Dec 21, 2012

And the winner is.....

The winner of "Learn Irish With Eoin" is Rose! Congrats!

If you didn't win, the program is available on iTunes. You can find it here:

Have a wonderful Christmas!

5 Places to Learn About Christmas in Ireland

I've surfed for you, so enjoy these sites. If you think I've been helpful, please tweet about it by clicking here:

1. The Christmas Archives

Candle in the Window
Photo by Chris Campbell

2. Changing Christmas Fare Through the Ages from Irish Central

Day 359 - Christmas turkey
Photo by  jackhynes

3. 10 Strange Irish Gift Ideas from World Irish

4. Listen to Christmas in Killarney

5. A goose never voted for an early Christmas. Read more Irish Christmas Quotes here.

And a bonus! A post from me!

Dec 19, 2012

Why It's So Hard to Believe

Do You....
Photo by  ~K~

The Santa Tale

Do you believe in Santa Claus? It's the season for that question, isn't it? My middle son (now 25) says I lied to him about this, but I was pretty careful to allow him to believe whatever he wanted to believe. And like all children, he gradually gave up believing a man in a red suit entered our house at night and left gifts. He sees the Santa Claus ruse differently than I do, I suppose. He's not bitter or anything. He says that in a teasing way. The truth is, you only hold on to beliefs that you know in your head are true.

The Unbeliever

Gabriel and Zaccaria (Battistero Firenze, Andrea Pisano 1290 ca. Sqaure)
Photo by Ark in Time
I was thinking about this this morning while reading my devotion about Zechariah. A angel came to him. Well, not just any angel, Gabriel, the angel who stands in the very presence of God and brings messages about the Messiah. Gabriel told Zechariah, a Jewish priest, that his wife would conceive and bear a son who would be named John. And John would prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah. But Zechariah didn't believe. He questioned Gabriel. He and his wife were old. How could this happen? And because of his unbelief he was punished with an inability to speak until the baby was born. The question I asked myself was why he didn't believe. Certainly, this was a terrifying event. Who knows what you would do if an angel suddenly appeared to you.

But the angel did not appear to any average Joe on the street. This was a priest. A learned man. A man tasked with knowing things like who Gabriel was (he was mentioned in Scripture) and how important a Messiah was to the Jewish people. And that God had promised to send a Savior. And then when he was told it would happen, he didn't believe.

It worked out all right for Zechariah. He did get his voice back after John was born. But I've been pondering this. How hard is it to believe things that you know in your head are true?

Why It's So Hard

Is it hard to believe in good will? In human kindness? That good will overcome evil? Sure it is. When a mentally ill man randomly assassinates little children, we all ask ourselves if we can still believe. Could it be God has left us to our own evilness? Is He gone? Was He ever there in the first place?

Zechariah and his wife were chosen to be John's parents because they were righteous people. They kept God's laws. They did believe. This was a momentary lapse of faith for Zechariah. Zechariah might have lost his belief for a moment, but God did not stop believing in him. He would still be John's father.


When something happens that is beyond our ability to comprehend it, we're stunned and we do find it hard to believe. But we will come back to our belief that there is good in the world because we, as followers of Christ, have hope. And hope is the thing that we hold on to when there is absolutely nothing left. When we are hanging on by only a thread, the thing we are holding onto is hope.

It's the season of hope. Good will concur evil in the end. Believe it!

Dec 12, 2012

Yes, You Can Learn Irish, Virginia!

I have a unique opportunity to offer you, thanks to the folks at Bitesize Irish Gaelic. You'll find their special offer at the end of the post. Jennifer at Bitesize wrote the following information, and while she said I could edit it, I'm leaving it in her words because they sound so wonderfully Irish (even in English!)

So, if you've ever wanted to speak Irish, here's a great way to learn!

Have you ever wanted to learn the language of your Irish ancestors but haven't been able to find a program that works?
Bitesize Irish Gaelic is an Irish online language-learning company who have created a lesson plan tailored to suit your needs. All of the lessons are broken down into small pieces so that you can understand the language as you are learning it, as well as making it completely achievable. 
You can even sign-up for a free trial on their website at 
They've recently released an album called "Learn Irish With Eoin" where you can learn the Irish language on-the-go. It is an mp3 download-only album available on iTunes and contains everything you need to spark up a conversation in Irish Gaelic.
The album is a new way to learn the language and it is recorded by Eoin - a native Irish speaker who explains the concepts to you in English. 
The album is just over 2 hours long and there are 16 tracks in total, including:
The two words you need to start a conversation in Irish
Count from 1 to 10
Say where you are from
Everyday phrases for Irish (Gaelic) conversation 
"Learn Irish With Eoin" is available on iTunes and makes the perfect gift this Christmas.

So, here's your chance to learn for FREE!

Bitesize Irish Gaelic have given me a copy of the album to give away. All you have to do is comment underneath this blog post with the phrase ‘IrishGaelic’ along with your email ID to be in with a chance to win. The competition ends on Friday 21st December so make sure you're in to win.

Nov 30, 2012

5 Irish Christmas Traditions

1. The Candle in the Window
Who doesn't love the simplicity of this? The tradition states that the candle will welcome Mary and Joseph as they wander because there is no room in the inn. Have you ever asked yourself if you were there at the time would you have turned them away? That's something I ask myself. I just turned away the Mormons at the door. (But I was nice about it.) Still...I keep asking myself that question. Do I open my heart?

Candle in Window, Decorative
Photo by sugargliding
2. Holly on the front door.
This stems from pre-Christian reverence for the holly tree but other trees were probably more sacred such as the yew and hazel. Christian tradition sees the holly as representing Christ's crown of thorns. It's considered good luck in Ireland to have a holly bush (or tree) planted by the front door. I have my own two wee bushes this year and I'm thinking of sticking some holly in a wreath. What do you hang on your door?

Holly On The Door
Photo by  philwhln

3. Plum pudding
Anyone in America eat this? It's a whole lot of work, but if you're game, here's a recipe: Irish Central's Plum Pudding

4. Roasted goose
There are plenty of Canada geese around here that I'd be happy if someone roasted, but I'm not sure I'd eat one. What about you?

Roasted goose
Photo by  th0mi
5. Midnight mass
I've never been. Our church has an 11PM service, but I've never been to that either. I'm a big fan of sleep, I guess. Still, it seems like bringing in Christmas Day at church would be special. Please, share with me which of these traditions you keep and why they are special to you.

Christmas midnight Mass
Photo by  rikki480

It seems to me that if you took the time to decorate, make that pudding and roast that goose, you'd be entirely too tired for midnight mass. I know I would be. Whew!

Nov 22, 2012

Blessings on Your Home This Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!

To recognize this day, I thought I would share a few sayings and blessings from my book, Celtic Wisdom, Treasures From Ireland.

Many Irish hang a St. Brigid's cross over their fireplace and say a blessing like this over it.

May the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost be on this cross and on the place where it hangs and on everyone who looks on it.~Old Irish Blessing (p. 34)

What kinds of traditions does your family practice and pass down?

For it is not by path of feet, nor by motion of body, that one draws nigh to God, but it is through practice of good customs and virtues.  From the Life of St. Columba (Leabhar Breac) (p. 45)

Have you made your home a "home sweet home?"

A man will not be found where he lives, but rather where he loves. ~Old Irish Saying (p. 63)

Cherish your family times. Give hugs. Laugh. Count your blessings.

As he brought new faith to Ireland so may he bring to you, a touch of Irish happiness in everything you do; and like the good St. Patrick may your home and life be blessed, with all God's special favours which make you happiest. ~Old Irish Blessing (p. 23)

fake Irish cottage
Photo by jodimarr

Nov 16, 2012

When the Voices Are Gone

heart shape
Photo by inezzy

I'm writing this post because I know I'm not alone. There are countless others like me who have lost someone close. There was the me before, the girl whose family was intact, even if dysfunctional --there, I said it--but intact and loving. When you're the baby of the family you arrive with the family complete. Additions are made when people marry and have babies, but the core is there.

And then...someone dies. And you wonder how to define yourself in light of that.

I had three sisters. Now I have two. That just doesn't feel right. (And this is about me, not her, because I know she's happier now.)

We had parents. Two. Now we have one.

It had to happen. Bodies wear out. Health declines. Life is temporary. We all know that.

And while these two deaths occurred over two years ago, life still doesn't seem right. It's the me after. The girl who sometimes wonders who she is without these people in her life now.

Of course I know death is a part of life. And there are more losses to come. And the experience has taught me a lot about trust and faith in the One who opens the pathway to heaven.

I have my own family that I treasure. I still have extended family and my husband's family. There are still a lot of great memories to make. But even so, it's the me after...

I'm currently writing a novel about a girl who is struggling with the very same thing. She wonders if she'll ever find a place to call home without her father, who had been her only family. You might think I'm writing about me, but I started this novel before I experienced these losses. And now that I'm working on it again, it will be published in 2014, the pain feels new again. But this time I'm grieving for Annie, the character in my novel. She'll learn what I learned but in the meantime I know how lost and sad she feels. And I know many people feel that way, even though each person grieves differently.

God is calling Annie home. Not home to heaven. Not in this story. But home to Him where she can find comfort, shelter, and even the courage to reach out to others because after all, we're all family going through similar struggles and losses, and joys too.

Had to preach to myself today. Hope you didn't mind.

Nov 3, 2012

The Longing of the Celtic Soul

From my book, Celtic Wisdom:

All souls, not only the Celtic soul, are restless. The Irish monks became wanderers precisely because of this longing to find their hearts' desire. Originally an eighth-century Irish prayer, they hymn 'Be Thou My Vision' beautifully expresses the Celtic soul's longing for God:

Scroll to the bottom to hear Roma Downey's version.

Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee, Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Be Thou my battle-shield, sword for my fight,
Be Thou my dignity, Thou my delight.
Thou my soul's shelter, Thou my high tower.
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise,
Thou mine inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of heaven, my victory won,
May I reach heaven's joys, O bright heav'ns Son!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my vision, O ruler of all.

Nov 1, 2012

Changing of the Seasons

November Rain
Photo by  Joffley

It's now the dark half of the year. Time to brew a cup of tea and snuggle up in front of the fire.

I miss the beautiful fall colors. While the trees were putting on a spectacular show I remarked to my husband that we had to enjoy them now, and remember what they looked like because this would soon pass. Like when our children were babies.

But the dark half of the year has its own virtue. It's a time of rest and reflection. A time to plan for the warmer months. A time to enjoy the closeness that drives us inside together.

I included the last bit of this poem in my book, Celtic Wisdom, but because of space restrictions I was not able to use the entire poem. Here is the whole thing:

My tidings for you: the stag bells,
Winter snows, summer is gone.
Wind high and cold, low the sun,
Short his course, sea running high.
Deep-red the bracken, its shape all gone--
The wild-goose has raised his wonted cry.
Cold has caught the wings of birds;
Season of ice--these are my tidings.


What are your feelings about the changing of seasons? What do you look forward to?

Oct 25, 2012

Oct 16, 2012

From the Carmina Gadelica


MAY I speak each day according to Thy justice,
Each day may I show Thy chastening, O God;
May I speak each day according to Thy wisdom,
Each day and night may I be at peace with Thee.
Photo ©Cindy Thomson

Each day may I count the causes of Thy mercy,
May I each day give heed to Thy laws;
Each day may I compose to Thee a song,
May I harp each day Thy praise, O God.
Irish Harp
Photo by  beamillion

May I each day give love to Thee, Jesu,
Each night may I do the same;
Each day and night, dark and light,
May I laud Thy goodness to me, O God.
Photo ©Cindy Thomson

From Carmina Gadelica, Volume 1, by Alexander Carmicheal, [1900], at

Oct 6, 2012

Why Do I Long for Ireland?

Warning: this is going to sound sappy. I'm whining. I'm lamenting. I'm recovering from foot surgery...

Yes, I knew before I ever went to Ireland that I'd want to return, planned on it, even. But little did I know the emotions that would rise up every time someone on Facebook or Twitter posted a photograph or I walked past those amazing calendars in the mall or I heard some Irish music. Sometimes I want to yell, "Stop it! Stop dangling donuts in front of me I'm not able to reach." (Or maybe scones, but you get the idea!)

Can I explain this? Not really. Maybe someone can help me. I feel completely homesick at times, and I've only ever been there once!

I believe I dreamt about Ireland when I was girl. For a time it was a reoccurring dream, and I didn't know much about Ireland back then so it was much later that I realized what it was. I dreamt about a barn that was partially built into a green hill. The grass was so incredibly green. I had been in the country as a girl. I knew the place I dreamt about was very different. But, I thought then, it was just a dream.

I like where I live. I don't intend to move to Ireland. I'm a proud American and I believe I'm blessed to live in the greatest country in the world. I love the trees surrounding my home, and in October there is nothing more beautiful. But if I could travel to Ireland a couple times a year, I'd be a much happier camper.

Okay. That's the end of my whining. I'll never buy one of those calendars in the mall, though. Last year I made my own. Maybe the best therapy is to get to work on a 2013 calendar using my photographs.

Oct 2, 2012

Interview with musician Jeff Johnson

Today I'm blessed to be bringing you my interview with musician Jeff Johnson, who has a remarkable Celtic voice. I have been a fan for a long time. If you're not familiar with his music, this will help explain why I find it so inspiring. (With the talented Brian Dunning.)

Hello, Jeff! You’ve been called a musician’s musician, someone who writes and performs a variety of music. How would you describe your musical style?

I’ve always been a bit of a minimalist whether I’m doing my solo, conceptual projects, collaborating with Irish flutist, Brian Dunning or working with Phil Keaggy on the new release. The older I get, the more I’m interested in all that is subtle and the space between things. I suppose that reflects my attitude about things in general these days - there’s nothing more that I like to do than to just be still and listen. That’s pretty significant since I’ve always been quite driven and goal oriented.
Technically, I’m still interested in melody, composition and texture of sound. Yet I find that I’m more influenced by the song of bird than a song from a CD.

Jeff Johnson with Brian Dunning
How has Ireland, its music and people and culture, affected your music?

Well, I’ve collaborated with an Irishman (Brian Dunning) for many years now so that’s one major influence! Yet, Brian and I have never viewed ourselves as ‘traditional music’ players - our music is very contemporary in composition and production. Yet, in much of the music from Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Brittany and Galicia, there is a rich tradition of melody, whether it be a jig or a lament and that has influenced me strongly.

I’ve also been influenced by the Christian traditions from these regions. I find the many Celtic traditional prayers from Patrick, Columba, etc. share a similiarity with the Psalms by David in the Bible. There’s an earthy, organic quality to this spirituality that appeals to me very much.

How did you get connected with Irish flutist Brian Dunning?

I grew up and began my career in Portland, Oregon where Brian lived and was based with the group, Nightnoise. In 1989, I hired Brian to play on a children’s project that I was producing, The Tale of Three Trees. (Cindy's note: this was based on the book by Angela Hunt.) It wasn’t long after that a project was presented to me that married music with the first book of the Stephen Lawhead trilogy, The Song of Albion. I approached Brian about collaborating with me on this since the story had a very Celtic slant to it. Little could I have imagined that that would be the beginning of a rich, musical collaboration between myself, Brian and Steve, as well as a great friendship that we all share with each other.

You’ve written music inspired by books written about Ireland’s past. What is it about Ireland’s history that inspires you?

I do love much of the literature that has come out of Ireland, but it’s been more about the Lawhead stories that have inspired the albums that Brian and I have created. And personally, my favorite one is Byzantium, even though I think that what Brian and I did for “King Raven” was pretty cool, too! I love the scope and range of Steve's storytelling and I've found it quite inspiring to create music to go along with the stories.

I love those too, and Byzantium is also my favorite!
Tell us about your newest release.

WaterSky” continues the rich collaboration between myself and guitarist, Phil Keaggy. PK and I were always fans of each other but we finally had a chance to spend some time together at a conference center in Texas called Laity Lodge in early 2009. 

We began sending music back and forth to one another just to see what might happen. It all just seemed to “work” and that music eventually became Frio Suite. The new one was recorded the same way with PK and myself sending tracks back and forth and then me producing and mixing the final compositions. We were never in the same room recording on either of these CDs!

Jeff Johnson with Phil Keaggy
But, may I say, it’s not that we don’t like being with each other and, Phil and I have performed a few things together recently and there are some plans to maybe put together a tour of this music. There’s a tremendous musical trust that we share and that has carried over into the process of the actual creation of this music. I can’t begin to describe how much fun it’s been!

Incredible that you and Phil were able to create a CD like that. It reminds me of how I co-authored a book. Everyone reading this absolutely should not miss this video where you can hear Jeff and Phil talk about the creative process. When they speak about the landscape, I'm reminded of the Celtic concept of a thin place.

What’s next?

Brian has been writing some new music and I intend to jump in when I’m ready to. I also lead contemplative worship (Selah) at many churches and conferences and that keeps me quite busy. Right now, I’m savoring the completion of WaterSky, though!

That sounds wonderful. Thanks so much for visiting with us, Jeff! Many blessings on your musical journeys!

Jeff's newest CD is now available. You can order here or on iTunes.

Sep 21, 2012

Picturing Those Celtic Voices

I love old photographs, especially those that reveal expression on the faces of the subjects. They certainly spark story ideas.
Fish Hawkers from Claddagh
Fish hawkers from the Claddagh. Photo:  Fergal of Claddagh

Claddagh Woman
Photo:  Fergal of Claddagh

What do you think about the woman above? I'd wagger that she's not as old as she appears. Lots of labor in the sun has wrinkled her, and she probably had a hard life. The picture is c. 1900, Galway. She's descended from Famine survivors or perhaps lived through it herself. I wonder if she's just about to say something to the photographer.

Níl aon tinteán
Photo: Fergal of Claddagh

Isn't the photo above thought-provoking? There are so many things here to think about. What are they going to sing? Is this a family? Is the gentleman on the left just visiting? (He has on his coat and hat.) Look at the dirt floor, the wicker chair. The man on the right and the girl looking at each other.

All the photographs above came from the same flickr photostream. There are more there you'll want to see.

Oh how I love this shot below. It's dated about 1910. Do you think this boy's sister is jealous, or what?

My first book in the Ellis Island Series features the Brownie camera, 1900-1901. Don't you think a snapshot speaks volumes?

Brownie camera were around for decades. My family had this one:

brownie camera

Do you have any photographs of some Irish faces you'd like to share? Send them to me and I'll share therm here.

Sep 19, 2012

The Enchanted Drawing (1900)

My character Grace in my novel coming out next year, likes to draw. I can just imagine her slipping into a Nickelodeon and seeing this Edison film in 1900. I think this is awesome. What do you think?

Sep 7, 2012

A Prayer For Grace

A Prayer For Grace

from the Carmina Gadelica

I AM bending my knee
In the eye of the Father who created me,
In the eye of the Son who died for me,
In the eye of the Spirit who cleansed me,
     In love and desire.

Pour down upon us from heaven
The rich blessing of Thy forgiveness;
Thou who art uppermost in the City,
     Be Thou patient with us.

Grant to us, Thou Saviour of Glory,
The fear of God, the love of God, and His affection,
And the will of God to do on earth at all times
As angels and saints do in heaven;
Each day and night give us Thy peace.
     Each day and night give us Thy peace.

Sep 1, 2012

Six More Reasons to Be Proud of Being Irish American

To add to my previous post...

Reasons to be proud of being Irish American:

7. You have a heritage of dance. Myself, I just appreciate dancers, but think of Gene Kelly, Michael Flatley, and more. This complements the heritage of music, of course.

8. You have a heritage of actors. Again, I'm just an appreciator, but think of Harrison Ford, Sean Penn, Johnny Depp, Rosie O'Donnell, Matthew McConaughey to name just few. And of course, the star of the Quiet Man, John Wayne, was of Scots-Irish descent.

9. You have a heritage of law enforcement. You know the Irish American policeman is a stereotype, but there is good reason for that. Many Irish immigrant men found employment in law enforcement, fire fighting, and other public service occupations in large cities. According to Wikipedia: In the 1860s more than half of those arrested in New York City were Irish born or of Irish descent but nearly half of the City's law enforcement officers were also Irish. By the turn of the 20th century, five out of six NYPD officers were Irish born or of Irish descent. As late as the 1960s, even after minority hiring efforts, 42% of the NYPD were Irish Americans. Some examples: Charles Lynch, Francis O'Neill.

10. You have a heritage of lawbreakers. Okay, who doesn't, right? But supposedly it was the frequent arrest of Irish immigrants that garnered the police vehicle that picked up suspects the name of a "paddy wagon." From Richie Fitzpatrick of the turn of the twentieth century NYC gang called the Eastmans, to  Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran, Jimmy Hoffa's murderer, there are more than enough examples to try to forget. (Oh, yeah, Billy "The Kid.") Of course, other nationalities also have a heritage of lawbreakers and the Irish are no worse.

11. On a more pleasant note, you have a heritage of authors. From Yeats to Maeve Binchy, the Irish have been word weavers since writing was introduced. Here are some Irish-American examples to consider: Tom Clancy, Mary Higgins Clark, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cormac McCarthy, Flannery O'Connor. There are many more. In fact, the sections on authors and journalists are the longest on Wikipedia's list of famous Irish Americans.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
12.  You have a heritage that played a major role in the formation of this country. It's no secret that many of the founding fathers had Scots-Irish roots. Before the Revolutionary War most of the Irish immigrants were Scots-Irish and came over in large numbers. One is my husband's distant relative Charles Thomson, the secretary of the Continental Congress. I've written about him here on my blog. Commodore John Barry, Father of the American Navy is another. And here is a list of the signers of the Declaration of Independence with Irish roots. While you're on that site, take a look at the Irish influence on the Colonial government.

Commodore Barry Statue #1
Commodore John Barry, photo by scumdogsteev
If you followed those last two links, you probably discovered that there is an Irish American Hall of Fame! I had no idea until I starting researching this blog post. You will certainly want to spend time exploring the IAHF website. You can also like them on Facebook. I did.

So, who are your favorite Irish-American heroes?

Aug 26, 2012

Prayer Walking the Celtic Way

Photo by Cindy Thomson. May not be reused without permission.

Are you familiar with the concept of prayer walking? According to Wikipedia,  "A prayer walk is an activity that consists in walking and praying at the same time[1]. It's done not for the physical benefit but for the spiritual exercise..."

Surely the Celts invented this, don't you think? All you have to do is read the Carmina Gadelica to find numerous examples.

Like this:

Traversing corries, traversing forests,
Traversing valleys long and wild.
The fair white Mary still uphold me,
The Shepherd Jesu be my shield,
The fair white Mary still uphold me,
The Shepherd Jesu be my shield.

And this:

COME I this day to the Father,
Come I this day to the Son,
Come I to the Holy Spirit powerful;
Come I this day with God,
Come I this day with Christ,
Come I with the Spirit of kindly balm,
God, and Spirit, and Jesus,
From the crown of my head
To the soles of my feet;
Come I with my reputation,
Come I with my testimony,
Come I to Thee, Jesu--
     Jesu, shelter me.

These prayers were often chanted while walking, either on a pilgrimage up a mountain, in circles around a holy well, or just doing daily chores.

I'd like to do more of this myself. What about you?

May green be the grass you walk on, 
May blue be the skies above you, 
May pure be the joys that surround you, 
May true be the hearts that love you. 

Read more at: Under Creative Commons License: Attribution

Aug 22, 2012

Guest Post: Why Ireland?

             Why Ireland?

Guest Post by Harvey Gould

For openers it would be fair to ask, “What does this guy know about Ireland. He’s a Jewish guy born in Chicago and raised in a traditional Jewish environment.” Well, ironically, I’ve got a lot to say about “why Ireland” and it starts with the fact that after a failed marriage to “one of my own”, years later I married an Irish Catholic lass, born in Manhattan, both of whose paternal grandparents emigrated to the States from Ireland around the turn of the 20th century.

Through her I began to learn about the history and culture of the Irish, from Brehon law to “the Troubles”. Both of us had begun horseback riding during our work careers and in 1988 we first went to Ireland together on a horseback riding trip and this was the beginning of my real connection to the country.

You’d have to be an eejit not to fall in love with Ireland as a horseback rider because it’s a country that reveres the horse. That trip was the hook and subsequently my wife and I returned to Ireland on fourteen separate occasions for extended stays spanning a twenty year period.

The first time we flew into Shannon, I wondered if the gorgeous visage of the quilt work of the forty shades of green laid out in the pastures underneath us was just a mirage—one that would rapidly dissipate. It didn’t, and that visage was the beginning of an enduring love affair between the Old Sod and me.

In our early years of returning to Ireland we traveled throughout the country and saw all the sites. On those travels I came to adore the culture, the food, the drink and, of course the craic. I came to love the myths, the blend of the ancient and modern sites, and being surrounded by the forty shades of green throughout the countryside. I loved the smell of burning peat, the ever-changing weather (summer, fall, winter and spring—all in the same day), and, of course, the horseback riding.

After we’d seen the sites, ultimately we settled into the tiny village of Adare. With a population of about 1200, it had roughly the same number of people who lived in a square block of the city neighborhoods in which each of us had been born. But it was there that we returned year after year, living in the same cottage and getting to know the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker. It was there that we became so integrated into village life that accepted us as being one of them or, in Irish terms, as being fierce locals. And it was there that we learned some of life’s real values—sharing a cuppa and some good craic with local friends, having the pub owner whisper to us the dinner specials, whispered so that only us locals, not the “tourists” would know, taking the time to marvel at the smell of fresh cut fields.

So in the end the question for anyone regardless of heritage isn’t “Why Ireland”; the real question is “Why Not Ireland?”

Guest blogger Harvey Gould is the author of A Fierce Local: Memoirs of My Love Affair with Ireland, a finalist in the San Francisco Writers Conference Indie Publishing Contest. For more information, visit or check out Harvey’s blog,

Aug 19, 2012

Thinking About Dreams

light from heaven
Photo by Cornelia Kopp
Two years ago on this day I woke up after having what I thought at the time was an odd dream. I dreamt about my oldest sister. I had no reason to be dreaming about her. I'd seen her about a month earlier after her granddaughter spent a few days with me. My sister had struggled with obesity all her life. In my dream, she was thin, walking without any difficulty, and extremely happy. She was beautiful.

When I woke up I thought the dream was so odd that I immediately told my husband about it. Late that evening I got a call from my father. My sister had passed away suddenly without warning.

And I knew.

God was showing me my sister in Heaven. No physical impairment. Beautiful. So happy.

I believe God speaks to us in dreams sometimes. Not every time. Some of my dreams are just plain wacky, like forgetting to wear pants when I go out in public. Know what I mean? But then there are special dreams, like this.

Dreams are in the Bible, and it's clear God uses them to communicate sometimes. Who could forget Joseph's dreams and his ability to interpret dreams? The ancient Celts believed dreams were significant as well. I've blogged about St. Patrick's dream and St. Enda's dream, one of my most popular posts on this blog.

I cherish this dream about my sister. It brought me great comfort. I'd love to hear about your significant dreams. Care to share them here?

Aug 13, 2012

That's the Way it Was

I came across this video and it spoke to me on more than one level. It's the explanation of what a sculpture was supposed to mean. But it's always the story of misunderstanding and political correctness gone wrong.'s wonderful Irish storytelling.

What do you think?

Jul 24, 2012

Five DYK's from my novel research

Did you know...

1. Immigrant aide societies used to send an agent to the docks or onto Ellis Island to fetch young Irish girls who came to America totally unprepared. They probably saved many young girls from falling into a life of prostitution.

2. In 1900 the mail was delivered twice a day in NYC.

3. In the original Wizard of Oz book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, Dorothy did not have ruby slippers. That was added with the film. In the book Dorothy's slippers were silver. The book, published in 1900, is in the public domain so you can get it online for free or on your e-reader. It's not quite the same as the movie.

4. There was a musical stage adaptation of the Wizard of Oz just two years after the book was published.

5. In 1900 Irish immigrants were not required to have passports. Many other immigrants from other European countries were required to have them, but not the Irish at that time.

(There are so many other things I've learned as well. I'll share them in the future if you're interested.)

I'm collecting photos to inspire me as I work on the Ellis Island series. You can find them here:

Jul 20, 2012

Guest Post: What is the relevance of the Celtic Church for today?

With permission, I'm sharing this article on the Celtic Church by John Birch. I found it the way many of us find most of our information these days--Googling. A little about the author from his web site:

A Methodist Lay Preacher and worship leader living in Wales for around 20 years, I have become increasingly aware of the rich heritage handed down by the early Christian Saints who set up home in the wilder regions of this beautiful country. The primary aim [of his web site] has always been to write prayers that are accessible in style and would fit into any service of worship. Indeed, this is how it all began, as I struggled to find resources to use - often finding that books of prayers contained many that I had issues with regarding language or concept. God is often like that - give him a challenge and you find that you are part of the solution!

So what can an examination of the early blossoming of Christianity in the fringes of Britain and Ireland bring to our spiritual lives today?

As Christians we have firstly to realise that it is not just we who look to the past and to a heritage handed down from our Celtic ancestors. In this post-modern world Celtic legend is the strongest single source in the current revival of interest in paganism. However, in the same way that followers of paganism find it difficult to acknowledge the flowering of Celtic culture that took place within Celtic Christianity, so admirers of the early Celtic Church can be troubled by collections of Celtic prayers and blessings containing charms and curses.

So it is, I feel, that we need to rid ourselves of some of the romanticism that has been handed down concerning the early Christian saints, and whilst acknowledging the influence that they undoubtedly had on the early Christian communities, concentrate on those elements of their faith, doctrine and lifestyle that can bring illumination and spiritual growth into our own.

We are not seeking to live in the past, or drift toward paganism but take what is valuable from our Christian heritage and bring it into a contemporary setting, where Christianity struggles not against invasions of Angles, Jutes and Saxons, but against the enemies of indifference, denominationalism and rejection.

In an age where time is money, and lack of time a serious problem for so many; where the stresses and strains of daily living take their toll both physically and spiritually it is not difficult to see the attraction of a way of faith that finds time to be alone with God; that is God-centred rather than self or work-centred and which brings both beauty, truth and wholeness into lives that are, if not empty certainly not as fulfilled as they might be.

If we sift the wheat from the chaff and look at elements that the early monastic Church brings to us then we see the following general features:

· A genuine love of nature and a passion for God’s creation, coupled with a sense of closeness between the natural and supernatural.
· A love of art and poetry, seen within surviving illuminated Gospels and other works.
· Although they seem to have been theologically orthodox, there was a distinct emphasis on the Trinity, respect for Mary the Mother of Christ, the Incarnation and the use within worship of early forms of liturgy.
· Within their religious life we see an emphasis on solitude, pilgrimage and mission, sacred locations and tough penitential acts.
· There were few boundaries between the sacred and the secular
· We see an emphasis on family and kinship ties.
· There seems to have been greater equality for women than we see generally in the Church today.
· A generous hospitality was an important part of everyday life.

If we look at these characteristics we can perhaps see influences from both pagan and Christian beliefs. We might disagree with some, disregard others, but there are elements here which challenge our faith, call us to examine that which we have become comfortable with, and look again at how we might learn to part the curtain that has separated us from our Christian heritage and take from the past that which can enable us to grow spiritually today.

We might also find that in doing so we can begin to connect with a culture that cannot connect with the denominational jigsaw that is the Church to which we belong, but is seeking to follow a spiritual path which until now has often only been catered for by other faith systems or new age philosophies.

It matters not whether we can claim Celtic roots or not, it is within the scope of all of us to look at the landscape with spiritual as well as physical eyes, and begin to appreciate it for what it is and for the way that it influences our understanding both of ourselves and our Creator. A growing passion for the beauty of the world in which we work can lead to a renewal in our attitudes to the mundane tasks that we face day be day.

We can acknowledge the importance of friendship in our lives, and appreciate how the love of our friends mirrors the love and companionship of God, and as our faith begins to show forth new growth our journey can begin to take us from the familiar into more challenging circumstances – into mission. If you want inspiration then consider Brendan the Navigator whose voyage was immortalized by Bede. In the sixth century legend has it that Brendon took to the sea, travelling without oars and without sails, navigating the storms of life, and trusting in faith to carry him through. He may, or may not have landed in North America.

I quote from the Iona Community:
‘The past is all around us. We are the inheritors of the Celtic tradition, with its deep sense of Jesus as the head of all, and of God's glory in all of creation. So we use prayers from the Celtic Church for welcome, for work, and in expressing the needs of the world. We are the inheritors of the Benedictine tradition, with its conviction that 'to work is to pray', its commitment to hospitality, and its sense of order, all reflected in our services and our lifestyle...’ The Iona Community Worship Book, Wild Goose Publications, Glasgow, 1991

Read more at:
Under Creative Commons License: Attribution

Jul 18, 2012

She Danced to Her Own Shadow

Scottish dancing in the grounds of Falkland Palace
Photo by By garethjmsaundersGareth Saunders

From the Carmina Gadelica comes the story of Mary Macrae.

Alexander Carmichael, the collector of these "Songs of the Gales," describes her this way: "...rather under than over middle height, but strongly and symmetrically formed. She often walked with companions, after the work of the day was done, distances of ten and fifteen miles to a dance, and after dancing all night walked back again to the work of the morning fresh and vigorous as if nothing unusual had occurred. She was a faithful servant and an admirable worker, and danced at her leisure and carolled at her work..."

There apparently came a time when Mary's "old world ways" was frowned upon.

Says Carmichael:

"'The bigots of an iron time
 Had called her simple art a crime.'

But Mary Macrae heeded not, and went on in her own way, singing her songs and ballads, intoning her hymns and incantations, and chanting her own 'port-a-bial,' mouth music, and dancing to her own shadow when nothing better was available.

I love to think of this brave kindly woman, with her strong Highland characteristics and her proud Highland spirit. She was a true type of a grand people gone never to return."

Here is the poem Carmichael recorded from Mary in 1866.

GOD with me lying down,
God with me rising up,
God with me in each ray of light,
Nor I a ray of joy without Him,
    Nor one ray without Him.

Christ with me sleeping,
Christ with me waking,
Christ with me watching,
Every day and night,
    Each day and night.

God with me protecting,
The Lord with me directing,
The Spirit with me strengthening,
For ever and for evermore,
    Ever and evermore, Amen.
        Chief of chiefs, Amen.

Ah, she danced to her own shadow knowing it was God, not man, that she answered to.