Sunday, June 26, 2011
An interesting tale in connection with the Black Dog Prison in Dublin's Cornmarket was related in the Dublin Penny Journal in November 1832. The paper described how a 'creature', who appeared in the form of a black pig, had apparently engaged in a reign of terror against the women of the city at the end of the 18th Century.
The beast, known as 'The Dolocher', was commonly believed to be the spirit of a former inmate of the Black Dog named Olocher who had been sentenced to death for murder and rape. On the night before he was to be executed at Gallows Hill, Olocher cheated the hangman by committing suicide. This caused uproar in the prison with the authorities questioning the prison officials on how it happened.
Within a few days, the prison staff had another worry on their minds. One of the sentry posts, a little removed from the main prison, had a sentry on duty every night and imagine the shock when he was found lying unconscious on the ground. He had been badly mauled and when he recovered his senses he told his listeners that he had been attacked by a big black pig. At first, no one believed his story but when he was stripped in the prison hospital, his wounds were so horrible that some began to believe him. For many nights afterwards, the black pig was seen by several other sentries.
The prison was now on full alert but they had another shock coming. About a week after the happening to the first sentry, another sentry detailed for duty at the same lonely post was missing when his relief came to replace him. A search was at once organised and the man's clothes were discovered at the rear of the sentry box. His rifle was standing with the butt on the ground and his clothes, uniform, tunic, trousers and shirt were piled beside it. Locals, putting two and two together, decided that the black pig was really the ghost of the unhappy Olocher, or the Dolocher as he came to be known and that he had carried off the unfortunate sentry and murdered him.
The news of the second strange happening in the prison spread quickly and now a fear of the night spread through the Liberties and well it might for woman after woman who was foolish enough to go out on their own were attacked night after night. One woman claimed that she had been attacked by the beast in Christ Church Lane, while a pregnant woman was said to have had a miscarriage after an encounter with the beast in the same area. Due to the fear and terror engendered by the black pig, the lanes and alleyways surrounding Christ Church soon became a no-go area after dark.
The fear that haunted the Liberties soon spread to other parts of the city and it was noticed that it was always young women who were attacked. Some of the girls who were attacked told that their attacker had the face of a pig. By this time Dublin was deserted city at night time, a city that trembled with fear as the long winter nights shrouded the unlighted streets of the Liberties and other parts of Dublin. Eventually, the long nights ended and with the coming of late spring and summer, the attacks ended.
As the longs days and short nights began to end with the coming of late autumn, people hoped and prayed the evil monster that had prowled there last winter would not return. The nights of November saw their hopes dashed as on a foggy night another young woman was attacked and her cries for help were heard and the attacker fled. However, the girl's story was that her attacker was "the black pig".
Vigilante groups were formed in an effort to catch the Dolocher and, on one particular night, the patrons of a pub in Cook Street set out to kill every black pig they could find running loose on the streets of Dublin. The presence of the vigilantes seemed to force the Dolocher to lie low for a while, but he re-emerged to continue his reign of terror a year later with an attack on a woman at Fisher's Alley, beside Wood Quay. The fear that had been over the people the previous year returned and some families barred their doors at night time. A couple of weeks passed and a couple more women were attacked and then the weather took a hand.
It was a late November evening but fine, and a blacksmith from the edge of the Liberties decided to take a walk to his favourite tavern in Thomas Street for a drink and a chat with his friends. Time passed quickly and the blacksmith decided it was time to go home. When he came out of the tavern, he discovered it was raining and as he had brought no coat with him, he returned to the tavern owner for the loan of something to keep the rain off him. The tavern owner gave him a long hooded cloak belonging to his wife. The blacksmith set off to walk home through the dark streets and alleyways of the Liberties. He had just reached the end of a dark alleyway when a figure sprang at him and attempted to punch him to the ground. In a flash, he realised that his attacker was the black pig, while the black pig realised that this was no frail woman as he had thought because he was wearing a cloak. In a few minutes, the blacksmith had his attacker on the ground and then he pulled off the skin of a black pig's head the man was wearing.
By this time, three or four men had arrived on the scene and thinking that it was another attack on a woman had come as quickly as they could. They were in no way gentle with him as they dragged him to his feet and brought him to a police station. It was there the next morning that the man was identified. The Blacksmith had delivered a fatal blow to his attacker who was identified as the missing sentry, before he died he confessed to aiding Olocher in his suicide and orchestrating the slaughter of the pigs. He had spread the rumour of the black pig himself using the resulting atmosphere of fear and superstition for the sole purpose of attacking and robbing the innocent women of the Liberties. In some ways Dublin’s Jack the Ripper.
Saturday, June 25, 2011
The importance of the pig to the tenant class in rural Ireland during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was extremely important. They were fattened up using waste products and on the land and when mature they were sold on to help pay the bills. Oats were used to fatten the pig but from the eighteenth century onwards potato was used. However, during the hard times the pig had to compete with the humans for what little food was available
The landlords realising the value of the pig began to introduce improved breeds into Ireland, particularly from Britain, and this ensured that the rent was paid. Some of the more enlightened landlords gave pigs to their poorer tenants and when the pig was sold the tenant had to pay back both the price of the pig and the rent. The importance of the pig gave us the expression “on the pig’s back”, this meant that you were doing well financially.
In prehistoric times the pig that roamed the Irish forests was a descendent of the European wild pig. It was domesticated in the Neolithic period and by the Middle Ages there was very little difference between the wild and the domesticated. They both ate the same food and were lean, long headed, narrow-backed and had bristly hair and were usually dark in colour. No one knows when the wild pig began to die out in Ireland but it has been suggested that it began with the arrival of the Normans when deforestation became an ongoing process as this would contribute to a loss of their natural habitat.
The name ‘Greyhound Pig’ was said to be attributed to a travelling Englishmen, Sir Francis Heads in the 1830s. He gave the following description “As I followed them this morning, they really appeared to have no hams at all; their bodies were as flat as if they had been squeezed in a vice; and when they turned sideways their long sharp noses and tucked-up bellies gave to their profile the appearance of starved Greyhounds.’’ He was referring to a breed of German pig that he had seen. The Irish Greyhound pig was said to have the same attributes as this German pig. It was also known as the ‘Old Irish pig’, becoming known as the Irish Greyhound pig in the eighteenth century when it became a curiosity to British travellers in Ireland as the old native breeds of pig had by this time been completely eradicated in Britain.
This strange looking creature (above) is the Irish Greyhound Pig; In shape it is very different to the pig we are used to seeing today. It was common right across Ireland but by the middle of the nineteenth century agricultural statistics were reporting that the Irish Greyhound pig was almost entirely confined to County Galway. White in colour, it had floppy almond-shaped ears, long legs, a long curly tail, hedgehog-like bristles and an arched back. The Irish Greyhound pig, like all descendants of the European wild pig before the eighteenth century, was a large animal. It was this feature that was to ensure that it became an ancestor of the oldest surviving breed of domestic pig, the Tamworth (an Irish Greyhound pig was reputedly brought to England by Sir Robert Peel in 1809 and bred on his Tamworth estate),
The Irish Pig
'Twas an evening in November,
As I very well remember,
I was strolling down the street in drunken pride,
But my knees were all aflutter,
So I landed in the gutter,
And a pig came up and lay down by my side.
Yes I lay there in the gutter
Thinking thoughts I could not utter,
When a colleen passing by did softly say,
"Ye can tell a man that boozes
By the company he chooses" -
At that the pig got up and walked away
Friday, June 24, 2011
The pig was always highly prized for its tasty meat and in Irish legend it was the favourite meat of the Gods and heroes at their feasts in the otherworld. It was also greatly respected for its bravery and fierce spirit when defending itself and for this reason was one of the symbols of the warrior.
In Irish Folklore the pig is seen as a lucky animal and they were also able to see the wind and forecast the weather, they were also said to have magical hearing and they could actually hear the grass growing.
Evil or threatening spirits were often said to appear in the form of a black pig and it was believed that this was the worst of all forms for fairy folk to take so people would carry a hazel stick to ward of the evil spirits. The time of year (Halloween/Samhain) when the barriers between this world and the next are weakest is a favourite time for the Black Pig to be abroad so you would be wise not to travel alone at this time.
The pig occurs in Irish folk cures. A cure for a child with mumps was to take it to a pigsty and rub it’s head on the pigs back in the hope that the illness would transfer into the pig. It was also believed that a cure for a toothache was for the sufferer to put their head to the ground where a pig had been scratching its backside while making the sign of the cross with their mouth. If you did this you would never suffer from toothache again. Another disgusting cure for jaundice involved swallowing a dozen live lice from a pig.
Superstitious sailors consider pigs to be unlucky because they have cloven hooves like the Devil and are terrified of water. Pigs would not be carried on boats. Fishermen often regarded pigs as harbingers of bad luck: a fisherman seeing a pig on his way to work would rather turn round and go home. This even extended to a prohibition of the word "pig" on board a vessel.
"Sweating like a Pig" to denote sweating profusely. This sounds illogical, as pigs have ineffective sweat glands, but the term is derived from the iron smelting process. After pouring into runners in sand, it is allowed to cool and is seen as resembling a sow and piglets - Hence "pig iron". As the pigs cool, the surrounding air reaches its dew point, and beads of moisture form on the surface of the pigs. "Sweating like a pig" indicates that the pig has cooled enough to be moved in safety.
In Irish folklore to meet a pig on the road at night is a symbol of impending doom
The Gentleman Who Pays the Rent.
This is the euphemism that was once used in Ireland to describe what was often a family's most valuable possession - the pig
Until the advent of the industrial age, most people lived a relatively agricultural life. In Ireland before the potato famine, cottagers who may not have been able to afford a riding horse or beef cattle would at the very least keep a few pigs. They were usually housed close to the main dwelling, and sometimes the pig house was attached to one end of the cottage.
You might be surprised to see this sort of housing arrangement but the pig was a very valuable part of the Irish cottage economy and pigs do best in warm, dry surroundings. So not only did this practice help keep the pigs (and often a milk cow and laying flock) warm and safe from predators, it was easier feeding kitchen scraps to the pig and collecting manure which was both valuable and very necessary for growing healthy crops. Manure was in fact so valuable you stacked it outside the front of the cottage so you could keep your eye on it.
Pigs were butchered in the autumn, around Samhain. This meant that the animals wouldn’t need scarce fodder over the winter (stocking up enough hay was tedious and land-intensive for a small-holder). It also meant that the cooler weather would slow down spoilage until the salted meat could cure. Cottagers would preserve enough ham, bacon, sausage & lard to see them through the year, and sell the rest to the butcher. However, in poorer households, people did not eat their pig. They sold it to get money to pay the rent on their land. That is why the family's pig was often called "the gentleman who pays the rent."
“The “pig in the parlour” stereotype of Ireland came from the system landlords imposed more than three centuries ago of charging people extra rent for pig houses. The poor country people found that as a pig is a clean and intelligent animal, it could share a clay cabin without soiling it if allowed to come and go. Until recent times there was a tradition in rural Ireland of keeping one pig in the yard to eat the scraps and provide an extra source of food. The practice came to be associated with poverty and died out with the coming of supermarkets.”
Sunday, June 19, 2011
The Black Cat.
“Although Edgar Allan Poe was not Irish I thought I’d include this as a little bit of a change to my normal posts. It’s quite gruesome but also strangely fascinating in its message.”
An interesting story from the pen of Edgar Allan Poe. It tells the story using a first-person narrative. The man (the narrator) explains that he has always loved animals and that he and his wife have several pets including a large black cat called Pluto.
The cat and the man love each other and are great friends. However, this all changes as the man takes to the drink, eventually becoming an alcoholic. One night, he comes home from the pub drunk as a lord and tries to stroke the cat; the cat however avoids him like the plague and delivers a bite to his hand in its attempt to free itself. In a fit of anger he pulls a pen-knife out of his pocket, and gouges out one of the cats eyes.
Well you can imagine, from that moment onwards the cat wants nothing to do with your man and runs away in terror whenever he hears him approaching. At first, the man is extremely remorseful, regrets his cruelty and tries in vain to make it up with the cat. The cat however, refuses to have anything to do with him, is it any wonder? Over time this begins to annoy him and he begins to feel really irritated with the cat until eventually this feeling of irritation turns into hatred. One morning he grabs the cat, takes it out into the garden and hangs it from a tree and there it slowly dies.
That same night, his house mysteriously catches fire and he, his wife and their servant are forced to flee. The next day, the man returns to the ruined house and he finds imprinted on the only wall that had survived the fire, the figure of a gigantic cat, hanging by its neck from a rope.
At first, the image terrifies the man but he gradually convinces himself that someone seeing the fire had thrown the dead cat through a bedroom window in order to wake them up and in doing so saved their lives. The man begins to miss Pluto and sometime later while drinking in the pub he sees a cat that is the image of Pluto. It is the same size and colour and is even missing an eye. The only difference is a large white patch on the cat’s chest. The man decides to take the cat home with him but his feelings of friendship for the cat slowly begin to change to feelings of hatred and fear. He watches as over time the white patch of fur begins to change shape; it begins to take the shape of a gallows.
One day the man and his wife are visiting the cellar of their new home, don’t ask me why for I’ve no idea, the cat gets under the man’s feet and nearly succeeds in tripping him down the stairs. In a fit of rage, he grabs an axe that lies nearby and tries to kill the cat but is prevented from doing so by his wife. Enraged at her interference he turns on her, striking her with the axe he kills her.
He now needs to hide her body; he decides to remove some bricks from a protruding wall and place her body within the wall and repairs the hole. Eventually the wife is missed and the police arrive at the house to investigate her disappearance however they find nothing amiss and he is allowed to carry on with his life. He notices that the cat has gone missing but assumes it has just run off, well you would wouldn’t you?
The police carry on with their investigation and as there are no other leads they return to the house, the last place the wife was seen. They carry out another search but still find nothing. Before they leave they decide to have one last look in the cellar, the husband goes with them, and still they find nothing.
The husband now completely confident of his safety comments on how sturdy these old houses are and gives a rap on the wall with his walking stick, the wall behind which his wife’s body is interred. All of a sudden a wailing sound fills the room; it is the sound of a cat, coming from within the wall. The police begin to tear down the wall and discover the corpse of the missing wife, and on her head, to the absolute horror of the husband is the screeching black cat. He lets out a wail “I walled the monster up within the tomb”.
He was to receive the same treatment he meted out to Pluto. The hangman waits.
Adapted from the story of The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe.
Edgar Allan Poe used this story as a poignant reminder of the dangers of alcoholism and how drinking to excess can have an adverse affect upon a person’s behaviour.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
The Cat. Cat in Irish is Cat.
A traditional Irish greeting on entering the house was “God save all here, except the cat” and this was because of its association with evil.
Strangely it was considered lucky if a stray cat was to enter the house.
A cat sat with its back to the fire is a sure sign of bad weather.
A crowing hen, a whistling girl, and a black cat are considered very unlucky. Beware of them in a house.
It was once believed that the bite of a cat was poisonous.
It's a sign of bad luck to meet a magpie, a cat, or a lame woman on a trip. If you meet a rooster at your door and it crows, your trip should be postponed.
In mythology, the cat was believed to have great influence on the weather.
Witches who rode on storms took the form of cats. The dog, an attendant of the storm king Odin, was a symbol of wind. Cats came to symbolise down-pouring rain, and dogs to symbolise strong gusts of wind. This may be where the phrase "it's raining cats and dogs".
Sailors used cats to predict the voyages they were about to embark upon.
Loudly mewing cats meant that it would be a difficult voyage. A playful cat meant that it would be a voyage with good and gusty winds.
Some people believe that cats are able to see the human aura, the energy that surrounds the human body.
It was believed that cats could see spirits or ghosts.
A black cat crossing one's path by moonlight means death in an epidemic.
Some believed that black cats carried demons.
If a funeral procession encountered a black cat, they believed another member of the family would soon die.
Druids thought black cats were human beings. These were people who had committed indiscretions in a previous life.
Some believe black cats are witches in disguise. Others believe black cats are witches familiars.
It is believed also that if a black cat is killed and a bean placed in the heart, and the animal afterwards buried, the beans that grow from that seed will confer extraordinary power; for if a man places one in his mouth, he will become invisible, and can go anywhere he likes without being seen.
The Druidical or royal cat, the chief monarch of all the cats in Ireland, was endowed with human speech and faculties, and possessed great and singular privileges. "A slender black cat, wearing a chain of silver," is how it was described.
The fear of cats, especially black cats started in Europe during the Middle Ages, especially in England. It was the cat’s independence, wilfulness, stealth and eyes that shone in the dark that seemed to put people on edge. With the explosion of rats at this time came the increase in the cat population and these cats were often fed by poor, lonely old women who were then accused of witchcraft as were the cats (witches familiars).
Some people believed that the cat had supernatural powers and if you looked into their eyes you would be hypnotised.
To kill a cat brings seventeen years of bad luck.
In England and mainland Europe there was a superstition that if a cat was built into a house wall it would protect the house from rats and evil influences. This was a practice that supposedly took place in Dublin.
An ever better protection was the body of a cat and a rat in the wall. The Natural History Museum in London has a collection of some of these unfortunate cats found in walls.
The Cat represents guardianship, detachment and sensuality. The Goddess Brigid had a cat as a companion. Because the cat was associated with the Goddess and the feminine, the cat was sometimes perceived as "unholy". The cat's ability to see and work in the spirit-world makes the cat an ideal ally for a magician. The Church's fear of such powers resulted in the torture and death of thousands of cats in Britain and France. It was in the tenth century when Pope Gregory IX announced a link between the cat and the devil and persecution of the cat became widespread. It has been suggested that this persecution actually contributed to the devastation of the Black Death (bubonic plague) in the twelfth century because of the huge increase in rats. Pope Innocent VIII in the thirteenth century ordered that every cat in Christendom be slaughtered because of their supposed supernatural powers. All because of their association with the Pagan Pantheon.
There once were two cats from Kilkenny
each thought there was one cat too many.
So they fought and they fit
and they scratched and they bit
and instead of two cats, there ain't any!
This poem is about an incident in Kilkenny that occurred in an army barracks in 1798 but there is some dispute concerning it and other stories have been suggested.
The next post will be about the black cat.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
The Black Dog. Also known as Cu Sidhe or Coinn Iotair.
The black dog is found in folklore all over the world and is essentially a spirit that comes out at night and is often associated with evil faeries or the Christian devil. Usually it is believed to be a portent of death. Larger than an earthly dog it has large eyes that glow. Often associated with storms, ancient pathways, crossroads and places of execution such as a gallows tree.
Their origin is lost in the mist of time but throughout the folklore and mythology of Europe dogs have been associated with death and the underworld often depicted as guardians of the gates. It may also be because of the scavenging habits of dogs often seen around graveyards or after a battle searching for fresh meat. It may be this reason that the black dog evolved.
In Irish and Scottish folklore, the Cu Sith or Cu Sidhe (faerie hound), is a large and fearsome dog with supernatural powers. They are usually black but may also be green (the colour favoured by faeries) or even white with one red ear and one red eye. They are always large sometimes described as being as big as a calf or small horse.
The Cu Sidhe roam the land performing certain tasks for their faerie masters such as helping in the hunt and abducting human woman to take back to the faerie realm. It was believed that these women were used to nurse faerie babies. The Cu Sidhe are completely silent in the hunt but sometimes they would give three blood curdling howls that could be heard over a great distance. When men heard this sound they would lock up their women to prevent them from being carried off.
They are said to have the power to appear and disappear at will and in much the same way the Grim Reaper appears at death to lead the soul to the afterlife, so the Cu Sidhe takes the soul to the underworld.
The Black Dog of Bungay.
One of the most frightening incidents ever reported took place in the quiet market town of Bungay, in Suffolk, England. On the Sunday morning of the 4th of August, 1577, during the Morning Service at St. Mary’s Church a terrible and violent storm broke out. The sky darkened, thunder crashed and rain fell heavily from the skies. Lightning flashed wildly as the storm broke upon the church. Inside the congregation knelt to pray.
Suddenly to the horror of the congregation from out of a flash of lightning there appeared in the church a huge and monstrous Black Dog.
Howling wildly as the lightning flashed and thunder pealed the beast ran amok attacking the terrified parishioners and causing havoc.
Two people at their prayers were killed and a third man was badly burned from being mauled by the beast but survived the ordeal. There was great damage inflicted upon the church as the tower was struck by lightning and the clock destroyed before the Black Dog finally ran wildly from the church to the relief of the petrified congregation.
Around twelve miles away in the Holy Trinity Church at Blythburgh, at a about the same time the Black Dog, or another beast like it, appeared and also attacked the frightened congregation at prayers killing three people. There are scorched scratch marks on the church door that can still be seen to this day.
The Church or Kirk Grim.
The Vikings brought many of their customs and traditions to Ireland from Scandinavia and may well have influenced the legends of the Black Dog. The Church Grim was also known as Kirk Grim and in Finnish, ‘Kirkonväki’ and in Swedish, ‘Kyrkogrim.’Both appear in Irish and Scandinavian folklore as sentinel spirits whose task was to protect a church and its grounds. They could appear as small, dark, grotesquely formed people, or as a Black Dog.
In many parts of Europe, including Ireland, early Christians are believed to have sacrificed animals when a new church was built. A black dog would be buried alive on the north side of the land which would then become the guardian spirit keeping the church and grounds safe from the devil. It was often regarded as a herald of doom bringing death to anyone who encountered it. It was once a superstition that the first person to be buried in a churchyard would have to guard any subsequent buried souls, so it was the custom to sacrifice a dog to serve as a substitute- specifically a completely black one without a single white hair - and bury it in the foundation of the church.
Sightings and encounters with Black Dogs are still reported though they seem less horrific than those of the past and in some cases even benevolent with the beast acting as a guardian or guide ensuring travellers arrive at their destination safely.
Sometimes they have been reported by drivers who have seen them in their headlights in the road at night only to vanish when the vehicle is about to make contact.
There are also reports from many other parts of the world about similar ghostly encounters which suggest that the Black Dog is not just an Irish phenomenon.
Black dog story.
Norbury was also famous for convicting a young, recently married man from Blanchardstown, of stealing sheep, which was a crime worthy of the death sentence at that time. After he was hanged, the young man’s widow died shortly afterwards, but before passing away, cursed the judge on her deathbed. She vowed to return and haunt Norbury till the end of time, promising that she would never let him have a peaceful night’s sleep. Norsbury was said to have suffered from chronic insomnia after that, a deserving end to a brutal fiend.
Lord Norbury - the "Hanging Judge"
John Toler was born in Co. Tipperary in 1745. He was admitted to the bar in 1770, and as a strong supporter of the Government, he attained many offices, including that of Lord Chief Justice, and was eventually ennobled as the Earl of Norbury. He was also the Solicitor General and a member of Grattan's Parliament. Later by bribery and deception he reached the Bench to become a corrupt and fearsome judge. He had poor legal skills and used his power to intimidate lawyers and defendants with his sarcastic wit and twisted sense of humour. His courts were like a wild theatre. His most famous trial was that of Robert Emmet (1803), in which Norbury continually interrupted and abused Emmet when he was making his speech from the dock, before sentencing him to death.
Norbury wrongfully convicted an innocent young man from Blanchardstown of the capital crime of sheep-stealing. The man was hanged and his distraught widow survived him by just a few months. On her deathbed she cursed Norbury, vowing to haunt him from beyond the grave until the end of time, promising that she would never let him have another night’s sleep. Norbury was said to have suffered from chronic insomnia after that, a deserving end to a brutal man. On his own death, aged 85, Norbury was reportedly changed into a phantom black hound condemned to forever roam the streets of Cabra, dragging a hefty chain in his wake.
Daniel O'Connell despised him and initiated the investigation of his conduct during a trial in wich he fell asleep. He was eventually removed from the bench in 1827 due to his absent-mindedness and his inclination to fall asleep during important trials. He died in his home, number 3 Great Denmark Street, Dublin, on July 27th 1831 at the age of 85 years and was buried at St. Mary's Church, Mary Street, Dublin.
Even our literature giant James Joyce recalls the black dog, “with eyes like carriage lamps”, that patrolled the stairs of the Jesuit College in Kildare which Joyce attended.
Also known as the Coinn Iotair, Hounds of Rage, these were the legendary hunting dogs of Crom Dubh the ’Black Crooked One’.
The inspiration for the death-hound of Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles was the tale of a Dartmoor black dog.
MODDEY DHOO (Black Dog) was an Isle of Man black dog that roamed Peel Castle. Every night it warmed itself before the guard room fire, and at first the soldiers were afraid, but eventually they got used to it. Then one night, during the reign of Charles II, a drunken soldier boasted that he would patrol the castle alone, and dared the dog to accompany him on his rounds- he would find out whether it was a real animal or a demon. The ghastly dog arose from his place by the fire and followed the man. Fearful cries and screams issued from the corridor, but not a man dared venture from the room. The foolish soldier returned white and gibbering. He died three days later, never speaking of what he had seen. The black dog has not been seen since, but some say it still haunts the castle, unseen.
For he was speechless, ghastly, wan,
Like him of whom the story ran,
Who spoke the spectre hound in man.
Sir Walter Scott, The lay of the last minstrel, Canto VI, v.26.
Sunday, June 12, 2011
The Dog has not only been man’s closest companion for thousands of years but they have also provided him with many other things. It is probably our oldest domesticated animal and has shared our fires, guarded our homes and worked alongside us both to control livestock and assist in hunting. It has acted as an early alarm system, a reliable food source and even pulled carts. DNA evidence suggests wolves and dogs split into different species around 100,000 years ago; but whether humans had anything to do with that, no one really knows.
The guardianship aspect of dogs in Celtic life is amply illustrated by one of the stories of the early life of Cú Chulainn. In early Ireland the prefix 'Cú' (Hound of) was frequently used in Celtic names of heroes, to denote warrior status. The most famous, Cú Chulainn, which means the Hound of Culann, had a very special and close relationship with dogs. As a young boy, he is called Setanta, but he kills the huge guard dog of Culann the smith and, as a penance, he takes the dog's place and also his name.
This affinity with dogs recurs in the adult life of Cú Chulainn: he has a geis (a bond or taboo) on him that he must never eat hound-flesh. However, he is offered dog meat at a feast, and there is another geis on him never to refuse hospitality. He breaks the first rule and eats the meat; this act weakens the hero's supernatural strength and leads ultimately to his death.
The story is interesting, since it implies that dog meat was a traditional food for the early Celts; this is borne out by the archaeology of Iron Age Europe, where dog remains are part of food refuse on settlement sites. Yet at the same time, dog ritual was very prominent in Britain and Gaul, and there is evidence that dogs fulfilled a special role in Celtic religion.
Dogs were a necessity of life and were highly regarded, the symbol of the dog is commonly found in Celtic art, metalwork and decoration. In Celtic symbolism, dogs are a representation of heroism. They embody heart-pounding attributes such as: Courage, Persistence, and Virility. Dogs were even trained by the ancient Celts to assist in battle. Celtic dogs are also symbolic of healing. They are often associated with Noden, a Celtic god of nutritive waters, hunting and healing (water is often synonymous with healing in Celtic wisdom). Dogs have also been portrayed with Sucellus, the Celtic god of protection and provision (from an agricultural view).
Devoted hounds are often mentioned in Celtic myths, such as Bran and Sceolan which belonged to Finn mac Cumhail. Underworld hounds, such as the Welsh Cwn Annwn belonging to Arawn, are always white with red ears. The Underworld Hounds run down and punish the guilty. Dogs represent tracking skills, the ability to scent a trail, and companionship.
Some superstitions associated with dogs:
The dog was considered good luck by the village. Its companionship drove away loneliness and the signs of illness and rejection that loneliness brings.
The howling of the dog was considered as the first note of the funeral dirge and the signal that the coming of death was near.
A dog howling at night when someone in the house is sick is a bad omen.
It is remarkable that when dogs see spirits (and they are keenly sensitive to spirit influence) they never bark, but only growl.
Howling dogs mean the wind god has summoned death, and the spirits of the dead will be taken.
It was believed that dogs were capable of becoming ghosts after death.
In County Cork it was believed that some food should be thrown out of the room of the dying in order that the death hounds would be drawn away and not take the soul of the dead.
It was believed that dogs could foresee evil.
If you have your new-born baby licked by a dog, your baby will be a quick healer.
Dogs have always been credited with the power of sensing supernatural influences, and seeing ghosts, spirits, faeries or deities which are invisible to human eyes.
Fishermen traditionally regard dogs as unlucky and will not take one out in a boat, or mention the word 'dog' whilst at sea.
The sight of a dog eating grass, rolling on the floor or scratching itself excessively are all said to be omens that rain is imminent.
If several deaths occur in the same family, tie a black ribbon to everything left alive that enters the house, even dogs and chickens. This will protect against deaths spreading further.
A black dog was said to be a hag’s (witch’s) father.
Never ask a dog a question for if it answers you will die in the near future.
Dogs were feared as possible carriers of rabies; sometimes even a healthy dog was killed if it had bitten someone, because of the belief that if the dog later developed rabies, even many years afterwards, the bitten person would also be afflicted. Remedies for the bite of a mad dog often included the patient being forced to eat a part of the dog in question, such as its hairs or a piece of its cooked liver.
Dogs were also used to cure other illnesses; one old charm which was often used for healing sick children was to take some of the patient's hairs and feed them to a dog in between slices of bread and butter; the ailment was believed to transfer to the animal, healing the patient.
It is strange that although the dog is so faithful to man, it is never mentioned in the Bible without an expression of contempt; and Moses in his code of laws makes the dog an unclean animal, probably to deter the Israelites from the Egyptian worship of this animal. It was the lowest term of offence--" Is thy servant a dog?" False teachers, persecutors, Gentiles, unholy men, and others sunk in sin and vileness were called dogs; while at the same the strange prophetic power of these animals was universally acknowledged and recognized.
An old Irish folktale about the dog.
Once upon a time the cat and the dog had an argument about who should live inside the house with the humans. After many arguments in which they both put forward their various attributes they still could not decide so they agreed to a race. Whichever one reached the house first would be the winner. The dog was winning the race but stopped when he saw an old beggar he did not recognise and the dogs natural instinct was to attack anyone he did not know. The cat did not stop as we all know cats are only interested in their own comforts and don’t really bother with strangers. The cat reached the house first and the rest is history.
As with a lot of Irish animal superstitions there is mention of a black....
In this case the Black Dog. I will follow this post with one on the Black Dog.
Upper Image: Irish Red Setter.
Lower Image: Irish Wolfhound.
Monday, June 6, 2011
The Goat. Gabhar.
This horned, bearded, cloven-hoofed mammal (genus Capra) appears often in Celtic traditions, usually representing fertility.
In Irish folklore, a bocánach (goat-like being; goblin) is a goat-like supernatural being or demon who haunted the battlefield and shrieked over the warriors, often associated with the bánánach. Bocánachs shrieked in the air when Cúchulainn fought Ferdia.
The Glaistig, is a water faerie and is part seductive woman, part goat. The goat-like attributes she tries to hide under a long flowing green dress. The Glaistig lures men to dance with her before she feeds, vampire-like, on their blood. Her nature is typically faerie-perverse for she can also be benign and gently tend children or old people. She will also sometimes herd cattle for farmers.
The Glaistig was a solitary supernatural being known in both the Scottish Highlands and Ireland, with the upper half of a woman and the lower half of a goat, although she was also believed to appear in human and animal form. Her skin was grey, and long golden hair fell about her body. Like many of the fairy races she was often seen clothed in green, in the form of a long flowing robe, which covered her goat half.
She frequented the lonely loughs and rivers, and is sometimes describes as a half earth, half water sprite, although her name means literally 'water imp'.
The Glaistig was seen as both benevolent and malevolent towards humans. In one aspect she even takes the role of the Banshee, wailing at the death of important people. She was also thought of as a trickster - throwing stones and leading travellers astray from their paths. The Glaistig was also closely linked to cattle, and in some forms is seen as a herder of domestic cattle, and of wild deer. Libations of milk were poured for her, especially on selected stones(bullaun stones) this veneration may be linked with older fertility customs.
History of Ireland's oldest fair. The Puck Fair
Puck Fair can attribute is roots with Irish folklore and the story of King Puck. The story goes that many years ago Oliver Cromwell's men were moving through and plundering the areas of Kilogonet and Shanara near the base of Kerry's McGillycuddy Reeks. While doing this the men came upon a herd of goats, causing them to flee into the hills. At this time the head male goat "Puck" went on his own in a different direction to the herd making his way towards the town of Killorglin. His distraught appearance in the town gave the residents warning about the coming danger allowing the people to protect themselves. The people were so thankful to Puck for his help that they decided to honour him with a festival and thus Puck Fair was born, being held every year since.
This is just one of the stories that claim to be the origin of Puck Fair. There is no record that gives a precise date or reason for the fair's beginnings. However some evidence of a fair appears as far back as 1603 when King James I granted a fair in Killorglin as legal. Whatever the true reason for the Puck Fair may be it can definitely be said that this is Killorglin's most anticipated yearly event.
Lugh has given his name to the month of August in Irish, Lughnasa (Lúnasa), the month of Lugh, the time of the great pagan festivals in his honour. This is still recalled symbolically today in the festival of Puck Fair in Killorglin in Kerry, where a buck goat, representing fertility, is raised aloft and crowned throughout the duration of the celebrations.
Superstition regards the goat with some caution, partly because of the ancient worship of the god Pan who was half-goat and half-man, and partly because one of the tricks attributed to the Devil is the ability to turn himself into a Goat.
Since ancient times the devil has appeared as a goat with horns and cloven hooves. In England and Scotland it is said that goats will never be seen for 24 consecutive hours because once a day they visit Satan to have their beards combed.
Not all goat folklore is negative and in some cases goats are regarded as beneficial or even lucky. A widespread belief among European farmers was that keeping goats among a herd of cattle would prevent contagious abortion - attributed to the protective nature of the goat’s strong smell. Goats were also kept with horses to keep them content. A tame goat was also used to lead troublesome horses to embark on ships. Similarly, trained ‘Judas’ goats were often used in abattoirs to lead livestock to slaughter.
Goats were also regarded as guardians of treasure - meeting a black goat on a lonely bridle path meant that treasure was hidden nearby. Goats could also be omens of good fortune. It was considered good luck to meet a goat when setting out on an important journey or meeting and in Wales a bride would be granted good luck if the first thing she saw on emerging from church after her wedding was a tethered goat.
Goats' milk can be beneficial for those who are sensitive to other milks and has long been valued for its excellent medicinal and skin enhancing qualities. Irish folklore holds the belief that goats' milk enhances beauty.
A goat's foot or some hairs from his beard are believed to be talismans for driving off evil spirits.
In Ireland it was believed that goats could see the wind and knew when bad weather was coming.
A cure for baldness was to fill a goat’s bladder with human urine, dry it out over a fire, then grind it down and rub into the scalp with raw onions. Presumably the goat was dead (I hope so). How on earth did people come up with these cures?
Goat milk was able to offer some resistance to tuberculosis and was thought to be a cure for eczema.
The Talmud explains that the biblical description of a land "flowing with milk and honey" actually refers to goats foraging in fig trees. The figs were so ripe that sweet juice (called fruit honey) dripped everywhere, and the goats were so well-nourished their udders overflowed with milk. The milk and honey literally spilled across the land.
The Old French word for slaughtering and cutting up meat is boucheron, from the term for a he-goat, bouc. It is also the root of the English words "butcher," "buck" (a male goat), and, perhaps, the slang term "butch."
Goats metabolise and process the yellow-and orange-coloured carotenes found in plants much more efficiently than cows, which is the reason the milk is white, not cream-coloured, and the fat is colourless (a drawback for butter).
In Ireland , one of our oldest traditional instruments the Bodhrán (Bow-Rawn) (a one sided drum), is made from Goatskin and treated by a traditional process. This ancient frame drum is traditionally made with a wooden body and a goat skin head.
The Bodhrán Song (When I Grow Up)
Oh, I am a year old kid, I'm worth scarcely twenty quid,
I'm the kind of beast that you might well look down on.
But my value will increase at the time of my decease,
When I grow up I want to be a bodhran.
If you kill me for my meat, you won't find me very sweet,
Your palate, I'm afraid, I'd soon turn sour on.
But if you do me in for the sake of my thick skin,
You'll find I'll make a tasty little bodhran.
Now my parents, Bill and Nan, they do not approve my plan,
To become a yoke for everyone to pound on.
But sure I would sooner scamper with a bang than with a whimper,
And achieve reincarnation as a bodhran.
I look forward to the day when I leave off eating hay,
And become a drum to entertain a crowd on.
And I'll make my presence felt with each well-delivered belt,
As a fully qualified and licensed bodhran.
And 'tis when I'm killed and cured, my career will be assured,
I'll be a skin you see no scum nor scour on.
But with studs around my rim, I'll be sound in wind and limb,
And I'll make a handy dandy little bodhran.
Oh, my heart with joy expands, when I dream of far off lands,
And consider all the streets that I will sound on.
And I pity my poor Ma, who was never at a fleadh,
Or indulged in foreign travel as a bodhran.
For a hornpipe or a reel, a dead donkey had no feel,
Or a horse or cow or sheep that has its shroud on.
And you can't join in a jig, if you're a former grade A pig,
But you can wallop out the lot if you're a bodhran.
And I don't think that I'll much mind, when I've left meself behind,
Or regret I can no longer turn the power on,
For with my Celtic Inc. design tattooed on my behind,
I can be a very sexy little bodhran.
Now I think I've had enough, of the rubbishy auld guff,
So I'll put a sudden end to this wee ahmran
Quite soon my b-b-bleat, will become a steady beat,
When I start my new existence as a bodhran.
Saturday, June 4, 2011
This bird has a reputation for being the wisest of birds and yet it has also developed a bad reputation that stems from the fact that it is a solitary bird that has a nocturnal existence. It has been suggested that it is for this reason that it has been associated with the hours of night time when the darker forces are said to walk the earth. It has even been said that to see one during the day is a sign of bad luck. The Barn Owl is now on the Red List as a threatened species due to many factors such as loss of habitat, road accidents and changes in agricultural practice. They mate for life so the loss of a mate is devastating.
Should an owl brush its wings against a window pain or be seen perching for a considerable length of time on a roof then it is traditionally believed that illness and even death is present within.
To look into an owl's nest is reputed to leave the observer with a sad and morose soul.
According to an old Welsh tradition if you hear an owl hooting amongst a densely built up area then a female in the locality is said to have just lost her virginity!
A dead owl has served many purposes including mixing some of the flesh with boar's grease as an ointment to ease the pain of gout.
Owl broth was once used to feed children to avoid whooping cough according to tradition.
The eggs were also once thought to help prevent epilepsy, bad sight (for obvious reasons) and to bring drunks back to their senses.
An Owl that enters the house must be killed at once, for if it flies away it will take the luck of the house with it.
To counter evil owl power put irons in your fire. Or throw salt, hot peppers or vinegar into the fire, the owl will get a sore tongue, hoot no more, and no one close to you will be in trouble.
When you hear an owl, take off your clothes, turn them inside out and put them back on. You might not want to do this if you are in public.
Any man who eats roasted owl will be obedient and a slave to his wife. Be sure to check the turkey??
Many people used to believe that owls swooped down to eat the souls of the dying. If they heard an owl hooting, they would become frightened. A common remedy was thought to be turning your pockets inside out and you would be safe.
Due to the Barn Owls eerie appearance, its habit of screeching and nesting in old abandoned buildings and churches people believed it was associated with ghosts and death.
Witches were thought to transform into owls and suck the blood of babies.
It was believed you could discover a person's secrets by placing a feather or part of an owl on him while sleeping.
The Custom of nailing an Owl to a barn door to ward off evil and lightning persisted into the 19th century.
I Talk With the Moon.
I talk with the moon, said the owl
While she lingers over my tree
I talk with the moon, said the owl
And the night belongs to me.
I talk with the sun, said the wren
As soon as he starts to shine
I talk with the sun, said the wren
And the day is mine.
Thursday, June 2, 2011
The Wolf. Madadh-alluidh (the wild dog).
The pagan reverence for the wolf and its association with many goddess cults led to a backlash of hostility from patriarchal religious leaders who sought to corrupt the spiritual connection with wolves into something evil and frightening.
Not at all the picture of ferocity or terror, the Wolf is a creature with a high sense of loyalty and strength. Another misconception is that of the “lone wolf.” To the contrary, the Wolf is actually a social creature, friendly, and gregarious with its counterparts. It is a highly sociable animal and many legends tell of the she-wolf nurturing human infants (King Cormac of Ireland, Romulus and Remus of Rome).
The wolf has been extinct in Ireland for centuries and you won’t find much in the way of Irish folklore although it is mentioned in a number of placenames. I have a post (20th August 2010) that tells the story of The Wolves of Ossory. It tells of the people of Ossory who were cursed by a local saint.
Conor-Anglicized form of the Gaelic name Conchobhar which means "dog lover" or "wolf lover". It has been in use in Ireland for centuries and was the name of several Irish kings. It was also borne by the legendary Ulster king Conchobar mac Nessa, known for his tragic desire for Deirdre.
The wolf was a companion of Cernunnos and figures on the cauldron of Gundestrup.
Some people believed that the wolf uses ravens to guide them to food and ravens will follow wolves for the same reason and because of this there is a powerful connection between the two.
As a Celtic symbol, the Wolf was a source of lunar power. Celtic lore states that the Wolf would hunt down the sun and devour it at each dusk so as to allow the power of the moon to come forth. Wolves were a symbol of those who lived close to nature and of courage and bravery. It has been suggested that the Celts cross bred the wolf with hounds in order to create a powerful hunting dog (slaughter hound) that could also be used in battle as a fighting hound.
Wolves remained in Ireland until the last one was killed in 1786. In a short period of time, they went from being plentiful to being hunted to extinction in Ireland. “Mac Tíre” is the Gaelic for wolf which literally translates as “Son of the Land" or “Son of Wolf”.
The Celts used to sit on the pelts of wolves whilst dining and there was a folk belief that the pelt of a wolf could cure epilepsy.
Wolf teeth were rubbed on the gums of babies when teething.
Wolves teeth were considered extremely powerful as a talisman and were worn as charms.
During the middle ages wolves were thought to have magical powers.
It was once believed that if a horse stepped in a wolf print then it would be crippled.
It was also believed that to look into the eyes of a wolf could cause you to go blind.
Some people believed that the wolf sharpened its teeth before it went hunting.
Dead wolves were buried at the entrance to a village and this acted as a deterent to wolf attacks.
People travelling through wooded areas were often wary of wolf attacks (at one time Ireland was covered in forestry). Stone shelters were sometimes built in order to offer some protection and the modern word “loop hole” is derived frop “loup hole” or wolf hole. This was a spyhole in the wall of the shelter from which you could look out for wolves.
There have been many stories written about the wolf and how it has been perceived to be an evil and threatening beast. However, we should also remember that the wolf is the symbol that Baden-Powell used for the Boy Scout movement and he called the children wolf-cubs and the cub-leader Akela after the wolf pack leader in Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book.
Just because we do not understand something we should not fear or reject it rather we should try to learn from it and only in that way can we begin to understand its true nature. This is a lesson that we should all learn.
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
The Rat. Francach.
The Irish name Francach derives from the belief that the rat originally came here from France during the Anglo-Norman invasion. It is also known in ancient Ireland as Luch (the same word for mouse) although to distinguish them they were also called Luch mór (big mouse) while the mouse was Luch beag (small mouse). You could say it was the original invasive species as is witnessed from the way it has spread across the world.
Rats are known as relentless survivalists that can adapt too many conditions. Their ability to breed and overrun a place along with their association with disease has made them almost universally reviled. Certainly a few enthusiasts enjoy the charms of these clever and prolific mammals, but most people cringe in their presence.
Fear of rats has been a longstanding attitude throughout history. As they were hated and loathed so much it is not surprising that most of the folklore concerning rats concerns different ways to get rid off them.
Since ancient times rats have been associated with the souls of people. Their supernatural character caused them to be regarded as ominous creatures that sometimes had foreknowledge of disaster. This is most frequently illustrated by reports of rats abandoning ships before putting to sea. When this happens, sailor superstition holds that the ship is doomed.
The dread of rats is not limited to seafaring folk. Rats are often the creatures in legends that act as agents of vengeance for murdered souls. A very gruesome story from Germany tells of how the Bishop Hatto of Mayence locked starving people in a barn during a famine in 970 and set the building on fire to reduce the number of hungry people in the region (very Chistian of him). There is no historical record to confirm this horrible story and there is no account of the supposed army of rats that hunted down the Bishop and killed him, but it makes a good story.
Gaelic poets were said to be able to banish or kill rats with the power of their verse. Their power was even mentioned by Shakespeare in As you like it. It was even believed that you could even banish them by writing them a letter (if only that was true).
A great increase in the number of rats foretells a war.
If a rat gnaws your clothing, you will soon remove your furniture from that house.
Always drop a baby's tooth into a rat hole and the new tooth will be beautiful.
If a rat finds a tooth that you have thrown away, you will get a rat tooth (sort of cancels out the previous).
If you see rats leaving a building, it will soon burn.
It is the sign of good luck to have a rat jump out of a drawer that you have opened (I don't think so).
Rats will desert a doomed ship.
In County Wexford rats were considered a sign of war as they attacked Kilmore before the war of 1641 when they ran through all the houses. They had not been seen there before.
It was an old superstition among sailors that rats deserted a ship before she set out on a voyage that was to end in her sinking(as mentioned above).
Rats will not remain in a cellar where there is a mole(there are no moles in Ireland, so beware of the cellar).
To drive away rats, singe the hair from one rat and turn it loose.
You may look for bad luck, if rats cut your clothes.
It is the sign of a cave-in, if a white rat is seen in a coal mine.
You should never mend any clothes that a rat has gnawed, for it will bring you bad luck.
"I smell a rat." I perceive there is something concealed which is mischievous. The allusion is to a cat smelling a rat.
The famous tale of the Pied Piper of Hamelin is a great example of how music is supposedly able to charm rats. In 1284, the Pied Piper supposedly emptied the town of rats by playing his pipe.
The beady eyes and scuttling gate of rats will likely maintain their unpopularity among people. They will continue to breed and cause problems for humans particularly as we have now supplied them with lovely comfy homes due to this new craze of wooden decking in the garden coupled with the creation of composting areas by people who are untrained in the art.
Add to this the now prevalent build up of black plastic bags containing waste in our rural areas as people wait until they have sufficient to make a trip to the land fill viable (we are no longer allowed to burn or bury our waste) and we have created rat heaven.
As you can guess I am no lover of rats or the lack of education from the local councils around the country pertaining to waste disposal or the lack of facilities in order to dispose of such things as domestic waste if you are unable to avail of a refuse collection service (a common rural problem.
Oak. Duir. June10th-July7th.
People born under the sign of the Oak are caring, generous and helpful. They have a strong spirit and make the best of every situation. Oak people have a great sense of humour and fair play and will often speak up for those who are classed as the underdogs. They are the eternal optimists, deeply philosophical and truthful, a little indiscrete and prone to exaggeration and a little vanity.
If born under this sign you have the ability to be a great leader as people will be drawn to your magnetic personality and integrity, however beware of that eternal optimism because it may be the cause of some disappointment, not everything works out just because you wish it.
You may attract powerful friends but do not be too trusting, you have a habit of taking people on face value. You can be vulnerable because of this trusting nature both in love and business so beware. People born under this sign also love to share their knowledge with others especially knowledge of the past, they are very interested in history, archaeology and genealogy and they make very good teachers. They need structure in their lives and will go to great lengths to achieve control over their own destiny. You will live a long, happy life surrounded by a strong family and you will be involved within your community.
You may also possess artistic talent especially in the fields of music or literacy and the older you get the better you get so don’t worry about those who appear to surpass you early on, you’re staying power will prove stronger in the end. One little bit of advice. Carry an acorn in your pocket as it will bring you good luck in all your endeavours.
Remember this may not be true for all born under this sign. It is only meant as a bit of craic and is simply a guide on many paths you may choose to follow.