How did the Celts Measure time? New Years in Ireland?

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The Celts measured time not by days but by nights. beginning at dusk instead of dawn. With Samhain when the crops were waning.Celtic king Beginning on  Oct. 31st. Not Jan 1st. One of the reasons for beginning with evening, is the Celts’ reverence for the moon and certainly they followed the stars, were great astrologers in fact. Take Newgrange in Ireland.  Newgrange is a  5000 year old passage grave and is situated so that the only drop of light shines through a tiny window on the Winter Solstice, Dec. 21st, remarkably close to Christmas and not a coincidence for sure, as the way of the Catholic church was to replace what pagan ideas they could with their own Christian teachings. See other posts on this blog for more information about early Christianity in Ireland.

Cair in the BurrenIf you have a desire to watch the stars yourself, check out this resource: Kerry International Dark-Sky Reserve for directions and information about  viewing the night sky. Ireland is one of the best places on the planet to do so, as there are far fewer lights and its geographical and unpopulated location near the sea, affords a perfect view.

Newgrange ceiling stone engravings

Newgrange ceiling stone engraving

Solar Festivals were another way the Celts measured time.
The earliest known Celtic calendar was a lunar calendar called the Coligny calendar written in Latin characters but in Gaulish and made up of bronze plates. It divides each month into fortnights rather than weeks and begins with the full moon. (See Livingmyths.com for more information) Then of course the months were divided into sections beginning with each festival.

Fire FestivalSamhain,  Celtic New Year, Oct 31st, Ancient Fire Festival, the time when the veil of the Otherworld was lifted.

Imbolic Jan. 31, the beginning of winter, Lambing season and a time for women; perhaps they were thought to be most fertile during this period. The Catholic church changed this festival into St Brigit’s Day., thus Christianizing one of the Pagan goddesses.

Text of BeltaneThe book at the left has many more modern traditions celebrating  the Celtic festival, Beltane, which is on May 1st. It was another fire festival and in ancient times, cattle were driven between two fires, perhaps to cleanse or encourage the gods to make them fertile. All festivals  included what modern celebrations do today, games, food, and joy.

Lughnasadh July 31st celebrates summer, and the God of Lugh . The festival was celebrated with competitions of skill and horse racing. In Ireland, Lughnasadh was associated with the fertility goddess,  Emain Macha, who died in childbirth after being forced to race.

These are the more well-known festivals and perhaps the most celebrated. There are others to be sure, and also many more fairs, which were also cause to celebrate. For instance in my novel, the Sun Palace, I’ve a reference to the Tailtean Fair.

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Happy Birthday Diana Gabaldon and Reading Like a Writer

Diana Gabaldon’s birthday is today. Like Pope Francis, Diana is one of my heroes, but not because she wrote a best selling novel that has been translated in zillions of other languages, won awards and recently her first book, Outlander has aired as a television series on Starz network but because I think she is the most well balanced authors I have ever read.. She’s a master of all the tricks of the trade and if you want to improve your craft you must try to learn from the best.. Read, Read Read! And then read some more. As a writer, myself,  I learn by reading, study other writers, try and see what makes them tick.  She will tell you that she wrote her first novel for practice, not knowing if it would ever sell; she actually kept it a secret from her own husband. That was over twenty years ago and not only did her first historical novel, Outlander sell but she has such a huge fan base that readers have dedicated, websites, blogs, planned trips to Scotland to visit the scenes in her book, written a musical and in 2014 a new television series on Starz network is dazzling us fans as well. I have read thousands of words by this woman. I have every ebook, hard cover and paperback she’s ever published. My paperbacks are highlighted and tagged so I can go back and learn from her skillful prose.

imageI’ve read lots of novels that I love but this is the only author whom I’ve not said to myself, “ok, enough of that, time to read something else.”

If you are a writer like me, here are some of the tools I’ve learned from her books but I must admit I am still learning. I’ve listed 5 but I could go on forever.

1. Heart stopping romantic dialogue and action that makes you want to go “Awwwww.”  Spoiler Alert: A favorite scene is when Jamie, the Scottish hero gets down on one knee, holds up a dagger by its blade and swears an oath of loyalty, not to his Scottish Chieftain but  to his wife!

Horseback Outlander2. Suspense Every writing coach will tell you that tension should be on every page, something easier said than done.

2. Active Setting Setting should not only set the stage but set the mood and Diana is so creative with her setting that not only did I smelled and tasted it. I  remember a scene in the early American wilderness in a thunder and lightning storm. I felt terrified. Where would they go? How could they escape this ..  and when a character was raped. I felt violated for days!. A writer must get the reader to feel the experience and expertly employ all 5 senses to capture their heart.

Heather in the Highlands3. Keep the reader guessing and the art of delayed gratification.  Secrets. Secrets. and more Secrets. Never tell the reader everything in the beginning of the book. They must have a reason to keep reading. Heard of Cliffhangers? Diana loads her books with them. I’ve even had to read the next book to see what happens. I believe Diana has even hinted at the ending in the last book of the series, which isn’t even published yet and we hope won’t come for years.  And we’re talking thousands of pages girls! .

Scottish Highlands 4.Give your characters flaws and then redeem them.
. Even the most lovable characters have flaws or things they need to know and sometimes its good for a reader to be quite shocked by what their character says or does. It makes them human. This also gives the character a chance to grow and become a better person. Spoiler alert, In Outlander, Jamie (the hearththrob ohh la la!) does something that some readers found quite shocking, he spanks his wife. Although his was perfectly acceptable for the time, he realizes the error of his ways and vows never to touch her in that way again. (Remember #1? See above) He is redeemed later in the book. I think Diana even got hate mail over that one. I read about a blogger who had claimed to have hated the books but then she kept reading the series anyway. I’m guessing that’s over 10,000 pages! Maybe a million words, lol. What is it they say? All publicity is good, just make sure they get my name spelled right.

Writer

5. Teach the reader something through the history.
It is an author’s responsibility to transport the reader back in time in such a way that he feels he is living in the period. As an author, our details lend frosting to the story; they should not be sprinkled on top like nuts on a cookie.  This also goes back to active setting. Details, setting, time period, and even mood are all related and support each other. Large passages of details should never be written like an info-dump that make the readers eyes glaze over and flip pages ahead.. Insert sensory whenever possible and not just visual but smell, taste, feel, texture, and sound and then see how you can relate that to the mood of the scene.

*** As a Writer, we must always keep reading!!!!

A regular feature on this blog is my page: On Writing. Thank you for reading and I would be so  happy to hook up with you. I encourage you to subscribe by clicking the button on the right.  I am actively promoting any novels set in Ireland, books that I can add to my On Writing page or tips on travel in Ireland. Irish History and all things Irish are always my main goal. Oh, and I have a book too. The Sun Palace, set in sixth century Ireland. So if you have something to add, or would like to read my latest posts, send me an email. I’d love to hear from you. Slainte.

 

 

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Proof Pope Francis should have been a Mother

  • Pope Francis is my hero. For years. Catholicism ruled much of Ireland and there are those who believe it still does.  Ar least, 80% of Irish schools are still Catholic and even with history dug up from the Magalene laundries .. to priest pedophiles ..  to the power the church had to take children away from single mothers and fathers .. Catholicism still thrives today. In fact, according to the viewpoints and actions of Pope Francis,  the church has more responsibility than just making an atonement for her sins.  Although he is making it his life’s work to shake up the Catholic church and set things right,  that isn’t why this man is my hero.popefrancis Pope Francis should have been a mother.
    The idea occurred to me this morning when I was worrying about one of my daughters. No matter how old they get, no matter how accomplished or intelligent and even when they are with the right man I will still worry about them because that is what mothers do. I wonder if  that is how Pope Francis feels about the Poor?. He has given up his Papal apartment in the Vatican in favor of a small efficiency, takes the bus instead of being driven around in an expensive automobile and expects his bishops and cardinals to live much more frugally. Coming form a Jesuit background, he has ideas that appear to be quite radical by previous Catholic standards.My favorite story about Pope Francis happened recently in Rome. He invited a  poor man to dinner at the Vatican. When the man declined, saying he felt unworthy and had not bathed, Pope Francis had an idea. A fantastically brilliant idea! He built several public showers inside St. Peter’s Square for the poor and he has other ideas too like asking students of a local hairdresser to give free haircuts to the poor. He’s also given 100 sleeping bags to people sleeping on the streets. A local Roman charity publishes a handbook on where to eat, sleep, and wash, written in several languages.
  • Cath school
  • I remember reading an Irish novel, Angela’s Ashes, a memoir by Frank McCourt. Growing up Ireland, Frank relays why he didn’t finish school. In order to go to secondary school,(the Irish version of High school) a boy or girl had to be approved by the clergy.It was totally in their power to approve or disapprove and poor Frank, not a favorite of the priests at the time,  wasn’t chosen to further his education. Ironically,  Frank would write a world famous memoir and 2 other books the first made into a movie,. He went to college in the U.S, (yes, without a HS diploma) and he became a teacher in NY City. He used to play the harmonica and tell stories of his youth to inner-city youths in the Bronx, an area no other teacher was fond of teaching in. Frank is my hero too.
  • What are your views of how Ireland has changed toward the church? Do you think it is possible for one man to make a difference when the Catholic church has committed so many wrongs throughout the centuries?

 

 

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How To Save: For Your Trip To Ireland Next Christmas

Tree of Lights, DublinThe picture above is a tree in Dublin, Ireland. Spectacular isn’t it? And below may be Grafton St, also in Dublin.

Dublin ChristmasEveryone wants to go to Ireland at once time in his or her life. Like any country, you cannot see it all in one trip but have you eve though of spending Christmas in Ireland? If warmer drier weather is more your taste, how about starting a Christmas Club for your trip to Ireland. You remember the kind that banks used to provide a few weeks before Christmas well its really just a form of saving. Below is a list to get you started.

1. Have a plan and immerse yourself in Irish things all year. Read Irish blogs, Irish booksbuy an Irish map and get acquainted in the counties, and get yourself the best travel book I can suggest, Frommer’s Travel Ireland. This will give you some idea of what things cost

2. Figure out what things cost. See my post How to Travel Like a Spoiled American. and make a budget. Tip #1 If you have a large sum of money coming, say from a bonus or tax refund,  use that for your flights or just add the lump sum to your Ireland fund.

Dingle

Dingle

3. Check out flights from the year before to see what costs were and then decide what time you will travel. Begin watching flight prices from as many different airfare sites as possible and a few months before your tip book your flights when you notice the fairs dropping significantly, usually a few months in advance. Too far ahead is not usually a good price, from my experience.

4. Quit Smoking.  You hear me right! Quit smoking. Not only does it make sense but the money you spent on cigarettes last year could have paid for two plane tickets!! No kidding.

5. Watch movies set in Ireland and visualize yourself there. Do the same when you get back and you’ll be going for a second trip if you like.

6. Stop eating out at work. Figure out how much money you spend a month, a year, for all those lunches you eat out at work and pop that into your Ireland fund.

7. Share this post and get a friend on board who would like to join you on your trip.

8. Share this on twitter.

Aftermath of Easter Rising9. Read Irish history and or subscribe to this blog.

10. The best way to see Ireland is in your own car but book your car early and from the country you live in. If you wait until you arrive in the airport they will most likely not be available. Also automatic transmissions are dear so book that in advance and check prices from several sites for the best deal.

11. If one year is just not doable to save for your trip, plan a 2 year or a 3 year Christmas Club and save accordingly. You will  only have to save half or one third the money from each paycheck.

British Pounds12. In Northern Ireland they use the British Pound but in the Republic, (yep, they are 2 different countries) they use the Euro which I personally still find confusing because most of it is in coinage. Go to the bank and order whatever money you will be using, not a lot. Just enough to get a feel for it and become familiar. I found the Irish pennies to be adorable!

13, Just go! No matter what. Tell yourself you are going  unless you are on your deathbed. Whatever we tell our brains, we usually make happen.

14. Come back and write me a note about your experience. my email is: celticthoughts.com or better yet, write me ahead of time and I’ll point you toward the right people who can give you advice, if I don’t know the question. Besides my God-daughter lives in Cork and she knows everything.

15. If this helps you with your dreams, please RT. or leave a comment.

My point in all this, is you don’t want to waist a single moment of your trip to Ireland so not only is it important to save for the trip but its doubly important to do your  homework  have no regrets about what you wish you would have done or visited while you were there. I believe this to be true with every trip I take and I never ever take long generic bus tours, where  you only go to the very touristy sites on your tour guides list. Decide what you like to see instead, and be open to those little side tours that are not on your itinerary and have fun!! See you there!

 

 

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How the First Irish Saints and Scholars Discovered Ireland

A sixth-century monk named Brendan,  who would later become known as St. Brendan the Navigator,  set out in his tiny seal skin boat with his fellow abbots to a far away land called Hibernia, the name given to Ireland by the Greeks. They voyaged across the cold Atlantic shores toward a wild, mostly untamed territory. They were looking for grace or a way to come closer to God.They came from Britannia (England), Germania (Germany), and Rome as well as all over Western Europe. They wrote Latin and poetry, spoke different languages and came from the highest social ranks. After blending with the Irish, they became the record keepers of genealogies and stories. They became known as the most learned men of Europe. Whether they learned from the Celts or the Celts learned from them is inconsequential. The first Irish monks in Ireland were born ..  and Ireland would be changed forever by their arrival..

Repo. of Celtic Cross in Heritage Park, Wicklow Ireland

Repo. of Celtic Cross in Heritage Park, Wicklow Ireland

The First Women in Christianity

Christianity blended with the people of their new continent. The Irish chieftains who became priests were naturally married, and refused to shun their wives along with their lands upon conversion. Some women however, chose to become nuns ..  as far back as the sixth century. St. Patrick himself, included embroideresses in his entourage. (from The Flowering of Ireland by Katharine Scherman)

Ireland’s most famous female patron saint, Brigit, born in 450, was the daughter of a Pagan chieftain  named Dubthach. His first jealous wife sent Brigid’s mother away before she was born and she was born in the house of a druid who lived nearby. When Brighid was around ten years of age, she returned to her father and to his dismay began giving away all his food and whatever she thought useful to the poor. Then to further insult him,  she returned to her mother who was sick, in order to take over her duties as a milk maid. She churned so much butter for the druid that in delightful gratitude, he allowed himself to become baptized and became her servant for life. He also gave her some of the butter and one of the cows, which she promptly gave away. Perhaps to curb her activities, Dubthach insisted she marry but Brigid refused, disfiguring her own face so no man would want her. Finally her father gave her the money to ‘take the veil’ and it is believed her face became beautiful once again. A sweet little poem is attributed to her. This is the first line. I would like a great lake of ale for the king of the kings; I would like the people of heaven to be drinking it through time eternal. and one more verse: I would like the people of Heaven in my house: I would like the baskets of peace to be theirs.  You can see through her words, the blending of Christianity while still retaining some of the old world views.

St Kevin's Church Wicklow, Ireland

St Kevin’s Church Wicklow, Ireland

The first Irish saints and scholars did not live in groups but in seclusion such as St. Kevin of Wicklow (Coemgen in Irish)  who sought a closeness to God by living simply in the Wicklow Mountains. He was only a boy when Brigid was very old and it is written that he died at the age of 120. Kevin had been born of royalty descended from the kings of Leinster but he never wished to rule or to fight, choosing the life of a poor lonely monk instead. There are numerous stories about St Kevin such as when a girl tried to seduce him, he fled into a patch of nettles then threw them at her, stinging her sorely or when he stood with his arms outstretched, resembling the sign of the cross and stayed there until a black bird built her nest in his hand, an exhausting pose to be sure. Most of the stories are suspect if not fantastic for who knows what is true or what is mere legend. What is not fantastic are the  bee-shaped dwellings and stone made houses the monks left behind such as those on the top of Skellig Michael 600 feet above sea level and only reachable by precarious stone steps.

Life for the first monks under certain abbot’s was strict. St Enda’s rule for example, was rigorous in the extreme. Not only did the monks work their own land but they refused to use any tools. They ate silently and frugally, their food consisting mostly of oats and barley from their fields.  They slept in their day clothes on the bare ground and they seldom had a fire, even when the weather was wild. They prayed both day and night and allowed themselves only brief hours of sleep. Finian, like Enda  also preached an ascetic lifestyle. Written by one of his scribes, so great was Finian’s plight that his ribs could be counted through his inner raiment and a worm seen coming out of his side, for he wore a cold girdle of iron which cut him as penance for his body.

A lack of sleep, harsh physical conditions, little food and heightened pain were thought to strengthen a man’s soul. A profound faith in God as a living presence drove Ireland’s first Irish saints and scholars, but who are we to judge? Perhaps they did become closer to God.

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How the Catholic church pirated Halloween from Ireland

One way the Christian faith overcame Paganism in Ireland was to adopt the idea, ‘if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em.’ Halloween is a perfect example. In the Catholic faith, Halloween has been transformed into All Saint’s Day. Not a bad conversion. Still honoring the dead. Not burning people at the stake as in the time of the Spanish inquisition. No boiling a priest’s feet in oil like poor Durmot O’Hurley in the sixteenth century. That one was during the unforgivable reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Halloween or All Hallows Eve is not a Christian holiday at all. It is a Pagan festival time and  referred to as Samhain.

Church window at St Patrick's Cathedral in County Armagh, N. Ireland

Church window at St Patrick’s Cathedral in County Armagh, N. Ireland

Here is  a list of more Pagan Irish beliefs  changed to Christian holy days or Customs.

The Blessings of water from Holy Wells……………….Christian Baptism

In Paganism, the number 3 was sacred ……………….In Catholicism, a monotheistic  religion, the one true god is thought to be a trinity: the father, son and holy ghost all rolled into one.

The ring around the Celtic Cross can be found to have a specific meaning, depending on who one talks to. One version is that the ring refers to a Roman sun god, Sol Invictus . Is it a coincidence then that the sun was revered greatly by the Pagan Celts?

The Holy Wells in Ireland were created by Pagan Celts, not Christian Saints.

Many of the first Christian monks of Ireland were former Celtic druids

The whole notion of a hell below the earth is rooted in  Celtic mythology.  The first Celtic tribes of Ireland. the Firbolg and the Tuatha De Danann battled it out, (to put it simply) and the Firbolg were banished to underground. We also think of God and heaven, a kind of Christian land of everlasting happiness to be up in the sky. The Celts prayed to the sun, the moon, and the stars.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADecorating a Christmas tree can also be traced back to Pagan roots. The druids had great reverence for all trees but one one practice is very closely correlated to the Christmas tree,  the Clootie tree. Usually growing by a sacred well or spring in Scotland or Ireland, small rags were tied to the branches as offerings to a goddess or natural spirit of the well. Today people leave rosaries, religious crosses or medallions of saints.

Do you know of any other pagan or Christian beliefs tied together?

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The Sun Palace by Brighid O’Sullivan

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The Sun Palace by Brighid O'Sullivan

The Sun Palace by Brighid O’Sullivan

Book Cover Design by:Laura@LLPix.com

The Sun Palace by Brighid O’Sullivan

Prologue

West Coast of Eire/ AD 520

She never heard the splash.

The world went black but soon she surfaced to the light, when an angry black wave smashed over her frail body, slapping her as if she were a stubborn child. Gripping her between its teeth, the sea engulfed her, regurgitating her between cusps and swallowed her as if she were nothing. She couldn’t tell which way was up and reached out in all directions, desperate and alone. She rolled and tumbled in the sea … becoming tangled in something slimy … arms flailing … toward what she hoped was the sky. She tried to cry out but the sea flooded her throat with a salty bitterness that choked her with each breath. She was blind and under water she grew deaf as well, disturbing her even more than the water’s icy grip which numbed her, almost solemnly.

The sea continued to churn.

She remembered it all. He’d sent her away with his most trusted friend to have the baby with the monks. She’d given birth, drank something and then woke up in the boat, her arms and legs tied together.

She wanted to kick, and did, but not without much effort. Thick cords secured her legs, the only thing keeping her thin gown from floating up to her head. She could paddle with her hands, though, for he had left a little slack when she had complained rather loudly. Her hands and arms were tied with a horse hair rope, secured above the elbows; it had left scars on both arms.

She flipped onto her back and tried to stay afloat. Once over the shock of bitter cold, she struggled to think, to get her mind clear. Surely the boat would see her. Surely he would come back when he realized she’d tumbled out. She stared up at the sun and swiveled her head side to side, trying to spot the fast disappearing craft.

I can’t see it!

Her breath jammed in her throat when she finally caught a glimpse of the boat. She could only see slips of black hull as it crested each wave. “Come back!” She changed her position and tried to tread water but her limbs were becoming weak.

If I can simply float perhaps … Certainly he won’t let me drown. He loves me too.

She had given birth only two days before, a girl, strong and healthy by the sound of her cry, but the monks had taken her away. Quick as an intake of breath and then what? Her heart quickened in her chest at the thought of leaving the infant behind. She had not seen the child though. Not in the boat before the fall. She must be safe, in the care of the gentle monks. But who will feed her? She pushed the thought from her mind. There were others things needed her energy for.

The only thing she could do now was let herself float. She could see gulls overhead, and grey scattered clouds, and the sun was hot as a new-forged blade upon her face.

He’ll come back for me, she thought. He never meant for me to fall. Then another wave smashed on her head, crushing her below a tall angry white-cap. She swallowed a mouthful; it shot up her nose, sharp as a red-hot poker. She sputtered and coughed, kicking furiously. Finally she flipped onto her back again. Where was the boat? Which way was shore?

I’m here. I’m here! The words stuck in her throat and she wasn’t clear to whether she’d spoken them at all.

Delirium set in and a queer tightness tingled in her breasts. It was time to feed the infant.

She continued to thrash about, reaching the surface now and again.

Is the boat behind me? I can hold on ‘til he sees me. I can! The ropes around her legs slackened giving her new-found energy and hope.

She kicked and the ropes unwound from her feet and floated to the surface. Lifting her bound hands, she pushed them from her face. The ropes flopped across the waves, mingling with long silvery weeds like old friends.

With one last snip of energy, her head above the grave, she searched the horizon.

The boat was gone!

The Sun Palace by Brighid O’Sullivan available @ Amazon.com. See more excerpts, not found on Amazon’s Sample @ Bublish.com or email the author for a Free Review copy today @celticbrighid@gmail.com

 

 

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Irish Pride I Learned From My Father

My father was extremely proud of being Irish, though I would learn later in life, that were are also  part Polish with a smattering of Russian in the pot too. See my post on the Polish Jews in Ireland.  Polish is one of the most popular languages in Ireland right now, with many traffic signs in both English and Polish. Though my father would never admit to being anything but Irish, it wasn’t our Irishness that he instilled in me but something more valuable: that one is worthy, no mater what anyone tells you. Though the Irish disease consumed my father in the end, and for many years before that, he was  extremely intelligent  and proud of everything he’d accomplished. He could answer every trivia question on a television show called Jeopardy, something I find, even now, astonishing in itself. I’m lucky to get one or two answers on this highly competitive game show,Americans K Conflict where only the most brilliant of people are allowed to participate.

My father was also in the army, during the Korean Conflict; it was a time of war that was not categorized as being that important. He did what every good soldier does, obey and watch, as many of his friends unfortunately met their doom, most having no knowledge of why they were in Korea in the first place. Politics! The Vietnam Conflict was more of the same. The country was full of protestors  and people yelling, “Make love, not war.” Many Americans were not supportive. Reminds me of the Volunteers in Dublin after The Rebellion of 1916. After the Irish Volunteers and Irish Republican Brotherhood  took over the General Post Office on Easter Monday,  the general public was still not supportive. WWI was raging and Irish tempers flared. Dublin was one of the most poverty stricken cities in all of Europe and people were starving. Many had joined the British army so they could send money home to their families. To the rebels this was perfect timing though. While the British were engaged in war, the rebels struck  for independence. However, the general public did not see their actions as heroic. During the conflict with the British army, much of Dublin was destroyed;  and it was more difficult than ever to get bread. People were killed by stray bullets. The rebels  surrendered after just five days. As they marched past the very countryman they were fighting for, they were heckled and spat on. Later, many would change their opinion, as every man who had signed the Irish Proclamation was executed by the British, one being tied to a chair because he was already dying.Aftermath of Easter Rising

Now I have never been a fan of politics. In fact I don’t even watch the news for I believe the American media only reports that which benefits their own political agenda. In the early days of our country there were two newspapers, one for each political party, making it abundantly clear which direction they were slanting their story. The news of today is not that clear and people generally believe what they hear..

Bush Dining with SoldiersHere is a story told to me by my friend, Deborah who is a retired navy medic.  To my knowledge it has not been reported. During the Afghanistan War, many of our American wounded flew on transport planes between Germany and the United States.  President George W. Bush flew with some of these soldiers, prayed over their shattered bodies, many of them missing limbs. He comforted them best he could, along their painful journey instead of flying in in the comfort of every American president. In researching this essay I came across a non-biased news feed and a clip from an author/ journalist, Ann Jones discussing her book, They Were Soldiers–How the Wounded Returned from America’s Wars. She is a first-hand witness to soldiers during the Afghanistan crisis. Check this out and or her book as well. I’m guessing most of what she says was not in the papers.

Irish Easter CelebrationSo what would my dad say about all this and being Irish? Perhaps he would have said focus on the positive for there is always too much hate, too much strife and hardship in the world and if you think about it too much you might not even get out of bed in the morning. Believe in yourself and do what is right. Above all else do the best at everything you do and have be proud. You’re Irish for God’s sake!

 

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How The Sacred Wells of Ireland shaped Christianity

brideswell in IrelandThe Celts believed water had magical properties. One  reason  might have to do with how the water got here. Though there are many myths about the beginning of civilization, one theory is that the world was covered in water, flooded so to speak, and when the waters receded, the most holy of it was left behind, perhaps seen as a passage between the earth and the Otherworld. The most holy and the largest of the waters, ( in Ireland at least)  the River Boyne and the River Shannon. The water of sacred wells was also seen as a  regenerative life-force, perhaps to grow back severed limbs, make a woman conceive or give great wisdom when drunk or bathed in it. . During Pagan times, carved totems, jewelry, weapons and cauldrons were dropped into wells, lochs, and rivers as votive offerings to the deities.ireland                         Holy or sacred wells actually predate Christianity, even though many of them are named for Christian saints. In Walter and Mary Brenneman’s book ‘Crossing the Circle at the Holy Wells of Ireland, ( a fabulous reference with lots of photos)  they list sixty three holy wells, although another source claims there are as many as three thousand all over Europe. Many date back as far as prehistoric times. They attract both natives and tourists alike though you won’t find their locations in most travel books but you might find a friend or two at the nearby pub to point the way..

 Tales of the Fenian Cycle  One of the main bodies of Irish literature called The Fenian Cycle tells of Finn ma Cumaill who gained wisdom from the Otherworld by drinking water from the Well of Segais. In the story Finn and two friends find a magical mound with the door ajar and try to go in. The three daughters of Bec mac Buain who is lord of the mound try to slam the door shut on Finn but water from a pitcher she is carrying spills on Finn’s lips.  Finn catches his thumb in the door. He puts his thumb in his mouth to numb the pain and swallows some of the sacred water, giving him wisdom. Another story concerning Finn tells of Finn and his teacher, Finn Eces. The teacher tells his pupil to catch the magic salmon who lives in the pool of Linn Feic and cook it. Fin does catch the salmon but burns his thumb in the cooking of the salmon. Naturally he puts his thumb in his mouth again and becomes the smartest man alive!

An Irishman intoxicated? Why, its the water of life!   The myth of Niall and his four brothers illustrates another aspect of intoxication and the water of life. Niall and his brothers obtain weapons to go hunting. One of the brothers, Fergus is sent to get water from a spring. He meets a black hag who demands a kiss, which he refuses. Each brother in turn refuse to kiss the hag except for Niall who closes his eyes and plants a big wet one on the her hideous face. When he opens his eyes he sees the most beautiful woman in the world.  She gives him “the drink” and he becomes king. The water in the tale is compared to strong drink therefore intoxication is thought to be magical.   Not all the Holy Wells are Christian In the Burren, County Clare there is what is called a cleft well on a high ridge overlooking the sea. They call this the tooth well and no local saint is associated with it. The well is no more than six inches in diameter, a round hole in solid limestone. Beside it is a small stone-alter containing offerings of teeth and bone fragments.  Surrounding the well are two  circles carved into the stone, evidence of its Celtic heritage.

Wells to make one pregnant? In Ballyshannon, County Donegal, there is a sea well dedicated to St. Patrick.  It’s located on the shore of the River Erne just before Donegal Bay and is shaped like a keyhole, supposedly resembling a vagina.Near the well is a thorn bush covered with clooties, rags tied to a tree or bush as offerings. Surrounding the well are fourteen white metal crosses.  At high tide the sea covers the well, covering it in fertilizing water. The fresh and salt water combined symbolize the Great God and the Goddess, the union of all beings. Women leave “serpent eggs” beside the well in the hopes of becoming pregnant.

There are many more stories to illustrate the power of the holy or sacred wells of Ireland but these are some of the less known ones. If  you know of any others or have photos you’ve taken please  leave me a comment or better yet subscribe to this blog. Posts on Irish and American history and the like come out one to two times a month.  You can unsubscribe at any time.

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The Naughty Leprechauns

Pats DogsSt. Patrick’s Day here in the United States is a big deal. It’s a time of celebration, drinking, flamboyant costumes, Irish Parades, and lost of cash for Irish Pubs as well as anything else near a parade route. When I was a kid we would sit on a cement wall of the nearby cemetery, wrapped in woolen blankets with a cooler filled with girl-scout cookies and drinks. My father worked on the parade committee, which he was very proud to tell everyone within earshot. He made us corned beef and cabbage and a few weeks before something called ‘mutton pies’. Apparently ‘mutton pies’ are a secret recipe because when my sister became an adult it took her years to find someone who would share said recipe.

My name is Brighid O’Sullivan and I grew up in Holyoke Massachusetts, the product of Irish and Polish grandparents. Lots of Irish flocked to Holyoke in the early 1900s to work in paper-mills. Before the paper-mills were operating, Irish immigrants  built the canal in Holyoke.

canals of holyokeIt has taken me over forty years to truly appreciate the stories my father told me about Ireland and also the sacrifices my grandparents made to give their children and grandchildren a better life when they came to the United States..These things I learned, not from my father but by reading and writing about Irish history What my father was good at, like most Irishmen, was telling a good story.  His favorite lesson was to tell us we had leprechauns that looked out for us, sort of like guardian angels. Now, I’m thinking that’s more of an American interpretation than an Irish one. From what I’ve read, leprechauns are not “warm and fuzzy” little men who go around blessing people and giving out magic beans..

My friend Jill told me a wonderful story about the leprechauns that visit her house every year. The little devils are planning their torturous tricks and chaos as I write this! This is what happened last year. The night before St. Patrick’s Day there was a terrible clatter and rumbling in the lower part of the house but only Molly who is eight, heard the commotion. She was too frightened to get out of bed. In the morning Jill, her husband, Bill, Molly, and six year old Liam saw that their living room as well as the kitchen and dining room had been completely “trashed.”  Furniture was tipped over, Mardi-Gras beads (who knows how the little buggers got a hold of those!) hung from chandeliers, trash was everywhere from tipped over bins and the cupboards were all mixed up.  Molly was mortified! How had they got into her house this time? Then she saw the trap she set, a very elaborate James Bond kind of trap, thrown across the room as if preceding a miraculous escape. The buggers had actually chewed through the solid wooden box! and in record time. They’d even had time enough to tamper with Bill’s special waffle batter in the refrigerator, which now had turned green!   Over the years, Molly and Liam asked lots of questions. “Why don’t they torture my friend’s houses? How do they know where we live? Why do they only come near St. Patrick’s day”  Jill’s responses were quick. The leprechauns only visit the houses of children with Irish roots. They know where they live because every year the family visits Ireland for two weeks and then the leprechauns follow them home to America. It takes them all year because they have to trash all the homes in Ireland first.
Now my dad would have loved this story. I wish he had thought of all this  Tom Foolery himself.

 

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