Pagan Holidays (Holy Days) worldwide are coming back to a more general use and understanding, with folk often asking questions about whether Christmas is a Pagan Holiday (it is, sort of), and observing the 8-fold Wheel of the Year.
The current Neo Pagan calendar (and its primarily Wiccan holidays) is ostensibly based off the ‘Celtic Wheel of the Year’, as the early creators and authors of our modern traditions were very fond of their romantic notions of Celtic culture, and very sure that it was ok to just… take what they wanted, and change or use it however they wanted.
*cough* Coilíní *cough*
The problem with this (one of the problems) is that we now have a sort of tangled, much mangled, view of the original pre-christian Irish Pagan festivals, that even many Irish Pagans adhere to.
In this post, I’d like to break this down a bit, and clarify some of the basics, so that we can (hopefully), start fresh. With a somewhat cleaner slate for Irish Pagan practice. Le do thoil.
To begin with, the ‘traditional’ eight Pagan Holidays, are actually 2 sets of four. So the wheel of the year is maybe 2 wheels, rotating side by side.
This can be a little confusing if you’re not used to considering things this way, but I do remember being quite frustrated back in my baby Pagan days by how the festivals seemed to just be copies of each other. Like, within the Wiccan traditions, there’s not a huge difference between how you’re celebrating the Summer Solstice (Litha) and Beltane, for example.
In my native practice, I break the focus, themes or concerns out as follows:
The Pagan Calendar names I use are in modern Irish, and the associated Gaeilge video is also my schoolgirl modern Irish pronunciation, to be clear.
Irish is a living language, and while I’m the first one to honour the Primitive Irish and Old Irish source material, they are different languages. We have modern Irish terminology for every single Pagan Holiday name, and a wealth of associated folklore and traditions within our living memory in Irish communities. So let’s use that.
Admittedly now, some of the folklore has gotten crossed over and shifted around with the Christian influences, eg. Summer Solstice bonfires now happen on St. John’s Eve, on the 23rd June, and the animal sacrifice tradition has moved from Samhain to St. Martin’s Day, on the 11th November. But that’s ok too.
At least the traditions still exist, and have grown and moved with the communities as we did.
Focus on Community, Hearth & Home, the Otherworld (an Saol Eile).
When people first walked this land, there were 2 seasons: summer and winter. They signified the change and move between camping grounds, as theirs was a Hunter/Gatherer lifestyle.
These times of moving and changing were dangerous and uncertain, and this still holds true in the primary Irish Pagan holidays of Bealtaine, and Samhain, which remain times of great change and uncertainty.
When the people settled, and began to farm the land, the seasons of Growth and Harvest were marked, with Imbolg and Lúnasa, and so began the 4 Fire Festivals.
[Download this Chart as a PDF Below]
Personally, I use the name Imbolg for this festival. That’s from the Irish i mBolg, meaning ‘in the belly’, for the pregnancy aspects (animals as well as humans, because if we get pregnant at Bealtaine we give birth around now). Imbolc is commonly used too though, and may have associations with washing or a ‘spring clean’ after winter, from Folc, meaning ‘bathe or wash’. I’m honestly not sure which language the term Oimelc comes from, though it’s been given to mean ‘ewe’s milk’. That would be Bainne na Caoirigh in modern Irish though, which doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
We have this clearly in old Irish as Belltaine (with various other spellings, the manuscripts weren’t always precise or standardised), meaning the month of May, or even ‘the month of the beacon-fire) according to the eDIL. It may have associations with an Old Celtic God Boleros, ‘the flashing one’ (Ó hÓgáin) or Balar/Balor in Ireland, he of the single, blazing destructive eye (often thought to be symbolic of the sun), and form the word Bealtaine from Balor’s Fire (tine).
There are multiple spellings out there, and I know some of them are based on the Gaelic language of Scotland, which I don’t speak. But as we still use the word Bealtaine in modern Irish for the month of May, and again – this is a living language, and it’d be great not to have to deal with bastardised or anglicised versions of it anymore please and thank you – let’s go with that eh?!
Irish Language Resource – https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/Bealtaine
You’ll often see this written as Lughnasadh, and indeed, I’ve done so myself. As above though, I prefer the modern Irish spelling, and in Gaeilge, Lúnasa is the word for the month of August. I mean, I wasn’t joking about these Pagan holidays still being a part of our culture.
You’ll see references too, to Lammas, which we don’t have in modern Irish. My basic exploration of Old Irish suggests it MIGHT be a version of a ‘fine, handsome or excellent hand’ (from n. Lám and adj. Mass?)… but be warned, that is a very rudimentary look at a compound word! I definitely don’t use it as a Pagan Holiday name anyway.
Irish Language Resource – https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/Lúnasa
It’s not pronounced Sam-Hane. Never. I don’t care what your esteemed Elders passed down to you not-so-very-long-ago (in the grand scheme of things).
This is a LIVING LANGUAGE. Respect it, and the people who still speak it every day. Stop that Sam-Hane shit immediately.
It probably comes from the Old Irish samfuin, meaning ‘death of Summer’: eDIL. Samhain in modern Irish is the word for the month of November.
So yes, we know how to pronounce it properly. (Are you getting a sense for how many times I’ve had U.S. Pagans correct my pronunciation? Like, I’m not sure how to even communicate how infuriating that is, especially when it happens consistently!)
Irish Language Resource – https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/Samhain
Focus on Community, Land & Sovereignty, this World (an Saol Sin – or Seo).
We know these times were important to our ancestors due, at least, to the sacred sites they constructed and used to observe and celebrate them. Massive monuments all over the island still attest to the power and value that was placed upon aligning ourselves, our communities, and our leadership, with these turning times of the Pagan year.
Please note: the common names Ostara, Litha, Mabon, and Yule, are at best culturally appropriated and co-opted into Neo Paganism, and at worst, carry entirely fabricated pseudo histories. I’m looking at you, Mabon.
They have NO place in native Irish paganism.
The Irish names below are simply the names of our seasons, as Gaeilge, and have always suited my personal practice around the Irish Pagan Holidays best.
[Download this Chart as a PDF Below]
The balance of day and night.
Irish Language Resource – https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/Earrach
Mid Summer, the longest day.
Irish Language Resource – https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/Samhradh
The balance of night and day.
Irish Language Resource – https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/Fómhar
Mid Winter, the longest night.
Irish Language Resource – https://www.teanglann.ie/en/fgb/Geimhreadh
If you’d like more detail on any of the Irish Pagan Holidays, comment below and let me know. There’s already extensive sections in my books (see Publications – coming soon), but I can try and get some more blog posts and YouTube videos together for them if there’s an interest, and maybe even a wee course through our Irish Pagan School.
Let me know which of the Pagan holidays you want to see more on?!
This blog has a lot of new visitors, and I’m really glad to see that! But I also don’t want to be fooling anyone into being a part of a community with me if the fit isn’t right either, you know?
So, I figured I’d give ye a little dose of who I really am, like right down to the core. And if you don’t like that for any reason, and are actually a racist (whether you call yourself that or not) just jog on. Simple!
First off, I use a lot of sweary words. My son (12yo) got a bit scandalised a while back hearing me chatting with Eilís on a ‘Your Irish Connection’ — Check it Here — interview on my Youtube Channel, because I was cursing – “That’s not very professional Mam!”, says he. Well… it is what it is.
Second off, it’s not just my personal belief and lived experience that all people are equal and deserve the same human rights and safe community and care… it’s a fundamental part of the Irish experience. There’s a whole lot of bullshit floating around in the European Heritage communities that’s basically, and sometimes overtly (I’m looking at you Carolyn Emerick, mega shitehawk and peddler of appropriative racist codswallop), white supremacy, fascism, and neo nazi nonsense.
That’s not who the Irish are, or ever were.
Look, we’re not perfect. Modern Ireland can be really ignorant at times, and our lack of exposure to other cultures can be painfully obvious in the unthinking attitudes and beliefs of the people – but as a nation we truly, genuinely care for our fellow people all over the globe. We’re ranked the ninth most generous country in the world, and given the economic climate of the last few years, that’s pretty fucking cool.
It goes back further than modern charitable donations though. Even back to a time when we were on the brink of another famine, severely under the thumb of english rule and SUFFERING… we were still aware and working to support the civil rights movement in America.
Consider a quote from Daniel O’Connell, in 1843:
“How can the generous, the charitable, the humane, and the noble emotions of the Irish heart have become extinct amongst you? How can your nature be so totally changed as that you should become the apologists and advocates of the execrable system which makes man the property of his fellow man – destroys the foundation of all moral and social virtues – condemns to ignorance, immorality and irreligion, millions of our fellow creatures …? It was not in Ireland that you learned this cruelty…Over the broad Atlantic I pour forth my voice saying come out of such a land you Irishmen, or if you remain and dare continue to countenance the system of slavery that is supported there, we will recognize you as Irishmen no longer!”
– Daniel O’Connell. (irishamerica.com/2011/08/the-irish-abolitio…)
Irish people have ALWAYS held kinship with the minorities, the downtrodden, the immigrants, the unwanted, the pillaged, the ethnically cleansed. We have been them, and our hearts remember. Our warrior spirit fights alongside those who need our support.
Here’s your Irish Connection Resources on this topic, mo chairde. [click the headlines for links]
(by O’Connell, Daniel, 1775-1847. Publication date 1860. Topics Slavery — United States)
Frederick Douglass Photograph: MPI/Getty Images
Tom Chaffin, writing for the Irish Times, assesses the influence of his time in poverty-ridden and religiously divided Ireland, on the anti-slavery campaigner Frederick Douglass. To the end of his life, he fondly remembered his 1840s lecture tour of Ireland and the welcoming reception he had been accorded. And though many Irish-Americans often opposed his civil rights efforts, he also viewed the Irish, in both Ireland and America, as a persecuted people.
To get an Irish Resources email like this (though usually a little less grumpy?! No promises mind you) delivered to you each Monday, join our Community Mailing List for your Authentic Irish Connection…
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.
Find a fresh one every month (plus a host of back content tales!) with the ‘Tales of Old Ireland’ Storytelling Reward for just $3 on www.Patreon.com/LoraOBrien.
It’s been suggested a couple of times that I should get on ‘the other side of the interview’, and talk about my own Irish Spirituality, and Pagan or magical practices. So recently I queried my Community for their questions on Irish Paganism and Spirituality (or my history/practice in particular). Then I went on FB Live and recorded the Video, which you’ll see below.
Morgan Daimler what is your favorite subject to teach or write about and why?
Morgan Daimler What do you think is the best way for someone to get started with Irish Spirituality, and how can a person (anywhere) avoid the usual pitfalls of bad information while building an understanding of the spirituality and the Gods and spirits?
Mac Tíre Would you have any advice specifically with regards to connecting to deity (even more specifically An Morrigan) E.g. like what you were saying in your interview with Oein DeBhairduin about contracts. Also appropriate offerings and what NOT to do.
Cat O’Sullivan Sometimes no matter how hard you try to avoid it you end up having to deal with the other crowd (the Good Neighbours, The Sidhe, the Irish Fairies). What would you recommend. Bargain, banter or banish?
Teididh McElwaine Question: Could you recommend how to wisely pursue like-minded, serious people in our respective communities? Thanks! (eg. Pagan community building)
Victoria Danger Yay! What parts of your devotion/practice/spirituality are centered on joy? Tell us about the parts that are fun or feel good 😊
Gemma McGowan Apart from teaching, writing and political activism (which I know is already a lot!!!) what other areas do your Gods ask you to actively work in e.g. Devotional practice, ritual, healing, specific types of magical work?
Cheryl Baker What does daily/weekly/monthly practice look like for you?
Marocatha Bodua Brigiani I’d love to hear you talk about magic vs religion in Irish spirituality – are those pieces separate for you, are they not separate, how do they integrate or not in your practice.
Branwen Stephanie Rogers Aside from the lore and researching, what do you consider foundational to your practice and spiritual well being?
J-me Fae What is a practice that you, personally, would like to see folks outside of Ireland integrating into their work on Irish Spirituality? What do people do that most honors the gods and land you love?
SallyRose Rivers Robinson What altar items do you see as making up an Irish Spiritual altar? Is there specific things that should be there? Specific things that shouldn’t? Is it strictly personal choices?
Pamela Holcombe Question: I hear you say you found yourself Wondering around the otherworld many times throughout your life before you understood the way of traveling there so curious what your most profound experience was there or scary interesting experience was? Also I find that I sometimes end up on my island in my dreams and travel around in the other world in my dreams do you do that also and do you think it’s pretty much like a journey we do awake?
Izzy Swanson What Carl Jung book would you read first? I printed a list of his collected works. My head may explode. I am most interested in his definition of the psychopomp.
Darla Majick What do you think about The Morrigan whiskey? I have it on our Morrigan Altar and love the bottle. Its not the best whiskey out there but it’s definitely not the worst. Ive blessed and cleansed ours before just putting in on Her altar. WE did ask her if she liked it and we did not get a negative response from her
Alanna Butler GallagherHave you ever tried to draw what you saw (in the Otherworld, ref. Pamela’s Q above)? That experience illustrated sounds like it would be a learning point for other people to not do that type of thing for the craic 🤔
J-me Fae Do you have any specific recommendations for parents looking to support their kids in building authentic connection with Ireland? I read the stories to them, share *some* of what I am doing with them (but I’m wary there), and we are all learning Irish together, but at least one of them is hungry for more
Ok, so legally, you can’t. Or at least, you can’t in most places.
In the Wicklow Mountains National Park, wild camping is allowed (with sensible restrictions), except in Glendalough. You can check information on this area here.
A lot of folk camp on the beaches of Ireland, and some are more favourable than others. Fallmore near Belmullet in Mayo, Baginbun Beach near Feathard in Co. Wexford, and Wine Strand or Ventry Beach along the Dingle Peninsula in Co. Kerry are all recommended, though I’ve not camped on any of them personally.
Generally, you have to be aware of trespassing on private land. If there’s a spot you’d really love to camp at, knock on the door of the nearest house and ask who owns it, then ask for permission. Offering a wee donation is always a good idea.
State owned land is technically public property, but the rangers and lifeguards and such obviously get first say in what you can and can’t do there. For beaches, there’s legal access to the foreshore – which means ‘the bed and shore, below the line of high water of ordinary or medium tides, of the sea and of every tidal river and tidal estuary and of every channel, creek and bay of the sea or of any such river or estuary. The land above this can be privately owned so if you have to cross above the median High Water mark you may be trespassing.’ (Further Info)
For his birthday one of the years, my son asked for a family camping trip, “away from people”. His requirements were a river, and trees. And no people. Did we mention no people? He was very clear.
I hadn’t done a wild camp in many years, so, cue frantic research scramble to see if the laws had changed. Not a lot, it turns out.
We were leaving from Dublin on Friday afternoon, and had to do the food shopping first… so somewhere within 2 hours drive of the capital was necessary, to ensure that we had time to find a place, park safely, hike (with all the gear) to a suitable spot away from the road, pitch the tent and set up camp before dark.
Wicklow Mountains camping was out for me, with the boy along. To be honest, I’m still hearing there’s a rash of break-ins to cars at popular parking spots – look for broken glass on the ground around any intended parking to check if there’s been windows broken there recently. It’s also a popular spot for a gang of lads to get cans and head out to of a Saturday night, for drunken fun and frolics.
None of that seemed like a recipe for a peaceful family trip, or an enjoyable birthday for him, so we went a little further afield.
I’m not going to say exactly where – the internet is full of horrible people after all, as well as all you lovely types – but what I did was choose a general location with national parkland (it was the Slieve Bloom Mountain region for us this trip), and source a few potential parking spots around an area I liked the look of.
We headed out, drove about a bit and found a nice spot at the head of a trail. Parked up, did a recon mission and found a place where folk had camped before (slightly flattened land and the remains of a fire pit) in a river valley that was, admittedly, a horrible hike to and from the car – but is absolutely gorgeous.
Site chosen, we hiked back up to the car, loaded up the essentials for the camp set up and first night (it took two trips), and pitched the tent. We had to re-set the fire pit a little, and I double lined it to prevent scorched earth around it. I dug a small trench latrine or ‘cathole’ away from the tent site, and even further from the river, and we’d brought water for our drinking, washing and cooking in 5L containers.
We didn’t light a fire that evening, and were absolutely eaten by midgies, and wrecked from travelling and set up, so it was an early night, with the sounds of the river burbling nearby, and wind through the treetops to lull us to sleep.
If you’re going to attempt a trip like this, there’s a few things you should know…
All campers should aspire to minimising their impact on the environment by conforming to the following code of conduct:
Catholes for disposal of human waste must be located at least 30m away from watercourses and 50m from walking routes. Human waste must be buried or carried out of the site. No evidence of latrine use should remain visible. All toilet paper and hygiene products must be carried out.
Campfires are not permitted in the National Parks. The issuing of permits for campfires is suspended pending review.
Failure to comply with this code will result in withdrawal of permission to camp. In such cases National Park Rangers will demand that the visitors break camp.
As with most things, it all boils down to common sense, and respect.
Just don’t be a dick, ok?
… This ‘Irish Accent’ shit though.
And leprechaun hats and lucky charms and a ‘Brigid Oracle’ machine and ‘Irish Yoga’ memes – well, begosh and begorra sure aren’t all the Oirish quaint and charming funny drunks?!
Ok, so that’s the frustrated rant part over. Well, the rant part at least. Ok, so I MAY rant again before we’re done, I’ll not lie to ye. It’s all relatable enough for those born here, and for most folk who genuinely seek an Irish connection though, I’d say.
This is where it gets a little more complicated. I’ve talked tongue in cheek about 9 Signs That You Might Be A Plastic Paddy before, and the reaction was interesting.
I get the fragile sense of connection, the lack of belonging, that is so very prevalent in the United States. I can empathise with it, even if I haven’t lived it.
But the American craving for roots is the direct cause a whole pile of shite being put out in the world that is not healthy and not doing ye any favours. Y’all need to fix that, and it starts with YOU.
For example, the Asatru Folk Assembly (I’m not going to link them and provide traffic to their shite) in 2016 – and this was even before the Oathbreaker became President 45, if I remember correctly – made a statement that runs like this:
Today we are bombarded with confusion and messages contrary to the values of our ancestors and our folk. The AFA would like to make it clear that we believe gender is not a social construct, it is a beautiful gift from the holy powers and from our ancestors. The AFA celebrates our feminine ladies, our masculine gentlemen and, above all, our beautiful white children. The children of the folk are our shining future and the legacy of all those men and women of our people back to the beginning. Hail the AFA families, now and always!
What’s that got to do with being Irish? I’m glad you asked!
Besides the fact they named their hall ‘Newgrange’… this racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic poison is prevalent in many groups who claim to follow a Norse or ‘Celtic’ spiritual path. Most recently, folklore author Carolyn Emerick (again, not linking to her filthy shit) has been outed and widely – sensibly – called on it by the general Pagan communities that she hitherto fed off.
Now, I work a lot with Irish ancestry. Every day, I would say, between personal work with my own ancestors and facilitating authentic connection to Ireland for folk who are feeling that, often because of family history and ties. I worked for many years in the Irish heritage tourism industry, where ancestral lineage is perhaps the number one reason folk report they are visiting Ireland from America and Britain, primarily.
I truly get that ancestry is important, is my point. And I get that it’s interesting and exciting to trace your DNA, or your family tree; to find those roots here when you may have felt rootless your whole life. I have given you a nice set of awesome instruction on how to connect to your Irish ancestors on this blog, as a support for those wanting to do the work.
You may want, even feel the need, to relate yourself to this land and these people who are, let’s face it now, possibly the coolest tribe in the world, and to thrill at a sense of belonging that is proven and measurable.
This is where it starts to get a little dodgy though. Because, for the most part, people are ridiculous. Not you, I hope, but people generally really are. This ‘proven connection’ becomes purity, becomes elitism, becomes all out racism. All too easily.
And that can be true from folk who are born here, by the way, as well as mouth breathers from across the seas on either side of us, who decide they are ‘Irish’ and that makes them better than everyone else because CúChulainn.
Oh, and that those of us on the island are doing it wrong.
*long suffering sigh*
Irish DNA, bloodlines or proven ancestry, at the end of the day, doesn’t mean shit.
We’re not some chemistry marks on a page, some cherished photograph snapshot of the cultural highlights your ancestors left behind – we’re a living breathing culture, a people who continue to grow and change, but who also hold safe our heritage right here within our day to day lives.
I’ve said it from my first day on the internet, and I’ll keep saying it til ye fucking get it… Irish DNA isn’t what makes you Irish. (I’m gonna go ahead and include the spiritual aspect of all this right in here, but it’s just as relevant without. Your mileage may vary.)
Being Irish is about the land and the people, and yes, the language.
I get roasted in book reviews all the time because I keep banging on about the language, and how it is a valuable expression of Irish heritage and magic.
At it’s most basic, we all speak English because colonialism, oppression, genocide, and RACISM. When a native person tells you that it would be respectful for those seeking spiritual (and ancestral) connection to their land to maybe try and make an effort to include a few indigenous words and phrases, correct pronunciations and such – the correct response is not to dismiss and ridicule them.
Learn how to spell and pronounce the native terminology you want to use. FFS, seriously.
Learn how to address the Gods you seek in their native tongue. Learn how to say the names of indigenous people and places. Is it really too much for you?
Is your sense of belonging really that shallow that you get upset and offended and downright hostile when you are called out on this shit we are bombarded with day in and day out? Is that necessary, or warranted?
And you other folk who are lucky enough to have been born on this blessed isle… learn your own history.
Our version of a creation myth is the Lebor Gabála – the BOOK OF INVASIONS. Like, our own history is literally about waves of people coming to Ireland and making things interesting. Sometimes, that didn’t work out so well (I’m looking at you, 700+ years of English oppression), but for the most part it’s been really good for us. This land is shaped and fed by her people, and she takes care of us if we take care of each other.
This is important, and many Irish have forgotten it. Ireland is made of many tribes.
A couple of years back, a black woman of my aquaintance received absolutely vile racist abuse as she curated the @Ireland account on Twitter. More recently, the Waterford Rose of Tralee – my friend Kirsten – is receiving awful abuse, both online and in person. Things have been going downhill fast in Britain and America, and there’s stirrings of outright bigotry becoming more open here in Ireland too.
This is not our heritage. This is certainly not our spirituality.
Folk who were not born here often, in my experience, appreciate Ireland in a way many Irish fail to do. They have come to visit, or live here, and they breathe our island in fully and deeply. They speak the language because they want to connect to the soul of Ireland and they’re willing to put the work in to do that. They look around that small rural village you grew up in and despise, but they see the charming architecture, the hidden mysteries in the landscape, the value of community support that they’re often not even included in as ‘blow ins’.
You also forget, perhaps, or conveniently misplace in your mind that us Irish have exported generations, have solved our problems many times by leaving this land. (OK, so those problems were most often not of our own making, because again with the colonial oppression, but still.)
Is that how you want them treated?
So, you don’t have to be born here to be Irish. But the blood in your veins doesn’t make you so either. It’s about living the culture, putting in the work and the effort to connect, the respect and reverence for our history and heritage.
The other side of this coin is the importance of indigenous wisdom and experience. And again, this is where things are taking out of context and blown out of proportion by idiots.
I can say all of the above and still froth frustrated at the dismissal of an Irish person’s opinion or experience by non-native spiritual seekers who talk over us, disregard our advice or concerns, and profit from our resources at our expense.
Me getting angry at this and calling you on it doesn’t make me elitist, or some sort of aryan purist – and writing me off as such is a way of silencing my valid protest at your disrespect. Do you find yourself agreeing with #AllLivesMatter too?
But it happens all the time. At least weekly for me, but sometimes daily.
A Facebook friend made a very good point recently when someone was getting het up at the idea of not getting a free pass to follow any spiritual path they please, as and when they wanted… my friend asked (paraphrasing): What are you offering to this native spiritual path? What support are you giving to the indigenous people whose culture you wish to take from?
This resonated very deeply for me, particularly as I’m a big proponent of just doing the fecking work on your spiritual path. This story too – the Dagda’s Work, speaks strongly to me on this point.
None of this is about your surname, what title you claim, what country your ancestors came from, or where you happen to have been born this time round.
Do you patronise unique Irish businesses, eat local foods, and work with Irish tour guides when you visit? (OK that last one is a blatant plug, but whatever.)
What do you DO, every day, that makes you think you can call yourself Irish?
(There’s a presumption that American Tourists are) …insensitive rude people who think the only way to do things properly is their way. This presumption isn’t limited to Irish People of course. But I find I have to prove myself to not be “one of those Yanks” before people will trust me and open up. However, it is ALWAYS worth the effort. – My friend Kass McGann, of Reconstructing History.
We’ve all met them.
The ones who make us cringe a little inside. The ones who presume we’re idiots and proceed to explain how things should be done right. The ones who are loud and brash and rude.
But, #NotAllAmericans… amirite?!
Actually, yeah. Thankfully that stereotypical USA Tourist in Ireland is only a sliver of the tourism trade here – we had 1,294,000 total visitors from the USA in 2016. They weren’t all insensitive eejits, or we’d have had a feckin’ riot on our hands like. There’s only so many times a proud people can bear being called cute or quaint.
So, for those of you travelling to Ireland who have a genuine love and respect for the land and people, who would love to seriously connect here… how do you do it right?
Ok so this one could fall into the category of giving your Irish hosts a wee ego stroke, coz we do love the sound of our own voices, for the most part. Fair enough.
But it’s also about hearing the stories. Given half a chance, most Irish folk will blether away for hours with story after story, all leading into each other and weaving round in a fierce tangle of history, culture, experience, and plain old gossip.
It’s actually amazing when you catch someone in a good flow and just leave em off. They’ll chat for hours, especially if there’s drinks to hand to whet the whistle a wee bit and keep things flowing smoothly.
And not just one to one either. Take a bus, or go sit in a busy cafe or pub up at the bar. As a writer, and someone genuinely fascinated by people – I do this a lot. Irish people are most often emotive, and passionate, and so feckin’ funny you’ll be hard pushed not to give away your eavesdropping by cracking the fuck up laughing.
You’ll learn a lot when you listen.
My friend Kass again, she reckons this is the way to go. She explained:
acting like you’re a guest in someone else’s house is a good idea. I think we Americans go about the world with a “customer is always right” attitude and that doesn’t help when you’re trying to get to know another culture. I once knew a man in an Irish guest house who went into the landlady’s kitchen UNINVITED to “teach her how to make eggs properly”. I could have cried. I was completely embarrassed even though I didn’t know the guy.
Yeah, all of us working in tourism have met that guy.
Things are gonna be different in another culture. Sometimes, really really different. AND THAT’S OK. It will happen, so just go with it.
You’re (hopefully) travelling here to experience Irish culture, not try to turn it into American culture. We eat our fucking eggs differently, ok? (Um, some of us also curse a lot, in case you hadn’t noticed. Best get used to that one too.)
Don’t be that guy.
Hospitality is a big deal in Ireland.
Like, a really big deal. I’m not sure how to emphasise this appropriately enough, so you should go an watch Mrs. Doyle’s Best Bits. You don’t feel like it? But sure, whyever not? Go on and watch her now. Ah you will. Go on, Go on, Go on. Go On.
There now. See what I mean?
The thing is though, when someone offers, it’s polite not to snatch the hand off them for a sandwich or a cuppa, no matter how starving or parched you’re feeling. You do the polite refusal. Then they ask are ya sure? You might think you’re safe enough to say yes the second time… but no. You politely refuse again. It’s only on the third time, when they ask are ya REALLY sure, then you can say “Ah go on so, I will, thanks”.
I don’t know why. It’s just how it’s done.
Oh, and don’t forget the crucial thing when this happens in a pub situation. Someone in a group will be feeling flaithulach and get a round in. Yes, I know ye all said ye’d stay on your own and not buy into getting rounds of drinks. It’s just a thing that happens sometimes. Unless you’re stingy, and nobody wants to be stingy.
So, even if you’re still, really, definitely not getting into rounds… you HAVE to buy that person a drink back. Yup, even if they don’t ever wet their lips with it. You just have to.
On that note… Take this Test and figure out if you’re Stingy or Flaithulach, so you can be prepared for these things. You might want to warn folk.
It’s for the best.
There you go, that’s your Irish soda bread recipe.
Ok, so there MIGHT be a bit more to it than that, but seriously like, nothing a few practice runs won’t sort out. (Gluten Free flour works grand too, btw, just swap in a quality self raising kind for regular flour)
Here’s the science bit. I never took a science class in my life mind you, so perhaps this is a garbled science bit. Please keep that in mind.
Soda bread has no yeast (you may know that already), so it needs an alkaline raising agent (bread/baking soda) with an acidic liquid (buttermilk). Sour milk will also work, especially if you throw in some lemon juice too.
You’ll need strong plain flour – a mix of wholemeal and white is good, but either is fine – and it’s a general rule of about 1 rounded teaspoon of soda per 1lb of flour. Mix em well, and make sure the soda is fresh, not the tub that’s been sitting in your press for 5 years.
Sieve the dry stuff together in a big bowl, and then add the buttermilk slowly til you have a squishy consistency, then slop it out on the bench (flour the surface first so it doesn’t stick) and bash away at it til it’s kneaded through, a little elasticy in texture and dry to the touch.
(For a sweet loaf, add sugar and sultanas with the dry ingredients, even a little cinnamon.)
Then roll it into a smooth round ball, flatten the top and bottom a bit, and take a sharp knife to score a cross in the top, deepest in the middle section, lighter at the edges.
Stick it onto a flat tray, and into the oven (about gas 4 or 5). Check after half hour by sticking a sharp knife or skewer in the middle; if it’s not covered in dough then it’s definitely getting there. Take it out before it burns.
There ya go.
Leave to cool, some say leave overnight for a better flavour. I can never wait that long. Serve with real Irish butter, where available – definitely none of that plastic margarine shit anyway.
That’s true like, it is a song I heard as a kid, they taught it to us in primary school, so we would have sung it from about the age of 5 or 6 years old.
Seriously, stop that shit, I can feel you judging me.
And I had a complete throwback when the Weile Weile Waile song came on. Ronny Drew’s kinda cheery sounding Dublin rasp, and the banjo player plucking away in the background… and I was right back in the midst of the childhood incomprehension of trying to figure out what the hell was going on when I heard the song for the first time. See for yourselves.
There was an old woman and she lived in the woods, weile weile waile.
There was an old woman and she lived in the woods, down by the river Saile.
She had a baby three months old, weile weile waile.
She had a baby three months old, down by the river Saile.
She had a penknife, long and sharp, weile weile waile.
She had a penknife, long and sharp, down by the river Saile.
She stuck the penknife in the baby’s heart, weile weile waile.
She stuck the penknife in the baby’s heart, down by the river Saile.
There were three loud knocks come a’knocking on the door, weile weile waile.
There were three loud knocks come a’knocking on the door, down by the river Saile.
There were two policemen and a man, weile weile waile.
There were two policemen and a man, down by the river Saile.
They took her away and they put her in the jail, weile weile waile.
They took her away and they put her in the jail, down by the river Saile.
They put a rope around her neck, weile weile waile.
They put a rope around her neck, down by the river Saile.
They pulled the rope and she got hung, weile weile waile.
They pulled the rope and she got hung, down by the river Saile.
And that was the end of the woman in the woods, weile weile waile.
And that was the end of the baby too, down by the river Saile.
So, what are they about?
Besides the obvious like, I know it’s about a woman killing her baby. I mean though, why would people sing about such gruesome acts? Is it a version of ‘warning about the boogeyman’; a mother killing her child as the most frightening thing possible, used to scare kids into line?
Is it, as my friend Janet suggested, a social commentary on post-natal depression? Or a warning method for new parents, a way of passing information on things to watch out for when you have a new baby, without having to discuss it?
Or do kids (humans) just love being gross and frightening each other?
Not terms you’d want to be used about you if you’re serious about your Irish heritage.
Well, more serious at least than a green leprechaun hat and getting pissed as a fart on Paddy’s Day.
So, how do we avoid such labels?
How do you know if you are making a tit of yourself when you tell people you’re Irish? How do you know if you make the grade?
I don’t believe it’s all about being born here, but ya gotta understand the culture. Walk it as well as talk it like. Irish American is a different thing to being Irish – not better or worse, but definitively different.