April 2018 - Lora O'Brien - Irish Author & Guide
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Bealtaine – May Eve Magic in Ireland

Yellow Flowers on May Eve at Bealtane in Ireland

Fadó, fadó, sure there were only the 2 seasons in Ireland. Summer and Winter.

Even after things moved on, for people, and for the land, these main boundaries in time loomed large every year for the Irish people.

And the turning between the two was a time of magic, and mayhem… you’d never even know what could happen as the boundaries shifted and the worlds changed.

At Samhain, from Summer into Winter; and again at Bealtaine, from Winter back to Summer.

So, here we are now, on that very threshold. What is the magic that might happen, on May Eve (now often called Beltane) in Ireland?

Long time ago now, the young children – especially girls – used to go around from house to house dressed in beautiful flowers. Think about the other side of this, with the Halloween customs we still have, and you’ll see the truth and the balance of it alright. These youngsters used to sing a song at each house, and get a few pence in exchange. They’d sing and bring flowers through the community, all the way around the boundaries.

You could do a bit of divination too, around May eve, if you were of a mind to. First sweep the threshold clean, sprinkle ashes from a fire over it, and watch for the first footprints. If you see the prints turned inwards, it means a marriage; but if you see the prints turned outwards, it means a death.

There’s talk to, of how they used to get a plate and sprinkle it with flour, then leave it at the threshold of the house. At sunset, take a look, and you would see the initials of your true love’s name.

In the old days, they’d also light a bush before the house on May Eve, and that would keep away thunder and lightning. ‘Twas sure to.

Folk would sit up at night on this eve, to be minding their cows and their land – there was a lot of witchcraft worked in those days. And maybe there still is sure, who knows?

One farmer I heard tell of had the experience of seeing a hare one May Eve going around his cows, and drinking a sup of milk from each cow. He chased the hare to a cabin with a hound he had with him. When he went into the cabin an old woman was panting in the bed. There’s a lot of stories like that I heard, when I was growing up here in Ireland.

They used also light a fire on May Eve too, and drive their cows over it. Or two bonfires side by side, and the cattle had to go between them. So close that the hide on them would be singed and the tang of burnt hair was strong on the breeze. In certain places, some would even be taken to the hilltops and bled; as an offering to the Old Ones, or to let out the bad humours… who knows why?

If there was a pond of water between two farmers, both farmers would try to be out early to skim the pond before the other got to it. They’d have to say the right words too: “North and South and East and West is mine”, or it wouldn’t even work, and their neighbour would get it all instead.

Then – to protect from all this magical influence going round and about at Bealtaine, you’d go and gather armful of yellow flowers. Or send the young girls of the house to do it, and these flowers were simply known as May Flowers. These are strewn at the gate of every field, outside the doors of homes and out-houses and even on the housetops. They’d keep away all sorts; the ill-luck, evil spirits, and disease.

Sure you’d never know what’s out and about on May Eve in Ireland.

 

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Liosanna – Irish Fairy Forts

Ringfort in Mayo - Lios na Gaoithe near Newport

To follow on from the recent post on Irish Ráths, I wanted to include some extra detail on a type of Ráth – the Lios.

In my experience and understanding, Liosanna (plural) are particularly associated with the Sidhe, the Irish Fairies, so I was very surprised to come across this account today…

Liosanna are plainly seen in many districts near the school. Quite close to the school in the same townsland – Ballycurrane – are three or rather were for one of them Crunnigans is gone. Coughlans is a field or so down from the school. Healys is at the other side of the stream running down from the well. Both are just round mounds with trees growing on them. There is no account of a passage in either of these. A part of Healys has been dug away at one side and the clay etc. coming out of it is a peculiar black colour. Some loads of it were brought here to to the school about nine years ago to make a dry path in from the road. It set like cement and gave it the appearance in patches of a tarred road. Bones were got there at one time but whether they were animal or human nobody knows. Old people used to say they heard music there at night long ago.

Crunnigans ploughed out the lios and as a result there is no one of the name there to day. The house is in ruins and the farm was bought by Merrinans.
Probably the nearest Lios to these is Hallorans in Kilgabriel. This differs from the others in the fact that it has a passage and underground chambers. In the time of the Civil War it was examined by the Free State soldiers who thought it was a dump for arms.

There is another big one in Declan Flahertys land in Ballindrumma. This is connected by an underground passage with the one in McGraths of Knockaneris. People who saw it say it was marvellously done and was paved with stones. Unfortunately hunting for foxes who went to earth in it has caused parts of it to fall in.
There was another passage from Knockaneris to Flemings in Coolbagh and from there to Dromore.
On the other side of the school across the Licky on the Grange side are two more – one in Briens and one called ‘Maire Ni Mearas’. There is an entrance to Briens one and some men went into years ago bringing a ball of hemp with them to guide them. The fox when hard pressed always takes refuge in it.
The following story was told to me by James Scanlan of Cladagh. When Maire Ni Meara lived she sent a man with two horses to plough the lios. He was not long ploughing when the two horses fell prostrate on the ground and despite all his efforts he couldn’t move them. He rushed in for the woman and she seeing how matters stood knelt down and asked God to restore the horses to her and promised faithfully that she would never interfere with it again. Immediately the horses stood up and from that day to this Maire Ni Meara’s Lios has remained undisturbed. The land now belongs to Currans of Ballylangiden.

The general opinion held by all the old people here is that they were built by the Danes. Whenever they were attacked or in any danger they lit a fire on top of the lios and this gave warning to the others. A fire lit on any of the Grallagh Liosanna can be seen from Healy’s Lios in Ballycurrane. This was evidently the important one here. A fire lit in Flaherty’s Lios could be seen from Knockaneris and so on. Mr. Mason of Augh heard the old people say that it was only when Brian Boru found out the secret of the liosanna and how they were able to signal and communicate with each other that he was able for the Danes.

Curiously I have met no one yet who mentioned fairies in connection with them. All seem to hold that they were used by the Danes for defence. They were all practically on a slope to give them a commanding position and all are the same shape round.

ARCHIVAL REFERENCE
The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0640, Page 233

 

Now, I’m not sure what they think might have been the cause of them horses falling over and then miraculously reviving with a promise of leaving the site alone… but I’ve never heard tell of a Lios that didn’t mention fairies in connection with them. So I was curious.

There’s no mention of these monuments or the townland names on my go-to for Waterford sites – Prehistoric Waterford. Which suggests that they’d be Medieval monuments, not Iron or Stone Age sites.

Next stop is the SMR Database on www.Archaeology.ie, where we have the Archaeological Survey of Ireland from the National Monuments Service. Here we find a Ringfort of no apparent archaeological value at Ballycurrane…

But a little further North we can see the Ballindrumma site mentioned (on Declan Flaherty’s land) does have mention of a Souterrain attached:

WA035-010002- Class: Souterrain, Townland: BALLINDRUMMA.
Description: Two souterrains are marked on the 1927 ed. of the OS 6-inch map, one of which is also marked on the 1840 ed of the map. It is likely that there is only one souterrain which is indicated by an area of scrub centrally located within rath (WA035-010—-), and also by two lintels on the perimeter at N.

So, I wanted to show ye a little insight of how I get some preliminary research on Irish monuments, and how the different resources can work together. From here, I’d like to get feet on the ground out at Ballindrumma (maybe for a Patreon Site Visit) and see what it looks like from there.

I wonder will I find any sight or sound of the Sidhe myself?

 


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