Blog - Page 9 of 10 - Lora O'Brien - Irish Author & Guide

First President of Ireland – Douglas Hyde

Douglas Hyde

‘We need not claim that in quantity and quality of achievement he was great as a writer; but we surely can say that he did write well, that he did help others to write greatly – that he did help Irish letters, in all its branches, to be native, continuous, rooted, branching and fruitful.’

Robert Farren, ‘Douglas Hyde the Writer’, in Irish Press (14 July 1949) [obituary notice on the day following his death]

A boy, transplanted to Roscommon soil – in an alien garden; he not only put down firm roots, but proceeded to flourish and bloom like no other before him, to cross pollinate thoughts and ideas that would wake and revive the native life, all the while respecting, caring for and nurturing the fields and gardens which surrounded him – Douglas Hyde.

 

Born by accident in County Roscommon, on 17th January 1860; while his mother, Elizabeth, was on a short visit to Longford House, in Castlerea.  Raised in his father’s Church of Ireland rectory in County Sligo, Hyde didn’t return to Roscommon until he was 7 years old.  His father, Arthur, was appointed Rector and Prebendary (a type of Canon) of Tibohine, and the family moved to the village of Frenchpark in 1867.

There were 4 brothers, but the youngest, Douglas, was educated at home due to illness, by his father and his aunt.  At the time, Irish people were still suffering the after effects of the extreme poverty and denigration of the Big Famine.  An Gorta Mór, ‘the Great Hunger’, took about a million people in death, and approximately another million in emigration.  That was about 25% of our population.  And the anger that remained!  The loss and grief were terrible, but the anger and frustration felt by the Irish people equaled, and even surpassed it – to know that there was plenty of food all along, grown on our land, with our labour, and leaving our country to grace the tables of Landlords and their class, while our children starved to death.

The Irish ‘peasantry’ were suffering and struggling still by the time Hyde was born, to a county that was among the worst affected.  His family were well off, of a higher class, and it would have been unseemly for their child to mingle with the peasantry.

But mingle he did.  In particular, he was fascinated by listening to the older people in the community speaking the Roscommon Gaeilge dialect.  He became friends with an old Gilly on his father’s estate, a gamekeeper by the name of Seamus Hart.  The job title ‘Gilly’, by the way, comes from the old Irish term Giolla, meaning servant or slave.  The Irish language was deemed coarse, backward, savage – old-fashioned, at best.  It had been made shameful to speak it, to teach it to your children.  Parents were convinced that their children would never, ever, get anywhere, progress at all in life unless they could speak with a proper English tongue.  But to the young Douglas Hyde, the language was lyrical, eternally pleasant to listen to, witty and wise and unendingly beautiful.  He fell in love with the Irish language, and began to study it of his own accord.

The boy would roam the estates, and the countryside, listening to the stories, exploring the ancient places, talking to the older people in their own tongue. Learning.  He loved the legends of Rathcroghan, home of Queen Meadbh (Maeve) and Gaelic royalty for over 2000 years.  He carved his name in Uaimh na gCait, the Cave of the Cats – fabled entrance to the Irish Otherworld.  He was devastated when Seamus Hart died, 7 years later, when Hyde was just 14.  He flagged a bit, stopping his studies of the language and the culture, but his interest and passion began to rally when over the course of a few visits to Dublin he discovered there were others like him; groups of people who wanted to preserve and speak the Irish language, to whom it was just as important and wonderful as he found it to be.

Hyde rejected family pressure to follow their traditional career in the Church, and instead went to Trinity College, Dublin, where his flair for languages continued into fluency in French, German, Latin, Hebrew and Greek.

 

At the age of 20 (1880), he joined the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language, and published over a hundred pieces of Irish language poetry under his pen name An Craoibhín Aoibhinn, ‘the Pleasant Little Branch’.  The Irish Language movement was viewed as eccentric at first, the province of bored academics looking for novel ways to spend their time.

But it gained respect, and a huge following, steadily in the years to follow.  Hyde was a huge influence on this, helping to establish the Gaelic Journal in 1892, and speaking publicly on topics such as “The Necessity for De-Anglicising Ireland”, where he said:

But the Irish language is worth knowing, or why would the greatest philologists of Germany, France, and Italy be emulously studying it, and it does possess a literature, or why would a German savant have made the calculation that the books written in Irish between the eleventh and seventeenth centuries, and still extant, would fill a thousand octavo volumes…

We must arouse some spark of patriotic inspiration among the peasantry who still use the language, and put an end to the shameful state of feeling — a thousand-tongued reproach to our leaders and statesmen — which makes young men and women blush and hang their heads when overheard speaking their own language…

To a person taking a bird’s eye view of the situation a hundred or five hundred years hence, believe me, it will also appear of greater importance than any mere temporary wrangle, but, unhappily, our countrymen cannot be brought to see this…

We must teach ourselves to be less sensitive, we must teach ourselves not to be ashamed of ourselves, because the Gaelic people can never produce its best before the world as long as it remains tied to the apron-strings of another race and another island, waiting for it to move before it will venture to take any step itself…

I appeal to everyone whatever his politics — for this is no political matter — to do his best to help the Irish race to develop in future upon Irish lines, even at the risk of encouraging national aspirations, because upon Irish lines alone can the Irish race once more become what it was of yore — one of the most original, artistic, literary, and charming peoples of Europe.

The following year, the same in which he married a German lady by the name of Lucy Cometina Kurtz (1893), Douglas Hyde helped found the ‘Gaelic League’, Conradh na Gaedhilge, to preserve and promote Irish culture and language.  Contrary to other organisations of the time, Conradh na Gaedhilge accepted women as full members right from the start, and did not assign them to subordinate roles.   Many notable women, such as Lady Esmonde, Lady Gregory, and Mary Spring Rice, played an active part in establishment of the League, and in leadership roles in their local communities.  At the 1906 annual convention, out of 45 executive roles, 7 were filled by women.  Hyde resigned in 1915, when the League formally committed to the Nationalist political movement, as he felt that the culture and importance of our language should be above politics.  His influence though, was huge, as many of the prominent Irish leaders (such as Earnest Blythe, Pádraig Pearse, Éamon De Valera, and Michael Collins) first became educated and passionate about Irish independence through their involvement with Conradh na Gaedhilge.

It seems he tried his best to stay out of politics, and returned to the life of academia.  He did get sucked in briefly, accepting a nomination to Seanad Eireann, the Irish Senate, after the creation of the new Irish state.  But things got messy in 1925, and a Catholic smear campaign caused the loss of his electoral seat, so he settled in to be Professor of Irish at UCD (University College Dublin), instead.  In 1938 though, then Taoiseach (Irish political leader) Éamon de Valera, re-appointed him to the Seanad.  From here he was nominated and elected uncontested to the position of An tÚachataráin, first President of the Irish Republic, on 26th June 1938.  Although the President could choose either English or Irish in which to recite the Presidential Declaration of Office, Hyde set the precedent by (unsurprisingly) declaring in his chosen native tongue.  His speech, the first ever recitation of the Irish Republic’s President, is one of the few remaining recordings of the now lost Roscommon dialect in which he was fluent.

He was a very popular president, cultivating friendship with many world leaders such as Franklin D. Roosevelt and the English King George V, but due to ill health decided not to run for a second term, leaving office on 25th June 1945.  He never returned to Roscommon, his wife having died early in his presidential term, but moved to a residence in the grounds of Áras an Uachtaráin, the President’s Residence in the Phoenix Park, Dublin; where he died quietly on 12th July 1949, at the age of 89.  Douglas Hyde is buried with his family at Portahard Church, which is now the Douglas Hyde Museum, beside the Main N5 road between Tulsk and Frenchpark, in County Roscommon.

The Irish Poet and Writer W.B. Yeats had this to say on Douglas Hyde:

‘He had much frequented the company of old countrymen, and had so acquired the Irish language, and his taste for snuff, and for moderate quantities of a detestable species of illegal whiskey distilled from the potato by certain of his neighbours’…

‘the cajoler of crowds, and of individual men and women … and for certain years young Irish women were to display his pseudonym Craoibhin Aoibhin in gilt letters upon their hat-bands’.

‘The man most important for the future was certainly Dr Douglas Hyde. I had found a publisher while still in London for his Beside the Fire and his Love Songs of Connacht and it was the first literary use of the English dialect of the Connacht country people that had aroused my imagination for those books. His faculty was by nature narrative and lyrical, and at our committees […] he gave me an impression of timidity or confusion. His perpetual association with peasants, whose songs and stories he took down in their cottages from early childhood when he learned Irish from an old man on a kitchen floor, had given him. Though a strong man, that cunning that is the strength of the weak. He was always diplomatising, evading as far as he could prominent positions and the familiarity of his fellows that he might escape jealousy and detraction. […] He never spoke his real thought […] for his mind moved among pictures, itself indeed a premise but never an argument. In later years the necessities of Gaelic politics destroyed his sense of style and undermined his instinct for himself. He ceased to write in that delicate, emotional dialect of the people, and wrote and spoke, when he spoke in public, from coarse reasoning’.

He said Hyde ‘wrote out of imitative sympathy’; he was to create a popular movement (the Gaelic League) but Yeats nonetheless mourned for ‘the greatest folklorist who ever lived’… ‘his style is perfect – so sincere and simple – so little literary’.


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In Service to the Morrigan

So, as part of my Meeting the Morrigan Intensive Programme, I answer questions from students who want to know more about the Irish Goddess Morrigan, with whom I have had a solid working relationship for about 15 years now… and the last 13 of them as Her priestess.

8 of those years were spent in daily service (and professional employment), managing Her primary sacred site at Rathcroghan, Co. Roscommon, and guiding visitors in (and safely back out) of the cave known as ‘her fit abode’; Uaimh na gCait, Oweynagat – the Cave of the Cats.

I’m going to occasionally share some of those answers through this blog.

[Find them tagged with ‘Morrigan’, or ‘Class Questions’]

Shannon Duerden Thompson asked: “What about ways to be of service to Her, and to the community?”

There was a blog post and some social media hoo-hah  a while back, originating from a self-styled community ‘elder’ or leader, who was giving out… now, this person is kinda known for giving out, and a whole lot of other problematic shit besides. So, I didn’t read it all.

But the gist was they were giving out about people who tied their activism with their service to Her.

For me, political and social activism is very much a part of my service to Her, and that’s by Her request… so I mean, to each their own.  But for me, that’s very much a part of how I serve.

That whole thing about, y’know, showing up and doing the work – part of that for me is standing up and being present, being a voice for people who can’t speak for themselves.

Now that’s not everybody’s path, and I’m very, very aware of that. I would never want or expect anybody who didn’t feel safe doing that, to feel that was part of the work that they had to do, or that they couldn’t work with the Morrigan unless they were socially/politically active.

But my activism; my politics, my fighting for equality and for everybody to have crazy stuff like basic human rights, is very, very important to me – and to Her, as I understand it – as part of my service to Her and my community.

That’s very much a part of my priesthood, but it’s not all about shouting people down or being on the front lines.

If you’re not able to be on the front lines, there are so many ways that activism work can be done.  Calls, emails, letters and postcards all need sending to lobby politicians and organisations. Having those difficult conversations with family and friends – Click Here for Resources for White Allies.

Support work is also essential, keeping hearth and home.  If somebody is out being a warrior, and that’s not you, that’s fine.  Those warriors need somewhere to come home to.  Those warriors need feeding, those warriors need hugs and minding and healing.

You don’t need me to tell you how fucked the world is right now, whichever part of it you live in.

As well as me doing my own work, on and offline, I am also a voice that calls people out to do their own work.

It has been said that for evil men to accomplish their purpose it is only necessary that good men should do nothing. – Rev. Charles F. Aked

If you’re genuinely doing what you can do, quietly, offline or in private, then those call outs – or calls to action as I prefer to think of them, as I don’t generally personalise them – are not for you.

We all need to take care of ourselves through this, and each other. I totally understand folks only have a certain amount of energy and resources (spoons) to spend – perhaps due to their own trauma, physical or mental limitations, or other responsibilities – and have to figure that accordingly.

A problem occurs though, when you start talking online about what for you might be genuine reasons not to be politically or socially active, and essentially lazy folk around you will hop on that, using it as an excuse to blithely sail on by… Because it’s hard, and they’re not being directly affected (yet), and they’re only looking for excuses to stay comfortable and living the easy life.

Of course, that leaves the people who are directly affected right now with even more work to do, on top of that whole trying to survive thing that they’re doing every single day.

So all of this is part of the service to Her and to the community that I see happening right now, and a need for right now. Feel free to follow me on Facebook for daily activism resources and talking points for allies who work this way, whether you are in service to the Morrigan or not.

(thanks to Marjorie for the transcription service from class, much appreciated!)


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The Irish National Anthem

National Anthems come about, not because of the suitability of the particular words or notes, but because they are adopted generally by the nation. That is exactly how the “Soldiers’ Song” became a National Anthem in this country. It happened to be the Anthem on the lips of the people when they came into their own and when the outsiders evacuated the country and left the insiders here to make the best or the worst of the country. It was adopted by the people here before ever it was adopted by the Executive Council.

Thomas F. O’Higgins, speaking at a Dáil debate on the “Soldiers’ Song” in 1933.

Did you know there are 3 whole other verses to ‘Amhrán na bhFiann‘, which has been the national anthem of the Republic of Ireland since 1926 (officially)?  What we generally hear is just the chorus – which is the only part of the song that’s the official Irish anthem, mind you – but many of my generation don’t even know the words to that much.

When I was growing up, you’d hear it on the telly when the stations were shutting down for the night.  Yeah, they used to do that, genuine downtime – weird isn’t it?  You’d hear it after the show in cinemas and theatres, and at the end of every disco or dance.

It was written in 1907 by Peadar Kearney and Patrick Heaney, called “A Soldier’s Song”, and first published by ‘Irish Freedom’ – a monthly publication by the Irish Republican Brotherhood – in 1912.  The Irish Volunteers sang it on the march, in the internment camps, and the rebels sang it in the GPO during the Easter Rising.

Most of the versions you’ll see online will be just the chorus, but you can Click Here to Get the Full Vocals.  If anybody wants to link to a more, shall we say, pleasant sounding or better quality version, please do in the comments below.  Or y’all who can sing could sing it out for us, and upload or send it over to me.  Ideal!

Most of us though, should learn the words as best we can.  It’s not just a political formality – this is the song your ancestors sung for their freedom.  The lyrics to the national anthem of Ireland are as follows, in Irish and English… but nobody sings it in English.

As Gaeilge

1.
Seo dhibh a cháirde duan oglaidh
Caithréimeach, br’oghmhar, ceolmhar.
ár dteinte cnámh go buacach táid,
`S an spéir go min réaltógach.
Is fionmhar faobhrach sinn chun gleo
‘S go tiúnmhar glé roimh tigheacht do’n ló,
Fa ciúnas chaoimh na h-oidhche ar seol,
Seo libh, cana’dh amhrán na bhFiann.Curfa
Sinne Fianna Fáil atá fé gheall ag Éirinn
Buion dár slua thar toinn do ráinig chugainn
Fémhóid bheith saor. Seantír ár sinsir feasta
Ní fhagfar fé’n tiorán ná fé’n tráil
Anocht a théam sa bhearna bhaoil,
Le gean ar Ghaeil chun báis nó saoil
Le guna screach fé lámhach na bpiléar,
Seo libh, canaídh Amhrán na bhFiann.2.
Cois banta réidhe, ar árdaibh sléibhe.
Ba bhuadhach ár rinnsear romhainn,
Ag lámhach go tréan fá’n sár- bhrat séin
Tá thuas sa ghaoith go seolta;
Ba dhúthchas riamh d’ár gcine cháidh
Gan iompáil riar ó imirt áir,
‘Siubhal mar iad i gcoinnibh rámhaid
Seo libh, canaidh amhrán na bhFiann.Curfa

3.
A buidhean nach fann d’fuil Ghaoidheal is Gall
Sinn breacadh lae na saoirse,
Tá sgéimhle ‘s sgannradh ‘ gcroidhthibh namhad,
Roimh ranngaibh laochra ár dt’re;
ár dteinte is tréith gan spréach anois,
Sin luinne ghlé san spéir anoir,
‘S an b’odhbha i raon na bpiléar agaibh:
Seo libh, canaidh amhrán na bhFiann.

Curfa

In English

(seriously, NOBODY sings it in English)
We’ll sing a song, a soldier’s song
With cheering, rousing chorus
As round our blazing fires we throng,
The starry heavens o’er us;
Impatient for the coming fight,
And as we wait the mornings light
here in the silence of the night
We’ll chant a soldier’s song.Chorus
Soldiers are we, whose lives are pledged to Ireland
Some have come from a land beyond the wave,
Sworn to be free, no more our ancient Ireland
Shall shelter the despot or the slave;
tonight we man the Bearna Baoghal
In Erin’s cause. Come woe or weal;
‘Mid cannon’s roar and rifle’s peal
We’ll chant a soldier’s song.2.
In valley green or towering crag
Our fathers fought before us,
And conquered ‘neath the same old flag
That’s floating o’er us,
We’re children of a fighting race
That never yet has known disgrace,
And as we march the foe to face,
We’ll chant a soldier’s song.Chorus

3.
Sons of the Gael! Men of the Pale!
The Long watched day is breaking;
The serried ranks of Innisfail
Shall set the tyrant quaking.
Our camp fires now are burning low;
See in the east a silvery glow,
Out yonder waits the saxon foe,
So chant a soldier’s song.

Chorus (repeat as if life depends on it)

 


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Vinegar Hill

In 1798, the United Irishmen Rebellion – between May and September – led to over 20,000 deaths, and some estimates would place the toll as high as 50,000.  The Irish were still suffering under the Penal Laws, a system of rule which was called “a machine of wise and elaborate contrivance, as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement in them of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man”, and they’d simply had all they could take.

Vinegar Hill was the base camp for the Wexford Irish Rebels, an estimated troupe of about 20,000 men and women, and even some children who were there seeking shelter, God love them.  The Irish were armed, for the most part, not with firearms or black powder, but with long wooden pikes – a spear between 10ft and 22ft long (up to about 6m), topped with a spearhead of iron or steel.  On 21st June, 1798, about 15,000 British troops, well armed with musket and cannon, attacked the rebel camp in an attempt to crush the insurgency completely.  The Rebel Irish were woken to an artillery bombardment just before dawn, and though they tried at least twice to charge the British lines and break through the encircling forces, they were driven back each time.

A detachment of about 5,000 British soldiers were, at the same time, trying to take the bridge across the River Slaney at Enniscorthy.  Although the Irish were slowly driven out of their barricaded buildings in the town, they held the bridge.  There are recorded tales of stalwart leadership and valorous women, as well as the ensuing horrific atrocities.  Though the Irish had to abandon the hill, the town, and make a tactical withdrawal to re-group the rebellion to the West and North, the battle wasn’t quite the defeat to the Wexford rebels that is often depicted.  You can get the full story and decide for yourself at the distinctively designed National 1798 Rebellion Centre, located just off the N11 and N30 roads.  They are open all year round, and an adult ticket is just €5.50, but check their website for times and full details.

This is Vinegar Hill, in Templeshannon, Co. Wexford, in the South East of Ireland.  The Record of Monuments and Places (RMP) number is WX020-032.  For your Sat Nav, the GPS co-ordinates are 52.503266, -6.553774, and it’s in Irish State guardianship, not ownership, so you don’t have permission to walk the site out across the hill, unless you meet the landowner.

The closest hotel is the Riverside Park Hotel, which can be busy and a bit noisy on weekends but great for those who want to experience some of the culture in historic Enniscorthy.  There’s a great B&B not too far away on the other side of town, Teach Failte, which does a fantastic breakfast and has a warm family welcome.  For something good to eat, the Bailey Café Bar is in a handy location, with free parking, and does a very busy lunch trade for good reason.  Treacey’s Hotel does a great Sunday lunch and The Alamo is hard to beat.  You’re spoiled for choice round here!

From Enniscorthy, head out over the river to the R744, turning off to the right at first crossroads (signposted ‘Vinegar Hill’).  You’re following those brown heritage signs out the road, until you reach GPS 52.500836, -6.547658, and there’s another one there pointing up a narrow lane.  Follow it to the end, and you’ll be looking out across the hill where the battle took place.

 


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Lugh Comes to Tara

Hill of Tara Aerial Wide Angle

It was fierce cold for sure out there, away from the light and heat of the feast.  Eoghan hated gatekeeping duty, but it was his turn and that was that, so there he sat.

Young Fionnuala had slipped him a wineskin full of the best from inside in the kitchens, so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been at least.  He could hear the occasional strain of the harp though, and the odd waft of roasted meat drifted up to him even there, causing his mouth to water and his belly to rumble, and his mood to darken even further.  He’d told Fionnuala there was no need for guard duty this night – the walls at Tara were the soundest in the land, and sure everyone who would be coming was inside already.  Nobody missed a feast of the Tuatha De Danaan.

Sudden thumping from outside the gates jolted him out of a doze and made a liar of him,  for there was most definitely someone there who wasn’t inside already, and didn’t want to miss the feast at Tara, judging by the clatter they were causing.  Owen made his way down to the small gate and pulled back the hatch so he could see the head of whoever was outside.

The warrior, for he was undoubtedly a warrior, was alone, and he looked pleasant enough.  There was a fierce brightness about him, even in the gloom of the evening, which Eoghan couldn’t account for, so he left that thought alone and reverted to his customary gate query – who was this stranger disturbing the peace at Tara, and what did he want.  He was called Lugh, this bright warrior, and he wanted to join the feast within.  But sure the seats were all full, and everyone who was supposed to be coming was inside already; what did they need another for?

Well, it turns out this young man could lay claim as a master Builder, one of the best in all of Eireann, and surely that would gain him a place at the King’s table?  But no, Eoghan said, for the Tuatha De Danaan already had the best of Builders, and sure what would they be needing another for?  Well, it turns out this young man was also a master Brazier, one of the best in all of Eireann, and could keep the fires in all of Tara lit and tended no matter what came.  Surely that would gain him a place at the King’s table?  But no, Eoghan said, for the Tuatha De Danaan already had the best of Braziers, and sure what would they be needing another for?  Well, it turns out this young man was also a master Harper, one of the best in all of Eireann, and his music would soothe the very soul of any who heard it.  Surely that would gain him a place at the King’s table?  But no, Eoghan said, for the Tuatha De Danaan already had the best of Harpers, and sure what would they be needing another for?  They progressed through a range of skills:  Lugh was a Smith who could craft with any metal, a Champion of all games and arts, a Poet who could charm or curse with equal skill, an Historian who would recite the families and battles of all Eireann through the ages, a Cup-bearer who would never spill a drop, a Magician who could control the very world around them, and even a Physician who could cure all ills, excepting if a head be cut clean off.  But no, Eoghan said, for the Tuatha De Danaan had all of these people skilled in such things, and sure what would they be needing another for?

Ah now, says Lugh, and tell me Gatekeeper – but do you have any man or woman within the walls of Tara who can do ALL of these things?  Eoghan was forced to admit that no, they did not, and the stranger was welcomed on the back of that.  Lugh was announced as the Ildánach – the many skilled one – and that was the first they’d heard of him, though not the last.

But sure, they are all stories for another day.

 


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Abortion in Ireland – Did You Know?

Aer Lingus

I went down to this little child, because she was a child… I got down on my knees in the aisle, and I asked her was she ok?  She said, “No”.  She was upset, and she said, she had had an abortion that afternoon in London.  Now if you know anything about flying, you don’t fly after having a tooth out, for fear of haemorrhaging.  Now she’s sitting in her seat… there was nobody with her, she was on her own…  because of the severity of the matter, we had no choice, we couldn’t wait to get back to Dublin.  That plane was diverted into Liverpool.  And my memory… was of that girl – the ambulance men came on, they very discretely looked after everything, and nobody knew anything, they took her off – and she SCREAMED, all the way down on that stretcher, for us not to tell her parents back in Ireland.

That was an experience from the 1980’s, told by Derry-Ann Morgan, a former employee of Ireland’s national airline, to the crowd of activists, protestors and passers-by attending a Pro-Choice Rally on a very cold Saturday in May 2013, in Ireland’s capital city.  That a girl of 15 years old would be subjected to such trauma, on finding herself pregnant in circumstances that simply did not allow for her to birth and raise a child, is unthinkable.  But sure, that was 30 years ago.  So much has changed in Ireland since then!

Highlights from the 80’s here on the island include an amendment to the Irish constitution, just to be sure to be sure than none of our poor wee Irish babbies might get killed unnecessarily.  Driven by fear of abortion in other countries, the 8thAmendment in 1983 made it illegal for a woman to travel for an abortion, and illegal to even provide information, or speak to a pregnant woman in Ireland about how or where she could travel for abortion to another country.  That same year, it was reported that an Irish mother of two named Sheila Hodgers was refused treatment for her progressive cancer, even down to not being allowed proper pain medication, due to the risk it posed to the foetus she was carrying at the time.  Her husband repeatedly requested an abortion, but was refused.  The hospital had to abide by a code of ethics drawn up with the Catholic Church, which would not even allow for a Caesarean section, as there was a chance of damage to the foetus.  Following a premature labour, the baby died a few hours after birth, and Ms. Hodgers lasted only two days longer.

It’s a good thing the Government of Ireland has managed to wriggle out from under the thumb of the Church in 2017, so a travesty like that couldn’t possibly happen again, isn’t it? 

Oh no, wait, they haven’t yet. 

When the death of Savita Halappanavar, an Indian dentist residing in Ireland, hit the news, the nation, and the world, was shocked.  Ms. Halappanavar died in October 2012, after she had sought help at the University Hospital in Galway as she was suffering a foetal miscarriage at 17 weeks.  On being told the foetus was not viable, Savita requested an abortion, but was then informed the hospital could not perform an abortion under Irish Law as the foetus’s heart was still beating.  A few days after, Ms. Halappanavar was diagnosed with septicaemia, leading to multiple organ failure, and death of both mother and foetus.

This happened despite the 1992 ‘X Case’ in which the Supreme Court decided that a pregnant woman could have an abortion to save her life, including from suicide – which was based on the case of X, a 14 year old girl who had been made pregnant by rape, and wanted the right of an abortion.  This led to the 13th, and 14th Amendments of the Constitution, stating that the prohibition on abortion would not limit the freedom of pregnant women to travel out of the state, and that the prohibition of abortion would not limit the right to distribute information about abortion services in foreign countries.  Neither of which was of any use to Savita, whose husband reported that a nurse in the hospital told them their repeated requests for abortion had to be denied, because “Ireland is a Catholic country”.

How horrific.  How utterly, incomprehensibly tragic all of that is.  Janet, who has been a pro-choice activist in Ireland for 24 years, recounts what she views as the best experience for a woman in Ireland today:

At 5 to 7 weeks… they illegally obtain the medical abortion pills online… they order them, risking charges for importing a Class A drug without a license, and with their partner or friend take them over the course of a weekend and have an abortion at home with everything they might need, or booked into a hotel room.

And what, in her experience, is the worst experience for an Irish woman who faces the choice today?

It is not to do with if they have travelled, or how far along they were, or what type of abortion they have had.  It is simply the isolation which comes with not having anyone to talk to about the experience…  We know that 150,000 women who gave Irish addresses have travelled to the UK, it may be more…  That is so many women passing each other each day and not knowing they have that shared experience, and being unable to support each other.

The Pro-Choice Rally in May 2013 was timed to coincide with a 3 day Government committee hearings on proposed new legislation, following publication of the ‘Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013’.  Dr. Sinead Kennedy of the ‘Action on X’ group, organisers of the rally, spoke of her feeling with regard to the Bill, and the debate that surrounds it:

We had the spectacle beginning yesterday of politicians debating the merits of allowing women lifesaving abortions.  Debating how many years in prison – 5, 10, 15, 20 – vulnerable women in difficult situations will be subjected to, if they try and access abortions here in this country.  Listening to politicians who seem to think that they’re bishops back in the 1950’s, who think that women are no more than vessels or incubators.

We need to tell this government that we will not accept legislation that excludes suicide.  Women will not be subjected to panels of 3, 4, 7 doctors (to decide if they may have a termination).  This is outrageous, it is barbaric.  And women must not and will not be criminalised in their own country, for accessing abortion.  (This Bill doesn’t provide) access to abortion for women who are victims of rape or incest, it doesn’t provide access for women who have fatal foetal abnormality, it does nothing to address the issue of when a woman’s health is in jeopardy because of her pregnancy – and more than that it doesn’t do ANYTHING to address the 5,000 women who travel abroad every single year to Europe, who are criminalised in their own country, and treated like exiles.  And we will not tolerate this anymore.

It is surreal to think that under the proposed legislation, a 14 year old rape victim such as the girl in the X case, who is proven to have taken abortion pills in Ireland, would be subject to a 14 year prison sentence.  Her attacker, if convicted, would be likely to face a 7 year jail term, the current average.  As reprehensible as the situation is though, Dr. Kennedy is satisfied that things are moving in the right direction.  She said that this legislation is the bare minimum we need, and while it is highly restrictive, and insulting that we have to stand out and demand this, it is nevertheless an important defeat for anti-abortionists.  This, finally, is a step in the right direction.

The Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013 now defines the circumstances and processes within which abortion in Ireland can be legally performed. It allows for abortion where pregnancy endangers a woman’s life, including through a risk of suicide. It was signed into law on 30 July by Michael D. Higgins, the President of Ireland, and commenced on 1 January 2014. To determine whether the pregnant person is truly at risk, her case is put before a panel of up to 4 doctors and specialists, who must concur on the ruling.

There are no restrictions or checks in place for the religious beliefs of any of those doctors.

In a conversation with Katherine O’Donnell, director of the Women’s Studies Centre at University College, Dublin, she speculated:

Besides women who are ‘out’ about needing terminations for medical reasons, there is no big visible presence of women who have chosen to terminate pregnancies for other reasons, it is left to a few activists and organisations (such as Choice Ireland and Doctors for Choice)…  so many thousands of Irish women annually terminate pregnancies, but there is no visible mass movement.  We seem to have as many Irish women who are saying they were ‘hurt by abortion’ or that abortion is harmful, as those who are affirming it as a positive choice in their lives.  If even a small fraction of Irish women told their abortion stories, I think it might be the way to unlock the long impasse where the argument about abortion goes into arcane abstractions rather than lived lives.

In 2013, it was estimated that 12 women leave Ireland every day to secure an abortion, while countless others are taking pills purchased online.  Abortion is the most common gynaecological procedure an Irish woman is likely to have.  It is variously estimated that between one in 10 and one in 15 Irish women of reproductive age have had an abortion.  An Irish woman is more likely to have had an abortion than appendectomy or tonsillectomy.

It is time for Ireland to accept that the Abortion War will not be won by anything but safety and support for Ireland’s women, and the right  – regardless of the situation – of an Irish woman to make the best possible choice she can for her own life.

You can provide support and keep up to date at the Abortion Rights Campaign Ireland Website.

 

[A version of this article was first published in Ms. Magazine, in the Summer issue of 2013, researched and written by Lora O’Brien.]

 

My First Year with the Morrigan – Guest Post

Guest Post - Graveyard

It began at a hospital bedside in Western North Carolina.

Holding my grandmother’s hand as she took her final soft, short breaths. She was surrounded by the people closest to her, being loved and supported as she slipped away into the Otherworld.

There was something mesmerizing about that moment. In the days that followed, as the grief settled in, I replayed it over and over in my mind.

Despite the pain, there was something so peaceful and beautiful there. I wished I could go where she’d gone… except for the permanent part. Like a death nap, maybe. Where I could wake up in a couple hours.

I’m not sure if She had noticed me before then, but that’s when The Morrigan really began reaching out to me. As the ache of loss threatened to drown me, She appeared.

She met me in a bookstore one night, with I see Fire by Ed Sheeran playing on the loudspeakers and an article about Herself in a magazine I happened to pick up.

And if we should die tonight

Then we should all die together

Raise a glass of wine for the last time

Calling out father, oh

Prepare as we will

Watch the flames burn o’er and o’er

The mountain side

— “I See Fire” by Ed Sheeran

She began to whisper to me there. I felt Her presence in the car on the way home, offering relationship.

I was honest. “I’ve heard you’re not to be trifled with,” I said. “I don’t want to make a commitment until I know what I’m getting into.”

I began to research Her while crows took up residence in my yard. I took Lora’s annual Meeting The Morrigan intensive programme. And finally I stood before an altar that had become Her altar and committed to Her for a year-and-a-day.

And then all Hell broke loose.

Long-forgotten traumas resurfaced, demanding to be dealt with. Relationships that maybe weren’t that good for me anyway strained to the breaking point. It seemed there was chaos all around me. Donald Trump was elected President of the US.

Somewhere in the midst of this chaos, She helped me find my backbone. A backbone I’d never realized I had, much less deployed. I began creating boundaries, and sticking to them. When my parents took their lifelong verbal abuse a step too far, I cut them out of my life. Forever. When one of my closest friends just couldn’t make time for me, I said goodbye. When my job expected me to keep working for free so we could get investment on the grounds that I’d have a tiny ownership stake, I quit.

Not gonna lie, each and every one of those things felt like a dagger in the gut. They hurt. But as I sit here on the other side, 3 months into my second year-and-a-day (which She and I both know at this point is really permanent), I am amazed at my own growth.

She put me through the fire – or perhaps She saw the fire coming and went through it with me. Either way, I am no longer the same person I was sitting at Grandma’s deathbed. I’m stronger than I ever imagined I could be, and I still have a long way to go.

This month I attended a memorial for another family member. I was consumed with anxiety beforehand about seeing my dad there. Would he confront me? Would he whisper something triggering in my ear just to see my reaction?

I discussed my fears with Herself. And when the day came, my dad skipped the memorial service and went straight to the cemetery. The moment I arrived there, he left. The bully was scared of me.

It’s a small, rural cemetery on the side of a mountain in Western North Carolina. It’s not Ireland – although there are people buried here who were born there. Some of my people who are buried here are only a generation or two removed from Eire.

But somehow, I don’t think that’s why The Great Queen showed Herself that day. I think it’s because I’m Hers.

And that is worth every bit of the upheaval of the last year.

 


Check Out this Guest Poster’s Blog Here, for the Journey from Cult to Freedom:  www.PentecostalToPagan.com


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Winter Solstice Greetings from Ireland

Winter Solstice in Ireland - Bonfire Sparks

Being Pagan in Ireland is a little different, I think, than being Pagan anywhere else.

We’re an odd lot, and we value individual strength, as long as it doesn’t upset the apple cart of family/community tradition, or give the neighbours anything bad to talk about.

I’m a… well, I don’t actually have a label that fits what I am or what I do, and that’s fairly reflective of Irish Paganism generally.

I’m an Irish heritage professional, a journalist, copywriter, a guide, an author – all things I’ve done or still do for my ‘day job’.

Personally, the term Draoi is the closest accurate description I’ve got, a ‘user of magic’.

Traditionally I might have been called a Bean Feasa (wise woman), but it seems a little arrogant to take that on for oneself. Before that, perhaps a Druid, though modern Druidry is very different to what that word means to me.

I am spiritual, but not religious, and I have a solid working relationship with the Gods, Guides and Guardians of old Ireland, and our sacred places.

How does all that translate into today’s Irish Christmas?
Most folk here go to mass on the eve or day, even if it’s only their token attendance of the year.

Besides the fact of the Catholic Church in Ireland essentially stopping anybody from leaving their organisation (is it just me, or is that a little cult-like? Illegal, even?) – Irish people are still stuck in ‘the done thing’, so babies are baptised, kids make communion and confirmation, and most people still get married in the church.

Many of us know that Winter Solstice is a much older tradition than our modern Christmas.

There’s the world famous Newgrange alignment, and the new but old City of Dublin Winter Solstice Celebration, with much more going on around the country, publicly and formalised just in the last few years.

Before that, you’d have to know someone who knows someone to get a personal invite to a genuine celebration rooted in Irish Spirituality.

So, raising kids in Ireland, interacting with non-Pagan friends and family, working, and all that jazz, you kinda have to do the Christmas thing, to some extent at least. But Winter Solstice is still a big deal, and getting more so.

How do we Irish Pagans handle that?

Winter Solstice in Ireland

We have a party.

Every year, on the Saturday before Christmas. We invite everybody we know. We start late afternoon, and carries on til the wee small hours.

This is the time of year we acknowledge the deepest and longest darkness, and make a point of balancing it with the lights of food and fire and feasting, family and friends.

And every year, I take a personal vigil through the longest night, to greet the sun the following morning. It’s a mark of respect, a point of sacrifice, and a time for quiet reflection on the balance of dark and light in my life, in my spirit. Time to adjust as necessary.

Do I think the sun won’t rise unless I am there to greet it? No, not as such… but I guess it doesn’t hurt to be sure, right?

You’re welcome ;o)

Have a Cool Yule folks, a Peaceful and Blessed Winter Solstice, and a Happy Christmas – wherever you are, whoever you’re with, and whatever you believe in.

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An Irish Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice Fire

The Longest Night.

A woman sits by her fire, wrapped in a blanket to keep out the chill, watching the flames in the quiet of a room.

Her house is silent around her, family sleeping as she waits. Lights burn through the darkest hours.

When the deep blackness begins to lessen, she makes her way outside, searching the horizon.

A shaft of light appears, a bright lance across the land – winter is broken… Summer will return.

She smiles, then returns inside, sticks on the kettle and hops in the shower, before driving herself to work.

What? Did you think we were looking at a scene from long ago? Perhaps, but come the 21st of December, this ancient ritual will be repeated in houses all over Ireland. Meán Geimhridh, Midwinter, brings a vigil through the darkness, waiting for the new-born sun.

Irish people have been marking the return of the sun for at least 5,000 years. We have built vast and complex monuments around it, and not just Newgrange. You don’t even have to be a politician or lucky in the Winter Solstice lottery to see these wonders of a by-gone age.

Knockroe Passage tomb in Co. Kilkenny, which has been called ‘the Newgrange of the Southeast’, is a fine example, which contains extensive megalithic art, and not one, but two, chambers with astrological alignments; showing light through the chambers at both sunrise and sunset on the Winter Solstice. Or take a look at Drombeg Circle in Co. Cork, a beautiful ring of standing stones which frames a flat topped rock, aligning to the horizon where the sun sets on the Longest Night.

Many traditions, now associated with Christmas and the holiday season, have their origins in the pre-Christian past. We are lucky now to have such a beautiful blend of customs, fitted exactly to the Irish psyche and community spirit.

In bringing the evergreen tree inside, we remind ourselves of life within the seeming death of winter, of sustenance and growth that continues through the darkest times. Plants such as holly and ivy compliment this theme, and not forgetting mistletoe, which was especially sacred to our Druidic ancestors as a fertility symbol. Be careful who you kiss under the mistletoe at this year’s parties!

Decorating the tree with candles, and reflective items such as mirrors and silver coins, in the past stood for an amplification of the natural energies of the living greenery; bringing more light and life to the darkness, throwing it around the room. Today we use dodgy flickering fairy lights, glitter and tinsel, but the principle is the same. And safer, for the inevitable puppy or toddler tree attacks.

Green is the colour of life, and health, but so too is red – the bright blood of life that flows through our veins, keeping our hearts beating and our senses alive. Before a certain drinks company decided it’d look great on the jolly fat guy with the beard, the colour red was valued as a decoration and a reminder of life throughout our homes for the Winter Solstice season.

Wren Day, or Lá an Dreoilín in Irish, was continued until recent times on Stephen’s Day, with troupes of kids (known as wrenboys) going round the village or town with a fake bird on a decorated stick, singing or dancing and asking ‘a penny for the wren’. A little further back, we see a more grizzly form of this, in the hunting and capture of a live bird, which was then used to decorate the pole and held pride of place as a centrepiece for the dance that followed.

In a time of sickness and death for the weak, this may be an echo of an older sacrifice to the Gods of Winter; take one life and spare the others through the darkness until the coming of Spring. Or with the ‘winter-wren’ being a symbol of the old year, maybe the people simply wanted to make sure that it was well and truly done with.

The singing and dancing part of that tradition is pleasant, at least, and brings us to another Winter Solstice favourite, the feasting and the parties. This is one that most of us keep up, to one degree or another, and having a good party to look forward to can get us through the darkest, coldest mornings.

Winter is the time we naturally draw in on ourselves, it can be the loneliest, harshest time of year. It’s not just the cold that brings us down, it’s the lack of light, and company. In days gone by there was a serious food scarcity through the dark winter days too – but a bright feast, filled with family and friends, was the perfect reminder that the time of dark death still held strong seeds of light and life.

So, enjoy your parties!

Samhain with the Morrigan

Honeysuckle and Blackthorn Twist

I observe Samhain from dark moon to dark moon.

When I first went ‘public’ with this over 3 years ago, it seemed a novel idea to many folks, and maybe a little bit… extreme or some shit?

But it’s always made sense to me, for a few reasons:

  • 31st October as modern Samhain/Halloween doesn’t correlate with the original calendar date for the festival, because of calendars being moved about by a number of days.
  • ‘The original calendar date for the festival’ doesn’t even really make sense either… did our ancestors use calendars and view time the way we do?
  • References to ‘celebrating’ Samhain in Irish lore are most often along the lines of a 3 day festival or event, not one single night.
  • The lunar cycle has always felt energetically important at this time of year for me, where it doesn’t play a HUGE role ordinarily – that’s pure personal gnosis though.

 

So, this is how it works.

I check for the astronomical data on new moons on Irish time in October and November.

The night before a listed new moon is the dark moon – there’s usually a 3 day period of ‘New Moon’ that’s actually the very last sliver of the old moon, then the dark moon, then the very first sliver of the new moon.

The dates are simple and clear this year (2017), the New Moon is Thursday 19th October at 8.36pm Irish Time, so tomorrow is the Dark Moon – Wednesday 18th. In November, the New Moon is on Saturday 18th at 7.51am, so the Dark Moon on Friday 17th, and that clearly encompasses the calendar date of 31st October in the middle.

Sometimes the dates are a little less clear, so I always just pick the dark moon to dark moon that has the 31st October somewhere in there between them.

 

What To Do?

Mostly, my practice involves showing up consistently. It’s one of my ‘3 Cs’ of spiritual work:

  • Connection – authentic, energetic, emotional, intellectual, culturally respectful, contextualised in the established lore, communicative, conscious connection.
  • Contract – practice built on relationships and agreed terms, give and take, and the basic boundaries of regular rightful relationship, just as we would have in this world… but carefully laid out in contract, and regularly reviewed too!
  • Consistency – just showing up every day, every week, and doing the work; it sounds simple, but we humans are the ones who are very prone to be distracted by shiny things, funnily enough, and often give a strong start that peters out in very little time. Don’t do that.

 

Exactly what work I’ll be doing when I show up every day through my Samhain cycle varies from year to year.

Currently, I know it definitely involves morning tending and prayer at the Mórrígan altar (click for more info that) before my household wakes, continuing with my ‘Get in the Sea once in each 7 day period’ for at least the full run of this (I’m hoping for the sake of my poor, frostbitten fingers that I will be able to shelve that one at east ‘til the warmer weather once Samhain is done), and I’ll need to get out with bare feet on the earth under the sky and see the moon, every single night.

I’ve a few other ideas as to what I might have to do… but I’m hoping they’re not necessary. Still holding out hope for an easy life over here someday, as I’m pretty sure this shouldn’t be approached like the Ordeal Olympics with folk vying for who has the most hard-core contractual load being placed on them.

Essentially, I’m lazy as fuck, and if I wasn’t being God-bothered to do this stuff, I’d be tucked up in my Batman jammies and cozy toes slippers, HAPPY OUT.

Anyway, I’ll keep ye posted how the Samhain cycle progresses, but be prepared for me being even more than usually grumpy with the Mórrígan, and now Manannán Mac Lir (click for more info on him) for good measure, as I get even more God-bothered into doing shit I don’t want to be doing, and don’t even really understand why I have to do be doing it.

How’s your Halloween season shaping up?!


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