Friday, November 19, 2010

The rural value of eggs.

Years ago the humble egg was a very valuable part of the rural economy of Ireland.

Every farmyard was home to a few chickens and ducks and maybe a couple of geese and we collected their eggs every day, not to eat but to sell. We would put them into straw baskets usually home made during those long winter evenings and they would be taken to the local shopkeeper who would buy them. This money was then spent in the shop on groceries for the week. Sometimes the eggs would be tested by putting them into a basin of water.

In the bigger towns when all the eggs were tested, sorted and placed into boxes they were loaded into a lorry for transportation to Dublin and from there they would be shipped over the water to England. At one time there were weekly markets in every town in Ireland. Eggs would be taken to the market and sol to the local people. Hen and Duck eggs and sometimes Goose eggs provide a good meal for the breakfast with a slice of soda bread and homemade butter a strong cup of tea and you were set up for the day.

It was always looked upon as the job of the women of the house, with the help of the older children to look after the poultry and if you were lucky enough to have them, calves and pigs as well and any egg money that was saved was used to buy the little extras that may be needed in the household as well as the normal weekly supply’s. In days gone by the selling of eggs belonged to the era when the women of the rural areas would sell not only eggs but any surplus vegetables and butter to the local shop or market in the square and this provided a link between the town people and the country people.

Nowadays more and more people are keeping the backyard hens, ducks and sometimes geese. Growing your own fruit and vegetables and a few herbs is no longer just the play thing of a few as for some it is becoming a way to supplement the family larder. At one time you would only see chickens running round the farmyard but now they can be seen in peoples gardens housed in little arcs, providing a fresh egg every morning.

In some ways its therapy, in other ways a commitment to lifestyle but in every way it is a reconnection to our past and in a small way our heritage.

Here is a recipe for Soda bread or as we call it at home Farl. It used to be baked in a pot oven when hot turf was placed on the lid to help it cook or on a griddle.

You can add in a handful of raisins or seeds to make it a little different on occasion and in some areas people fry it in bacon fat (a little unhealthy these days but it warmed up the visitor).

Soda Bread

(Makes 1 large or 2 small loaves)


574g/ 4 cups (1.25 lbs. plain flour sieved).

1/2 teaspoon bread soda.

15 fl oz (1/2 to 3/4 pt buttermilk) or sour milk.

1/2 teaspoon salt.

1 egg.

Small drop of fresh milk.

1 rounded teaspoon Bextartar (raising agent).

25g/loz. sugar.


1. Heat the pot/oven and grease with a little lard.

2. Mix all the dry ingredients in a basin and make a well in the centre.

3. Pour in nearly all the milk and egg; gather in the flour and mix to a loose dough, adding more milk if necessary.

4. With floured hands, knead lightly on a floured board or table and flatten out. Cut a cross on top, this lets out the faeries. It also divides the farl into four.

5. Bake in a greased round tin or pyrex dish with a lid, pre-heat the oven (425f, 220c or Gas mark 7 for 40 minutes).

To keep the bread soft, wrap in a clean damp tea towel when it is taken out of the oven.

Start cooking the rashers , eggs, sausage, white pudding, etc. Now spread a bit of home made butter onto the warm bread add a mug of strong tea and you are set up for the day. Of course the people who are very healthy will say its a heart attack on a plate and have a croissant and a cup of water (god love them) but this is what we call an Irish breakfast. Ye can't cut turf on a French mans croissant.

Red Squirrel. Native or not ????

There are two types of squirrel in Ireland one is classed as an invasive species and it is called the Grey Squirrel, the other is classed as our native squirrel and is called the Red Squirrel.

Now I was reading a very interesting book by David Cabot (Ireland) and on page 257 I came across a very interesting account of the Red Squirrel (well I think it is interesting) that I thought I would share with those who read this blog. It strays a little from my normal route but it’s a cold night.

The native species is the red squirrel, which is more at home in coniferous woodlands. Formerly widespread throughout the country, red squirrels became extinct sometime after the middle of the seventeenth century for reasons not entirely clear but probably related to capture and killing of the animals for their fur which was a valuable commodity at the time. The last known date recorded for taxes levied on the export of skins was in an Irish statute of 1662, It is generally considered that the red squirrel died out soon after 1662.

After its demise the red squirrel was reintroduced to Ireland in the early nineteenth century and has since spread to all counties but seldom in close proximity with the grey squirrel-due probably to interspecific competition for food and breeding territory.

From inquiries carried out by the Victorian naturalist Richard Manliffe Barrington who investigated the reintroduction date, it would appear that the great-grandfather of Francis Synge-a relation of the playwright John Millington Synge-of Glanmore Castle, Ashford, County Wicklow, was responsible for the reintroduction at Ashford sometime between 1815 and 1825.

There were many subsequent reintroductions of red squirrels brought from England, throughout Ireland during the mid and late nineteenth century. They are now firmly established as part of the Irish fauna (Cabot, 1999).

Cabot, David. 1999. Ireland. Harper Collins Publishers. London.

Fascinating red squirrel facts.
• Their scientific name is Sciurus vulgaris.

• Red squirrels eat seeds, buds, flowers, shoots, nuts, berries and fruit from many trees and shrubs. They also eat fungi and insects, and occasionally birds’ eggs.

• They store nuts in the ground in the autumn.

• They can be right- or left-handed when they eat a pine cone!

• They will occasionally strip bark from trees (usually conifers).

• Squirrels moult their coat twice a year, once after winter and then in the late summer before the weather gets colder again.

• They moult their ear tufts only once a year, in late autumn.

• They can live to six years of age.

• They have four fingers and five toes.

• They are not always red in colour but can also be brown, almost black or quite grey!

• They weigh 275-300g, the same as four Mars Bars or a packet of biscuits.

• Their body is 18-22cm long and their tail is 14-19cm in length.

• Squirrels live high in trees in a nest made from twigs, leaves and moss. This is called a drey.

• The drey may be in a hole in the tree or set against the trunk and branches.

• Pregnancy lasts 36-42 days and their young are called kittens.

• Kittens are born with their eyes closed, without teeth and with no hair. After about seven weeks they look just like small versions of their parents and are ready to leave the drey.

• There can be two litters a year, with 3–4 kittens in each litter.

• Average densities in conifer and broadleaf areas are 0.5–1.5 red squirrels per hectare.

• They do not hibernate over winter, but may be less active when weather conditions are bad.

• They can hang upside down!

• They can swim!

• Red squirrels are extremely susceptible to Squirrelpox virus, (carried by the grey) which is lethal.

As a matter of interest the Grey Squirrel was introduced into Ireland by man in 1911. The Red spends most its life in tree’s. The Grey spends most its life on the ground.

I shall now return to my normal blog postings but I can't promise not to stray again???

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Harsh Winter Weather Can Spell Doom For Our Garden Birds.

Harsh winter weather can spell doom for our garden birds.

The current cold spell across the country is making life hard for our garden birds. As temperatures drop, so the birds need to eat as much high energy food as possible to try to keep warm.

In an effort to ensure that as many of our feathered garden visitors as possible survive the current weather conditions. I would like to encourage people to put out food for the birds that visit their gardens. It is very easy to do and will make it far easier for the birds to keep warm.

The menu is easy. Wild bird seed, peanuts and sunflower seed can found in local supermarkets and garden shops, as can the special wire or plastic feeders that they should be put in; these feeders can then be suspended from tree branches or a bird table. Apples, whether cut in half and speared on branches or just left out whole on the lawn, are also a great source of food, particularly for Blackbirds and other members of the thrush family, as well as Blackcaps (small warblers that have only recently begun to spend the winter in Ireland).

Kitchen scraps, such as bacon rinds, cheese (particularly loved by Robins), suet, raisins, moistened bread, melon seeds, fruit, stale cake, cooked potato, oatmeal, fresh coconut and uncooked pastry, also make welcome meals. Fat is an especially important source of energy for birds, so please don’t waste it! Lumps of suet may be hung out on strings or in plastic mesh vegetable containers, and meat trimmings, bacon rinds and other scraps will also be eaten. Melted fat may be poured over bread or cake scraps to make “bird cake”.

There are a couple of items which should never be fed to birds. These include desiccated (dried) coconut, uncooked rice or dry bread, which may swell up in the bird’s stomach.

It is equally as important to ensure that your garden birds have a constant supply of fresh drinking water, something that can be very hard for them to find when ponds and puddles are frozen over. As well as needing to drink it, they also need it for bathing, to ensure that their feathers are kept clean so that they will insulate them effectively against the cold weather.

A simple bird-bath can be made from an inverted dustbin lid sunk into the ground; remember to keep the surface ice free.

Once you begin to feed the birds they quickly become dependent on you, so please be sure to continue feeding right through to mid-spring.

For further information on what you can do to help the birds around your home, please have a look at the BirdWatch Ireland website and Garden Bird Factsheets page and Garden Bird FAQ.

Don’t forget, if the food isn’t eaten within a couple of hours then be careful of unwanted visitors such as rats.

Also it is important to feed late afternoon as people tend to forget birds also feed at this time and as the night temperature drops they need extra energy to keep warm.

They will reward you in spring with bird song and new life.

Thank you on behalf of our feathered brothers and sisters.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Carnmoney Witch. Mary Butters. An Update.

In an earlier post (Saturday, August-21st-2010) I wrote about Mary Butters, The Carnmoney Witch. Since then I've come up with some additional information.

Mary Butters was accused of causing the deaths of three people but it was the verdict of the trial that the deaths were accidental. However, were they really an accident? An earlier event may provide a clue. I'll leave you to decide.

In addition to my first post:

Alexander Montgomery,s eldest son was brought to the house on the insistence of Mary Butters, even though he was married and lived some miles away. Butters insisted that his presence was essential for the spell to be successful.

At 10-00pm Butters sent everyone, apart from David and Elizabeth out of the house.

Margaret Lee, an elderly friend of Elizabeth's who had been staying with the family refused to leave the house, even though Butters repeatedly warned her of the dire consequences if she stayed.

The rest is history and you can read the post of 21st-August. Now for the update.

In 1803 a man called David Porter was executed for posting insurrectionary notices.

At the trial his conviction had been secured by evidence given against him by Elizabeth and David Montgomery. Porter, it was later discovered, had been a close relative of Mary Butters.

So, were David and Elizabeth Montgomery killed for their part in the death of David Porter? Was this all just an elaborate vengeful plan? In this context, Butters insistence on David Montgomery's presence at the ritual makes sense; as does her attempts to dissuade Margaret Lee from staying in the house. Margaret had no part to play in Porter's trial; but her loyal friendship with Elizabeth may have made her a witness who had to be silenced.

It is impossible to say for sure what really happened that night, over two hundred years ago. However, what history has recorded as a terrible and tragic accident may really have been a witch's revenge. What do you think?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Irish Bardic Tradition.

The Irish Bardic Tradition.

That the Irish could have such a profound effect on Western music should come as no surprise. The Irish were famous, almost legendary, for their love of music as well as their skill as poets. It has even been suggested that they were "intoxicated by the power of words", and there have been incidents when the Catholic Church sought to outlaw Irish bards. The monk Columcille, otherwise known as St. Columba, defended the bardic tradition of Ireland, declaring that poetry was an essential part of Irish life, and that Ireland would not be Ireland without it. So important was poetry and music that Irish history, genealogy, law codes, and medical traditions were composed in verse and set to music.

While the term bard has in modern culture a general connotation of a singer and storyteller, among the ancient Celts a bard was a poet, especially a lyrical poet, something like a modern balladeer. Yet while their primary function was entertainment, they were no mere song-and-dance men (or women), but were counted as one of the three learned groups, along with the druids and the filidh (singular, fili). They served both religious and secular functions, including retelling historical events, genealogies, heroic tales, myths and legends, and composing praise-poetry, wherein they would recite the exploits of the chiefs and kings. However, they also had the reputation of being able to use satire to blight and even kill.

Ancient Irish society recognized four grades of musician poets, of which the bards were the lowest and the filidh were the highest. The novice poet also learned his or her trade in one of numerous schools, where he or she spent at least three years for each grade. Not every poet achieved the highest grade, nor was there any preset period of time in which he or she had to complete the education. However, the filidh tended to make up virtually all the official poets attached to the kings. The reason was because the official poets were concerned with courtly, tribal, and national concerns, and the filidh were trained in at least 350 different poetic metres and epic legends, impromptu composition, and prophecy and divination.

So important was the poet to this aristocratic warrior society that the ollamh, or chief official poet, had a social rank second only to the king. In fact, the ollamh was considered more sacred than the king, and poets were virtually never killed. The Irish had no corporal or capital punishment; instead, a crime was punished by the payment of a dire, or fine, which was based on a person’s honour price, and could range from a fraction of the price to some multiple thereof (Ragan-Legal Tender). The honour price for an ollamh was seven cumhal, or bondmaids (Ragan-Legal Tender), and was worth twenty-one milk-cows, while his or her dire was generally set equal to that of the king.

Poets were generally attached to specific chiefs and kings, and were given stipends of land and cattle to support themselves, but they often journeyed about the land, visiting the strongholds of rulers and nobles, and often staying with them for as much as a year or more. The higher-ranking poets were allowed to have retinues, which usually included lower-rank poets and students. So a fili could have several bards to accompany him, as well as at least one apprentice fili to assist him. An ollamh tended to have the largest retinue, as many as twenty four people, but even a low-ranking fili could have ten. Yet for all their sanctity and reverence, poets could be corrupt, and stories abound of retinues staying until they ate their host out of house and home, and poets extorting rich gifts by the threat of satire.

It is perhaps a measure of the importance of the filidh that, alone of any social group except the kings, they survived the depravations of the English conquerors until the seventeenth century. When Christianity drove the druids underground the filidh took over their roles as teachers, advisors, and witnesses to contracts, and they gradually usurped the important ceremonial roles of the bard, relegating them to the status of mere performers. Though the Irish monks were almost fanatical in their zeal to record the old legends, histories, and genealogies, the filidh were just as responsible for the preservation of the Irish myths, and they began the folk tradition that would make Ireland famous down to the modern age.

Every artistic tradition that is considered to be characteristically Irish, from the seanchaí storyteller and the sean-nós singer, to the Irish tenor and the modern Celtic band, can be traced, directly or indirectly, to the filidh, and through them to the ancient Irish bardic tradition.

The Parting Glass.

The Parting Glass.

Of all the money e'er I had,
I spent it in good company.
And all the harm I've ever done,
Alas! it was to none but me.
And all I've done for want of wit
To mem'ry now I can't recall
So fill to me the parting glass
Good night and joy be with you all

Oh, all the comrades e'er I had,
They're sorry for my going away,
And all the sweethearts e'er I had,
They'd wish me one more day to stay,
But since it falls unto my lot,
That I should rise and you should not,
I gently rise and softly call,
Good night and joy be with you all.

If I had money enough to spend,
And leisure time to sit awhile,
There is a fair maid in this town,
That sorely has my heart beguiled.
Her rosy cheeks and ruby lips,
I own she has my heart in thrall,
Then fill to me the parting glass,
Good night and joy be with you all.

The song was printed as a broadside in the 1770s, although the song is doubtless older than its 1770 appearance. It was known at least as early as 1605, when a portion of the first stanza was written in a farewell letter, as a poem now known as "Armstrong's Goodnight", by one of the Border Reivers executed that year for the murder in 1600 of Sir John Carmichael, Warden of the Scottish West March.

"Armstrong's Goodnight"

This night is my departing night,
For here no longer must I stay;
There's neither friend no foe of mine
But wishes me away.

What I have done through lack of wit,
I never, never can recall;
I hope you're all my friends as yet;
Good night. And joy be with you all.

The song is also known as Good Night and Joy Be With You All.

Sam Henry collected The Parting Glass in Ireland in 1938. In Folksongs of Britain and Ireland, Peter Kennedy relates it to the Manx song Te Traa Goll Thie (It's Time to Go Home).

This is a beautifully touching song to sing at a funeral for it is a true reflection of the joys of life. In many ways an Irish mans celebration of life.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Leap Castle. County Offaly.

Leap Castle. Nr. Birr. Co. Offaly
The Most Haunted Castle in Ireland (allegedly).

Standing upon a vast throne of solid rock, Leap Castle was once the stronghold of the warlike O’Carroll’s and its eventful history is mostly written in their blood. In the 16th century, O’Carroll of the Leap held a lavish banquet at his family fortress and invited a rural branch of his own sept to partake of his hospitality. No sooner had the unfortunate guests sat down to dinner, than he massacred everyone one of them. Inter-clan bloodshed was a common occurrence and members of the tribe, attended family get togethers or re-unions at their peril! Following the death of Mulrooney O’Carroll in 1532, a bitter dispute over succession arose. As siblings battled each other for leadership of the clan, “one-eyed” Teige O’Carroll is said to have slain his own brother, who was also a priest, as he celebrated Mass in “The Bloody Chapel”.

However, the days of O’Carroll occupancy were drawing to a close, and they were about to lose possession in a suitably blood- thirsty manner. A 17th century daughter of the clan fell in love with an English soldier named Captain Darby, who was being held prisoner in the castle dungeons. She smuggled food to him and eventually engineered his escape. As they were making their way down the staircase, her brother suddenly confronted them, and the captain silenced him with a single sword thrust. Since his lover then became the heiress to Leap Castle, it passed into the ownership of the captain’s family when the two were later married.

The last of the family to own Leap Castle was Jonathan Charles Darby who arrived here on 16th July 1880. In 1909, his wife Mildred wrote an article for the Occult Review describing how she had held several séances at the castle during which she had attracted the unwelcome attentions of an elemental – a primitive and malevolent force that attaches itself to a particular place. Mildred Darby described how she was “standing in the Gallery looking down at the main floor, when I felt somebody put a hand on my shoulder. The thing was the size of a sheep. Thin gaunt and shadowy, its eyes which seemed half decomposed in black cavities stared into mine. The horrible smell, gave me a deadly nausea. It was the smell of a decomposing corpse” Mildred’s occult dabbling also appears to have awoken other malevolent forces within the walls of Leap Castle, and it was at this time that its fearsome reputation became firmly established.

The spirit is thought to be a primitive ghost that attaches itself to a particular place. It is often malevolent, terrifying and unpredictable. The Darby’s remained at Leap until 1922. Being the home of an English family, it became the target of the Irish struggle for independence. Destroyed by bombs and completely looted, nothing but a burned out shell remained. The Darby's were driven out.

Following its destruction by fire in 1922, workmen who had commenced gutting the interior, discovered an oubliette, a small dungeon whose name, derived from the French oublier, meaning “forget”, says it all, behind a wall of the bloody chapel. This room had a drop floor and prisoners were pushed into the room where they fell to their deaths - either impaled on a spike below, or if they were unfortunate enough to miss the spike and die a quick death, they slowly starved in the midst of rotting, putrid corpses. One theory is that some of the remains were those of Scots mercenaries hired by O'Carroll who had them murdered when it came time for payment. Mysteriously, among the bones, workmen also found a pocket watch made
in the 1840's. Could the dungeon still have been in use back then? No-one will ever know.

Over the next seventy years, it remained an empty shell, its fearsome reputation ensuring that the locals shunned it, particularly at night when all manner of ghostly activity was known to stir within its moss clad walls. From across the fields people would watch the window of the “Bloody Chapel” suddenly light up, as though hundreds of flickering candles were blazing within. Some, who dared walk amongst the ruins, experienced alarming encounters with a lustrous lady wearing a billowing red gown.

The Castle has now been restored to its former glory and is now a family home. Do the spirits still wander through the house? Well you’ll have to ask the present occupants.

Saturday, November 6, 2010



Mushroom, the plant of immortality? That's what ancient Egyptians believed according to the Hieroglyphics of 4600 years ago. The delicious flavour of mushrooms intrigued the pharaohs of Egypt so much that they decreed that mushrooms were food for royalty and that no commoner could ever touch them. This assured themselves the entire supply of mushrooms.

In various other civilizations throughout the world including Russia, China, Greece, Mexico and Latin America, mushroom rituals were practiced. Many believed that mushrooms had properties that could produce super-human strength, help in finding lost objects and lead the soul to the realm of the gods.

For centuries, the sudden and rapid eruption of circles of mushrooms from the soil led people to believe that dark or terrible forces were at work. Lightning strikes, meteorites, shooting stars, earthly vapours, and witches have all been proposed as agents of their origin.

One common theme in all these traditions is the belief that dire consequences await anyone foolhardy enough to enter a fairy ring. Trespassers would be struck blind or lame, or even disappear to become slaves in the fairies' underground realm. In Wales the rings were associated with fertility and doom, and anyone foolish enough to plough one up would incur the wrath of the fairies. It was also widely believed that if animals grazed within a fairy ring their milk would putrefy.

On the positive side, fairy rings were said to bring good luck to houses built in fields where they occur. In another tradition, the rings were sites of buried treasure, but there was a catch, the treasure could only be retrieved with the help of fairies or witches.

Many cultures had other weird and wonderful explanations for the origins of fungi.

In parts of Africa, mushrooms were sometimes regarded as souls of the dead, or as symbols of the human soul.

Between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, people in rural areas of central Europe would exhibit strange symptoms from time to time, dementia, facial distortions, hallucinations, convulsions, and paralysis. Cattle would stop producing milk, and other farm animals would also behave strangely. On many occasions these people were persecuted by religious zealots, tried as witches, and subjected to the cruellest of tortures. Thousands were executed in the name of Christianity.

We now know that these people were not possessed by evil spirits, but were exhibiting signs of ergot poisoning, after eating bread made from rye contaminated with the fungus Claviceps purpurea. Most 'bewitchments' took place in the cool, damp river valleys of south western Germany and south eastern France, where conditions were perfect for ergot to thrive and rye was a staple cereal crop.

Nearly 300 years after the notorious witchcraft trials in Salem, Massachusetts of 1692, there is compelling evidence that the accused in this case were also suffering from ergotism. The symptoms were again consistent with poisoning. Damp and rainy weather conditions recorded at the time were also ideal for ergot. The weather the following summer was drier and the bewitchments abruptly ended.

Fungal Folk Remedies.

Throughout history, folk healers have employed many medicinal qualities of the fungus kingdom, some real and others imagined.

The antibiotic properties of moulds have been known for countless generations. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the Knights Templar used mould extracts to treat infected wounds. Fungi have also been used in Europe as remedies for boils and abscesses, in gargles to treat throat infections, as laxatives, as contraceptives, and to remove skin blemishes.

The Stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus) has been used in Europe to treat rheumatism, epilepsy, gout, and skin cancer-but it was also blamed for outbreaks of cholera and madness! Puffballs have many uses. Their dried spores were used to staunch the flow of blood from wounds or nosebleeds; smouldering puffballs were once used to transfer fire from place to place; and beekeepers in some places still blow the spores of the giant puffball into hives to narcotize the bees.

Oriental herbalists have been using Reishi mushrooms (Ling Chi or Ling Zhi: Ganoderma lucidum) for some 4,000 years. These mushrooms are claimed to be effective against many ailments, including arthritis, several cancers, heart disease, and hepatitis. In western Africa fungi have been used to treat venereal diseases.

Less likely remedies include the wearing of a Cramp Ball (Daldinia concentrica) in the armpit to protect oneself from cramps. Other fungi have been claimed as aphrodisiacs-the recipe for one such potion calls for boiling a toad with some mushrooms in spring water. Young men in Lapland would carry a fungus (Trametes suaveolens) hanging from their waists when courting. Trametes has an anise-like odour that may work as an attractant, a deodorant, or not at all.

Fly Agaric.

This is one of Ireland's must distinctive mushrooms. It is found throughout the Northern Hemisphere and known for its unpredictable and potent poison. The cap is a bright scarlet colour with white to yellowish warts. The gills and stem are both white. Its favourite habitat is under pine and birch trees.

Its poisonous properties have had a fascination for humans over the centuries. When the Vikings invaded Ireland they are said to have eaten Fly Agaric before battle to make them demonic and behave in a berserk manner. Folklore from the Northern countries often refers to Fly Agaric as a gift from the gods to provide men with fearlessness and strength.

In Walt Dinsey's Fantasia a fairy ring of Fly Agaric shimmers into colour and shapes to the music of Tchailkovsky's Nutcracker Suite. The poison is not deadly, but its effects are unpredictable and it may cause death in some people. Generally though, there is a great variation in its effect.

In medieval times the mushroom was used to stupefy flies. It was added to milk and left around the house in dishes. In fact, in those times it was called the Bug Agaric.

In many cultures it has been used as a gateway to the 'other' world. When fresh it is very poisonous and you must be careful after handling it that it does not get into your system. Fly Agaric is found throughout the Northern Hemisphere and has been used by tribes in these areas during rituals that involve spirits. Even today, it is still used in some tribes in Eastern Siberia. The North American Indians also used it in a similar manner.

In 'civilized' Europe its use has given rise to the 'little people' such as faeries and leprechauns. Lewis Carroll was obviously familiar with its affects. In Alice in Wonderland there is a scene where a caterpillar is sitting on a mushroom (Fly Agaric) smoking a pipe and Alice is in front of him at mushroom height. She nibbles on the mushroom to make herself bigger and smaller. After the publication of Alice in Wonderland images of the Fly Agaric appeared in much Victorian literature. It was also painted on children's toys and cradles.

I shall write more about Fly Agaric in December concerning its association with Santa Claus.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Celtic Tree Zodiac. This is just a bit of fun.

Reed - The Inquisitor. The Detective.

October 28 – November 24.

Reed signs among the Celtic tree astrology signs are the secret keepers. You dig deep inside to the real meaning of things and discover the truth hidden beneath layers of distraction. When there is a need to get to the heart of the matter, most certainly the Reed sign will find the core. You love a good story, and can be easily drawn in by gossip, scandals, legend and lore.

These tendencies also make you an excellent historian, journalist, detective or archaeologist. You love people because they represent a diversity of meanings for you to interpret. You are adept at coaxing people to talking to you, and sometimes you can be a bit manipulative. However, you have a strong sense of truth and honour so most of your scheming is harmless. Reed people join well with other Reeds, Ash or Oak signs.

Reed, although not a tree but a grass-like plant, is usually associated with Samhain.

The Reed Moon means winter is approaching. It is a month of turning our energies toward hearth and home. The tree symbolises family, fidelity and trust.

Reeds are burned to honour household spirits and a family’s patron deity; and in ancient Scotland, a broken reed was an omen of familial betrayal.

Reeds may be placed through your home, especially the kitchen area, to bring the blessing of unity to your family.

Reed represents the turning within that we must undergo to nurture our souls hunger for spirituality.

The reed's qualities include protection, spiritual progress and hunger for truth.

Reed people have a powerful presence and a great deal of personal magnetism! This attracts most people but will repel the over-sensitive. They are never lacking in the ability to overcome even overwhelming odds. Because of their power they must follow a narrow line of virtuous morals, if they fall off that line they can be dangerous people indeed.

They are imaginative and have a clear view of complex matters. They make powerful friends but can also be powerfully jealous! This jealously can also turn to violence if not held in careful check.

Reed people always strive for complete power within as well as without. They make wonderful leaders but may have a bit of the "peter pan" syndrome.

They are also immensely caring.

Remember this is just a bit of craic (fun). Please don't take it seriously.

Monday, November 1, 2010

November. Weather forecasting.

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease
No comfortable feel in any member
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds

Thomas Hood.

Welcome to the month of November.

Autumn can be a miserable auld month as the above poem suggests. This gives rise to many old wives tales concerning the weather. The animals seem to know when it will be a hard winter.

‘When birds and badgers are fat in October, expect a cold winter’

However, if snow and ice arrive in early November then it will be a mild winter.

‘If there’s ice in November that will bear a duck, there’ll be nothing after but sludge and muck’

Mist or fog on the other hand early on an autumn morning means fine weather for the rest of the day.

A fine autumn morning is the perfect time to go looking for spiders webs as dew will form along the individual strands. If you see the sun shining through it then it will seem as though it is made of silver lace. Truly magical.

Cows will lie down if they sense a change in weather, while sheep get friskier or turn their backs to the wind.

The colour of the moon is said to be an indicator of weather. A pale moon means rain or snow, a red or orange moon means stormy weather and a strong white moon means fine weather, especially in winter because a strong moon means clear skies which mean fine weather at this time of year.

The direction of the wind is also an indicator of weather. Wet from the west, warm from the south, cold from the east and dry from the north.
‘The south wind always brings wet weather.
The north wind wet and cold together
The west wind always brings us rain
The east wind blows it back again’.

Listen out for the song of the Mistle Thrush (a loud repetitive song delivered from the top of a tall tree) as this means stormy weather is on the way. This bird used to be known as the ‘Stormcock’.

Today we know if seagulls come into land then bad weather is approaching.
‘Seagull, seagull sitting on the strand, there’s an end to fair weather when you come in to land’.

Swallows often fly lower to catch insects which in turn have moved lower when rain and windy weather is approaching. Consequently Swallows fly higher as a sign of sunshine to come.

‘When the Swallows fly high, the weather will be dry’.

A low flying ‘V’ formation of Geese is a sure sign of rain. This is borne out by the fact the birds fly beneath low rain-bearing cloud.

A dry Springtime was anticipated if frog spawn was seen in the centre of a pond, which is normally the deepest part. As water levels decreased, the spawn in the middle had a better chance of survival.

The activity of hens, particularly on a wet morning, was also closely scrutinised. If the hens sheltered from the rain, then the weather was expected to improve later in the day. But if the hens were seen pecking and scraping for food on a wet morning, it was assumed that there was little hope of any improvement in the weather for the remainder of that day.

One of our local sayings here in Westport:

If you can't see the Reek then its raining, but if you can see the Reek that means its going to rain.