Sunday, December 4, 2011

The first dandelion.

The Dandelion.

I came across this story the other day and thought I’d relate it to you for as the old saying goes “Time forgets too many stories” (Turk l'ag tom leskos).

Once upon a time there was a great flood upon the earth, this was followed by a great drought when the Sun shone with a fierce heat and no rain fell. It was as though the sky was empty and the Sun stood still ruling over the earth.

As time passed the people of the earth became weary, without water they were so very thirsty, so very tired. The animals began to fall ill, the plants started to shrivel up and even the birds of the air gave up the will to fly and began to walk the earth in search of what little food remained (some still do).

The Pavee knew the rain would eventually return they just didn’t know when and the drought continued year after year until one day a beautiful Lackeen decided to speak to the Sun

“Sun, where is the rain?”

The Sun did not answer, thinking that she was too far away and that the Sun had failed to hear her she climbed a high hill and when she reached the top she asked her question again.

“Sun, Where is the rain?”

Once again the Sun did not answer her. The young Lackeen searched the sky looking for an answer to her question and there she saw a star shining brightly in the west. So she called out to the star.

“Star where is the rain”

The star flickered in the sky and in a soft voice it replied.

“I do not know, but if you follow me I will guide you to one who may have the answer you seek”

Her journey took three long and weary days. The young Lackeen followed the Star, she climbed over stone walls, pushed her way through the sharp thorns of the bramble and the whin all the time with a great thirst upon her until at long last the star stood still. There, hidden in a corner of the eastern sky was the Moon. The young Lackeen, forgetting her thirst grew very excited and called out to the Moon.

“Moon, Moon where is the rain?”

The Moon upon hearing the cries of the young girl spun in the sky like a polished plate made of silver and answered her.

“It waits in the ocean child; it waits for the Sun to call it up into the sky”

Now the young girl realising that the Sun had ignored her decided to ask the Moon for help. However, the Moon didn’t know what to do but she reached out and shook the ocean.  Before this the ocean had always been calm and still but now it rolled up and down the shore although it never went above its highest wave and so it never reached the sky.

The young girl was heartbroken and fell to the ground weeping. In a voice filled with sorrow she called for the rain. Hearing her cries the Star and the Moon looked down and began to weep.

The Sun, hearing her cries looked upon her and said in a deep booming voice that filled the sky.

“The rain lies in the ocean, if I call it up into the sky it will block out all my light”

The young Lackeen cried out.

“Great Sun, do you not know that even you need to rest for your light is nothing special if we do not appreciate the dark”

“Child, do you not realise that this is what I do”

She called out to the Sun.

“Without rest, we cannot live, without rest we will die”

With one last cry of despair the young Lackeen fell to the ground and died. The days of the journey had proved too much for her, without clean drinking water, the water the rain would have brought to her, she could not survive.

The Sun shone down on the poor young Pavee and was stirred with a great sorrow for what it had done. It realised that for his pride the people had been forced to continue without rest and that without the dark of night they would never appreciate the light of day. The Sun in all its golden glory, like the Star and the Moon shed tears, tears like golden amber that when mixed with the tears of the Star and the Moon fell softly to the earth and began to sink into the soil.

Eventually these tears grew into little seeds; they shone in the light of the Sun, Star and Moon. The Sun, Star, and Moon gathered together in the sky and knowing the part that each had played in what had happened they promised the spirit of the young Lackeen that she and her people would never be forgotten and in their memory would come the rain.

The Star said, “They can look to me whether on land or water and I will guide them home”

The Moon said, “I will stir the oceans from this day forth, so all will remember her loss”

The Sun said, “I will rest every night and let the rain clouds rise whenever they wish”

Now, remember those seeds? Well eventually from those seeds came the dandelion and this was one of the many gifts of the Pavee. The dandelion is embodied with the fiery force of the Sun, Moon, and Star and grants water where it grows. Today it is said that the dandelion will only grow where good water runs and it still has the power to awaken the waters within those that pluck it from the earth (gaining it the name of “Piss in the bed).

When you look upon the dandelion remember these words

“When in flower it resembles the Sun, the Star by its dispersing seeds and its leaves and the Moon when it is in the seeding puff ball”

This story teaches of the importance of sacrifice, rest and how being open to change can help others as well as yourself.

Some facts about the dandelion:

The dandelion flower opens to greet the morning and closes in the evening to go to sleep

Every part of the dandelion is useful: root, leaves, and flower. It can be used for food, medicine and dye for coloring.

Up until the 1800s people would pull grass out of their lawns to make room for dandelions and other useful “weeds” like chickweed, malva, and chamomile

The name dandelion is taken from the French word “dent de lion” meaning lion’s tooth, referring to the coarsely-toothed leaves.

Dandelions have one of the longest flowering seasons of any plant.

Seeds are often carried as many as 5 miles from their origin!

Dandelion is a rich source of vitamins A, B complex, C, and D, as well as minerals such as iron, potassium, and zinc. Dandelion leaves are used to add flavour to salads, sandwiches, and teas. The roots are used in some coffee substitutes, and the flowers are used to make wines.

It was used in remedies for fever, boils, eye problems, diabetes, and diarrhea. . Today, the roots are mainly used as an appetite stimulant, and for liver and gallbladder problems. Dandelion leaves are used as a diuretic to help the body get rid of excess fluid. Traditionally, dandelion roots and leaves were used to treat liver problems. Native Americans also boiled dandelion in water and took it to treat kidney disease, swelling, skin problems, heartburn, and upset stomach. In traditional Chinese medicine, dandelion has been used to treat stomach problems, appendicitis, and breast problems, such as inflammation or lack of milk flow.

Story courtesy of:

Hope you enjoyed the story. It is part of a rich tapestry of Pavee folklore.

Elder-The Seeker-Nove 25th to Dec 23rd.

Elder - The Seeker

November 25 – December 23

The Elder Tree - Elder tree people command respect. When they are young they are extravagant and wasteful but inevitably, at some point of life something dawns on them and they settle down. They have a great deal of patience and self discipline. They can sometimes be heartless and cruel and sometimes possess a lack of good judgement in their choice of friends. They are ambitious people and are determined to win at all costs.

They are outspoken and can be inclined to speak without thinking first but are very persuasive and elegant when they take the time. They are highly energetic people and have a great deal of physical stamina. They are often misjudged as outsiders because they have a tendency to be a little withdrawn but in actual fact they are deeply thoughtful and philosophical. They are also very considerate of others and strive to be helpful.

Elder tree people are open in relationships but don't tend to fall too deeply. They seem to keep their emotions out of most situations. They make wonderful aunts and uncles but have difficulty taming their restless nature enough for parenthood. The druids and ancient Celts recognized that the elder had natural banishing abilities. The essence of its leaves and the odour of its pretty white flowers were proven to ward off annoying insects.

This origin might have been expanded upon in Celtic lore where we learn branches were hung over doors to ward off evil spirits. Along with its association with banishment and death we have the elder’s attributes of rebirth and renewal. It has long been recognised as a medicinal tree. Everything from its bark to its berries has been used to treat all manner of ailments and it was honoured for its healing abilities.

It is known as a transformative Celtic symbol because it is associated with the realm of fairies. Celtic lore indicates that if you stand near an elder tree at Midsummer's Eve the land of the fairies will be revealed to your searching eyes. Furthermore, fairies love music - particularly the lulling notes of a flute made from elder wood. The Elder tree was sacred to the faeries and branches were hung above stables to protect horses from evil spirits. It was unlucky to burn Elder and an omen of death to bring it indoors.

Monday, November 28, 2011

W.B.Yeats. Father of The Celtic Revival.

W.B. Yeats and his promotion of Irish heritage, early work up to 1900.

“Whose tales seem fragrant with turf smoke”

William Butler Yeats 1865-1939

Yeats was born into a protestant Anglo-Irish landowning class; Anglo-Irish Protestant groups supported a literary revival whose writers wrote in English about the ancient myths and legends of Ireland. Most members of this minority considered themselves English people who happened to be born in Ireland, Yeats however, was adamant in affirming his Irish nationality. He lived in London for many years during his childhood and even kept a home there in his adult life but he never forgot his cultural roots.

He became involved with the Celtic Revival; this was a movement that sought to promote the spirit of Ireland’s heritage against the cultural influences of English rule in Ireland during the Victorian period. Although Yeats never learned the Irish tongue himself he drew extensively from the language and the ancient Irish myths, legends, and folklore to reveal the connection between those traditions, the individual, and the nation and by understanding this connection he came to realise the true reality that was hidden from those who failed to see it.

In 1885, Yeats met the Irish nationalist John O'Leary, who was instrumental in arranging for the publication of Yeats's first poems in The Dublin University Review and in directing Yeats's attention to native Irish sources for subject matter. Under the influence of O'Leary, Yeats took up the cause of Gaelic writers at a time when most of the native Irish literature was in danger of being lost as the result of England's attempts to anglicise Ireland through a ban on the Gaelic language.

Yeats believed that the “de-Anglicising" of Ireland did not depend on the preservation of its literature in the Gaelic language. He wanted writers to translate the tales of the history and heritage of Ireland into English whilst retaining the best of ancient Irish literature that was represented in its rhythm and style. He also wanted to build a bridge between the two and write about the histories and romances of the great Gaelic heroes and heroines of the past. Yeats said “let us make those books known to the people” it was his belief that this would do more to “de-Anglicise” Ireland than clinging to the Gaelic tongue of yesteryear. Yeats accepted that the teaching of Irish played a part in our heritage but that we should not base our hopes of nationhood upon it. He said “Remember it is the tales of Cú chulainn and of Deirdre of the sorrows that are immortal and not the tongue that first told them”.

W. B. Yeats became the champion of Celtic culture and his poetry was a celebration of all things Gaelic. Irish legend gave Yeats a way to be something more than a symbolist (Brown, 2001, p83). He wrote in a letter to the French critic and journalist Henry Davray on19th March 1896, that “I am an Irish poet looking to my own people for my ultimate best audience and trying to express the things that interest them and which will make them care for the land in which they live”.

He was devoted to the cause of Irish nationalism and promoted Irish heritage through his use of material from the ancient sagas within his poetry. The publication in 1889 when Yeats was twenty-four of The Wanderings of Osian which was based on the legend of an Irish hero was a defining moment, not only in Irish literary history, but also its political history. Yeats's book, based on the Fenian cycle, brought Irish mythology to the Irish people in English -'the language' as he pointed out 'in which modern Ireland thinks and does its business’. He also published several volumes of poetry during this period, notably Poems (1895) and The Wind Among the Reeds (1899), which also demonstrated his use of Irish folklore and legend.

Yeats knew that many Irish people of the time did not have the benefit of an education and what little they did have was heavily influenced by the Catholic church, a church that believed in the teaching of the Irish language whether you wanted to learn it or not. He also believed, as did most of the protestant writers of the Celtic Revival that the Catholic Church had no desire for the teaching of myth, legend, and folklore which they saw as promoting a belief in pagan gods. In what could be seen as arrogance, Yeats saw himself as the father of the Celtic Revival and because of this he incorporated folklore and myth into his works.

The feeling I get when I read some of Yeats poetry is sadness, as if he is lamenting a time long gone. He seems to be looking for somewhere that no longer exists, and this comes through in such poems as The Stolen Child who yearns to escape from a place that is “more full of weeping than you can understand” or The Lake Isle of Innisfree in which he yearns to escape from the chaos and corruption that surrounds him to a place of peace and tranquillity. Maybe this is symbolic of the turmoil he feels as Yeats writings are so full of symbolism. In his autobiography, Yeats writes that his poem was influenced by his reading of American writer Henry David Thoreau’s Walden (1854), which describes Thoreau’s experiment of living alone in a small hut in the woods on Walden Pond, outside Concord, Massachusetts. Yeats warns that failing to look at ourselves as others see us, 'we may go mad someday' (revolt?) and the English will destroy the beautiful Celtic culture and replace it with what they will. Yeats died in 1939 and although buried in France his body was eventually returned to Ireland and is now buried in the Protestant churchyard, Drumcliff, Co. Sligo. Ironically the person in charge of this operation for the Irish Government was Sean MacBride, son of Maud Gonne MacBride.

Bottom image: Yeats gravestone in Drumcliff graveyard with the inscription “Cast a cold eye on life, on Death, Horseman pass by”

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Padraig Pearse. Irish Patriot.

Patrick Henry Pearse.

Born: November 10, 1879 in Dublin
Died: May 3, 1916 in Dublin

Patrick Henry Pearse (Padraig MacPiarais) is known as an Irish patriot, scholar, teacher and poet. He was a student of literature and history and wanted to free Ireland from the rule of the British. In 1908, he established St. Edna’s College to educate young Irish citizens about Irish customs, language, and beliefs. Pearse was a key figure in organizing the Easter Rising. He had been an active member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and was named an affiliate of its Supreme Council. He wrote a number of position papers and poems to express his intellectual and emotional feelings about the pursuit of Irish freedom. Perhaps the most memorable of these is “Mise Éire”:

“Mise Éire” (in Irish first)

Mise Éire
Sine mé ná an Chailleach Bhéarra.
Mór mo ghlóir:
Mé a rug Cúchulainn croga.

Mór mo náir:
Mo chlann féin a dhíol a máthair.
Mise Éire:
Uaigni mé ná an Chailleach Bhéarra.

“I am Ireland”

I am Ireland:
I am older than the Old Woman of Beare.
Great my glory:
I that bore Cuchulainn the valiant.

Great my shame:
My own children that sold their mother.
I am Ireland:
I am lonelier than the Old Woman of Beare.

In this poem Pearse describes Ireland’s struggle using familiar themes. He sees Ireland as an old woman who once experienced the glory of having a son who stood against the invader. He was the mythical warrior Cú Chulainn who even when mortally wounded strapped himself to a rock in order to remain standing and continued to fight. However, the old woman also experienced shame as she sees her children sell her to the invaders, a story as old as Ireland herself. Our history is rife with tales of betrayal from within our own ranks.

Pearse hopes to rouse nationalist feelings by drawing on mythology and the concept of Ireland as a defenceless old woman. Pearse, by including her in Mise Eire introduces a feeling of bitterness, something that you see more and more off as you read his poetry but it is also rich in symbolism as he also uses the figure of Cú Chulainn, the archetypal Celtic war hero, as symbolic of the kind of figure that a faltering Irish culture needed to resist the occupying influences, to restore the traditional values of Irish life which Pearse would once again have experienced in Connemara.

Interestingly, the figure of Cú Chulainn was eventually used to commemorate the Easter Rising both in a statute in the Dublin GPO and on the old Irish ten shilling coin (in 1966). Mise Eire is a sad poem, raising as it does many different feelings in the reader. A story of an old mother deserted and sold to Britain who laments her loneliness.

From the cradle to the grave.

There is also a certain irony in Pearse’s life. It is as if An Chailleach Bhéarra, the old hag of mythology has reached out from the mist of time and placed a hand upon his shoulder. Perhaps on Nov. 10, 1879, at 27 Great Brunswick St., Dublin, as the mother and father looked down at their newborn son, they had an idea of what his future held. That may explain why they named him Patrick Henry Pearse. Their son would grow to be the embodiment of the words of the American patriot Patrick Henry, who said in the Virginia Convention on March 23, 1775: "I know not what course others might take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!" These words would have been an appropriate epitaph on the gravestone of Pearse, the leader of the Easter Rising 1916. The final irony for Pearse was that his father was a stonemason and Patrick Henry Pearse was to end his life in the stone breakers yard of Kilmainham Prison.

The lower image is of the stone breakers yard where Pardraig Pearse was executed.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Dearg-due.

The Dearg-due.

Once there was a fair maiden named Dearg-due who was so beautiful that she was known throughout the country. She could have married any man that she wanted, but fell in love with a local peasant. This was unacceptable to her father, who forced her into an arranged marriage with a wealthy man to secure the financial future of his family. This new husband treated Dearg-due very badly and she eventually committed suicide although some say it was a broken heart that killed her.

Her burial was a simple affair and she was buried in a small churchyard, supposedly located near Strongbow's Tree, in the village of Waterford. The only one to mourn her death was the young peasant boy who visited her grave everyday tearfully praying for her to return to him. The story tells us that a year after her death she rose from her grave filled with vengeance, she went to the house of her father and finding him asleep she placed her lips over his and sucked the life force out of him. She then went to the house of her husband and in a frenzied attack she not only sucked the breath of life out of him but also his blood. It is said that the surge of blood rushing through her body made her feel alive once more.

It is believed that Dearg-due rises from the grave to seduce men and lure them to their deaths by draining their blood. She is always in the form of a beautiful woman. Legend differs on how often she rises from the grave: some say she returns with every full moon, others a few times a year, while others say she rises but once a year on the anniversary of her death. Most versions of the Dearg-due story claim that she can transform into a bat-like creature, while the other versions make no mention of shapeshifting. Some legends say she does not drink blood, but sucks out the life force from men until they slowly wither and die. All thoughts of her young peasant boy long forgotten and of him we hear no more. The legend of the Dearg-due is born.

According to the legend, the only way to defeat Dearg-due is to pile stones on her grave. While this will not 'kill' her, it will prevent her from rising and hold her at bay. Although sometimes they forget and once more she will roam the night. Some legends say you can only escape if you replace yourself with another victim, thus continuing the circle of death. Some people think that "Dracula" is based upon the Dearg-due, and they argue that Stoker had never travelled to Eastern Europe, so he would only know the beliefs of the areas from travellers. They go on to say that "Dracula" was written during Ireland's great "Celtic Revival". They believe that Stoker took the name "Dracula" from Dreach-Fhoula, pronounced droc'ola, and means "bad or tainted blood" (you will find this on one of my previous posts).

The Du'n Dreach-Fhoula or the Castle of the Blood Visage is supposed to be a fortress guarding the pass in the Magillycuddy reeks in Kerry and it is believed to be inhabited by blood-drinking fairies although it has never been found and even the locals do not know of its location, and even if they do they are not telling.

On the other side of the argument are Irish mythologists who say that the recorded Celtic stories bear no mention of the Dearg-due at all. However, they can't explain the persistence of the oral stories of this Irish vampire. I’ll leave you to decide.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Reed. October 28th - November 24th.

NGETAL/REED - October 28 - November 24

People born under this sign have a powerful personal charm, some would even call it magnetic for it is found to be very attractive to a certain type of individual. However, those who are overly sensitive may not find you to their liking. You are able to overcome obstacles that would stump many others and you tend to stick to a strict moral code and this allows you to have a clear view of what you seek in life. You are imaginative and this can be a problem for it will also manifest itself in a jealousy that can even turn violent so be careful. You have powerful friends and this will help you in your lust for power both within and without and you will exhibit traits of leadership.

You are sometimes called secretive but this can be a good thing for you are able to keep secrets. It also means that you will dig deep in order to find the truth even when it has been hidden under many layers. You love a good story and will be drawn to folklore, myth, and legends. Scandal and gossip will be like bread and butter to you but these tendencies also make you a good historian, archaeologist or journalist. You have a great love of people for in them you find all the complexities of life, they interest and intrigue you. You love trying to interpret the thoughts and actions of those you meet and for this reason your sign is called The Inquisitor. You would make an excellent detective for you have the added ability of being able to coax people into talking to you and you can also manipulate others to your will. It’s a good job that you also have a sense of honour and truth so most of your scheming is harmless.

As stated previously you can make powerful friends but as in all things there is the opposite side and you must be wary of making powerful enemies. You will command respect even from your enemies but always remember respect must be earned. You are a survivor and a caring, passionate lover, you will offer a helping hand to those who need it but be careful of those who may see this as a sign of weakness for they will attempt to bite off that hand. Hostility will always surround you for you have a strong sense of purpose and a strong will and there will always be those who will be jealous and feel threatened in your prescense.

You are fearless, proud and independent with a great strength of character. You thrive on challenge and have a strong belief in your own ability, your own destiny. Temper that strength with mercy and understanding and you will go far. May the blessings of Samhain light your way.

Remember this is just a bit of craic and not to be taken seriously,

May I take this opportunity to welcome all those who have joined this blog. I hope you take a moment to look through previous posts and that you find something of interest on these dark winter nights.
Keep smiling



Saturday, October 22, 2011

Imprisonment of children who had committed no crime.

One of the things you don’t seem to think of when you think of the Irish Famine of 1845-1850 is the plight of children. They were affected in many ways other than the obvious ones of starvation and disease. I have recently visited Kilmainham prison museum in Dublin as part of a college trip and it caused me to stop and think. Kilmainham is probably best known as the last place on earth that various Irish political prisoners spent their days, and some may recognise it as the prison location for such films as In The Name of the Father (1993) or The Italian Job (1969). We were given a guided tour of the facility and it was on this tour that the guide began to tell us of those other prisoners that you don’t hear of, the forgotten children of the Great Famine some as young as Five years old.

Many of the children were sent to adult prisons for the most trivial reasons. During the famine years the influx of country people to the cities was frightening, they couldn’t get work, and they had no money and no way to obtain sustenance, so the only option open to them was begging for food. The government answer was to bring out a Vagrancy Law making it an offence to beg for food. Others started to steal food, they had nothing to lose and at least they would get fed in prison. The government answer was to drastically reduce food rations in the prison in order to deter people from crime, this only served to increase the misery of the inmates but it saved the authorities money so they were quite happy to implement the new rules.

Conditions in the Workhouse were so bad that it is recorded that people committed offences in order to be removed to the prisons. If a child ran away they were arrested for the theft of the workhouse clothes they were wearing at the time. A boy of fourteen was sentenced to one month in prison on the Tread Mill for this offence. In Neagh 1849 it was reported that fourteen children were escorted through the streets by the police. Thirteen of these were little boys who were to be whipped at the local jail because they were caught throwing stones at the workhouse master. Some children were even abandoned outside the gates as their parents thought that it was the only way they might survive the famine. Conditions in the prisons were horrendous. Punishment and hard labour were the orders of the day,

Children were made to sleep five or more to a cell only big enough to have housed one adult previously, some would sleep on the floor some would sleep on hammocks. No water, no sanitation, no heat and if you were lucky the jailer gave each cell ONE candle to supply the only source of heat and light (one per cell). During the famine there were that many children in Kilmainham prison the jailers threw straw on the floors of the corridors and made the children sleep there. There were no uniforms supplied, the rags you arrived in were the rags that you would leave in. The majority of the prisoners would be thrown into overcrowded cells to sleep on the damp floor with rats running all over them. They had lice infested straw to cover them. Children as young as five were also imprisoned in these conditions.

Exercise in the prison yard consisted of walking with your eyes down (looking to the cobbles), boys walked clockwise, girls anti-clockwise. If you looked up it was taken that you were looking up to the light, the source of god’s forgiveness, if you were seen by the jailer then you received twelve lashes for you had no right looking for god’s forgiveness. It was common practice to administer twelve lashes a week to each child to prepare them for the reform schools.

Some prisons had a Tread Mill. The Tread Mill was a machine that was used to grind corn in the flour mills, but it was a form of hard labour used in some of the prisons. There were long handles around the centre piece. The children had to hold on to these and walk around in circles pushing it along, but if one child fell it took the other children a few minutes to stop, usually not before the fallen child had been trampled on. The children had to stay on this for five hours in the summer and four hours in the winter and all this was done in silence, any talking, singing, or whistling resulted in the whip. Imprisoned for being an orphan, disablement, or abandonment, having committed no crime and receiving no sentence, some children had been in these prisons for years.

As I walked the dark damp corridors of Kilmainham I felt a great sadness for I found myself listening to the cries of an abandoned child as it called for its mother. How must these children have felt as they heard the dreaded footsteps of the jailer approach and the sound of the key as it turned in the lock? It would be so easy for me to believe that these corridors are haunted, not by the souls or spirits of those poor little children but by the earthbound spirits of those cursed to wander these corridors of pain for all eternity. I wonder how those responsible for this outrage fared. I cannot understand how those who professed to be Christian could do these things. “Suffer Little Children to come unto me” isn’t that what they would have you believe? and oh how they suffered. Thank the gods/godesses that we have lived through a time when we only complain about 'The Recession'.

My thanks to the guide at Kilmainham prison who gave me a lot to think about and even more to be thankful for.
Crimes and sentences of young children in Kilmainham Jail Dublin Ireland.

Alicia Kelly was only eight years old when she was sentenced to five months hard labour in March 1839 for stealing a cloak.

Jane Beerds who was nine years old was accused of stealing fowl in January 1840. She spent three months in the jail before being released in April after being found not guilty.

Michael and Patrick Reilly were aged twelve and thirteen years old in April 1833. They were both found guilty of stealing three ducks and a hen. They each received a sentence of three weeks in prison and a total of sixty lashes. They were whipped each week receiving twenty lashes at a time.

Mick Kearney, twelve and his younger brother Stephen, nine were convicted of stealing money in December 1838. They both received a sentence of four weeks imprisonment and were whipped once a week.

For stealing apples from a garden John Keegen aged eleven, got two months hard labour on 11th August 1833.

Upper Image: A lonely corridor in Kilmainham Prison (Now a museum).

Lower Image: The dreaded treadmill.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Penal Laws, 1691 -1829.

Before I embark on The Famine of 1845-50 I would just like to write a little piece on the Penal Laws that governed Ireland in the 18th century. The results of these laws included abject poverty for the rural Irish, a great and lasting hatred of the ruling classes and a suspicion of a law that favoured the English. This hatred and suspicion was to give rise to the secret societies and they became widespread for where could the Irish look to for protection? Certainly not to the Landlord, the judge, or the ruling classes for they all looked upon the Irish as the common enemy. Oak Boys, Ribbon Men, and White Boys began to dispense their own brand of justice and sought revenge against those who had turned on their own. The informer, the landlord’s man, and those who had taken advantage of the evicted. The Irish had began to learn how to conceal the truth, how to hold secret meetings and how to protect themselves from outsiders and this was to become a dangerous habit and a lesson in how to hate the invader for generations to come. An extremely unwise move for any government to make and although by the end of the 18th century many of the Penal Laws had been repealed, some of them were to remain in effect until catholic emancipation in 1829.

The object of the Penal Laws was to deprive the Irish of all civil life (Catholics) and reduce them to the most extreme and brutal conditions possible. They were denied an education, to have a profession or to hold down any public office. They were forbidden from engaging in trade or commerce, to own land, to vote, to bear arms or to own a horse that was worth more than five pounds. This was the background leading up to the Famine of 1845.

There are many stories that are told of the time of the Penal Law, one such tale concerns a young Irish man called Art O’Leary. He had been abroad serving as a Captain in the Austro-Hungarian army and had returned home with his horse from Vienna. He was married to Eileen O’Connell whose grandson was to be Daniel O’Connell the Liberator and great Irish hero. Art O’Leary had entered his horse in a race which it won easily, an English planter seeing this offered O’Leary five pounds for his horse but of course O’Leary refused it. He was immediately declared an outlaw and shortly afterwards shot through the heart, this was in 1773. The first his wife knew of this terrible murder was when the horse returned home without a rider

There is a haunting poem called The Dirge on the Death of Art O’Leary by his wife Eileen translated by Eleanor Hull. It is worth remembering that she composed this on the spot in the old tradition of the Irish Caoinead (pronounced “kween-eh”) meaning lament.

Lower image: The tomb of Art O’Leary in Kilcrea friary County Cork.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Samhain. Oiche Shamhna.

As we enter this month of October let us begin by looking at the festival of Samhain.

History of Samhain.
Samhain marks one of the two great doorways of the Celtic year, for the Celts divided the year into two seasons: the light and the dark, at Beltane on May 1st and Samhain on November 1st. Some believe that Samhain was the more important festival, marking the beginning of a whole new cycle, just as the Celtic day began at night. For it was understood that in dark silence comes whisperings of new beginnings, the stirring of the seed below the ground. Whereas Beltane welcomes in the summer with joyous celebrations at dawn, the most magically potent time of this festival is November Eve, the night of October 31st, known today of course, as Halloween.

Samhain (Scots Gaelic: Samhuinn) literally means “summer's end.” In Scotland and Ireland, Halloween is known as Oíche Shamhna, while in Wales it is Nos Calan Gaeaf, the eve of the winter's calend, or first. With the rise of Christianity, Samhain was changed to Hallowmas, or All Saints' Day, to commemorate the souls of the blessed dead who had been canonized that year, so the night before became popularly known as Halloween, All Hallows Eve, or Hollantide. November 2nd became All Souls Day, when prayers were to be offered to the souls of all who the departed and those who were waiting in Purgatory for entry into Heaven. Throughout the centuries, pagan and Christian beliefs intertwined in celebrations from Oct 31st through November 5th, all of which appear both to challenge the ascendancy of the dark and to revel in its mystery.

In the country year, Samhain marked the first day of winter, when the herders led the cattle and sheep down from their summer hillside pastures to the shelter of stable and byre. The hay that would feed them during the winter must be stored in sturdy thatched ricks, tied down securely against storms. Those destined for the table were slaughtered, after being ritually devoted to the gods in pagan times. All the harvest must be gathered in -- barley, oats, wheat, turnips, and apples -- for come November, the faeries would blast every growing plant with their breath, blighting any nuts and berries remaining on the hedgerows. Peat and wood for winter fires were stacked high by the hearth. It was a joyous time of family reunion, when all members of the household worked together baking, salting meat, and making preserves for the winter feasts to come. The endless horizons of summer gave way to a warm, dim and often smoky room; the symphony of summer sounds was replaced by a counterpoint of voices, young and old, human and animal.

In early Ireland, people gathered at the ritual centres of the tribes, for Samhain was the principal calendar feast of the year. The greatest assembly was the 'Feast of Tara,' focusing on the royal seat of the High King as the heart of the sacred land, the point of conception for the New Year. In every household throughout the country, hearth-fires were extinguished. All waited for the Druids to light the new fire of the year, not at Tara, but at Tlachtga, a hill twelve miles to the north-west. It marked the burial-place of Tlachtga, daughter of the great druid Mogh Ruith, who may once have been a goddess in her own right in a former age.

At all the turning points of the Celtic year, the gods drew near to Earth at Samhain, so many sacrifices and gifts were offered up in thanksgiving for the harvest. Personal prayers in the form of objects symbolizing the wishes of supplicants or ailments to be healed were cast into the fire, and at the end of the ceremonies, brands were lit from the great fire of Tara to re-kindle all the home fires of the tribe, as at Beltane. As they received the flame that marked this time of beginnings, people surely felt a sense of the kindling of new dreams, projects and hopes for the year to come. Rituals of Samhain mirror many Halloween practices today.

Many Samhain rituals, traditions, and customs have been passed down throughout the centuries, and are still practiced in various countries on Halloween today.

As a feast of divination, this was the night for peering into the future. There are so many types of divination that are traditional to Halloween it is possible to mention only a few. Girls were told to place hazelnuts along the front of the fire grate, each one to symbolize one of her suitors. She could then divine her future husband by chanting, “If you love me, pop and fly; if you hate me, burn and die.”

Several methods used the apple, that most popular of Halloween fruits. You should slice an apple through the equator (to reveal the five-pointed star within) and then eat it by candlelight before a mirror. Your future spouse will then appear over your shoulder. Or, peel an apple, making sure the peeling comes off in one long strand, reciting, “I pare this apple round and round again, My sweetheart’s name to flourish on the plain, I fling the unbroken paring o’er my head, My sweetheart’s letter on the ground to read.” Or, you might set a snail to crawl through the ashes of your hearth. The considerate little creature will then spell out the initial letter as it moves.

Bobbing for apples was actually a custom the Celts inherited from the Romans when conquered by the Roman Empire. Romans honoured the harvest god, Pomona, and because the apple was a venerated fruit, many rituals revolved around it. The Celts simply incorporated bobbing for apples, a divination game that originated with the Romans, into Samhain tradition.
Bobbing for apples may well represent the remnants of a Pagan “baptism” rite called a seining, according to some writers. The water-filled tub is a latter-day Cauldron of Regeneration, into which the novice’s head is immersed. The fact that the participant in this folk game was usually blindfolded with hands tied behind the back also puts one in mind of a traditional Craft initiation ceremony.
Bobbing for apples was a game of divination. Single girls looking for a mate would carve their initials onto an apple then put it into a bucket of water. Young men would take it in turns to ‘bob’ for an apple, the one they chose had the initials of their intended carved upon it.

Carving Jack O'Lanterns was a custom practiced by Irish children during Samhain. Using a potato or turnip, they would carve out an image and place a candle inside to pay tribute to Jack, an Irish villain so amoral that he was rejected by both god and devil. Legend says that Jack wandered the world, looking for a place to rest, finding it only in a carved-out vegetable. Later, when the Irish emigrated to America, pumpkins were used instead.

Some traditions say that the carved-out pumpkin originated from a Celtic practice of putting an antecedent's skull outside of their home during Samhain. Others say that the Jack O'Lantern was used to ward off evil spirits which were brought forth on All Hallows Eve.

Halloween masks and costumes originated from the Celtic belief that on Samhain, while restless and often evil spirits crossed the thin void from the spirit world, a mask would make the wearer unrecognizable from these ghosts. Druidic rites also involved the wearing of masks, often made of animal’s skins, as the wearers told fortunes and practiced other divination rituals.

Christian Influence over Samhain.

As Christianity spread throughout the Celtic regions, an attempt was made to remove the pagan influences of this holiday and replace them instead with a Christian-sanctioned one. To this end, Pope Boniface IV renamed Samhain, which fell on November 1, to All Saints Day, as a day to honour dead saints. October 31 began to be called All Hallows Eve; this eventually evolved into "Halloween."

Attributed to St. Odilo in the 7th century, the Catholic Church declared November 2 as All Soul's Day, which honours the dead whom had failed to make it to heaven; it's believed these souls were instead held in purgatory. This Christian celebration of the day of the dead has many similarities to Samhain rituals, such as the wearing of masks, parades of ghosts and skeletons, and special food offerings to the dead.

The old ways never really die they simply transform. The Samhain fires continued to blaze down the centuries and the customs of the dead are still practiced today within Irish culture. How many times have you seen a long line of black cars following the hearse and it is still considered to be extremely bad luck to break this solemn procession? Shops and businesses will still close their doors and turn off the lights until the dead pass by and the bell of the church sounds its mournful toll. Here in Westport it is our tradition to walk behind the hearse as it does a last lap of the town; we follow the ‘Covie/Donor’ (Westport man/woman) to the edge of town as a last mark of respect. It’s our way of saying “see yer cove”. You visit a cemetery to find offerings of flowers, and candles and it is this communion between living and dead that shows how connected we all are by the true language of spirit.

You can hear Death in the cry of the crow or the screech of the owl, the shadow of Death forever waits within the edge of darkness just beyond the firelight. His touch lightly caressing your shoulder when you think no one is there. His cold breath sending a shiver up your spine, the hairs on your neck stand up. Death is always there, always watching and waiting and his enduring presence is a constant reminder that we all have an appointment to keep and he eagerly waits that time. Death will continue to walk with us, to capture our imagination and to take us by the hand as he leads us on a journey of mystery and wonder to the land beyond the veil. At Samhain bonfires will light up the skies in many parts of Ireland. Whatever the reason, there will probably always be a human need to make fires against the winters dark and these fires will act as beacons guiding our ancestors home. May the blessings of Samhain light up your life.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

THE PRIEST'S SOUL (a story about the first butterfly).

THE PRIEST'S SOUL (a story about the first butterfly)

Once upon a time far back in the mist of time Ireland was known as the land of saints and scholars. Kings and Queens would send their sons here to be educated.

At this time there was a poor young boy who was known to everyone for his intelligence and although his parents were but lowly labourers he came to the attention of one of the priests who taught those of wealth that were sent to him. This is his story.

Now this priest was the cleverest priest in Ireland and he had grown very vain and proud, he had forgotten his own lowly beginnings and even forgotten his god whom his faith had taught him was the one who had made him what he was. His pride of winning every argument led him to believe that he could prove there was no purgatory, no hell, indeed no heaven, and so logically there was no god and no soul. In fact we were no better than the beast of the field and when we died there was no rebirth or resurrection.

“Who ever saw a soul?" he would say. "If you can show me one, I will believe." No one could make any answer to this; and at last they all came to believe that as there was no other world, you might as well do as you liked in this one; the priest set the example, for he took a beautiful young girl as his wife. However, as no priest or bishop in the whole land could be got to marry them, he was obliged to read the service himself. It was a great scandal, yet no one dared to say a word, for all the kings' sons were on his side, and would have slaughtered anyone who tried to prevent his wicked goings-on.

One night an angel appeared to him just as he was going to bed. He told the priest that he had twenty four hours to live.

“Give me more time” said the priest, the angel refused.

“Have pity on my poor soul” said the priest.

“But you have no soul, isn’t that what you have taught others?” replied the angel.

“I have a soul, I can feel it fluttering in my chest ever since you appeared, I was just being a fool before” answered the priest.

“A fool you are” said the angel “What good was all your learning when you forgot your soul?”

“If I am to die will I go to heaven>” asked the priest,

“No, for you denied heaven” replied the angel.

“Well how about purgatory then?”

“No, you denied that as well, so it’s straight to hell for you me boy” said the angel,

“Ah now hang on a minute, didn’t I also deny there was a hell? so you can’t send me there either”.

The angel was a little puzzled.

"Well," said he, "I'll tell you what I can do for you. You may either live now on earth for a hundred years enjoying every pleasure, and then be cast into Hell for ever; or you may die in twenty-four hours in the most horrible torments, and pass through Purgatory, there to remain till the Day of Judgment, if only you can find some one person that believes, and through his belief mercy will be given to you and your soul will be saved."

The priest did not take five minutes to make up his mind. "I will have death in the twenty-four hours," he said, "so that my soul may be saved at last." So the angel gave him directions as to what he was to do, and left him.

Then, immediately, the priest entered the large room where all his scholars and the kings' sons were seated. The priest asked them “Have men souls?” They answered “Once we believed they did but you convinced us otherwise”. The priest replied “I taught you a lie, now I believe there is a god and we do have an immortal soul” they all laughed at him for they thought this was just a trick to start another argument. “Prove it” they said.

Next he went to his wife but she also laughed at him. He ran from the house and asked every person he met if they believed but they also laughed at him. Just as despair seemed to rise up all around him a little boy came by.

“God save you” said the child,

The priest jumped up “Do you believe in God child?”

“Of course, I’ve travelled far to learn about him, will you direct me to the best place to learn about him?” answered the child.

“The best place and the best teacher is here” said the priest and pointed to himself.

When the priest told the boy his name he said “Aren't you the priest who does not believe in a soul because it cannot be seen?

“I was” replied the priest.

“Well that’s stupid for I can tell you that the soul does exist” said the boy,

“How can you be so sure?” the priest inquired,

“I would say to you show me life if you believe you have life” replied the boy.

“But that is not possible; life cannot be seen for it is invisible”

 and the boy replied “So is the soul”.

When the priest heard him speak these words he fell down on his knees before him, now he knew his soul would go to heaven for he had found one who believed and he told the child his whole story.

“Now, take my knife and drive it through my chest and keep stabbing until you see death upon my face, then watch as my soul ascends into heaven. When you see this happen run and tell everyone you see that man has an immortal soul and heaven does exist”

The boy stabbed the priest but he did not die straight away for the angel had said he would live for 24 hours but at last the time came and death settled upon him. The child saw a beautiful living creature with four snow white wings rise up from the middle of the priest’s chest and flutter around his head. He ran and brought back some of those that he met and when they saw it they all knew it was the soul of the priest and they watched in wonder as it passed from sight and disappeared into the clouds.

It is said that this was the first butterfly to be seen in Ireland and now it has entered Irish folklore as the belief that the butterfly is the soul of one who has passed off this mortal coil and is just waiting for the moment the doors of heaven open so they may pass through into eternal peace.

You see sometimes it’s enough to have the simple belief of a child.

Ivy-Gort. September 30th--October 27th.

Ivy/Gort - The Survivor.

September 30 – October 27.

It is said that people born under the sign of the Ivy have great staying power and a strong belief in the natural order of things. They have a quick wit and great intelligence, are extremely loyal and make great friends. They will take responsibility for their own actions but unfortunately they can also attract people who are weak willed and with low morals. They are also quite manipulative and can be ruthless when the need arises. Those born under this sign are poor students, they tend not to be “book worms” and will learn far more by experience, they are lucky in many ways and are also very sensitive. Beware when falling in love for like the Ivy you can become quite ‘clingy’. You have a great many talents and this will help you through life, you will be able to overcome many of the obstacles that lie in your path on life’s journey, at the same time giving a helping hand to others less fortunate. Life will be difficult at times but your strong character and perseverance will see you through with a quiet grace. Ivy people have a strong spirituality and you will always cling to this in times of trouble. However, you may suffer from doubts and fears that may visit you in your dreams and personal relationships so don’t allow others to embroil you in their problems for you may suffer disappointment and betrayal.

Ivy is the symbol of resurrection and as such is associated with the butterfly which is also the symbol of the faeries faith. The butterfly is believed in Irish folklore and many other cultures to be the soul of the dead. No negative energies will be experienced where butterflies are found. They are also symbols of freedom from self restriction and help you to see things with more clarity. However, always remember that it is the caterpillar that does all the work but it is the butterfly that gets all the credit so remember those who give you support for like the Ivy you will not survive long without it.

This is just for a bit of craic and just life. It is not to be taken too seriously.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Great Famine. An Gorta Mór.1845-1849 (although it went on into the 1850s)

The Famine.

The potato has been described by some nutritionists as one of the few staple foods that are capable of sustaining life when eaten as a sole diet and for the Irish people life was made possible by this humble tuber. It had been common in Ireland since the seventeenth century and was seen by some foreigners to represent the Irish. Some anti-Irish mobs in England used a potato impaled on a stick as a symbol of the Irish.

It should be remembered though that the potato was only part of the daily diet which also contained milk, buttermilk, eggs, and fish or meat if you were lucky or rich enough to get it. As the population grew so did the pressure on the poor families to put food on the table and from the end of the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth century the potato went from being the most important part of the basic diet to the only food available to the majority of the Irish population. An acre of potatoes could feed a family of six and reports of the time describe how the Irish ate huge quantities, roughly ten pounds a day per person.

In 1845 an unknown disease was to arrive in Ireland, carried on the wind it appeared without warning, a terrible blight. Terror began to spread through the land. The air was laden with a sickly odour of death and decay, it was as if the hand of death had stroked the potato field, and everything growing there was rotten. Only 40% of the crop was to die that year and although it brought great suffering only a relatively small number of people died from famine. However, people ate the food normally sold to pay the rent; they sold their clothing and threw themselves on the charity of the public relief boards. These would prove to be temporary measures at best for everything would depend on next year’s crop.

In the summer of 1846 the bight returned and this time it spread with astonishing speed destroying most of the potato crop throughout Ireland. Less than one fifth of the harvest survived and Death walked the land. From the summer of 1846 on, the blight brought immediate and horrible distress. One historian estimates that between 1.1 and 1.5 million people died of starvation and famine-related diseases, and scenes of unimaginable mass suffering were witnessed: "cowering wretches almost naked in the savage weather, prowling in turnip fields and endeavouring to grub up roots", "famished and ghastly skeletons, such as no words can describe", "little children, their limbs fleshless, their faces bloated, yet wrinkled and of a pale greenish hue". Deaths were highest in south Ulster, west Munster and Connacht, those parts of the country where the population of poorest subsistence farmers and labourers was most dense, but very few areas escaped entirely. All over the country landless labourers died in their tens of thousands, and even shopkeepers, townspeople, and relatively comfortable farmers perished from the effects of the diseases spread by the starving and destitute.

In 1847 very few seed potatoes were sown and it was reported that the harvest that year was only 10% of the 1844 level. This had another effect. The people, encouraged by the relative healthy crop of 1847 mass planted seed potatoes but the blight returned. In 1848 the countryside was said to represent “from sea to sea one mass of unvaried rottenness and decay”. Blight continued to return for the next six years and in 1855 the total harvest was only half that of 1844.

Although the blight itself was unavoidable, its impact on Ireland was magnified by the response of the British government. Blinkered by free-market dogma, and by a profound, almost malevolent, indifference to Irish ills, the government refused to recognize the scale of the disaster or to provide public assistance above the level existing before 1844. Only after the horrors of the winter of 1847, when world opinion made it impossible to ignore the magnitude of the cataclysm occurring in Ireland, were efforts finally made to organize public relief. Even then, these efforts were hampered by slavish adherence to the ideas of the free-marketeers: the poor could not be allowed to become dependent on the state and, above all, the market itself should not be interfered with. As a result, thousands of starving people were put to work, for barely enough to keep them alive from day to day, on projects with no practical value, unnecessary bridges, roads that led from nowhere to nowhere.

Between 1845 and 1850, more than a million Irish people starved to death while massive quantities of food were being exported from our country. Over half a million were evicted from their homes during the famine and a further one and a half million emigrated to America, Australia and Britain, aboard rotting, overcrowded “coffin ships” run by rogue’s and thieves who robbed them of what little they had and rarely supplied the rations of food and drinking water paid for in their ticket. Mostly it was not through choice that these poor people chose to sail; they were forced to leave their little plots of land by unscrupulous landlords who saw them as nothing short of vermin that should be cleansed from the face of the earth.

This is the first of the posts on The Great Famine (An Gorta Mór).

Lower image shows a potato affected with blight.


By Amelia Blanford Edwards.

Give me three grains of corn, Mother,
Only three grains of corn;
It will keep the little life I have
Till the coming of the morn.

I am dying of hunger and cold, Mother,
Dying of hunger and cold;
And half the agony of such a death
My lips have never told.

It has gnawed like a wolf at my heart, Mother,
A wolf that is fierce for blood;
All the livelong day, and the night beside,
Gnawing for lack of food.

I dreamed of bread in my sleep, Mother,
And the sight was heaven to see;
I awoke with an eager, famishing lip,
But you had no bread for me.

How could I look to you, Mother?
How could I look to you?
For bread to give to your starving boy,
When you were starving too?

For I read the famine in your cheek,
And in your eyes so wild,
And I felt it in your bony hand,
As you laid it on your child.

The Queen has lands and gold, Mother,
The Queen has lands and gold,
While you are forced to your empty breast
A skeleton babe to hold.

A babe that is dying of want, Mother,
As I am dying now,
With a ghastly look in its sunken eye,
And famine upon its brow.

There is many a brave heart here, Mother,
Dying of want and cold,
While only across the Channel, Mother,
Are many that roll in gold?

There are rich and proud men there, Mother,
With wondrous wealth to view,
And the bread they fling to their dogs tonight
Would give life to me and you.

What has poor Ireland done, Mother?
What has poor Ireland done?
That the world looks on, and sees us starve,
Perishing one by one?

Do the men of England care not, Mother?
The great men and the high,
For the suffering sons of Erin's Isle,
Whether they live or die?

Come nearer to my side, Mother,
Come nearer to my side,
And hold me fondly, as you held
My father when he died;

Quick, for I cannot see you, Mother,
My breath is almost gone;
Mother! Dear Mother! Ere I die,

Give me three grains of corn.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Irish Prostitutes in the American mining towns of the 19th century.

Irish Prostitutes in the American mining towns of the 19th century.

Some women left Ireland full of hope for the future, looking to lands across the sea for opportunity and the chance of making their fortune. Unfortunately it did not always work out and what follows is a tale of two of those women.

Mary Welch.

Mary Welch was born in 1844 and left Ireland to make a new life for herself in America. She had very little money but bags of ambition, a strong Irish brogue, a great Irish wit and the warm charm that we Irish are known for. She changed her name in America when she stepped ashore in 1858, aged 14 to Josephine Airey and obtained a menial job in the city of New York. She soon tired of the work and the city and moved to Chicago and it was there that she joined the Demimonde (the sisterhood of prostitution). She remained in Chicago for a number of years but eventually she tired of that city and hearing great things of Montana she headed for the town of Helena at the age of 23 in 1867. She boarded a train taking three things with her-money, experience and of course her Irish charm, and it was in Helena that Josephine Airey would start her own very successful hurdy-gurdy house.

She proved herself to be an astute business woman and after outwitting a notorious money lender she began to expand her business and adding to her wealth. After a fire in 1874 she was in a position to buy property from those who were unable to rebuild and she became the largest landowner on Wood Street. In 1878 she married James T. Hensley and learning from the fire of four years previously they built a large stone fire proof dance hall and “The Red Light Saloon”. She became an influential landlord renting other properties she owned to other businesses and she also became a generous benefactor to a number of local charities and important political candidates. Her influence was growing. It was now that she took on another name, that of “Chicago Joe” Hensley.

The city of Helena tried to shut down the dance hall and the hurdy-gurdy house declaring that prostitution and hurdy-gurdy houses were immoral. “Chicago Joe” challenged the city law on a technicality, music in a hurdy-gurdy was made by a machine but in her establishment she employed a three piece band to play the music. The court had to throw the case out, her saloon stayed open. She was making powerful enemies who had become jealous of her success and possibly felt threatened by her as she knew of their ‘seedy past’.

“Chicago Joe”, and her husband, “Black Hawk”, saw the writing on the wall, they needed to change with the times and this meant a change in their business. They built a new establishment called The Coliseum. It became a roaring success, partly due to the high quality ladies it employed and partly due to its lavish furnishings. It was to prove a very profitable investment and she catered to every whim of her clientele. It became the talk of Helena.

In the 1890s things were to change for “Chicago Joe”. Helena became a city of importance and The Coliseum lost its flavour. The depression of 1893 brought about an economic downfall, she lost all her property except “The Red Light Saloon” and she and her husband moved into an apartment above the saloon and began to live the quiet life. She may have been a hard headed business woman but she never forgot her own hard life as a young uneducated girl in Ireland and it was for this reason that she always helped those who needed help. A remarkable woman who although illiterate had a great head for maths. It goes to show that even though some people may look upon you as being less of a person for your status in society what really counts is what you do for that society and how you benefit it rather than who you are and how much money you may have. A lesson there for all of us.

Maggie Hall.

Maggie Hall was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1853. She was from a good, religious family and well-educated. A striking beauty, she had golden blonde hair and blue eyes. In 1873 at the age of 20 she left Ireland to seek her fortune in the land of opportunity, America. She arrived in New York with no idea of what life had in store for her. No money, no contacts and no hope she took the only job that was offered to her, that of a barmaid in a sordid establishment. Her tragic tale begins.

From the very beginning Maggie let everyone know that she was a good Irish catholic girl that would stand for no nonsense. She became well liked in a very short time due to her Irish wit, charm and sense of humour and quickly earned the respect of the bar room customers. She was sought after by many of the men and had no shortage of offers of marriage turning them all down until the day she met and fell in love with a man by the name of Burdan. Although Maggie dreamt of a large wedding she had to settle for a ceremony in front of a justice of the peace, her new husband came from a wealthy New York family and fearing they would disapprove of his choice of bride he kept it secret from them. He was also worried that if they found out he would lose his allowance and he would have to get a job to support his wife and this would not do at all. He even changed his wife’s name to Molly and introduced her to a life of prostitution. He had huge gambling debts and persuaded his new wife to sleep with his debtors as a way of paying off his debts. Romantic bastard wasn’t he?

Poor old Molly made the best of her new life and eventually she left her husband, boarded a train and headed for the mining camps of the West. She had heard of a gold strike in Murray, Idaho. Boarding another train in San Francisco she headed for Thompson Falls, Montana. Arriving in Thompson she got off the train and went over Thompson Pass to the Murray gold fields. She had provided herself with a good horse, appropriate clothing and food.

The minute she arrived in the Murray area her reputation began. A blizzard had developed and she came across a woman and child that had been unable to keep up with the wagon train they were part of. Molly could not and would not leave them and she stayed with them in order to help them survive through the cold and snowy night on the trail. Somehow the news of what she did reached Murray before they did and upon her arrival she was greeted by cheers and praise throughout the town. The first thing she did was to order a cabin and food for her new charges.

In the crowd of people that welcomed her into town was a handsome Irishman with a twinkling eye. He asked her name and she replied Molly Burdan but because of her strong Dublin accent he thought she had said Molly B’Dam and the name stuck. His name was Phil O’Rourke and he was to become her lifelong friend and confidant.

The townspeople soon realised Molly’s occupation. She asked for and got “Cabin number one”. In the town this cabin was the residence of the madam of the red light district. She was finally ‘at home’ She came to like Murray and the people liked her, she treated the girls who worked for her well and if anybody needed help Molly could be counted on th provide it.

History records many of her contributions, most notably her efforts organising help for the sick during the Small Pox epidemic of 1886 and although she did not contract the disease herself it was because of her tireless efforts on their behalf that eventually led to her tragic demise. She developed tuberculosis in 1888 at died at the age of 35. She and others from this era are buried in the Murray Cemetery located on Kings Pass Road overlooking the historic town. The citizens of Murray gave her a simple, elegant funeral and in an outpouring of respect and affection the whole town shut down for the day. Molly’s legendary compassion led the citizens of Murray, Idaho to name their annual city celebration the Molly B'Damn Gold Rush Days in her honour.

Her gravestone reads:

Sacred to the memory of Maggie Hall, Molly-B-Dam. Died at Murray. Jan.17 1888. Age 35 Years. IHS.

Could these women be described as "Great Irish Women in Folklore"?  I'll let you the readers decide.

Seagraves, Anne, Soiled Doves: Prostitution in the Early West, Wesanne Publications, Hayden, Idaho, 1994.

Dungan, Myles, How the Irish Won the West, New Island, Dublin, Ireland, 2006

Adams, Ken. Angels or Whores: Prostitutes in the Mining Camps,

Upper image: Mary Welch/ Josephine Airey/ Chicago Joe.

Middle image: Maggie Hall.

Lower image: Gravestone of Maggie Hall.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Irish Pirate Women.

Irish Pirate Women.

Gráinne Uí Mháille,

Born in 1530 in County Mayo, possibly she grew up to become a famous and feared pirate, sea trader, and clan chieftain. She was the daughter of Owen O’Malley (Eoghan Dubhdara Ó Máille) and as a young child she always yearned to join her father at sea but he continually discouraged her as the sea was no place for a female. According to legend Gráinne decided to disguise herself by cutting off her long hair, dressing as a boy and boarding her father’s ship. This earned her the nickname of “Gráinne Mhaol”, (Mhaol means bald) so in English that equates to Bald Grace. The nickname stuck and she has been known as Gráinne Mhaol ever since.

The O’Malley clan controlled all the area of Clew Bay and expected taxes to be paid to them by all who sailed or fished the sea around the coast off Mayo and they were generally left alone by the English and Anglo-Irish lords, however, under the rule of the Tudor crown this was to change. The O’Malley had built a line of castles along the west coast and this allowed them to keep an eye on their vast territory both on land and sea. The lord who was in nominal control, Mac William Lochtar Bourke’s (an Anglo-Irish family) left them alone, (by this time the Bourke’s had become more Irish then the Irish themselves and were completely Gallicised).

Gráinne Uí Mháille was educated and could speak in Irish, Scottish Gaelic, English, Latin, French and Spanish. Actually the greater majority of the Irish population spoke more languages and were better educated than those across the water due to the fact that the Irish were forbidden from speaking in Irish and the common person had better access to a basic education. However, as we know that was all to change.

She was to eventually build up a great deal of wealth and this together with her noble Irish blood earned her the title Pirate Queen and she was one of the last Irish rulers of the time to defend against English rule in Ireland. Over her lifetime the English took over most of Ireland piece by piece through a system known as “Sumit and Regrant” they either convinced or forced the Irish clan leaders to surrender their lands and titles to the English crown they would then be given English titles and control of territory, in this way they swore allegiance to the English crown. Some Chieftains submitted, some rebelled, and Grace was one of those who refused the English offer.

At 56 years old, Grace was captured by Sir Richard Bingham, a ruthless Governor appointed by the Queen to rule over the regranted territories. Soon after his appointment, Bingham sent guards to arrest Grace and have her hanged. Grace was apprehended and along with members of her clan, imprisoned and scheduled for execution. Determined to die with dignity, Grace held her head high as she awaited her execution. At the last minute, Grace's son-in-law offered himself as a hostage in exchange for the promise that Grace would never return to her rebellious ways. Bingham released Grace on this promise but was determined to keep her from power and make her suffer for her insurrection. Over the course of time, Bingham was responsible for taking away her cattle, forcing her into poverty, even plotting the murder of her eldest son, Owen.

During this period of Irish rebellion, the Spanish Armada was waging war against the English along the Irish and Scottish coastlines. It is not known whether Grace assisted the English against the Spanish or if she was merely protecting what little she had left-- but around 1588, Grace slaughtered hundreds of Spaniards on the ship of Don Pedro de Mendoza near the castle on Clare Island in Clew Bay. Even into her late 50's, Grace was fierce in battle.

In the early 1590's, Grace was still virtually penniless thanks to the constant efforts of Bingham to keep tight controls on her. There was a rather large rebellion brewing and Bingham feared that Grace would run to the aid of the rebels against the English. He wrote in a letter during this time that Grace was, "a notable traitor and nurse to all rebellions in the province for 40 years."

Grace had written letters to the Queen demanding justice, but received no response. In 1593, her son Theobald and brother Donal-na-Piopa were arrested and thrown into prison. This was the final straw that prompted Grace to stop writing letters and go to London in person to request their release and ask for the Queen's help in regaining the lands and wealth that were rightfully hers.

Grace set sail and managed to avoid the English patrol boats that littered the seas between her homeland and London. The meeting took place in Greenwich Castle. Surprisingly the Queen agreed to a meeting and Grace explained, in fluent Latin, that she was not in fact rebellious in her actions but only that she was acting in self-defence, that her rightful inheritance had been withheld and that it should be returned to her. She also asked for the release of her son and brother and if the queen would agree to this then she would use all her strength and leadership to defend the Queen from her enemies whether on land or sea. Unbelievably the Queen agreed, Bingham was forced to release the two captives but in an act of outright defiance he never restored to Grace her possessions.

There is an interesting story about the meeting of the two Queens,

It is said that during the meeting, Grace sneezed in the presence of the Queen and her lords and ladies. A member of the court, in an act of politeness, handed Grace an attractive and expensive lace handkerchief. She took the delicate cloth and proceeded to blow her nose loudly then tossed the kerchief into a blazing fireplace. The members of the court were aghast that she would be so rude to toss an expensive gift so easily into the fire. The Queen then scolded her and said that the handkerchief was meant as a gift and should have been put into her pocket. Grace replied that the Irish would never put a soiled garment into their pocket and apparently had a higher standard of cleanliness. After a period of uncomfortable silence, (during which the members of the court expected the Queen to have Grace executed for her rude behavior) nervous then roaring laughter followed. It is said that the Queen was amused.

I have written another post on Grainne Uí Mháille, dated Thursday August 26th 2010. If you get time have a look.

Anne Bonny.

Like Gráinne Uí Mháille, Anne Bonny was a strong independent woman, way ahead of her time. Her exact date of birth is unknown but most historians put it to be around 1697 in Kinsale, County Cork, Ireland. She was born into a man’s world, a world where men made all the decisions, women had very few rights and in a time when women did not join a ship’s crew let alone become a respected pirate considered equal by her peers.

She was born the illegitimate daughter of a lawyer, William Cormac and a woman in his employ, Mary Brennan. William’s wife was not very happy when she found out about his adultery so she made it public, this caused him to lose his reputation and so he and his new wife and child decided to leave Ireland to seek their fortune in the New World. They settled in Charleston, South Carolina and here William started a successful legal practice and eventually became a plantation owner.

By the time young Anne had become a teenager she had lost her mother and had to take over the running of the household and care of her father. Stories began to spread about Anne during her teenage years, there was even a suggestion made that she had murdered a servant girl, stabbing her to death. There was also a story that was told about a young man who attempted to force himself on her sexually; she put him in hospital for several weeks.

When she was only sixteen she fell in love with James Bonny, a pirate who wanted to gain control of her father’s estate. Her father despised Bonny and forbid the relationship, this was enough for the rebellious Anne and against her father’s wishes, and she married him. William Cormac was livid; he had wanted her to marry a respectful man not a rogue like Bonny so he turned her out of his home, cutting her off from all financial aid.

James Bonny took his new wife to the pirate’s hideout in New Providence, he found it difficult to support her and in the end in order to make money he became a pirate informer for the governor, Woodes Rogers. When Anne found out about his betrayal she was extremely upset, most of her friends were pirates and so with the help of one of these friends, Pierre, a celebrated homosexual who ran a popular ladies establishment, Anne left her husband. She ran off with Calico Jack Rackam, he was a pirate captain and a great romantic. It was even said he offered to buy Anne from James Bonny, (romantic??).

Now Calico Jack was only a small time pirate and he plied his trade along the Caribbean coast attacking small merchant ships but was not really all that successful. However, he certainly knew how to spend money. He never made his relationship with Anne public knowledge but on board ship everyone knew she was “the captain’s woman”. When Calico Jack found out Anne was pregnant he left her on Cuba to deliver the baby. There is no record of what happened to the baby, some say Anne abandoned the child, some say Calico Jack gave the child away to friends on Cuba and some even suggest that the child died at birth, but we will never know. After a few months Anne returned to Calico Jack’s ship. By now the infamous Mary Read was also on board and it did not take long for the two women to become very good friends, some suggest that their friendship was a lesbian relationship.

In October of 1720, Captain Barnet, an ex-pirate who now commanded a British Navy ship attacked Calico Jack’s ship (the “Revenge”) as it lay at anchor. Almost the entire crew was drunk at the time, celebrating the capture of a Spanish commercial ship, so the fight was a short one and although Mary and Anne resisted they were eventually overpowered and put in chains. The crew of the “Revenge” were taken to Port Royal, there to stand trial. The trial was sensational and everyone was found guilty of the crime of piracy, a crime that carried the death sentence, but Anne and Mary were both spared because they both claimed to be pregnant and a pregnant woman could not be hanged, It is recorded that Mary Read died in a Jamaican prison but the fate of Anne Bonny is unknown. One theory is that Anne Bonny’s father managed to pay a ransom for his daughter’s release and that he took her back to Charleston and that she married a Joseph Burleigh going on to have eight children. It is also said that she died on April 25th, 1782 in South Carolina.

Top image: Gráinne Uí Mháille. Bronze statue in the grounds of Westport House County Mayo.

Middle image: The flag of Calico Jack Rackam. This became known as ‘The Skull & Crossbones.

Bottom image: Anne Bonny.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Feminism in Irish Mythology.

Feminism in Irish Mythology.

In many of the pagan world religions the feminine is a dominant presence. The land, the rivers, and mountains in fact all of nature is associated with the Goddesses and other supernatural females. In Ireland it was Ériu who gave her name to our land and she had two sister goddesses called Banba and Fodla. The Trio of goddesses was a common concept within Irish mythology, another trio of goddesses are Morrigan (the Great Queen) goddess of fertility and battle together with her sister goddesses, Badb (“Crow”), and either Macha (also connotes “Crow”) or Nemain (“Frenzy”). The Morrigan frequently appears in the form of a hooded crow. She is one of the Tuatha Dé Danann (“Tribe of the goddess Danu”) and she helped defeat the Firbolg at the First Battle of Mag Tuireadh and the Fomorians at the Second Battle of Mag Tuireadh. The Morrigan also appears as the Washer at the Ford, the Washer is usually to be found washing the clothes of men about to die in battle. In effect, she is choosing who will die.

In the ancient Celtic world Anu was the mother goddess and considered to be the mother of all the gods; the Tuatha de Danann. Other references say that she is the mother earth goddess or the Goddess of fertility. On the Cork Kerry border are two mountains called the Paps of Anu (pap is another word for breast.) On the top of each mountain are stone structures or cairns that when viewed from a distance make the two mountains look like a pair of breasts. Anu was known, in the Celtic World, by several similar names: Danu or Don being the most popular alternatives. She was a Mother-Goddess, the wife of the Sun God, Belenos, and considered to be the ancestor of all the Gods, the Tuatha dé Danann, who found themselves obliged to reside in the Otherworld when Miled brought the Celts to the British Isles. She still looks down on us from the night's sky where she appears as Llys Don, better known as the constellation of Casseopeia.

Aine/Enya: A goddess of cattle possibly related to the mother goddess Danu. Irish goddess of love. Also known as the Faery Queen of Munster, she is aligned with faeries and the magic of the woods. Her name comes from the old Irish word An meaning “bright”. She inspires love and has great powers of fertility and healing. As the Dark Maiden she is vengeful when crossed. The feast of Midsummer is held in her honour. She was originally a Sun goddess who could take the form of a Lair Derg, a red mare that no one could outrun. It is possible that Aine and Grainne alternated as goddesses of the waning and waxing solar year, changing place at the solstices. Aine's father, King Egobagal, is one of the Tuatha de Danann. Also called Aine Marine and Aine of Knockaine, she is associated with Knockainy (Aineis Hill in Munster, and with Dun Aine (Dunany Point) in County Louth. People with the surname O'Corra are said to be her descendants.

Airmed: Irish goddess of healing, herbalists, magic and learning. She is a goddess of the Tuatha Dé Danann, who healed those injured in wars and battles. She collects herbs for health and healing and teaches us about the craft of plant medicine. She also guards the secret wells, springs and rivers of healing and is worshipped as a goddess of Witchcraft and magic.

According to legend, there was once a great and noble god Nuada who ruled the Tuatha De Danann (ancient fairy folk). During a fateful battle, King Nuada lost his arm and was forced to relinquish the throne as a result of the deformity. Airmid’s father and master physician, Dian Cecht, fashioned the fallen king a silver prosthetic arm which enabled Nuada to return as ruler of the land.

Now, Dian Cecht’s son Miach believed that with his own skill as a surgeon and his sister Airmid’s aptitude for regeneration, an even better solution was possible. Together, sister and brother perfectly rebuilt Nuada’s flesh arm in “thrice three days and nights.” When Dian Cecht found out that he had been bested by his own son, he flew into a jealous rage, killing Miach with a fatal blow to the head.

Deeply grieving, Airmid went to her brother’s grave and laid a cairn of stones around the burial plot. Soon after, she discovered new life rising from the earth. Three hundred and sixty-five herbs grew on that spot, each one a cure for a specific part of the body. The goddess spread her cloak and gathered up the herbs according to their properties. But when Dian Cecht learned of this, he overturned the cloak, scattering the herbs to the wind and forever losing the gift that Miach had shared with humankind. Only Airmid has knowledge of the specific herbs in her brother’s offering, and so in times of need we may invoke her spirit for guidance.

The number of the herbs, three hundred sixty-five, is symbolic of the passing of a year; reminding us that time heals all wounds. Despite her pain and frustration, Airmid remained devoted to her ministry as a healer. With Dian Cecht and her remaining brothers, the goddess went on to tend the sacred well of healing. The family recited charms and incantations while the injured and dead were immersed and restored to perfect health and vitality. Wells were believed to be a link between the upper and the lower worlds. Airmid and her family used the well as a way for their tribe to communicate with and draw on the healing forces of the underworld.

We celebrate Goddess Airmid by appreciating nature and the gift of plant medicine. We lend honour to her fate by staying true to the course of our own life’s mission no matter what hardships we may endure. Altars dedicated to the goddess should include herbs of any kind, a piece of cloth to represent her cloak, and a bowl or small cauldron of spring water to symbolize her family’s healing well and the mystical forces that flow throughout all of life.

Badb/Badb Catha: “Raven,” or “Battle Crow,” a goddess of war and sovereignty who could take the form of a raven or wolf. Badb was equivalent to the Gaulish Cathubodua. Her sisters were Macha and the Morrigan, making her a triple goddess. She is sometimes referred to as the Fury and is the Crone aspect of the Triple Goddess. Mainly associated with death and destruction she is also the keeper of the Sacred Cauldron, controlling fate, time, and rebirth.

Banba/Banbha: Irish goddess of protection. The poetic name of Ireland, she protects the land and its people from invaders and forms a triad with her sisters Eriu and Fódla. She also gave her name to the river Barrow.

Be Chuille: Goddess of Druids and Witches.

Boann: The goddess of the river Boyne, which passes Newgrange. Boann was the mother of Aenghus. Also known as a goddess of poetry and spiritual insight. She inspires creativity by clearing the mind and opening the spirit to her. You can invoke her presence near running waters or riverbanks. Mother of the herds and a cow goddess.

Brighid: “Fire Arrow” or “Exalted” goddess of fire, poetry, and smith craft, the daughter of the Dagda. Brighid was one of three sisters, all named Brighid, and was a triple goddess. She is the goddess of the Sacred Flame. Each one of her faces represents her dominion over poetry, healing and smithcraft. She is the keeper of the holy wells and rivers of healing and rebirth as well as the sacred flames of creativity. We celebrate her festival at Imbolc when sacred fires are lit and kept burning all night to encourage the sun to return from hiding. She is the mother of invention and smithcraft and the patroness of priestesses. She is also a patron of other womanly arts – midwifery, dyeing, weaving and brewing, and the guardian of children and farm animals – particularly cows.

Bronach: Goddess of sea cliffs.

Cailleach Bheara (The Cailleach): The great goddess of the moon, sky, and earth. Controller of the seasons and of the weather. In her dark aspect she is a destroyer causing famine, disease, and plagues. Other names are The Veiled One, The Hag, The Crone, and The White Lady. She can turn into a beautiful woman and bestow favours on men who are kind to her.

Cailb: Some people associate this goddess with the Cailleach. She is a death goddess and prophetess. Her mouth was on one side of her head and she had pubic hair down to her knees (not her most attractive attribute).

Canola: Irish goddess of music and dance. She fell asleep to the sound of the wind whispering along the bones of a gutted whale on the beach. When she awoke, she created the Irish harp, an instrument designed to capture the haunting sounds she had heard in her dreams. She is the patroness of musicians and bards. Canola aids inspiration and creativity.

Caer: The wife of Aenghus, Caer possessed the ability to transform into a swan.

Danu: The mother goddess and namesake of the Tuatha Dé Danann or “People of Danu.” Earth goddess of Ireland her name translates as “knowledge”. She is the power and magic of fertile soil, rivers and vegetation.

Echtga: Owl goddess.

Eiru, Banba, and Fodhla: Three queens of the Tuatha Dé Danann who aid the Milesians on the condition that their names are given to their home. Eiru is of course Eire, or Ireland, and Banba and Fodhla are often used as poetic titles for the island.

Etain: A shape changing/reincarnating goddess, the wife of Midir. Etain is sometimes related to the Sheela-na-gig icons that dot Ireland.

Flidais: Irish goddess of the woodlands she rides through the forests in a chariot pulled by deer. She is a deity with great sexual powers, seducing male mortals. She is a fertility goddess with many children and supplies nourishment with her cow that can give milk to three hundred people.

Macha: Sister of Badb and the Morrigan, Macha was a sovereignty goddess. Her strong associations with horses make her equivalent to Epona and the Welsh Rhiannon.

Maeve: She is a warrior Goddess of Ireland. She was said to have been worshiped at the ancient mystical site of Tara. Her name is translated to mean "intoxicated woman", as she is associated with intoxication by different substances, such as mead and mind altering herbs. She is also a Goddess of sovereignty, fertility, personal power and of the earth. It is said that the ancient kings of Ireland married the Goddess when they took their place if power. She would bestow her gifts upon them, and they could claim their sovereignty over the land. They would hold great feasts where mead was drunk in her

Morrigan: “Terrible Queen” or “Phantom Queen”; Morrigan is a sovereignty and war goddess, and the lover of Cuchulainn.

Sionainn: Goddess of the Shannon River.

Tailtiu: Harvest goddess. The Fomorian foster mother of Lugh, whose funeral games inspired the festival of Lughnasadh.

Teamair: Goddess of Tara, daughter of Lugh. Her lover was the goddess Brid.

These are just a few of the Irish goddess’s, there are many more goddess’s throughout the various Celtic pantheon.