Blog - Page 2 of 9 - Lora O'Brien - Irish Author & Guide

Irish Witchcraft from an Irish Witch – Sneak Peak!

Irish Witchcraft from an Irish Witch - Original Cover

I’m writing the preface to the second edition of my 2004 book, ‘Irish Witchcraft from an Irish Witch’ right now, and it has me a little emotional folks.

I’m going to share it here, because I sort of need any encouragment you might be willing to share?

Hit me up in the comments below with your thoughts… and I’d really appreciate some kindness.

PREFACE TO IRISH WITCHCRAFT FROM AN IRISH WITCH (2ND EDITION, 2018)

Oh this book.

It’s the end of 2018 as I write this preface, and I’ve had the publishing rights back from the original publisher for quite a while. To be honest, I’ve been dragging my heels on getting it in print again, despite it being one of the most frequent requests I get.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate it or anything. It’s just, I was so VERY young when I wrote it. 26 years old when it was first published, and in such a different place in my life. Of course I’ve grown and changed since then. Of course my personal practice has changed significantly… it would be really weird and kinda sad if it hadn’t, right?

Going deeper into the original lore of Ireland gave me a connection I didn’t have then, even after growing up here and wading through the magic of Ireland my whole life. Digging through digital manuscripts and academic papers and books that weighed more than my kids did, all gave me an insight that shifted my personal practice into a thing that is almost a part of the land itself. And then I spent a good number of years working professionally as a Guardian (manager, they called it, but whatever dudes) at Rathcroghan, and that changed me even more.

So yeah. I’m in a different place right now.

For a long time it made me ashamed of this work. Like I’d done something wrong, or at least – not good enough – in writing it. I mean, that probably says as much about my mental state as anything else, but there you go.

I began to travel to teach, and people would rave at me about how this book changed their perspective, their practice, their life. And I’d be mortified, because I knew I could have written it so much better, helped them so much more.

Until one of those conversations that stops you in your tracks, or maybe derails you a little. But in a good way, coz the tracks were laid all wrong. I met a woman called Victoria at PantheaCon in California, my first year out there, and after a long day of feeling that embarrassment as folks talked about this book, I confessed to her that I didn’t like it. That I should have done better. That I’d like to take it back and re-write it completely.

An’ you know what she said to me?

“You were where you were, back then. And there’s plenty of people who need that book as it is, because they are still there right now.”

Now, I’m paraprasing there. But that was the gist of it. And it floored me.

Because that’s exactly why I wrote this book in the first place. I didn’t want to be an author. I didn’t want to be well known, or in any way… responsible for people. *shudders*

But I wrote the book I had needed, ten years before; when I was 15, and seeking, and desperate for something that felt native and REAL to me, and all I could find were foreign voices, foreign spiritual systems, foreign magic, to try to express or explain the things I had felt and experienced and known – deep down – all of my life.

So I’m putting this book back together, with an updated resource section, a few corrections to the text, some small additions or notes for clarification, but essentially – it’s the same book. I’ll get a fresh round of folk complaining in the reviews that I’m too grumpy or snarky, that I’m expecting too much by saying they should *GASP* make a godsdamn effort to learn the language of the culture they are gaining from, and that the book doesn’t suit them for various reasons of their own devising. Fuck it, and fuck them.

This one is for you folks who are still coming ashore from almost drowning in a sea of ‘celtic’ shite. There’s a lot more work you can do, if this suits you, and you develop a grá for Ireland.

Check those resources (there’s so much more available now, it’s a pleasure to recommend them!), visit my own website LoraOBrien.ie for the blog, the other books, and the classes I teach in my Irish Pagan School there. There’s more developed Guided Journeys on there too, with audio versions, or you can check out the rewards on Patreon.com/LoraOBrien for a monthly download of stories and journeying goodness.

You have options now that we didn’t have when this book first came out, and certainly not back in the 90s in Ireland when I was starting out. Make good use of them! Enjoy them!

I’m not embarrassed anymore, to include this book among them. It’s good enough.


 

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Irish Pagan Beliefs

Irish Pagan Beliefs - Goddess with a Dandelion

The Catholic Church are full of the drama lately that the Irish have reverted to Pagan beliefs, with the drive towards recognition of equality, basic human medical rights, and other such truly shocking things… but the reality is, we never REALLY gave up on our Pagan beliefs.

To get a good look at Irish Pagan Beliefs, there are three things we’ll need to take into account:

  • historic pagan beliefs, ie, pre christian native spirituality
  • the blend of christian and pagan beliefs through folklore and culture
  • modern pagan beliefs, ie, neo pagan spirituality and organisation.

Briefly though, coz any of those things are an essay in their own right. We’ll keep it simple enough here.

 

Historic Pagan Beliefs in Ireland

One of the sources that is often cited for this topic, are Caesar’s writings on Gallic Druidism to Ireland. Now, that’s not really an accurate take on what would have been happening on the ground, on a daily basis, to be honest.

Celtic religion on the continent is better documented, in many ways, but you’ve got to remember that Ireland is an island. And quite removed from the continental Celtic culture, though it started with the same roots. Taking those roots and planting them here has led to a tree growing in Irish soil that is quite different to the parental rootstock, is all I’m saying.

Irish traditions through the ages took in any invaders and blended them with what was here already, a grafting if you like, to truly flog the tree metaphor. Blending is what we do, and we sort of stick to our own ways in the meantime. A bit stubbornly like.

It’s one of the reasons why it doesn’t really work to map our pantheon onto the structure or functionality of other pantheons either. Even Celtic deities don’t quite match up.

In brief though, we can get an idea, some basic concepts at least of the Irish Pagan beliefs, by tracking what we know about the root Celtic Religious beliefs, and what we have in our own native source material; archaeology, mythology and folklore.

  • Birth, death and rebirth – the continuation of life through cycles.
  • Reality and relevance of the Otherworld – not an ‘underworld’, but a whole other world or life that runs parallel to this one.
  • The Otherworld being populated with an entire eco-system of beings, from gods and goddesses to noble or royal Sidhe (fairies) to elemental beings.
  • Importance of meditation, or Journeying, between the worlds.
  • People who had, or could develop, the skills to personify and share deep Wisdom – sacred or special, ‘occult’ (hidden) knowledge.
  • Knowledge and understanding of magic, prophecy, and divination.

 

The Blend of Christian and Pagan Beliefs

Our written sources don’t really begin until the coming of Christianity, which was anytime between the 300s and the 600s CE [Common Era] in Ireland.

Despite what St. Patrick’s hagiographers would have you believe, it wasn’t all about him. Oh no.

As per the above mentioned tendency to take in any invaders and blend them with what was here already, Irish Pagan beliefs began to meld and blend with the quiet incoming flow of Christianity.

As the society and culture shifted, Druids were replaced in function by priests, and it would seem that many of them may have moved with the times and become priests or monks themselves.

This led to rather a lot of pure Pagan beliefs being subsumed into a Celtic Christian church, that then held a lot of beliefs and practices that the Roman Catholic church regarded as wrong, or even sinful.

Spotting a trend here? The roots from elsewhere were finding a fertile, but very different environment on this island, in which to grow and flourish.

Rome squished down a lot of that golden age growth, and we ended up with something very forced, unnatural, and toxic in its place, that has not been at all good for our people as they’ve held power over us.

But the Irish Pagan beliefs still held true in many of the folk ways and practices.

For example, holy well observances that are so very close to tending and utilising a sacred magical spring in Pagan terms. And our relationships with the Good Neighbours, the Other Crowd, the Sidhe or the Fairies, as ye might call them.

Sure, don’t even get me started on that.

 

Modern Pagan Beliefs

Paganism in Ireland has grown since the popularisation in the 1970s, in much the same way as it has elsewhere.

Well. Not quite the same maybe… there’s still that whole pattern of being given a thing and making it our own.

We’re a tribal lot still, you see, and fiercely independent in many ways. We’re also TINY, population wise, compared to Britain or the U.S. And with quite a rural, spread out population.

All of this makes it more difficult to organise – Pagan events, groups, and organisations. It’s all a bit hit and miss, says the one who co-organised our national Pagan Festival (Féile Draíochta) from 2003 til 2016 or so.

But at this point, we have a healthy enough network across the island.

I personally would love to see less focus on non native practices – seriously Nora, we don’t need another Pow-Wow drum or a Siberian Shaman at one of our most important sacred sites for our festivals – and more work being done by native practitioners to (re)create native systems and celebrations of our indigenous spirituality.

However, the folk in Ireland who are doing the work with regards to creating community around our Pagan beliefs are doing a bang up job, if I may say that as ONE of those folk.

Take Pagan Life Rites (Ireland), for example.

This is a non-profit organisation, operated by a nationwide network of Priests and Priestesses, offering a range of services to the greater Pagan community of Ireland.

One of the founding principles is respect and honour of the land and of nature:

“The island of Ireland is our home and Her sovereignty is treated with respect. It is held within Pagan belief generally, but not exclusively, that Deity resides within Nature and is immanent in all that is around us. Therefore, the land we live in and the Earth that we walk upon should also be revered and treated with respect.”

I’m down with that anyway.

No, like literally. I’m one of the founding members of Pagan Lifes Rites, so it’d be weird if I wasn’t, right?

One of the ways we are of service, is to organise a series of Pagan Moots (monthly social and networking meetings) across the island, to facilitate the meeting and connection of people who are interested in Pagan beliefs, and creating community in their local area.

Want to get in touch? – You can find a list of Pagan Moots in Ireland here.

Also of interest – Irish Celtic Pagan Symbols.


 

If you want to get some focused guidance on where (or how) to start exploring an authentic Irish spiritual practice, there are 2 Beginners’ Classes on the Irish Pagan School…

Hopefully, those options give you something solid to be getting going with. If there’s anything else I can do for you, let me know?

Irish Celtic Pagan Symbols

Irish Pagan Symbols on Newgrange Passage Tomb, © 2010 Dept. Environment, Heritage & Local Government.

This is a question that comes up a lot – what are some Pagan Symbols used by the (Celtic) Irish?

It’s kind of a tough one to answer, as we don’t have an extant [surviving through the ages] Irish Pagan tradition, per se. We have a whole lot of Irish mythology, of course, and even more Irish folklore… but no complete system for what it all means, or how to use it.

In modern Irish Paganism, we use many of the same Pagan Symbols as do those in other communities, all over the world. Some of the general Pagan symbols you’ll see at any Irish Wiccan coven meeting or Druid convention include:

  • Pentacle – a 5 pointed star, or pentagram, contained within a circle.
  • Triple Moon – the image of a circular full moon, with a crescent on either side.
  • Eye of Horus – an egyptian stylised eye.
  • Ankh – the looped cross of ancient egypt, symbolising life.
  • Spiral Goddess – the image of a female formed silhouette, arms raised, with a spiral over the womb.
  • Labyrinth – pattern of a pathway that can be followed between worlds.
  • Wiccan Symbols for Air, Earth, Fire, Water – these are based off an equilateral triangle.
  • Horned God – a circle with crescent horns on top of the ‘head’.
  • Tree of Life – common to many cultures, this is the image of a world tree connecting worlds.
  • Mandala – can take many forms, but commonly a square with four gates, containing a circle with a center point within.
  • Rod of Asclepius – a staff with a snake coiled around it, representing healing… often confused with the Caduceus
  • Ouroboros – a serpent eating it’s own tail, representing eternal cycles of death and rebirth.
  • Thor’s Hammer (Mjölnir) – representing the hammer of the Norse God of thunder and storms.

Any or all of these symbols can be (and are!) used by modern Irish Pagans.

 

Historical Irish Pagan Symbols

When we look back a little further into our tradition and lore, we have 2 main sources for native Irish Pagan symbols – stone carvings and manuscripts.

Now, either of those may have been influenced by Christianity, and so not count as truly Pagan, perhaps. It depends on the context for them.

That being said though, everything in Ireland is a little bit Pagan, even still… so we can put that one aside, now that we’re aware of it, and look at the sources.

The best example of this, I’d say, is the Ogham alphabet – our Celtic writing system (and I use Celtic here, and through this post, because much of what we have in Ireland on this topic is common across other Celtic cultures).

Ogham appears both carved in stone, and in multiple manuscripts, so it’s ticking both boxes there. With regard to how old this Celtic alphabet might be: we know it existed as a monument script (there’s that early stone carving), in the 400s CE [Common Era].

It was designed for the Irish language, so we can place in at pre Christian times, probably, through that – if it was just made for the monks, they would more like have designed it through Latin.

Irish Pagan Symbols - the Ogham Alphabet

You can find out more about the Ogham Alphabet here.

 

What other Pagan Symbols were used in ancient Ireland?

It’s back to the stone carving folks, and this time, let’s look at our monuments. One of the more famous ones is Brú na Bóinne, with the 3 great passage tombs of Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth.

Built by the Dagda, so they say (and you can read some fascinating stories on that guy right here), these monuments have stood in Ireland for over 5,000 years, and when they were being built, symbolic artwork was a big part of their construction.

Some of it is spectacular: wonderful combinations of spirals, lozenges, chevrons, triangles and arrangements of parallel lines and arcs. It occurs particularly on the structural stones of the tombs but also occurs on some artefacts that have been found within and around them.

Knowth alone has about 45% of all the art known from Irish tombs and nearly 30% of all the megalithic art in Europe.

[Images courtesy of World Heritage Ireland, © 2010 Dept. Environment, Heritage & Local Government.]

What do these Irish Pagan Symbols Mean?

In short, we don’t know. Great answer, right?

We do have theories, of course.

  • The spiral and concentric circles may represent the movement of the sun and stars, a fascination with the changing seasons and how the cycles related to the lives of those who carved them.
  • They might be maps: maps of the area, maps of the otherworld, maps of the stars… or ‘maps’ of music, or energy lines.
  • A strong theory is that the art represents images seen by shamans during rituals, as they are common across many different cultures who most likely wouldn’t have had any contact.
  • These Pagan symbols may well have been used as meditation devices, to guide seekers on Journeys.

Whatever their original purpose, we can utilise them now for any of these reasons as fits with our personal practice. The Irish Pagan symbols that remain to us are an incredibly valuable connection to our ancestors, and the wisdom of ancient Ireland.

I’d love to learn what Pagan symbols call to you, or which ones you make use of? Let me know in the comments below!


 

If you want to get some focused guidance on where (or how) to start exploring an authentic Irish spiritual practice, I’ve just released 2 Beginners’ Classes on the Irish Pagan School…

Hopefully, those options give you something solid to be getting going with. If there’s anything else I can do for you, let me know?

How was the Ogham Alphabet Invented?

Ogham Alphabet - light to illuminate a Cave

Sound and Matter – a Scéal of a Tale of Old Ireland, and the Ogham.

What are the place, time, person, and cause of the invention of the Ogham? Not hard.

Its place – Hibernia, or Ireland as we know it now. In the time of Bres son of Elatha king of Ireland it was invented. Now, that’s not the bad Bres, the half Fomorian who enslaved the Tuatha Dé… ‘tis a different Bres we’re talking about here.

Its person – well that was none other than Oghma. Son of Elatha, son of Delbaeth, and brother to Bres (that’s the same Bres, not the bad Bres). For Bres, Oghma and Delbaeth are the three sons of Elatha, son of Delbaeth there. In case that wasn’t clear.

Now Oghma, a man well skilled in speech and in poetry, invented the Ogham. The cause of its invention was, as a proof of his ingenuity, and that this speech should belong to the learned apart, to the exclusion of rustics and herdsmen. He might not have been a huge fan of rustics or herdsmen, the tales don’t tell us for certain, but sure not many of the nobles were, back then. Except maybe for the Dagda, who never seemed to mind the odd rustic or herdsman in amongst his company.

And that is how the cause of it’s invention is recorded, but is it truly so? Is there more to the tale, that we don’t yet know?

Whence the Ogham got its name, was according to sound and to matter, who are the father and the mother of the Ogham.

Oghma, the first inventor, spoke and sang it in respect to its sound, indeed. According to matter, however, ogum is og-uaim, the little egg hatched in a cave… perfect alliteration, which the poets applied to poetry by means of it. For by letters Gaeilge is measured by the poets, and when they are written are they done.

True too, is that the father of Ogham is Oghma, while the mother of Ogham is the hand or knife of Oghma.

***

The champion sat alone, in the darkness, in the dirt.

His restless hands moved through the clay in which he sat. Scooping, scraping, kneading, shaping, dispersing it back to the floor of the cave, then repeating the process again.

After a time, in the silence, he began a low hum. Starting deep down in his broad chest, it built steadily as it rose through his throat and flowed past his lips, softening and sweetening over his honey tongue as it was released to the air around him.

The cave accepted the sound, as ever she would, with the open arms of amplification and reverberation, gifting the champion his sound back to him, from many angles and in many ways. The essence of Ogham lived in that sound, discharged from the father to the womb of the mother.

It did not exist in our world though, without form, for that is ever the differentiation between the worlds – the formless and the formed.

Taking the clay, imbued with the sound and birthed from the body of the cave, the champion shaped matter, created a small round surface with his hands. And with his knife, he carved what came, shaping the sound around into the matter, twining the two into the first strokes, the early birch, the B.

And with that, a vision came, for the sound and the matter combined did form a gateway to Imbas Forosnai, and the champion saw Lugh, son of Ethliu, in pain as his wife was carried away from him into the Otherworld, and not once but seven times over. And he knew the birch, the Beith, would guard the woman, should Lugh let it, for the Ogham had told him true.

Oghma continued the process, the birth of Ogham, and each little egg he carved hatched a new letter into this world, there in the cave under the mound. And each new letter presented him with fresh Imbas, illuminating his experience, so that he understood. With each birth of sound, and matter, with each new letter, he knew it for a key to the wisdom between the worlds. With each new letter, the focus narrowed, and he learned to insert the key within the lock, and open the doorways to the Knowledge Which Illuminates.

There’s much more to the Ogham, oh and so much more to learn and know… but sure, they’re all stories for another day.

Primary Source –

 [ed.] [tr.] Calder, George [ed. and tr.], Auraicept na n-Éces: The scholars’ primer, being the texts of the Ogham tract from the Book of Ballymote and the Yellow book of Lecan, and the text of the Trefhocul from the Book of Leinster, Edinburgh: John Grant, 1917. 


 

If you’re interested in the Ogham, you might like the Ogham Journeys Course… register your interest at – https://loraobrien.ie/ogham-journeys/

 

This story originally appeared on my Patreon – for $3 per month you can support the writing of these tales, AND receive first access to a new one every single month.

Support Lora O’Brien on Patreon.  —  Buy the Book – Tales of Old Ireland: Retold.

Ogham Resources – the Ancient Gaelic Alphabet

The Journal of Ogam Studies by the Irish Order of Thelema

You’ve heard of the Ogham (or Ogam), the ‘ancient Celtic alphabet’ of Ireland?

Possibly in the context of a ‘Celtic Tree Calendar’, perhaps?

But you’re never sure if the resources you’re finding are genuine, are respectful of the native traditions… or just created by some colonisers cashing in with appropriative, half understood, mostly mangled nonsense?

You might want to know more about our Ogham writing, about Ogham stones, or what’s the real story with this Old Irish alphabet system?

You’re in luck! Have some Ogham resources, checked and curated by your Guide to Ireland, Lora O’Brien. 💚


OGHAM RESOURCES

 

Academic – General

 

  • Kelly, Fergus. The Old Irish Tree-list. https://bill.celt.dias.ie/vol4/displayObject.php?TreeID=1818.
  • Dillon, Myles, and Nora K. Chadwick. Celtic Realms. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1967.
  • MacAlister, Robert Alexander Stewart. The Secret Languages of Ireland: With Special Reference to the Origin and Nature of the Shelta Language. Craobh Rua Books, 1997.
  • Macalister, R. A. S. Ancient Ireland: A Study in the Lessons of Archaeology and History. Routledge, 2016.
  • Macneill, Eoin. Phases of Irish History. Bibliolife, 2011.
  • McCone, Kim. Pagan past and Christian Present in Early Irish Literature. Department of Old Irish National University of Ireland, 2000.
  • HÓgáin, Dáithí Ó. The Sacred Isle: Belief and Religion in Pre-Christian Ireland. Boydell, 2001.

 

Academic – Ogham Specific

 

  • “Calder, G., Auraicept Na n-Éces: The Scholars’ Primer, Being the Texts of the Ogham Tract from the Book of Ballymote and the Yellow Book of Lecan, and the Text of the Trefhocul from the Book of Leinster (1917).” Russell, P., Et Al., Early Irish Glossaries Database (2010) – Online • CODECS: Online Database and e-Resources for Celtic Studies, www.vanhamel.nl/codecs/Calder_1917
  • “Carney, J. P., ‘The Invention of the Ogom Cipher’, Ériu 26 (1975).” Russell, P., Et Al., Early Irish Glossaries Database (2010) – Online • CODECS: Online Database and e-Resources for Celtic Studies, www.vanhamel.nl/codecs/Carney_1975a
  • “Harvey, A., ‘Early Literacy in Ireland: the Evidence from Ogam’, Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies 14 (1987).” Russell, P., Et Al., Early Irish Glossaries Database (2010) – Online • CODECS: Online Database and e-Resources for Celtic Studies, www.vanhamel.nl/codecs/Harvey_(Anthony)_1987a
  • “McManus, D., ‘Irish Letter-Names and Their Kennings’, Ériu 39 (1988).” Russell, P., Et Al., Early Irish Glossaries Database (2010) – Online • CODECS: Online Database and e-Resources for Celtic Studies, www.vanhamel.nl/codecs/McManus_(Damian)_1988a
  • “McManus, D., A Guide to Ogam (1991).” Russell, P., Et Al., Early Irish Glossaries Database (2010) – Online • CODECS: Online Database and e-Resources for Celtic Studies, www.vanhamel.nl/codecs/McManus_(Damian)_1991a
  • O’Boyle Seán. Ogam, the Poets’ Secret. G. Dalton, 1980
  • “Plummer, C., ‘On the Meaning of Ogam Stones’, Revue Celtique 40 (1923).” Russell, P., Et Al., Early Irish Glossaries Database (2010) – Online • CODECS: Online Database and e-Resources for Celtic Studies, www.vanhamel.nl/codecs/Plummer_1923a
  • “Sims-Williams, P., ‘Some Problems in Deciphering the Early Irish Ogam Alphabet’, Transactions of the Philological Society 91 (1993).” Russell, P., Et Al., Early Irish Glossaries Database (2010) – Online • CODECS: Online Database and e-Resources for Celtic Studies, www.vanhamel.nl/codecs/Sims-Williams_1993b

 

Modern Pagan

 

  • Irish Order of Thelema. The Journal of Ogam Studies. Lulu Com, 2016.  [Click to Buy]
  • Laurie, Erynn Rowan. Ogam: Weaving Word Wisdom. Megalithica Books, 2007.  [Click to Buy]
  • Patton, John-Paul. Poet’s Ogam: a Living Magical Tradition. Lulu Com, 2011.  [Click to Buy]

 


 

Once per year, I run an ‘Ogham Journeys’ online programme. Over the course of 25 weeks, students begin to develop their deep, fulfilling, lifelong relationship with the Ogham.

If you want to know more, REGISTER HERE.

BONUS – you’ll get a welcome email with a PDF copy of this ogham resources guide to download when you do!

Aileen Paul (USA) said: This course was rich in its information, enough that I need to go back a second time and spend more time with each Ogham to more fully experience them. The time commitment is the main obstacle for a busy person, but the personal relationship with the Ogham is worth the effort. It sets you up for a lifetime relationship with the Ogham.

Cat Dubh (Ireland) said: This is a course that truly does create a deep and meaningful ongoing relationship with the Ogham. I have studied the Ogham for many years and this course brought me to a whole new level of knowledge and understanding. The study material, the journeys/meditations, and the personal creativity tapped, has been and will continue to be second to none. Lora O’Brien, as Guide Extraordinaire through this Ogham course, is also second to none. Highly recommended.

FIND OUT MORE!

Seeking Your Irish Ancestors – Irish Genealogy Tourism

Irish Genealogy - Seeking Your Irish Ancestors

It’d be fair to say that the Irish have always had a bit of a wanderlust. Which goes someway to explaining why Irish Genealogy is so popular.

Sometimes, our travel has been caused more by necessity than the desire to see new sights. Although I guess if your sights at home were as horrific as in say, the time of the Great Irish Famine, it’d give you a bit of a desire to put your eyes on fresh horizons too.

We hear a lot about the 70 million Irish diaspora world-wide, and though it’s not easy to see how exactly that figure was calculated, it seems to be based on the folk who self-identify as ‘of Irish descent’. Is that you?

If you want to trace your Irish Genealogy… how do you go about it?

Obvious part first, do your research at home. Get together with family members (if you can) and see what you’ve got – stories from Grandma and Aunty Mary, and any written or printed materials like letters, wills, diaries, photographs, and certificates.

You can access many of your country’s genealogical record repositories online, and you can get advice from your local library on birth, death and marriage records held by civil authorities, as well as where to find census returns, city directories, church records (baptism, marriage), gravestone inscriptions, newspaper obituaries, wills, naturalisation papers and passenger lists.

All set now for a trip to Ireland? Great!

Irish Genealogy in Ireland

If you don’t know a home county, town or parish for your ancestor/s yet, and you want to carry out your own research here, start in Dublin city with the National Library of Ireland (check them online at www.nli.ie), the National Archives (with a free genealogy advice service) and the General Register Office research room which may hold the birth, marriage and death records of your Irish ancestors.

You can also check the census database (for 1901 and 1911) at www.censusnationalarchives.ie, the database of church records for parts of counties Dublin, Cork, Kerry, and Carlow at www.irishgenealogy.ie, and the database of Griffith’s Valuation property survey from the mid 1800’s at www.askaboutireland.ie.

If you’d prefer some professional support, the county genealogy centres (search for ‘Roots Ireland’ to find them) can be useful, though some counties’ staff are better than others. Better is the Association of Professional Genealogists in Ireland (APGI) is an all-Ireland professional body, with members based in the Republic and Northern Ireland. Professional genealogists and records agents will access the sources in the Dublin and Belfast repositories for you, while county genealogists will carry out research using their county databases of parish records, land records, graveyard inscriptions and census returns, as well as using local knowledge and contacts to pinpoint that elusive Irish ancestor.

All of this will, hopefully, lead you to the place your Irish ancestors left from.

Visiting your Irish family’s place is a very special experience – walking where they walked, seeing the house they were born in, the graves of their people, the church they worshipped in, the pub they drank in, and the village or town where they went about their day to day business.

That is an incomparable experience, and well worth the research and time it takes to get you there.


Take a Class to Explore Your Irish Ancestry

Irish Pagan Magic – The ‘Tarbh Feis’

Beef Stew Cooking

It means ‘bull feast’. FYI. 

“A bull-feast is gathered by the men of Erin, in order to determine their future king; that is, a bull used to be killed by them and thereof one man would eat his fill and drink its broth, and a spell of truth was chanted over him in his bed. Whosoever he would see in his sleep would be king, and the sleeper would perish if he uttered a falsehood.”

{From “The Destruction of Dá Derga’s Hostel”,  translated by Whitely Stokes in 1910.}

A bull was killed.  A seer would eat his fill of the flesh, and drink the broth (the liquid in which the meat had been cooked, probably with some blood added in too), and lie down for a sleep.  

A truth spell was chanted over him as he lay in his bed, and he would dream of the person who would be the true king. In this manner was Conaire Mór chosen as King of Tara.  

Prionsias MacCana writes that there were four druids doing the chanting, and Miranda Green echoes this. I’ve not found the reference for that, but I have no reason to believe they were telling fibs.

These days, there’s probably not going to be much sacrificing of bulls for divination purposes.  For most of us, at least. We can adapt the Tarbh Feis to our own purposes however, and utilise it’s power.  

First, we need the flesh of a bull.  A few packets of frozen beef burgers from the local supermarket aren’t really going to cut it on this one.  

Locally reared, organically kept, freshly (humanely) killed prime bullock would be the best option; happy meat.  

Visit small local butcher shops, ask them where they get their beef, how it has been kept, and how long they hang it for.  If you can find one who does his/her own slaughter, all the better. Buy the best cut you can afford, about one pound in weight.  

The best way to consume it is in stew, unless you want to just boil it up, drink the broth and eat the flesh plain (this can be done over a ritual fire outdoors if you have a pot.  And the facility for an outdoor cooking fire, of course).

If you prefer to actually make a meal of your ritual, then a stew (broth included) is the best way to go. It could be made a part of a solo or group Samhain ritual, particularly relevant as part of the divination and feasting.  

Ingest the stew or meat and broth during the latter part of your ritual or working, when any seasonal work you do has already been accomplished.

Your “spell of truth” should be short and simple, so it can be chanted repetitively.

No, I am not going to write it for you! Use your imagination, and make it relevant to when, where, and who you are, and what you wish to achieve or see the truth of.  

In a group setting, one should be chosen (probably the one among you who is usually most prophetic) and the others chant over him or her.

It is possible to all take part, but those who take the flesh and broth should be sleeping that night at the location where the ritual has been held. On waking, take careful note of any dreams, write them down in great detail before you do anything else. Don’t trust to your memory!

There are lots of methods for making Irish Beef stew available, any Internet search or library cookbook should give you recipe options.  Most will include the addition of Guinness, a black Irish stout drink, which does make it taste lovely, but don’t add too much or it gets quite metallic…  and for a ritual meal, perhaps supporting a familiy of colonisers isn’t the best way to go, energetically speaking.

I usually just make one up with a pound of beef, some barley (pearl barley is freely available in supermarkets), carrots, cubed potatoes, peas, onions, black pepper and butter mixed to a paste with flour to season and thicken.  All in one big pot, easy and delicious.

If anybody out there happens to find out who should be the right and proper royal ruler of Ireland while using this method, please do let us know?!


 

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Irish Pagan Magic – Piseoga

Drinking Whiskey

A group of friends sit around a table.  Scratch Scratch Scratch. “Ah, me nose is itchy”, says one.  A few light punches are exchanged, and all is well again.

Did you understand this exchange?  Do you actually believe that an itchy nose is the sign of an impending fight, and that a mock fight should be carried out to ensure that the bad luck is done with?

Do you remember who first told you this was true, or is it something you have picked up, like so many of us, through school yard antics or around the family dinner table – and carried on into adult life?

How many others can you remember, now you’re thinking about it?  

Itchy palms are a sign of money to come. Itchy knuckles, another fight.  Itching on the temples and you’ll soon have cause to weep, while if your eyebrow should need a bit of a scratch, you’ll soon be drinking whiskey.  

Perhaps those last two are connected.

But it’s not all about the itching.  A gap between the two front teeth is the sign of a beautiful singing voice, and if the mouth is wide, there’ll be a great strength in it too.  There is a vein that connects the third finger of the left hand directly to your heart – making it the most logical place to wear your wedding ring.  “One for sorrow, two for joy…”, counting magpies to see what fates they foretell.

And indeed, waving to them respectfully to ensure they don’t bring any bad fortune down on you.  A spot, or worse, a black spot, on your tongue was a sign of telling lies; the suspicious parent would often be heard to tell a child to “stick out your tongue ’til I see if you’re lying”.  Should you spill the salt, you must throw a pinch over your left shoulder to get rid of the bad luck. A bride will have ill fortune through the marriage if she gets married on a Monday, or a Friday, or if she wears green.  Also if it rains on the wedding morning, a glass or cup is broken, the ring is dropped, or she is licked by a dog. If your ears are ‘burning’ , someone is talking about you. This early warning system has been further refined – should it be the right ear that feels inexplicably warm all of a sudden, you are being praised, but if it is the left ear, the talk is bitter and full of malice.

In Ireland, the word for superstition is Piseog, but it means much more than simple sayings and quaint beliefs. We’re not talking Wicca here, and it wasn’t even really called Witchcraft in Ireland. Just, ‘the Old Ways’, or similar. 

A charm, a spell, a superstitious practice – anything connected with magic – is deemed a piseog, pishog or pisreog in the old stories.  

Those who carry out the practices were known as Piseogaí. These people could provide the beneficial charms and cures, they could counter any malicious piseogs that were placed upon a family or an individual, or they could be the ones who did the placement.  

A classic one is connected to May Day morning, the turning of the year at Bealtaine from winter into summer, and so a time for changes. A malevolent person could go out on this particular morning and mix rotten produce into your farm – to try and turn your luck.  This could be rotten meat in the haystacks, or rotten eggs in through the soil… either way the imagery is clear, and unless the foulness was found your luck would turn. Of course the sensible farmer would have already taken precautions against this type of shenanigans, and deployed one of the many available counter charms to turn aside ill intent in plenty of time for the big day.  

May Day was also a time for beneficial changes – washing one’s face in the sun kissed dew on this morning was said to ensure fresh beauty throughout the year. Who needs expensive lotions when dew drops are free?!

These folk beliefs, or superstitions, may seem silly to us now, thinking about them in the cold harsh light of modern science and technological advancement – but they are reflective of our psychological needs, of how we as humans have thought, felt, and interacted with the world around us, and with each other.  Though we can perhaps figure out a certain logic as to how or why some of them started, it is not rationality that has ensured their survival, it is repetition.

When something is done again and again, down through the generations, it becomes not a superstition but a tradition, and those are held on to. A link to the past, connection through the generations, common ground from which each new family builds their own rituals.  Maybe the old Piseogs avert the bad luck, and bring about the good luck… maybe they don’t.

But before you decide either way, it might be wise to bear in mind the old Irish saying – “Ná dean nós, agus ná bris nós”.

Don’t make a custom, and don’t break a custom.


 

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Ireland’s First Female Veterinarian

Portrait of Aleen Cust, Ireland's first female veterinarian

Veterinarians have been around for quite a while now.

From the Egyptian king Piyadasi, who made medicines available to animals as well as humans in 1900 BCE, and the Roman ‘Veterinarius’ who were mostly military doctors just for animals – we can trace the development of the field to the first official organisation – when English farriers banded together in 1356 CE under the patronage of the Lord Mayor of London, and decided to focus not just on hooves, but also care for injuries and illnesses in horses.

Veterinary training didn’t begin properly until the first college opened, in Lyon, France, in 1792, and the second opened a few years later, in Alfort near Paris, France. Europe was the hub of progress in the veterinary sciences, with the first American vets training in European colleges, until private veterinary schools began opening in the States through the 1850’s. The American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA) was founded in 1863, and the first US public university opened in Iowa in 1879.

Through all of this, there were certainly women worldwide who cured and cared for animals, some even making it their life’s work. But what do the records show for the official training and acceptance of women in the early years of veterinary practice?

The first records tell us precious little, unfortunately, but do at least preserve names, and some little information.

Nearly a hundred years after the first college opened, a Ukranian woman – whose name is written only as V. Dobrovoljskaja – made her way to study veterinary medicine in Zurich, Switzerland, as Russia did not allow women to study medicine then. She graduated in 1889, and was, as far as we know, the first qualified female veterinarian in the world… but little else is known of this early pioneer. Her fellow country woman Marija Kapčevič, who we do at least know was born near Lochnica in the Ukraine, travelled to France and attended the college in Alfort near Paris, graduating as a vet by 1896.

An Irish woman, Aleen Cust, began studying at the New Veterinary College in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1894. She was flouting the wishes of her family, and the ruling organisation – England’s Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. When they refused her the right to sit her final exams in 1900, she left Edinburgh and returned to Ireland without an official qualification.

Across the Atlantic in America, Mignon Nicholson attended the McKillips Private Veterinary College, Chicago, and graduated as a qualified veterinary Dr. in 1903, becoming the first US woman to do so.

Just a year before this, a 19 year old named Isabelle Bruce Reid (known as Belle to her 9 older siblings), had travelled not too far from her home in Melbourne to the Victoria Veterinary Institute, also in Melbourne, Australia. This young lady had the full support of her parents, a well to do couple of Scottish origin named Robert and Mary Jane Reid, who figured that the girl’s affinity for animals, especially horses, would stand to her better than the career she was eyeing for herself – singing soprano on stage. On completing her studies 4 years later, Belle Reid submitted herself for examination. She was one of only 5 final year students to do so, and the only one of them to achieve a pass. The minutes of the Institute’s Board meeting of 28th November 1906 record the results for the 4th year class, and the motion:

“Mr Beckwith moved that Miss Belle Reid be passed the 4th year Examination with 2nd class honours and that she be registered as a Vet Surgeon on payment of the usual fees. Sec. Mr Leitch, and agreed to”.

With this successful registration, she became the first formally recognized female veterinary surgeon in the world.

Dr. Reid set up her own veterinary practice that same year, living and working in the practice house until she took early retirement in 1923, at the age of 40. The conservative, male-dominated profession had only ever afforded her limited status or recognition, so in 1925 she moved to the thousand acre farm she had purchased with her sister May, and named it Blossom Park. A member of the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria and keen breeder of animals, she exhibited prize-winning Jersey cattle, Irish Wolfhound dogs, pigs and harness horses all over Australia. Belle Reid remained involved in caring for animals, and the management of Blossom Park farm right up until her illness and death in 1945.

While Dr. Reid’s practice down under was still in its fledgling years, two more worthy American women qualified as veterinarians: Elinor McGrath from Chicago Veterinary College, and Florence Kimball from New York State Veterinary College, both in 1910. With the turn of the century, major social and cultural shifts were happening across the States, bringing changes for the veterinary profession in general, and women’s rights in particular.

First, in industry and gradually in all cities – eventually even in the countryside – horses were replaced with cars, trucks, tractors, and motors of all sorts, which had a massive impact on the horse industry. By 1907, animal powered transport was pretty much gone from American cities. Even the start of World War 1, with the high demand for horses that brought, couldn’t save the animals, and hundreds of thousands were being slaughtered every year for glue and leather, and later on it continued as horse meat became popular for the new business of tinned pet food. This didn’t bode well for the US veterinarians of the time, most of whom were really just horse Doctors with little calling to tend to agricultural animals or pets.

Simultaneously, much political debate and public outcry was seen about the state of filthy slaughter houses, and in 1906 the ‘Pure Food and Drug Act’, and the ‘Meat Inspection Act’ were passed. Campaigns had been primarily led by female activists, who demanded accountability in the food industry practices to ensure the delivery of healthy, wholesome meat and dairy produce. Perhaps these early victories for women’s activist groups gave confidence to movements like the Suffragettes, whose first demonstration was in 1910, and paved the way for the cultural shift in following years. These acts also provided a major new employment avenue for the veterinary profession, and ensured there was government funding available to research animal disease.

It was in the midst of this change, in 1907, that Elinor McGrath became the first female to attend at Chicago Veterinary College. Her fellow students didn’t appreciate having a woman in their number, and gave her such a hard time of it that she went and spoke to the Dean, offering to leave the college. He dismissed the idea, reportedly saying: “well you better not because you’ll make a better veterinarian than any of them.” So, she stuck it out, graduating at the age of 22 as a Dr. of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) in April 1910.

Florence Kimball had started her education a little earlier than her colleague; between 1903 and 1907 she attended Wheaton Seminary (later Wheaton College, in Norton Massachusetts), where she passed preclinical courses and decided to go on to study at New York State Veterinary College, graduating in 1910. Doctors McGrath and Kimball were ahead of the curve not just as women vets, but also because they both opened small animal veterinary practices, which were rather uncommon at the time. Dr. Kimball did leave her vet’s practice to go into nursing, but there’s no reason to believe this was because her practice was unsuccessful: a letter to her Dean Veranus Moore in the January following her graduation indicates that her caseload was more than satisfactory, and keeping her very busy.

By 1939, only 31 of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) were woman, compared to about 5,000 male vets. That is just 0.6 percent.
When Dorothy Segal enrolled in the Michigan State University pre-veterinary program in the 1930s, it was made obvious that there would be significant hurdles in front of the young women in her class.

Dr. Segal, now age 98, told the AVMA in an interview:

“There were seven girls in my class, and that was considered to be just an enormous amount. The dean at the time (Dr. Ward Giltner) did not want women. He said, ‘Go back to the kitchen.’ He literally said that. The first speech he gave was, ‘What are you doing here?’ and he was not joking.”

Only Dr. Segal, in 1943, and one other of those seven women graduated and became veterinarians.

The Association for Women Veterinarians (now the AWV, but known as Women’s Veterinary Medical Association until 1980) was started just a few years later, in 1947, by Dr. Mary K. Dunlap of Kansas City, Missouri, who felt the need to form an organization of women working in a male dominated profession, and right from the start they received hundreds of letters every year from women and girls asking how to become a veterinarian. Their Constitution includes the objective to “further the mutual advancement of women veterinarians in the science of veterinary medicine by bringing them together to share knowledge, support, and friendship.”

Support was needed as the percentage of women veterinarians dipped again in the 1950s, from 2 percent down to 1.6 percent. That may have been because World War II veterans were given priority, but schools also just flat out refused women a place to study. A refusal letter to a female applicant dated March 1957, from the Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts ran like this:

“It is the policy of the Division of Veterinary Medicine at the Iowa State College not to admit women to the professional curriculum. Because of the limited educational facilities it has been necessary to restrict the number of new students who may be admitted. … Each year we receive more applications from men students than can be accommodated. If women were admitted, they would displace the same number of men. In many cases women are not physically equal to the educational requirements of the large animal clinics. … We are sorry to disappoint you.”

The ‘Federal Equal Pay Act’ in 1963 and ‘Civil Rights Act’ in 1964 barred job discrimination based on gender, theoretically, but by 1970, the AWV still had less than 750 members, and 89% of veterinary students were male.

It was with the ‘Educational Amendment’ in 1972 and the ‘Women’s Education Act’ in 1974 that real changes started to occur, as these new regulations prohibited gender discrimination at schools that received federal funds. This applied to veterinary schools to, and by 1975 the number of women attending American veterinary schools had doubled.

The growth in female vets has continued, though many difficulties have remained. Women in positions of power and leadership are still rare, for example the American Veterinary Medical Association didn’t elect its first female president, Dr. Mary Beth Leininger, until 1996.

Today though, women outnumber men in vet school by more than 3 to 1, and by 2007 there were 36,383 female veterinarians working in the United States (compared with 43,186 men) – that’s 46 percent of the profession. But the AMVA reported the graduating 2,489 students of that year comprised 75 percent female (1,873 students) and 25 male (616), and continues to drop… while the retiring vets were nearly 95 percent male.

The balance has tipped so far, in fact, that the AMVA tell of many students and administrators at veterinary colleges in the US think the profession needs men “to maintain a diversity of perspectives and reflect the country’s population”.

Some believe they should begin a campaign to actively recruit men – because heaven forfend that one gender would be disproportionately represented?!

Aleen Cust

Remember our Irish Ms. Aleen Cust, who had the temerity to defy not only her own family, but also England’s Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, and study veterinary medicine in Scotland?
Well, though she left without sitting her exams, the college principal recommended her by letter, and a Dr. William Byrne, practising in Roscommon, Ireland, employed her as a Veterinary Assistant in defiance of the RCVS, despite being a member of their council. Indeed the support for her was such that when she announced her intention to run for the post of Veterinary Inspector in neighbouring County Galway, no other Vet in the area applied and she was appointed, with flagrant disregard for the stated disapproval of the RCVS.

By 1910, when America’s first female vets graduated from public colleges, Ms. Cust had been working solidly for 10 years, and was in a position to successfully take over and run the practice following the untimely death of Dr. Byrne. By war time in 1915, though still not recognised professionally by the British, she travelled to France in support of their army, to help treat warhorses there.

Legal changes in December 1919 forced the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons to recognise her right to practice veterinary medicine, and she was finally allowed to sit final exams, receiving her diploma on December 21st 1922. And so Dr. Aleen Cust officially became the first female veterinary surgeon in Britain and Ireland, twenty two years after she had completed her training and started to practice.

Though she retired just two years later, she still attended professional meetings, and was an inspiration to female veterinary students until her death from heart failure while on holiday in Jamaica in 1937.

And indeed, she remains an inspiration to this day.


 

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Irish Medieval Cooking – Worties

Irish Cabbage for Medieval Cooking

‘Worties’ was the common name in Ireland, from the English ‘wortes’, which were vegetable greens and members of the onion family, such as cabbage leaves, spinach, beet greens, leeks, wild garlic leaves and so on, as well as some of the leafy herbs used for seasonings, like borage, parsley, and sage.

When cooked together with butter, and the leftover bread added to soften and soak up the flavoured butter, a delicious mess of goodness is created, and this we still call Worties.

Believe it or not, this was a very popular dish at our living history re-enactments, particularly with the kids! They just can’t get enough of it, even the ones whose parents swear they wouldn’t let a green leaf touch their lips at home. I guess when you cook anything in enough butter it’s going to taste good.

From England in the 1400s, we see the description of “A Dish of Cooked Greens”. The original recipe runs like this:

“Buttered Wortes. Take al manor of good herbes that thou may gete, and do bi ham as is forsaid; putte hem on þe fire with faire water; put þer-to clarefied buttur a grete quantite. Whan thei ben boyled ynough, salt hem; late none otemele come ther-in. Dise brede small in disshes, and powre on þe wortes, and serue hem forth.”
(by Thomas Austin, from Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books: Harleian MS. 279 & Harl. MS. 4016)

In other words, it can be read:

Buttered Greens. Take all manner of good herbs you may get, and do them as is forsaid; put them on the fire with clean water, and add a large quantity of clarified butter. When they have been boiled enough, salt them, let no oatmeal come in. Dice bread small into dishes, and pour on the greens, and serve them forth.

Our recipe uses 2 sweetheart cabbages, shredded or chopped to bite-size pieces, and a whole bulb of garlic, with each clove peeled and finely chopped. We get a large pot over an open fire (but your stove top will do just fine), melt a block of butter (about a lb) in there, and add the garlic to simmer. Throw in the cabbage, and sure if you’ve any other stray green leaves to use up you can toss them in there too. You could season with a little salt, but unless your butter is unsalted to start with, the extra is not really necessary.

Once the greens are softening but not mushy, we’d take a whole loaf of bread, break or chop it up, take the pot of greens off the heat and stir the bread right in with them. Tip it all out into a big serving bowl, or individual portions, and you’re done.

Worties!

I should probably note a few things:

  • Sweetheart Cabbage is a soft, fresh, green leafy variety grown here.
  • Our butter is salted and what’s called ‘grass-fed’ in the States; all our dairy is grass fed here in Ireland.
  • The bread we get the best results with is brown or white soda bread – a yeast free loaf baked with buttermilk, which you can find a recipe for HERE.

Worties would have been served as a side for meats in a main meal, and as a lunchtime or even breakfast meal to use up the previous day’s bread.

Indeed, there’s many a working man and woman who was coming home to some variation of the Worties dish after a hard day’s work in Ireland right up til the 1900s, and I’m sure it’s served up on Irish lunch and dinner tables even to this day!


 

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