As part of our annual 6 month Intensive Programme, I answer questions from students who want to know more about the Irish Goddess Mórrígan, with whom I have had a solid working relationship for about 15 years now… and the last 13 of them as Her priest.
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’]
Iníon Preacháin asked: “Why do you feel She is showing such an interest in “recruiting” devotees (for lack of better terms) at this time?”
Okay, well, the short answer to that is: look around. The world needs Mórrígan devotees, or people who are doing the work for humanity and for communities.
The longer answer is, that it isn’t just at this time. She has been doing this for a long time, and she’s been preparing for a long time, and again, that’s my experience of it, but it also plays out in the lore.
Everybody talks about the Mórrígan as a battle goddess, and she absolutely is involved in battles because battles shape history and battles shape communities and wars are fought, the outcome of which is part of a much bigger picture, and it’s the bigger picture stuff that the Mórrígan is in charge of. In my experience.
And I think, though that is my experience, the lore plays that out, and her role as a prophet or goddess of prophecy is very much an integral part of that, but also her… I was gonna say ‘meddling,’ meddling is the wrong word, but her involvement in seemingly small things and small stories which end up playing a very big role in battles to come or in the outcome of certain battles or wars that are being fought, and changes.
She is a goddess of change.
At this time, we need somebody who knows what’s going on, absolutely, and she needs people on the ground doing the work that – y’know, she can lead the horse to water, but she can’t directly interfere with… I mean, she does directly interfere with people, with individuals, but she can’t shape things on a bigger scale herself. She has to do it through individuals. And I think that’s where the recruitment drive is coming from, but actually the recruitment drive has been going on for a long time. I think that it has become global, now, but this is not new.
This poem, it was one of my first calls from her. (Click to Read Poem)
It was written at Bealtaine of 2004. It’s from the Irish Witchcraft book, which was my first book, but actually she had been calling for a long time before that. I was tattooed with crows, for example, before this poem was written or that book was written. She’s been calling since, I would say, since the turn of the millennium. Since about 2000, there has been a very specific gathering of the forces in Ireland, on the ground in Ireland, around her sites, and the work that she has had me doing here has been to disseminate real information and education because that wasn’t happening back then. At all.
All through the 90s, there was a lot of shite about Irish traditions and Irish culture specifically, and very little that was real. Everybody was shit-scared of her, but really very little about her and certainly nothing of value about her was available to the general public – there wasn’t even the interest and the understanding that the source lore and the literature we have is so important to us now as modern pagans working with her. I mean, that just wasn’t there in the 90s.
Your average pagan now is, believe it or not, much better read and much more versed in the lore than your average pagan was back then. Just from the sheer availability, I think of it, with the coming of the Internet and the raised standards in publishing – and yes, they are raised, believe it or not again, you might not appreciate just how bad things used to be. There was a huge gap between academic research and the access that people could have to academia. Scholarship was very much far removed from the standard pagan community, except in small pockets and some individuals. And that was the teachers, never mind students.
So the work that she’s had me doing since she got her hooks in me is to try and bring some of that to the wider communities, and to teach people the importance of it. Now I’m not academic, I mean, I’ve studied psychology, but that was me going back as a mature student. The only other college learning I have is in art college, so that’s fuck-all useful to anybody, unless you’re artistic, which I am, or was at least, but…yes, so, I’m not an academic, but one of the things that she had me do was get my head around the literature and try and find ways to translate it. I don’t mean translate it from Old Irish – thankfully that work is being done but that is not my work, thank the gods, I’ve never had to learn Old Irish. Morgan Daimler is doing excellent work in that, poor Morgan, we’ll have her worked to death before she has the entire Ulster Cycle translated by the time I’m finished with her. And Isolde Carmody, who is one half of the Story Archaeology team, who you will hear lots and lots and lots about from me, has been doing sterling translation work too.
None of that work was being done at the time though, and the recruitment that we’re seeing now is just a step above that. It’s just where that has reached a kind of a critical mass where it’s spilling over into the wider world and really my feeling is that she was consolidating her base ground for the last decade and in the last five or so years things have kind of stepped up and moved on from that.
As ever, I’m wary of projecting my own stuff because that above has been very much my experience, but then as I started to travel away from my beloved isle and get out and about in the world, rather than everybody coming to me at the Cave and through Rathcroghan Heritage Centre – which is lovely and I much prefer, I have to say, I hate leaving Ireland, moan moan whine whine… Since I’ve started getting out and about in the world, I have noticed there is a mirroring of many people’s experience in that it’s not just my experience, it’s that now is the time.
There’s been a couple of organizations started up in recent years. The Coru Priesthood, for example, and I know some of our course members have started priesthoods in Texas and Connecticut, and eventually I will have to start one here in Ireland. I don’t want to be doing any of this work, to be honest. If I could get away with doing none of this work I would be totally getting away with that and living a much easier life, but my next project is going to be is a priesthood here in Ireland and I’m not sure what that’s going to look like, yet, but before of that I have a serious initiation I have to do, which again, I’ve been putting off because it’s scary.
A lot of that is going on here, and it is very much mirrored out in the world, and I think that the answer to it, to the question ‘why do I feel that there’s such an interest’, is because she’s so concerned with the bigger picture, and the bigger picture is fucked right now. Absolutely fucked.
Anybody in class (or reading this blog) who is not aware of just how fucked the bigger picture is on so many different levels – if you’re going to be on my Facebook, so you’ll find out very quickly if you’re not aware already… and awareness is the first key. It’s through educating ourselves that we understand the work that needs to be done on a big scale, but also on our doorstep and on ourselves.
Part of taking this course, I hope, is doing that work on yourself so that you’re ready then to do whatever work is needed of you out in the world.
In the center of Waterford there lies a place which long ago was the stronghold of the ‘Fir Bolgs’. This place is a large Lios descending into the ground for about two feet, and then in underneath for about four yards. At the end of this a round room is entered.
This room is built around with brick on either side. In the left hand side there is a trap door and a long dismal passage going down for about three feet and then there is heard the soft lapping of the river. About three miles down is the river. The Lios is surrounded by a deep trench going all around it. There is a legend told about the Lios, true or not.
There was a widow who had her house not very far from the Lios. This poor woman had only one child, a little girl. The child, when young used to spend her time picking flowers.
So, one May evening, she was picking a bunch of flowers as usual when she heard strange music in the direction of the Lios. The girl was young and had no sense and went to examine the matter. When she came near the Lios she saw a strange sight, a band of fairy people dancing, singing and playing music.
But, to the girls amazement, they advanced towards her and laid a magic spell over her and changed her into a fairy. Then they went back to the Lios with their comrades and all was over until morning.
In the morning the child thought of home, in spite of the magic spell that had bewitched her. She succeeded in arriving at the Lios when she found herself in the most admirable land of dolls, boys, dresses and everything that could attract one. She began to play with her new toys and forgot all about home. Soon the Queen took her by the hand and brought into a room.
She was made sit on a stool and was handed a bottle of milk and a whitethorne branch. She drank it and she was changed into a Princess.
When the Queen died she became Queen of Fairyland and was over all the fairies.
The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0637, Page 129
Image and data © National Folklore Collection, UCD.
This blog has a lot of new visitors, and I’m really glad to see that! But I also don’t want to be fooling anyone into being a part of a community with me if the fit isn’t right either, you know?
So, I figured I’d give ye a little dose of who I really am, like right down to the core. And if you don’t like that for any reason, and are actually a racist (whether you call yourself that or not) just jog on. Simple!
First off, I use a lot of sweary words. My son (12yo) got a bit scandalised a while back hearing me chatting with Eilís on a ‘Your Irish Connection’ — Check it Here — interview on my Youtube Channel, because I was cursing – “That’s not very professional Mam!”, says he. Well… it is what it is.
Second off, it’s not just my personal belief and lived experience that all people are equal and deserve the same human rights and safe community and care… it’s a fundamental part of the Irish experience. There’s a whole lot of bullshit floating around in the European Heritage communities that’s basically, and sometimes overtly (I’m looking at you Carolyn Emerick, mega shitehawk and peddler of appropriative racist codswallop), white supremacy, fascism, and neo nazi nonsense.
That’s not who the Irish are, or ever were.
Look, we’re not perfect. Modern Ireland can be really ignorant at times, and our lack of exposure to other cultures can be painfully obvious in the unthinking attitudes and beliefs of the people – but as a nation we truly, genuinely care for our fellow people all over the globe. We’re ranked the ninth most generous country in the world, and given the economic climate of the last few years, that’s pretty fucking cool.
It goes back further than modern charitable donations though. Even back to a time when we were on the brink of another famine, severely under the thumb of english rule and SUFFERING… we were still aware and working to support the civil rights movement in America.
Consider a quote from Daniel O’Connell, in 1843:
“How can the generous, the charitable, the humane, and the noble emotions of the Irish heart have become extinct amongst you? How can your nature be so totally changed as that you should become the apologists and advocates of the execrable system which makes man the property of his fellow man – destroys the foundation of all moral and social virtues – condemns to ignorance, immorality and irreligion, millions of our fellow creatures …? It was not in Ireland that you learned this cruelty…Over the broad Atlantic I pour forth my voice saying come out of such a land you Irishmen, or if you remain and dare continue to countenance the system of slavery that is supported there, we will recognize you as Irishmen no longer!”
– Daniel O’Connell. (irishamerica.com/2011/08/the-irish-abolitio…)
Irish people have ALWAYS held kinship with the minorities, the downtrodden, the immigrants, the unwanted, the pillaged, the ethnically cleansed. We have been them, and our hearts remember. Our warrior spirit fights alongside those who need our support.
Here’s your Irish Connection Resources on this topic, mo chairde. [click the headlines for links]
(by O’Connell, Daniel, 1775-1847. Publication date 1860. Topics Slavery — United States)
Frederick Douglass Photograph: MPI/Getty Images
Tom Chaffin, writing for the Irish Times, assesses the influence of his time in poverty-ridden and religiously divided Ireland, on the anti-slavery campaigner Frederick Douglass. To the end of his life, he fondly remembered his 1840s lecture tour of Ireland and the welcoming reception he had been accorded. And though many Irish-Americans often opposed his civil rights efforts, he also viewed the Irish, in both Ireland and America, as a persecuted people.
To get an Irish Resources email like this (though usually a little less grumpy?! No promises mind you) delivered to you each Monday, join our Community Mailing List for your Authentic Irish Connection…
A version of this article on the Rag Tree in the Irish Tradition first appeared as a guest post on the Call of the Morrigan community blog in 2016.
So, I’ve worked for the last 14 years as a professional tour guide to the sacred sites of Ireland, and let me tell ya, I’ve seen some shit. And some of that involves the Rag Tree tradition.
Or rather, the mangling of our rag tree tradition!
8 of those years were spent managing the sites and visitor centre at the royal complex of Rathcroghan, Cruachan; which (as many of you know, unless you’re believing the nonsense that there’s no Morrigan sites in Connacht), is where the Mórrígan ‘resides’ – Her primary site in Ireland is the Cave of the Cats, Uaimh na gCait.
This site is an ancient cave, worked by human hands in later times, known as the primary physical entrance to the Irish Otherworld, which Medieval Christian scribes referred to ‘the Gates of Hell’ due to the unfortunate amount of monsters and demons (to their perception) which flowed out from this hole in the earth on an all too regular basis.
I’m probably telling y’all stuff you already know here, if you’re folk who are interested in Herself. Although, I’ve also seen some pure shite being said by folk who claim to know all about Herself… so a quick recap never does any harm. I’ve been Her priestess for 13 years, and I know how hard she pushes us to do the work, and how important real information is to Her.
But what you might not be aware of, and what I’d really, really, like you to be aware of (and tell all your mates), is the absolute misconceptions and horrific disrespect that Pagan or ‘spiritual’ visitors to Ireland show at our sites.
In Ireland, we have long had the custom of the ‘Raggedy Bush’ or Rag Tree, and there’s similar in Scotland, with what they call ‘clooties’ tied to certain trees.
The trees are Hawthorn, one of our most prominent native trees/bushes – Crataegus Monogyna, or in Irish, the Sceach Gheal. The Irish name literally means something like, ‘that which makes the hedgerow bright’, and when it’s covered in colourful rags it sure does. Most often, there’s a particular hawthorn, growing near a particular holy well, and this is the local Rag Tree.
Occasionally there’s no well or spring to be found, but my theory on that is that there used to be one and it’s gone now, or that the misconceptions around Rag Trees stretch back further than your average modern American tour group, and some fecker just decided at some stage that a single growing hawthorn was actually a Rag Tree, way back in the mists of time, and it stuck. Now, that doesn’t mean there’s no magic there today… just that it probably didn’t start out that way. The water nearby is a pretty important part of the magic here.
What’s it all about then? Well, basically, the tradition goes that you take a piece of cloth from a sick person, tie it to the tree (often with prayers), and the sickness disappears as the rag rots away. The water nearby is most often a holy or healing well, which helps of course.
Sounds simple enough, right?
From a magical perspective, we’ve got sympathetic magic in the rotting of the fabric – the visual representation of the illness losing power and strength and eventually disintegrating. We’ve got an energetic loop that’s formed between the sick person (it has to be an item they’ve worn while ill, so imbued with their DNA or essence) for illness to flow to the tree, and back the way then with the healing energies from the water, through the roots of the tree.
Make sense? Sure!
You know what doesn’t make sense though? Folk who come along and tie their rubbish to the rag tree. Or tie strings or cloth so tight they damage the tree branches. I’ve removed everything from crème egg (candy) foil wrappers to junk jewellery rings to plastic covered wire wrap ties from the branches of our Rag Trees on this island. Not cool people, not cool. That, at least though, can be written off as ignorance of a ‘quaint’ local tradition they want to be a part of, by people who are really just here for lip smacking the Blarney Stone and the Guinness.
What’s more worrying is the visitors who come to sites where there’s no Rag Tree, on supposed spiritual pilgrimage, and tie their shit to whatever tree happens to be there.
The Cave at Cruachan is a prime example of this. I was a guardian there for 13 years, and for 8 of those I was paid to be in and out of it most days of the week. There’s a hawthorn that grows over the mouth of the cave, but it’s a relatively young one. Maybe 20 or 30 years old is all. It’s a fairy tree in the sense of it being smack bang over the mouth of a Sidhe dwelling, and it’s definitely magical… but it’s not a Rag Tree.
Every week though, there’d be some new bit of tat tied to it. One tour group got a nylon umbrella off their bus, ripped it to bits, and tied the bits to the tree. Then they left the umbrella carcass in the field, got on their bus, and drove off.
There were obviously some who wanted to leave an ‘offering’ at the site, to connect themselves there in some way, and perhaps that’s how some of the cloth strips got into the tree. Maybe some were even cloth from the garments of sick people. But this is not a healing site.
In my experience – personally, and collected from feedback of those who energetically interacted with the site – the entities at this site will gleefully follow any connection you choose to make there, go right back to source, and tear down anything weak that they find there. Ostensibly ‘for your own good’, of course, but they are absolutely merciless about it… if you lay a pathway for them they will follow it.
This is not a good thing, for most people. Especially unprepared people. People who maybe think that Irish entities and Sidhe spirits are essentially pleasant and good natured, full of the craic, and harmless to let in. People who are perhaps sick, and not at full energetic defensive strength.
There was once a baby’s bib tied through the branches of the hawthorn tree at the Morrigan’s Cave. Just take a moment, and let that sink in for yourself.
You see now why I might be a bit ranty on this topic? Can we not do this anymore?
My best advice is to take local advice. If you want to find a real Rag Tree, there’s websites and books that will tell you where to begin your search, but first and foremost you should be talking to local people.
Get exact directions. Check that the tree you think might be the one is actually the one.
DON’T tie things that are not biodegradable to the trees – to any tree?! Tying strings and straps around our trees that stay there for years – I’ve literally seen the poor trees trying to grow around the shite that has been tied to them – will, in the worst cases, literally strangle and kill the branch it’s tied on, and sicken the whole tree.
And remember, just because some eejit has tied something to it before you got there, doesn’t make it a Rag Tree.
Please, be sure?
Fadó, fadó, sure there were only the 2 seasons in Ireland. Summer and Winter.
Even after things moved on, for people, and for the land, these main boundaries in time loomed large every year for the Irish people.
And the turning between the two was a time of magic, and mayhem… you’d never even know what could happen as the boundaries shifted and the worlds changed.
At Samhain, from Summer into Winter; and again at Bealtaine, from Winter back to Summer.
So, here we are now, on that very threshold. What is the magic that might happen, on May Eve in Ireland?
Long time ago now, the young children – especially girls – used to go around from house to house dressed in beautiful flowers. Think about the other side of this, with the Halloween customs we still have, and you’ll see the truth and the balance of it alright. These youngsters used to sing a song at each house, and get a few pence in exchange. They’d sing and bring flowers through the community, all the way around the boundaries.
You could do a bit of divination too, around May eve, if you were of a mind to. First sweep the threshold clean, sprinkle ashes from a fire over it, and watch for the first footprints. If you see the prints turned inwards, it means a marriage; but if you see the prints turned outwards, it means a death.
There’s talk to, of how they used to get a plate and sprinkle it with flour, then leave it at the threshold of the house. At sunset, take a look, and you would see the initials of your true love’s name.
In the old days, they’d also light a bush before the house on May Eve, and that would keep away thunder and lightning. ‘Twas sure to.
Folk would sit up at night on this eve, to be minding their cows and their land – there was a lot of witchcraft worked in those days. And maybe there still is sure, who knows?
One farmer I heard tell of had the experience of seeing a hare one May Eve going around his cows, and drinking a sup of milk from each cow. He chased the hare to a cabin with a hound he had with him. When he went into the cabin an old woman was panting in the bed. There’s a lot of stories like that I heard, when I was growing up here in Ireland.
They used also light a fire on May Eve too, and drive their cows over it. Or two bonfires side by side, and the cattle had to go between them. So close that the hide on them would be singed and the tang of burnt hair was strong on the breeze. In certain places, some would even be taken to the hilltops and bled; as an offering to the Old Ones, or to let out the bad humours… who knows why?
If there was a pond of water between two farmers, both farmers would try to be out early to skim the pond before the other got to it. They’d have to say the right words too: “North and South and East and West is mine”, or it wouldn’t even work, and their neighbour would get it all instead.
Then – to protect from all this magical influence going round and about at Bealtaine, you’d go and gather armful of yellow flowers. Or send the young girls of the house to do it, and these flowers were simply known as May Flowers. These are strewn at the gate of every field, outside the doors of homes and out-houses and even on the housetops. They’d keep away all sorts; the ill-luck, evil spirits, and disease.
Sure you’d never know what’s out and about on May Eve in Ireland.
It’s been suggested a couple of times that I should get on ‘the other side of the interview’, and talk about my own Irish Spirituality, and Pagan or magical practices. So recently I queried my Community for their questions on Irish Paganism and Spirituality (or my history/practice in particular). Then I went on FB Live and recorded the Video, which you’ll see below.
Morgan Daimler what is your favorite subject to teach or write about and why?
Morgan Daimler What do you think is the best way for someone to get started with Irish Spirituality, and how can a person (anywhere) avoid the usual pitfalls of bad information while building an understanding of the spirituality and the Gods and spirits?
Mac Tíre Would you have any advice specifically with regards to connecting to deity (even more specifically An Morrigan) E.g. like what you were saying in your interview with Oein DeBhairduin about contracts. Also appropriate offerings and what NOT to do.
Cat O’Sullivan Sometimes no matter how hard you try to avoid it you end up having to deal with the other crowd (the Good Neighbours, The Sidhe, the Irish Fairies). What would you recommend. Bargain, banter or banish?
Teididh McElwaine Question: Could you recommend how to wisely pursue like-minded, serious people in our respective communities? Thanks! (eg. Pagan community building)
Victoria Danger Yay! What parts of your devotion/practice/spirituality are centered on joy? Tell us about the parts that are fun or feel good 😊
Gemma McGowan Apart from teaching, writing and political activism (which I know is already a lot!!!) what other areas do your Gods ask you to actively work in e.g. Devotional practice, ritual, healing, specific types of magical work?
Cheryl Baker What does daily/weekly/monthly practice look like for you?
Marocatha Bodua Brigiani I’d love to hear you talk about magic vs religion in Irish spirituality – are those pieces separate for you, are they not separate, how do they integrate or not in your practice.
Branwen Stephanie Rogers Aside from the lore and researching, what do you consider foundational to your practice and spiritual well being?
J-me Fae What is a practice that you, personally, would like to see folks outside of Ireland integrating into their work on Irish Spirituality? What do people do that most honors the gods and land you love?
SallyRose Rivers Robinson What altar items do you see as making up an Irish Spiritual altar? Is there specific things that should be there? Specific things that shouldn’t? Is it strictly personal choices?
Pamela Holcombe Question: I hear you say you found yourself Wondering around the otherworld many times throughout your life before you understood the way of traveling there so curious what your most profound experience was there or scary interesting experience was? Also I find that I sometimes end up on my island in my dreams and travel around in the other world in my dreams do you do that also and do you think it’s pretty much like a journey we do awake?
Izzy Swanson What Carl Jung book would you read first? I printed a list of his collected works. My head may explode. I am most interested in his definition of the psychopomp.
Darla Majick What do you think about The Morrigan whiskey? I have it on our Morrigan Altar and love the bottle. Its not the best whiskey out there but it’s definitely not the worst. Ive blessed and cleansed ours before just putting in on Her altar. WE did ask her if she liked it and we did not get a negative response from her
Alanna Butler GallagherHave you ever tried to draw what you saw (in the Otherworld, ref. Pamela’s Q above)? That experience illustrated sounds like it would be a learning point for other people to not do that type of thing for the craic 🤔
J-me Fae Do you have any specific recommendations for parents looking to support their kids in building authentic connection with Ireland? I read the stories to them, share *some* of what I am doing with them (but I’m wary there), and we are all learning Irish together, but at least one of them is hungry for more
… This ‘Irish Accent’ shit though.
And leprechaun hats and lucky charms and a ‘Brigid Oracle’ machine and ‘Irish Yoga’ memes – well, begosh and begorra sure aren’t all the Oirish quaint and charming funny drunks?!
Ok, so that’s the frustrated rant part over. Well, the rant part at least. Ok, so I MAY rant again before we’re done, I’ll not lie to ye. It’s all relatable enough for those born here, and for most folk who genuinely seek an Irish connection though, I’d say.
This is where it gets a little more complicated. I’ve talked tongue in cheek about 9 Signs That You Might Be A Plastic Paddy before, and the reaction was interesting.
I get the fragile sense of connection, the lack of belonging, that is so very prevalent in the United States. I can empathise with it, even if I haven’t lived it.
But the American craving for roots is the direct cause a whole pile of shite being put out in the world that is not healthy and not doing ye any favours. Y’all need to fix that, and it starts with YOU.
For example, the Asatru Folk Assembly (I’m not going to link them and provide traffic to their shite) in 2016 – and this was even before the Oathbreaker became President 45, if I remember correctly – made a statement that runs like this:
Today we are bombarded with confusion and messages contrary to the values of our ancestors and our folk. The AFA would like to make it clear that we believe gender is not a social construct, it is a beautiful gift from the holy powers and from our ancestors. The AFA celebrates our feminine ladies, our masculine gentlemen and, above all, our beautiful white children. The children of the folk are our shining future and the legacy of all those men and women of our people back to the beginning. Hail the AFA families, now and always!
What’s that got to do with being Irish? I’m glad you asked!
Besides the fact they named their hall ‘Newgrange’… this racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic poison is prevalent in many groups who claim to follow a Norse or ‘Celtic’ spiritual path. Most recently, folklore author Carolyn Emerick (again, not linking to her filthy shit) has been outed and widely – sensibly – called on it by the general Pagan communities that she hitherto fed off.
Now, I work a lot with Irish ancestry. Every day, I would say, between personal work with my own ancestors and facilitating authentic connection to Ireland for folk who are feeling that, often because of family history and ties. I worked for many years in the Irish heritage tourism industry, where ancestral lineage is perhaps the number one reason folk report they are visiting Ireland from America and Britain, primarily.
I truly get that ancestry is important, is my point. And I get that it’s interesting and exciting to trace your DNA, or your family tree; to find those roots here when you may have felt rootless your whole life. I have given you a nice set of awesome instruction on how to connect to your Irish ancestors on this blog, as a support for those wanting to do the work.
You may want, even feel the need, to relate yourself to this land and these people who are, let’s face it now, possibly the coolest tribe in the world, and to thrill at a sense of belonging that is proven and measurable.
This is where it starts to get a little dodgy though. Because, for the most part, people are ridiculous. Not you, I hope, but people generally really are. This ‘proven connection’ becomes purity, becomes elitism, becomes all out racism. All too easily.
And that can be true from folk who are born here, by the way, as well as mouth breathers from across the seas on either side of us, who decide they are ‘Irish’ and that makes them better than everyone else because CúChulainn.
Oh, and that those of us on the island are doing it wrong.
*long suffering sigh*
Irish DNA, bloodlines or proven ancestry, at the end of the day, doesn’t mean shit.
We’re not some chemistry marks on a page, some cherished photograph snapshot of the cultural highlights your ancestors left behind – we’re a living breathing culture, a people who continue to grow and change, but who also hold safe our heritage right here within our day to day lives.
I’ve said it from my first day on the internet, and I’ll keep saying it til ye fucking get it… Irish DNA isn’t what makes you Irish. (I’m gonna go ahead and include the spiritual aspect of all this right in here, but it’s just as relevant without. Your mileage may vary.)
Being Irish is about the land and the people, and yes, the language.
I get roasted in book reviews all the time because I keep banging on about the language, and how it is a valuable expression of Irish heritage and magic.
At it’s most basic, we all speak English because colonialism, oppression, genocide, and RACISM. When a native person tells you that it would be respectful for those seeking spiritual (and ancestral) connection to their land to maybe try and make an effort to include a few indigenous words and phrases, correct pronunciations and such – the correct response is not to dismiss and ridicule them.
Learn how to spell and pronounce the native terminology you want to use. FFS, seriously.
Learn how to address the Gods you seek in their native tongue. Learn how to say the names of indigenous people and places. Is it really too much for you?
Is your sense of belonging really that shallow that you get upset and offended and downright hostile when you are called out on this shit we are bombarded with day in and day out? Is that necessary, or warranted?
And you other folk who are lucky enough to have been born on this blessed isle… learn your own history.
Our version of a creation myth is the Lebor Gabála – the BOOK OF INVASIONS. Like, our own history is literally about waves of people coming to Ireland and making things interesting. Sometimes, that didn’t work out so well (I’m looking at you, 700+ years of English oppression), but for the most part it’s been really good for us. This land is shaped and fed by her people, and she takes care of us if we take care of each other.
This is important, and many Irish have forgotten it. Ireland is made of many tribes.
A couple of years back, a black woman of my aquaintance received absolutely vile racist abuse as she curated the @Ireland account on Twitter. More recently, the Waterford Rose of Tralee – my friend Kirsten – is receiving awful abuse, both online and in person. Things have been going downhill fast in Britain and America, and there’s stirrings of outright bigotry becoming more open here in Ireland too.
This is not our heritage. This is certainly not our spirituality.
Folk who were not born here often, in my experience, appreciate Ireland in a way many Irish fail to do. They have come to visit, or live here, and they breathe our island in fully and deeply. They speak the language because they want to connect to the soul of Ireland and they’re willing to put the work in to do that. They look around that small rural village you grew up in and despise, but they see the charming architecture, the hidden mysteries in the landscape, the value of community support that they’re often not even included in as ‘blow ins’.
You also forget, perhaps, or conveniently misplace in your mind that us Irish have exported generations, have solved our problems many times by leaving this land. (OK, so those problems were most often not of our own making, because again with the colonial oppression, but still.)
Is that how you want them treated?
So, you don’t have to be born here to be Irish. But the blood in your veins doesn’t make you so either. It’s about living the culture, putting in the work and the effort to connect, the respect and reverence for our history and heritage.
The other side of this coin is the importance of indigenous wisdom and experience. And again, this is where things are taking out of context and blown out of proportion by idiots.
I can say all of the above and still froth frustrated at the dismissal of an Irish person’s opinion or experience by non-native spiritual seekers who talk over us, disregard our advice or concerns, and profit from our resources at our expense.
Me getting angry at this and calling you on it doesn’t make me elitist, or some sort of aryan purist – and writing me off as such is a way of silencing my valid protest at your disrespect. Do you find yourself agreeing with #AllLivesMatter too?
But it happens all the time. At least weekly for me, but sometimes daily.
A Facebook friend made a very good point recently when someone was getting het up at the idea of not getting a free pass to follow any spiritual path they please, as and when they wanted… my friend asked (paraphrasing): What are you offering to this native spiritual path? What support are you giving to the indigenous people whose culture you wish to take from?
This resonated very deeply for me, particularly as I’m a big proponent of just doing the fecking work on your spiritual path. This story too – the Dagda’s Work, speaks strongly to me on this point.
None of this is about your surname, what title you claim, what country your ancestors came from, or where you happen to have been born this time round.
Do you patronise unique Irish businesses, eat local foods, and work with Irish tour guides when you visit? (OK that last one is a blatant plug, but whatever.)
What do you DO, every day, that makes you think you can call yourself Irish?
(There’s a presumption that American Tourists are) …insensitive rude people who think the only way to do things properly is their way. This presumption isn’t limited to Irish People of course. But I find I have to prove myself to not be “one of those Yanks” before people will trust me and open up. However, it is ALWAYS worth the effort. – My friend Kass McGann, of Reconstructing History.
We’ve all met them.
The ones who make us cringe a little inside. The ones who presume we’re idiots and proceed to explain how things should be done right. The ones who are loud and brash and rude.
But, #NotAllAmericans… amirite?!
Actually, yeah. Thankfully that stereotypical USA Tourist in Ireland is only a sliver of the tourism trade here – we had 1,294,000 total visitors from the USA in 2016. They weren’t all insensitive eejits, or we’d have had a feckin’ riot on our hands like. There’s only so many times a proud people can bear being called cute or quaint.
So, for those of you travelling to Ireland who have a genuine love and respect for the land and people, who would love to seriously connect here… how do you do it right?
Ok so this one could fall into the category of giving your Irish hosts a wee ego stroke, coz we do love the sound of our own voices, for the most part. Fair enough.
But it’s also about hearing the stories. Given half a chance, most Irish folk will blether away for hours with story after story, all leading into each other and weaving round in a fierce tangle of history, culture, experience, and plain old gossip.
It’s actually amazing when you catch someone in a good flow and just leave em off. They’ll chat for hours, especially if there’s drinks to hand to whet the whistle a wee bit and keep things flowing smoothly.
And not just one to one either. Take a bus, or go sit in a busy cafe or pub up at the bar. As a writer, and someone genuinely fascinated by people – I do this a lot. Irish people are most often emotive, and passionate, and so feckin’ funny you’ll be hard pushed not to give away your eavesdropping by cracking the fuck up laughing.
You’ll learn a lot when you listen.
My friend Kass again, she reckons this is the way to go. She explained:
acting like you’re a guest in someone else’s house is a good idea. I think we Americans go about the world with a “customer is always right” attitude and that doesn’t help when you’re trying to get to know another culture. I once knew a man in an Irish guest house who went into the landlady’s kitchen UNINVITED to “teach her how to make eggs properly”. I could have cried. I was completely embarrassed even though I didn’t know the guy.
Yeah, all of us working in tourism have met that guy.
Things are gonna be different in another culture. Sometimes, really really different. AND THAT’S OK. It will happen, so just go with it.
You’re (hopefully) travelling here to experience Irish culture, not try to turn it into American culture. We eat our fucking eggs differently, ok? (Um, some of us also curse a lot, in case you hadn’t noticed. Best get used to that one too.)
Don’t be that guy.
Hospitality is a big deal in Ireland.
Like, a really big deal. I’m not sure how to emphasise this appropriately enough, so you should go an watch Mrs. Doyle’s Best Bits. You don’t feel like it? But sure, whyever not? Go on and watch her now. Ah you will. Go on, Go on, Go on. Go On.
There now. See what I mean?
The thing is though, when someone offers, it’s polite not to snatch the hand off them for a sandwich or a cuppa, no matter how starving or parched you’re feeling. You do the polite refusal. Then they ask are ya sure? You might think you’re safe enough to say yes the second time… but no. You politely refuse again. It’s only on the third time, when they ask are ya REALLY sure, then you can say “Ah go on so, I will, thanks”.
I don’t know why. It’s just how it’s done.
Oh, and don’t forget the crucial thing when this happens in a pub situation. Someone in a group will be feeling flaithulach and get a round in. Yes, I know ye all said ye’d stay on your own and not buy into getting rounds of drinks. It’s just a thing that happens sometimes. Unless you’re stingy, and nobody wants to be stingy.
So, even if you’re still, really, definitely not getting into rounds… you HAVE to buy that person a drink back. Yup, even if they don’t ever wet their lips with it. You just have to.
On that note… Take this Test and figure out if you’re Stingy or Flaithulach, so you can be prepared for these things. You might want to warn folk.
It’s for the best.
There you go, that’s your Irish soda bread recipe.
Ok, so there MIGHT be a bit more to it than that, but seriously like, nothing a few practice runs won’t sort out. (Gluten Free flour works grand too, btw, just swap in a quality self raising kind for regular flour)
Here’s the science bit. I never took a science class in my life mind you, so perhaps this is a garbled science bit. Please keep that in mind.
Soda bread has no yeast (you may know that already), so it needs an alkaline raising agent (bread/baking soda) with an acidic liquid (buttermilk). Sour milk will also work, especially if you throw in some lemon juice too.
You’ll need strong plain flour – a mix of wholemeal and white is good, but either is fine – and it’s a general rule of about 1 rounded teaspoon of soda per 1lb of flour. Mix em well, and make sure the soda is fresh, not the tub that’s been sitting in your press for 5 years.
Sieve the dry stuff together in a big bowl, and then add the buttermilk slowly til you have a squishy consistency, then slop it out on the bench (flour the surface first so it doesn’t stick) and bash away at it til it’s kneaded through, a little elasticy in texture and dry to the touch.
(For a sweet loaf, add sugar and sultanas with the dry ingredients, even a little cinnamon.)
Then roll it into a smooth round ball, flatten the top and bottom a bit, and take a sharp knife to score a cross in the top, deepest in the middle section, lighter at the edges.
Stick it onto a flat tray, and into the oven (about gas 4 or 5). Check after half hour by sticking a sharp knife or skewer in the middle; if it’s not covered in dough then it’s definitely getting there. Take it out before it burns.
There ya go.
Leave to cool, some say leave overnight for a better flavour. I can never wait that long. Serve with real Irish butter, where available – definitely none of that plastic margarine shit anyway.
In Gaelic Ireland, your husband being too fat to have sex was grounds for divorce.
A woman could easily divorce her husband for obvious reasons, like hitting her hard enough to cause a blemish, but she also had the legal protection which ensured he couldn’t go down to the village pub and blab about their sex life to his mates (instant divorce).
While divorce could – and did – happen at will, it wasn’t an easy or uncomplicated approach to Medieval marriage in Ireland.
The Irish Brehon Law system allowed for nine different types of union; from a marriage of equals, where both parties brought equal property to the match, down to a one night stand, it was all legalised and taken care of. Because there was no such thing as illegitimacy when it came to a woman’s offspring, it was just a question of who was legally responsible for their care.
In his article ‘Marriage in Early Ireland’, Donnchadh Ó Corráin looked at the different types of unions Irish lawyers divided first and principal marriages into. There were three categories based on property:
The Brehon Laws in medieval Ireland held out until the mid-sixteenth century, and represent a very different, more civilized and emancipated world view than the sacramental system which followed. There was a big divide between the Anglo-Irish laws that had been put in place with the invasions from England, and the native Gaelic laws and traditions around marriage.
Gillian Kenny, in her paper ‘Anglo-Irish and Gaelic marriage laws and traditions in late medieval Ireland’, notes that:
“The rights of the wife at marriage, her behaviour and freedoms within marriage and the right of a wife to leave a marriage varied enormously between the Gaelic and Anglo-Irish worlds.”
An English woman, for example, once she was married, was severely limited in her right to acquire or even manage land under the common law, and only legitimate heirs born after the marriage could inherit under the common law. An English man could not marry again while his first wife still lived.
Compare and contrast then, how in Gaelic culture and custom, the cétmuinter (first or principal wife) had some control over the other wives her husband could bring into the household, because she could divorce him if she didn’t like the new girl.
Yeah, polygamy was pretty normal back then, and it allowed the original wife to make her own choices based on the new situation, although there was a little leeway given if her feelings were hurt by his new choice. A higher status wife had three days on the arrival of the new woman, in which she could beat, batter and generally vent her spleen, as long as she wasn’t marked in the process. And the other woman was allowed to scratch back and pull hair!
Between the polygamy, the remarriages, and the allowance of illegitimacy, it made for an interesting sprawl of seed options for your average Gaelic nobleman. Mulmora O’Reilly, who was the lord of East Breifne until 1566, had at least fifty-eight grandsons recorded and acknowledged.
Katherine Simms, in ‘Legal Position of Irishwomen’, shows that ordinary concubines in a Gaelic household were of lower status to any wife, but were afforded protection in the households of the men they were having a relationship with. All of that was covered under the nine different types of union.
There were also clerical concubines though, way outside the sanction of the church but very common in the Gaelic areas, who wielded a much higher status, even being treated as a proper wife. Some of their names were recorded in the Annals when they died, just like any other noblewoman.
The church was kept out of the marriage business, as much as possible, though marriage ‘irregularities’ became subject to occasional ecclesiastical penalties. Kenny wrote:
“Throughout the middle ages in Ireland, the Gaelic Irish persisted in keeping many of their civil laws and traditions regarding marriage separate from the church’s teaching on the subject. For instance, Irish couples were not commonly united by the sacrament of marriage as Gaelic law regulated their relationship. Gaelic law allowed divorce at will followed by remarriage.”
There were undoubtedly some very marked differences between the two cultures, though they ran side by side for a long time. Kenny outlines some of the main contrast in her conclusions, where she says:
“Anglo-Irish wives (and their property) were legally subject to their husbands. This does not seem to have been wholly the case in Gaelic Ireland where wives could enter into contracts of their own volition and kept control of their own lands and goods after marriage. With these riches they often acted independently as important and influential patrons of the arts and also, in some cases, actively participated in the military and political life of their community. However they could not themselves become chieftains or hold power in such a formal and official fashion. Gaelic wives were still subject in some ways to the influence of their kin which could be disadvantageous. Similarly after her marriage ended whether through death or separation the Gaelic Irishwoman was once again subject entirely to the will of her own family whereas an Anglo-Irish woman found her rights more fully protected as a single woman or as a widow.”
It would seem that where a woman had a choice, she would stay within the Gaelic traditions while it suited her best, but it became increasingly common to see applications to the church courts to secure their property (and the inheritance of their kids) on widowhood, or to right a marital wrong such as being abandoned for no good reason.
It was easier, and clearer perhaps in the higher side of Gaelic society, for a woman to take advantage of the native rules. Ó Corráin wrote:
“It was a dignified state for the wife in question: if it was a marriage ‘with land and stock and household equipment’ and if the wife was of the same class and status as her husband, she was known as a bé cuitchernsa, literally ‘a woman of joint dominion, a woman of equal lordship’, a term which seems to be rendered domina in the canon law tracts. Neither of the spouses could make a valid contract at law without the consent of the other.”
Although it became easier as time progressed to apply to church law for safety and security, and the inheritance of a Gaelic woman’s children, there were other ways feasible through Gaelic Law.
An heiress could marry a cousin, for example, and keep land in her family that way; which the church wasn’t at all happy about, but Gaelic lawyers found multiple biblical instances to prove it was alright in the eyes of God, really. It didn’t even have to be a principle marriage, a second or third would do. And an even more liberal minded example from Ó Corráin:
“A woman could acquire land by outright gift of her father… land which was his personal (as distinct from family) possession, and women could also possess land which is called ‘land of hand and thigh’. It is possible (though quite uncertain) that two kinds of land are in question here: land acquired by the woman’s own labour and land got as a marriage portion or for some other sexual service, but the precise meaning of the term is not clear from the contexts.”
I think he’s hit the nail on the head at the end there, personally.
As Kenny put it, in an interview for ‘The History Show’ on Irish national radio:
“I mean the whole idea of marriage as being a monolithic, unchanging institution is incorrect, if you look back into the past in Ireland, further than the last couple of hundred years, you can see just how complex it was on both sides, English and Gaelic, so you know it’s only been sacramentalised very recently in historical terms.”
All in all, the Gaelic attitude was more practically tolerant of the ins and outs of human relationships than the English system which followed, and we’re the poorer for it.