Irish History Archives - Page 3 of 4 - Lora O'Brien - Irish Author & Guide
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Irish Folk Magic – Local Cures

A cure of warts is to squeeze the milk out of a weed called the penny leaf. This milk is called the fairies’ milk.
 
Goat’s milk is a cure for sore eyes or bad feet or many other things. An ointment can be made from goats’ milk to draw boils.
To cure a blast, get leaves from lady fingers, and burn palm to get the ashes. Then shake Easter-water on the ashes and leaves. Drop 9 drops of a blessed candle on it. Put this poultice on the blast three times in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost. The person with the blast must not get the poultice ready themselves.
To say this prayer is a cure for a toothache.
Saint Peter sat on a marble rock crying with the toothache.
Our Lord passed by and said “Peter what is they ailment”.
Peter said, “O Lord I am troubled with the toothache”
Our Lord said, Stand up Peter and follow Me”
And those who say these words shall never be troubled with the toothache.
 
There is a well opposite Faithlegg called St. Anna’s well in which sore eyes are cured by bathing them.
A poultice of cow dung is a great cure for many things.
A cure for the whooping cough is to pass the child with the whooping cough under a donkey’s leg three times. Then give the donkey a piece of bread which the child was eating.
Another cure for the whooping cough is if a man and woman with the same name are married to give the child with the whooping cough a piece of bread.
An old cure for a bad chest is to boil some young nettles on water for 3 hours. Then strain it and drink the water every morning.There is a weed called the Seven Virtues. If this weed is boiled on milk it will cure them of any ailment. If it turns brown it shows that the person is not to be cured. If it remains green the person will recover.
Salt water and a certain kind of sea weed boiled is a cure for rheumatism.
A weed called Marchmallow is boiled in water, to use this water is a cure for a bad stomach.
The herb called the dandelion was boiled down and used as a remedy for some form of stomach trouble.
For stopping blood old people used to get a wet sod and put it at the back of a person’s neck. This stopped bleeding from the nose.
A cure for warts was a fasting spit put on for nine mornings and it is said after the ninth morning the wart would disappear.
Goats milk mixed with soap and sugar was considered a great remedy for any forms of sores, as the goat is supposed to eat more herbs than any other animal.
To cure a wart get the juice out of stem of the dandelion and put it on the wart and it will soon disappear.
To get rid of rheumatism put a potato in your pocket and let it wither, according as the potato withers the rheumatism will wear away.
Soap and sugar is a cure for boils.

A good thing to cure any kind of sores is to get a dog to lick them, as there is a cure in the dog’s tongue.

An Aunt of mine- -Mrs Margaret Meade, The Cottage, Halfway House, Waterford had a charm for stopping a bleeding. It was a certain form of words which she repeated. There was a difference between words said to stop bleeding in a human being and those said to stop bleeding in an animal. She used this charm exclusively and it always successful. There is an old man still living in this locality Pierce Meade, Kilcullen, Waterford (age 99 years now) who had a horse which was bleeding to death. He went to her to use the charm. She did so and the horse was cured when he went home. Rev Fr Lennon, Killea, Waterford prevailed upon her to give us using the charm. She did so. The charm could only be transmitted from a woman to a man or vice versa. She intended passing on the charm to her brother before she did, but as she had ceased using it for years the matter was forgotten and the charm died with her.

ARCHIVAL REFERENCE – The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0652, Page 313. Images and data © National Folklore Collection, UCD.  (except the Goat image!)

 

What is a Rath?

Yes, I feckin spelled that right. Thank you.

Rath, not wrath.

Ráth is the Irish term for an archaeological Ringfort, anglicised as Rath – or one of the terms, rather. Others being lios (anglicised lis), caiseal (anglicised cashel), cathair (anglicised caher or cahir) and dún (anglicised dun or doon). [ref Nancy Edwards, ‘The Archaeology of Early Medieval Ireland’, 2006]

A casual perusal of any Irish map or story will show you a whole rake of placenames with at least the anglicised versions of these words built right into them. Like, you can’t miss them. Rathcroghan would be a very famous example; Ráth Crúachán – the legendary home of Connacht Queen Maedbh (Maeve), and the Irish Goddess of battle and prophecy, the Mórrígan.

Ráth and Lios are what we call those earthen enclosure ringforts (with lios having a particular connotation as a fairy fort in more modern times, out of all of them, for some reason), while Caiseal and Cathair both signify a stone ringfort. The Dún then, can refer to any fort really, and it doesn’t even have to be circular either for that one… it’s basically used to signify an important stronghold.

There’s examples of these types of Ringforts in Ireland dated from the Bronze Age onwards (roughly 2500 or 2000 BCE on), but they’re definitely most common in the early Medieval, and they stopped being built probably around 1000 CE.

They came in all sizes really, with the earthen ringforts marked by a circular rampart (a bank and ditch), and they would have had (generally) at least one building inside, but often multiple dwellings and animal enclosures. The majority of them seem to have been domestic, but there’s a strong theory that the later more domestic working Medieval Ráth was  built over or incorporated earlier Bronze and particularly Iron Age dwellings or even ceremonial enclosures, as there’s a distinct relative lack of vernacular housing remains for that period.

Archaeological excavation within some of the Ringforts revealed a lot about their function – there’s some of them with nothing we can find inside, and these have largely been deemed as livestock enclosures, but I’d suggest that an occasional ’empty’ one might just have been ceremonial in nature. In general though there’ll be a large central building found, usually circular, with smaller out-buildings beside or near it. There might be some other stuff too, like cereal drying kilns, or smithing furnaces. It looks like most of them would have been a homestead for small community or extended family, with the protection built in for any dangers roaming round outside the walls or banks.

In Ireland, there’s over 40,000 sites currently identified as Ringforts, and they reckon there would have been at least 50,000 on the island. [ref Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, ‘A New History of Ireland’ Vol 1, 2005]. They are so common in fact, that within any average area of 2 km2 (0.8 sq mi), you’ve a good chance of finding one.

Nowadays, they’re respected and not touched, for the most part, by landowners and communities, as they’re most often referred to as ‘fairy forts’. And you don’t want to go messing with the Good Neighbours now, do ya?

 

[NOTE – Photo Source]

Kite aerial photograph of the Multivallate Ringfort at Rathrá, Co Roscommon, Ireland. April 2016.
Source: West Lothian Archaeology’s camera flown on a kite at the field outing of the Rathcroghan Conference in April 2016. Credit: West Lothian Archaeological Trust (Jim Knowles, Frank Scott and John Wells).


 

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At Caiseal Manannán

Aerial photograph of Cashelmanannan from the west (After Waddell et al. 2009, fig 6.7). Note the two 'annexes' attached to the main enclosure.

A clash of metal rang out over the training grounds, followed by a muffled grunt of exertion, and the wooden thud of shield engaging shield.

“Put yer backs into it little wormies! Domhnall, keep that shield up, yer shoulder is wide open. Aoife, thrust and slice, stop that bloody hacking!”

Her attention caught by the familiar morning sights and sounds of Corbhall putting the young warriors through their paces, she couldn’t help but smile as he met her eye with a wolfish grin. The benevolent smile faded somewhat as she observed him raise his leg and let rip a loud fart in her general direction. She sighed a little, observing him grab up a large wooden waster and stride off towards the hapless Domhnall, who was about to get a very practical lesson in what happens when a person leaves their shoulder exposed in a battle situation. Well, at least he was using a wooden training sword this time, and not his own fierce blade. Phuic’s latest ‘little chat’ with him must have done some good.

As she turned to go inside, movement through the hawthorn boundary stirred her curiosity, and she stepped towards it for a clearer view. As her home was situated with the School to the east and the Procession Ways to the west, she gained a clear view of the latter direction by moving through a small gap in the boundary with her back to the morning sun.

A tall, graceful figure was moving softly over the grass, and Leila recognised her immediately. Alone, as usual, the girl Saille made her careful way to a point exactly between the two raised banks, placing herself at the start of the ritual procession route. Pale arms seemed to glow in the bright morning light as she raised them in salute, the loose sleeves of her robe falling back lightly, and fluttering as she turned to face the newly risen sun. Eyes closed, she did not notice that she had an audience. Opening her mouth, her voice poured forth – the strong beginning note sounding pure in the morning air. Respectfully, Leila turned back, not wanting to disturb the solitary girl’s rituals, or embarrass her with observation. Besides, it was time to make her way to the School, classes would begin shortly.

Gathering her things from inside, she shut the door on her way out and walked a brisk pace around the training grounds, out to the horse fields. If she didn’t collect little Anande every day that child would never set foot in the classroom. Leila doubted she would ever do anything that didn’t involve those horses, unless someone cajoled, begged or forced her to do it. It had been the very same since she had arrived for fostering at the age of 2 – she was already grooming and working with horses by then. 8 years on, the obsession had only grown deeper. Her own breeding pair were her pride and joy, a fine white stallion she had called Tír na nÓg, and a proud dark mare who went by the (somewhat risky, Leila had often felt) name of Mórrioghan.

Indeed, her hard work and dedication had already paid off, with their offspring highly sought after – holding top position in many races each year, all over the land. Anande’s talents had come to the notice of the Queen herself, and it was known that she would have the option of a place in the royal household when she came of age. Although knowing that girl, she would probably never venture much beyond the stables and the horse fields, once she didn’t have to.

With the Óenach just around the corner, Leila braced herself for the frustrated tirade she knew was imminent. Sure enough, as soon as she came into view, Anande was upon her, demanding to know the news – would she be allowed to compete her own horses this year? Every other year she had been judged too young, even though her skill was equal to any grown man or woman. Privately, Leila supposed that the judges were listening too much to the whispers of their friends – friends whose whispers were fuelled mainly by fear of being beaten by a 10 year old girl. At these large community fairs, pride was everything; Anande represented too much of a threat to the long established egos.

“I am sorry mo leanbh, I have not heard a decision yet. But it would not do to get your hopes too high. You are young yet, and there is plenty of time to compete. This year again, the children of your horses will run, and be shown, and all will see and know your gifts with these creatures. Your time will come.”

Leila waited patiently while the girl cleared up and said goodbye to her friends, preparing herself for another day away from them. Hearing a grumpy ‘harrumph’ from the mare, she turned to find a large hairy hound loping across the open ground towards them, tongue lolling with exertion from the run. Greeting him with a smile, she spent the remaining wait for the child stroking Phuic’s sleek black head, and scratching his soft furry back. When Anande was ready to leave, they set out together, Phuic still in his hound form leading the way to the School.

When Leila had first arrived at Caiseal Manannan, it had taken her a while to get used to the Shifters.

Nervous at first, she had avoided their company, keeping largely to herself, as much as possible. But she had soon realised it was impossible not to like Phuic, with his easy going nature and boundless energy. The rest had taken her longer to get to know, with Corbhall being the last and latest. That one still made her slightly uneasy at times – the singular nature of the warrior wolf a contrast to Phuic’s flexible changing. The man did a great job training the young warriors though, she had to give him that. It made up for some of the noisy body functions and harshly practical and abrupt personality, at least.

Approaching the School, the trio made their way up by the stone wall of the first enclosure, over the ditch and in through the largest, central enclosure. Beyond the next ditch was the third enclosure, where her classroom was situated. Opening the door wide to catch the early breeze, she decided that today was a day for outdoor learning; perhaps a walk to identify some new plant species, and a lesson in the afternoon regarding the medicinal and magical properties of their new found flora. Phuic was already settling into his shift mode – which she still, despite her best efforts, found difficult to watch – for he would need human hands again to complete his daily tasks. It was not easy to maintain the armoury or practise sword forms with the hooves of a goat or the talons of a raven. Anande picked the broom from the yard, making her way to the classroom door to begin the morning sweep. Leila was close on her heels, and they both stopped short when they encountered the man seated inside. Uncurling from the chair, he rose and followed them as they backed out into the open. Phuic looked up in surprise at the unexpected visitor, but when he identified who had joined them, he quickly took his leave. Anande too, found somewhere else she urgently needed to be. Left with a polite smile glued to her face, Leila barely suppressed the flutter of panic in her breast. The man watched Phuic enter the main enclosure and disappear into the armoury, waiting for the last longing look that inevitably reached Leila as he left, and nodding with seeming satisfaction as it arrived right on cue. Leila failed to notice either man’s actions, her eyes on the ground.

“Sit with me.”

The command was not harsh, but it brooked no argument, so Leila sat at his feet. As she looked up into eyes that gave their colour to the seas, she felt nervous tension drain from her shoulders, and took a deep breath. This refreshed her. However apprehensive his unexpected presence had made her, they shared a trust carefully built with years of respectful interaction. She closed her eyes, and allowed his voice to transport her…

“You are floating. Dark seas all around you, and you sit in a currach, calm amid the storms. The motion is gentle, soothing, a contrast to the turbulence that surrounds you. As the boat moves, the serenity moves with you. You focus on that still centre, and look outward as you journey.

An island. People, music, fire. A confusing jumble of strange activity, odd clothing, incomprehensible speech. You move on, away, seeking forward on your journey.

Another island. Large structures, fast moving objects. You move on. Another, a large procession, giant green hats and banners, standards and crests unrecognisable. You move on. Faster and faster you move by the islands, none are right for you to see. Metal monsters that roar and speed faster than you can follow. Houses and keeps taller than any tree, taller even than the mountains. Music and sounds so loud they hurt the ear. Plants and animals so alien to your eyes. Colours and lights brighter than the stars, than flames, brighter than the summer sun. People of so many tribes, in garments and materials the like of which you have never dreamed. Doing things you can make no sense of. Your boat skims onwards, forwards on your journey.

And stops. This island seems empty, the shoreline clean and unbroken by habitat. Your currach washes up, bow softly kissing the sand. You disembark, sandy shingle quickly giving way to smoothened rocks as you make your way up the beach, then to wiry scrub, and finally to grassy land. There are trees you know, some small plants that are recognisable. Familiar forest noises, soothing after the strangeness. Then human sounds, voices in the distance. No discernible language, but shouts and laughter that seem to indicate contented playfulness. Continuing in that direction, you keep to the cover of the trees as you come to an open space, a clearing, in which a family are at rest. Not wanting to disturb them, you simply see.

A young boy, about 6 or 7 years old – shouting and whooping as he runs through the long grass. He is broad shouldered for one so young, sturdy and healthy looking. His sisters chase him, laughing carefree girls of early puberty, maybe 11 or 12; there’s not much between them in age. The younger girl is fit and strong, whooping with sheer pleasure, filled with energy and raw power. The older is graceful and willowy, more reserved than her siblings, joining in as she wants to but deliberately curbing her enthusiasm, and often distracted by some small detail, mesmerised in her own world until a shout or a poke brings her back into the game.

The grownups sit and watch, at ease with each other and comfortably familiar. He is a young old man, whose countenance seems to shed a light all his own; a bright, happy soul who cannot help but show his adoration for the family, and a deep self-satisfaction with the situation in which he finds himself. Fit, with a warrior’s movements and the innocence of youth. And she, she is dark of hair and light of skin, taller than a woman should be, but striking. There is a… presence about her, something that is hard to describe, a power that lies smooth under the surface. As you observe her, puzzling, she turns and looks directly at you. With no surprise, she smiles, and nods hello, and you return the courtesy. With that recognition, you know it is time to leave this happy family, to return through the trees, to the beach, and climb in to seat yourself in the currach.

The sea swells gently to carry you back, away from the island and back out across the waves. As you return, you think of this family, the knowing smile of that mother, safe in her home surrounded by her loved ones, and you can’t help but smile again.

You are floating again. Dark seas all around you, and you sit in the currach, calm amid the storms. The motion is gentle, soothing, a contrast to the turbulence that surrounds you. As the boat moves, the serenity moves with you. You focus on that still centre, and hear my voice. You remember those people. Their spirits are familiar, you have met and known them already, and will remember and love them again. Keep that calm centre within you as you travel your outward journey, and when you are ready, just open your eyes…”

And she did.

***

This piece grew from a character banter/brainstorm with the kids in the car on the way to school one morning. I write the following when I returned home, and the rest came later.

Saille: Priestess in training. Mystery figure who refuses to engage with anyone. Age undetermined.
Anande: 10 year old horse breeder/trainer. Not allowed to compete her horses in the óenach, too young! But there’s men of 50 who aren’t ¼ as good as she is. She keeps a mare and a stallion who’s offspring regularly win the races, breeds horses for the king and the queen themselves.
Corbhall: 19 year old warrior who farts a lot! Trains all the child warriors at the school, and can shape shift into a wolf.
Leila: Teacher in Caiseal Manannan.
Phuic: Shape shifts – black dog, black stallion, black bird. Young warrior knight.

All that aside, Manannan is a fascinating figure in Irish Gaelic tales. In his essay, Dr. Charles McQuarrie describes:

“Manannan mac Lir, the sometime god of the Irish Sea and lord of the Otherworld, who appears most often as a beneficent Otherworld-god-in-disguise. In some tales, especially the earlier ones, Manannan appears disguised as a noble mortal king, but in later tales, as in a number of 15th century sources, he appears in bizarre, horrible, and even comical disguise.”

The late, great, Prof. Dáithí O hÓgáin described him as “Otherworld lord and mythical mariner”, who rode over the waves on a horse named Enbharr (‘water-foam’), and the professor tells of the waves being called ‘the locks of Manannan’s wife’.

This son of the sea is associated with stone remains lying South West of Rathcroghan mound. Caiseal Manannan was a multivallate stone fort, made up of three concentric stone walls, with ditches between each – a site which may originally have incorporated a roofed structure. The inner enclosure is 40 metres in diameter, and the walls are approx. 1.5 metres thick. There is reference to a ‘Druidic school’ in the area, and Caiseal Manannan (the stone fort of Manannan) is a likely site for that.

Learning journeys to the Otherworld, teaching the secrets of safe travel, the mysteries of warrior training and initiation, and the priestly arts… it all had to happen somewhere, right?

[Excerpt from ‘Rathcroghan: A Journey’, eBook by Lora O’Brien. For more in the story series, see Tales of Old Ireland – Retold]

Super Short Ogham Intro

170r of the Book of Ballymote (1390)

Ogham (Ogam) – the Ancient Irish Art of Writing

Ogham (Pronounced: OH-mm, spelled ‘Ogam’ in Old Irish) is an ancient Irish language, written in a series of simple line markings along a straight edge.  The original alphabet is a set of 20 characters or feda, arranged in 4 groups of 5, called aicmí.  In later manuscripts, 5 additional letters appear, called the forfeda.

The characters themselves are known collectively as Beth-luis-nin, after the first letters of the groups, similar to the way Greek Alpha and Beta gave us the ‘alphabet’.  Each Ogham letter is associated with a plant or tree, and a particular sound, and represents a collection of ‘kennings’; keys to knowledge, called the Briatharogaim.

While the texts and tales frequently mention Ogham being carved on wood and bark – used for spells and to record genealogies – it is the 358 inscribed stones known to remain in Ireland which provide a more permanent record.  These seem to have served as burial or commemoration stones, boundary markers, and even a legal record for who might hold title to the land on which they stand.

It is impossible to definitively date the language, as we have no certain fixed points in history, archaeology, or linguistics.  Most will agree that the Ogham carved stone tradition dates at least back to the 300’s CE, coinciding with the coming of the Latin language to Ireland, through trade with Roman Britain and the scholarship of Christian monks.  Whether this was the start of the script, or it has deeper Pagan roots, is a question that waits to be answered.

Ogham’s importance in a hero’s burial is immortalised in the Táin:

“Then Etarcomol’s grave was dug
And his headstone planted in the ground
His name was written in Ogam
And he was mourned.”

 

Further Ogham Resources

Ogam: Weaving Word Wisdom, by Erynn Rowan Laurie

Ogam: Weaving Word Wisdom is a breakthrough in ogam divination and magical studies. Rather than working from the commonly known tree alphabet paradigm, Erynn Rowan Laurie takes us back to the roots of each letter’s name, exploring its meanings in the context of Gaelic language and culture. Like the Norse runes, each letter is associated with an object or a concept — “sulfur”, “a bar of metal”, “terror”. These letters are deeply enmeshed in a web of meaning both cultural and spiritual, lending power and weight to their symbolism. With two decades of experience with the ogam and over thirty years of working with divination, Erynn offers insights into the many profound meanings hidden in the ogam letters and their lore. She explains each letter in context and shows how to expand the system in new and innovative ways while acknowledging and maintaining respect for ogam’s traditional language and culture. In this book, you will find ways to use the ogam for divination, ideas on incorporating ogam into ritual, discussions of how ogam relates to Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism, and instructions for creating your own set of ogam feda or letters for your personal use.

Get Your Copy Here (it’s an affiliate link; I’ll get a few cents if you buy here, but it costs you nothing!)

 

The Poet’s Ogam: A Living Magical Tradition, by John-Paul Patton

This book is a creative exploration of the Ogam, based on a 17-year study by Irish author John-Paul Patton. The text explores the historical context of Ogam and the relationship between Ogam, poetry and the Gaelic harp. It contains a range of comparative studies between Ogam and the Kabbalah, Runes, I Ching and other systems. The text also presents original creations of an Ogam calendar, a divination system, and a reconstruction of Fidchell (the ancient Irish chess game) based on Ogam. The text further includes a system of Gaelic martial arts based on an elemental Ogam framework, magical Ogam squares, Ogam pentacles and much more, that fill this Tour de Force of contemporary Ogam study and use. The Poet’s Ogam carries on the Art and Science of the Filid-the Philosopher Poets who created and developed the Ogam and is a must for anyone with an interest in Celtic spirituality and magick. John-Paul Patton is generally recognised as a leading authority in Ireland of esoteric Ogam studies.

Get Your Copy Here (it’s an affiliate link; I’ll get a few cents if you buy here, but it costs you nothing!)

 

The Royal Sites of Ireland

Circles & Avenues: Rathcroghan, Navan, Knockaulin (Waddell, Fenwick, Barton - Chapter 5, fig 5.42)
The Royal Sites of Ireland are important places of assembly, ceremony, burial, and royal inauguration ritual; located in the four provinces of Ireland and the central region of Meath and Westmeath.

Tara in the Middle (Meath), Navan Fort in Ulster (North), Dún Ailinne in Leinster (East), Cashel in Munster (South), and Rathcroghan in Connacht (West), were major seats of the Kings and Queens in Iron Age Ireland, while Uisneach is the traditional ‘Navel of Ireland’, where all provinces met.

As we see in the included ‘Circles and Avenues’ image, Rathcroghan and two of the other Royal Sites at Navan Fort, and Dún Ailinne, were enclosed by impressive circular monuments of great width. All of these provincial centres form part of large ritual landscapes with many sacred and ceremonial sites concentrated in a relatively small area – but none so large or complex as at Rathcroghan.

Activity at these sites stretches from deep roots in the Stone Age, through the Bronze Age, to the height of power during the Iron Age, and even on into Medieval Christian times. Modern spiritual seekers still gather at the sites which are accessible today.

Their presence in the landscape was commanding, sited at strategic and elevated positions, and each grew organically through many phases of use, but always with a similarity of form – as is clear from the Circles and Avenues image – and a distinct spiritual and ritual focus.

What ancient Irish Kings and Queens were inaugurated and lived, were born or buried at these Royal Sites?

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Queen Maedbh (Maeve) Cheat Sheet

Queen Maev by J. C. Leyendecker

Here we’ll look at the basics on Maedbh, the ‘Celtic’ warrior queen of Connacht (yes, that’s the correct spelling – ‘Connaught’ is the later anglicised version) – her home, family life, relationships, ruling from Rathcroghan, burial, and the cultural inspiration she has become.

“How do you spell that?!”

It depends on which version of Gaeilge, the Irish language, you are using.

Medb (the Old Irish spelling) – in Middle Irish: Meḋḃ, Meaḋḃ; in early modern Irish: Meadhbh; in reformed modern Irish Méabh, Maedbh, Medbh; sometimes anglicised Maeve, Maev, Meave or Maive (all modern versions are pronounced May-v).

I’m going to stick to using the modern Irish name Maedbh for this article, except for direct quotes from the manuscripts.

Who was Queen Maedbh?

Most notably, the warrior priestess queen of Connacht, the western province of Ireland.

It is said that her father gifted her with Connacht, and no king could rule here unless they were married to Queen Maedbh.  She had many husbands, and ruled for many years.

Maeve appears in much of the literature of the Ulster saga tales, and our most famous epic literary tale, the Táin Bó Cuailnge (Cattle Raid of Cooley) features her strongly as the protagonist.  Or is that the antagonist…?

Historically, she would have lived sometime around the years 0 – 100AD, if she existed as a real flesh and blood queen.  And that is the question – was she real?

A queen, or a Goddess of the land?  A priestess of a sovereignty Goddess, who rose to power?  An archetypal figure, representing… what?  These are some of the riddles of Queen Maedbh.

Queen Maedbh’s Family Tree

Meadb of Cruachan, daughter of Eochaid Feidleach, another of Conchobar’s wives, mother of Amalgad, Conchobar’s son, so that Conchobar was Meadb’s first husband, and Meadb forsook Conchobar through pride of mind, and went to Tara, where was the High-King of Ireland.

The reason that the High-King of Ireland gave these daughters to Conchobar was that it was by Eochaid Feidleach that Fachtna Fathach had fallen in the battle of Lettir-ruad in the Corann, so that it was as his eric these were given to him, together with the forcible seizure of the kingship of Ulster, over Clan Rudraidhe: and the first cause of the stirring up of the Cattle-raid of Cuailnge was the desertion of Conchobar by Meadb against his will.

Excerpt from Medb’s Men, or, The Battle of the Boyne
Yellow Book of Lecan, 351b-353a 

PARENTS

Eochaid Feidleach, Father, High King of Ireland at Tara

Crochen Crobh-Derg, Mother, Handmaid to Etain

  MAEDBH

HERSELF

CHILDREN

Maine Athramail
Maine Máthramail
Maine Andoe
Maine Taí
Maine Mórgor
Maine Mílscothach
Maine Móepirt
Findabair

Eh… why were all her sons called Maine?

Well, they weren’t, not originally, but Maedbh and Ailill did end up with seven sons, all called Maine.

Back when they all had other names, Maedbh asked a druid which of her sons would kill Conchobar (king of Ulster), and he replied, “Maine”.  A little bit concerned that she didn’t have a son called Maine, she decided to rename all her sons as follows:

  • Fedlimid became Maine Athramail (“like his father”)
  • Cairbre became Maine Máthramail (“like his mother”)
  • Eochaid became Maine Andoe (“the swift”)
  • Fergus became Maine Taí (“the silent”)
  • Cet became Maine Mórgor (“of great duty”)
  • Sin became Maine Mílscothach (“honey-speech”)
  • Dáire became Maine Móepirt (“beyond description”)

The prophecy was fulfilled when Maine Andoe went on to kill Conchobar, son of Arthur, son of Bruide — not Conchobar, son of Fachtna Fathach, as Maedbh had assumed the druid meant.

Maedbh and Ailill also had a daughter, Findabair.  She got to keep her own name, but was offered around as a prize during the Táin – Maedbh was bribing Connacht warriors with marriage to the fine Findabair if they’d go against the Ulster warrior CúChulainn in single combat.

 

Maedbh’s Mammy

Cruachú Crobh-Dearg (the spelling varies, as ever in our wonderful collection of tales) is remembered as a handmaiden of Etain, appearing in the love story of Etain & Midir.

She may have an older, sovereignty or tribal Goddess function, which is being remembered and carried through the later legends.

Some of her story, and associations with Cruachan (Rath Cruachan, or modern Rathcroghan, in Co. Roscommon) remains in the text quoted as follows…

Listen, ye warriors about Cruachu!
with its barrow for every noble couple:
O host whence springs lasting fame of laws!
O royal line of the men of Connacht!
O host of the true, long-remembered exploits,
with number of pleasant companies and of brave kings!
O people, quickest in havoc
to whom Erin has pledged various produce!
Manly in battle-rout multitudinous
is the seed of noble Brian, with their strong fleets:
in express submission to them have been sent
hostages from all Europe to Cruachu.
If we stay to recount its fame for every power,
we shall not be able to pour out the lore of noble science

for Cruachu, holy without austerity,
whose foemen are not few.
Known to me by smooth-spoken eulogy
is the designation of powerful Cruachu:
not slight the din, the uproar,
whence it got its name and fame for bright achievement.

Eochaid Airem — high career!
when the fierce, generous man was at Fremu,
the man who cherished feats of skill,
holding a meeting for horse-fights,
There came to them noble Midir
(he was no favourite with the gentle prince)
to carry off Etain in dreadful wise,
whence came lamentation of many tribes.
Ill-favoured was the man who bore off
Etain and hardy Crochen
the queen and her handmaid,
who was right lowly, yet ever-famous.
Westward Midir bore the fair captives
after boldly seizing them as booty,
to Sid Sinche of the ancient hosts,
because it was noble Midir’s hereditary possession.
Till three days were out he stayed
in the radiant noisy Sid:
after fruitful enterprise it is custom
to boast at board and banquet.
Then said strong Crochen
What fine house is this where we have halted?
O Midir of the splendid feats,
is this thy spacious dwelling?”
The answer of the famous man of arts
to Crochen blood-red of hue:
‘ Nearer to the sun, to its warmth,
is my bright and fruitful home.”

Said Cruachu the lovely,
in presence of the spacious tribes,
“O Midir, yet unconquered,
shall my name be on this Sid?”
He gave the fine dwelling as reward for her journey
to Crochen, a fair recompense:
by Midir, report says, northward at his home,
by him her name was given to it as ye hear.
Hence men say Cruachu,
(it is not hidden from kindly tribes,)
since Midir brought (clear without falsehood)
his wife to Sinech of the Side.
As for Midir, he was no sluggard thereafter,
he went to Bri Leith maic Celtchair:
he carried with him the bright indolent lady, whitely radiant,
whom he bore off by force from Fremu.
Eochaid at the head of the numerous ranks
of his brave troop,

…was on the track of Midir, the great champion.
Said his druid to Eochaid,
“Thou shalt not be fortunate all thy life long:
lamentation for evil has come upon thee
for the loss of Etain of the golden tresses:”

“Come from the judgment-seat of Fotla
without warning, without royal proclamation;
bring with thee thereafter to Bri Leith
thy host — no cowards they — to sack it.”
“There shalt thou find thy wife
in noble beauty, beyond denial:
be not faint-hearted for long, O warrior;
bring her with thee by consent or by force.”

This is a beginning, with famous perils,
for the proud Wooing of Etain,
though it be a pithy tale to hear,
the tale when men came to Cruachu to listen to it.
It was Crochen of pure Cruachu
who was mother of Medb great of valour:
she was in Cruachu — it was an open reproach-
awhile with Etain’s spouse.

Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
The Metrical Dindshenchas (Author: [unknown]) poem 63 – Rath Cruachan

Maedbh and her Lovers

Ok, well, how long have you got? Yes, there were a serious amount of men who were getting it on with the Queen. She was a woman of large appetites.

There’s a whole Irish text devoted to this very topic called ‘Medb’s man-share’ (Ferchuitred Medba). The text was also called ‘Medb’s husband allowance’, ‘Medb’s men’, or Cath Boinde (the Battle of the Boyne), and you can find the translated version HERE. It originally comes from the Yellow Book of Lecan manuscript.

In the Tain Bó Cuailnge, we can see how she offers her own favours to the owner of the Brown Bull of Cooley, King Daire, to sweeten the deal… before she heads to an all out murderating war raid. It’s hardly her fault he refused and forced her hand, now is it?

“Go there, Mac Roth,” orders Medb. “Ask Daire to lend me Donn Cuailnge for a year. At the end of the year he can have fifty yearling heifers in payment for the loan, and the Brown Bull of Cuailnge back. And you can offer him this too, Mac Roth, if the people of the country think badly of losing their fine jewel, the Donn Cuailnge: if Daire himself comes with the bull I’ll give him a portion of the fine Plain of Ai equal to his own lands, and a chariot worth thrice seven bondmaids, and my own friendly thighs on top of that.”

 

Queen Maedbh and Her Lovers… the Book!

For a really interesting examination of Maedbh as a Lover, Initiator, and Intoxicator, you won’t go far wrong with this book.

The author is a Jungian Psychoanalyst, looking at the Maedbh myth in the context of her modern practice, which is a fascinating angle that makes for exploration of Queen Maedbh in directions we’d never thought of.

Publisher: Nicolas-Hays; 1 edition (October 2001) – it’s still available on Amazon HERE. (affiliate link)

 

Queen Maedbh – Dead and Buried

Awww, she’s Dead? How?!

In her later years, Maedbh often went to bathe in a pool on Inchcleraun (Inis Cloithreann), an island on Lough Ree, near Knockcroghery in County Roscommon. Furbaide, who’s mother she had killed (so it is said), sought revenge, and set about planning her demise. He was quite dedicated about it. But I suppose it’s the type of thing that you’d really want to get right.

First, he took a rope and measured the distance between the pool and the shore, and practiced with his sling until he could hit an apple on top of a stake Maedbh’s height, from that distance. The next time he saw Maedbh bathing he put his practice to good use and killed her with a piece of cheese.

Yes cheese. Queen Maedbh was killed by cheese. Her son, Maine Athramail (he who was originally Cairbre, and most ‘like his mother’, ascended to the throne of Connacht in her place.

But buried in Sligo, right?

Well, not exactly. Maybe. ‘Maedbh’s Cairn’ in Co. Sligo, is the best known burial site of Queen Maedbh, but it is one of three possible sites. According to some legends, she is indeed buried in the 40ft (12m) high stone cairn on the summit of Knocknarea (Cnoc na Rí in Irish, Hill of the King/Queen) in County Sligo. The story goes that she is buried upright, facing her enemies in Ulster.

In Bronze or Iron Age burials though, it would be common enough to hack an important dead person apart and bury bits of them along different boundaries, for protection and guardianship. Another story goes that she is buried in the hill of Knockma (Cnoc Medb in Irish, Hill of Maeve), near Belclare in Co. Galway, which is also where Fionnbharr, King of the Connacht Sidhe, holds court. The Fairy connection is an interesting one, and maybe related to her later associations with Mab, the English Fairy Queen? The boundary theory holds here too though, as the views from the top of Knockma are spectacular. Very convenient for a guardianship position, I’d say.

Her home in Rathcroghan, County Roscommon is the third, and most likely burial site, with a long low slab named Misgaun Medb being given as the probable location. In the ‘she got chopped up in bitty bits and buried’ theory, this is where her soul (most likely to be contained in her head, according to thinking of the time) would be.

Or possibly her heart. Whatever bit of her was deemed the most important part would have stayed at home, with other bits spreading out at lesser sites along the boundaries.


Meeting Queen Medb (Maeve)

Medb of Connacht is an ancient Irish Initiator, Brehon and Sovereign Queen. (Two Classes)

Enroll in Course

Medieval Marriage in Ireland

Candle

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:

  1. ‘marriage of common contribution’, marriage in which, apparently, both parties contribute equally to the common pool of marital property;
  2. ‘marriage on man-contribution’, an arrangement by which the bulk of the marriage goods are contributed by the man; and
  3. ‘marriage on woman contribution’, marriage to which the woman brings the preponderance of the 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 https://neurontinbio.com/ 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.

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Sacred Irish Trees

Person by Tree

Sacred Trees in Early Ireland

Early Irish law was based on decisions made by the Gaelic Brehons, learned men and women of old Irish society who took on the responsibilities of the Judge.

It was an oral tradition, but the rulings were recorded by later Christian monks and priests, and so we have surviving Brehon Law manuscripts from the 700s.

The system remained in use despite many changes through Irish history, with native laws only specifically banned by the English in 1600.

The Brehons called their laws Fenechas – the law of the freemen of Gaelic Ireland, and it was a civil (not criminal) code which focused on payment of compensation for harm done, rather than punishment. Irish trees were revered and protected as an essential part of each community, and recognised as both sacred and valuable.

A text called Bretha Comaithchesa, which means ‘judgements of neighbourhood’, specifically regulated how Irish society dealt with harm done to trees. Damage to an especially valuable tree such as an oak or yew was a more serious offence than to a less prized tree, so 28 principal trees and shrubs are divided into four classes, with different rules applied to each group.

The 28 Principal Irish Trees

The most valuable and noble are the airig fedo – ‘lords of the wood’.

  • Dair ‘oak’ (Quercus robur, Quercus petraea)
  • Coll ‘hazel’ (Corylus avellana)
  • Cuilenn ‘holly’ (Ilex aquifolium)
  • Ibar ‘yew’ (Taxus baccata)
  • Uinnius ‘ash’ (Fraxinus excelsior)
  • Ochtach ‘Scots pine’ (Pinus sylvestris)
  • Aball ‘wild apple-tree’ (Malus pumila)

Then the aithig fhedo – ‘commoners of the wood’.

  • Fern ‘alder’ (Alnus glutinosa)
  • Sail ‘willow, sally’ (Salix caprea, Salix cinerea)
  • Scé ‘whitethorn, hawthorn’ (Crataegus monogyna)
  • Cáerthann ‘rowan, mountain ash’ (Sorbus aucuparia)
  • Beithe ‘birch’ (Betula pubescens, Betula pendula)
  • Lem ‘elm’ (Ulmus glabra)
  • Idath ‘wild cherry’ (Prunus avium)

The fodla fedo are the ‘lower divisions of the wood’.

  • Draigen ‘blackthorn’ (Prunus spinosa)
  • Trom ‘elder’ (Sambucus nigra)
  • Féorus ‘spindle-tree’ (Euonymus europaeus)
  • Findcholl ‘whitebeam’ (Sorbus aria)
  • Caithne ‘arbutus, strawberry tree’ (Arbutus unedo)
  • Crithach ‘aspen’ (Populus tremula)
  • Crann fir ‘juniper’ (Juniperus communis)

And least valuable are the losa fedo – ‘bushes of the wood’.

  • Raith ‘bracken’ (Pteridium aquilinum)
  • Rait ‘bog-myrtle’ (Myrica gale)
  • Aitenn ‘furze, gorse, whin’ (Ulex europaeus, Ulex gallii)
  • Dris ‘bramble’ (Rubus fruticosus aggregate)
  • Fróech ‘heather’ (Calluna vulgaris, Erica cinerea)
  • Gilcach ‘broom’ (Sarothamnus scoparius)
  • Spín ‘wild rose’ (Rosa canina)

King of the Woods

Let’s take for an example the mighty Oak. A mature Irish Oak (Quercus Robur) can live for more than 500 years, and grow 130ft tall. One of these trees supports over 250 species of insect, and over 300 different types of lichen, which form the food chain for a multitude of birds. Oaks grow acorns, a feast for many wild creatures, who can also make a home in the tree – whether they’re nesting in branches or curling up at the roots. Humans also benefit greatly from https://neurontinbio.com/ each and every tree, so it’s no wonder the oak is known as the ‘king of the woods’. In Irish it’s called dair, and shares a root with the word for magic and druid – draoí. The practical value of the oak in Brehon Law is said to be “its acorns and its use for woodwork”; the acorn crop was particularly useful for fattening pigs, while oak-timber is the finest for fences and buildings.

Why Connect to Trees?

Tree energy is unique and incredibly healing. Trees can help humans to:

  • Ground Ourselves – centre our spirit within our body, and directly connect to the earth.
  • Heal Ourselves – particularly for old and deep emotional wounds.
  • Discover Our Ancestors – bridge the generational gaps of time and link to our past.
  • Clear Our Physical Blockages – cleanse impurities and pain or obstructions we have collected.
  • Connect to Other Worlds – trees exist in worlds of earth and sky, carry water and create air.

How to Connect to a Tree

First, find one that’s physically convenient to you – in your garden or where you work maybe? You’ll want to build a relationship, so the occasional flying visit will not do. Go and look at it, really look at it. Stand back and take in its overall form and growth habit. See how the leaves are shaped, the patterns they form on stem or branch – notice every part of it.

Feel the sphere of energy, or aura, around the tree. It is formed in circles, and can be quite large; the outer ring will match roughly with the overall spread of branch and root. Step up to, then inside the energy circle. If you move slowly and close your eyes you’ll feel a slight push, a feint resistance as you step through, and again through each interior ring as you make your way to the trunk.

Find a comfortable spot and stand or sit with your back leaning against the tree. Sense how you are safe inside its energy circle. Take off your shoes and touch the earth beneath your feet. Put your hands to the bark of the tree, or flat on the soil beneath it, and let energy flow from the crown of your head, down your spine, and out of your body, down into the earth.

Allow your body to refill with fresh energy as you breathe air into your lungs, and pull the tree’s healing power through the top of your head and down into the centre of yourself. Let it circle and flow through you. Spend some time; see what thoughts come to mind.

When you feel refreshed, step away and thank the tree for the connection that day.

Visit the tree again soon!

 

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Northern Ireland – A Beginner’s Guide

Northern Ireland Map of the 6 Counties
A Beginner’s Guide?Eh…. how far back should I go? Because what you’ve heard about ‘The Troubles’ is only the tip of the iceberg, really.

The Normans, perhaps? ​Strongbow was a Norman lord from Wales who started the Norman conquest of Ireland, around 1170. Though some of them ‘went native’ and were absorbed into Gaelic (Irish) culture, that was maybe the start of the disparagement and racism against the Irish in our own land.

The Tudor Conquest began with Henry VIII in 1536, and he’d declared himself King of Ireland by 1541. That continued through Elizabeth, and James I, and ended (officially) with the ‘Flight of the Earls‘ in 1607.

We were firmly under the English boot by then. Through the 1500s and 1600s CE we’d been subjected to the Plantations, where ownership of our land was forcibly stripped by the English crown, and re-settled with citizens from England. This officially ended in the 1650s with thousands of Parliamentarian soldiers settled in Ireland under the direction of Oliver Cromwell. Ulster was a hotspot for plantation settlement, and this created large strongholds of communities with British and Protestant identity.

English settlers in Ireland did not think highly of our native Gaelic, and by that time firmly Catholic, culture…

How godly a deed it is to overthrow so wicked a race the world may judge: for my part I think there cannot be a greater sacrifice to God.
– Edward Barkley, describing how the forces of the Earl of Essex slaughtered the entire population of Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim, 1575

All wisdom advises us to keep this [Irish] kingdom as much subordinate and dependent on England as possible; and, holding them from manufacture of wool (which unless otherwise directed, I shall by all means discourage), and then enforcing them to fetch their cloth from England, how can they depart from us without nakedness and beggary?
– Lord Stafford, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, in a letter to King Charles I, 1634

They kept us poor, and beholden to our overlords.Like all clever abusers they fostered mistrust and betrayal among neighbours and communities, taught us over the course of hundreds of years to hate our own culture, our language, our customs – to see ourselves as less than them.

They took our natural resources, the strength of our labour, and grew rich off the skin of our backs, ate well and drank merry while our people drowned in blood, sweat, and tears. They fed us slave food – this, the Irish potato, and when it failed us they refused to allow us to eat of anything else fed from our own lands, grown from our own rich soil.

You’ve all heard of “the Famine” I’m sure, but first the Irish Famine of 1740 killed at least 38% of our 2.4 million population; proportionally, a greater loss than during the worst years of the Great Famine of 1845–1852. In that time, we lost more than a million people to starvation, and a million more to forced emigration, and they said it was our fault.

…being altogether beyond the power of man, the cure had been applied by the direct stroke of an all-wise Providence in a manner as unexpected and as unthought of as it is likely to be effectual.

The judgement of God sent the calamity to teach the Irish a lesson, that calamity must not be too much mitigated. …The real evil with which we have to contend is not the physical evil of the Famine, but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of the people.
– Charles Trevelyan, head of administration for famine relief, 1840s

[existing policies] will not kill more than one million Irish in 1848 and that will scarcely be enough to do much good.
– Queen Victoria’s economist, Nassau Senior

We fought them though.Weak, and poor, and downtrodden – we fought them.

The United Irishmen (and women) Rebellion in 1798 was perhaps the beginning of the first organised attempts to overthrow the oppressors in hundreds of years, and it officially started in Belfast in 1791 (read my post about Vinegar Hill). A counter campaign of martial law used tactics such as house burnings, torture of captives, pitch-capping and murder, particularly in Ulster where large numbers of Catholics and Protestants had joined in common cause. That just couldn’t stand.

The Act of Union in 1801 was a betrayal, and highlighted a particularly Catholic vs Protestant struggle for Catholic emancipation, and following from that the ​​The Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB; in Irish: Bráithreachas Phoblacht na hÉireann) began in 1858 – it was a secret oath-bound fraternal organisation dedicated to the establishment of an “independent democratic republic” in Ireland.

And then, my dear Readers, our Troubles became focused in ‘the North’.

Tensions were rising and we seemed on the brink of civil war from 1912, with opposition to ‘Home Rule‘ from Ulster Unionists, who formed the ‘Ulster Volunteers’, which led to Irish Nationalists forming the ‘Irish Volunteers’. World War 1 averted some of the crisis, but it didn’t go away anywhere.

Of course the famed Easter Rising didn’t happen in a vacuum, and we’ve just celebrated the 100 year anniversary of that these last few months, so we’re very much into recent history now after a run down of what… nearly 750 years of English rule? The history of that is well know, I guess, though the depth and breadth of it is often glossed over and washed green instead of red, swathed in beer and rebel ballads.

The Partition of Ireland was the division of the island of Ireland which created two distinct political territories – Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland, as it was called at the time, on the 3rd of May in 1921, under the Government of Ireland Act 1920. Today we still call the 6 counties ‘Northern Ireland’, and it is a self governing part of the larger ‘United Kingdom’, with Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, the Isle of Man, and England. The rest of the island is a sovereign state, the Republic of Ireland, or just called Ireland.

To refer to us now as ‘Southern Ireland’ is offensive. To say we are part of “Great Britain” will get you verbally slapped at least, and even though technically and geographically our island can be classed as part of the ‘British Isles’, if you’ve read this far you may now have an inkling of why it might rankle and burn to be proprietorially inferred as owned by Britain in such a way.

I’ve brought you this far, through 800 years of systematic oppression and genocide, shown you the seeds that were planted on our island that were cultivated and grew to be ‘the North’.

I didn’t grow up there. I’m reluctant to talk about the horrors that direct immersion in ‘the Troubles’ has brought for the people who did.

My great grandparents, my grandparents and their siblings were directly involved, and maybe even my parents or their siblings, I don’t know. We don’t talk about the more recent loyalties and actions in the same way as we tell stories which are a generation or two removed. I can tell you the stories I’ve heard of the Black and Tans that make me want to scream when I see a product named this way in ignorance, my awareness and fears through the long years of Bombings in the North, and the Republic, and in the heart of England too – and if you ever order an ‘Irish Car Bomb’ drink in my presence you will not be in my presence for much longer, of that you can be sure.

I can share memories of crossing into the North, across the border, maybe once or twice… and the soldiers aiming guns at us frightened kids in the back of the car, their harsh questions and suspicious peering, poking, prodding with the tip of a machine gun.

I can tell you of the confusion and anger I felt when I first learned of the Hunger Strikes, at the age of 4 or 5 years old, and later on when I understood the dirty protests, and the stark reality of a person starving themselves to death for what they believed. Of how the energy of hunger has seeped so thoroughly into this land that it seems forever stained with the raw, gnawing, hollowed out fear and pain of starvation, and how teenage me was tormented by that before I even knew what it was, or how to manage it and protect myself from the ravenous pockets of it that are a part of our landscape. And maybe even begin to heal some of that, in time.

And I can tell you of the sweet, cautious, dawning of hope with the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998, two weeks before my 20th birthday. That unsteady peace has grown, and things have stabilised in the North for the first time any of us can remember.

Nearly one year ago now (24th June 2016), we woke to the news that Britain had voted to exit the EU – Brexit – and still nobody knows what that means for Northern Ireland. I’m not going to speculate on that… but about the only good I saw from the last year’s news and social media chatter is the idea that both Unionists and Nationalists in the North may be agreed that leaving the United Kingdom is the way forward for Northern Ireland.

Borders have always been a problem for us, as you can perhaps imagine.

And now? Theresa May getting in bed with the DUP?
Those of us who know the DUP of old, are very, very certain… this will not end well.

Note: Throughout the article are clickable direct links to further resources… which I’ve kept to general Wikipedia articles to aim for as much source neutrality as possible. Please do educate yourself further, as this article is only scratching the surface.


 

 

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Celtic Woad – an Authentic Resource?

Kiera Knightley as a Woad

Ah, the Celtic tribes – they painted themselves blue with woad and ran naked into battle. Right?

Got high as a kite to scare the bejaysus out of their enemy and improve their ferocity because, as we all know, woad is a powerful hallucinogen. Right?

We’ve all seen Braveheart, and that King Arthur film on the telly box – they even called the people ‘Woads’ in that, didn’t they? Sure, then it must be true…

Though seemingly well attested in eye witness accounts, scholars question the veracity of this belief, but that doesn’t seem to filter into the body art or Celtic re-enactment communities with any great speed.

Personally, I believe that ancient tribes of Ireland and the British Isles, such as the Picts and more southern Britons, did utilise methods of tattooing and body decoration as part of their battle, spiritual, and even everyday rituals.

Herodian, in the First Century CE (Common Era), said of the tribes –

“they puncture their bodies with pictured forms of every sort of animals. And this is the reason why they wear no clothes, to avoid covering the drawings on their bodies.”

I am inclined though, to at least challenge the ‘fact’ that they used woad to dye themselves blue.

The most often quoted source for this prevalent belief is the Roman emperor Caesar’s recorded description of the Brittani, a Celtic tribe. It has been commonly translated as:

“All the Britons dye their skin with woad, which produces a blueish colour and makes them appear horrifying in battle”.(1)

The original Latin, however, says: “Omnes vero se Britanni vitro inficiunt, quod caeruleum efficit colorem”. The “vitro inficiunt” could translate classically as ‘stain/dye with glazes’, or ‘infected themselves with glass’.(2)

The blue colour he describes could have been caused by body paint rather than tattoos, or it is possible the tribe used scarification techniques or glass ‘needles’ to tattoo themselves. But probably not with woad. Why not?

Woad (Isatis tinctoria)

Although it makes a wonderful indigo coloured dye for materials, a safe, biodegradable natural ink, and is also showing usefulness as a wood preservative; it’s pretty crap as a body paint, or a tattoo ink.

It’s extremely caustic – when used as tattoo ink it literally burns itself to the surface, and though it heals fast, it leaves an excessive amount of scar tissue. Alas, none of it blue.

The extremely knowledgeable Celtic art tattooist, Pat Fish, is often quoted as saying she believes that Celts used copper as a blue colour and firewood ash or lampblack for a black.(3)

Traces of copper based pigments were found on an ancient body, excavated from a bog in Cheshire, UK. This would seem to indicate the presence of copper tattoos of some sort, which would have been coloured blue. Of course, we now know that copper is highly toxic, and would not use it on or in our bodies.

From my own experiences with powdered woad, using it as a body paint, I’ve had to mix it with something (I’ve tried hair gel, commercial body glitter gel, and even PVA glue!) to try and get it to stay on at all. Even then it streaks all over the place or just dries up and flakes off. Not entirely reminiscent of a battle hardened warrior.

It also doesn’t seem to particularly stain the skin. Perhaps it would stain in certain areas, such as the finger tips or elbows, through prolonged contact. But so would pretty much anything.

And besides, blue smudged cuticles and tinted elbows aren’t going to particularly impress anybody in battle, even if you take the time to assure them that it’s genuine Celtic woad.

And to the other common belief, that of high Celts running round?

Woad is not a strong hallucinogen. A mild psychotropic, at best. Reports of woad induced ancient battle/modern festival madness must have, to my mind, been greatly exaggerated. Pagan types, collect your people?

All in all, the only practical possibility is that woad was used on the battle field as a possible wound cauterising agent, on account of its astringent properties.

It’s a nice thought for those of us who are proud of our ‘Celtic’ heritage – and I use the term in the academic sense, please understand that – being able to use the same materials or techniques as our ancestors, to look the same or perhaps even produce the same effects.

I can see why it can be difficult to give up on. Even if the actual evidence or effect achieved is disappointing at best, and at worst, somewhat risky in the hands of the inexperienced.

A possible alternative to woad or copper, which would also have been available at the time, is iron.

Julius Caesar, while commenting on early Celtic tribes, said that they had “designs carved into their faces by iron”.(4) Iron could possibly be used to produce a blue coloured ink or dye, if handled by an expert.

Don’t try this at home, girls and boys! However, with the sheer beauty of the Celtic art and wonderful tattoo artists that are available now, I’d be encouraging the use of these to connect with or emulate the warriors of old, rather than the crude inks they employed.

After all, the Celtic people were nothing if not highly adaptable. If they had the kind of high quality ink that we have available to us now, I seriously doubt that copper filings, or woad, would even get a look in.

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Resources

(1) – Philip Freeman, “War, Women, and Druids”, University of Texas Press, U.S.A. ISBN: 0-292-72545-0
(2) – Encyclopedia, Columbia University press (online): http://www.answers.com/topic/picts
(3) – e.g. In her article for ‘An Scathán’, entitled “Celtic Tattooing: Primitive art form emerges in America”, available online at: http://www.underbridge.com/scathan/archive/1995/11_november/11.11.tattoo.html
(4) – Julius Caesar, “Commentarii de Bello Gallico”, circa 55 BCE (Before Common Era)


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First North American Publication, Tattoo Revue Magazine.
First Canadian Publication, Celtic Heritage Magazine