Jan 31, 2011

St. Brigid's Eve

It's the eve of St. Brigid's Day! There won't be any gathering of reeds to weave crosses where I live. There's snow on the ground, and tomorrow it sounds like there will be snow, ice, and freezing rain. How about where you live?

No one around here thinks spring is coming very soon, but that's what St. Brigid's Day is suppose to bring in Ireland. I'll blog more about the day tomorrow. I have to prepare!

I'll be teaching some folks in Dublin (OH) how to weave St. Brigid's crosses in March. The easiest way to teach the technique that I found is using pipe cleaners. You won't get an authentic looking reed cross, but you'll learn how so you can move on to other materials.

At the Dayton Celtic Festival they use strips of wood that they soak in a bucket--like you would if you were weaving a basket. I used cattails once. It worked nicely but fell apart when it dried. I know you can use straw with good results.

Here are some good directions on how to weave a St. Brigid cross.

The crosses were woven every year on St. Brigid's Day and a new one was placed over the door of the house or the barn for good luck and protection. In some areas the old ones were taken down and you could find several stuffed in the rafters!

There were other traditions associated with this day. Come back tomorrow to hear more!
And find out why the feast of St. Brigid is also called Candlemas.

Jan 28, 2011


An ollam is a highly respected poet in the order of Irish druids. Ollam is the highest of seven ranks of the filid (traditional order of poets.)

To become an ollam poet, one had to study for many years, and all learning was auditory, nothing was written down. An ollam was the master of 350 oral tales, not counting those he or she created. An ollam could work a spell that unlocked understanding, had the poetic ability to prophesy, and could improvise in verse.

An ollam was equal in rank to many kings and bishops and traveled with with a retinue. But because he was so honored in the ancient Irish culture, he was protected just by his use of satire, which folks, even kings, feared.

An ollam also held the knowledge of genealogy, which was very valuable since family trees and birthrights were not written down. As a result, ollams were usually needed at a new king's inauguration, where he would not only recite the genealogy, but also tales of praise for the new king.

Ollams existed in Ireland until the end of the sixteenth century and as you can imagine, their influence was political and widespread. In earlier times these filids (not sure if that's the plural form) had so much power that they were becoming a nuisance. With their great traveling band they could approach anyone and demand food and lodging with the threat of satire if they were not catered to. This became a great burden to the minor kings who did not hold great wealth, but who were obligated to host the filid and his party for as long as the filid wanted. The filid were about to be banned when St. Columba (a poet as well) temporarily put aside his banishment to Iona and came to Ireland to argue on their behalf. As a result these poets were not banned, but operated from then on within boundaries.

This stirs up all kinds of fiction ideas in my head! :)

Jan 26, 2011

Happy Belated Birthday, Robert Burns!

The bard of Scotland's birthday was celebrated yesterday by a flash mob.

The words are below the video.

Type: Song
Tune: For a' that.

Is there for honest Poverty
That hings his head, an' a' that;
The coward slave-we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a' that!
For a' that, an' a' that.
Our toils obscure an' a' that,
The rank is but the guinea's stamp,
The Man's the gowd for a' that.

What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, an' a that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine;
A Man's a Man for a' that:
For a' that, and a' that,
Their tinsel show, an' a' that;
The honest man, tho' e'er sae poor,
Is king o' men for a' that.

Ye see yon birkie, ca'd a lord,
Wha struts, an' stares, an' a' that;
Tho' hundreds worship at his word,
He's but a coof for a' that:
For a' that, an' a' that,
His ribband, star, an' a' that:
The man o' independent mind
He looks an' laughs at a' that.

A prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an' a' that;
But an honest man's abon his might,
Gude faith, he maunna fa' that!
For a' that, an' a' that,
Their dignities an' a' that;
The pith o' sense, an' pride o' worth,
Are higher rank than a' that.

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a' that,)
That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an' a' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
It's coming yet for a' that,
That Man to Man, the world o'er,
Shall brothers be for a' that.

Jan 24, 2011

Caves in Ireland

Crag Cave in County Kerry
There is a rich history in the underground of the Emerald Island, apparently. On this site you can find a list and descriptions of caves in Ireland, including Dunmore Cave in Kilkenney, where there was a Viking raid in the 10th century. There was no limit to where the Vikings would go, apparently, and it's said that 1000 people were slain there. There are human remains that suggest that's true.

But caves were also burial sites in the ancient world and even places where people lived. In some hedge schools met when the weather wasn't good for meeting at the hedges.

From the IT Sligo site:
Approximately 700 caves are dotted around limestone regions of Ireland and of these, 100 have produced archaeological material. Most of the discoveries have been made by antiquarians in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and by cavers in more recent decades. It is only in recent years that the archaeological community is beginning to realise the significance and rich potential of caves as multi-period sites that have been used over the past 10,000 years. 

It sounds like more archeological work is being done, which is great news for people like me who are so very interested in the ancient Irish culture.

Jan 21, 2011

The Spiritual Blessing of Celtic Prayer

From Celtic Wisdom.

"One of the most difficult things to grasp is seeing the eternal God within others and ourselves. The truth today is that God is still here, but we are often blind to him. The Celtic monk Pelagius said that God is visible, because everywhere 'narrow shafts of divine light pierce the Veil that separates heaven from earth.' Praying for the ability to see with fresh eyes is a simple but profound prayer. Again, Pelagius said, 'The presence of God's spirit in all living things is what makes them beautiful; and if we look with God's eyes, nothing on the earth is ugly.'"

On the grounds of the Benedictine monastery in Rostrevor, County Down, Northern Ireland.

Jan 19, 2011

Another Celtic Prayer

This is in my book, Celtic Wisdom.

O Holy Spirit, hasten to us!
Move round about us, in us, through us!
All our deadened souls' desires
Inflame anew with heavenly fires!

Yea! let each heart become a hostel
Of Thy bright Presence Pentecostal.
Whose power from pestilence and slaughter
Shall shield us still by land and water.

From bosom sins, seducing devils,
From Hell with all its hundred evils,
For Jesus' only sake and merit,
Preserve us, Thou Almighty Spirit!
--From The Celtic Psaltery by Alfred Perceval Graves

Jan 17, 2011

Iona in Song

Iona is on my bucket list. These are the words to a song by the band Iona. The term wild goose refers to the Holy Spirit. You can hear the song in the video below.


Here I stand, looking out to sea
Where a thousand souls have prayed
And a thousand lives were laid on the sand
Were laid on the sand

Years have passed, since they have died
And The Word shall last
And the Wild Goose shall fly
Shall fly

Here I stand, looking out to sea
And I say a prayer
That the Wild Goose will come to me
The Wild Goose shall come to me

Jan 14, 2011

An Old Irish Poem

This comes from The Religious Songs of Connacht by Douglas Hyde (1860-1949, the first president of Ireland and the founder of the Gaelic League.) He complied old songs and poems collected from the people in Ireland.

The Graces of the Holy Ghost
May the grace of the Holy Ghost be gained by us,
And the true Faith be kept unstained by us,
While we follow the path of the saints, endeavouring
To walk in the temple of Christ unwavering.
And may we seek the eternal Trinity
Trusting in Christ and in Christ’s divinity,
Helping the poor and relieving them
Walking with God and receiving them.
Devils that tempt us, still repelling them.
All our faults to the Church confessing them.
Fighting with all that wounds, with energy,
Ceasing from lies and evil calumny.
Let us not mix with strife and devilry,
Fall we to prayer instead of revelry,
Thanking the Lord for all his graciousness.
Throwing aside our evil way from  us.

Jan 12, 2011

Why the Irish Sing

Well, I'm going to give you one reason anyway.

My agent has a non-fiction proposal I wrote for a book called Celtic Song. He didn't get any takers so he's holding on to it for a "better time." But I'm hopeful it will be published one day. (Agent says it's really good, by the way.) ;-)

I'd love for that book to see the light of day because the history of how the Celts used music and song and poetry is colorful and intriguing.

I found this explanation of why hymns should be sung titled "In Praise of Hymnody" in the Irish Liber Hymnorum (or Book of Hymns--pictured above.) Well, I didn't find it in the original. There is a translation online. Wouldn't want to make myself look smarter than I am!

Whoever should recite the hymnody, would be making a song of praise dear to God, for it wipes out all sins, and cleanses the powers of the body and subdues involuntarily the lusts of the flesh; it lessens melancholy, and (banishes) all madness; it breaks down anger, it expels hell’s angels, and gets rid of the devils; it dispels the darkness of the understanding, and increases holiness; it preserves the health, and completes good works, and it lights up a spiritual fire in the heart, ie, the love of God (in place of) the love of man, and it (promotes) peace between the body and the soul.

This explanation in the Liber Hymnorum, by the way, was claimed to be an answer from an angel of God.

John Wesley gave this instruction regarding the singing of hymns.
Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward you when he cometh in the clouds of heaven. 

It's interesting to think about how words, when they are sung, sink into your consciousness, and when they are words of praise, they lift your spirit and echo in your mind long afterward.

Many of the hymns sung in church date from the 18th and 19th centuries. The Liber Hymnorum dates well before that, of course. Many of the hymns the early sang were the Psalms from the Bible. A hymn is an ode or a praise sung to God and could be ancient, more recent, or contemporary. Do you have any favorites?

Jan 10, 2011

Celtic Women

Author and Celtic historian Peter Berresford Ellis chronicles the role of Celtic Women in his book, Celtic Women, Women in Celtic Society and Literature. There are many examples in the book of law and customs in other Celtic regions besides Ireland. But it is in Ireland where much more is known because of the Brehon Laws. 
In referring to the Isle of Man, he notes that even though ecclesiastical law existed, which put more restrictions in general on women, the main law of the land was “The Breast Law,” which allowed women equal property rights when separating from their husbands even if they had been convicted of crimes. Truly women’s rights were acknowledged and protected in Celtic society.
In contrast, women in Rome and Greece were not afforded many rights. In Greece in particular they were separated from men and not allowed to leave their living quarters. While Roman women were permitted more freedom, they too had no authority when it came to business matters.
Fortunately, times have changed, and even in the church women today hold positions of authority and respect. But what is now a modern standard has been long adhered to by the Celts. All people, all living beings, are of God.  This is not to say that women were always treated well; we cannot say that even today. But in the ancient world Celtic women fared much better than in the rest of western civilization.

Jan 7, 2011


Just thought I'd post some stuff for fun today.

We saw this sign along a narrow road on our way to boat launch at Lough Neagh in Ireland. Sometimes words are just not needed!

Other times, however, the words on the signs made us scratch our heads.
Of course, it was true!

The sign below was hanging in a 19th century schoolhouse in the Ulster Folkpark. Apparently the teacher had to put the sign out whenever he was using this type of instruction.

There was no sign to warn us about this. Just thought you'd enjoy!

Jan 5, 2011

Place Names

I haven't done a study on Irish place names, but I sure was curious when I was in Ireland. Every other town was named Bally-something--Ballynahinch, one of my favorite names. It just rolls off the tongue. And what about Ballymoney and Ballycastle. Bally actually means "place of" so it's easy to tell what's in Ballycastle, for example.
(Ballycanal, the B&B we stayed at in Moira, which sits beside a canal.)

The place names are pretty logical. For instance, Banbridge is a town with a bridge built over the River Bann.
(Photo of Banbridge in the early 20th century. It looks about the same now only with cars.)

Down, Dun, Don--mean a fortified place. Obviously there were wars fought in Ireland and some sites were easier to defend than others. This would be equivalent to "fort" in America.
(The fort at Fort Atkinson, WI)

So we have Donegal, Portadown, Downpatrick. In America we have Fort Worth, Fort Collins, Fort Wayne...
(Donegal Castle)

When you see "glen" in a name, it is probably going to be a beautiful place. It means a valley between two mountains or in the first example, between two lakes--Glendalough, Crossmaglen...

Lough means lake: Lough Neagh, Glendalough...
(Lough Neagh)

(Inch Abbey)
I was curious about Inch Abbey. Inch is a measurement, right? Nope. It's the same as Inis or island, or a place along a river.

Most of the place names in Ireland are as beautiful as the places they represent. The names are descriptive and vivid. Here in America we have some names like that. I'm curious about a lot of them as well. The place I live, Pataskala, is an Indian word. When I met author J. Philip Newell, he wanted to know where I lived. Most people ask me how to spell it. Newell asked me what it meant. Names often have meanings and history behind them. What's your favorite place name, and why?

(Pataskala means "Bright Waters," the name the native Americans gave the nearby river.)

(The river natives once called Bright Waters. It was probably "brighter" in those days!)

For more posts on place names go here or here.

Jan 3, 2011


When planning our trip to Ireland, I knew that Newgrange would be on our way to Northern Ireland after we left Dublin. So would Monasterboice. I had seen the Monasterboice Muirdach's Cross with its Biblical carvings, located in County Lough,  pictured in many books. I wrote about it on page 73 of Celtic Wisdom. I thought it would be easy to find. It was famous!

But this was our first day in Ireland and we were not yet accustomed to road signs and roundabouts and had little sleep on the overnight flight from the states. We drove in circles and finally decided to stop and ask directions--or maybe get a map. The towns are so small and so close together on the main road. When Tom asked, a clerk in the store said, "I don't know. Why don't you ask them in Monasterboice?"

Truly, this was our only rude encounter during our visit, but it was the first day! They were out of maps. If we had come during tourist season, we might have been able to follow a tour bus. As we started circling around again, I realized I was reading the road signs incorrectly and we finally found our way. We had to go down a wee country lane, but soon found the parking lot and jumped out of the rental car just as another car with two people in it did the same. They apparently weren't tourists, and they knew we were as soon as we spoke. The girl who had been driving advised us to stick our bags in our trunk (boot, as they call it) because there had been a lot of robberies in the area. Really? There didn't seem to be any people about and almost no traffic. We did and noticed a sign as we left the parking lot advising the same thing. So, that was a kind turn even if the fellow in the store had been rude.

The West Cross

The monastery ruins, the crosses, and even the grave stones, rewarded us with their beauty, size, and incredible age. If Newgrange had intrigued and amazed me just hours earlier, Monasterboice charmed me.

I wished I had visited this site before going. It explains what's there (with a map) much better than I can, so I'll share the link instead of rehashing it. One reason I didn't want to miss seeing this site is because it's one of the oldest monasteries in Ireland. The founder, St. Buite, lived early in the 6th century.

The North Cross

Jan 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

"It is ordinary among some Plebians in the South of Scotland, to go about from door to door upon New Year`s Eve, crying Hagmane." 
Scotch Presbyterian Eloquence, 1693.

You can read more about Hogmanay here.

Wishing you a wonderful 2011!