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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The First Irish Saints and Scholars

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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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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The Sacred Wells of Ireland

 

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 worth reading)  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? InBallyshannon, 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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It’s not a Storm. It’s a Hurricane!!!!!

It’s rained in Ireland for over a month now. No big surprise there right? Did you know that the water is so high that the trains are underwater, storefronts and schools are closed, roofs have been torn off the tops of houses?  I saw one photo where the bricks were blown off a house from the third floor and the poor lass lost her kitchen in the street. The winds in recent weeks have been clocked at over 96 miles an hour, that’s 160 km! On my first trip to Ireland we met a local shopkeeper with five children. She said it is was nothing to have her pipes freeze and to be without water for six weeks! No wonder many of her brothers and sister emigrated to America.  The photo below was taken by  Christine Rocks. Sure looks like a hurricane to me.Ireland HurricaneIn Irish and British news, they categorize their unfortunate weather as high winds, storms, gales, flooding, anything but a hurricane. If it happened in America,  we would call it a State of Emergency.  Some of our neighbors would rally to support us. The National Guard would be called out and churches would make pilgrimages to help.  But In Ireland I doubt they have the resources, the infrastructure, nor the money to overcome adversity so easily. Someone needs to help though England, Wales and Belgium are having some of the same problems with the weather.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy name is Brighid O’Sullivan and I write about Irish and Irish American history.. In writing my novel, The Sun Palace which takes place in the sixth century, I learned of another storm, certainly a hurricane, and the eruption soon after of a volcano nearby, probably in Iceland. (The same thing happened in 2010.) Ash  filled the air  for weeks, grounding planes for days.  They didn’t know that it was volcanic ash in the sixth century, only that the sun seemed to be covered up with something like thick clouds.  Not unusual in itself but these so-called clouds stayed on for several  weeks and all through the growing season.  I referred to this in the novel as the ‘veiling of the sun.’ The Irish had no idea what was in the air and the result of that condition was a failure of their crops. They would likely have attributed this to the displeasure of the pagan gods or even of the Christian god for that matter since both religiouns were flourishing at the time.. It affected crops all over Europe. I thought, why not Ireland? We don’t have the best records of early Irish though. Much of Irish history was written hundreds of years later by Christian monks.
Ireland Hurricane 2014Many Americans think of Ireland as a lush, green  land of fairies and castles, a magical place that only few of us allow ourselves to visit. When I started reading Ireland’s history, I learned the lakes were carved from tears, the land ravaged by wars over the last seven hundred years. The country has just started to heal economically in the last fifty years or so. I will always respect and admire Ireland for her beauty which she refused to be tainted and the perseverance of a people over huge odds to to be free. Though bloodshed and hardship made Ireland what she is, I will always marvel at her capacity for love.

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The Irish Boy Scouts, Precursur of the IRA

Fianna EireannanNa Fianna Eireann was founded in 1909 by Constance Markievicz.  When she first began the organization it was with the purpose of teaching the boys basic survival techniques, Ireland’s history and a sense of national pride, something that she felt had been missing for way too long in the schools of Ireland. Since the beginning of Colonization, only British  history was taught and everything Irish suppressed. Not only  history but  Irish music,  native sports,  Irish dress, and worst of all the Irish tongue. At the time of the Fianna a great wave of nationalism was in the air. Fostering the native language was at the top of the Gaelic League’s list. Some thought this could be accomplished while still remaining in the United Kingdom but others like Constance Markievicz, Patrick Pearse, James Connolly and others became increasingly convinced that breaking away from England was the only way to save Ireland. The Fianna would be a key players in that dream. A dream that had nothing to do with playing soldier for they were in fact real soldiers.  In the words of Constance Markievicz It will take the best and the noblest of Ireland’s children to win Freedom.   Irish boy scouts

Under the discipline of their own peers, the Fianna members grew from boys to men, learning everything from camp-life and knot tying to signalling, marching in formation, and how to use a  rife properly.  They formed pipe bands and hurling teams all over the country. They also learned basic first-aid.

In 1913,the Fianna  trained the newly formed military group, the Irish Volunteers. At this time in Europe, Ireland was one of the most poverty stricken countries in all of Europe. The infant mortality rate soared, and many Dublin Irish lived in one room run-down tenements.  Wages were low; employment conditions unfair, and when the Irish formed  the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, Dublin businesses locked out their employees.  People were barely living on their wages as it was. Now they were starving. The Fianna and others set up a Soup Kitchen in Liberty Hall and fed soup and sandwiches to over 3000 people a day.

In 1914, Fianna soldiers marched with the older Irish Volunteers from Dublin, bringing with them bicycles and a trek cart  to intercept German guns being smuggled in the Howth Harbor on the ship, Asgard. When the British realized what was going on a great collision began between volunteers and the British. The guns were hidden in the Scout’s cart and whisked away under British noses.  According to an unknown eye witness The Scouts were even pluckier than the volunteers. every one of them held onto his rifle as he would hold his own life.

Fianna boys at Howth gun running By 1916 the country was in open rebellion against the British, beginning with the taking over of the General Post Office in Dublin and declaring Ireland a Republic. The Fianna soldiers were in the thick of the fighting. This is what they trained for. With the quickness of youth, they cycled from one point to another, passing dispatches or signals by  means of a heliograph or fighting and some lost their lives. By 1919 Ireland was in a Civil War and the Fianna were older. Some had already joined the Irish Volunteers or the  Irish Republican Brotherhood. This later became known as  the IRA.Fianna boys at Constance's graveside

In 1909 Constance decided to make a commune for her Fianna boys North of the city in Belcamp Park. She felt it would get them away from the unhealthy atmosphere of city life, they would learn about farming and continue their military training. Lots of hungry scouts arrived but it was not a great success.   The commune was to be run by Constance, Bulmer Hobson and Helena Molony but Hobson thought it women’s work and was never around. . Rumors spread that Hobson was sharing his bed with both women and people refused to do business with them.  The large rooms were difficult to heat,  food was not delivered as ordered, the garden only produced weeds, and soon they ran out of money. The house also appeared to be haunted and food disappeared. When Casimir, Constance husband,  returned  from the Ukraine, he first made appearances at his favorite pubs where he was told that his wife had moved and how.

In The Polish Irishman by Patrick Quigley, Casimir relates in his Polish theatrical way, the story of how he returned to his new home, “I have great trouble to find this house in the dark. Finally I find it and I  knock and I knock but not a sound. I go around the back and I call out ‘Constance! After a while a window goes up and a dirty little ragamuffin puts out his head and say, ‘Who da?..’I say I am Count Markievicz and I want to see Constance Markievicz.” I hear much scuffling and running and a voice saying ‘there is some big fella out there who says he is your husband, at last the door open. In 1924 Casimir wrote a series of essays in the Polish Press entitled Letters from Ireland. He called the boys ‘Sprouts’ for they popped up everywhere, under beds, under chairs and, out of cupboards consuming all the rashers and eggs, smoking his tobacco and drinking his whiskey. One night he stayed up late to confront the ghost to find the maid had been keeping an unofficial boarder, a milkman who was also an army deserter.

 

 

 

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The Unlikely Heroes of Ireland

At the end of the 16th century, the native Irish, who were thought to be barbaric imbeciles unable to govern themselves, were dispossessed of what remaining lands they owned, not already occupied by foreigners,  and replaced by English  settlers under Queen Elizabeth I . Thus began the legacy of the Anglo-Irish landlords. What followed was heartbreaking. A legacy of religious persecution,  forced emigration and evictions, famine and ruin of the native Irish.Eviction

Not every landlord was  heartless and cruel though it certainly was the norm and easy to see how the stereotype would be hard to dismiss over all of the gentry. One  family dared to defy their peers. They were the Gore-Booths of Lissadell in County Sligo. Their ancestry  goes all the way back to  those first colonists given land by Elizabeth I.

Born in London, the most famous of the Gore-Booths was Constance, who would later be called The Rebel Countess, or Lady Markievicz.  She grew up with governesses,  spoke multiple languages,  was a poet, a painter, and skilled horsewoman. Fearless and a philanthropist even in childhood, she often missed meals and lessons for she was a frequent visitor of the houses of the poor. She would later be best known for her part in the 1916 Easter Rising.                                                                                                             001-constance_with_dogBecause Constance was a Patriot and one of the few women known for her part in the War for Irish independence, there is much written about her. In fact most of my facts come from a very thorough biography ‘The Rebel Countess’ by Anne Marreco. But Constance would not have become  strong-spirited, fierce in her convictions, generous and independent, if not for her father, Henry, and her grandfather, Sir Robert Gore-Booth. Both men were rich landlords.

Sir Robert Gore-Booth is best remembered by the local Irish in two very different shades of light. Both  stories show the power of the landlord.

Lissadell Estate, Home of the Gore-Booths

Lissadell Estate, Home of the Gore-Boot

In 1833 Sir Robert bought land called the Seven Cartrons, a township inhabited by fishermen and small landholdings. In the mood of the time, Sir Henry began to make clearances of his property. His choice of an agent fell on a man called Dodswell, famous for his ruthless evictions.  It  may have been the single worst decision Sir Robert ever made in his life, perhaps one he never stopped trying to correct. Dodswell  made all the arrangements. He offered the hapless tenants plots elsewhere but the land was so poor that they took the alternative offer of compensation and passage money to America instead. (it is stated that the compensation was generous for the time, no doubt a stipulation by Sir Robert) The ship boarded, no sooner had they sailed out of Sligo when the ship sunk and all aboard drowned. It is said that some of the bodies floated on the shore of Lissadell property. Whether Sir Robert simply closed his eyes to what Dodswell was about or was simply ignorant of the facts, is unknown. Later Sir Robert would be known to be a very benevolent landowner who spent thousands of pounds on food for his people in the Famine. In 1881 the London Times stated Sir Robert spent 40,000 pounds on relief for the starving Irish. In 1903 he was one of the first to sell a large part of his estate to his tenants. He died in 1876.

In 1879 was another potato failure and terrifying since many still remembered the Great Hunger of the 40s.  At Lissadell, the Gore-Booth family stored food in their house, doling it out to the poor from morning to night. (an event unique at that time in Ireland.) The new Baronet, Sir Henry became known as the good landlord. He reduced rents by as much as 18-40% or forgave them completely. He allowed his tenants to cut thorn  from his property for fencing and granted turf cutting rights.  He was also remarkably unprejudiced towards Catholics. One night when Sir Henry was visiting a neighbor, he heard a great clatter outside. When he looked out the door he saw hundreds of people from the surrounding countryside, torch lights in their hands, lead by a local Temperance Band. As he stood in the door cheer after cheer went up for Sir Henry Gore-Booth.

Sadly, the Gore-Booths were not typical of Anglo-Irish families  but were it not for those of their social class,  Ireland might not have won her freedom at all.

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Ireland Before the Invasions?

Christian Monks and Pagan Druids lived side by side  Irish Storytelling                                              Sixth Century Ireland is a very unique time in Irish history. My novel, ‘The Sun Palace’ .to be released in 2014, is set right in the center of this mysterious and often neglected section of the Irish past.  Christianity was in full force, yet  the Druids, who were Pagan were accepted as well. Many of those Druids became Christian monks which fortunately for us, is how the Irish annals were able to record all those wonderful Irish stories which  otherwise may have been lost forever, for the Druids believed in committing everything to memory.  In ‘The Sun Palace’,, Brighid is training in the Druid tradition yet she was raised by Christian monks. How confusing for a teenager!St. Kevin's Church
The photo above is St. Kevin’s church in Glendalough and one of my favorites thought to go back as far as the sixth century though much of it is rebuilt.

 Pagan holidays and rituals are now thought to be Christian. October 31st is classic. It was originally a Pagan holiday called Samhain and celebrated as both a thanksgiving to the gods of the harvests and when the door to the Otherworld was open to the dead. It’s no wonder we celebrate Halloween by dressing up as ghosts and telling ghost stories. The Catholic Church has labeled it  All Saint’s Day. And the decorating of the Christmas tree? Trees were sacred to the Druids. In Pagan times, strips of cloth or ribbons were tied onto small trees to give thanks to the gods and goddesses. There are many more facts where the two religions crossed. Perhaps that is why Christianity was so easily adopted by the Pagan Irish.Snow Lambs

Freak Storms of the Sixty Century  Although it does snow in Ireland, its a rare occurrence I’m told for it stays  the same temperature most of the year though it is colder in the winter.  I’ve been told  there is one snowplow in the whole country!.  It does rain a lot and they get what is known as frost which freezes pipelines and glazes the roads which are not salted.

In 2012 a volcano in Iceland erupted from June to early May, repeating a similar history back in the sixth century, what I have referred to in my novel, ‘The Sun Palace’ as the “veiling of the sun.” The ash hung heavy in the air making it look like a great cloud covered the land. How terrifying! These  Pagan Irish  believed the gods were in everything, in the sea, in the trees, and especially in the sun!  There were disastrous consequences of the volcano too.  In a society where farming was paramount to survival, crops failed miserably, followed by famine and violent storms,  possibly hurricanes and blizzards. Imagine how frightening that must have been to a people who were highly superstitious.  Irish Musicians

 

 

  The Sixth Century was a time before the Vikings, before the Normans,  before the English invasions, even before the potato!.
Although there were other invasions told to us in stories, the major foreigners had yet to invade Ireland, those same foreigners would write later of finding a people with battle lust in their hearts though what else would one find when faced with violent strangers  seeking to kill them and pillage their land? In all fairness I think the Celts were a gentle people yet ferocious when they had to be. They loved poetry and music, wore bright colors and lots of jewelry. They loved their women, their children and took care of their elderly. They welcomed anyone into their homes. In fact the law stated it was required and there were  bruideans at every crossroad.  ( see Irish Hospitality post) On the flip side there were cattle raids and women abducted by force as well as wars between tribal boundaries. But they weren’t without law. The Brehon laws took into account everything legal one could think of from murder and theft down to who was allowed to scrape bladderwrack from a specific coastline or who could take honey from a bee hive or how many colors a man was allowed to wear. Sixth century Irish were by no means heathens though they did have their share of what we would call crime, though I’m not sure they would have thought of it as such.  The sixth century and before is a fascinating time period, filled with Druids and Monks, kings and peasants, wild animals and magic.

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