The Scribe in Me.

The Scribe in Me.

Travels & Trevails.

 

Travel makes you modest, you see

what a tiny place you occupy in the world.

Here are some of my travels and trevails

on life's journey...

Ballinver Standing Stone.

This week, those of us in lockdown have been given new freedoms we move from 5k to anywhere within the county and or 20km from home if it is in the next county, such liberation. To mark this rite of passage I’ve decided to revisit the nearest megalith to where I live which just happens to be within the 5km boundary. It is nice too to be able to celebrate this stone in a public forum, so many of our sites go undocumented, and I’ve known people who lived beside standing stones for over 30 years and never visit them.

This standing stone may in fact be the place where the Druid Ferchais killed the High King Lughaid Mac Con.

I have a little ritual of course when I visit stones. I take a little quartz stone (that represents my troubles) and leave it at the base of the monument, give it back to the earth so to speak. Then I simply touch the megalith and bring some of its stalwart presence away home with me for the next while. Sometimes I put in a mighty effort, deliberately seeking out sunrise aligned sites, other times sunset ones, depending on my mood and the weather. Although I am convinced every standing stone is aligned with something so it is of no consequence. (I've been known to drive to Wicklow for the sunrise)

The stone in question, which is outstanding in its field, (boom boom) is in my neighbouring townland of Ballinvir. “There stands here, in a fence, a pillar stone of large size and remarkable appearance.” [1] This standing stone may in fact be the place where the Druid Ferchais killed the High King Lughaid Mac Con. This one though is particularly fascinating. It is an intriguingly simple monument, in the shadow of Slievenamon. It is easily accessible from a public road, just a little climb over a gate really. The druid in me knows that it is special and the amateur archaeologist in me deigns it impossible to ascertain its alignment to a landmark or other site, the light being too low on a cloudy day. There is a lovely ash plantation in a neighbouring field and Slievenamon is just there. It seems to have cup marks, which might just simply be erosion and probably is. They could be spear marks too. In Gaelic it is “Bhaile an Bhioraigh” translated as “Town of the morass.” [2]

When it comes to standing stones it is safe to assume that they are not just erratic glacial scree (though not always) and that they did not grow out of the ground whereupon they stand. They were placed there by persons unknown and for a reason. Some mark boundaries, others milking places, some have a ritual purpose, some are oath stones, other stones like the Lia Fáil for example even speak. So it is safe to say all of them have a useful application. We know of “Roan Rí Oilech i.e. a king (rí) that put rocks (aile) of stones into menhirs, and he got the name Aillech from the rocks of stones which were put by him into menhirs. Hence Aillech 'rocky' was said of him.” [3]

I'd no sooner traversed the gate when I was startled by the crack of gunshot. Now the landowner knows of my fascination and he has no problem with me visiting, so I wasn’t concerned about being chased off the land. And I have been chased off land, called a banshee etc, but that is another story. Some gobshite was hunting game, or culling deer or target practicing for some subversive organisation. I found a button here once with the French Foreign Legion insignia on it.

This stone is situated close to an ancient highway that ran from Magh Femhin via the Gap of Rath Clarish to Newtown Lennan and the Deise. It is close to a site recorded in the annals as Athnacarbed known today as Templemichael. In the Visitations of Elizabeth the church of Athnacarbad is twice placed between Grangemockler and Newtown Lennon.

Who was Lughaid Mac Con? And why do I think this is the place where he might have met his demise at the hands of Ferchais the Druid? The Dáirine were rulers of Munster before the rise of the Eóganachta in the 7th century AD. According to the Táin Bó Flidais, they were one of the three warrior-races (Laech-Aicmi) of Ireland. Mac Con had a noble pedigree, his mother Sadb (ingen) Chuinn was a daughter of Conn of the Hundred Battles, a High King of Ireland. Her brother was Art (mac) Cuinn, also became a High King of Ireland, while her sister Sáruit married Conaire Cóem of the Érainn, who was High King before him. Sadb is described as "one of the four best women that man ever lay with". [4] His father was Macnia mac Lugdach, prince of the Dáirine.

After Macnia died, Sadb married Ailill Aulom, (Ailill of the one ear) king of Munster. He was the son of Mug Nuadat and king of the southern half of Ireland in the 3rd century. One fine summer after a drought he was short of grass. Fearing the loss of his herds and starvation he consulted the Druids. Ferchais suggested he go to Knockainey at Samhain Eve a site associated with harvest and Lugh and the Goddess Áine of plentiful crops and fertility. He forced himself upon her, as defence she bit off his ear, and thus his nickname Aulum "one-eared". A king was required to be “unblemished" and by maiming him so, Áine rendered him unfit to be king. Ailill retaliated and thrust his five-barbed poisoned spear at her and drove it through her to the ground killing her. The spear struck a stone and thus became bent and he tried to straighten it with his teeth.

It was forbidden to strike a woman with a spear, or strike a stone with a spear or to place it under a tooth in order to straighten it. All of these things were taboo. The poison in the barb of the spear entered Ailill's tooth and did him great harm, corrupting his breath, and blackened his tooth, and he had a poisonous tooth thereafter. It is said that he nearly went mad from the venom and definitely went blind. He lived to a good old age nonetheless, thirty years before he became king, thirty years in kingship, and thirty years after his kingship.

He divided the kingdom between his sons Éogan Mór, Cormac Cas, and Cian. Éogan founded the dynasty of the Eóganachta. Sadb's son Lugaid mac Con, Ailill's foster-son, became High King of Ireland. Lugaid Mac Con’s name translates as “Hound’s son”. There lived a hound named Eloir the Red in Ailill’s homestead. As a baby Lugaid crawled around after the hound and would nuzzle up against its belly and that is how he earned that name.

There was a covenant between Lugaid and Ailill Aulum and between their offspring after them that whenever Aulum's offspring held the kingship, Lugaid's offspring should hold the judgeship; but when Lugaid's offspring held the kingship, Aulum's sons were to hold the judgeship. Lugaid and Ailill made this arrangement in the presence of Conn of the hundred battles over one half of Ireland. Thus the men of Leinster and Munster held kingship and judgeship. “Over one half of Ireland, that is to say, over Leinster and Munster, they held kingship and judgeship.” [5]

Mac Con reigned for thirty years when he first became king with his step brothers as allies. He was a noted warrior; “It was heavy work to wage an equal battle with Mac Con; there was no one in Ireland with his splendour.” [6] He killed his step brothers, the seven sons of Ailill, and his mother’s brother, Art son of Conn, in the battle of Mucrime. They found a musical instrument at a waterfall in Ess Mage. This instrument, a harp had threads of silver and pegs of gold, and they fight between them for the possession of this harp with Lugaid the victor. He was exiled from Ireland for this indiscretion and spent seven years in Alba.

While there he formed an alliance with Benne Brit, the King of Britain’s son and raised an army and returned home. During the Battle of Maigh Mucruimhe he killed Art and became High King. He ruled for a further thirty years until he was ousted by Art’s son Cormac, after which he sought refuge back in Munster with his own people.

Not quite forgiven by his foster father Ailill Aulom, Mac Con was bitten by his poison tooth as they embracedat their reunion. His mother counseled him to leave. Ferchais was despatched to take revenge on him for having killed Éogan Mór. Ferchis found Lugaid Mac Con standing with his back to a standing stone near Athnacarbad, and killed him with a spear.

In the Visitations of Elizabeth the church of Athnacarbad is twice placed between Grangemockler and Newtown Lennon. This is thought to be the modern day Templemichael close to the Ballinvir menhir. [7]. Mac Con had two sons, Fothad Cairpthech and Fothad Airgthech, who would later be joint High Kings. It is entirely likely that this is the stone where Mac Con met his fate; it is most certainly a contender. Either way, it is a fine stone and I left my troubles there.

Sources.

1. http://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/patrick-power/the-place-names-of-decies-ewo/page-32-the-place-names-of-decies-ewo.shtml

2. http://ancienttexts.org/library/celtic/ctexts/fitness_of_names.html

3. http://www.logainm.ie/en/47410?s=Ballinvir

4. Anne Connon, "A Prosopography of the Early Queens of Tara", in Edel Bhreathnach (ed.), The Kingship and Landscape of Tara. Dublin: Four Courts Press for The Discovery Programme. 2005. pp. 225–327

5. https://www.ancienttexts.org/library/celtic/ctexts/moshaulum.html

6. https://celt.ucc.ie/published/T302010/text001.html

7. Power, Patrick, The Place-Names of Decies (Nutt, London, 1907).

This standing stone may in fact be the place where the Druid Ferchais killed the High King Lughaid M

Kilcash Romanesque Church.

Kilcash Church lies on the slopes of Slievenamon on the Plain of Fémen in Co. Tipperary, Ireland. It is a Romanesque Church that dates from the 6th century and is dedicated to St Colman ua hEirc. Both the Plain of Fémen and Colman ua hEirc have strong associaltions with the Goddess and Saint Brigid.

The church is of the nave-and-chancel type. Beside it stands the Medieval and imposing Tower House that is Kilcash Castle. Within the graveyard lie the remains of some of the Butlers of Ormond, including Margaret Butler, Lady Iveagh (d. 1744) about whom the song 'Caoine Cill Cháis - Lament for Kilcash' was penned.

It is situated within the 2.5km restrictive Covid distance as the crow flies from my house. And it was to there I escaped the other day, when I needed to get out of the house and away from the troubles that had addled my head. Seeking refuge in an ancient graveyard and churchsite did strike me as ironic in these Covid times.

We are on the eve of Bealtaine, the cross quarter day that is midway between the Spring Equinox and the Midsummer Solstice. Its name is derived from the Gaelic for Brigid and Fire so it is no wonder I'd be drawn there really.  How lucky am I though to live so close to here?  It is as good a place as any to escape to. I met no one, well no one from this world anyway. I did invoke Brigid for protection though, as I often do. 

St Colman ua hEirc is translated as 'beautiful, bright Colman, Erc's descendant.' The Erc being St Erc of Slane a native of Munster who is believed to have been a druid and the only member of King Laoghaire's retinue to pay homage to Saint Patrick during the latter's confrontation with the druids at the Hill of Slane in that infamous showdown in 433. The annals tell us that Patrick converted him to Christianity and made him a Bishop, of course he did, Erc was already highly revered. Before St Patrick died in 461, he sent Bishop Erc back to Munster. Around the year 484, Brigit of Kildare was his travelling companion to his native province.

He is described as 'was an intimate friend of St. Brigid. At the synod of Mag-Femyn, ( Plain of Fémen) in Tipperary, it is related that Erk spoke highly of the great abbess of Kildare, and of the miraculous favours with which she was endowed by the Almighty.'  Some sources say that Brigid may even have been Colman's mother, or that she played a part in his conception at any rate. It is possible, since the abbatial succession in Irish monasteries was often kept within families. Mag-Femyn, (Fémen) in Tipperary is named after Brigid's sacred cows Fé and Men who grazed there. They were white cows with red ears.  St. Brigid was said to have travelled the land of Ireland in the company of these cows and it is believed that the animal not only sustained Brigid but also the poor she encountered on her travels.

These days the sun sets over Slievenamon and the Bealtaine sunsets have been stunning. The mountain is steeped in folklore and is associated with Fionn mac Cumhaill. On its summit are the remains of ancient burial cairns, which were seen as portals to the Otherworld. Two of the burial cairns (there are four in total) on the mountain are called Síd ar Femin (Sí ar Feimhin, the "fairy mound over Femen") and Sí Ghamhnaí ("fairy mound of the calves"). They were seen as the abodes of gods and entrances to the Otherworld. One of the burial cairns is said to be the abode of the god Bodhbh Dearg, son of the Dagda. Brigid is also a Daughter of the Dagda and I think that it is over one of these mounds the calf one maybe that the sun sets at Bealtaine, at least it seems so from my humble observations.

I leave you with a Brigid Blessing;

Smúraidh mi an tula mar a smúradh Brighde Muime.  Ainm naomh na Muime Bhith mu'n tula, bhith mu'n tán, bhith mu'n ardraich uile.

I will smoor the hearth as Brighid the Fostermother would smoor.  The Fostermother's holy name Be on the hearth, be on the herd, be on the household all.

 

Further Reading.

Rev. A. Cogan, The Diocese of Meath Ancient and Modern. Vol. I. (Dublin and London, 1862), 59-61.

Celtic Women by Peter Berresford Ellis ISBN 0-8028-3808-1

http://omniumsanctorumhiberniae.blogspot.com/2014/12/saint-colman-ua-heirc-december-5.html

 

 

The Divine Goddess at Huntington Castle

Being of Ireland an island of mysticism and Goddess energy, it is no surprise that I’d be drawn to a female deity or at least the concept of one. I could never fully reconcile in myself, even after studying the Humanities, the notion of a threesome of maleness in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I always found myself searching for a Goddess energy in there for balance and symmetry. We are all born of a woman are we not?

I do not claim to understand the nature of divinity, nor do I even claim to be fully sold on the notion of divinity either, nor of one supreme being, but, I do leave the door open for it to be a possibility, for even science cannot rule out God. That said I do believe there is within each of us, a guiding force, a superintendent energy that causes us to live the way we do. Traditionally that would be known as conscience and traditionally and historicallly, in our modern patriarchal society, God and divinity has displayed itself as a masculine force. For me it is not exclusively male, there also exists a divine feminine.

In Ireland with Christianity superimposed upon our Druidic ways, Goddess and female powerhouses are very prevalent in our collective psyche. There are in our myths, several examples of strong, powerhouses of women who formed us, created our landscape, named our country, formed our laws, deigned our unions, married our High Kings, control our seasons and visit us annually in blessing and benevolence. Ireland is also the place where the principle of a Divine Feminine based religion was formed, with its Mecca being in Huntington Castle, Co Carlow, and the Temple of the Goddess.

The Divine Feminine is a sacred and dare I say it, a sensual force. The concept isn’t necessarily seen, but rather, it is something that is felt deep within us. It is a healing and a nurturing energy, intangible in a sense, yet mighty and affirming. The energy of it is in tune with Mother Earth, the changing seasons and the moon and planetary alignments.

In some sense our connection to the Divine Feminine hides in the shadows. We’ve forgotten, in this world that serves commerce, what it means to live by Divine Feminine principles and natural law and to be in tune with the rhythms of Mother Earth. Our lives are busy, we spend our days juggling balls in the air, whilst commuting to and from work, weeks meld into months, and sometimes we are like hamsters on the treadmill of life. So when I got a chance to spend a weekend away with two friends from school, well I grab it with both hands and chart my course. Where did we head for, but Huntington Castlein Co. Carlow, and it proved a great opportunity to nurture body and soul.

Huntington Castle is the ancient seat of the Esmonde family, Norman settlers who arrived in 1192. The castle which was constructed in 1625, firstly as a garrison, on the strategically important route from Wexford to Dublin eventually became the family home. Subsequent generations of the family added various extensions and details giving the effect of a truly unique and interesting building. The family name has changed twice due to inheritance down the female line and the present family name is Durdin Robertson, all are direct descendants of the Esmondes and today three generations of the family still live in the castle.

In the 1970’s the basement was converted into a temple to the Egyptian Goddess Isis, honouring the divine feminine. The Temple of the Goddess celebrates the divine feminine and is housed in the basement of the castle. It is fascinatingly eclectic and inspiring. It previously housed the dungeons, strongroom, old kitchen and well but in 1976 it became the foundation centre for the Fellowship of the Goddess. There is the sacred well of St Brigid, a main altar as well as dozens of other side altars reflecting different goddesses. The Fellowship sought to promote the female aspect of divinity and was founded by Olivia Robertson with her brother Lawrence (Derry) and Derry's wife Bobby. Today the Temple is at the heart of a recognised world religion with thousands of members from all over the world.

It is a special spot, no doubt about it, in the grounds are an ancient abbey and a yew walk as well as tearooms, a craft shop and delightful gardens which sweep down to the river, and peacocks on the lawn. It would do your soul good without any deities being present. We stayed in the 17th century gate lodge and were made to feel very welcome by Alex Durdin Robertson, his castle was our castle, and our host could not do enough for us. The weekend away ended all too soon, and weeks later and I still feel the benefit of the place.

Saintes be Praised.

I have become a nomad, wandering aimlessly through France. I short of shunt from cathedral to cathedral, sunny spot to sunny spot, camp site to camp site. Will this quest never end? I have to admit that I never tire of them, what my brother calls ‘old buildings’. It is not so much the old buildings that fascinate me, though they are very interesting, but more the medieval iconography depicted in them. I love deciphering the symbolism.

Saintes had a world of surprises. Massive east windows with glass intact, a carved tomb slab of a medieval lady in costume of the time, so like a tomb in lady in Jerpoint Abbey in Co Kilkenny. There was half a knight, obviously he was vandalised during the Protestant wars. Immediately I wanted to know more about him, who the effigy depicted, why he was destroyed etc. At times like this I wish my French stretched beyond my few pigeon phrases. Of course I love the flamboyant style of architecture, so named from the French flamboyant, "flaming" as I’ve mentioned before, I keep trying to find another Kilcooley Window. Sigh, one of these days.

And unexpectedly I found a mermaid carving and those are always a delight. It was a pleasure to wander her ancient streets and stumble upon the ancient Roman remains also. The Arch of Germanicus for example, how wondrous and how noble a construct is that? It was built around 18BC by a rich citizen of the town. In Roman times, Saintes was known as Mediolanum Santonum, and during much of its history, the name of the city was spelled Xaintes and Xainctes. It was dedicated to the emperor Tiberius, his son Drusus Julius Caesar, and his adoptive son Germanicus. It has two bays and was originally sited over the terminus of the Roman road from Lyon to Saintes. You’d have to feel privileged to stand in the shadow of that arch.

I stopped in Bordeaux enroute there, the most radioactive city in the world. It’s something to do with the amount of nuclear power stations near the city. It did take the gloss of it for me a bit I have to admit. I did go to visit Bordeaux Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-André de Bordeaux) the place where in 1137 the 13-year-old Eleanor of Aquitaine married the future Louis VII, a few months before she became Queen. Fontevraud Abbey near Chinon is where she is buried and where her effigy lies. She married two Kings and was mother to three more. That is pretty impressive.

Arch of Germanicus