Apr 29, 2011

The Legend of Connla's Well

Connla's Well is a legendary place either under the sea or in the Otherworld. It's not clear who Connla was, but the well is said to be a source of wisdom. Nine hazel trees bend over it (I know, it's under the sea, but use your imagination!) and they drop hazel nuts into the water. There are salmon in the well that feed on the hazelnuts. One can gain wisdom in three ways: eat the hazelnuts after they drop into the water, drink the well water (Under the sea? Well, no matter!), or eat the salmon that have eaten the nuts.

Of course, there's always a catch. Remember the Garden of Eden? A woman named Sinann tried to gain wisdom from the well and the waters rose up and drowned her. The magic well is meant only for the gods, after all. But this resulted in the River Shannon coming forth from the well. It's also said that all the rivers in Ireland are fed from Connal's Well.

This might be a lesson on greed. You know what the Irish say: Better to own a trifle than want a great deal.

From Irish Literature, Vol. 8 by Justin McCarthy, et. al. (1904)


A cabin on the mountain-side hid in a grassy nook,
With door and window open wide, where friendly stars may look,

The rabbit shy can patter in, the winds may enter free—
Who throng around the mountain throne in living ecstasy.

And when the sun sets dimmed in eve, and purple fills the air,
I think the sacred hazel-tree is dropping berries there,
From starry fruitage waved aloft where Connla's well o'er-flows;

For, sure, the immortal waters run through every wind that blows.
I think, when night towers up aloft and shakes the trembling dew,
How every high and lonely thought that thrills my spirit through
Is but a shining berry dropped down through the purple air,
And from the magic tree of life the fruit falls everywhere.

Footnote reads: " Sinend, daughter of Lodan Lucharglan, son of Ler, out of the Land of Promise, went to Connla's Well, which is under sea, to behold it. That is a well at which are the hazels of wisdom and inspirations, that is, the hazels of the science of poetry, and in the same hour their fruit and their blossom and their foliage break forth, and then fall upon the well in the same shower, which raises upon the water a royal surge of purple."—The Voagey of Bran.

Apr 27, 2011

Irish Artisans

Replica of the Ardagh Chalice
An artisan (metal worker, stone carver, blacksmith...) was respected in ancient Ireland. The craftsman held an enviable position in society. The artisans serving some of Ireland's beloved saints were even mentioned in a triad in the ancient books:

Three chief artisans of Ireland: Tassach with Patrick, Conlaed with Brigit, and Daig with Ciaran.

According to The Brehon Laws by Laurence Ginnell, 1894, whenever an artisan delivered his work he said a blessing on it. So strong was this tradition that if it wasn't done, fines were leveled.

Newgrange carving
PreChristian statue on on the Isle of Boa in Lough Erne, Co Fermanagh, Northern Ireland.

I have great respect today for modern artisans because they have a talent to do something I'm not able to do. It's a gift. I suppose we still admire artistic skill today. But I wonder how many people today bless their work before parting with it. That seems like a good ancient practice to take up today, even without the threat of fines.

Apr 25, 2011

Does God Come to You?

I was thinking about that question in church, of all places. Does God reach down to us from some far off place like Bette Midler suggested in that song "From a Distance"?

Church is where I heard the idea that God comes to you, and it struck me as so very wrong. It's the Celtic belief that God is always there. He is the Creator, after all. I mentioned in my book, Celtic Wisdom, that a miracle is what happens when you realize that God has always been there. We are the ones who have to open our eyes, and even when we are believers we don't always see. That's why it's the Celtic belief (as well as others) that asking God to give us His eyes to see what He sees is essential. And when that happens, we see that God is moving in all of life--in nature, in the hearts of mankind, in our very own hearts....

I personally think it's a mistake to think that God comes and goes. Surely it does seem like He is far away at times, but just like that poem Footprints (remember the poem about the footprints in the sand and in bad times there was only one set?) He is there. God loves you! :)

Just felt like sharing. What do you think?

Apr 22, 2011


Why didn't I know about this choral group before? In case you're not familiar, I thought I better enlighten you. Talk about the voices of angels! Here is their web site. Michael McGlynn founded Anúna, Ireland's national choir, in 1987. From the site: The name derives from the collective term for the three ancient types of Irish music, Suantraí (lullaby), Geantraí (happy song) and Goltraí (lament).... The group is Dublin-based and is an a cappella choir performing with between eleven and fourteen singers drawn from a larger group af approximately thirty members. Anúna do not work with a conductor, and use the entire space of a concert venue at different points in a performance. Most of their material is written or arranged for the group by McGlynn, and includes reconstructions of early and medieval Irish music. These songs are created specifically for the choir's unusual combination of classically trained and untrained voices.

Apr 20, 2011

More About Round Towers

In my last post I talked about the round tower in Antrim. Here is some more information on that tower.

Round towers are really interesting. They are so......well, tall for one thing. You can't exactly overlook them. Since they've been standing in Ireland for a thousand years or more, people have been puzzling over them for a long time. Most people today believe they were part of monasteries and held bells. They were also repositories for cherished possessions and books. The reason the doors were so high is so that a ladder could be pulled up and enemies would have trouble getting in.

Round tower at Monasterboice

I saw this video and just had to share it. The film makers are trying to find and explain the round tower imitations. The towers are anywhere from 70 to 200 years old, but they aren't ancient. However, what happens when he tries to get pictures of the second tower is really funny. Be sure to watch the whole thing.

Apr 18, 2011

Antrim's Round Tower and the Witches Stone

We visited the round tower in Antrim. It's supposed to be one of the best examples of a round tower in Northern Ireland and it was indeed in excellent condition. The tower, 93 feet high, is all that's left of an early 10th century monastery. The tower is in the middle of a park. Tom snapped a picture of some soccer (football) players in front of it. When they knew we were taking pictures, they hurried off. The photo gives a pretty good perspective on how high that door is. On the back side (pictured below) there is a door/window that is not so high.

There were a couple of interesting things about this site. One, unfortunately, is that it bears quite a bit of graffati.

These are some closeups of the stone wall and window. We are a little weird, being so fascinated by stuff like that. But in case you are too, here you go:

The other interesting thing about this site is the legend of the Witches Stone. There is a large stone near the tower with two holes or indentations. One thought is that it was used by the monks to prepare their meals and to grind grain. But the Irish, storytellers with great imaginations that they are, couldn't leave it at that. The legend says that a witch, dismayed at the Christian monks building the tower, climbed up and flung herself off the top. She landed on the stone, leaving an impression of one knee and one elbow. These holes are said to be always filled with water. As you can see, they were when we were there (well, you can see one of them, anyway.) It's called a bullaun stone. A sign at the site states that the witch must have glided part of the way since the stone is a distance from the tower. Well, those kinds of details never hender a good Irish tale!

Apr 15, 2011

Irish Prayer

This is a general prayer from Douglas Hyde's book, The Religious Songs of Connacht. He attributes it to a man named Michael Picoid. It was originally written in Latin. You can read my thoughts below.

I believe in Thee ; strengthen my belief. I trust in Thee ; confirm my trust. I love Thee ; double my love. 
I repent that I angered Thee, Increase my repentance. 

I adore Thee as first-beginning of my life. I desire Thee as my last end. I give thanks to Thee as my ever-helpsr. I call upon Thee as my strong-defender. 

Fill Thou my heart with awe without despair ;
With hope, without over-confidence ;
With piety without infatuation.
And with joy without excess.

My God ! consent to guide me by Thy wisdom;
To constrain me by Thy right ;
To comfort me by Thy mercy ;
And to protect me by Thy power.

I hallow all my thoughts, words, deeds and sufferings to Thee
So that from hence-forward I may think on Thee,
May converse of Thee, may labour for Thee,
And may suffer for Thee.

O God ! I ask that Thy will be done,
Because it is Thy will,
And in the way Thou willest.
I beseech of Thee enlighten my understanding,
Wash my will, cleanse my body, hallow my soul

My God, give me strength
So that I may make expiation for my misdeeds,
So that I may win victory over my temptations,
So that I may right my strong evil-inclinations,
And so that I may practise the virtues
That are suitable to my state of life. 

Fill my heart with affection for Thy goodness,
With hatred of my faults, with love for my neighbours,
And with contempt for the world.
That I may remember, O God 
To be submissive to my superiors, To be at one with my inferiors, Faithful to my friends And charitable to my enemies.

~There is much more to this prayer. I'm skipping a few stanzas.

May I never forget  
To put heed in my prayers,
Moderation in my ways, 
Earnestess in my care,
And persevereness in the things I put before me. 

~Skipping a bit more

Finally, may it be thy will To grant repentance to every sinner, 
Constant forward progress to the righteous,
Peace to the living, 
And everlasting happiness to the faithful who have died.

I ask of Thee, O Lord, to grant all this Through the merit of our Lord Jesus Christ, 
Through the intercession of Our Blessed Lady, And of all saints, And through the will of our Holy Mother the Church.

~I could have skipped the last couple of lines, since they are decidedly Catholic, 
and I'm not, but that's how the prayer was said, and I have great respect for that. 
You, of course, may pray the prayer however you see fit.

I love the honesty in this prayer, the desire to be better, the pleading with God. 
I'd love to hear your reaction.

Apr 13, 2011

Ireland: A Heritage of Kings

When someone with Irish roots boasts that he is related to an Irish king, don't be surprised. Ancient Ireland was divided into five kingdoms--five! The island is approximately the size of the state of Indiana, which of course is only one of fifty states in our "kingdom." Each kingdom had a provisional king, but there were local kings as well, which amounted to approximately 200 kings for a total population of just under 500,000 people (according to The Irish Mystique, America's Enchantress England's Secret Envy, Ireland's Despair, by Max Caulfield.)

To further confuse things, look at the status of the individual. In each kingdom there were freemen and women (commoners) and slaves. When surnames came into use (not until the 11th century) everyone took the surname of their chieftan, whether blood-related or not. So, having a kingly name like O'Neill does not necessarily mean you are the descendant of a king.

But then again, with so small a population, and so many kings out there.....

Well, you know what the Irish say: Never let what really happened get in the way of a good story! ;-)

Apr 11, 2011

The Blasket Islands

I haven't been there. It's on my list. It's also on the cover of my book:

The Blasket Islands lie on the "edge of Europe" and were inhabited by hearty fishermen and their families who made their living lobster fishing. But it's past tense. The island no longer has inhabitants. This Time Magazine article from 1952 marked the sad event when the last occupants left for the mainland.

But when the community thrived, it was Gaelic speaking and virtually cut off from the influence of the people who lived just two miles across the sound. This microcosm of civilization attracted several scholars who traveled there and encouraged some of the people to write their life stories. One of these islanders was named Tomás Ó Criomhtháin. His tombstone reads: "There will not be those like us again". 

His story is still in print as well as some of the others. I'm going to have to add that to my wish list! Never mind. Just ordered it on my Kindle. :) I will let you know what I think!

Apr 8, 2011

More Irish in the West

In my last post I linked you to a map that showed where the Irish are concentrated in the US. I was surprised by Montana, but there is another surprise as well: Nevada.

Irish Miners at the Comstock in Nevada
The Irish went to Nevada the same reason they went to Montana and other parts west. The best I could tell by the map is that there is a high percentage of Irish ethnicity near Hawthorne. Parts of Nevada were mined, just like California, and I suppose lots of Irish came out to find their pot of gold. According to the web site linked above, 42% of the population of the Comstock Mining District were Irish. This mining district is near Carson City, over a hundred difficult miles north of Hawthorne. Perhaps future generations moved southward. I really don't know the reason why that particular part of Nevada is still so Irish. Do you?

It's also interesting to note from that web site that the immigrants who came to mine were from County Cork, the only county in Ireland in the 19th century with mines. Mining has a long history in Ireland, back to 2,000 BC or so. There are other Irish counties with a mining past. County Wicklow, for instance, had a gold rush of its own in the late 18th century. According to this web site there was a mining depression when prices fell in the 1880's in Ireland.

Abandoned Copper Mine in Allihiles, Co. Cork
But major copper mining took place in Allihies in County Cork until the 1960's and apparently it was from this region that the Irish in Nevada originated.

I never knew! Did you?

Apr 6, 2011

Where Are the Irish-Americans?

These maps are a little old, from the 2010 US Federal Census, but they are still interesting. The first one shows the percentage of Scots-Irish and the second one the Irish.

Scots-Irish in America

Irish in America

Well, obviously the Irish are all over, but there was there anything that surprised you? What about Montana? What's up with that? I mean we expected that there would be a lot in Boston and New York and Maine. I'm pleased to see that there are a good many where I live.

But Montana? I wonder how many people realize how Irish parts of that state are? I looked it up. This site called Irish Montana has a lot of information. When you think about it, it does make sense. Who worked on the railroad? The Irish and the Chinese. Who worked in the mines? Many ethnic groups, but mostly the Irish. It seems they came from Irish Boston and New York, and made a major impact on the settlement of the West.

What about you? Do you have Irish blood? Where are you???

Apr 4, 2011

Morning Prayers

From the Carmina Gadelica:

I will kindle my fire this morning 
In presence of the holy angels of heaven, 
In presence of Ariel of the loveliest form, 
In presence of Uriel of the myriad charms, 
Without malice, without jealousy, without envy,
Without fear, without terror
of any one under the sun, 
But the Holy Son of God to shield me.

May your joys be as bright as the morning, and your sorrows merely be shadows that fade in the sunlight of love. May you have enough happiness to keep you sweet, enough trials to keep you strong, enough sorrow to keep you human, enough hope to keep you going.