Irish History Archives - Lora O'Brien - Irish Author & Guide
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Classical & Irish Writers Discussing Druids…

Druids in classical writing with mistletoe berries

This collection of quotes about druids and druidic practices is from an old Angelfire website that I unfortunately can’t find a credit for. Although the material itself is all public domain, I’d like to credit whoever first compiled it, so comment below if you know!

Sopater [late fourth-century BC] (via Athenaeus 4.160):
Among them is the custom, whenever they are victorious in battle, to sacrifice their prisoners to the gods. So I, like the Celts, have vowed to the divine powers to burn those three false dialecticians as an offering.

Timaeus [early third century BC] (via Diodorus Siculus 4.56):
Historians point out that the Celts who live on the shore of the Ocean honor the Dioscori above other gods. For there is an ancient tradition among them that these gods came to them from the Ocean.

Eudoxus of Rhodes [late third-century BC] (via Aelian On Animals 17.19):
Eudoxus says that the Celts do the following (and if anyone thinks his account credible, let him believe it; if not, let him ignore it). When clouds of locusts invade their country and damage the crops, the Celts evoke certain prayers and offer sacrifices which charm birds—and the birds hear these prayers, come in flocks, and destroy the locusts. If however one of them should capture one of these birds, his punishment according to the laws of the country is death. If he is pardoned and released, this throws the birds into a rage, and to revenge the captured bird they do not respond if they are called on again.

Artemidorus of Ephesus [late second-century BC] (via Strabo 4.4.6):
The following story which Artemidorus has told about the crows is unbelievable. There is a certain harbor on the coast which, according to him, is named “Two Crows”. In this harbor are seen two crows, with their right wings somewhat white. Men who are in dispute about certain matters come here, put a plank on an elevated place, and then each man separately throws up cakes of barley. The birds fly up and eat some of the cakes, but scatter others. The man whose cakes are scattered wins the dispute. Although this story is implausible, his report about the goddesses Demeter and Core is more credible. He says that there is an island near Britain on which sacrifices are performed like those in Samothrace for Demeter and Core.

Livy [first century AD] (23.24):
(216 BC) Postumius died there fighting with all his might not to be captured alive. The Gauls stripped him of all his spoils and the Boii took his severed head in a procession to the holiest of their temples.There it was cleaned and the bare skull was adorned with gold, as is their custom. It was used thereafter as a sacred vessel on special occasions and as a ritual drinking-cup by their priests and temple officials.

Nicander of Colophon [second century BC] (via Tertullian De anima 57.10):
It is often said because of visions in dreams that the dead truly live. The Nasamones receive special oracles by staying at the tombs of their parents, as Heraclides—or Nymphodorus or Herodotus—writes. The Celts also for the same reason spend the night near the tombs of their famous men, as Nicander affirms.

Posidonius [first century BC] (via Diodorus Siculus 5.28):
The teaching of Pythagoras prevails among the Gauls, that the souls of humans are immortal and that after a certain number of years they will live again, with the soul passing into another body. Because of this belief, some people at funerals will throw letters into the funeral pyre, so that those having passed on might read them.

(via Diodorus 5.31):
The Gauls have certain wise men and experts on the gods called Druids, as well as a highly respected class of seers. Through auguries and animal sacrifice these seers predict the future and no one dares to scoff at them. They have an especially odd and unbelievable method of divination for the most important matters. Having anointed a human victim, they stab him with a small knife in the area above the diaphragm. When the man has collapsed from the wound, they interpret the future by observing the nature of his fall, the convulsion of his limbs, and especially from the pattern of his spurting blood. In this type of divination, the seers place great trust in an ancient tradition of observation.

It is a custom among the Gauls to never perform a sacrifice without someone skilled in divine ways present. They say that those who know about the nature of the gods should offer thanks to them and make requests of them, as though these people spoke the same language as the gods. The Gauls, friends and foes alike, obey the rule of the priests and bards not only in time of peace but also during wars. It has often happened that just as two armies approached each other with swords drawn and spears ready, the Druids will step between the two sides and stop the fighting, as if they had cast a spell on wild beasts. Thus even among the wildest barbarians, anger yields to wisdom and the god of war respects the Muses.

(via Diodorus 5.32):
It is in keeping with their wildness and savage nature that they carry out particularly offensive religious practices. They will keep some criminal under guard for five years, then impale him on a pole in honor of their gods—followed by burning him on an enormous pyre along with many other first-fruits. They also use prisoners of war as sacrifices to the gods. Some of the Gauls will even sacrifice animals captured in war, either by slaying them, burning them, or by killing them with some other type of torture.

(via Strabo 4.4.4-5):
Generally speaking, there are three uniquely honored groups among the Gauls: Bards, Votes, and Druids. The Bards are singers and poets, while the Votes oversee sacred rites and examine natural phenomena. The Druids also study the ways of nature, but apply themselves to laws of morality as well. The Gauls consider the Druids the most just of people and so are entrusted with judging both public and private disputes. In the past, they even stopped battles which were about to begin and brought an end to wars. Murder cases especially are handed over to the Druids for judgment. They believe that when there are many condemned criminals available for sacrifice, then the land will prosper. Both the Druids and others say that the human soul and the universe as well are indestructible, but that at some time both fire and water will prevail.

(via Strabo 4.4.6):
Posidonius also says there is a small island in the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of the Loire River inhabited by women of the Samnitae tribe. They are possessed by Dionysus and appease this god by mysterious ceremonies and other types of sacred rituals. No man ever comes to this island, but the women sail to the mainland to have sex with men, then return. Each year the women take down the roof of a temple and build it again before dark, with each woman carrying a load to add to the roof. Whoever drops her load is torn to pieces by the others. They then carry the pieces of her around the temple shouting with a Bacchanalian cry until their mad frenzy passes away. And it always happens that the one who is going to suffer this fate is bumped by someone.

Julius Caesar [first century BC] (Gallic War 6.13-14,16-19):
Throughout all of Gaul there are two classes of people who are treated with dignity and honor. This does not include the common people, who are little better than slaves and never have a voice in councils. Many of these align themselves with a patron voluntarily, whether because of debt or heavy tribute or out of fear of retribution by some other powerful person. Once they do this, they have given up all rights and are scarcely better than servants. The two powerful classes mentioned above are the Druids and the warriors. Druids are concerned with religious matters, public and private sacrifices, and divination.

A great many young men come to the Druids for instruction, holding them in great respect. Indeed, the Druids are the judges on all controversies public and private. If any crime has been committed, if any murder done, if there are any questions concerning inheritance, or any controversy concerning boundaries, the Druids decide the case and determine punishments. If anyone ignores their decision, that person is banned from all sacrifices—an extremely harsh punishment among the Gauls. Those who are so condemned are considered detestable criminals. Everyone shuns them and will not speak with them, fearing some harm from contact with them, and they receive no justice nor honor for any worthy deed.

Among all the Druids there is one who is the supreme leader, holding highest authority over the rest. When the chief Druid dies, whoever is the most worthy succeeds him. If there are several of equal standing, a vote of all the Druids follows, though the leadership is sometimes contested even by armed force. At a certain time of the year, all the Druids gather together at a consecrated spot in the territory of the Carnutes, whose land is held to be the center of all Gaul. Everyone gathers therefrom the whole land to present disputes and they obey the judgments and decrees of the Druids. It is said that the druidic movement began in Britain and was then carried across to Gaul. Even today, those who wish to study their teachings most diligently usually travel to Britain.

The Druids are exempt from serving in combat and from paying war taxes, unlike all other Gauls. Tempted by such advantages, many young people willingly commit themselves to druidic studies while others are sent by their parents. It is said that in the schools of the Druids they learn a great number of verses, so many in fact that some students spend twenty years in training. It is not permitted to write down any of these sacred teachings, though other public and private transactions are often recorded in Greek letters. I believe they practice this oral tradition for two reasons: first, so that the common crowd does not gain access to their secrets and second, to improve the faculty of memory. Truly, writing does often weaken one’s diligence in learning and reduces the ability to memorize. The cardinal teaching of the Druids is that the soul does not perish, but after death passes from one body to another. Because of this teaching that death is only a transition, they are able to encourage fearlessness in battle. They have a great many other teachings as well which they hand down to the young concerning such things as the motion of the stars, the size of the cosmos and the earth, the order of the natural world, and the power of the immortal gods.

All of the Gauls are greatly devoted to religion, and because of this those who are afflicted with terrible illnesses or face dangers in battle will conduct human sacrifices, or at least vow to do so. The Druids are the ministers at such occasions. They believe that unless the life of a person is offered for the life of another, the dignity of the immortal gods will be insulted. This is true both in private and public sacrifices. Some build enormous figures which they fill with living persons and then set on fire, everyone perishing inflames. They believe that the execution of thieves and other criminals is the most pleasing to the gods, but, when the supply of guilty persons runs short, they will kill the innocent as well.

The chief god of the Gauls is Mercury and there are images of him everywhere. He is said to be the inventor of all the arts, the guide for every road and journey, and the most influential god in trade and moneymaking. After him, they worship Apollo, Mars, Jupiter, and Minerva. These gods have the same areas of influence as among most other peoples. Apollo drives away diseases, Minerva is most influential in crafts, Jupiter rules the sky, and Mars is the god of war. Before a great battle, they will often dedicate the spoils to Mars. If they are successful, they will sacrifice all the living things they have captured and other spoils they gather together in one place. Among many tribes, you can see these spoils placed together in a sacred spot. And it is a very rare occasion that anyone would dare to disturb these valuable goods and conceal them in his home. If it does happen, the perpetrator is tortured and punished in the worst ways imaginable.

The Gauls all say that they are descended from the god of the dark underworld, Dis, and confirm that this is the teaching of the Druids. Because of this they measure time by the passing of nights, not days. Birthdays and the beginnings of months and years all start at night.

The funerals of the Gauls are magnificent and extravagant. Everything which was dear to the departed is thrown into the fire, including animals. In the recent past, they would also burn faithful slaves and beloved subordinates at the climax of the funeral.

Cicero [first century BC] (On Divination 1.90): The practice of divination is not even neglected by barbarians. I know there are Druids in Gaul because I met one myself—Divitiacus of the Aedui tribe, who was your guest and praised you highly. He claimed a knowledge of nature derived from what the Greeks call “physiologia”—the inquiry into natural causes and phenomena. He would predict the future using augury and other forms of interpretation.

The practice of divination is not even neglected by barbarians. I know there are Druids in Gaul because I met one myself—Divitiacus of the Aedui tribe, who was your guest and praised you highly. He claimed a knowledge of nature derived from what the Greeks call “physiologia”—the inquiry into natural causes and phenomena. He would predict the future using augury and other forms of interpretation.

Pliny [first century AD] (Natural History 16.249,24.103-4,29.52,30.13): I can’t forget to mention the admiration the Gauls have for mistletoe. The Druids (which is the name of their holy men) hold nothing more sacred than this plant and the tree on which it grows—as if it grew only on oaks. They worship only in oak groves and will perform no sacred rites unless a branch of that tree is present. It seems the Druids even get their name from drus (the Greek word for oak). And indeed they think that anything which grows on an oak tree is sent from above and is a sign that the tree was selected by the god himself. The problem is that in fact mistletoe rarely grows on oak trees. Still they search it out with great diligence and then will cut it only on the sixth day of the moon’s cycle, because the moon is then growing in power but is not yet halfway through its course (they use the moon to measure not only months but years and their grand cycle of thirty years). In their language they call mistletoe a name meaning “all-healing”. They hold sacrifices and sacred meals under oak trees, first leading forward two white bulls with horns bound for the first time. A priest dressed in white then climbs the tree and cuts the mistletoe with a golden sickle, with the plant dropping onto a white cloak. They then sacrifice the bulls while praying that the god will favorably grant his own gift to those to whom he has given it. They believe a drink made with mistletoe will restore fertility to barren livestock and act as a remedy to all poisons. Such is the devotion to frivolous affairs shown by many peoples.
Similar to the Sabine herb savin is a plant called selago. It must be picked without an iron instrument by passing the right hand through the opening of the left sleeve, as if you were stealing it. The harvester, having first offered bread and wine, must wear white and have clean, bare feet. It is carried in a new piece of cloth. The Druids of Gaul say that it is should be used to ward off every danger and that the smoke of burning selago is good for eye diseases. The Druids also gather a plant from marshes called samolus, which must be picked with the left hand during a time of fasting. It is good for the diseases of cows, but the one who gathers it must not look back nor place it anywhere except in the watering trough of the animals.
There is a kind of egg which is very famous in Gaul but ignored by Greek writers. In the summer months, a vast number of snakes will gather themselves together in a ball which is held together by their saliva and a secretion from their bodies. The Druids say they produce this egg-like object called an anguinum which the hissing snakes throw up into the air. It must be caught, so they say, in a cloak before it hits the ground. But you’d better have a horse handy, because the snakes will chase you until they are cut off by some stream. A genuine anguinum will float upstream, even if covered in gold. But as is common with the world’s holy men, the Druids say it can only be gathered during a particular phase of the moon, as if people could make the moon and serpents work together. I saw one of these eggs myself—it was a small round thing like an apple with a hard surface full of indentations as on the arms of an octopus. The Druids value them highly. They say it is a great help in lawsuits and will help you gain the good will of a ruler. That this is plainly false is shown by a man of the Gaulish Vocontii tribe, a Roman knight, who kept one hidden in his cloak during a trial before the emperor Claudius and was executed, as far as I can tell, for this reason alone.
Barbarous rites were found in Gaul even within my own memory. For it was then that the emperor Tiberius passed a decree through the senate outlawing their Druids and these types of diviners and physicians. But why do I mention this about a practice which has crossed the sea and reached the ends of the earth? For even today Britain performs rites with such ceremony that you would think they were the source for the extravagant Persians. It is amazing how distant people are so similar in such practices. But at least we can be glad that the Romans have wiped out the murderous cult of the Druids, who thought human sacrifice and ritual cannibalism were the greatest kind of piety.

Suetonius (Claudius 25):
(AD 41-54) Claudius destroyed the horrible and inhuman religion of the Gaulish Druids, which had merely been forbidden to Roman citizens under Augustus.

Lucan [first century AD] (Civil War 1.444-46,450-58):
Cruel Teutates pleased by dreadful blood,
Horrid Esus with his barbaric altars,
and Taranis, more cruel than Scythian Diana.
Oh Druids, now that the war is over
you return to your barbaric rites and sinister ways.
You alone know the ways of the gods and powers of heaven,
or perhaps you don’t know at all.
You who dwell in dark and remote forest groves,
you say that the dead do not seek the silent ream of Erebus
or the pale kingdom of Pluto,
but that the same spirit lives again in another world
and death, if your songs are true, is but the middle of a long life.

Silius Italicus [first century AD] (Punica 3.340-43):
The Celts known as Hlberi came also. To them it is glorious to fall in combat, but they consider it wrong to cremate a warrior who dies in this way. They believe he will be carried up to the gods if his body, lying on the field of battle, is devoured by a hungry vulture.

Historia Augusta [fourth century AD] (Alexander Severus 59.5):
(AD 235) The Druidess exclaimed to him as he went, “Go ahead, but don’t hope for victory or put any trust in your soldiers.”

(Numerianus 14):
While Diocletian was still a young soldier he was staying at a tavern in the land of the Tongri in Gaul. Every day he had to settle his account with the landlady, a Druidess. One day she said,” Diocletian, you are greedy and cheap!” Jokingly he responded to her, “Then I’ll be more generous when I’m emperor.” “Don’t laugh,” she said, “for you’ll be emperor after you’ve killed the boar.”

(Aurelianus 43.4):
(AD 270) On certain occasions Aurelian would consult Gaulish Druidesses to discover whether or not his descendants would continue to rule. They told him that no name would be more famous than those of the line of Claudius. And indeed, the current emperor Constantius is a descendant of his.

Ausonius [late fourth century AD] (4.7-10,10.22-30):
You are descended from the Druids ofBayeux, if the stories about you are true, and you trace your sacred ancestry and renown from the temple ofBelenus. Nor will I forget the old man by the name of Phoebicius. Though he was priest of the god Belenus, he received no profit from the position. But nonetheless this one, who descended, it is said, from the Druids of Brittany, did receive a professorship at Bordeaux with the help of his son.

Botorrita Inscription (late second/early first century BC):
To Eniorosis and Tiato ofTiginos we dedicate trecaias and to Lugus we dedicate arainom. To Eniorosis and to Equaesos, ogris erects coverings of olga and to Lugus he erects coverings of the tiasos.

Tablet of Chamalieres (c. AD 50):
I invoke the god Maponos arueriitis. Through the magic of the underworld gods. C. Lucios Floras, Nigrinos the speaker, Aemilios Paterinos, Claudios Legitumos, Caelios Pelignos, Claudios Pelignos, Marcios Victorinos, and Asiaticos son of Adsedillos… The oath they will swear—the small shall become great, the crooked become straight, and, though blind, I will see. With this tablet of incantation this will be… luge dessummiiis luge dessumiis luge dessumiiis luxe.

Tablet of Larzac (c. AD 90):
Behold:
—a magical incantation of women
—their ritual underworld names
—the prophesy of the seer ess who weaves this spell
The goddess Adsagsona renders Severa and Tertionicna enchanted and bound.

St. Patrick [fourth century AD] Confession:
It is remarkable that the Irish have indeed become a people of the Lord and are children of God. These people who up until now had no knowledge of God, but worshipped idols and followed disgusting religious practices.

Old Irish Law:
Sixth century—Oaths may be sworn in presence of Druids (Old Irish drui)
Seventh Century—Druid only has same rights as a boaire
Eighth Century—Protect me from the spells of women, blacksmiths, and Druids…

If you’d like to learn more about Modern Druidry, you should really start here – a class on Decolonising Your Druidry.

Irish Pagan Resources – February 2019

Irish Pagan Resources with Hedgehog

On this blog, and in the weekly Irish Pagan Resources emails through our community mailing list, we cover a variety of topics, including: Irish Mythology, Irish History, Irish Culture, Irish Spirituality, Irish Storytelling & Irish Travel.

Or, really, whatever catches my interest that week?!

I thought it might be useful to provide a monthly collection of Irish Pagan resources here, under each heading. If you have any further recommendations yourself, comment below!

Irish Mythology

First, a warning… When we’re looking for authentic resources in Irish mythology, we often come across obviously poor materials. If there’s sparkly gifs flashing, that’s your first clue. But some of em are sneaky.
This for example – Fairies of the Irish Mythology – from The Irish Fireside, Volume 1, Number 24, December 10, 1883

It may LOOK like ye olde academic quality source material. But the reality is that it’s a pompous piece of colonial crap, with butchered Irish language references and arrogant assumptions about the uncivilised native savage.

Best stick to Daimler. Or, I did a whole class on the Sidhe.

Irish History

So, Britain’s in a right oul mess too, aren’t they? Seems like a good time to dust off this article – Northern Ireland, a Beginner’s Guide.

Irish Culture

We’re still a bit of a mixed bag here when it comes to equality in our society. While we have the Gender Recognition Act, which is amazing for Trans people in our community, we also have the likes of the Iona Institute and Glinner polluting our air. I’m not going to link to them – look them up, or just trust me they’re vile.

Irish Spirituality

Clann Dord Fiann – “Tradition is the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way.”

This is a new group in Ireland, working with authentic Irish source material and genuine relationship to the land, and I’m only delighted to see them starting up. Find them on Facebook.

Irish Storytelling

I learned a while back that my good friend Joe Perri of Wolf Mercury Photography had NEVER HEARD OF EDDIE LENIHAN. Honestly, it’s kinda put me in a panic – I mean, who else out there isn’t aware of out storytelling national treasure? In case that’s you… Eddie storytelling live in a Pub. His beard scares me, but you know, each to his own. (Check this one especially for the Biddy Early reference).

Irish Travel

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to recommend any other Travel company than Land Sea Sky Travel. Vyviane is just too wonderful. Check out what’s on offer.

When you’re looking for authentic Irish Pagan Resources, it’s best to stick – in general – with native Irish sources. Check out my YouTube Video on Cultural Appropriation for more info!

Irish Medieval Food – Pottage

Irish Medieval Iron Age food - cooking pottage stew in a cauldron over a fire

“Pottage is not so much used in all Christendom as it is used in England”

– Andrew Boorde, Dyetary (I542)

Pottage in England, came from the Old French pottage, meaning simply ‘potted dish’. I’m not sure how extensively Mr. Boorde had travelled in Ireland, but here it was craibechan for a stew and anraith for a soup, while porridge was leite, and any of them could be made in the same ‘potted dish’ method.

We’re talking one pot peasant food here, the type that starts with a single pot over an open fire, with anything that is to hand thrown in, and cooked for hours til it’s reduced to mush. The next day more water is added, more of whatever’s handy, and more mush ensues. In fairness, it’s tasty, tasty mush, and this type of soup or stew is still eaten in Ireland, and there’s never a truer word spoken than when someone smacks their lips, pats their belly, and says “It always tastes better the next day”.

This was a staple all through Europe, probably from Neolithic times at least, but definitely through the Middle Ages, because we’ve got the references and recipes to prove it.

There are records from the English Beaulieu Abbey, in I270, specifying daily allowances for the lay gardeners: “a convent loaf, a gallon of good ale, and four bowlfuls of the convent pottage”. There is a line in ‘Piers Plowman’ (c. 1377) which says: “Had ye pottage and pain (bread) enough, and penny-ale to drink . . . ye had right enough”. And in the 1500’s, the Fromond list of ‘Herbys necessary for a gardyn’ included no less than 49 herbs deemed suitable for pottage.

To make the pottage, the large metal pot or cauldron was hung over the hearthfire, filled with water or the stock from boiled meat, fish or foul, as available, and various other items added. John Harvey (Vegetables in the Middle Ages) details:

“It is various species of herbs that are consistently mentioned as ‘good pottagers’. In the pottage (‘porray’ or ‘sewe’) were usually cooked one or more of several vegetable foodstuffs, notably the leaves of colewort (Brassica oleracea), leeks (Allium porrum), both of them grown in the garden; or the field crops peas (Pisum sativum) and broad beans (Vicia faba).”

(Harvey)

He references a Friar Henry Daniel, who frequently comments on ‘good pottagers’, e.g. borage (Borago officinalis), chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium), mallows (edible Malvaceae), several forms of orach (edible Atriplex), and turnip (Brassica rapa).

The cabbage and it’s cousins (Brassicae) frequently appear under various names such as Cale, Kale, Wild Cabbage, Colewort, Worts, Worties and Braisech in Irish. It’s interesting to note that Langland’s first version of Piers Plowman, written about I362, says; “I have porrets (young leeks) and parsley and many cole plants”, while in the version from about thirty years after we see what might indicate a diversification in the diet (or a move up in the author’s social status?), with the line changed to; “And I have porret plants, parsley and scallions; Chibols and chervils, and cherries”. Cherries, if you don’t mind!

In England the most common pottage flavouring was certainly Parsley (Petroselinum crispum), which carries not only huge health benefits, but also a stack of Medieval lore and superstition round it. In Ireland the Nettle (Urtica dioica) was most common and used regularly for its tremendous health benefits. That bit (health benefits) is, admittedly, supposition on my part, because Nettles taste of very little – other than slightly metallic and a little rank if you don’t get the fresh young tops. So I reckon the popularity must be attributed to medicinal rather than culinary value.

Wild Garlic (Ramsons, Allium ursinum or Creamh in Irish) on the other hand tastes divine. There’s little evidence of cultivation in Ireland, but sure there was no need to. Wild Garlic grows best in damp woodland areas and, well, that was most of Ireland. PW Joyce noted in 1906 that it was a common pot-herb, saying: “The facts that it is often mentioned in Irish literature, and that it has given names to many places, show that it was a well-recognised plant and pretty generally used”.

How To Make Pottage

A recipe for this one really isn’t necessary. It depends on what you have available that was common in the Medieval country of your choice. Start with a stock or broth, add in some chopped meat (beef, mutton, pork, goat, venison, chicken, goose or duck – take your pick!) for a higher status feed. Finely chop some cabbage or kale, onions, leeks, wild garlic. A bit of turnip and a few peas or broad beans wouldn’t go amiss. If you’re going very posh you could add pepper, ground coriander or cardamom. Sage, rosemary and thyme were common enough though, so feel free to throw those in to taste, then some parsley or nettle tops, and let it boil softly for a few hours.

Try it with authentic Irish Soda Bread, but most importantly… don’t forget that it always tastes better the next day!

Sources:

  • Boorde, A., “Dyetary”: (ed. I870), xii.262
  • Harvey, John H., “Vegetables in the Middle Ages”: Garden History, Vol. 12, No. 2 (Autumn, 1984), pp. 89-99
  • Langland, William, “Piers Plowman”, B .xv 31o (c. 1377).
  • Joyce, P.W., “A smaller social history of Ancient Ireland”: 1906

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Lady Mary Heath – Irish Aviator

Early Irish Feminist Aviator Lady Mary Heath

When just 1 year old, she sat on her kitchen floor in a pool of blood, beside a mother who would never move again.

This is not the opening scene of a modern crime tv show, but the start of life in 1890’s rural Ireland for one of the world’s most daring and trailblazing aviators, who became known in later life as Lady Mary Heath.

The story begins with her mother, an attractive tall brunette named Kate Theresa Doolin, who started her life in a respected farming family (though a few of them were known to have a fondness for the drink, but sure who didn’t in Ireland back then?) with land at Causeway, near Tralee in County Kerry. When working in a nearby town, young Ms. Doolin met a handsome, wild and often charming man called Jackie Pierce (John Pierce-Evans). She took a job as housekeeper for his uncle in Knockaderry, near Newcastle West in County Limerick, and later married Jackie in a ceremony in Dublin City.

Their daughter, Sophie Catherine Theresa Mary Peirce-Evans, was born on the 10th November, 1896. Just a year later, she was being gathered up from her kitchen floor by distraught neighbours, taken from beside the cooling body of her mother, who had been bludgeoned to death with a stout stick earlier that day, by Sophie’s own father Jackie.

John Pierce-Evans was found guilty (but insane) at the murder trial, and locked up, while his daughter was brought to live with her Grandfather in Newcastle West, and raised in a rather restrictive fashion by her two maiden aunts there. Though she showed an early talent and passion for sports, her female relatives discouraged and even outright forbid this ‘unladylike’ interest. Sophie’s schooling brought her to County Cork, County Armagh, and finally to Dublin, where she could play hockey and tennis and excel at both. Third level education took her to the Royal College of Science in Ireland, as one of very few women there, but the country needed educated farmers and so she was allowed in. Sophie gained a top-class degree in science, specialising in agriculture, and played for the college hockey team.

World War 1 brought her to England and France, serving as a dispatch rider for 2 years, and by the time she moved from Ireland to Scotland, her reputation for being an “unsuitable” influence on women preceded her. Just after the war, Sophie received a University placement in Aberdeen, and as she had married her first husband, started life in the UK as Sophie Mary Eliott-Lynn. Her Irish aunts were aghast at the thought of the bad impression she might make on her young cousins, writing to their mother with the admonition “For Mercy’s sake, Lily, don’t let Sophie get hold of the girls.”

Moving from Scotland to London in 1922, it was clear sports had a firm hold of her. She helped found a Women’s Association which became the Women’s Amateur Athletic Association in 1926, and she served as the joint secretary while continuously campaigning for the inclusion of a full women’s programme at the Olympics. She set a world record for the High Jump, and became the first women’s javelin champion in Britain. In 1925 she had travelled as a delegate to the International Olympic Council, and it was there she first took flying lessons. Her book (the first of its kind), entitled ‘Athletics for Women and Girls’, was published the same year. By 1926 she was representing the UK at javelin at the Women’s International Games in Gothenburg, and came 4th, throwing 44.63 metres. Her Irish records for the shot and discus were not bettered until the 1960’s.

From 1925 through to 1929, Sophie was probably the most famous Irish woman on the planet. Those first few flying lessons turned into a burning passion for aviation, and she shifted her pioneering spirit to the skies. Though Amelia Earhart had been firing imaginations and setting records since 1922, Britain was not ready to embrace female liberation, and Sophie fought prejudice and ignorance to become the first woman in Britain or Ireland to get her commercial pilot’s license. Her test included proving to a panel of men that she could control an aircraft… at all times of the month.

Her first marriage had not been a happy one, and she was estranged from her husband, Major William Elliot Lynn, when he died in early 1927. Immediately she sought a new husband, preferably one who could finance her flying until she could make a living from it, and made a list of the wealthiest British bachelors. On selecting and marrying Sir James Heath – who was 45 years her senior – on 11 October 1927, she became Lady Heath (though she is often referred to as ‘Lady Mary Heath’). By then she had already set a number of altitude records for small aircraft, and also for a heavy Shorts seaplane. Lady Heath landed quite spectacularly in the middle of a football match after becoming the first woman to parachute from a plane, and in 1927, was the first female pilot to win an open race.

American newspapers loved her, calling her “Britain’s Lady Lindy” (after Charles Lindberg), but her exploits also made the front pages in Ireland, Britain, South Africa, France and the Netherlands. She planned to fly home from Lecturing in South Africa to become the first pilot, male or female, to fly a small open-cockpit aircraft from Cape Town to London, landing at Croydon Aerodrome. Taking off in January 1928, it took her 3 months rather than her planned weeks, but on the 17th May her Avro Avian biplane made a successful if bumpy landing in England. Despite having piloted and maintained the plane through 9,000 miles, then 32-year-old stepped to greet the swarming crowd looking fabulous in heeled shoes, silk stockings, pleated skirt, fur coat and a cloche hat.

Lady Heath was determined to earn her way as a pilot. She would give joyrides at air shows, and she often flew back to Ireland, where thousands would gather on her arrival to see the airplane and pay her to go up in it, if they could afford it. She’s remembered in Ballybunion, County Kerry, where she’d go to visit her aunt Cis, by local lads who still say “she was good at the sales talk”; there’d always be more ready to go up with her once the last lot had shakily departed her plane. She turned that silver tongue to lobbying for a job as a commercial pilot, and eventually succeeded with the Dutch airline KLM. Though it didn’t last – the Dutch and British Press turned on her quite viciously and she was losing her public standing very rapidly – for a time she flew as first officer on European routes. Another record was achieved – she was the first woman to fly a commercial aircraft.

Surprised and hurt by the European backlash she had received, Lady Heath took up an invitation to lecture and promote flying in the USA. She had met Amelia Earhart when the American crossed the Atlantic and landed in London, and invited her to fly in the Avro Avian. Earhart had been so impressed she had promptly bought the biplane and took it back to America with her. Following across the Atlantic made sense, and by then the proper training of pilots and ensuring reliable equipment had started to feature strongly for Lady Heath.

In July 1929, she wrote an article for Scientific American magazine, entitled ‘Is Flying Safe?’ Worldwide, flying had become very popular, and in Britain by then graduating pilots had to have at least 10 hours of instruction before they were let go up, with hundreds of men and women becoming pilots each year. Lady Heath believed that well-trained pilots, and construction standards, were the most important factors of airline safety. In Britain, in early 1928, 45,000 flights had been made with no accidents reported. She could see that America had the fastest growing commercial airline industry, with Stout Air Services in business since 1925, and passenger safety was a big concern.

Only a month after her article appeared, on 29 August 1929, Lady Heath crashed her plane into a roof while practising a dead-stick landing at the National Air Races in Cleveland. She sustained a fractured skull, broken nose and internal injuries, with newspapers reporting that her recovery was unlikely. She did survive, but the accident ended her piloting career. Her second marriage ended too; she divorced Lord Heath in 1930.

After remarrying (an English airman G.A.R. Williams in 1931), and moving back to Dublin, she founded her own private aviation company. She also founded the Irish Junior Aero Club, teaching young pilots to fly, and forming the bedrock for the national Aer Lingus airline which followed.

Sophie Catherine Theresa Mary Peirce-Evans, the great Lady Mary Heath, died of head injury following a fall while on a tramcar in 1939 – the fall was thought to have been caused by an old blood clot – at the age of 42.

Learn More Irish History on www.IrishPaganSchool.com

Irish Pagan Holidays

Irish Pagan Holidays and Pagan Festivals

Pagan Holidays (Holy Days) worldwide are coming back to a more general use and understanding, with folk often asking questions about whether Christmas is a Pagan Holiday (it is, sort of), and observing the 8-fold Wheel of the Year.

The current Neo Pagan calendar (and its primarily Wiccan holidays) is ostensibly based off the ‘Celtic Wheel of the Year’, as the early creators and authors of our modern traditions were very fond of their romantic notions of Celtic culture, and very sure that it was ok to just… take what they wanted, and change or use it however they wanted.

*cough* Coilíní *cough*

The problem with this (one of the problems) is that we now have a sort of tangled, much mangled, view of the original pre-christian Irish Pagan festivals, that even many Irish Pagans adhere to.

In this post, I’d like to break this down a bit, and clarify some of the basics, so that we can (hopefully), start fresh. With a somewhat cleaner slate for Irish Pagan practice. Le do thoil.

 

The Wheel of the Year

To begin with, the ‘traditional’ eight Pagan Holidays, are actually 2 sets of four. So the wheel of the year is maybe 2 wheels, rotating side by side.

This can be a little confusing if you’re not used to considering things this way, but I do remember being quite frustrated back in my baby Pagan days by how the festivals seemed to just be copies of each other. Like, within the Wiccan traditions, there’s not a huge difference between how you’re celebrating the Summer Solstice (Litha) and Beltane, for example.

In my native practice, I break the focus, themes or concerns out as follows:

  • The Fire Festivals – with Community elements, but a focus on Hearth & Home, and the Otherworld.
  • The Cross Quarters – with Community elements, but a focus on the Land & Sovereignty, and this World.

The Pagan Calendar names I use are in modern Irish, and the associated Gaeilge video is also my schoolgirl modern Irish pronunciation, to be clear.

Irish is a living language, and while I’m the first one to honour the Primitive Irish and Old Irish source material, they are different languages. We have modern Irish terminology for every single Pagan Holiday name, and a wealth of associated folklore and traditions within our living memory in Irish communities. So let’s use that.

Admittedly now, some of the folklore has gotten crossed over and shifted around with the Christian influences, eg. Summer Solstice bonfires now happen on St. John’s Eve, on the 23rd June, and the animal sacrifice tradition has moved from Samhain to St. Martin’s Day, on the 11th November. But that’s ok too.

At least the traditions still exist, and have grown and moved with the communities as we did.

 

Irish Pagan Holidays – the Fire Festivals

Focus on Community, Hearth & Home, the Otherworld (an Saol Eile).

When people first walked this land, there were 2 seasons: summer and winter. They signified the change and move between camping grounds, as theirs was a Hunter/Gatherer lifestyle.

These times of moving and changing were dangerous and uncertain, and this still holds true in the primary Irish Pagan holidays of Bealtaine, and Samhain, which remain times of great change and uncertainty.

When the people settled, and began to farm the land, the seasons of Growth and Harvest were marked, with Imbolg and Lúnasa, and so began the 4 Fire Festivals.

Lora O'Brien - Irish Pagan Holidays - Fire Festivals

[Download this Chart as a PDF Below]

IMBOLG

Personally, I use the name Imbolg for this festival. That’s from the Irish i mBolg, meaning ‘in the belly’, for the pregnancy aspects (animals as well as humans, because if we get pregnant at Bealtaine we give birth around now). Imbolc is commonly used too though, and may have associations with washing or a ‘spring clean’ after winter, from Folc, meaning ‘bathe or wash’. I’m honestly not sure which language the term Oimelc comes from, though it’s been given to mean ‘ewe’s milk’. That would be Bainne na Caoirigh in modern Irish though, which doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

Irish Language Resource – https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/Bolg or https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/Folc

BEALTAINE

We have this clearly in old Irish as Belltaine (with various other spellings, the manuscripts weren’t always precise or standardised), meaning the month of May, or even ‘the month of the beacon-fire) according to the eDIL. It may have associations with an Old Celtic God Boleros, ‘the flashing one’ (Ó hÓgáin) or Balar/Balor in Ireland, he of the single, blazing destructive eye (often thought to be symbolic of the sun), and form the word Bealtaine from Balor’s Fire (tine).

There are multiple spellings out there, and I know some of them are based on the Gaelic language of Scotland, which I don’t speak. But as we still use the word Bealtaine in modern Irish for the month of May, and again – this is a living language, and it’d be great not to have to deal with bastardised or anglicised versions of it anymore please and thank you – let’s go with that eh?!

Irish Language Resource – https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/Bealtaine

LÚNASA

You’ll often see this written as Lughnasadh, and indeed, I’ve done so myself. As above though, I prefer the modern Irish spelling, and in Gaeilge, Lúnasa is the word for the month of August. I mean, I wasn’t joking about these Pagan holidays still being a part of our culture.

It’s most likely connected to the Old God Lugh, (lug in old Irish can be ‘magnificent, heroic, warlike’: eDIL), and Lugnasad is ‘the festival of Lugh, the first of August’: eDil.

You’ll see references too, to Lammas, which we don’t have in modern Irish. My basic exploration of Old Irish suggests it MIGHT be a version of a ‘fine, handsome or excellent hand’ (from n. Lám and adj. Mass?)… but be warned, that is a very rudimentary look at a compound word! I definitely don’t use it as a Pagan Holiday name anyway.

Irish Language Resource – https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/Lúnasa

SAMHAIN

It’s not pronounced Sam-Hane. Never. I don’t care what your esteemed Elders passed down to you not-so-very-long-ago (in the grand scheme of things).

This is a LIVING LANGUAGE. Respect it, and the people who still speak it every day. Stop that Sam-Hane shit immediately.

It probably comes from the Old Irish samfuin, meaning ‘death of Summer’: eDIL. Samhain in modern Irish is the word for the month of November.

So yes, we know how to pronounce it properly. (Are you getting a sense for how many times I’ve had U.S. Pagans correct my pronunciation? Like, I’m not sure how to even communicate how infuriating that is, especially when it happens consistently!)

Irish Language Resource – https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/Samhain

 

Irish Pagan Holidays – the Cross Quarters

Focus on Community, Land & Sovereignty, this World (an Saol Sin – or Seo).

We know these times were important to our ancestors due, at least, to the sacred sites they constructed and used to observe and celebrate them. Massive monuments all over the island still attest to the power and value that was placed upon aligning ourselves, our communities, and our leadership, with these turning times of the Pagan year.

Please note: the common names Ostara, Litha, Mabon, and Yule, are at best culturally appropriated and co-opted into Neo Paganism, and at worst, carry entirely fabricated pseudo histories. I’m looking at you, Mabon.

They have NO place in native Irish paganism.

The Irish names below are simply the names of our seasons, as Gaeilge, and have always suited my personal practice around the Irish Pagan Holidays best.

Lora O'Brien - Irish Pagan Holidays - Cross Quarters

[Download this Chart as a PDF Below]

EARRACH – THE SPRING EQUINOX

The balance of day and night.

Irish Language Resource – https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/Earrach

SAMHRADH – THE SUMMER SOLSTICE

Mid Summer, the longest day.

Irish Language Resource – https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/Samhradh

FÓMHAR – THE AUTUMN EQUINOX

The balance of night and day.

Irish Language Resource – https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/Fómhar

GEIMHREADH – THE WINTER SOLSTICE

Mid Winter, the longest night.

Irish Language Resource – https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/Geimhreadh

 


[Click to Download FREE Gift – both Diagram Charts as a PDF – No Email Required!]

If you’d like more detail on any of the Irish Pagan Holidays, comment below and let me know. There’s already extensive sections in my books (see Publications – coming soon), but I can try and get some more blog posts and YouTube videos together for them if there’s an interest, and maybe even a wee course through our Irish Pagan School.

Let me know which of the Pagan holidays you want to see more on?!

 

Irish Faith Healers & Folk Cures

Faith Healers recommend a Stolen Bride's Breakfast Bread

Visiting Faith Healers for ‘Getting the Cure’ was – and still is – a big thing in Ireland.

There’s copious amounts of folklore around herbs, faith healing, and various other remedies in the Irish tradition, but if you didn’t grow up here you might be surprised to learn that Irish people still believe.

I’m 40 years old now, and I can honestly say that every time a family member has been seriously sick, from warts to cancer to mystery ailments – has been taken to a faith healer, or been given a traditional folk cure in some form.

(Ok, warts maybe don’t count as ‘seriously sick’… unless you’re a young teenager and your hands are covered in them. Then talk to me about what’s serious or not.)

Lets look at an example of the lore around Irish Faith Healers and Folk Cures:

There are various kinds of home-cures.

It is mostly old people that has these cures and some of those cures, are often better than the cure a doctor could give you.

Edward Gormley of Esker has the cure of the strain. The cure consists of a piece of thread which Mr. Gormley gives to the person, who wants the cure made, before giving the person the piece of thread, he holds it in his hands and says certain prayers in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. He makes this cure between sunrise and sunset.

There are several other people in this locality who has the cure of the strain as well as Mr. Gormley, James Quinn of Clontumpher has the cure of the thorn. The cure consists of different kinds of mixtures, all mixed together along with certain kinds of prayers, which Mr. Quinn says over the mixture this mixture is to be put on the spot, where the thorn, is supposed to be, and after a couple of days the thorn will come out.

Paddy Callaghan of Esker has the cure of the warts, any person who has warts on their hands or feet, can get them cured easy. Mr. Callaghan makes the cure on Tuesday and Thursday evening before sunset. He rubs his hands on the wart and while rubbing says certain kinds of prayers, he then tells you to rub washing-soda on the wart every evening and morning and in about a fortnight or so the wart disappears.

Edward Gormley (Esker), has the cure of the heartache also. Rose Tynan (Esker), has the cure of the burn.

When Edward Gormleys Father was dying he left him (his son) the cure of the strain. And when Edward Gormley dies, he can leave the cure to any of his sons he likes.

John Quinn Drumlish makes the cure of the ring worm.

Some people often gets the cure of the hoopen-cough. It is very peculiar cure and it is very hard got. If a child in any house has the hoopen cough and if two people gets married of the same name, during the time that the child is bad.

The cure is for some person to steal a piece of cake that was left after the bride’s breakfast and give it to the child to eat, it is said that the cure is no good unless the bread is stolen with out the Bride or groom or anybody at the breakfast knowing it. Nobody is to see the bread a stealing or know about it, except the person who is stealing it, and the people in the house where the child is sick.

Some people has great belief in this cure and more people have no belief in it at all. Long ago the old people would be very angry with any one who would say they would not believe in it. Some people say that when a child has the hoopen-cough the best cure is, is to keep giving it butter and sugar, that it is by far the best cure.

The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0760, Page 236
Image and data © National Folklore Collection, UCD. https://www.duchas.ie/en/cbes/5009172/4994159

 

Do you believe in Faith Healers?

It works, whether you do or not. Maybe that’s due to a placebo effect – the Faith Healers could trigger the body’s healing mechanism. Maybe it’s a genuine Irish magic, that we haven’t figured a way to quantify or explain through our scientific methodology. Yet.

However you feel about it, the laying on of hands by Faith Healers with ‘the Cure’ has been shown, throughout the centuries, to end a lot of suffering.

And sure, if you’re suffering, or a loved one is… why wouldn’t ya give it a go?


 

Learn more about Irish Magic…

Take a Class with a Draoí

Irish Pagan Beliefs

Irish Pagan Beliefs - Goddess with a Dandelion

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

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

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

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

 

Historic Pagan Beliefs in Ireland

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Blend of Christian and Pagan Beliefs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Modern Pagan Beliefs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take Pagan Life Rites (Ireland), for example.

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

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

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

I’m down with that anyway.

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

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

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

Also of interest – Irish Celtic Pagan Symbols.


 

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

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

Seeking Your Irish Ancestors – Irish Genealogy Tourism

Irish Genealogy - Seeking Your Irish Ancestors

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

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

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

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

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

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

All set now for a trip to Ireland? Great!

Irish Genealogy in Ireland

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

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

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

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

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

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


Take a Class to Explore Your Irish Ancestry

Irish Pagan Magic – The ‘Tarbh Feis’

Beef Stew Cooking

It means ‘bull feast’. FYI. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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Ireland’s First Female Veterinarian

Portrait of Aleen Cust, Ireland's first female veterinarian

Veterinarians have been around for quite a while now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aleen Cust

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

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

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

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

And indeed, she remains an inspiration to this day.


 

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