon Estuary, was a major church. Canir appears in an episode towards the end of his medieval vernacular Life. It bears the hallmarks of being an originally independent anecdote, particularly as Senán is not portrayed in the normal heroic light. The episode describes how Canir, a holy virgin, is praying in her Benntraige hermitage when she has a vision of all the churches in Ireland. A pillar of fire rises from each, but the highest blazes from Inis Cathaig and Canir decides that she wishes to die and be buried there. The saint travels north until she reaches the Shannon Estuary. This is no obstacle and she walks across water, only to be accosted just before landfall by an unwelcoming Senán. He refuses to allow Canir ashore, simply because she is a woman. Senán’s overt misogyny is overturned by Canir in the following dialogue: ‘Ni thiagat mna a n-indsi-sea’, ol Senán. ‘Cid dia ta latsa sin?’ ol Canir. ‘Ni messa Crist, ar ni lugha thainic do thathcreic ban inás do thathcreic fher. Ni lugha roces ardaigh ban inás ardaigh fher. Robhatar mná oc umaloid 7 oc timterecht do Crist 7 dia aps[t]alaib. Ní lugha, dano, thiaghuit mna isin bhflaith nemhdha inait fir. Cidh, dano, arna gebhtha-sa mná cucat at indsi?’ ‘Is talchar atai’, ar Senán. ‘Women do not come to this island’, said Senán. ‘Where did you get that arrangement?’ said Canir. ‘Christ is no worse than you, for he came to redeem women no less than to redeem men. He did not suffer less for the sake of women than for the sake of men. Women have given humble service and ministration to Christ and to his apostles. Women then, no less than men enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Why, then, would you not take women to you onto your island?’ ‘You are stubborn’, said Senán. Senán acquieses. Canir steps ashore, receives the sacrament from him, dies and is buried. One of the most noteworthy aspects of this episode is the way Senán ignores Canir’s walk across water, a miracle that marks her out as a saint and imitator of Christ. Instead it is her verbal abilities that convince the male saint and leave him, for all practical purposes, speechless.”

The above is taken from the published work of Elva Johnston, Dept. of Early Irish History, University College Dublin and her paper “Powerful Women or Patriarchal Weapons?”.

These are local folklore of the township Fermoy or the thuath Fir Maige Féne. The two saints described above do bear striking similarities to the christianised aspects of the mother Goddess archetype. There are two aspects that stand out. First with Cranat and that is she had two other nuns with her which gives us the 3 aspects of Nature( as with Lasair, Inge Bhuidhe and Latharian of Mushra). The second is with Canir and that is that she was walking on the surface of the water(even though that is not what impressed Senán but her verbal eloquence which was more valued by the medieval monastics. It would be my guess from the above that the Wells of Bartholomew are associated with one of these as an Irish Goddess of Nature.

Le meas,

Seán Ó Tuama

Ancient Celebrations – Part 14 – Lughnasadh vs Lammas

Example of Wheel of the Year

Whenever you see the Wheel of the Year, Samhain, Imbolc and Beltane are clearly marked. However, for some peculiar reason the ancient Irish celebration of Lughnasadh is usurped with Lammas.

Lughnasadh is established in Celtic Mythology and our article on Áenach Tailteann and Lughnasadh establishes that it was set up by Lugh to honour his foster mother, who died after cultivating the fields of ancient Ireland as a celebration. The word “Lammas” on the other hand is from Old English and means “loaf mass”. In early Christianity, the first loaves of the season were blessed by the church during mass, hence the name.

Why then, would any pagan want to substitute a name honouring a Celtic deity, with one from a Christian celebration? Some of this comes from the Druid renaissance of the late 1700’s. Druids of that era aligned themselves with Christianity. Even Iolo Morgannwg’s Druid Prayer originally said “Lord” not “Great Spirit”, “Goddess” or specific deity. Granted there are Christian Druids, so understandably they could use Lammas. However, they don’t use Candlemass for Imbolc, or May Day for Beltane or Halloween for Samhain, so the inconsistencies with Lammas are astounding.

What is even more astounding, though, is that Wiccans and other pagans also refer to Lughnasadh by its Christian counterpart. So a plea, please to my pagan brothers and sisters. Can we start honouring the ancients and call Lughnasadh by its original name.

What is Lughnasadh?

Lughnasadh or Lughnasa (pronounced Loo-na-sa) is a Gaelic festival marking the beginning of the harvest season. Historically, it was widely observed throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. In Modern Irish it is called Lúnasa, in Scottish Gaelic: Lùnastal, and in Manx: Luanistyn. Traditionally it is held on 1 August, or about halfway between the summer solstice and autumn equinox.

It corresponds to other European harvest festivals such as the Welsh Gŵyl Awst and (as previously mentioned) the English Lammas. The festival itself is named after the god Lugh. It inspired great gatherings that included religious ceremonies, ritual athletic contests (most notably the Tailteann Games), feasting, matchmaking, and trading.

Talteann Games

Ancient religious rites included an offering of the First Fruits, a feast of the new food and of bilberries, the sacrifice of a bull, and a ritual dance-play in which Lugh seizes the harvest for mankind and defeats the powers of blight. Many of the activities would have taken place on top of hills and mountains.

Lughnasadh customs persisted widely until the 20th century, with the event being variously named ‘Garland Sunday’, ‘Bilberry Sunday’, ‘Mountain Sunday’ and ‘Crom Dubh Sunday’. The custom of climbing hills and mountains at Lughnasadh has survived in some areas, although it has become a Christian pilgrimage. A number of fairs are also believed to be survivals of Lughnasadh, for example, the Puck Fair.

Modern pagans usually celebrate Lughnasadh on 1 August in the Northern Hemisphere and 1 February in the Southern Hemisphere, often beginning their festivities at sunset the evening before. Some pagans celebrate it at the astronomical midpoint between the summer solstice and autumn equinox, or the full moon nearest this point. In 2022, this astronomical midpoint falls on 7 August (Northern hemisphere) or 4 February (Southern hemisphere).

Evidence about ancient Celtic calendars, seems to concur, that they followed a Lunisolar calendar, with intercalary months added. So it is likely that Lughnasadh is more of a lunar, than solar festival, with the Celtic month starting at the first quarter (according to Caesar).

For the Order of Celtic Wolves, Lughnasadh is seen as a time to give thanks to the spirits and deities for the beginning of the harvest season, and to propitiate them with offerings and prayers not to harm the still-ripening crops. The god Lugh is honoured by many at this time, and gentle rain on the day of the festival is seen as his presence and his bestowing of blessings. Many also honour the goddess Tailtiu at Lughnasadh, and may seek to keep the Cailleach from damaging the crops, much in the way appeals are made to Lugh.

Handfasting

Handfasting Ceremony

During Lughnasadh, it was popular to celebrate Handfastings. This included trial marriages, that lasted one year and one day. If the couple was still happy after that period, it could be made permanent, otherwise, it could be broken, without any consequences and each would be free to remarry. Others would make their bonds from the previous year permanent.

So, however you celebrate Lughnasadh may your harvest be bountiful and whatever deities you follow (or don’t follow) may you have a blessed time. May you eat well, drink well and maintain good health.

Filtiarn

Na Slíabhte a thrasnaíonn ár gCosáin sa saol

The Mountains that cross our Paths in life.

There are 100 ways to accomplish your goal. Chose one and attain your dream.” Sara McFadden, Irish Visually Impaired Rally Navigator.

Slíabh a haon.

Last year, I stopped at an area outside Kenmare just before the Cork/Kerry border at Cath’s Pass called ‘Druid’s View’ when I was travelling back from the Ardgroom stone circle. It’s a beautiful area nestled in the mountains on the other side of the ‘Pap’s of Anu’. Coming up to the area, I drove past a turn-off adverting ‘Banone Heritage Park’ and made a mental note to check it out when I got the chance. A year later, while on a week’s holidays from work, I made a family day out of it and we set off at 10am. This time, I was not using any route planned by ‘Google Maps’ and decided to go the main roads instead of travelling the “quickest route” along secondary roads (Google have never travelled these roads and are making it up as they go along, is my personal opinion from my experience of getting lost in the wilds of west Cork and Kerry using their service.)

The road trip was picturesque, travelling from Cork suburbia alongside the yawning trail of the Óllpheist Laoi, past the lone orthostat at the side of the road coming into Lissarda, seeing a graffiti artists impression of an Morrigú alongside a portal dolmen painted on the side of a white building in Macroom town, passing by the castle of Carrignapooka, through the Gaeltacht of Ballymacire and Ballyvourney, coming upon the ‘Paps of Anu’ as you enter the Kerry border and turn off for Kilgarvan. This road is beautiful. One minute you are travelling through wooded areas and then into limestone protruding green mountainous areas which are a reminder of the glacial movement of the last Ice Age. Then as you travel to ‘Druid’s View’, the mountains rise in front of you.  There you enter the Heritgae Park and pull up the car beside the reconstructed Crannóg sitting in a pond at the base of the trail (or trial as my partner put it).

The heritage part has several sites ranging from the neolithic, bronze age, medieval up to the time of An Gorta Mór.  We went up the mountain using the ‘Druid’s Walk’ (easier gradient) and came across the Dromgorteen Ringfort. It is very impressive for its size and depth of the surrounding ditch. When I tried to picture how it was like back in its time of use, I could see cattle-raiders thwarted alone by the natural defenceof the ringfort.  It was such a strategic location. The corbelled walls were still intact and exposed for inspection. The view of the surrounding area was amazing.

Further up, the stone circle comes into view and is very impressive. A large central stone (Bronze Age burial marker) inside a group of surrounding stones. You had the solstice entrance between the two portal stones and a unique astronomical feature where it marks out Imbolg/Samhain and also both equinoxes as well with two stones on either side of the axial stone (opposite the portal stones). It also catches the moon rise between two further mountain peaks. It has an adjoining fulacht fiadh and further nearer to the peak, there is an upright bullaun stone and a singular orthostat. There is also a path leading to the remnants of a 17th abandoned Gorta Mór homestead that serves as a reminder of mans inhumanity to man during times of hardship, The former blighted furrows are a stark reminder behind the remaining thick stoned walls of the small homestead. Then it was the downwards journey using ‘Fionn’s Hill’ which is the steeper gradient.

It is a 2km journey through time which I was grateful to be able to accomplish with my loved ones but that is not the whole tale.

Slíabh a dhó.

My partner is visually impaired and has achieved a lot in her lifetime. She is involved with the Irish organisation, Vision Sports, who are a voluntary body that make sports inclusive for the visually impaired. My partner has involved herself in walking groups, swimming, tennis, and soccer which has been made possible by Vision Sports. The body got in contact with Motorsports Ireland and something wonderful was made possible last year.

I bought my partner a ticket for Mondello Racing track where she could sit in the car alongside a rally driver and experience a race first hand as well as being able to drive the track for a few laps under the supervision of a driving instructor. The park was fairly packed with other visually impaired people from all over the country and I was amazed with such a good turnout. It was a mix of those who have been impaired from birth or from an incident that occurred later in life. The age group ranged from 13 to 81.

The first part was the driving of the track for a few laps under the guidance of the driving instructors who brought automatic dual control cars. This was a great opportunity for those who had never driven before or haven’t been able to get back behind the wheel since an incident (something a lot of us take for granted with our own sight). In the afternoon, they got to ride shotgun in rally cars with drivers who made sure their passengers got the full experience.  My partner loved it and she was very nervous at the start especially getting behind the wheel for the first time. She did it.

There was a speech held halfway through and it was there where Sara McFadden spoke as a guest speaker. She is an employee at Mondello Park and is a Rally navigator. Not only that, she is also visually impaired. She did not let that get in her way to achieve what was her dream. She found a way to be a navigator in the shotgun seat of a professional rally team. “There are 100 ways to accomplish your goal. Choose one and attain your dream.” That is a very inspiring quote from someone who did accomplish her goal even when the odds were firmly stacked against her. You can read a newspaper article on her journey here ‘Rallying is her passion’: Teen to become one of Ireland’s first visually impaired rally navigators (thejournal.ie)

In our lives, there are many mountains to climb. There are many paths to the summit. While there are some who take everything for granted and have the option of picking the easy way (‘Druid’s Walk’), there are others who have no choice but take ‘Fionn’s Hill’ and more often than not they put the moaners and begrudgers to shame. Another person who is a prime example is my partners younger sister who is also visually impaired since birth. She has a PhD in Irish Law and is the first Irish Visually Impaired woman to complete the ‘7 marathons, 7 continents,7 day’s’ challenge and is an ultra-athlete Cork lawyer Dr Sinead Kane shortlisted for Outstanding Young Persons of the World | Irish Legal News . Before anyone tries to point out something, none of these two ladies come from financially well-to-do families. They built themselves from the ground upwards against the odds and succeeded with a passion that very few people can build up within themselves. They pave the way for others who do not all have the same adversaries but the similar path. These are the people who we should take our inspirations from.

Bígí linn leis na daoine atá ag barr an tslíab agus bainigí sult as an radharc.

Le meas,

Seán Ó Tuama.

Suíochán Ceannais na Ard Rí Mumhan: Ceacht Staire (Carrig an Pádraig)

The Seat of the Kings of Munster: A History (Rock of Cashel)

Museum Model of the Rock of Cashel

In a previous post I mentioned passing St. Declan’s Way while cycling in county Waterford. This is a Pilgrimage Trial that extends from the coastal town of Ardmore in county Waterford to the Rock of Cashel in county Tipperary. Typical of Ireland, it is by no means a straight line and goes through certain places on the way (it’s a long way to Tipper…..okay, I’ll stop now).

“It follows the route that Declan took when going to Cashel to meet Saint Patrick in the fifth century. In turn, it is the way that Pilgrims have taken to visit Saint Declan’s monastery, holy well and grave in Ardmore for the past one and a half thousand years.”

Map of Declan’s Way

It starts at the Well and monastic site dedicated to Declan in Ardmore, County Waterford and travels through Aglish, Cappoquin, Lismore, Mount Melleray, across the Knockmealdown Mountains into county Tipperary where you travel through Goatenbridge, Ardfinnan, Cahir, and finally to the base of the Rock where Patrick supposedly preached to the masses at the time. All the towns mentioned here have medieval Norman and monastic foundations. The monastic ruins in Ardmore date to the 12th Century and so do the ecclesiastic building upon the Rock of Cashel. The Viking settlements of Cork and Waterford which are on both sides of Ardmore even predate them, so the above folklore quote has a very big hole in it speaking from a historical evidence point of view. But in saying that, Cashel has a very rich history of regal splendour, architecture, and deep sadness that comes from great horror and tragedy.

“Patrick came across the Devil in a cave in the mountains  and a spiritual struggle ensued. Defeated the Devil bit a piece of the mountain and spat it at Patrick before retreating. The rock landed 20 miles away and became the Christian conversion platform of Patrick.”

I arrived here as a day out for my partner and myself as the seoíge was staying with her cousin for the Bank Holiday weekend. The weather was terrible, and it was bucketing down from the heavens all the way from Cork up the country. Found a small museum which was very interesting, and it shed light on different areas of the history of Cashel from the Bronze Age, medieval times, the Great Famine, right up to Elizebeth II’s visit. Their collection was impressive for a small building from Bronze Age Bog Butter (4000 years old), a single menhir rescued from nearby Queensfield, Giant Elk skulls, medieval ecclesiastic paraphernalia, a genuine Blueshirt uniform, genuine RIC uniform, the original Gorta Mór anniversary painting for the Choctaw tribal visit to Dublin Castle in 1995, among many others. The museum was once the old Famine Workhouse building as well. But I will get to that later.

“During his reign, Óengus mac Nad Froích, was converted to Christianity by Patrick on the mount of Cashel. During the baptism, Patrick planted his Crozier into the ground but it passed through the Rí’s foot. Óengus remained silent and endured it throughout the entire rite. Patrick was horrified at what he had done but the Rí said he thought it was part of the ceremony.”

Cashel was the ruling seat of the Munster Ard Rí of the Eóganacht Dynasty from at least the 7th Century right up until the 10th Century. They lost their right to rule by the Dál Cais . This remained until the Rí Muirchertach Ua Briain donated the site to the church in 1101. The first building was built by Conall Corc, the Rí of Munster between the 4th and 5th Century. The Rock is an elevated site, and you can clearly see why it was strategically chosen as the view is fantastic from all sides and can be easily defended against the rival Tuatha’s of Leinster (in particular, neighbouring Osraige which kept changing hands until possibly the 9th Century). Brian ‘Boru’ mac Cennétig, the famous Ard Rí of Ireland was crowned there in 978. The donation of the site to the church was politically motivated. Brian Boru’s grandson, Muirchertach, was still of the Dál Cais. This ensured that the Eóganacht could never try to raise a sword to reclaim what was once theirs.

Two of the earliest structures that survive today are the Round Tower and Cormac’s chapel which were constructed in the 12th Century. The chapel has Romanesque style architecture. Three friaries were also built in the neighbouring vicinity. The Benedictines, the Franciscans, and the Dominicans. The Benedictines were ousted by the Cistercians at a later date (I don’t know the reason why).

One of the 3 neighbouring friary ruins.
Tapestry in Cormac’s Chapel

The cathedral was builit in the 12th Century in a cruciform layout. The central tower was built in the 14th Century and the residential castle was constructed in the 15th Century. Walking through the ruin gives you an idea of the amount of workmanship that was put into its construction. The gothic arches are still striking and the immense barrel-vaulted ceiling of the central point of the cruciform is a testimony to the engineering of the time. You can still make out the different layers of lime plaster in patches and there is still a preserved piece of Celtic style ecclesiastic wall art still there. Some mural carvings have been restored. There are burial plots of long-passed venerated clerics inside the building and outside amongst all the high crosses are even burials dating to a few years ago. In the far end corner is a burial area belonging to a prominent family. The Scully’s paid for a very impressive carved high cross and had it erected in 1867. During the 1975 renovations, a lightening rod was attached to it. In 1976, lightening stuck the cross and destroyed the top of it. The fallen part is still at the foot of the hill outside the grounds.

The base of the ruined Scully’s Cross

Up until the 1600’s, ownership of Irish land was 80% Irish Catholics. Cromwell came to Ireland and the Irish Confederate wars began. As an aftermath this percentage changed dramatically to 10%. In 1647, a descendant of Brian Boru, Murrough O’Brien, 1st Earl of Inchiquin brought English parliamentarian troops to Cashel. The Catholic population fled to the walled cathedral grounds and O’Brien’s troops laid siege. He demanded immediate surrender and a fee of 3 thousand pounds. He also demanded that the bishop Theobald Stapleton surrender personally stripped naked of his vestments. Stapleton refused to shed his clothes and O’Brien had him burned alive. He also ordered the slaughter of most of the surrendered populace who were men, women, and children. Legend claims that the number was as high as 3000. The area where the slaughter took place is named Bóthar na Mairbh or Road of the Dead.

During an Gort Mhór (the Great famine) of 1845-52, a workhouse was in Cashel built (where the museum now stands) for the starving evictees. During this time, the Irish population declined and to this day has never reached the same level as it was then. The decrease was due to emigration, starvation, and also disease. One of the main causes of fatalities from disease was from the workhouses. The idea of the workhouse was to provide meagre sustenance in exchange for hard labour which could also contribute to death from exhaustion. The people were packed like sardines in a small hall. Because of such large populations in a tight space, disease would spread like wildfire and would be extremely fatal to both the malnourished and injured.

That is as much history of Cashel as I can give without delving too much and literally boring the pants off you. If you ever have the chance to visit, remember the fact that this rock was once the seat of kings and that the famed ‘Lion of Ireland’ was coronated here. Be inspired by the engineering feats and the fine craftsmanship regardless of creed. But also remember the tragedy of the death and suffering of the innocent regardless of creed.

Le meas,

Seán Ó Tuama.

Seoda Ársa Iarthar Chontae Phort Láirge

Ancient Treasures of West County Waterford

I have already shown you a picture of a map of East Cork/West Waterford with heritage sites mapped out, that I received last Bealtaine in the post Imrama agus Imbas ag an Bealtaine – Home | Order of Celtic Wolves (wordpress.com). Last year, I went on a holiday to Tramore with my best friend and we brought along the families. It is a typical seaside holiday town with a large coastline, large themed swimming pool, late opening funfair, a slot machine hall, horse racing track, old style fish and chip shops, etc. etc. I could go on but if you are familiar with Blackpool in England then you get the idea. My buddy and his family love this type of thing and he has a passion for pop culture with a large collection he amassed over the years. The four girls were in their element (both young and old). Across from the hotel, there is a carpark and, in the carpark, there is a sign which I found unusual to find in this funfair orientated tourist spot. Titled “The Dolmen Drive”.

It’s a good spot as it will capture the attention of those who have interest in the local history or prehistory in this case. Unfortunately I did not get the time to go to even one of them as I knew my friend and his family would not enjoy it like myself and my little seoíge would. Fortunately, I am returning to Tramore later in the Summer after the Grianstad, and then I will take time out to visit some but hopefully all of these. Here is a list and links of some of them.

Knockeen Dolmen

Knockeen Dolmen, Waterford (megalithicireland.com)

Gaulstown Dolmen

Visit Gaulstown Dolmen with Discover Ireland

Ballymote/Ballymoat Standing Stone

Ballymoat Standing Stone, Waterford (megalithicireland.com)

Matthewstown Passage Tomb

Matthewstown Passage Tomb (megalithicireland.com)

Ballynageeragh Dolmen which has been somewhat repaired in the 1940’s

Ballynageeragh Dolmen (megalithicireland.com)

Upper Dunhill Dolmen

Dunhill Portal Tomb, Waterford (megalithicireland.com)

Dromlohar Standing Stones (you need to remember that this is a reconstruction as some of the 5th ogham stones, suggesting that burials continued up to this time, were taken from their original site and used in constructing a nearby church centuries later.)

Megalithic Ireland

There is another site that is not mentioned in the ‘ring’ and that is this one which boasts of a rare Irish tomb architecture which is the tomb at Ballynamona which is the only court cairn in the southeast of Ireland. It is also only one of four known to exist south of a line from Dundalk to Galway. Ballynamona Court Cairn in County Waterford is the only court cairn in the southeast. The name comes from the fact that this type of tomb usually has a courtyard area found at the entrance to the chambers. Of the court -originally 7 metres wide and 6 metres deep – only a few of the large orthostats remain, but the gallery, on the other hand, is well preserved. The entrance is marked by two very small jambs set inside the front edges of the wall slabs which form the gallery. A single slab divides the gallery into two separate chambers.

I hope in the near future to share with you my personal photos of these when I eventually get to visit them. Go raibh maith agaibh as do chuid ama a ghlacadh ag léamh an aiste ghearr seo agus as féachaint ar na seoda ársa seo.

Le meas,

Seán Ó Tuama.

Ancient Celebrations – Part 13 – Midsummer Traditions

The exact dates of Midsummer festivals vary among different cultures, but is primarily held close to the summer solstice. The celebration predates Christianity, and has existed under different names and traditions around the world.

St. John’s Day

Although we all know that the birth of Jesus is celebrated on December 25th to tie in with the Winter Solstice, the birth of St. John the Baptist was designated as June 24th around the 4th century at a similar time Christmas was first established. These were both established during the first council of Nicea, convened by Constantine I, Emperor of Rome and the first to convert to Christianity, held in 325 CE.

In the Gospels, John, born of Mary’s sister Elizabeth was exactly 6 months older than Jesus. The significance of this is John the Baptist “was understood to be preparing the way for Jesus”, with John 3:30 stating “He must increase, but I must decrease”; this is symbolised by the Sun beginning to diminish after the summer solstice and eventually increasing after the winter solstice.

Up to the Council of Nicea, though, birthdays and special designated days were avoided by Christians, with only a Mass held around the Passover to mark his death and resurrection.

The Council also outlawed Arianism, named from Arius, that disputed the divine nature of Jesus as having a beginning, being begotten from his father. As opposed to him being one and the same as his father. This was actually pre Trinity, but the doctrine was the duality of the Godhead.

To say that the Council of Nicea basically took pagan ideas and Christianised them might be going too far. However, given the former beliefs of many and the cultures that prevailed at that time, it is highly likely that Christianising pagan celebrations, such as the Solstices, would give a previously simple Church a more universal appeal to potential converts.

It is likely then, that St John’s Day celebrations draw from much older pre Christian Summer Solstice celebrations. The seasonality of the celebrations with the decreasing and increasing being applied to days certainly has an old world pagan feel to it. It is actually far more like that John was born around March/April and Jesus around September/October time, but that’s a more indepth discussion.

The fires of St. John

Throughout Christendom “Saint John’s fires” are lighted on mountains and hilltops on the eve of his feast. These probably have a much older pagan connection.

In Ireland the celebration is also called “Tine Cnámh” meaning Bone Fire. Lit by the oldest present, the youngest present would throw in a bone as part of the celebrations. As part of some customs after the dancing and celebrations were over, revellers would bring home a spent ember from the fire, this was thrown into a field to bring good fortune in the year to come.

In his poem “The Sisters,” published in 1861, Limerick poet Aubrey Thomas de Vere describes “Bonfire Night” or “St. John’s Day Eve” in a post-Great-Famine world that still lay in ruins: –

“At last,
After our home attain’d, we turn’d, and lo!
With festal fires the hills were lit! Thine eve
Saint John, had come once more, and for thy sake
As though but yesterday thy crown were worn,
Amid their ruinous realm uncomforted
The Irish people triumph’d. Gloomy lay
The intermediate space; — thence brightlier burn’d
The circling fires beyond it. ‘Lo!’ Said I,
Man’s life as view’d by Ireland’s sons; a vale
With many a pitfall throng’d, and shade, and briar,
Yet overblown by angel-haunted airs,
And by the Light Eternal girdled round.”

Herbs and Potions

As the first day of summer, Saint John’s Day is considered in ancient folklore one of the great “charmed” festivals of the year. Hidden treasures are said to lie open in lonely places, waiting for the lucky finder. Divining rods should be cut on this day. Herbs are given unusual powers of healing, which they retain if they are plucked during the night of the feast. St John’s Wort is the best known of these herbs. In Germany people bring these herbs to church for a special blessing.

In Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Eve, Oberon seeks to punish Titania. He calls upon Robin “Puck” Goodfellow, his “shrewd and knavish sprite”, to help him concoct a magical juice derived from a flower called “love-in-idleness”, which turns from white to purple when struck by Cupid’s arrow. When the concoction is applied to the eyelids of a sleeping person, that person, upon waking, falls in love with the first living thing they perceive.

Love-in-idleness is actually a reference to the wild pansy, botanical name Viola Tricolor. And Shakespeare is drawing from Roman Mythology, in which Cupid shot one of his arrows at the imperial votaress, but missed and instead struck it. As Cupid is the god of desire, affection and erotic love, the flower’s juice received the trait, to act as a love potion.

Spirits Roam The Earth

In Scandinavia and in the Slavic countries it is an ancient superstition that on Saint John’s Day witches and demons are allowed to roam the earth. As at Halloween, children go the rounds and demand “treats,” straw figures are thrown into the flames, and much noise is made to drive the demons away.

In Shakespeare’s time it is also highly likely that similar beliefs were held, considering the supernatural content of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The Midsummer Pole

In some Northern European countries, such as Sweden, the Bonfire customs are no longer part of Midsummer (and reserved for Walpurgis Night), but a form of Maypole is erected.

This Midsummer pole is decorated with greenery and flowers. The maypole is a comparatively new part of Swedish Midsummer tradition. It came to Sweden in the late Middle Ages from Germany, where the pole was decorated with leaves and raised on May 1 (hence the name).

Since spring comes later to Sweden it was hard to find the greenery to decorate the pole on May 1, so the tradition was moved to Midsummer. Some sources also attribute the perpetuation of the term majstång, or maypole, to the archaic Swedish word maja, meaning “to decorate with green leaves.”

Traditional dress is worn and in some areas males dress as the green man (with green faces an garnered in greenerer), whilst females are adorned in flowers. Traditional music is played and they dance around the Midsummer pole.

Midsummer was considered to be a time of magic, and anything to do with nature was thought to have a special power. Gathering flowers to weave into wreaths and crowns was a way to harness nature’s magic to ensure good health throughout the year.  Even though most people these days probably are unaware of the magical origins of the tradition, weaving crowns of flowers is still a major part of any Midsummer observance.

A Time of Romance

“If music be the food of love, then play on.”

Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” demonstrates that Midsummer was a time of romance (or unrequited love – we’ve all been there, or will go there at some point).

A Swedish verse says, “Midsummer night is not long but it sets many cradles to rock.” For maidens, it’s said that if you pick seven (or sometimes nine) types of flowers and place them under your pillow, you will dream of your future husband. So Midsummer is a time to enjoy romance and embracing natural sexual attraction and pairing.

In the old days in Finland, unmarried women would use special charms and bend over a well, naked, in order to see their future husband’s reflection.

The Midsummer Feast

Of course, no celebration is complete without a feast. In Sweden, Midsummer is a national holiday, second only to Christmas and always celebrated on the closest Saturday. All Swedes take to the countryside and after celebrating they have a picnic lunch of pickled herring with potatoes, dill and chives, whilst drinking nubbe (vodka schnapps).

In Latvia, folks feast on bacon pie and sweet beer. Italians vary and have regional midsummer traditions. In Rome, people eat snails, believing that these horned creatures will protect the consumer from devilry. If that doesn’t whet your appetite, you may prefer the traditional dishes of northern Italy. There they prepare dishes (including salads with fresh tomatoes) with aged balsamic vinegar.

Stonehenge and other ancient monuments

In Britain, Midsummer is connected with music festivals and Glastonbury. Stonehenge is considered THE place to be.

Stonehenge is aligned with the Solstices and dates back over 5000 years, a huge gap between the building of Stonehenge and St John’s Day. At Stonehenge on the summer solstice, the sun rises behind the Heel Stone in the north-east part of the horizon and its first rays shine into the heart of Stonehenge.

English Heritage provide free Managed Open Access to Stonehenge during the Summer Solstice. However, Stonehenge is a significant World Heritage Site and to many it is sacred. So a plea goes out respect the stones and all those who are attending. In previous years, Stones have been marked and descrecated by disrespectful attendees.

Amplified music, alcohol, illegal drugs and disorderly behaviour are not tolerated at Stonehenge, though difficult to police due to the sheer numbers that attend. It is a sacred place and the Order of Celtic Wolves suggest that the nearby music festivals are the places to party, whilst you take in the atmosphere and absorb the magical field around the Stones.

There are also many other wonderful Stone Circles around, so maybe choose to celebrate the Solstice at a quieter event, if you are like me and enjoy a bit of peace and contemplation.

Finnish Traditions

To finish (pun intended) let’s look at the traditions of Finland, where Midsummer is the main national holiday. Midsummer is the high point of summer in a land that sees continuous Sun during this period and the most popular time to start annual vacations.

Appeasing Ukko the God of Thunder

Like Sweden it takes place on the Saturday between the 20th and 26th of June. In Finland it was a tribute to Ukko, the god of thunder. Since he controlled the rain, you had to appease him in order to get a good harvest.

Bonfires were also burned in Finland, a ritual that continues today. Although in the Swedish-speaking areas of the country people have been happy just to put up a well-decorated maypole.

In modern times in Finland, Midsummer is also a celebration of Saint John (hence the Finnish name for the holiday: Juhannus), a time for some people to consume vast quantities of alcohol and a popular weekend for weddings and confirmations.

In Finland, it is a time for barbecues, plenty of drinking with friends on country vacations, with plenty of alcohol.

So, whether you are pagan or a Christian there are plenty of traditions based around the Solstice, or make your own. I like nothing better in Britain than meeting with friends, enjoying a ritual and having a nice bowl of strawberries and cream.

Solstice Blessings to all from all of us at the Order of Celtic Wolves 🙏