Feb 28, 2011

The Legend of the Mermaid

Photo:Trounce/Wikimedia Commons
There is an Irish legend about a mermaid named Liban that appears the Book of the Dun Cow. This book, Lebor na h Uidre in Irish, is the oldest of the ancient book of legends believed to have been written in the late 10th to early 11th century. The photo above is of a wall in Clonfert Cathedral in Galway. Clonfert was founded by St. Brendan the Navigator, so this image appears here in honor of his famous voyage.
Liban was the daughter of a man named Eochaidh, who along with the rest of his family was drowned--probably a judgment for running off with his stepmother. Liban and her dog survived by the grace of God, but could not leave the water (Loch Neagh.) After a year she told God she wished to be like a salmon, and God granted her wish and turned her dog into the form of an otter. She roamed the water like that for 300 years, saying, "The wave is my roof and the shore my wall." Then she happened upon the boat of Beoan mac Innle, a follower of St. Comgall. He heard her singing, and she appeared to him. She explained her situation and her desire to be brought to the saints. They caught her in a net, where, as you can imagine, she became a spectacle. There was disagreement over to whom she belonged. Comgall thought that because she was caught in his country, she should be his charge. Fergus, a fisherman it is assumed, thought that because he caught her in his net, she should be his. But Beoan said she was his because of his initial conversation with her. These men decided to let God make the decision and fasted and prayed. An angel appeared and said the matter would be settled this way: two stags would appear and they should hitch them to the chariot where Liban's makeshift water tank was. They should let the deer pull her wherever she should go. The animals brought her to tech Dabheoc (a church.) There the clergy gave her a choice: she could be baptized and go immediately to heaven, or she could continue to live on for 300 more years and then go to heaven. She chose the first option and when she baptized she was named Muirghein or "sea birth." In that place many miracles occurred because of her.

That's the story. Kind of sad. It's as though she'd had a curse on her and had to somehow get on dry land to reach the clergy where they could take it off so that she could finally die.  I'm not sure what we're supposed to learn from it. What do you think?

Feb 25, 2011

I Feel Related

Anyone who has searched for his/her roots does so because of a need to feel connected. John Steinbeck undertook such a journey (much like Rosie O'Donnell whose search for her roots was just profiled on the show Who Do You Think You Are.) Most Americans have bloodlines reaching back to several ethnic groups. When Steinbeck went looking for his roots, he acknowledged that he was only half Irish. But he said, "Irish blood doesn't water down very well; the strain must be very strong."

Alister McReynolds and Wilson Burgess at the gravesite of Steinbeck's ancestors in Ireland. They followed Steinbeck's journey for a BBC program.
Steinbeck visited Ireland in search of his roots according to Alister McReynolds's book, Legacy, The Scots Irish in America. I'm proud to say that Alister is a friend of mine. He's a scholar and a native of Northern Ireland.

Apparently Steinbeck, during his journey to Ireland, proclaimed, "I feel related." In the January 31, 1953 edition of Collier's Magazine, Steinbeck talked about his journey in an article called, "I Go Back to Ireland."

If you didn't see last Friday's Who Do You Think You Are episode where Rosie O'Donnell finds her Irish roots, no worries, you can watch it here. Please let me know what you think. There were a couple of things Rosie said I thought were pretty profound and spoke to what every family historian feels.

Feb 23, 2011

Speaking of Presidents

On Monday I mentioned that Barack Obama has Irish roots. You may have heard about that. His mother's ancestors were from Ireland. The Irish Fireside put together this video on the subject. It's very entertaining. They take you on a Google Earth tour of the region where Obama's family lived. Let me just say that the roads really are like that! And get a load of the music. It's hilarious how the Irish singers pronounce Barack. :-o

When I was in Ireland some of the Irish people I met wanted to know what Americans thought of Barack Obama. My response was, "Uh, it depends on who you ask."


Feb 21, 2011

American Presidents with Celtic Roots

Happy Presidents Day!
Most of the American presidents with Irish roots are Scots-Irish with ancestors who came over in the 17th and 18th centuries from Northern Ireland. These include:

  • Andrew Jackson whose parents were born in Carrickfergus in Co Antrim.
  • James Buchanan whose father was born in Ramelton in Co Donegal.
  • Ulysses Grant whose grandfather was from Dergenagh, Co. Tyrone. 
  • William McKinley had roots in Dervock in Co. Antrim.
  • Woodrow Wilson's grandfather was from  Dergelt, near Strabane in Co Tyrone.
  • Richard Nixon had ancestors from Ballymoney in Co Antrim and also from Carrickfergus in Co Antrim.
  • Bill Clinton's Irish roots are not as clear cut. He is said to have a distant cousin in Kinawley in Co Fermanagh.
  • The Bush presidents have roots from Rathfriland, Co Down as well as in Co Cork (in the Republic of Ireland) and possibly from Co Antrim as well.
President Obama with Brian Cowan, Taoiseach of Ireland*

Presidents with roots in the Republic of Ireland include:
  • James Polk, whose great grandfather came over from Lifford in Co Donegal.
  • John F. Kennedy with roots in Co Wexford and Bruff, Co Limerick and Kinawley, Co Cavan.
  • Ronald Reagan's great grandfather was from Ballyporeen in Co Tipperary.
  • President Barak Obama has ancestry from Moneygall in Co Offaly.
There are many other American patriots with Irish roots who were not president but who made significant contributions to our country including my husband's ancestor, Charles Thomson who was secretary of the Continential Congress and designed the Great Seal of the United States of America. The designer of the White House was James Hoban, from Desart, near Callan, County Kilkenny.

It's safe to say that Ireland paid an important part in the building of country.
Most of the information for this post came from this blog.
*Taoiseach of Ireland is the prime minister of the Republic of Ireland appointed by the President of Ireland.

Feb 14, 2011

Romance in Ireland

In ancient times, before the church, couples were wed outdoors in front of a king at a site of some spiritual significance. Large trysting stones were part of the ceremony, at least one was on Cape Clear, an island off the southern coast of Ireland. On this island native Gaelic is spoken. A five thousand year old passage grave can be found along with a 12th century church ruin, and a 14th century castle. St. Ciarán, one of Ireland's earliest Christian fathers, is the patron saint of the island. This island is on my list for my next visit to Ireland.

There is a standing stone on the island with a hole right through it. Apparently a man and woman would stand on each side, stick their arms through, and hold hands while declaring their intention to marry or the actual marriage ceremony in front of the king would be conducted there. How sweet is that?

Feb 11, 2011

I'm Not Here!

But thanks for stopping by anyway. I'm actually here right now. I'm a mentor and I'll be talking to writers and trying to help and give advice and feedback. I'm really looking forward to it, not to mention getting to see Liz Curtis Higgs, the encourager! Plus there are so many long-time writer friends and new friends to meet up with. It seems like I go to Denver more often than any other city lately. It's kind of nice getting to know a place.

I'll be back next week, so be sure to come back.

If you leave any comments while I'm gone, please remember that I have to approve them so they might not show up for a few days.

Have a great weekend!

Feb 9, 2011

Contemplative Prayer

In light of the previous discussion here on Celtic Voices, I thought it might be good to look at contemplative prayer. Contemplative prayer is not so complicated as it might seem. It's simply being in relationship with God, being present, being open to hear God's voice. The Celts sometimes called this centering prayer. The early Celtic Christians were influenced by the Desert Fathers. A 4th century monk named John Cassian introduced the eastern monastic practices to the western world.

Psalm 119: 9-16 NIV
How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
   By living according to your word.
 I seek you with all my heart;
   do not let me stray from your commands.
I have hidden your word in my heart
   that I might not sin against you.
Praise be to you, LORD;
   teach me your decrees.
With my lips I recount
   all the laws that come from your mouth.
 I rejoice in following your statutes
   as one rejoices in great riches.
 I meditate on your precepts
   and consider your ways.
I delight in your decrees;
   I will not neglect your word.
This is a passage I'm contemplating right now. The psalmist probably wasn't reading his Bible all day. There weren't any Bibles back then. People had to memorize what little scripture they knew, and they sought God through prayer and contemplation. We are fortunate to have Bibles today, but I wonder, am I memorizing and contemplating less because I have a Bible at my fingertips? Am I thinking about who God is and trying to seek Him, less?

Just some food for thought!

Feb 7, 2011

The Contemplative Life

Much of what Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, had to say is very Celtic in nature. I will just leave you with this snippet. Let me know what you think. I'd love some comments!

Feb 4, 2011

Christ Church in Dublin

At the end of our trip to Ireland last October, my father passed away. I think that is the reason I took very few pictures in Dublin. We were fortunate that Patrick Comerford met us and gave a tour of Christ Church in Dublin. We enjoyed it very much, but had no pictures. But fortunately, others have been there and took pictures and posted them on the Internet. Below is slide show of Christ Church someone posted on YouTube. It moves quickly. Just a few things I want to point out. The memorials--something you find a lot of in these churches--were at some point all moved down below to the crypt. So when you see those statues (with the exception of Strongbow--the figure lying down) know that they are below the catherdral. That means the catherdral is less cluttered and more beautiful.

And toward the end of the slideshow there is the mummified cat. I'm so glad I can show it to you! Patrick told us that there was some problem with the pipe organ (not sure when; I'd have to research that) and they found the cat and rat who died stuck in the chase and flee mode. He says it's very popular with the kids!

So, enjoy!

Feb 2, 2011

Celtic Festival of Imbolc

The season of Imbolc begins Feb. 1 with St. Brigid's Day.
Yes, I know today is Groundhog Day. Both are associated with the coming of spring.

From The Celtic Year, A Celebration of Celtic Christian Saints, Sites, and Festivals by Shirley Toulson.

"It is a solemn and joyful time: the ending of the darkness as the seed of light which was planted at the solstice in the womb-like depths of such carefully constructed passage graves as New Grange, gradually pushes its way into the air. The weather in these islands may often be more cold and threatening now than ever it was at mid-winter, so that the survival of the new-born lambs is a great marvel, but even if there is not much warmth in the sun, the hours of daylight increase."

That is the best and most poetic description of what Imbolc is that I have found. If you are not familiar with the Celtic seasons, I blogged about it here.

For the ancient people the seasons were extremely important. They had to know when to plant and when to reap and when to plan for a long winter. They were extremely tuned to the sun and moon, and they were keenly aware of when the days grew longer. I wonder how many people today equate the coming of spring with the amount of daylight. We think about snow and cold and don't think spring is truly on its way until these things have passed. Why else do we consult the groundhog? (Which is an ancient tradition, likely Celtic, but that's another story.)

How different would our attitudes be if we looked to the sun (or any other sign from nature) and gave thanks that yes, the seasons are changing, despite what the thermometer says? I write this at a time when a large part of the US is in the middle of a huge winter storm, so I hope you all will find this a little bit encouraging! :)

Feb 1, 2011

Happy St. Brigid's Day!

Yesterday I promised to talk about Candlemas. Below is from the book, The Rites of Brigid, Goddess and Saint by Sean O Duinn.

The fire element in Brigid is shown in her connection with the Feast of Candlemas (Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary/Presentation in the Temple) which takes place on the second of February, the day after that of Brigid. According to tradition, St. Brigid, put a ring a lighted candles on her head and led the Virgin Mary into the temple in Jerusalem.

This was also a time that people brought their candles to church to be blessed. And apparently some brought their Brigid's crosses too.

There are a lot of traditions in Ireland regarding Brigid. This is a wonderful book to acquire if you want to know about them all.

My historical novel based on legends of St. Brigid
There is so much debate over whether Brigid was a real person or if she was a goddess that Christianity took over. There is no way to prove either theory. I think it's more productive to look at the stories and learn from them. Brigid was generous during a time of need. She gave away her belongings, and God always restored them. She did not stay put in her duel monastery (for both men and women) in Kildare, but traveled the entire island, meeting needs wherever she found them. She had a great longing to provide and care for people and for her God, evident in this poem attributed to her:

I should like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings.
I should like the angels of Heaven to be drinking it through time eternal.
I should like excellent meats of belief and pure piety.
I should like the men of Heaven at my house.
I should like barrels of peace at their disposal.
I should like for them cellars of mercy.
I should like cheerfulness to be their drinking.
I should like Jesus to be there among them.
I should like the three Marys of illustrious renown to be with us.
I should like the people of Heaven, the poor, to be gathered around from all parts.

Brigid and the King of Leinster
A mosaic from St. Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh
Brigid embodied the Celtic concept of hospitality. It's something you can still witness among the Irish today. I doubt they even realize how much more hospitable they are than others. For example, one thing I noticed when I was in Ireland was how helpful the people were. If you asked for directions they didn't just tell you where to go, they walked out to the street with you and physically pointed you on your way. If you couldn't find something in a store, they didn't tell you what aisle it was in, they took you to it. And people I previously had only known through Facebook, took us on tours and even paid for tickets and tea.

I think the legend of St. Brigid lives on through those who embrace her giving ways. It makes me think, what can I do for my neighbors, for strangers, for anyone I encounter?

From my book, Celtic Wisdom:
By giving to others Brigid gave to her God. She is said to have believed that Christ was in the poor person, a belief held by all the Celtic Christians. They gave freely and without reservation as though giving to the Lord.

Whether my house is dark or bright, I close it not on any wight, lest Thou, hereafter, King of Stars, against me close Thy Heavenly bars. If from a guest who shares thy board Thy dearest dainty thou shalt hoard, 'tis not that guest, O never doubt it, but Mary's Son shall do without it. ~From the Celtic Psaltery by Alfred Perceval Graves

Brigid's consecration from mosaic in St. Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh