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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.


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Ireland’s First Female Veterinarian

Portrait of Aleen Cust, Ireland's first female veterinarian

Veterinarians have been around for quite a while now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aleen Cust

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

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

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

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

And indeed, she remains an inspiration to this day.


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Irish Medieval Cooking – Worties

Worties - Irish Cabbage for Medieval Cooking

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

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

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

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

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

In other words, it can be read:

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

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

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

Worties!

I should probably note a few things:

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

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

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


The Mórrígan and Her Sisters

Red Haired Woman in a Crowd

As part of our annual 6 month Intensive Programme, I answer questions from students who want to know more about our Irish Goddess The Mórrígan, with whom I have had a solid working relationship for about 15 years now… and the last 13 of them as Her priest.

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

I’m going to occasionally share some of those answers through this blog. [Find them tagged with ‘Morrigan’, or ‘Class Questions’]

Iníon Preacháin asked: “Of Badb, Macha, Anu/Anand, Nemain, Fea, and some list Danu as well… do you feel they are all aspects of the Morrigna?”

Okay, so, ‘the Morrigna’ represents the plural, so yes, they are all aspects of Na Morrigna, as in the Great Queens – that’s what Morrigna written like that means.  I always make a distinction between na Morrigna, as in the plural, or the Mórrígan, ‘an Morrighan,’ the Great Queen, so that would be my feeling on it.

Like I said — in a previous blog post, see it here — aspects is not a term that I would use specifically.  I would see them as sisters, and some more closely related than others. In my experience.

Macha is, I feel, is the closest to her, and I have an interest and kind of perspective, I suppose, in Mórrígan and Medb, that’s — Queen Medb of Connacht —, and working with both of those very, very powerful figures at Rathcroghan for so many years. They very much work together in my experience and both of them feed into the sovereignty of Connacht, of the western province, in Ireland.

Macha is the sovereignty of, or represents the sovereignty of, the Ulster province in the north of Ireland, and Connacht and Ulster have a somewhat troubled relationship in the mythology. I mean, anybody who’s read the — Tain Bó Cúailnge —, “The Cattle Raid of Cooley,” will be aware, Ulster and Connacht have been enemies for a very long time.  So there’s kind of a lot going on there, and of all of those sisters Macha, to me, has alwas been the most, kind of fully formed and distinct from the Morrígan.  

Nemain, I think, is an ancestor, and I think that all of those deities that are there… and again, we will look at this in more detail over the course, but all of those deities, in a sense they may be aspects in the literal understanding of that word. BUT, they are all beings and deities in their own right as well.  So them being aspects of the Great Queen, I think that kind of feeds together and weaves together, but I think they’re working on different levels, if that makes sense.

So you’ve got this kind of top tier of being able to interact with all of those beings individually. You go down a little bit deeper into the root system and they start to blend a little bit closer together and you don’t get those kind of distinctive, individual personalities.  You go down deeper and they’re all kind of part of that same root, and then you go deeper again and you’re still in the ‘Irish zone’ at that level… but then the level below that would be the universal archetypal level, the level of the collective unconscious common to all humanity, that kind of ‘dark goddess’ level.

All of the names which we connect to the Mórrígan, under the banner of ‘Great Queen’, are connected at a deep level so, but we can (and do) also interact with them individually in the day to day. I definitely wouldn’t be a fan of – or allowed to, I’d get my arse kicked – lump them all together or just swap out one for another.

Yeah, don’t try that one at home kids.


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Don’t be a ‘Celtic’ Racist…

Don't be a Celtic Racist

This blog has a lot of new visitors, and I’m really glad to see that! But I also don’t want to be fooling anyone into being a part of a community with me if the fit isn’t right either, you know?

So, I figured I’d give ye a little dose of who I really am, like right down to the core. And if you don’t like that for any reason, and are actually a racist (whether you call yourself that or not) just jog on. Simple!

First off, I use a lot of sweary words. My son (12yo) got a bit scandalised a while back hearing me chatting with Eilís on a ‘Your Irish Connection’ — Check it Here —  interview on my Youtube Channel, because I was cursing – “That’s not very professional Mam!”, says he. Well… it is what it is.

Second off, it’s not just my personal belief and lived experience that all people are equal and deserve the same human rights and safe community and care… it’s a fundamental part of the Irish experience. There’s a whole lot of bullshit floating around in the European Heritage communities that’s basically, and sometimes overtly (I’m looking at you Carolyn Emerick, mega shitehawk and peddler of appropriative racist codswallop), white supremacy, fascism, and neo nazi nonsense.

That’s not who the Irish are, or ever were.

Look, we’re not perfect. Modern Ireland can be really ignorant at times, and our lack of exposure to other cultures can be painfully obvious in the unthinking attitudes and beliefs of the people – but as a nation we truly, genuinely care for our fellow people all over the globe. We’re ranked the ninth most generous country in the world, and given the economic climate of the last few years, that’s pretty fucking cool.

It goes back further than modern charitable donations though. Even back to a time when we were on the brink of another famine, severely under the thumb of english rule and SUFFERING… we were still aware and working to support the civil rights movement in America.

Consider a quote from Daniel O’Connell, in 1843:

“How can the generous, the charitable, the humane, and the noble emotions of the Irish heart have become extinct amongst you? How can your nature be so totally changed as that you should become the apologists and advocates of the execrable system which makes man the property of his fellow man – destroys the foundation of all moral and social virtues – condemns to ignorance, immorality and irreligion, millions of our fellow creatures …? It was not in Ireland that you learned this cruelty…Over the broad Atlantic I pour forth my voice saying come out of such a land you Irishmen, or if you remain and dare continue to countenance the system of slavery that is supported there, we will recognize you as Irishmen no longer!”
– Daniel O’Connell. (irishamerica.com/2011/08/the-irish-abolitio…)

Irish people have ALWAYS held kinship with the minorities, the downtrodden, the immigrants, the unwanted, the pillaged, the ethnically cleansed. We have been them, and our hearts remember. Our warrior spirit fights alongside those who need our support.

Here’s your Irish Connection Resources on this topic, mo chairde. [click the headlines for links]

Daniel O’Connell upon American slavery : with other Irish testimonies.

(by O’Connell, Daniel, 1775-1847. Publication date 1860. Topics Slavery — United States)

 

Frederick Douglass Photograph: MPI/Getty Images

Frederick Douglass’s Irish Odyssey

Tom Chaffin, writing for the Irish Times, assesses the influence of his time in poverty-ridden and religiously divided Ireland, on the anti-slavery campaigner Frederick Douglass. To the end of his life, he fondly remembered his 1840s lecture tour of Ireland and the welcoming reception he had been accorded. And though many Irish-Americans often opposed his civil rights efforts, he also viewed the Irish, in both Ireland and America, as a persecuted people.

Remember your roots. #MyIreland
But you know what else?
THE IRISH WERE NEVER SLAVES.

 

On this oft debated and regularly cited notion that is used to defend and prop up white nonsense on a depressingly regular basis, the absolute authority lies with Limerick historian Liam Hogan.

Here’s all of His Work on the “Irish slaves” meme (2015–’18)


 

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The Banshee in Italy

The Banshee on a yacht in Italy

Let’s go now to a lake away in Italy, where a group of distinguished visitors – all elegant and intelligent folk, we can be assured – had gathered on the private yacht of a good friend of theirs, an Italian Nobleman by the name of Count Neilsini.

He was a proper gentleman, of refined tastes and company; so one of his guests, a Colonel, was very surprised to notice a crooked, grubby woman with her back to them, right down at the end of the boat.  Due to the seating arrangements, the other guests were not in a position to observe as he was.  Politely, he said nothing, but continued to watch her shuffling and swaying about down there, with no apparent purpose or employment.

Eventually his curiosity got the better of his manners, and he queried the Count as to who the queer looking old thing could possibly be, while keeping her in view out of the corner of his eye.  The Count’s response concerned him, for he was assured that there were only the visiting ladies present, and one young stewardess elsewhere.

The other guests looked on in trepidation as he quickly rose from his seat, turning the corner and disappearing from their view, but not from their hearing, as he continued to protest that he was indeed correct, and he would fetch back the strange woman to prove it.  His assertions turned to a scream of horror though, and when the other guests got to him he’d collapsed in a heap on the deck.  There was nobody else to be seen at all.

By the time they’d brought him round, and the gibbering had stopped, he was the fuller for three large brandies but not exactly calm yet.  The Count of course was demanding to know what had happened, but all the sense they could get from him was that he’d seen the woman’s face as she turned on his approach, and it was like “nothing belonging to this world.

It was a woman of no earthly type, with a queer-shaped, gleaming face, a mass of red hair, and eyes that would have been beautiful but for their expression, which was hellish.  She had on a green hood, after the fashion of an Irish peasant.”

One of the ladies present was American, of Irish descent, and had heard of such a thing before.  When she suggested that the description was like that of an Irish Banshee, the others laughed, but the Count grew pale, and decided to partake of some restorative brandy of his very own.

It turned out he was actually an O’Neill, or at least descended from one.  His family name was Neilsini, but had been O’Neill not more than a century before, when his great-grandfather served in the Irish Brigade.  On the Brigade’s dissolution at the time of the French Revolution, the Count’s grandfather had escaped the massacre of officers, and fled across the frontier to Italy in company with an O’Brien and a Maguire.  When he died, his son (who had been born there, and was far more Italian than Irish) changed his name to Neilsini, and from then on the family was known by that name – but the blood in his veins was still Irish.  None of the others knew what it could mean?

His concerned American guest solemnly explained that the appearance of the Banshee is a harbinger for the death of someone close in the family, though the person who shall die will never see the Fairy Woman for themselves.  The Count quickly sent word to land that his wife and daughter were to be looked after well that night, and he would return first thing in the morning, for he was frightened it’d be them the Banshee claimed.

He needn’t have worried so much about them though, because just as his yacht touched shore – but before he set foot on Italian soil again – wasn’t the Count himself seized with a violent attack of angina pectoris, and died before the morning.

And that’s not the only time I’ve heard such tales of the Banshee, not by a long shot, but sure, they are all stories for another day.


 

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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!)

 

On Irish Ancestry and Being Irish

This is NOT how you get an Irish Accent

… This ‘Irish Accent’ shit though.

And leprechaun hats and lucky charms and a ‘Brigid Oracle’ machine and ‘Irish Yoga’ memes – well, begosh and begorra sure aren’t all the Oirish quaint and charming funny drunks?!

Ok, so that’s the frustrated rant part over. Well, the rant part at least. Ok, so I MAY rant again before we’re done, I’ll not lie to ye. It’s all relatable enough for those born here, and for most folk who genuinely seek an Irish connection though, I’d say.

This is where it gets a little more complicated. I’ve talked tongue in cheek about 9 Signs That You Might Be A Plastic Paddy before, and the reaction was interesting.

get the fragile sense of connection, the lack of belonging, that is so very prevalent in the United States. I can empathise with it, even if I haven’t lived it.

I have owned a house that is older than your nation. True story.

But the American craving for roots is the direct cause a whole pile of shite being put out in the world that is not healthy and not doing ye any favours. Y’all need to fix that, and it starts with YOU.

​For example, the Asatru Folk Assembly (I’m not going to link them and provide traffic to their shite) in 2016 – and this was even before the Oathbreaker became President 45, if I remember correctly – made a statement that runs like this:

Today we are bombarded with confusion and messages contrary to the values of our ancestors and our folk. The AFA would like to make it clear that we believe gender is not a social construct, it is a beautiful gift from the holy powers and from our ancestors. The AFA celebrates our feminine ladies, our masculine gentlemen and, above all, our beautiful white children. The children of the folk are our shining future and the legacy of all those men and women of our people back to the beginning. Hail the AFA families, now and always!

Matt Flavel
Alsherjargothi, AFA

What’s that got to do with being Irish? I’m glad you asked!

Besides the fact they named their hall ‘Newgrange’… this racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic poison is prevalent in many groups who claim to follow a Norse or ‘Celtic’ spiritual path. Most recently, folklore author Carolyn Emerick (again, not linking to her filthy shit) has been outed and widely – sensibly – called on it by the general Pagan communities that she hitherto fed off.

And when they spout their garbage, they most often base it on lineage, on ancestry.

Now, I work a lot with Irish ancestry. Every day, I would say, between personal work with my own ancestors and facilitating authentic connection to Ireland for folk who are feeling that, often because of family history and ties. I worked for many years in the Irish heritage tourism industry, where ancestral lineage is perhaps the number one reason folk report they are visiting Ireland from America and Britain, primarily.

I truly get that ancestry is important, is my point. And I get that it’s interesting and exciting to trace your DNA, or your family tree; to find those roots here when you may have felt rootless your whole life. I have given you a nice set of awesome instruction on how to connect to your Irish ancestors on this blog, as a support for those wanting to do the work.

You may want, even feel the need, to relate yourself to this land and these people who are, let’s face it now, possibly the coolest tribe in the world, and to thrill at a sense of belonging that is proven and measurable.

I get that.

This is where it starts to get a little dodgy though. Because, for the most part, people are ridiculous. Not you, I hope, but people generally really are. This ‘proven connection’ becomes purity, becomes elitism, becomes all out racism. All too easily.

And that can be true from folk who are born here, by the way, as well as mouth breathers from across the seas on either side of us, who decide they are ‘Irish’ and that makes them better than everyone else because CúChulainn.

Oh, and that those of us on the island are doing it wrong.

 

*long suffering sigh*

Irish DNA, bloodlines or proven ancestry, at the end of the day, doesn’t mean shit.

We’re not some chemistry marks on a page, some cherished photograph snapshot of the cultural highlights your ancestors left behind – we’re a living breathing culture, a people who continue to grow and change, but who also hold safe our heritage right here within our day to day lives.

I’ve said it from my first day on the internet, and I’ll keep saying it til ye fucking get it… Irish DNA isn’t what makes you Irish. (I’m gonna go ahead and include the spiritual aspect of all this right in here, but it’s just as relevant without. Your mileage may vary.)

Being Irish is about the land and the people, and yes, the language.

​I get roasted in book reviews all the time because I keep banging on about the language, and how it is a valuable expression of Irish heritage and magic.

At it’s most basic, we all speak English because colonialism, oppression, genocide, and RACISM. When a native person tells you that it would be respectful for those seeking spiritual (and ancestral) connection to their land to maybe try and make an effort to include a few indigenous words and phrases, correct pronunciations and such – the correct response is not to dismiss and ridicule them.

No. Bad, that’s BAD.

Learn how to spell and pronounce the native terminology you want to use. FFS, seriously.

Learn how to address the Gods you seek in their native tongue. Learn how to say the names of indigenous people and places. Is it really too much for you?

Is your sense of belonging really that shallow that you get upset and offended and downright hostile when you are called out on this shit we are bombarded with day in and day out? Is that necessary, or warranted?

And you other folk who are lucky enough to have been born on this blessed isle… learn your own history.

Our version of a creation myth is the Lebor Gabála – the BOOK OF INVASIONS. Like, our own history is literally about waves of people coming to Ireland and making things interesting. Sometimes, that didn’t work out so well (I’m looking at you, 700+ years of English oppression), but for the most part it’s been really good for us. This land is shaped and fed by her people, and she takes care of us if we take care of each other.

This is important, and many Irish have forgotten it. Ireland is made of many tribes.

A couple of years back, a black woman of my aquaintance received absolutely vile racist abuse as she curated the @Ireland account on Twitter. More recently, the Waterford Rose of Tralee – my friend Kirsten – is receiving awful abuse, both online and in person. Things have been going downhill fast in Britain and America, and there’s stirrings of outright bigotry becoming more open here in Ireland too.

This is not our heritage. This is certainly not our spirituality.

Folk who were not born here often, in my experience, appreciate Ireland in a way many Irish fail to do. They have come to visit, or live here, and they breathe our island in fully and deeply. They speak the language because they want to connect to the soul of Ireland and they’re willing to put the work in to do that. They look around that small rural village you grew up in and despise, but they see the charming architecture, the hidden mysteries in the landscape, the value of community support that they’re often not even included in as ‘blow ins’.

You also forget, perhaps, or conveniently misplace in your mind that us Irish have exported generations, have solved our problems many times by leaving this land. (OK, so those problems were most often not of our own making, because again with the colonial oppression, but still.)

We used to be met with the same racism and abuse you now heap on our visitors and asylum seekers. Your brothers, your sons, your friends and your community are living and working all over the world, right now.

Is that how you want them treated?

So, you don’t have to be born here to be Irish. But the blood in your veins doesn’t make you so either. It’s about living the culture, putting in the work and the effort to connect, the respect and reverence for our history and heritage.

The other side of this coin is the importance of indigenous wisdom and experience. And again, this is where things are taking out of context and blown out of proportion by idiots.

I can say all of the above and still froth frustrated at the dismissal of an Irish person’s opinion or experience by non-native spiritual seekers who talk over us, disregard our advice or concerns, and profit from our resources at our expense.

Me getting angry at this and calling you on it doesn’t make me elitist, or some sort of aryan purist – and writing me off as such is a way of silencing my valid protest at your disrespect. Do you find yourself agreeing with #AllLivesMatter too?

But it happens all the time. At least weekly for me, but sometimes daily.

A Facebook friend made a very good point recently when someone was getting het up at the idea of not getting a free pass to follow any spiritual path they please, as and when they wanted… my friend asked (paraphrasing): What are you offering to this native spiritual path? What support are you giving to the indigenous people whose culture you wish to take from?

This resonated very deeply for me, particularly as I’m a big proponent of just doing the fecking work on your spiritual path. This story too – the Dagda’s Work, speaks strongly to me on this point.

None of this is about your surname, what title you claim, what country your ancestors came from, or where you happen to have been born this time round.

Are you supporting Irish people in need? Are you helping to keep the language alive and growing? Can you help make the country safer for Irish women?

Do you patronise unique Irish businesses, eat local foods, and work with Irish tour guides when you visit? (OK that last one is a blatant plug, but whatever.)

Do you lend your voice and support to Irish activism? Respect and learn from the experience of native spiritual practitioners?

​What do you DO, every day, that makes you think you can call yourself Irish?



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The Red Haired Hare

The red haired hare

The oak door boomed, with a fierce thumping that shook the drying bundles of herbs right out of the rafters across the great hall. The Chief, sitting up at the top table, plucked a bit of dried nettle that had fallen into his cup, and – as puzzled as the rest of them about who could be making such a racket outside on that wild night – he gestured for the beams to be lifted and the door thrown open.

The gale from outside billowed in, throwing rain and twigs across the floor, and lifting the food off the plates of those who sat the closest. She stood on the threshold, with a cloak of dirty red wrapped tight around her, hood up against the storm – though it fought her every step to tear it down and away off into the night. She didn’t wait to be asked, but made her way inside with what would, ordinarily, have been a purposeful stride, but now was hindered and hobbled by an obvious injury to her left thigh. Once in, she threw off the hood, shaking loose the red head of curls for which she was well known, even then, and saying not a word til she stood right in front of the top table, and looked the Chief square in the eye.

“You owe me an honour price”, says she, “for the damage was done to me when your hounds were ahunting today in my woods.”  The Chief knew well there’d been no damage done to her, nor any person, that day, for the Gilly was well trained to tell all on his return from any hunt. All he’d reported was a hare run down near the end of the day, though it’d gotten away before the kill, more’s the pity. He also knew those woods were no more hers than they belonged to his Gilly, but her family had the cottage by there for generations now, and the local stories went that they weren’t the type of folk that’d be wise to mess with (and whatever it was that had the neighbours afeared seemed to be growing stronger with each passing generation) so the Chief left well enough alone on that one. He asked her what she thought the honour price was owed for, and didn’t she bare her own thigh right there and then; the creamy white of it slashed through with a big mouthed bite that could only have come from one of the Chief’s own hounds indeed, for other dogs weren’t the size of them, and all the wolves had been hunted out long since.

She turned to the Master of the Hound, and asked him straight out if that bite, fresh as it was, could only have come from one of the Chief’s hounds, and he had to agree there was nothing else local that could have made it so fresh and so obvious. When the Chief refused to credit it, saying he knew the only thing they had run down that day was a fine puss of a hare, her nod and stony stare was all it took to draw the breath from every person in the place in shock.

But what could he do?  Paying her would only show him believing in the magic long since thought to have been stamped from the land. He shook his head, and bid her leave, though the poisonous words then spewing from her mouth were enough to pale the staunchest noble at his tables. Her curse on his hounds just riled his temper even further, so he rose himself and pulled her off out into the night, with her cursing still heard after the stout beam was wrested back in place to bar the door.

She stayed there, just outside the hall, right through that night. Only at dawn, when she heard the first wails and cries as they found the stiff, cold forms outside in the kennels, did she pick up her skirts and begin the walk back to her cottage, where she lived for many a year more, with many more wails and cries on account of her… but sure, they are all stories for another day.

Story first told to my own childer, a long while ago… but first published in my ‘Tales of Old Eire’ column, Renaissance Magazine, 2013.

 


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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 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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