Jun 29, 2011

The Swan Woman

Taken from The Wonders of Ireland by P. W. Joyce, 1911

Once there was a poet who, while journeying across the country, came across a flock of wild swans as he stood on the banks of the River Boyne. They flew very near him so he picked up a rock, took aim, and threw it. It struck one of them and knocked it to the ground. When he hurried to his prize, however, it was not a swan at all, but a lovely woman in white clothing, and she was perfectly well. She explained to him that some time ago she was sticken with a terrible illness. As she lay on her bed, a group of demons gathered her up and took her away. To her friends, however, she appeared to be dead. The demons took her on their wild flights and she had been flying with them ever since until the poet happened to strike her and bring her back.

He took her home and restored her to her friends.

This is one Irish story with a happy ending! But like ever other Irish story, this one probably has a deeper meaning. What do you think?

Jun 27, 2011

Ancient Prayer of Anoitment

This prayer could be used for baptisms or for a blessing. It is found in a paper by Fr. Sean O'Duinn.
It was originally in Irish and according to Fr. O'Duinn it likely dates to the 9th century. I think it would be a wonderful prayer to rededicate one's own life.

May the yoke of the Law of God be on this shoulder;
May the intelligence of the Holy Spirit be in this head;
May the sign of Christ be on this forehead;
May the hearing of the Holy Spirit be in these ears;
May the scenting of the Holy Spirit be in this nose;
May the vision of the People of Heaven be in these eyes;
May the conversation of the People of Heaven be in this mouth;
May the work of the Church of God be in these hands;
May the welfare of God and neighbor be in these feet;
May this heart be a dwelling place for God;
May this complete person belong to God the Father.

Jun 22, 2011

A Man Who Recorded History

Austin Cooper lived from 1759-1830 and was a historian. His family calls him the Antiquary to distinguish him from the many Austins in the family line. Ge was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries in London, but perhaps his greatest contribution to preserving history was his drawings. He traveled about Ireland on official business (collecting taxes) and sketched the ancient ruins and prehistoric sites, thus preserving on paper some of what can no longer be seen.

He was not alone in his desire to record history, thankfully. Besides his contemporaries, Austin's descendants worked to print and preserve some of these drawings. The material was kept in the family near Dublin until about 1960 when it was transfer with another descendant to England. The National Library of Ireland eventually acquired it and O'Brien Press published a book in 2000, Cooper's Ireland, Drawings and Notes from an Eighteenth-Century Gentleman.

There are drawings by Cooper in the National Library that are not in this book, and the library also has 18th century drawings by others as well.

You can read more about Austin Cooper and see some of his sketches on this blog by a member of his family.

Jun 20, 2011

Bangors and Mash & More!

Photo by avlxyz
The Irish have such interesting names for things, don't you think? Like mashed potatoes and sausages, for instance. If you don't speak the lingo, at least now you know what bangors and mash is.

Also, Freckle Bread is simple raisin bread; Black Pudding is made with pig's blood; Soda Bread is a quick bread made with raisins (okay, it's better than that sounds, but you get the idea); Wheaten bread is soda bread made, I think, with some whole wheat flour; The Black Stuff is dark ale, probably Guinness; Colcannon is a dish made from cabbage, potatoes, and leeks;  Brack is a sweet bread for tea, usually with fruit; Coddle is a one pot meal of bacon, sausage, potatoes, onions, and maybe barley and carrots and a few other things. And by the way, bacon is not bacon. Not sure if you can find American type bacon in Ireland, but I haven't been everywhere. Rashers is bacon and that's more like thick ham.

Colcannon Photo by cyberpenguin
I know I've missed a lot here. But my point is to point out how creatively the Irish name their dishes and how it's probably a good idea to study up on the terms before you go. There are some things you have to discover for yourself, however. Here are two things I learned about the food: yogurt in Ireland (and probably in Europe in general) is not the same as it is here. At least what I ate wasn't. Probably the bacteria is different, I'm not sure. But being lactose-intolerant I can eat yogurt because of the healthy cultures. But...uh...didn't seem to be so in Ireland so I'll skip it next time. Another thing we discovered was that vegetable soup is not like ours, which is generally tomato-based. This was good, but a clear broth with mostly onions, leeks, and carrots.

Here are a few other tips: Coffee is much, much, stronger. Be warned. And if you get hungry for chicken salad, wait until you get home. A chicken salad sandwich in Ireland is bread, cold chicken, and some lettuce. Scones are wonderful, but as varied from restaurant to restaurant as they are in America.

I'm not knocking the food, though, not at all. Try something new when you're in Ireland. Fish and chips might not be new, but I don't know how you can go to Ireland or England and not have some. And don't forget the tea and biscuits! :)
My Irish Wheaten bread, which tasted better than it looked.

Jun 17, 2011


When I find a reference to the same thing in two different places (not intentionally like research) I stop and take notice. In two places today I read something about The Good Shepherd. While that's not an obscure subject for Christians, I still thought about it in a different way.

The Good Shepherd is a reference to Jesus. In the Book of John, Jesus refers to himself as The Good Shepherd. If you search the Bible, you find numerous references to sheep and shepherds. In one of the earliest, Joseph on his death bed says that God has been his shepherd. All this has led to tons of sermons on the subject.

I don't know about you, but I've often been told the story about how stupid sheep are. That's why they need a shepherd. And the conclusion is that human beings are also stupid and therefore need Jesus to shepherd us. I'm not doubting that we need Jesus, but I don't think people are stupid. (Generally speaking, that is!)

I didn't find that "stupid" reference in the Bible. If I missed it, would someone please show me? I don't think we're called to be stupid. Just the opposite: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves." ~Matthew 10:16 NIV

It seems to me that it would be much easier to follow a shepherd if you were completely stupid. Having a mind to think and reason, like we do, makes it harder to trust. We think we know we better and that gets in the way. I don't think you have to throw away all your intellect, however. God gave us a mind. He did not make us....sheep, for instance. There is just something about sheep that He used as an illustration.

©2010 Cindy Thomson
Of course there are multitudes of sheep in Ireland, so I had the opportunity to observe them every day when I was there. I didn't really study them, but just noticed a few things. It was obvious that because they didn't know us, they moved away from us when we drove or walked by. This one did not move too far away from his meal, but he was ever observant of me.

Sure, sheep can make poor decisions and easily be led astray. I get that analogy. But like most things, there is more to the story. Any sheep experts out there willing to share their insights??

Jun 15, 2011

Adagio Trio

Today I'm bringing you a Q&A from a musical group called Adagio Trio. They have a Celtic CD out you might like to sample. 

From their web site:

The Adagio Trio was founded in 1985 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Their unique combination of harp, flute, and cello provides a fitting compliment for meditation or relaxation. Their CDs have been used in various venues such as massage clinics, yoga and meditation classes, retreat centers, music therapy, hospice, etc. Most of their arrangements, such as "Ashokan Farewell", "Shenandoah", Ave Maria", "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring", "Pachelbel Canon in D", and "On Eagle's Wings" are original arrangements. Adagio Trio has been featured on public radio stations throughout the country including Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Ohio, Virginia, New York, Oregon, and California, and featured numerous times on WHRO radio in Hampton Roads and WGUC-FM in Cincinnati. In the first six weeks, their debut album “Stillpoint” sold over 1000 copies. 

What led you to perform the Celtic music on Celtic Heart? And, how is this style of music uniquely suited to Adagio Trio?

We have always loved this style of music and wanted to learn more of how to play it. Kathy & Lin both have Irish ancestors and have loved Celtic music. We are not Celtic players, so we were all coached by local Celtic musicians so that our style sounded as authentic as possible. Our group of harp, flute and cello has a unique Celtic sound because the grouping is not typical. Unlike our other CDs, all of the pieces we arranged ourselves. We especially wanted to record this CD since our harpist, Lin had bought a William Rees Aberdeen Meadows Celtic harp in memory of her brother-in-law who was a lover of music and had died of cancer. The harp has such a different sound than the pedal harp. The flute and harp are traditional Celtic instruments, but the cello is not. I had to learn the fiddle style for some of the pieces on the CD.

Your music has brought comfort and relaxation to people who are recovering from medical problems as well as hospice patients. Did you set out to perform this kind of spiritually comforting music or did it happen by chance?

We did not intentionally try to create music for hospice or "spiritually comforting” music. However the type of music we chose was an expression of a variety of music that is uplifting and familiar. We tried to originally make a CD of music that we all enjoyed. When we started as a group in 1985, we were mostly a “gig” trio that played lots of weddings. Brides throughout the years had asked us about a CD, so we finally created our first recording “Stillpoint” in 1997. There are a few tracks on “Stillpoint” that are big requests at weddings such as “Pachelbel’s Canon” and “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”. As the first few recordings started to sell, others shared that our music had a calming effect. Hospices, massage therapists, and yoga centers have all used our music. We didn’t really see that coming. That prompted us to record more CDs since people were requesting it.

Have you always been musicians?

Yes. We all have played our instruments for a living for many years. Kathy and I both graduated from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music in the 80s. That is where we met Lin, our harpist, who had already been freelancing in Cincinnati and now also plays for hospice patients and teaches Suzuki harp. Kathy and I live in Chesapeake, Virginia where I am the principal cellist of the Virginia Symphony, and she teaches and performs also in the area.

Any upcoming performances or recordings you’d like people to know about?

We will be performing a concert in Lebanon, Ohio, August 19th, 7:00pm, at Resurrection Lutheran Church. We will also be performing in Cincinnati at Joseph Beth Booksellers on August 20th, from 11:30am to 1:30pm.  We usually play tunes from our 5 CDs, which are a mix of classical, folk, religious, and Celtic music. We hope to perform a few more times in the 2011-2012 season. Because we live apart from our harpist, we cannot perform as often as we would like. We would encourage anyone interested in attending our concerts to keep in touch via our website: www.adagiotrio.com .

Jun 14, 2011

Happy Flag Day!

Flags have been important to groups of people since Biblical times, and certainly Celtic clans used flags and colors and tartans to identify themselves. Today is flag day in the US. We fly our flag at our house every day, but today is an especially good one to fly the red, white, and blue.

This is the flag outside of the funeral home during my father's funeral. Underneath the Star Spangled Banner is the US Army flag in honor of my father's service.

Jun 13, 2011

A monk sits among his brothers in a spacious hall filled with slanted writing desks. Although it is daytime, his desk bears its own candle for additional illumination. He has several pots of ink, the fruit of the labor of other monks who gather bark, berries, and minerals from the earth to produce vivid colors for his use. Likewise, the velum he writes on was painstakingly prepared by others.

Because he has a steady hand and very good eyesight, the monk spent years training to be an illuminator and calligrapher. He works with others to produce a sacred manuscript to be used in mass. Around him ordinary scribes do the important work of copying scriptures and other works. Only by possessing these copies can monasteries flung across Ireland and Europe teach the thousands who come to them to learn. Sometimes even nobility and kings come to the monasteries for education and enlightenment. This work is important and valuable, and yet he is careful not to become prideful. He is only an instrument.

Words. The pictures they create in a person's mind. The meaning they speak to one's soul. The monks in the scriptorium copy, draw, paint, and compose, and in doing so they deliver the beauty of words to the people.

It's a great responsibility, working in a scriptorium. But that is not why the monk does it. God Almighty has asked this of him, given him the skill and steadiness. To refuse his calling would be an act of disobedience, and he has taken a vow to obey God and the abbot.

So here he sits while birds sing outside and children frolic in the sunshine. While farmers plow and harpers strum. Only while resting does he pause to consider something besides his brush.

A white cat wanders about the tables, occasionally rubbing his back against a scribe's leg until a rustle in the corner captures his attention. Once the animal's mind is set upon his prey, nothing, not even a human's voice or the offer of a crumb of bread can divert him from his task. God created the cat to hunt mice. God created this monk to hunt words.

Pangur Ban (Old Irish for White Cat)
I and Pangur Ban my cat,
Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.
Better far than praise of men
Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill will,
He too plies his simple skill.
Tis a merry thing to see
At our tasks how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.
Oftentimes a mouse will stray
In the hero Pangur's way;
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.
'Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
'Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.
When a mouse darts from its den
O how glad is Pangur then!
O what gladness do I prove
When I solve the doubts I love!
So in peace our tasks we ply,
Pangur Ban, my cat, and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.
Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.
~Translation by Robin Flower of a 9th century poem written by an unknown Irish monk

Jun 10, 2011

Irish history

I'm always researching Irish history. Before I actually went to Ireland I tried to get as many visuals as I could before I wrote. Now having been to Ireland I have a better perspective on many places, but I still believe that when you are writing about the past you need a good imagination. Photos, drawings, and even early Edison movies help spark my imagination.

That's why I was so pleased to find this post from the Irish History Podcast. These are amazing film clips.

How ever did one write before the Internet?

And speaking of podcasts, there are several I like.

Here is an archive of the Irish History Podcast shows.

The Irish Roots Cafe.

And not to be missed, the Irish Fireside podcast.

Jun 6, 2011

Celtic Myths--Literally

I'm not talking about the fanciful legends that have been passed down, retold, and reinvented. I'm talking about a more modern occurrence. I was recently at a Celtic event and I heard a vendor telling a young girl about his ring. He said that the Celtic people spoke different languages and had trouble communicating so they used what was on his ring. I couldn't see the ring, so I was imagining what he might be talking about. I thought perhaps he had ogham marks on his ring. Then he said what he was wearing was a wedding ring and the design was called an eternity knot.

What? I was scratching my head. Where did he get that from?

You've probably seen this design. Tom and I have similar wedding rings. Below is a sample. You can click on the picture to go to this jeweler's web site.

The truth is, no one can know for certain what the ancient people saw in these designs. We can only speculate, or add our own interpretations so that the designs have meaning for us personally. But to tell someone that the Celtic peoples used the knots so that they could understand each other? That's a modern legend.

Have you heard any of these modern legends? Do tell!

Jun 3, 2011

The Celtic View of Angels

When Christianity came to Ireland, the Celts accepted the existence of angels readily. After all, they'd believed in fairies and brownies. Angels were not much of a stretch. And they didn't exactly give up the fairy belief. Some say they are fallen angels, just not bad enough to deserve to be in Hell.

Angels figure prominently in most of the Irish saints' hagiographies, even more so than that of the rest of the Christian world. Angels gave the saints special messages and intrepretations. In Acallam na Senórach (a late 12th century text) Patrick is said to have had two guardian angels who served as advisors. We know from his Confession that a man named Victor delivered a letter to him in a dream. Perhaps Victor was an angel. Columcille was said to have been observed praying with two angels standing nearby.

The archangel Michael shows up in many Irish writings. Some have said he took over the role of the pagan god Lug, who among other things was a mighty warrior.

Depiction of an angel in the Book of Kells
Holy Cross Sligo - MOSAIC -ANGEL 2
Angel mosiac in Holy Cross, Sligo. Photo by Fergal Claddagh
Angels appear many places--on high crosses, church walls, gravestones, in manuscripts. Of course angels are important messengers in the Bible, but it's interesting to see exactly how the Irish imagined them to look. Well, what do I know? Maybe they actually saw them!

I've surrounded my house with garden angels. I especially like those reading books. I'm always on the lookout for good ones. Let me know if you find some. I think it started when we bought a house (2 houses ago) with a little stone angel figure sitting next to a pond. I brought that figure with me, cracked head and all! This is not him, however. This is one of my book angels.

While I don't believe my little statues offer any kind of protection, they do serve to remind me that there are spiritual forces out there I don't see, and angels watching over me.

Jun 2, 2011

Writing As I See It

I recently came across a review of Brigid of Ireland. The reviewer had problems with the novel on two fronts. First, she thought the writing was immature. Well, I can accept that as her opinion. While I wouldn't agree completely, that novel is 5 years old and I could probably improve it if I wrote it today. In fact, I could always improve. Still, as a reader it's just her opinion.

However, the other thing she claimed was that the book "offensive" and lacked historial accuracy. She claimed that she did not care if the book claimed Brigid was saint or goddess, but I don't think that was an honest assessment. (Something else she accused me of: dishonesty.) She did care. The book did not follow her own concept of who Brigid was.

This is not the first review like this, although I'm grateful these kinds of reviews have been few. The thing is, the book is FICTION. When I meet readers in person, I tell them the book is about the saint, not the goddess, and it's my interpretation of the legends.

The book is as historically accurate as I could make it as far as the setting and the people go. I did a lot of research on the social history. I'd be happy to give sources to anyone who is interested. At least one major reviewer agreed:

"Cindy Thomson's well-researched historical novel gives a glimpse into the early life of the Church in Ireland and the challenges facing the woman known to us as St Brigid. 
It seems an almost impossible task for writers not born and reared in Ireland to realistically convey the Irish idiom of the English language, but Cindy Thomson has been more successful than most. Her account of the early life of St Brigid is told with an obviously deep knowledge of the social history of fifth century Ireland and the rivalry between the old religion, represented by the druids, and the followers of St Patrick."~Irish Emigrant
Read the entire review here.

It's not my practice to respond to reviewers directly. That can only get ugly. In the end, it doesn't matter. She just didn't get my work. Others have. It's just the way it is. A writer exposes herself to the world and has to take what comes. I'm writing the truth as I see it. Everyone else is free to do the same. It would be nice if all reviewers were honest about their agendas. But I'll take it as it comes.

Jun 1, 2011

Celtic Prayers as Song

"Their prayers were songs, and as they crooned or intone them, they seem close to the continuous prayer the Orthodox describe as a murmur in the heart." ~Esther De Waal, God Under My Roof
Songs of the Wood
(c) Copyright, Catherine Somerlot www.catherinesomerlot.com
What a shame we don't know the tunes the ancients used when they sang their prayers. But when we listen, carefully, we can hear the music of nature. I wonder if the Celts had music like that--birdsong, thunder, the crash of the waves, the sound of falling rain.

Did they use music like King David of the Bible did?

Then David and all the house of Israel played music before the LORD on all kinds of instruments of fir wood, on harps, on stringed instruments, on tambourines, on sistrums, and on cymbals.~2 Samuel 6: 5 NKJV

Music before the Lord. The Celts found God in nature. They surely played their instruments around their hearths, the way we picture traditional Celtic music being played, but I imagine they played outdoors as well, like the girl in this beautiful photograph.

The music of the spheres. Remember that old hymn? 

This is my Father's world, 
and to my listening ears 
all nature sings, and round me rings 
the music of the spheres.