How Celtic People Measured time. New Years in Ireland?

Celtic people 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. Continue reading

How the Catholic church pirated Halloween

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. Continue reading

Irish Pride I Learned From My Father

My father was extremely proud of being Irish, though I would learn later, our family was  also  part Polish with a smattering of Russian in the pot. 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, he was an intelligent proud man. He could answer every trivia question on Jeopardy, something I find, even now, astonishing. I’m lucky to get one answer right on this highly competitive game show,Americans K Conflict where only the most brilliant  are allowed to participate.

My father was also in the army, during the Korean Conflict; it was a war not categorized as important but 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. Continue reading

Holy Wells of Ireland shaped Christianity

brideswell in IrelandThe Celts believed water had magical properties, hence the holy wells of Ireland. 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 holy 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. Continue reading

It’s not a Storm. It’s a Hurricane, Ireland!

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.

Irish Boy Scouts Foreshadowed the IRA

Fianna EireannanIrish Boy Scouts Foreshadowed the IRA

Na Fianna Eireann, the Irish boy scouts 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.

 Casmir Markievicz was the husband of Constance and quite a character. He was away in Poland when his wife was working with her scouts. His biography is interesting. In The Polish Irishman by Patrick Quigley, Casimir relates in his Polish theatrical way, the story of how he returned to his new home after visiting his family abroad …

“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 opens.  In 1924 Casimir wrote a series of essays in the Polish Press depicting scenes like this, 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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An Irish Blue-Eyed American Indian?

William Johnson

William Johnson was made an American Indian and so given the name, ‘He Who Does Much’, so named by the Iroquois Indians, was one of the most influential people in Colonial America. He was born in County Meath, Ireland, a loyal subject of the English Crown, but it was his blood brotherhood with the  Mohawks, the Iroquois, and the Tuscarora that he held the most sway.

The eighteenth century of the New World was at best an exciting prosperous opportunity for any man who could tame the frontier and bend it to his will. For most it was a dangerous unpredictable time in history, filled with wild animals, unsettled territory and often hostile Indians.  William Johnson conquered both. Continue reading

Interesting Facts About the American Revolution

Fourth JulyWhat lead America to rebel against British rule? Not any one thing, though the Colonists did perceive many of King George’s taxes to be extremely unfair, so unjust in fact that some lost their homes and property. The British did the same thing in Ireland and other parts of the world. In fact it was after Benjamin Franklin visited Ireland and saw the deplorable poverty, he became more convinced that the only way to deal with England was through brute force. Continue reading

Why History Should be Taught Through Historical Novels

Schools do a poor job of getting kids interested in history for this one simple reason. How can you relate to a historical period without seeing it through the eyes of the people who lived it–explore their hopes, their dreams, their hardships and triumphs.? How can you grasp something that radically changed a person’s entire world when the world we live in, (specifically in America) is so settled, so easy and calm and for the most part, just? I’ve said before, Americans are spoiled. Unless you actually go looking for it, how do you become interested in history in the first place. Most often, people don’t develop an interest,  and that’s a shame.

I hated history in school, but about six  years ago I read my first historical novel which changed everything. When I started to research my own novel, The Sun Palace  set in sixth century Ireland, I hadn’t wanted to add fantasy but  but it naturally popped in through my research. I had no idea that fantasy actually began in Ireland and through Irish folklore. Continue reading

Were the Irish Head Hunters?


Were the Irish Head Hunters? Not exactly though they did think mystical powers resided in the head. When I first began reading Irish History in order to research my novel, ‘The Sun Palace’ which is set in sixth century Ireland, I was astonished to find that the Celts actually coveted and revered their enemies severed heads as well as those of people they admired, with one difference they did NOT go about looking for victims to decapitate. They only took heads from corpses.

The Celts  believed that the head was a vessel to all knowledge and power and the druids may have kept their heads clean shaven in order to gain access to the sun, ironically similar to the christian tonsure of  monks. (Monks who were often former druids) . The severed head held the spirit of the dead and could give those who possessed it, protection in this world, knowledge of the Otherworld, or  perhaps simply luck.

So what did they do with the heads once they acquired them? Peter Berresford Ellis in  his book ‘The Celts‘ gives several sources: Strabo, a geographer and philosopher around the time of the Roman Empire tells us that some embalmed the heads in cedar oil while others displayed them in temples and Dr. Simon James, an archeologist in London stated “by keeping the head of an enemy, they may have thought the spirit could be controlled.” They also nailed the heads above doorways or on top of posts driven into the earth.

Archeological and other Evidence An artifact showing the head as being revered is the Gundestrup Cauldron uncovered in Denmark and a large number of skulls from the Celtic period have been found in the Thames in London, but my most interesting discovery goes back to Hallstatt, Austria where some of the original Celts first resided. Even today in the chapel basement of St. Mikael’s church, is the ” Bone House.” Partially carved into bedrock and windowless, the only light comes from candles. Hundreds of skulls are lined up neatly on three walls and some intricately painted ones on a wooden shelf below a crucifix  The inhabitants of Hallstatt explain this as ancient Celtic tradition.

Hallstatt Bone Church

And the Irish?   In  research,  I often uncover evidence of Pagan undertones weaved magically through Christianity.  Clonfert Abbey in County Galway is an example. The sandstone arched doorway is carved with five severed heads

But where we Irish most find our historical evidence, is in our stories. Written in mythological tradition, references are loaded with the importance of the head.  Cuchulain, took the heads of his enemies and hung them from his chariot.  In The Book of Leinster reads: A hag abode in the great house with three heads on her thin neck. and Nine heads from the other side of the iron couch horridly screeched.  And how could I forget my father’s favorite tale, The Headless Horseman’.  The horseman had no power over his victims as he had no head!

Perhaps you know more stories? Add it in the comments below. You can also subscribe on the Home page to keep  updated on more Irish History.  I add posts once ore twice a month.