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Irish Mythology | Yellow Gorse

Yellow Gorse. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Yellow Gorse. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Yellow gorse, furze, broom, whinn, call it what you will, it’s blooming marvellous at the moment, and its glad golden glow is currently brightening the hills and hedgerows of Ireland as Bealtaine nears, like a halo over the landscape. Naturally, this prolific plant features prominently in Irish mythology and Ireland’s ancient lore.

Its official name is Ulex Europaeus. In Ireland, it is called aiteann, which, according to an ancient manuscript known as Cormac’s Glossary, comes from aith meaning ‘sharp’, and tenn, meaning ‘lacerating’. This is due to its prickly nature, and fierce thorns.

In fact, this was one of the reasons why farmers and shepherds used it in hedging their fields; it kept livestock in, and intruders out. It was believed to extend protective powers over the herds, and act as a good flea-repellent. Ground up, it made excellent animal fodder.

As it is fast-growing, and rather invasive, farmers would burn back the old growth. This would have two benefits; not only would the ashes provide good nutrition for the soil, but it would encourage the growth of tender new shoots, which were highly prized as a food for their cattle and sheep.

However, the reason why I love yellow gorse so much, is the amazing scent, which becomes even more heady and powerful in full sunlight. Imagine the scent of coconut combined with marzipan… I just adore it! Apparently, its blossoms are edible, and actually taste like almonds!

In Ireland, the flowers have long been used to colour and flavour whisky, and also to make wine. Here is a recipe, if you feel so inclined. (How to make Yellow Gorse Wine) I’ll be happy to come on over and taste test it for you.

Loughanleagh

Yellow Gorse coming into bloom at Loughanleagh, Co Cavan.

Yellow Gorse blooms for at least nine months of the year, hence the lovely old Irish saying;

When gorse is out of bloom, kissing is out of season.”

I saw it blooming happily on New Years Day this year up at Loughnleagh. According to tradition, it is associated with love and fertility, probably because it is so prolific, and a small sprig would be added to bridal bouquets. The bride would have to cut it herself, however, as it was considered unlucky to give or receive as a gift.

This is no doubt due to the fact that all thorny bushes and trees, including the hawthorn, blackthorn and blackberry, were considered to belong to the Sidhe, or fairy folk, and thus be under their protection. These trees where thought to guard entrances to the Otherworld, and so were thought of as sacred or cursed, depending on one’s beliefs.

Having said that, as one of the nine sacred woods, branches of gorse would be gathered and burned on the ceremonial fires of Bealtaine. Gorse wood has a high oil content, which means it burns at a similar temperature as charcoal, and it would often be used to start the bonfires.

In the Ogham alphabet, yellow gorse is represented by Onn, the 17th character. According to the Lebor Ogaim, the ‘Book of Oghams’ also known as the Ogham Tract, plants were categorised by rank. Gorse was ranked highly as a ‘chieftain’ tree, as was furze, whereas broom was listed as the lowest rank of ‘bramble’. Quite how this was decided is beyond me, never mind that I thought all these names were for one and the same plant.

In ancient times, gorse had many uses other than guarding the homes of the Sidhe, lighting the Bealtaine fires, and penning livestock.

Yellow gorse on the way up to Fionn's Fingers.

Yellow gorse on the way up to Fionn’s Fingers.

A yellow dye in a shade now generally thought of as saffron was made from its blossoms. Dying cloth was considered something of a magical process in early Ireland, carried out only by women; no men were allowed to be present. I’m sure that went down well with the arrival of the Christian church.

As well as being used in whisky and wine, gorse was also consumed for medicinal purposes. An infusion of the flowers would be given to children as a cure for scarlet fever, and the seeds were considered beneficial for a ‘laxness of the bowels’… nice! It was mixed with honey and used as a mouthwash, and strewn about the floor of a dwelling was thought to repel fleas.

Its ashes, which were high in alkali, were spread on the earth as a fertiliser, or mixed with fat to make soap. Burning torches of gorse wood around cattle and other livestock was thought to prevent infertility, and keep their coats clear of parasites. Gorse wood was also used for making hurleys and walking sticks.

As we have seen, yellow gorse was always associated with the festival of Bealtaine. With the advance of Christianity, this celebration was replaced with May Day. The deep golden colour of the blooms perhaps still represented the flames of the fires in the minds of the people, and perhaps symbolised the growing strength of the sun.

Homes would be decorated with boughs of yellow gorse, and in some parts of Ireland, instead of using hawthorn, gorse would be decorated with shells and flowers as the Maybush. Of course to the Christians, the pagans were seen as witches, their deities and customs interpreted as devil worship.

The pagan association with yellow gorse meant that it was believed to harbour witches within its spiky domain. On May day, the gorse would be set alight in the hope of flushing out any witches hiding there. It was believed that they would transform themselves into the shape of hares and thus evade the flames by leaping swiftly for safety. Any hares found would be killed, poor things.

A sea of yellow gorse beside the quarry on the Hill of Allen, legendary home of Fionn mac Cumhall.

A sea of yellow gorse beside the quarry on the Hill of Allen, legendary home of Fionn mac Cumhall.

Yellow gorse is clearly a feature of the Irish landscape which is inextricably tied up in Ireland’s history and mythology; a plant of contrasts, good and bad, healing and wounding, at once protecting, nurturing and dominating.

Magical tour of Ireland’s river legends: Guest post by Ali Isaacs

Ali Isaac:

The lovely Barb Taur invited me onto her blog today, please drop by, she is a wonderful supporter of Indi authors like myself. Thanks Barb!

Originally posted on Barb Taub:

Today’s Guest Post is written by visiting writer Ali Isaacs, who lives and writes in a world of history and myth and magic—in other words, Ireland. I was enchanted by the way she mixed all of that in her books, especially her YA series, The Tir Na Nog Trilogy, which I reviewed at 5-stars here. Please welcome Ali as she takes us on a tour of some of her favorite legendary Irish rivers.


River Legends of Ireland

Figure 1 Newgrange, Ireland's most popular archaeological site on the banks of the River Boyne. (c) Ali IsaacFigure 1 Newgrange, Ireland’s most popular archaeological site on the banks of the River Boyne. (c) Ali Isaac

Ireland is a land of many lakes, rivers and mountains, shrouded as much in mythology as it is in its gentle misty climate. It is a fertile breeding ground for tales of mystical Gods, powerful warriors and the beautiful, enchanting folk of the Sidhe.

Our ancient ancestors believed that through water lay the way…

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My Workspace Blog Hop

Ali Isaac:

Chris the Story Reading Ape shows us around his nature inspired eco office and workspace… my what a view!

Originally posted on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog:

Thanks to my lovely friend, Eminent Irish Mythologist andAuthor Ali Isaacfor dropping… (I mean INVITING) me to share some information about the workspace I drift… (I mean WORK) in to faff around… (I mean RESEARCH) the various topics, themes and general rubbish… (I mean INFORMATION) I throw out… (I mean PUBLISH) on my blog in addition to the Guest Author articles I inveigle and coerce… (I mean OBTAIN VOLUNTARILY) from said authors.

Grab yourself a snack and let’s begin the tour….

feast

Behold my jungle workspace – isn’t it nice and airy?…

office-jungle

Here’s my lounge where I often doze off

(I mean THINK DEEPLY ABOUT EVERYTHING)…

Lounge

I always like to have a book in hand…

Book

My Nephew WARF likes to beat me at Chess (and almost everything else)

Relaxing

Bet you didn’t know I wear eye-glasses with bottom of bottle type (I mean CHIC AND TRENDY) lenses and stylish frames…

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New and Improved! Jane Dougherty’s The Green Woman Trilogy Released as a Single Volume with Stunning New Cover.

TGW_9 cover art


My lovely author and blogger friend, Jane Dougherty, has just released her Green Woman Trilogy as a single volume at the amazing price of just $3.99. I’m loving the vibrant new cover! Here she is to tell you more…


jane bio picThank you, Ali, for letting me borrow your blog today for a bit of blatant self-publicity.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. It ended up being a mammoth operation, but it’s done, finally, the three books of The Green Woman series are available in a single volume. It’s on pre-order at the moment. Release day is Saturday April 18th.

And here’s the new blurb.

She is the light in the darkness, the fiery beacon, but the world’s fate seems such a little thing when the light in her heart is dead.

Among the ashes of the world, a lone city cowers in fear and ignorance. A light breaks the darkness, the spark that will kindle the greening of the world. This is the story of how Deborah carries the spark of memory from the grey oppression of Providence to a green place, where its fire will spread to cover the whole of the earth.
The darkest, oldest of evils vows to quench her light, but the Green Girl is filling the world with heroes, courage blazes in the desolation of Providence, and love is waiting in the desert.
Abaddon’s grip tightens on the earthly realm he has promised himself and his followers, but he reckons without Deborah, who marches with the banner of her fiery hair, and a burning passion for freedom, justice…and vengeance.

And a short excerpt from The Dark Citadel, the first volume.

dark-citadel

The sound of boots tramping purposefully down the corridor outside her cell made Deborah leap to her feet. The jingle of keys was followed by the grinding of the heavy lock, and the door swung open.
“Slopping out duty,” the guard bawled. Dark eyes flashed out of a face that was all bristling black brows and short square-trimmed beard. He moved aside, waiting for Deborah to pass. “Get a move on, we haven’t got all night,” he barked, pointing at the buckets standing outside each of the occupied cells. “Take them to the privy at the end of the corridor and empty them. The other prisoner washes them and you bring them back. Got it?”
Deborah nodded, thankful she wasn’t the one detailed to do the washing out. The buckets stank despite their closed lids. The privy stank worse. She tipped the contents of the first bucket down the shaft, and holding it out at arm’s length, handed it with a grimace to her companion. The boy ran the empty buckets under a tap, swilling them along a yellow-stained gutter that disappeared into a hole in the wall.
At the same time, Deborah noticed with distaste, he was splashing the ends of his trousers with the filthy water. The boy turned to take the next bucket and Deborah recognized the curly black hair and hawk nose of the hero in the exercise courtyard. Her heart leapt in spite of the unsavoury situation. He held out his hand for the bucket and nodded a sort of greeting.
Deborah smiled, eager to win the confidence of the rebel. “I saw you in the courtyard, it was me who waved. I clapped, I wanted to cheer.” Her voice rose in excitement.
The boy put a finger to his lips. “Not so loud,” he whispered. “They’ll hear.”
“Let them,” Deborah raised her voice a tone. “I don’t care. What can they do?”
The boy frowned. “If you don’t know what they can do, then you’d best be quiet.         Tomorrow I will receive five lashes for blasphemy, and I hope I will bear it like a man. But I don’t want any more just because of some girl’s squealing.”
Deborah’s face was burning with confusion. Something about the boy had seemed…special. Something about him had made her think of the dream laughter, and for a moment she had wondered if…The thought dissolved into a sad puddle. This boy certainly never laughed like that. And now she had annoyed him. She found herself imagining his pale back ripped and striped with bleeding furrows.
“Come on,” he snapped. “Just give me the bucket or you’ll have the guards over.”
Deborah’s eyes narrowed as she thrust the slop bucket at the boy. “And I thought you were different.” Her lips twisted in scorn. “You’re just as much a coward as the rest.”
The boy raised himself to his full height and sneered. “And you’d know all about heroics, I suppose. Was it for heroics in a dark corner with some Ignorant boy they picked you up, then?”
“Oh,” Deborah gasped in indignation. “You arrogant little shit!” With a furious gesture she sent the contents of the slop bucket over the boy’s shirt.
“Hey, you two,” the guard shouted. “If you like paddling in crap so much you can clean out the privy at the end of the week.”
They finished their turn of duty in icy silence. The full buckets were slopped into the privy, water from the tap swished round in the clean buckets, and splashed in the gutter. Empty buckets rattled and clanged as they were set back down outside cell doors. When the job was done the guards escorted them back to their cells. They parted without a look, in silent anger. The guards didn’t even notice.

You can find The Green Woman for the astonishing price of $3.99 etc. at
Amazon UK http://tinyurl.com/ka37xbr
Amazon US http://tinyurl.com/nqn9whc
For the canny buggers, I have reduced the price of the first volume, The Dark Citadel to 99c. Available from
Amazon US http://tinyurl.com/m9xhyb6
Amazon UK http://tinyurl.com/nholyft

Authors in the Sun – Aphrodite’s Rock by Ali Isaac

Ali Isaac:

Sally Cronin has very kindly featured my short story, Aphrodite’s Rock, on her blog today… thank you Sally!

Originally posted on Smorgasbord - Variety is the spice of life:

Absolutely delighted to welcome author Ali Isaac and her short story Aphrodite’s Rock that she has written specifically for Authors in the Sun. You can find out more about Ali and her books and blog at the end of the story. Enjoy the sunshine……

sunshine

Aphrodite’s Rock

“It’s just as splendid as I remember,” she says with a sigh, a rare smile playing on her lips. “Thank you. I never thought I’d see it again.”

I gaze at the rock; although the sea is calm, water foams and gnaws at its base. Here, they say, Aphrodite, Goddess of Love was born, and the magic of the moment is so intense, I half believe it.

The evening sun bathes the scene in soft gold, and we hang there between sea and sky, crying gulls and the ocean’s soft murmur filling our ears as we rock in our cradle-like boat, and drift with…

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Writespiration #36

Ali Isaac:

I had a short story published on Sacha’s Writespiration today. This week she wants us to write about throwing up! Everyone must have a throwing up story…

Originally posted on Sacha Black:

#36

Write a story, a few words, a sentence, a poem, anything you like, post below and I will post it with next weeks Writespiration.

Here’s mine:

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Thank You! This is for You.

Letting Go Coverjpeg (2)In Monday’s post, I said that something wonderful was about to happen, at least for me. Well, it happened… today.

I had a little message from WordPress congratulating me on my 500th follower! That’s a big deal for me. When I started this blog just over two years ago, I had no idea what to write about, or if anyone would even be interested.

I posted my first blog post on 19th December 2012… it got no likes or comments at all until last year! Since then, I’m happy to say things have picked up a little. My most popular blog post since I started is still Hy-Brasil | Mysterious Lost Island of Irish Mythology.

But the best thing about blogging is getting to know all of you! Many of you take the time not only to read my posts, but to like, Tweet and comment on them, and the conversations we have via blog comments, on my posts and yours, are what keeps me blogging.

So I’d just like to say a big THANK YOU for all that you do, and for being part of this little community here on Aliisaacstoryteller. And just for you, here is a short story I wrote recently called ‘Letting Go’, a mythological paranormal fantasy combo set on Lough Ramor, where I often walk with Indi, for you to download to your laptop or Ereader. As WordPress does not currently support the attachment of Epubs or Mobi’s, please email me if you would prefer a different format.

Letting Go pdf – Ali Isaac

Happy Reading and Happy Blogging, everyone! Oh, and this was my first attempt at creating my own book cover, so please be kind lol!

The Green Woman has arrived—in one piece!

Ali Isaac:

Jane Dougherty has just released her Green Woman Trilogy as one slim volume! Pre-order your copy now, you won’t regret it! She’s a fantabulous storyteller, and we like those on this blog, don’t we?

Originally posted on Jane Dougherty Writes:

The Green Woman trilogy is now available for pre-order at

Amazon UK

Amazon US

The price is a mere $3.99 but the three volumes are available separately and you can get the first volume, The Dark Citadel for 99c.

Amazon US

Amazon UK

I can’t really do much more apart from offering to go round and read it to you.

Please reblog, tweet, and spread the word. The weather is glorious—what better way to spend a hot spring day than under a tree reading a big fat book?

Here’s the cover

TGW:9

And here’s the new blurb.

She is the light in the darkness, the fiery beacon, but the world’s fate seems such a little thing when the light in her heart is dead.

Among the ashes of the world, a lone city cowers in fear and ignorance. A light breaks the darkness, the spark that will kindle the greening of…

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I live in Ireland and I’m a Mythology Addict!

Illustration depicting a computer screen capture with a detox concept.

There. I’ve admitted it. I’m addicted to Irish Mythology.

There is no organisation out there, like the AA, which can help people like me. We are left to skulk around the internet, trawling libraries and stalking librarians, to get our hands and eyes on ancient books and archaic documents to feed our addiction.

We pore over old maps, identifying possible mythology related sites, then traipse through rain and fog over bog, hill and farmers fields, even braving the fierce protectors (cows and bulls) of said monuments, often finding little but a pile of stones to prove our theories.

It doesn’t matter what we find. It’s the thrill of the chase. It’s the excitement of discovery. It’s standing in that place where those characters lived and died, looking over the landscape they looked on, standing under the same sun and stars they slept beneath. It’s the connection which matters.

You will already know all this, if you have ever read any of my posts, because here is where I share it with you. I know you feel the same way, at least to some extent, because you keep coming back for more, and that means a lot to me.

Very soon, something quite momentous is going to happen (for me anyway) and I’ll blog about it when it does.

But for now, I make an apology; there is no Monday Mythology today. You have no idea how I am suffering from the pain of that! It’s not because I have run out of things to write… oh nonononono! Quite the contrary!

The trouble is, I haven’t even looked at the manuscript of the third and final book in the Conor Kelly series SINCE NOVEMBER!

I have become too distracted with research, trying out new writing formats like short stories and even shorter microfiction, book reviewing, article writing, etc. I have loved it all, but my book has suffered. And I can’t give 100% to it all, as well as my book, my blog, and my family.

So there will be less blogging (booo! I’m going to miss it!) from me over the next couple of months, and hopefully more novel writing (yaaaay! Conor’s story needs to be told and finished!).

I hope you’ll bear with me, and not suffer too much from the pain of Monday Mythology withdrawal. I personally will be turning to my other many addictions to help me get by… coffee, chocolate, Prosecco, Bloody Mary’s…

In the mean-time, just to get you in the mood, Jane Dougherty tagged me on FB last night to share the first seven lines of my current WIP, and I thought I’d post it here too, so you could see what I’m working on. I tag Sacha Black, Craig Boyack and Chris Deards to do the same.

Conor awoke with a start. The deep, impenetrable shadows of night pressed their velvet drapes heavily against his skin, forcing the breath from compressed lungs as he fought to control his fear.

For months now, his nights had been full of dreams, and his dreams were all of Ruairi.

Ruairi, his brother. His twin. His only living relative, so far as he knew. Ruairi, who was High King of the Sidhe, and who wanted to kill him.

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