"You have just passed through the Cloak of Concealment and into the magical realm…"

Welcome to aliisaacstoryteller!

I blog about my writing, my experiences living with a special needs child, and anything else which takes my fancy. Feel free to have a look around.


Seanchai | The Irish Storyteller

In keeping with my newly restored fascination with the poetic, I have re-blogged an older post about the Irish Seanchai (storytellers) and Fílí (poets). On Friday, I will be discussing Irish poetic inspiration.

LiffeyDublinOn my first ever trip to Ireland, I remember strolling along the banks of the River Liffey with my now husband, when we encountered a group of skateboarders harassing an old man sitting on a bench. At least, I thought they were harassing him, but as we drew closer, I realised that he was talking, and they were listening. His voice rose and fell in melodic, hypnotic waves, and the teenagers milled about, their growing bodies restless, but their faces rapt. We passed by, on a mission of places to be and things to see, but to this day, I have always wondered about the story he was telling them.

skateboardingAs the recently departed Seamus Heaney could arguably be called Ireland’s most famous and best loved poet, so his equal in terms of storytelling must be Eddie Lennihan, an Irishman famous for his tales of Ireland’s folklore and mythology.

You can see him in action here.

The Seanchai ( pronounced ‘shawnshee’) was a traditional Irish storyteller. They memorised and recited epic stories and poems from Irish mythology for the enjoyment of their audiences. You have to remember, in those days, there were no movies, tv, radio, computer games. Few had access to books, or could read.

seamus heaneyIn pre-Christian Ireland, there were two types of poet; the elite class of the Fili, and the lesser caste of the Bard. They normally served a clan chieftain, keeping all their clan’s lore and history, and were highly respected. Some belonged to a community, and served at community ceremonies and events, while others belonged to no particular area or lord, but travelled, offering their skills in return for board and lodging.

Fili meant ‘seer’, so it is not beyond the realms of possibility that part of their role revolved around the foretelling of the future. In fact, originally the Fili may have served many functions, such as sorcerer, judge, keeper of law, chieftain’s advisor as well as poet and storyteller. At some point, these responsibilities seem to have been divided, with the Brehons specialising in the legal aspects, the Druids taking on the religion and ritual, and the Fili concentrating on history and poetry.

eddie lenihanThe chief Fili in each province was known as the Ollamh (pronounced Ollav), which means ‘most great’, and would have been equal in status to the provincial King. Over all, presided the Ollamh Eirean, who was ranked equal to the Ard Ri, or High King of Ireland, so there was plenty of scope for promotion.

The advent of Christianity, however, put quite a strain on the Kings’ resources, as not only did they have to provide lands, titles and funding to the Fili, but also to the bishops. In the 6th century, the decision was taken to limit the number of Fili purely to those families where the position of the poet was seen as a birth right. This was the beginning of the end for this role in Irish society, and much lore was lost. Fortunately, however, the Christian monks did their best to conserve as much as they could, and so what was left of the ancient Irish oral tradition was finally put into writing.

I would like to think I am contributing to this effort in my own small way, by bringing Ireland’s fascinating mythology to life for a whole new audience out there.


Long live Irish Mythology!

You can find out more about Eddie Lenihan on his website. You can read some of Seamus Heaney’s work here. As for me, well, you know where to find me!

Dealan-Dé | The Butterfly in Irish Mythology

Image (c) Adrian Jones, Dreamtime

Image (c) Adrian Jones, Dreamtime

This week, I have had to rescue four five six butterflies from becoming entrapped in my home. Although I have lived in this house seven years now, and keep my doors and windows open all day during summer, I have never had to do this before… moths, yes, plenty of times, and various other flying insects, but butterflies have never previously ventured into my space.

It felt strangely significant to me; what could this gentle invasion mean?

Although the Irish word for butterfly is féilearcán (pronounced fell-er-kun), dealan-dé is a more ancient term for these delightful creatures in the ancient Irish language. It’s precise meaning, however, is somewhat elusive, for as well as meaning butterfly, it also refers to the brightness or lightning of the Gods, and to the magical flame of the Beal-fire, or the need-fire. That the butterfly shares the same name as the fire of the Gods must somehow indicate great magnitude, but if it does, that knowledge seems lost to us now.

What is known, is that in Irish folklore, it was believed that butterflies could readily pass through the veil between this world and the magical realm. In the 1600′s, it was considered very bad luck indeed to kill a white butterfly, for it was thought to be the bearer of the soul of a dead child.

There is a lovely story about a butterfly in Irish mythology, called the Tochmarc Étaín, or The Wooing of Étaín. Although some versions tell of a ‘purple fly’; the description however, is more suited to that of a butterfly, in my opinion. The name Étaín means, appropriately enough, ‘passion’ or jealousy’, but she was also known by the epithet Echraide, or ‘Horse-rider’.

As Irish sagas go, it is rather long and convoluted, and I get the distinct impression that two individual stories may have been melded together at some point in history, whether accidentally or purposefully I don’t know, but I shall attempt to tell the bones of it here. Please note, there is much more to this story than I can relate here, so if you’d like to read the original version (translated, of course!), this is as good a place as any.

The Wooing of Étaín

Étaín was the beautiful daughter of mortal King of Ulster, Aillil. Midir, a chieftain of the Denann fell in love with her, and she became his lover. Unfortunately, Midir was already married, and when his wife, Fumnach heard of this she grew extremely jealous. Using her magic, she transformed Étain into a gorgeous butterfly, and cast her adrift on a storm for seven years.

Eventually, the poor butterfly found sanctuary with Aengus, son of the Dagda, at Brug na Boynne. He was quite fascinated by her, and built her a tiny crystal chamber to keep her safe.

When Fumnach discovered this, her jealousy and rage knew no bounds, because Aengus had been her and Midir’s foster son. Furious at his lack of loyalty, she blasted the butterfly with another wild wind for seven further years, blowing her all the way to Ulster, where she fell into a cup of wine and was consumed by the wife of warrior, Etar. So it was that one thousand and twelve years after she was first conceived by Aillil and his wife, Étaín was reborn, even though she had only been in exile for fourteen years… (are you still with me so far?)

Meanwhile, when Aengus discovered what Fumnach had done, he hunted her down and killed her by ripping off her head, although some say it was Manannán who did this, and that he burned both parts.

Étaín grew up lovely to behold and completely unaware of her past life. She married High King Eochu, and went to live with him and his brother, Aillil ( yes, but this one is not her father). Aillil had also fallen in love with her, and sickened with unrequited love. When Eochu went away on Kingly business, Aillil confessed his desire and the two agreed to a tryst out under the stars.

However, unbeknown to Étaín, Midir cast a sleeping spell on Aillil, and assuming his appearance, took the prince’s place. On the occasion of their third meeting, he confessed, begging her to return to him. She agreed, but only if he persuaded her husband to give his permission.

Some time later, Midir came to the court of Eochu and challenged him to a game of Fidchell. He lost game after game, Eochu setting him more and more outlandish forfeits to complete. Eventually, Midir suggested they play for a kiss from Étaín. Unaware of Midir’s past  relationship with his wife, Eochu agreed, flush with the success of his winning streak. This time, Midir won the game, and as he and Étaín embraced, they turned into swans and flew away.

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Throwback Thursday – My Big Fat Greek Wedding

The wedding procession down to the beach

The wedding procession

In three days, I will be travelling with my family back to the beautiful Greek island of Kalymnos… we’re all very excited! Every year, we say we’re going to try somewhere different, but every year we end up going back, we just can’t seem to tear ourselves away! This year’s visit is causing even more excitement than usual, because we will be joining my mum and my sister and her family there… it’s not often we all get the chance to be in the same place at the same time, these days.


The wedding party walks down to the beach…


down the steps…


and onto the sand…

Kalymnos holds a special place in our hearts, not just because it is beautiful and filled with friendly, smiling Greek people; not even because the food is sensational, or because it’s warm and sunny every day. No.


there was Greek music…


and Greek singing…


and Greek dancing…


rings are exchanged…


yaaaaaaay! The deed is done!

Conor and I had the best holiday of our lives there, because it is where we were married. In fact, we ended up having two weddings only a couple of days apart… but that’s a story for another time.


Family photo opportunity


and back up the hill…


ready to party…


there was lots of cooking, eating and drinking…


some bazouki music…


more Greek dancing…


some of it quite raunchy!


My son Cai sang a song…


and the night was rounded off by a spot of plate smashing!


And that’s why we love Kalymnos!

Winter Trees – A Poem

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I have very much been enjoying the poetry of blogger-friends Éilis and Jane Dougherty lately, and felt inspired to dust off my word-smith’s hat and have a go myself. I wrote a lot of poetry in my youth, but quickly became disillusioned with the elitist snobbery I came across in this field of writing; some genres of artistry just seem to draw such types. Happily, the afore-mentioned ladies have dispelled my fears.

Winter Trees is an old poem I wrote when I was very young (about 16, so that’s a loooooong time ago!), but Éilis read it recently, and suggested I post it on my blog, and so, as a tentative toe-dipping back into the realms of poetic penmanship, here it is.

Winter Trees

Like tall gaunt un-fleshed skeletons
these trees, slaves to a stormy wind,
bow and bend and scrape the sky, raking from it
tears of cloud-blood
with their gnarled and knotted, black old claws,
protesting at the rigours
of a raging wind.

They have a kind of grace;
they perform their dance stiffly
like newly carved puppets
with the utmost precision
forming movements in a visual language
we cannot begin to comprehend
but only watch with awe.

The wind finds his voice only in
their praying, outstretched arms.
He sings, and roars, and weeps of the mysteries, and miseries
he has seen on his travels.
His wild, moving rhythm is the fierce, magic music
to which they contort
and set their bovine dance.

If they clothed themselves
in rich, summer-green finery,
upholding their leafy burdens to the sun’s inspection and praise,
I doubt not that soughing wind
would do more than sigh huskily
at their noble beauty,
bestow them with gentle, gusty kisses.

But now, he exploits their sad nakedness
with an enthusiasm which breaks them
creaking in two. When he has ripped out their woody hearts
and they lie dead and rigid
upon ground which once sustained them,
he will laughing pass onward to vent
a new fury elsewhere,

leaving these pathetic, ruined giants
to burn in humanity’s grates.

Pets Make Us Smile Blog Hop | Meet Indi (ana Bones)

Indi wearing his Indiana Bones hat.

Indi wearing his Indiana Bones hat.

This is my dog, Indi. He has been a part of our family since he was 16 weeks old, and this Christmas, he will be 5 years old. He is a cross between a Labrador and a Labradoodle. Although most people assume he is a Lab, you can see the ‘doodle’ influence in the shape of his head, his long narrow nose and deep chest. Although he’s big and solid, he doesn’t have the square, chunky build which most Labs have.

The Dog from the Bog

The Dog from the Bog

Playing X-box with my sons

Playing X-box with my sons

Indi and Mal - best pals! every boy should have a dog.

Indi and Mal – best pals! Every boy should have a dog.

He’s a lot of fun, with so much energy! His craziness fits into our family really well. He is absolutely ruled by his belly, and will do anything for a doggy treat!

Guarding the roast chicken

Guarding the roast chicken

Miserable after surgery but not letting go of his new toy

Miserable after surgery but not letting go of his new toy

He was sooooo naughty when he was a pup! Now, the memories of what he got up to make me smile, but at the time, they were anything but funny. He chewed everything in sight, even the metal bar stools at the island unit in the kitchen; he would steal the socks off my little daughter, Carys’s feet; he would jump up at the washing line and nick my husband’s favourite shirts, (and ONLY my hubby’s fave shirts!),  while we chased him around the garden in an attempt to retrieve them… inevitably, they were full of holes by the time we regained possession. And shoes, well, if you left any lying around, they were fair game, you’d never get them back! Not until they were chewed beyond recognition, at any rate.

"Take a picture of me instead!"

“Take a picture of me instead!”

At almost 5 years old, he doesn’t do any of that naughty stuff any more, but he hasn’t settled down and grown up much. He’s just an overgrown puppy, and I think he always will be!

What does your pet do to make you smile? If you are interested in joining the Pets Make Us Smile Blog Hop, Virtual Vetinarian and author Rachele Baker has all the details HERE.

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I’ve been Published on Irish Central!

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Yes, I have, I really have! I’ve been published on Irish Central, and I’m pretty excited about it, because if this article does well (and another which is already in the pipeline), then there is a good chance that they will consider me for a Contributing Writer position.

My dream is to make my living as a writer… I feel I’ve just taken one small step closer towards achieving that. Of course, it’s early days; these article must do well. Hopefully, they will!

So I’m asking all my lovely friends and followers to please take a couple of minutes to visit my article via THIS LINK, and maybe even leave a little comment, even if you have read it as a post on my blog before, because every little bit helps.


Loughcrew | Mountain of the Hag

Image by Loughcrew.com

Image by Loughcrew.com

It only takes 20 minutes to drive from my home to Loughcrew.  Situated over three hilltops, Carnbane West, Carnbane East, and Patrickstown, Loughcrew (Loch Craobh in Irish) is a cluster of 25 passage tombs dating to approx 4000BC.  Thought to have been built by a community of Neolithic farmers, these structures have been found to align with the rising sun of the Spring and Autumn equinoxes. They certainly picked a spectacular site; I know it’s a cliché, and as a writer I should have a better grasp of language, but the scenery is simply stunning! You can’t help but stand and feel a sense of awe at their achievement and drive, and a sense of serenity as you gaze out across the landscape.

A set of shallow steps lead from the car park.

A set of shallow steps lead from the car park.

Through the kissing gate and out onto the hill. The first thing you see is this fairy tree.

Through the kissing gate and out onto the hill. The first thing you see is this fairy tree.

Cairn T, affectionately known as the Hag's Cairn, with the guide's sun-chairs and equipment arranged at the entrance.

Cairn T, affectionately known as the Hag’s Cairn, with the guide’s sun-chairs and equipment arranged at the entrance.

The Hag's Chair. Looks like a huge kerb stone, this was used as a mass rock in more recent history.

The Hag’s Chair. Looks like a huge kerb stone, this was used as a mass rock in more recent history.

You wouldn’t think it when you arrive, because the site is so undeveloped, but Loughcrew actually falls into the same category of importance, in terms of Irish archaeological sites, as the more famous Brú na Boinne (Newgrange), Carrowkeel, and Carrowmore. The mounds mostly consist of long, narrow passages ending in a set of chambers, forming a cruciform shape. These have then been covered over with stones, thus creating the familiar domed cairn.

A set of shallow steps lead out of the tiny car park, through a kissing gate, and then you are out on the open moor. It’s very steep, and there is no path, save for a faint dirt track made by the passage of visitor’s feet. The scars of several ditches and embankments cut across the slope must be traversed as you climb. In winter it can be quite slippery, but I prefer it then, when there is no one else about, only mildly curious grazing sheep, and distant birds of prey for company.

Entrance to the passage leading into Cairn T.

Entrance to the passage leading into Cairn T.

Stone slab on r/h of passage bearing tiny cup marks; could this be a map of the stars?

Stone slab on l/h of passage bearing tiny cup marks; could this be a map of the stars?

More ancient artwork.

More ancient artwork.

During the summer months, the main central cairn (cairn T, also known as the Hag’s Cairn) on Carnbane East is open, and there is a guide waiting to show you around, all for FREE! In the winter, the cairn is locked, but you can collect the key from the cafe at nearby Loughcrew Gardens, and have your own private viewing… only in Ireland! (Love Ireland!) Usually, in the winter there is no one else around, so you can stay as long as you like, admiring the inner carvings which look as fresh and sharp as if they were only chiselled yesterday.

You can see more on this brilliant interactive 360* video and and map… just click the orange dots on the map, and the video will automatically show you that part of the site.

Cairn L on Carnbane West, arguably the most spectacular of the cairns, is privately owned and not open to public viewing (just don’t get me started Grrrr!). Cairn L is spectacular and unique, because it contains a limestone pillar, or standing stone, and it is this which is lit up by the rising sun entering the chamber at Samhain and Imbolc. We may not be able to witness this for ourselves, but you can view a series of images depicting this incredible event here.

Every time I visit, I learn something new. As you pass through the entrance and up the passage, there are two highly decorated orthostats on either side.

I couldn't get a clear enough picture of the back stone lit up by the equinox; this one is from Knowth.com

I couldn’t get a clear enough picture of the back stone lit up by the equinox; this one is from Knowth.com

“See all the cup marks?” The guide asked me, tracing them with her fingers. I looked more closely. They were indeed cup marks, but so small I had never recognised them as such.

“When the mound was first discovered, they found lots of tiny white chalk balls littering the ground beside these stones, but didn’t know what they were,” she continued, but my mind was already leaping ahead.

“It’s a map of the stars!” I yelled excitedly in her face, and she grinned at my explosion.

They mapped the stars. But why use cup marks and chalk balls, instead of just carving them them as images directly into the stone? Perhaps they were tracking the movement of the stars, and this was a way of moving them around the map, like moving playing pieces on a board game.

The crazy angle of the outer kerb stones of Cairn U (I think!)

The crazy angle of the outer kerb stones of Cairn U (I think!)

Cairn U (I think!) now open to the elements.

Cairn U (I think!) now open to the elements.

Decorated stone still clear even though open to the elements. From the r/h rear chamber of Cairn U.

Decorated stone still clear even though open to the elements. From the r/h rear chamber of Cairn U.

There are carvings on the back wall of one of the chambers which I had always assumed to be flowers and leaves… well, that’s what they look like. Or rather, what I thought they looked like. Now that I understand a bit more, they clearly look like stars, the larger the rays (petals), the bigger, or more prominent the star as it appeared to them. Of course, these carvings look quite random to us, but it’s interesting that on the equinox, the beam of light starts in the top left symbol, and traverses across the stone panel over the course of an hour, finishing at the bottom right symbol, which looked extraordinarily like the sun, to me. You can share in this experience our ancestors created by watching this amazing time-lapsed video, while listening to the beautiful and haunting voice of Jillian LaDage.

Heading back down. You can clearly see the embankments and ditches in this image.

Heading back down. You can clearly see the embankments and ditches in this image, and the outline of more cairns on the hilltop beyond.

Another name for Loughcrew is Sliabh na Caillaigh, which means ‘Mountain of the Hag’. Local folklore tells of a hag, or witch, leaping from hill top to hill top carrying stones in her apron.  As she did so, some of the stones fell from her apron and landed on the hills below, thus forming the cairns of Loughcrew. I have heard this same story told of the Morrigan, in her triple aspect of the Crone.

I can’t explain what draws me to these ancient places. Rooted in the past, they somehow connect me to this land, and the real people who made them; it is like we are holding onto the opposite ends of the twisted strands of time. I think of all the people who drive past Loughcrew, and other places like them,  on a daily basis, unaware and not caring that they exist, and I feel glad that there are people out there, just like me, who do care, and still come.

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