The Scribe in Me.

The Scribe in Me.

 

Bucket Lists

 

Bucket Lists are the means by which I set the goals, dreams and aspirations of places I want to see and experience. 

Below my list, ticked as achieved with accounts of those visits and experiences.

January 2020 Bucket List

 

1. The Helix, Home of the Kelpies, Falkirk, Scotland. (Tick)

2. Abernethy Round Tower & Symbol Stone, Kinross, Scotland. (Tick)

3. Brechin Cathedral Round Tower, Angus, Scotland. (Tick)

4. Tobar Bhríde, Co Kildare, Ireland. (Tick)

5. Janus Figures, Boa Island in Lough Erne in Co Fermanagh.

6. Cathair Crobh Dearg, Co Kerry, Ireland

7. Sky Garden, Skibereen, Co Cork, Ireland,

8. The Yew Tree, Muckross Abbey, Co Kerry, Ireland.

9. Aberlemno Sculptured Stones, Aberlemno, Angus, Scotland.

10.  The source of the Nire River, Co Waterford, Ireland.

12. Tobar Segais, Co Kildare, Ireland. 

13. Mary Magdaline stuff in Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume, France.

14. Tory Island, Donegal, Ireland.

 

 

 

4. Tobar Bhríde,

Co Kildare, Ireland.

(Tick)

I visited this site on a sunny spring afternoon. There was just me and Brigid. She is the Celtic goddess of fire, poetry, unity, childbirth and healing and daughter of Dagda. 

The well is fed by a spring that flows underground before appearing again under a stone archway. The stones below the archway are known as St Brigid's slippers. It is a very peaceful place and I left an offering and took away some water. 

 

 

3. Brechin Cathedral Round Tower,

Angus, Scotland.

(Tick)

There are only three round towers in existence outside of the Island of Ireland; they are a uniquely Irish construct and export. Two are in Scotland and one is on the Isle of Man. Earlier this year I found myself exploring Brechin in Angus in Scotland where stands one of the two very fine examples of round towers in Scotland.They were called cloichtheach in Gaelic, which means bell-house. Their functions are shrouded in mystery though and none of them contain bells, so perhaps that is a misnomer. They are thought to have acted as libraries and treasuries; and places of refuge in times of trouble. They are sited at monastic settlements of note and most date back to the Viking era, late 800’s early 900’s. The origins of Brechin Cathedral are thought to date back to around 600AD. By the late 800s it seems that a religious order known as the Céli Dé (or Culdees) had set up a church in Brechin.

I love these Celtic sites; they always had an older pre-Christian origin. This Cathedral contains many interesting artefacts, including Pictish art inscribed stones, Celtic Crosses and a Viking Hogback Stone. Óengus the Culdee lived in the last quarter of the 8th century and is best known as the author of the Félire Óengusso "the Martyrology of Óengus". He founded Dísert Óengusa near Croom in AD 780. Maelruan, under whom Oengus lived, drew up a rule for the Culdees of Tallaght that prescribed their prayers, fasts, devotions, confession, and penances. Fedelmid mac Crimthainn king of Munster (820–846) was said to have been a prominent Culdee. In Scotland, Culdees were more numerous than in Ireland, and was one of the chief houses in Scotland. The Culdees occupied sites that had a Druidical reputation. They wore white like the Druids and utilised many pagan symbols. They had a tradition of hereditary priesthood. They had female sanctuaries, male only sanctuaries and even mixed ones.

The tower was originally free-standing, but is now incorporated in the framework of the cathedral. Brechin round tower is 106 feet from base to tip. There are seven floors, the third and fourth floors have small windows facing east and south and the top floor has four windows. The doorway of Brechin round tower is unique in construction, and the rich decoration is also unique.

 

 

2. Abernethy Round Tower & Symbol Stone,

Kinross, Scotland.

(Tick)

The Picts were a Celtic tribe that lived to the north of the rivers Forth and Clyde in Scotland during the late Bronze Age early Medieval Age. They had their own language culture, governance and society. They had very close links with the Irish kingdom of the Dál Riata and both societies merged around 900AD and had "wide connections and parallels" with neighbouring communities. Pict is said to mean ‘painted or tattooed people’ and we know from what illustrated Pictish Stones that have survived, that they were very skilled and artistic as a people. The Irish annals record that there were 7 Pictish kingdoms with their centre or capital being in Abernethy in Perth and Kinross. I find them fascinating because it is thought that they practised matrilineal kingship succession. The Picts were farmers, lived in cluster communities and had huge associations with sea pirating.

I was drawn to Abernethy because of the roofless round tower that stands there one of the two remaining in Scotland and one of only four round towers which exist outside of Ireland. There is also an intriguing Pictish Symbol Stone that drew me there, two for the price of one so to speak. I was not disappointed. Standing in the grounds of Kirk Bride – Kirk means Church and Bride is from St Brigid the Irish saint. The church is said to have been founded by Darlugdach, second abbess of Kildare and dedicated to Brigid. The tower stands 74 ft (23 m) high, being built in two stages and said to date from the 11th or 12th century. It has been remodelled as a clock tower which was inserted in the late 1800’s and at its base it a carved Pictish Stone.

Irish poets portrayed their Pictish counterparts as very much like themselves and many of their standing stones have Ogham script. So for a stone mad woman Druid scribe, there are obvious links and things about their sites that would draw me to them. They stem from a polytheistic culture that evolved into Christianity and traditions place Saint Palladius in Pictland after he left Ireland, and link Abernethy with Saint Brigid of Kildare. Pictish art appears on stones, metalwork and small objects of stone and bone. It is La Tène style in style with the Christian symbols being of the Insular Art tradition. The symbols and patterns consist of animals including the Pictish Beast, the "rectangle", the "mirror and comb", "double-disc and Z-rod" and the "crescent and V-rod." In the 8th and 9th centuries, after Christianization, the Pictish elite adopted a particular form of the Celtic brooch from Ireland (similar to the Tara Brooch) and in my mind’s eye I see them fastening their cloaks with same.

It is a quaint little town with many beguiling charms, the least of which is the round tower. The location "Afarnach's Hall" referred to in the earliest mediaeval Arthurian literature is usually identified as Abernethy. The town has a long and eventful history. There are remains of a petrified hill fort on the outskirts of the village as well as remains of a Pictish fort. The site of a Roman camp is nearby in the river valley. In the 7th century Irish missionaries bringing Columba’s and Brigid’s message from Iona and Kildare settled in Abernethy before Scone became the centre of religious life in the area with its monasteries and religious houses. It was here too that Malcolm III of Scotland paid homage to William the Conqueror after the Battle of Hastings. So it is a place steeped in history and clearly a geographically significant site. Such places fascinate me and I am compelled to dig deeper to peel away the layers to see what is revealed.

So what of this ancient Gaelic named place. "Aber" derives from mouth or fort and the Nethy Burn flows down from the Ochil Hills past the present village. Clearly it means "Fort of the River Nethy" The Monastic Kirk or church was founded by an Irish Abbess closely linked to the Irish St. Brigid of Kildare. Brigid shares her name and feast day (Feb. 1) with a Celtic goddess. It is thought that she was the last high priestess of the goddess Brigid, both Brigid’s are identified as one deity. We know that she was raised by Druids at a time when Christianity was taking hold in Ireland and was ordained a Bishop by St. Mel, Bishop of Ardagh such was her standing. Her monastic settlement in Kildare was a double monastery and welcomed both women and men and was a noted refuge for women. Darlughdach served as Brigid’s ambassador to the Pictish King Nechtan. She was also her “Anam Cara” or soul friend. The two women were so close that they slept in the same bed.

After Brigid turned 70, she warned Darlughdach that she expected to die soon. Her younger soulmate begged to die at the same time. Brigid wanted her to live so she could succeed her as abbess. Brigid died of natural causes on Feb. 1, 525. The bond between the women was so close that Darlughdach followed her soulmate in death some years later on Feb 1st. Nechtan Morbet the Pictish king was said to have reigned for twenty-four years. In the third year of his reign, Darlugdach, abbess of Kildare, came as an exile to Britain for the sake of Christ. The second year after her arrival Nechtan dedicated Abernethy to St. Brigid, and Darlugdach, who was present, shouted Alleluia in respect of that offering. Nechtan had been driven to Ireland during the reign of his brother Drust, and, having sought St. Brigid, she prayed God for him, and promised that if he returned to his country he would possess the kingdom of the Picts in peace. ’ It was for this reason that the king established a church in her honour. We must remember these chronicles and annals were transcribed by Christian Monks and thus are severely biased so we have to see through another layer here. Darlugdach name means "daughter of Lugh" (Lugh being a Celtic deity, making it likely that Darlughdach, like Brigid, was originally a Celtic Goddess who was later "translated" into a Christian nun).

The Pictish Stone present at Abernethy, is a fragment of a stone which measures H 0.84m, W 0.56m and is granite. It sits at the base of the round tower with a stone for a cap which protects it from the elements. It is incised with the tuning fork symbol, flanked by a hafted hammer and an anvil, and below there is the upper left part of a crescent and V-rod with an internal double-spiral design and is said to date from the 7th century. There are about fifty major Pictish picture-symbols. Some are easily identified as animals or mythical creatures; others are completely mysterious, such as the 'crescent and V-rod' and the "double disk" emblems.

Bottom line, the symbols have not been deciphered, and their meaning has perplexed researchers for centuries. I have some ideas though that might float,, fascinated as I am by symbols. The ‘crescent and v-rod’ is an extremely common symbol, the ‘tuning fork’ less so. The ‘tuning fork’ is a particularly enigmatic. A tuning fork is a double pronged piece of steel usually, that resonates at a certain pitch. Musicians would use these to tune their instruments in the past, and if the same tuning fork was used to tune all of the instruments, then they would all be perfectly tuned together. They would have been used in prayer and meditation. I am sure there was or is a God frequency in sound. As a symbol it was also used in cultures like the Picts, to show that a particular site was part of the sacred geometry of the area activated by sound as opposed to sunlight. The hammer and the anvil are symbols of the god Goibniu, (Goban) and symbolise the union between male and female. They are also a symbol of Brigid who is associated with blacksmiths. Marriages ceremonies are carried out at Gretna Green over an anvil, but it is not entirely clear what the origins of these are.The V-rod appears to be a bent arrow superimposed on a crescent; it is assumed to be a symbol of death: In astronomical terms, this is clearly representing something related to the moon. Precisely what remains unclear. The stone predates the tower by about 400 years, dating to about the year 600 A.D and possibly dates from the foundation of this church. Here is something fascinating though; Brigid is associated with smiting, so the hammer and the anvil could be a nod to her.

In Irish mythology Brigid appears as a member of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the daughter of the Dagda and wife of Bres, with whom she had a son named Ruadán. She is associated with the spring season, fertility, healing, and poetry and smith craft. She is known as a woman of smith's work, and it was she first made the whistle for calling one to another through the night. It is perhaps a mighty leap, but sure someone has to make it. I like how it fits though.

 

 

1. The Helix,

Home of the Kelpies,

Falkirk, Scotland.

(Tick)

Capaill or Kelpie? On the 3rd January 2020 I awoke from a dream at 3.33am. I’d sleep through a hurricane and rarely remember my dreams. This one though came to me in the form of an amber eyed horse nuzzling me awake and given that the time was so peculiar, it got me to thinking that it might have a deeper meaning and something that Carl Jung would have had a field day with.

Some people believe that we all have a spirit guide that takes the form of an animal, a totem animal as it were. I sometimes think mine is a heron, more times a hare, often a raven, but, if I were to choose a spirit guide, mine would have to be tht of a horse. Very few animals convey such majesty, power, pride, and nobility of spirit as the horse. In Irish myth there is a mare known as ‘fíorláir’ or ‘true mare’ – the seventh consecutive filly foal born to a dam, which was safe from all evil and its rider safe from all harm. My amber eyed dream horse was trying to tell me something. I firmly believe there is a little bit of truth in every myth, we just need to decipher it.

In fact, horses dominate myth. Enbarr of the Flowing Mane is a horse in Irish Myth which could traverse both land and sea. Owned by the sea-god Manannan Mac Lir but provided to Lugh Lamh-fada to use at his disposal. Epona the Great Mare is a fertility goddess and was revered by the Druids. In Welsh mythology Rhiannon is a figure from the Otherworld, she rides an uncatchable white mare. Liath Macha (‘grey of Macha’) and Dub Sainglend (‘black of Saingliu’) are the two chariot-horses of the hero Cúchulainn. One, the king of horses dies with his master, the other avenging his death. Niamh of the Golden Hair arrives from the Tir na nOg on a white horse, declares her love for Oisin, and they ride off into the sunset together. Similarly, when Cliodhna fell in love with Ciabhán, she appeared on a white horse from over the sea. Étaín, is identified as a horse goddess in some versions of Irish Mythology.

I flew in mid-afternoon, hired my car and made the first jaunt into my 2020 of trips. I was heading to Aberdeen to spend Nollaig na mBán with my favourite woman in the world. She is known as Freedom. I wasn’t long on the road when I got a phonecall from said woman informing me she was in Falkirk and could I go that way please. As I love the road less travelled by, I was happy to oblige. We met for dinner in a place called The Bruce and whiled away a pleasant evening reminiscing. I mentioned my horse dream and she exclaimed, ’Oh my Gawd you have got to see the Kelpies!’

A kelpie is a shape-changing aquatic spirit of Scottish legend. Its name may derive from the Scottish Gaelic word ‘capaill’ meaning horse. Kelpies are said to haunt rivers and streams, usually in the shape of a horse. They have been immortalised in steel in Falkirk. So, now the dream began to make sense. This was no coincidence, this was the universe and sychronisity.

In our folklore, the importance of horses is reflected by the otherworldly powers assigned to them. They are credited, for example, with the ability to see ghosts, and there are many stories of horses refusing to ride past a haunted spot despite the exhortations of the riders. Creatures that live in water, but can shape-shift into horse form, feature in the entire Celtic world. Pwca is such a horse creature in Welsh myth. It is a spirit that appears linked in origin to the Irish Púca and Cornish Bucca and the Scottish Kelpie. The Kelpie is decidedly malevolent. It most commonly appears as a beautiful horse near or in running water and can be identified by the mane that seems to represent seaweed.

Horses have been immortalised in sculpture too. The Gaelic Chieftain by Maurice Hannon on the Boyle Bypass in Co. Sligo, Ireland is particularly significant. While ‘An Capall Mór’ depicting a Gaelic warhorse wearing a unicorn like spear helmet by sculptors O Donoghue and Ross in Clonkeen in Co Kerry, is also particularly captivating. There are no sculptures though that can surpass the Kelpies in Falkirk in Scotland. I would say they stand head and shoulders above all others if that weren't such a cliche.

Towering over a new canal extension which links the Forth & Clyde Canal to the North Sea. They stand 30 meters high, and are the largest equine sculptures in the world, as a monument to Scotland’s horse-powered industrial heritage. These works of art, created by artist Andy Scott, have become iconic on the landscape after being modelled on two Clydesdale horses, Duke and Baron. The Kelpies represent the lineage of the heavy horse of Scottish industry and economy, pulling the wagons, ploughs, barges and coal ships that shaped the geographical layout of Falkirk.

I have to say, hand on heart, they were mystifyingly alluring and standing beside them, walking between then and even entering the belly of the beast was almost like a religious experience. It was a rare day in January, when the sky was cloudless and blue and the sun cast shadows in the glint of steel and on the ripple of water and I was very captivated. I wonder which of them woke me up? What was the message, what was I to glean from this symbolic encounter with these two Kelpies?

The legend goes, the Kelpies are shapeshifting malevolent creatures from the other world. There is a Kelpie story associated with every body of water in Scotland, the most famous being the Loch Ness monster. They are black and their mane resembles seaweed or sea serpents and they wear their horseshoes backwards and a silver harness about their necks. They are said to have the gift of speech and their sole function is to lure you onto their backs from where upon there is no escape. They promptly dive beneath the waves and eat you.

There are three known ways to escape their clutches, the first is to cut your hand off where you first touch one, the second is to relieve him of his silver harness which gives you powers to change him into human form, though it is not known if he is any less dangerous as a man. The third way is to shoot him with a silver bullet.

I guess that says to believe in my own freedom, make my own choices. We are never really forced to do anything. Even though I did end up in the belly of the kelpie, I did so by choice, and I was utterly fascinated by the construction of his innards, thousands of pieces of steel, no two the same. Woman and beast enter a silent contract acknowledging mutual respect and awareness of responsibility to each other. I’m on a journey, his presence and pool of water is my 'imbas', my well spring of inspiration, the horse totem will guide me. And I have the means to best him, should he turn rogue.

“No mortal ear could have heard the kelpie passing through the night, for the great black hooves of it were as soundless in their stride as feathers falling.”Mollie Hunter, The Kelpie's Pearls