Early Irish Dynastic Poetry

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:-

Mess-Telmann

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.

Bressual Beolíach

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.

Circular Ailenn,

Cruachu,

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

Owned it;

Ruddy righteous Crimthann Cosrach

Sheltered it.

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,

Fair Cairpre;

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,

Seemly Cormac;

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

Núada Necht did not endure an un-king:

The overlord Etarscéle,

of the race of Iár,

Was slain.

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

Feeble resistance,

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;

Bresal’s grandson

Was mighty

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

Conquered fiana,

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,

With troops,

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

Feradach, Fedelmid,

Fergus Fortamail, Bresal Bregom,

The lordy Oengus Ollam.

Fair-browed Ailill

Of lofty irresistible courage,

Ugaine, Eochu the noble,

Ailill,

Lorc, Labraid.

Dui Ladcrai, a red goad,

Fiachra Tolcrai;

A tumult

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,

Smirgnath, Smrith,

Enboth, Tigernmas-

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.

Noenal, Faebur,

Góedel Glas uniquely fair;

Glúnfind was a radiant one,

Lámhfind, Etheoir was fairer.

Agnomain, Toi,

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,

Noah, Lamech,

Bright white Methuselah.

Enoch, Jared,

Malaleel of worthy race,

Cainan, Enos,

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.

Triple god,

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).

Is mise le a meas,

Seán Ó Tuama.

The Pagan Federation

https://www.paganfederation.org

The Pagan Federation is an umbrella International organisation that benefit all pagans. Find out more about them on the above link.

We DO NOT charge for anyone to be a member of the Order of Celtic Wolves. This is because we believe that our path is tailored around individuals and should be open to everyone. We do occasionally make reading recommendations and organise rituals.

Rituals rarely come without cost, so how they are run is up to individual Nemetons or Groves. We encourage Groves to align themselves with the Order of Celtic Wolves and will advertise them. Just drop contact us with details of your Nemeton, Grove, or group. We encourage Groves to be open and public, wherever it is safe to do so.

We encourage ALL Pagan members (we welcome people from all faiths), though, to become members of the Pagan Federation and, if you want their magazine, take the digital option (let’s save the trees!). Here’s a bit about the Pagan Federation from their website: –

Founded in 1971 the PF seeks to support all Pagans to ensure they have the same rights as the followers of other beliefs and religions. It aims to promote a positive profile for Pagans and Paganism and to provide information on Pagan beliefs to the media, official bodies and the greater community.

The Pagan Federation regards membership of any organisations that refuse to support freedom of religion and equality of race, gender, and sexual orientation, as incompatible with our aims, objectives and values.

Membership is open to those aged 16 and over who identify as Pagan, and we welcome genuine seekers who accept and support our aims and objectives below:

  • To seek to support all Pagans in their personal and public life, to help ensure that they have the same rights as the followers of other beliefs and members of other religions.
  • To promote a positive profile for Pagans and Paganism and to provide information on Pagan paths and beliefs to the media, official bodies and to benefit the greater community in improving their understanding of Paganism and Pagans as a growing spiritual community.
  • To facilitate effective communication, education and dialogue within and between Pagan communities and with non-Pagans, through publications and events.

There are a whole raft of benefits to being a member:

  • Local support from district teams to enable you to find and connect with like-minded people and groups in your areaNewsletters and information that is specific to your local area
  • Prison ministry – Pagan chaplains within prisons to provide pastoral support to prisoners and prison staff
  • Hospital ministry – visitors for Pagans who are in need and spiritual support while in hospital
  • National support with a variety of life issues through our group of Community Support Teams including Disabilities, Children & Families, LGBTQIA+, Interfaith, Youth & Education and Cultural Cohesion
  • National support from our council and committee on issues that affect the wider Pagan community such as legal rights, human rights, challenging stereotypes and much more
  • Communication with the press and media, challenging their tendency to perpetuate stereotypes around Pagan practices and beliefs
  • The wisdom and experience of of 50 year’s worth of working with and for the Pagan communityCopies of our quarterly magazine Pagan Dawn directly to your door, (also available in a digital format) and now access to our FREE biannual children and families magazine, Aether
  • We’re a not-for-profit organisation who is run for Pagans by Pagans
  • Social media pages and groups keeping you up to date and in touch with the Pagan community online
  • Discounts on Pagan Federation events
  • Knowing that the money you give us for your membership helps us to keep on both offering a diverse range of services to the Pagan community as well as working to ensure that Paganism is promoted positively and that the rights of Pagans are upheld

Ancient Celebrations – Part 11 – Spring Equinox, Ostara and Easter

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.

Ar na mhuintir agus ar thír na hÚcráine, bíodh beannacht na síochána an domhan

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.

Is mise le a meas,

Seán Ó Tuama.

Children of Heracles/ Hercules

“[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.

Statue of Hercules, Vaux le Vicomte château park, France

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’s Tower

Hercules tower and King Breogán at A Coruña

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.

Location of A Coruña in Northern Spain

Alesia

Battle of Alesia, 52 BC

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.

Franz Xaver Winterhalter Napoleon III

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.

Immrama

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.

The Voyage of Bran: The Voyage of Bran (sacred-texts.com)

The Voyage of Mael Duin | Emerald Isle Irish and Celtic myths, fairy tales and legends

The Voyage of the Hui Corra (ucc.ie)

The Voyage of Snedgus and Mac Ríagla (ucc.ie)

Oisín and Tír na nÓg (irelandsmythsandlegends.com)

In Search of the Promised Land: Saint Brendan’s Voyage – World History Encyclopedia

This isn’t an exhaustive list as there are many written legends be it local folklore or canon sagas which have evolved and integrated themselves into Irish culture during the past millennium. Some are more famous than others, some are the originals, some have no basis in manuscript but local folklore, and even more so, setting sail from the western shores as a starting point only has changed to mysterious doorways of the rath, dolmen, stone circle, certain caves and even palaces that lie beneath large bodies of water such as the Lough in my native Cork city which boasts of a submerged castle where the eternal hosts cater to their guests since the fateful night of a deluge from a local well. The Legend of the Lough – Ballyphehane Info Pod (19162016committee.org) . I must point out that the king has a different name on the older tale which can be viewed at the Lough itself, being ‘Coire’. Even they are just ancient tales which may or not have any historical truth, they are sources for inspiration. Some are very cynical stating that no one can navigate the Atlantic Ocean in a curragh but it has been done by people inspired by the tales. In May 1976, Timothy Severin and a crew of 3 others set sail from the Dingle Peninsula, county Kerry for roughly 7,200km in a custom replica boat made of of leather hides, oak, ash and leather thongs and reached Newfoundland in North America staying true to the navigation route described in the 8th Century Latin texts of the Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis Across the Ocean in a Leather Boat – The Washington Post  Tim Severin: Writer and explorer best known for the Brendan Voyage (irishtimes.com) . There has been a lot of similar successes including a 70yr old who completed it in a kayak Pensioner, 70, paddles across Atlantic Ocean in kayak for the third time | London Evening Standard | Evening Standard  and many others such as ‘I dug deep’ – Gavan Hennigan on crossing Atlantic in record time (irishtimes.com) .

‘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.

Is mise le a meas,

Seán Ó Tuama.

Ancient Celebrations – Part 10 – Lupercalia – a precursor to St. Valentine’s Day

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.

The Celtic Diet – Part 6 – Imbolg/ Imbolc

In our ongoing series of articles about ancient celebrations we recently discussed Imbolc. Imbolc festivities and celebrations (including food) vary between regions and countries, but these are some of the more common things eaten on Imbolc’s Eve and Imbolc: –

  • Butter – a traditional food to celebrate the lactation of the ewes. Cake, bread, butter, or porridge are placed in the window as an offering to Brigid’s White Cow. The next morning these blessed foods can be eaten by the family. Butter or oil left out on Imbolc Eve is used to make healing salves and ointments throughout the year.
  • Blackberries – blackberry pies, jams, jellies and wines are eaten in honour of Brigid.
  • Bannock Bride – a Scottish cake with hidden fruit and nuts. A large cake was made for the family and a small cake made for each member of the family. The family would eat the cakes in the field and throw a piece over each shoulder as an offering to spirits who might harm the fields and the flocks.
  • Crepe (French pancake) – in Brittany the crepe is a traditional festival dish (you could serve this with blackberries).
  • Colcannon- was also served. See recipe in our earlier article.

Blackberry Pie

Preparation time:40 minutes, Cooking time:40 minutes Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 4 cups fresh blackberries
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 recipe pastry for a 9 inch double crust pie (suggest sweet short pastry recipe below)
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • ¼ cup white sugar

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 220 degrees C (fan oven 200 degrees).
  2. Combine 3 1/2 cups berries with the sugar and flour. Spoon the mixture into an unbaked pie shell. Spread the remaining 1/2 cup berries on top of the sweetened berries, and cover with the top crust. Seal and crimp the edges, and cut vents in the top crust for steam to escape.
  3. Brush the top crust with milk, and sprinkle with 1/4 cup sugar.
  4. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Reduce the temperature of the oven to 190 degrees C (170 fan oven), and bake for an additional 20 to 25 minutes, or until the filling is bubbly and the crust is golden brown. Cool on wire rack.
  5. Traditionally serve with cream, but really nice with a bit of vanilla ice cream or custard.

Sweet Short Pastry Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, chilled
  • 4 tablespoons shortening, chilled
  • 5 tablespoons chilled water

Method

  1. Place flour in a bowl with the sugar and salt.
  2. Cut the butter and shortening into pieces, and cut into the flour until crumbly.
  3. Mix in vanilla.
  4. Add just enough water to form a ball: it should not be sticky.
  5. Knead quickly into a smooth ball.
  6. Wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for 1 hour.
  7. When ready to make pie, roll dough out and use as per recipe above.

Bannock Bride

Bannocks are well-known across Scotland, but it’s hard to find a traditional bannocks recipe because everyone has their own version. “Bannock” is thought to originate from the Old Celtic English “bannuc” meaning “bread” or “anything baked”. Made from oatmeal and flour, the earliest citing of a bannock or bannuc recipe in Scotland was in the 8th Century. On the eve of St Brìde’s day (more commonly known as St Brigid’s Day) it was customary for mothers to give out gifts of bannocks, cheese or butter to the girls who visited each house in the area with the brideog, the Brìde’s doll. Their gifts would then be taken to a house where the girls would make a feast of it all, with boys arriving shortly after and asking politely for admission. Once they been allowed in their would be feasting, merriment and dancing.

Preparation

  • A flat Griddle or cast iron Skillet is traditional. You can also use a frying pan or even bake in the oven
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Teaspoon
  • Wooden Spoon
  • Scales
  • This recipe makes 8 individual bannock

Ingredients

  • 330g Oatmeal (2 5/8 Cups) – also known as ground oats
  • 265g Plain flour (2 1/8 Cups
  • 2 tsp Baking soda
  • 1.5 tsp Salt
  • 1.5 Cups Buttermilk (375ml) – Not everyone has buttermilk available, but all you need to do is stir lemon juice into full-fat milk and then leave it to settle. For every 1 cup of milk (250ml) you need to add 2 tbsps of lemon juice. Mix well and leave it to settle for 30 minutes and it will thicken and curdle slightly

Method

Make sure your skillet or griddle is in good condition and nicely pre-greased to avoid your bannock sticking.

  1. Mix the oatmeal and flour together in your bowl and add salt.
  2. Turn the heat on low to start heating your griddle/skillet. A slow consistent heat is better than heating it on a high burn then turning it down, it allows for a nice even cook.
  3. Add your buttermilk mixture to your bowl with the flour, salt and oatmeal bringing it together with a spoon to form a dough. It can get sticky and wet, so don’t feel you have to use it all. If your mix does get too wet just keep adding a little flour at a time until you have a workable dough.
  4. Take your mix out of the bowl and place it on a floured surface. Split the dough into two. Manipulate the dough into a flat circle about one inch in thickness and the right diameter to suit your griddle, skillet or frying pan.
  5. Gently knead and adding a bit of flour at this stage to create a less sticky mix but be careful not to handle the mixture too much to avoid taking any air the baking soda has added from it.
  6. Indent your dough to provide 4 quarters then gently add the dough to your griddle/skillet making sure the heat is focused in the centre of the pan.
  7. You only turn your bannock once, leaving it longer on the first side to do the majority of cooking then turning it over to lightly brown the top. Don’t be afraid to give it a shake while cooking to ensure it does not stick to the bottom, but allow it to cook a little first.
  8. Your bannock should rise a little from 3/4 of an inch to 1.5-2 inches once fully cooked. If your bannock is too thick cook for a bit longer on the second side to ensure the middle is cooked. This will depend on your griddle/skillet size.
Indent bannock prior to cooking

Ancient Celebrations – Part 9 – Imbolc/ Imbolg

Brigid, along with The Dagda was the first born of the Children of Danu and as such is a fitting symbol of Imbolc/ Imbolg, which possibly comes from the Old Irish i mbolc meaning “in the belly”, and refers to the pregnancy of ewes. Imbolc is celebrated traditionally from sunset on 31 January to 1 February, since the day started at sunset.

The alignment of some ancient monuments, such as the Mound of the Hostages on the Hill of Tara, indicate that Imbolc has been celebrated in Ireland for possibly 12,000 years. The inner chamber is aligned with the rising sun of both Imbolc and Samhain.

In Gaelic Ireland, Imbolc was the feis or festival marking the beginning of spring, during which great feasts were held. Celebrations involved lighting a hearth fire at home, candles or a bonfire. This lighting of candles and fires represented the return of warmth as the sun slowly increased in strength.

Sacred wells were visited at Imbolc, and participants would pray for health while walking sunwise around the well, representing the womb of Danu, who is connected with sacred water. Sacrificial offerings, such as coins were placed in the well and clooties (small pieces of cloth from old clothing) are dipped in the water. They are then tied to a branch of a sacred tree in honour of Bile, the great oak. Water from the well was drawn from the well and participants would later use this to sprinkle and bless the home, family members, livestock and fields.

In recent times, Imbolc is celebrated by Irish Christians as Saint Brigid’s Day, but the festival is based on Brigid in her role as a fertility goddess. On Imbolc Eve, Brigid visits deserving households and blesses them.

Brigid represents the transition from the dark season of winter into spring and her presence was very welcome at this time of year. Families would have a special meal on Imbolc Eve, including included food such as colcannon (mashed potatoes with kale or cabbage), dumplings and barmbrack (round bread). Some of the food and drink would be set aside for Brigid.

Brigid was invited into the home and a bed be made for her. A family member, representing Brigid, would circle the home three times carrying rushes and knock on the door requesting to be let in. On the third knock they are welcomed in, the meal is had, and the rushes are then strewn on the floor as a bed for Brigid. A white wand, usually made of birch, would be set by the bed, representing the wand Brigid uses to make the vegetation grow again.

The following morning a Brídeóg (a doll like representation of Brigid made from reeds and clad in bits of cloth, shells and flowers) would be paraded around the community by young women.

For a personal perspective of Imbolc/ Imbolg see Sean Twomey’s article Imbolg: An Lá Nua agus Tús Nua

Brideog, National Museum of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin

Imbolg: An Lá Nua agus Tús Nua

Imbolc: A new day and a new start

The time of year for rebirth, renewal and healing is just around the corner once again, the time of ‘I mbolg’/ ’in the belly’ or Imbolg/Imbolc. It is time for the one who was born under the halo of fire and nurtured by the Bó Bán Naofa that resides between both worlds to walk again. Sacred Brighid, She of the forge, inspiration and healing. The Triple Aspect Goddess, the daughter of an Dagda and Boanne, the 5th Century nun, the Irish patron saint or which archetype your creed associates with Her, works through and within us.

Andrew has already written a brief history about this day in Ancient Celebrations – Part 8 – Lá Fhéile Bríde/ St. Brigid’s Day – Home | Order of Celtic Wolves and  I will add this link to it also which gives a history of Lá Bríghid from medieval era up to more recent times and of the Lasair Naofa or sacred flame of Kildare. Lighting the Perpetual Flame of Brigid – A brief history of the flame (kildare.ie)

To date in the Republic of Ireland, 3 of the 4 major days of celebration fall on or around national bank holidays.  The May weekend (Bealtine), August weekend (Lúgnasadh), and October weekend (Samhain). Even the months ‘as gaeilge’ are Bealtaine(May), Lúnasa(August) and Samhain(November). But Imbolg is left behind as the first day of Spring (an t-Earrach) and February (an Feabhra) is just a Church holiday. But this is changing.

Globally, the pandemic rocked us all but the light getting brighter as the end of the tunnel is getting nearer. This is especially true for Ireland. The HSE is still under pressure, but it is easing gradually. It has been announced that the pandemic restrictions will be finally lifted and as a mark of national celebration the country is getting a new public or bank holiday added to the year. This year it will be March 18th, the day after Patrick’s day but from 2023 onwards, it will be February 1st or Imbolg/ Brighids Day. The reason for the extra national holiday is to thank the Irish public for their patience and safeguard for themselves and others during the global pandemic. The day was chosen also as a memorial of those who lost their lives to the disease (approx. 6,136 source JHU CSSE COVID-19 Data dated 26/01/22).

As well as the Goddess of the forge, She is also the Goddess of healing and according to the various medieval texts, She wears a cloak. According to legend, when the cloak is placed on an afflicted wound or diseased area, they are healed completely. Even the legends surrounding the saint/nun archetype tells us of a similar healing cloak. The cloak is wrapped around the world now and the healing has begun.

This Imbolg, I will be undertaking a personal pilgrimage to Tobair na Faithní or Tobar Eoghain Naofa in the Muskerry hills (Sliabh Musheramore is the name of the mountain in the old Barony of Duhallow in Northwest County Cork). It is a Sacred Well that I have wrote about before in The Threefold Path – Home | Order of Celtic Wolves . There is a particular folktale that comes from Cullen, a small town nearby concerning St. Laitarian (also one of the aspects of the harvest Goddess that was associated with the Well in pre-Christian Ireland Lasair, Inghne Bhuidhe and Latiaran meaning flame, yellow hair and  bundle/stack associated with harvest in seangaeilge).

“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. Latiaran was 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 smith’s 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 particular piece of local folklore dates apparently dates back to the 5th Century and coincidently the day associated to her is 25th July (very close to Lúgnasadh and the start of the harvest celebrations) just as her 2 other sisters (also ‘nuns of the 5th Century’) with St. Inion Buí/Inghne Bhuidhe celebrated on the 6th of May (Bealtine??) in nearby Dromtarriffe and St. Lasairin  celebrated at the 28th January (Imbolg??) in Kilmeen (source Cork folklore Project “Graveyards of Duhallow, Co. Cork” Tierney John).

Tosaíonn am nua dúinn agus muid ag cur tús le lá nua. Tá lá an leighis ag teacht.

Le meas,

Seán Ó Tuama.