May 30, 2011

Happy Memorial Day!

Last year on this blog I honored my military family. This year is a little more dear to my heart because my father, a WWII hero, is no longer with us.

In thinking about ancient Celtic culture, I realize that people have always tried to remember. That's the reason, I believe, for the standing stones and high crosses.

I wanted to embed this video but it wouldn't allow it, so I'm just linking it. I hope you'll go listen, however. It's a beautiful song for Memorial Day.

Remember Me

May 27, 2011


The Vikings were conquerers largely because of their ships. Whether it's the Viking influence or something else, Belfast has been building for a long time. Even before the Vikings, however, the Irish were boat builders. They may not have had longboats, but they may have built a vessel that actually sailed all the way to America in the 6th century!

Belfast's location makes the city a major port for trade. You might remember that the Titanic was built in Belfast. As the Irish like to say, "She was fine when she left here!"

When Tom and I were in Ireland, we were invited to a two-man play titled The Boat Factory. It's about a young man's experience post WWII working on the shipbuilding docks. While we didn't always understand the jokes or the accent of the actors, we did enjoy this unique Irish experience. Shipbuilding has been a critical part of life in Belfast for a very long time.

My ancestors, the Littles, sailed from Belfast in 1771. They lived somewhere near Downpatrick, which today is about a 45-minute drive. The Littles were not shipbuilders but they did board a ship that could have been Irish built. I've been trying to figure out just what the docks looked like in 1771. Not much luck so far. If you have any resources for me, please share!

May 25, 2011

American Presidents in Ireland

President Obama's recent visit to Ireland has made me think about which presidents traveled to Ireland while in office, and why.

There are many speculations about why Obama is visiting Ireland right now. I'm not sure why he went there, to be honest. Everyone, of course, should go because it's a wonderful country to visit. Obama went to Dublin to meet with Ireland's president Mary McAleese and then to the tiny Moneygall, birthplace of Obama's 3X great grandfather.

The Irish were amazingly enthralled by his visit (at least it's amazing to this American.) If it weren't a political visit, if Obama stayed longer, if he was truly interested in his genealogy (someone else did the work for him, but that's not surprising) I would understand completely. A vast number of Americans can trace some branch of their family tree to Ireland. There are more Irish in America than there are in Ireland. (True, Obama is only 3.9% Irish, but that hardly matters. America is a melting pot.)

But to be fair, other standing American presidents went to Ireland for political reasons, including Bush, Clinton, Reagan, Nixon, and Kennedy. For some it was a much more emotional and meaningful experience than just political one, and I'm not going to judge that. Plenty of other people have.

I think that perhaps these presidents realize that if they connect with their Irishness (is that a word?) then they'll also connect with many, many Americans. And that does make sense to me (casting aside all the reasons he perhaps should not have spent money on a European tour while our economy struggles and we deal with tornado devastation. That's another topic for another kind of blog.) You???

May 23, 2011

Festival Time!

A great way to learn about Irish and Celtic culture is to attend a festival. Where I live there are several within driving distance. Music is certainly what draws most people. You can also watch dancing, hear storytellers, learn about genealogy and all aspects of the culture. Some have crafts, children's games, sheep herding, Highland games, and lots of shopping. Some are free, most have reasonable admission, and all have food! Usually you find some variation of Irish beef stew, potato leek soup, and fish and chips. Most have beer as well, but the one I was at last Saturday was an exception in that respect.

Lots of fun, that's for sure. The Lancaster Celtic Gathering is small, and still in its infancy, but the organizers do a fabulous job of trying to find out what people would like and bring it to them. Lots of interesting people stopped by table. I met a lady who likes to write but lacks motivation to finish to what she's started. She's been an avid journal writer for years. I met someone who was interested in learning more about St. Brigid, a couple who thought they'd missed St. Brigid's grave in Ireland because it wasn't marked. I was able to tell to them they'd seen it--it's the same grave as St. Patrick! I met lots of history buffs, a man who talked about baseball but then opted to purchase Brigid of Ireland instead of Three Finger, and a little girl who asked her mom to buy Brigid of Ireland for her, and she did! I'm not sure about her reading level, but maybe she's really advanced! Her mom had her read the back cover to see if she'd be interested and she was. Love seeing the faces of my readers because I rarely get to!

Do you see where I'm going with this? The best part of the festivals is the people! I love that folks who are interested in Irish and Celtic culture gather together to share and have a good time.

Gaelic Storm appears at many of the larger Irish festivals.
If you haven't been to an Irish festival, check out this site for some suggestions. IRISH FESTIVALS BY LOCATION.

May 20, 2011


As an author, I'm always looking for inspiration. It's not really that hard to find, but it shows up in all kinds of places. Obviously, the beauty of Ireland and the faith of the ancient Irish inspire my writing. These things also uplift my soul and bring me to a place of worship.

I'm homesick for Ireland. Terribly. There is nothing wrong with wanting to go back to a place you visited and enjoyed, but I think this is magnified for me because of the emotional upheaval I was in while I was there.

My dad was very sick when I left for Ireland and passed away a few days before I got back. I knew he was going to die while I was in Ireland. I don't know how you feel about "conversations with God" but truly I had one when I was on the plane. In any case, I did know my dad was going to a better place without suffering. I just dreaded it and I carried that with me while I was in Ireland.

That's why I want to go back. I'm not saying I did not enjoy myself while I was there or that I didn't learn things and be inspired. Not at all. I just need to go back now. Know what I mean?

I saw this rainbow on Oct. 17 in Ireland, the day and hour my dad passed away back home.

Oops! I got off course there a minute! My point is that images of Ireland are what inspire me these days. And before I went to Ireland it was books and writings about Ireland and the ancient Irish Christians that inspired me the most. I still find it all inspiring, but images bring me back the most, I think.

That's why I ordered this this morning. I wanted to share it with you in case you feel the same way. (I fully expect the music and words to inspire me as well!)

What inspires you? Please share! I have more to learn!
PS: I'm off to a Celtic festival tomorrow. I'll report on Monday!

May 16, 2011

Happy St. Brendan's Day!

St. Brendan is one of my favorite Irish historical figures. Every year, on his feast day, I post something about him and his famous journey on the blog. You can find one post here and another here.

There are certainly a lot of things named for him--schools, colleges, bands, and even an alcoholic beverage!

I recently asked my newsletter subscribers to answer some questions about St. Brendan, and I was surprised at the variety of answers. But I suppose that's what can happen when you use the Internet.

Here is a link to a translation of The Voyage of St. Brendan.

Here were the questions:

1. St. Brendan is also known as The…..
2. How many men went with St. Brendan on his famous journey? (Be careful. This could be a trick question. But if you’re close I’ll give you credit.)
3. Name two books written about the legend of St. Brendan.
4. What patron saint was Brendan said to have met? (Hint: a certain author wrote a novel about this saint.)
5. St. Brendan is the patron saint of….

If you haven't already, go ahead and take a shot at the answers and leave them in the comments section of this blog. I'll enter you into a drawing to win a hand-knotted prayer cross (key fob size) made by the monks at St. Brendan's Monastery in Maine.

May 13, 2011

Trinity College

Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, was founded by Queen Elizabeth I in 1592 (the charter was granted in December 1591.) Dublin donated the grounds, the site of the ruined monastery, All Hallows, which had been founded in 1166 by Dermot MacMurrough (a most interesting character that I will have to blog more about someday.)

Rubrics at Trinity College. I think it's now a dorm.
The oldest building still standing on the campus is called Rubrics and dates from the early 1700s. The original buildings are long gone.

The library at Trinity College is a must see stop on any tour of Ireland. Most people are interested in seeing The Book of Kells, as I was. But there is so much more not to be missed. I was disappointed that I could not take photographs inside the library. It’s an amazingly beautiful place. You can see for yourself on the Web.

So much of Ireland’s history is ancient so it’s a little unexpected to find the buildings at Ireland’s oldest college are more modern. That does not make them any less interesting, however, as you can tell from my pictures. I wish I had taken more. I will next time!
Statue of Edmund Burke in front of Trinity College

This is a picture of the library that I borrowed from somewhere on the Internet. If you know where, let me know and I'll attribute it properly.

May 12, 2011

Traditional Irish Music Sessions

Ever been to a pub and notice a few people with instruments sitting in a corner? Someone starts playing a tune and then a few others join in. There might be a few others with instruments ready but not playing. Some play fiddle, others flute or bodhran. Someone might even sing. People come and go. It's very informal.

This is an Irish music session where folks gather to play traditional Irish music. If you're not a musician (I'm not) you might sit by and listen, but this is not a performance, not in the traditional sense of the word. Irish music sessions give the musicians an opportunity to practice what they love, and it often gives less experienced musicians a chance to practice with others. Remember those folks I mentioned who sit out a tune? They are waiting for one they know. It's considered bad form to strum, drum, or whistle along if you don't know the piece.

If you're not familiar with an Irish music session, you might be tempted to think these just occur in Ireland, but you can likely find one in an Irish pub or restaurant near you, somewhere close to the bar where the musicians can get a pint or two.

Here are some sites to check out:
Irish Seisiun
The Irish Session by Stewart Hendrickson
Article from the Columbus Dispatch

I'd love to hear about your experience!

May 10, 2011

Feast of St. Comgall

Today's Bangor Abbey
Today is St. Comgall Day. He was the founder of the monastery at Bangor in Northern Ireland. The Irish Annals place his birth between 510 and 520 and his death around 602. He was born in the ancient kingdom of Dalaradia in Ulster, in today's County Antrim. He may have first been a soldier and then studied under Finnian in Conlard, along with the other great monastic fathers. He practiced a strict form of Christian monasticism on an island on Loch Erne. Only one meal per day and that eaten in silence. Of all his monastic settlements, the most famous is at Bangor in present day County Down on the southern shores of Belfast opposite Carrickfergus. Bangor's picturesque setting is well known. (Read more about Bangor here.)

Bangor was established sometime between 552 and 555. The Rule of St. Comgall survives from the 7th century in the Ambrosian Library at Milan and is referred to as The Antiphonary of Bangor. It was carried to Bobbio at some point in history by an Irish monk. Comgall oversaw his monastery for 50 years. It was known all over Europe as a great center of learning. As many as 3,000 monks may have studied there at one time and the monastery prospered until the Dane invasion of 822. The abbey was rebuilt in the 12th century and modeled after Armagh, the largest church in Ireland at the time. You can read more about the history here.

May 6, 2011

Danny Boy

Since I've been talking about Irish immigration this week, I thought I'd share a version of Danny Boy.

Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
The summer's gone, and all the flowers are dying
'Tis you, 'tis you must go and I must bide.
But come ye back when summer's in the meadow
Or when the valley's hushed and white with snow
'Tis I'll be here in sunshine or in shadow
Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so.

And if you come, when all the flowers are dying
And I am dead, as dead I well may be
You'll come and find the place where I am lying
And kneel and say an "Ave" there for me.

And I shall hear, tho' soft you tread above me
And all my dreams will warm and sweeter be
If you'll not fail to tell me that you love me
I'll simply sleep in peace until you come to me.

I'll simply sleep in peace until you come to me.

May 5, 2011

National Day of Prayer

In honor of National Day of Prayer, a Celtic prayer for you:

(These are excerpts from the prayer "Holy Spirit" in the Carmina Gadelica.)

Without Thy divinity there is nothing
In man that can earn esteem ;
Without Thyself, O King of kings,
Sinless man can never be.

Each thing that is foul cleanse Thou early.
Each thing that is hard soften Thou with Thy grace.
Each wound that is working us pain,
O Best of healers, make Thou whole !

Give Thou to Thy people to be diligent
To put their trust in Thee as God,
That Thou mayest help them in every hour
With thy sevenfold gift, O Holy Spirit generous !

May 4, 2011

19th Century Poor in Ireland

What do you think of when you think of the poor in Ireland? Chances are it's The Potato Famine, which prompted mass emigration from 1845-1852. But the problem started earlier than the potato blight. The island was overpopulated and a great many people who could not afford to go to America or Canada to seek a new life took the shorter route to England. The indigent there were becoming a problem so the British government decided to bring The Poor Law that already existed in England and Wales to Ireland with the Act for the Effectual Relief of the Destitute Poor in Ireland in 1838.

Poor Law Unions were created in political districts, which in Ireland were townlands. And a tax brought in money to support the workhouses that were built, although that was hardly enough to support them. The people who ran them were elected from the district. Usually a master ran the house and a mistress was in charge of the women and children. The poor were expected to work and were fed mostly gruel. The buildings were cold and damp. Men were separated from women and the children were separated from their parents.

According to Ask Ireland:

The granting of relief was at the discretion of the Poor Law Guardians. Priority was given to the aged and infirm, children and people resident within the Union concerned. Boards of Guardians were elected annually on the 25th March, and only cess payers could vote. Later in the nineteenth century the Poor Law developed to encompass services such as outdoor relief, medical services for the poor, assisted migration and other social services.

When I read this I was reminded of a scene in Angela's Ashes where the family had to go ask for help and they were given a sheep's head for Christmas dinner.

It's hard to place blame here. Clearly the situation was not handled well. Someone had a good idea to help the poor, to stop the suffering, and if not that than to stop the Irish from becoming a burden to English society (they already had plenty of poor to deal with.) But the poverty continued, even after the potato crop recovered.

The poor became resilient, however. The strong of will and heart survived, and in many cases prospered. The value of having to work hard for what one got was immeasurable. But truly happiness is not measured in wealth anyway. Over and over I hear from people who have worked in third world missions that the people in those countries are happy despite their lack of things. There is joy in family, in song, in fellowship, or craic as the Irish call it. And in living a life of faith. Great lessons, in my opinion. Of course, no one wants to endure poverty or wish it on someone else. But I'm studying it right now--studying the lives of these people and their responses, and I hope to honor their legacies in what I write.

May 2, 2011

Ireland's Workhouses

I'm doing some research on this and came across this video. I thought it was interesting and wanted to share it here.

May 1, 2011

Happy Beltaine!

May 1 is Beltaine, one of four major feasts of the Celtic calendar. Beltaine marks the end of the dark half of the year. Yay! It is also the traditional day of moving livestock to upper pastures, also called booleying. Read more about booleying here.

The Irish believe that Beltaine is a good time to start a project or hold a fair. It's considered a bad idea to let someone take fire (as in lighting a torch) from your house on Beltaine. This could give the person control over the people in the house.

Lighting bonfires on the eve of Beltaine (actually, the festivals always started at night) is long held. All fires were extinguished and the festival began when the king lit the first fire, which could be seen from a long distance because....well, there were no streetlights. This is apparently what got St. Patrick in trouble. He lit his Pascal fire before the king lit his Beltaine fire and God had to rescue Patrick and his followers by turning them into a herd of deer.

Welcome back, sun! We have missed you! :)