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Double Trouble | Twins in Irish Mythology

 

 

There are lots of famous twins in world mythology, but in Ireland’s legends we hear more about the triple aspect of our ancient gods and goddesses. The Trí de Dana, for instance, also known as the Three Gods of Art, comprised Goibniu the Smith, Luchtaine the Carpenter and Credne the Goldsmith. The Morrígán was composed of the three sisters of war, life and death, Macha, Bodb and Nemain/ Anann.

There were also twins though. Early legend speaks of the eternal battle between the Holly King and his twin brother, the Oak King. This constant struggle signifies the wax and wane of the seasons; for one half of the year the Oak King is winning, and the world is dressed in summer green finery, the air warmed by the sun, the earth blessed with fruitfulness. But then the Holly King gains control of the battle, and the world slips into the dark half of the year as winter strips heat and light from the land, and life withers and dies.

It was often perceived that the birth of twins was a supernatural affair, which some cultures revered, and some punished. Twins were thought to be the result of two fathers, usually one divine and one mortal; this is called superfetatation (isn’t there always a posh long word for everything?). As such they often embodied polarised characteristics; one would be a child of light, the other of darkness, always battling for mastery of the other. Such siblings are known as Divine Twins.

Whilst the above example would corroborate this, in Irish lore, it wasn’t always the case.

Bran and Sceolán were twin hounds belonging to Irish mythological hero, Fionn mac Cumhaill. Unbeknown to Fionn, these two faithful companions were actually the offspring of his aunt, Tuireann. She had been kidnapped and transformed into a wolfhound by Uchtdealb, a woman of the Sidhe who was jealous of Iollan‘s love for her.

Uchtdealb gave the hound Tuireann, who was already pregnant by this time, to a chieftain who was notorious for his dislike of dogs. She hunted well for him and gained his admiration, and when her time came, she gave birth to twin pups.

Tuireann was eventually restored to her human form, but the pups, who had not been born human, were forced to live out their lives as hounds. The chieftain gave them to Fionn. Their human-like intelligence coupled with their animal instinct and prowess soon led them to became great hunters and fighters, and they were renowned and admired the length and breadth of the land.

The Curse of Macha is a tragic story. Macha, the daughter of Aodh Ruad, was forced to run a race against the King of Ulster’s chariot horses, even though she was heavily pregnant. She won the race, but went into labour and collapsed on the finish line, where she gave birth to twin sons, Fedach and Fomfor.

Most versions of the story claim that she died, and that with her dying breath, she cursed the men of Ulster so that they would all suffer with the pangs of labour, and thus be rendered unable to fight. This was to  have a dire effect later on in the Cattle Raid of Cooley, when the warriors were forced to wait several days for the pains to fade before they were fit to ride into battle.

It’s also quite amusing to me that a woman could run a race and win it whilst in labour, but that the men lay in their beds unable to accomplish anything.

Another version of the story I came across recently, however, claims that after giving birth and making her curse, Macha went on to rule as High Queen of Ireland for twenty five years of glory and prosperity. The place where she built her home is still known as Emain Macha, which means ‘twins of Macha’, although it also known by the more modern name of Navan Fort.

Most people know Macha as one of the triad sisters of the Morrígán. She was the wife of Danann king, Nuada Argetlamh, and is also thought to have links with horses. In any case, it is she who gave Irish hero Cúchulainn the gift of his famous chariot horses, the twins Liath Macha, which means ‘the grey of Macha’, and Dub Sainglend, meaning ‘black of Saingliu’. Cúchullain leapt onto their backs and rode them all around Ireland until they were finally tamed.

In Cúchulainn’s final battle, Liath Macha was injured by a spear thrown by Lugaid mac Con Roí. He returned to the pool of Linn Liaith in the mountains of Sliab Fuait, where Cúchulainn had originally found him, presumably for healing.

Dub Sainglend continued to pull the chariot alone, but Lugaid’s next spear hit Cúchulainn. Dub Sainglend didn’t stop, and Liath Macha returned to protect him, killing fifty of the enemy with his teeth and another thirty with each of his hooves.

Some schools of thought perceive Amergin and Donn of the Milesians as divine twins in some kind of pagan creation story. As a poet, Amergin is seen as the child of light and inspiration, while Donn, who died on board before the battle for Ireland had even commenced, is thought to be the self-sacrificing dark lord of the dead. As far as I know, there was no battle for dominance between them. And of course there is a wealth of lore about prior inhabitants of Eire, including the Fir Bolg and the Tuatha de Danann, so I’m guessing the world had pretty much already been created.

Amergin’s surviving brothers, however, tell a different story. After their victory over the Tuatha de Danann, the land was divided between Eber and Eremon. Eremon took the north, and the younger brother, Eber took the south. They ruled their respective areas peaceably for a year, but Eber was not satisfied; he wanted it all. The two brothers fought a battle, and Eremon won, becoming High King over all of Ireland.

In Ireland today, the Tánaiste is the deputy prime minister. In ancient times, and into the C17th, actually, kings and chieftains were elected from the righdamhna, meaning ‘kingly material’. The táinaiste was chosen from the same group as assistant, or second in command following the kings death, until a new chieftain was chosen. He was selected for his talent and strength and other personal attributes, rather than lineage or prestige.

Cormac mac Airt, for example, had his eldest son as his Tánaiste, but when the young man was killed, another roydammna, Eochaid Gonnat was selected as his replacement.

It is thought that this tradition could have derived from the Celtic belief of the power of twins, and that this power could be accessed even when the twinning was symbolic.

Over here, children who are born within a year of each other are known as Irish twins. My sister and I were born twelve months and three weeks apart,  and we were always being mistaken for each other when we were younger.

Sarah Zama’s Thursday Quotables and Me

Letting Go Coverjpeg (2)Not so long ago, I gave away a free download of a short story I had written, and thought nothing more about it. (You can get your free copy here, if you missed it first time around.)

Imagine my surprise when I opened my email notification from Sarah Zama’s beautiful blog, The Old Shelter, and found it was all about me! Or rather, my short story, Letting Go.

You can read what she had to say about it here. Thanks so much, Sarah, I am honoured and delighted; it was a lovely surprise, which made my day.

Friday Fantastic Flash with Geoff le Pard & Sacha Black

Last week’s Friday Fantastic Flash Challenge was based on Deception and Lies, and Geoff le Pard was first off the mark with this wonderful piece… take it away, Geoff!


She said the tablets were for sciatica. Ha! I should have suspected. She’s never had back ache. Pain in the proverbial at times, but I put that down to the usual, you know her monthly wotsit.

I may never have realised. We were old enough not to care about others. I understood, given what she’d said about her past, that she would be reluctant on the physical side. Geez, of course she’d be a bit reluctant in the intimacy area. And I assumed the scars were, you know, from that relationship.

We talked about kids. We’re a bit old may be, but not that old. I wasn’t that keen in truth so it wasn’t an issue. We sort of left it open.

Looking back the clue was there on Facebook. That photo of her primary school, when they tagged the wrong person and I laughed that she’d not noticed.

Things changed after that. For a week or so she spent long hours at work. Then she asked me to collect the repeat prescription. Maybe she told the pharmacist to say something. Maybe she knew I’d ask. ‘Hormones,’ that’s all I heard.

Sitting in the car, the pieces have jammed into place like a badly cut jigsaw. And that photo. The little blond lad tagged ‘Lesley Grade’.

I’ve sat here for two hours. She’s at home, waiting for me. The kids aren’t going to happen but so? And she’s had a hell of a time. Is it strange she finds trust difficult? I want to hold her, but whether it’s to strangle her or hug her I’m not sure.

I thought I’d explode, wondering what to do. That’s when it occurred to me I was still calling her ‘her’ and ‘she’. Maybe that’s what I should hang on to.


Geoff has already written these two books, and is currently working on at least another two that I know of, including a dark YA fantasy, which I have just had the privilege of beta- reading for him. You can buy them here. You can catch up with him on his blog.


Next up is Sacha Black with this naughty little number, full of teen angst…


She wrinkled her nose, stuck her hip out and folded her arms.

“Frankly, Justin, it’s only a lie if you get caught.”

Despite my best efforts not to look cynical wrinkles formed on my brow.

“Right, and you figure that how, exactly?”

“Simple isn’t it?” she said, picking up her folder ready for class, “if u keep consistent and tell the same story, everyone accepts it and you,” she pointed at my chest, “don’t get accused of lying…” She leant into my face, so her nose touched mine, “that makes it a truth.”

She popped a kiss on my lips and giggled.

“It’s hardly a truth Leah. I’m still deceiving everyone, and what I did was wrong.”

She rolled her eyes, “do you wanna get into uni or not?”

“Course. Can you imagine what my parents would do if I didn’t get in? I wouldn’t have stolen the paper if I wasn’t desperate. But…” my stomach twisted, bile rose in my throat, it was bitter. A flash of what I’d done. The touch of Miss’s hand. The sweet rose perfume I’d watch her spray through the classroom door before I entered. The quiver of her lip as she handed over the paper. Her skin was so soft.

“Promise me Justin,” miss said, “promise me no one will ever know.”

“I shouldn’t have done it, Leah. What if they find out? What if I ruin her career as well as mine?”

Leah’s face grew dark, her eyes narrowed.

“Silly cow shouldn’t have taken a liking to ya then should she? Look, this is this isn’t about you any more, this is about all of us you have helped.”

“It wasn’t like that, I forced her. Tempted her, She’s only 4 years older than us you know.”

“So you do like her?” her neck was flexing, her face shook as pink rose up her cheeks “how could you?”

I opened my mouth to answer. She put her hand up cutting me off.

“I thought you loved me,” she screamed, as she stalked away.

“I did,” I whispered, “I did.”


sacha

Sacha is currently working on her first Fantasy/ YA/ Dystopian novel called Keepers, which is just about to enter the editing stage. In the meantime, you can find her on her blog, where she shares her writerly experiences, and enthusiasm for all things weird and wonderful.


So to this week’s Friday Fantastic Flash Challenge…

You are drifting down, down through deep water. It is dark, cold, murky. You sense there is something else out there. You are not alone. Will you sink or swim?

You can submit here, I will include links to your blog and books. Entries must be under 500 words, but please remember that I write YA, so there may be young people on this site… please keep it family friendly. I really hope you will join me and take part in the craic!

The Lake Dwellers of Ancient Ireland

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Ireland has its fair share of water lore and mythological aquatic creatures. As a small island surrounded by the sea and liberally sprinkled with very many lakes, it’s hardly surprising. Our ancient ancestors believed that the way to the Otherworld, also known as Tir na Nog, or Manannán’s land, lay west across the sea beyond the ninth wave, or through the crystal waters of lakes, rivers and wells.

These entrances to the Sidhe world were guarded, accessible only to the bravest, or some might say, the most foolhardy. The monsters which lived in these lakes were known as péista, and they were said to be as big as mountains and very fierce. Fionn mac Cumhaill is said to have fought and killed a veritable horde of the beasts in various lake locations around Ireland.

One such creature, named Oillipéist (oll meaning ‘great’, péist meaningworm/ reptile/ beast’) is credited with having carved out the route of the River Shannon. Apparently, he swallowed a drunken piper by the name of Ó Ruirc, who, much to his chagrin, continued playing, unaware of his fate. Infuriated by the din, Oillipéist consequently coughed him up and spat him out in disgust.

St Patrick famously banished all serpents from Ireland, thank goodness! Unfortunately, a she-dragon named Caoránach managed to escape… there’s always one, isn’t there? St Pat chased her all the way to Lough Derg where she was slain by Fionn mac Cumhaill. This was a truly amazing feat, when you consider that Fionn and Pat lived about a couple of hundred years apart.

New to me is the Dobhar Cu, or ‘water-hound of the deep’. This huge, hound-like creature was aggressive, fast, with a penchant for feasting on human flesh. It had a high-pitched whistle-like cry, which it used to signify to its mate when hunting. It was known as the King of the Lakes and Father of all Otters. There have been many sightings of this elusive beast over the years, mostly at Sraheen’s Lough in Co Mayo, but it was also spotted in 2000 in a lake on Omey Island in Connemara. Allegedly. Nessie, eat your heart out!

The Each-Uisce, or ‘water horse’, can be found in fresh water loughs or the sea, and is often confused with the kelpie, which inhabits rivers and streams. It appears as a very beautiful horse, entices humans onto its back, at which point its skin becomes adhesive, and the rider cannot dismount. The creature returns to its lough, where it drowns its victim before feasting.

These creatures are all quite terrifying, so it is a wonder that our ancient ancestors ever went anywhere near water at all. But they did. Not all lake dwellers were of mythical origin. Many of them were human.

No one knows for sure exactly when or why our ancient ancestors began building their crannogs out on the lakes of Ireland, but archaeology shows that they were in use from the middle Bronze Age into the C17th.

A crannog is an artificial island constructed from brush, timber, clay, peat and stone, often supported by timber piles. Large stones were added to their edges, probably to protect them from the force of the water. The surface would have been topped with a fine layer of earth and sand.

The old Irish word is crannóc, from crann, meaning ‘tree’ and óg, meaning ‘young’. It is not known if this term refers to the island itself, or the structures built upon it.

There are about 1200 known crannogs in Ireland, but it is estimated that there are probably many, many more yet to be discovered. The majority are concentrated in the drumlins area of the midlands (where I live), the north and north-west of Ireland.

Today, they look like nothing more than little rounded islands, low in the water, and densely covered in trees and vegetation. Co Cavan, where I live is said to have a lake for every day of the year, and from my own observation, almost every one seems to have at least one small island in it.

I had always assumed that these were holy places, being built over water, surrounded by the vast expanse of open sky and the quiet and solitude to be found in such locations. We know that votive offerings were placed in water, perhaps gifts to the gods, or the Sidhe, perhaps even as bribes to the vicious water creatures which may or may not have inhabited these watery domains.

But archaeology has discovered every day items such as cooking pots and vessels, combs, sewing needles, and various other accoutrements necessary to normal domestic life. Clearly then, crannogs were lived in; they were homes.

Also, they were not necessarily alone. There are thought to be up to 300 on Lough Gara. Lough Allen also has numerous crannogs with a submerged stone pathway leading to them. The Black Islands of Lough Ree numbered 52. They were often built in small clusters overlooking a larger one further out in deeper water… the home of the chieftain, perhaps.

There were many things the crannog builder had to consider, in addition to the supply of building materials; the structure had to be in deep enough water that an enemy could not wade out to it, but not so deep that it was too difficult to build. It also had to be close enough to shore to be convenient to the occupier, yet far enough to be out of bow or spear shot. As such, they could be found in water as deep as 6m, and as far as 60-100m from shore.

It seems from this that defence was a huge factor in choosing to live on a crannog. The owner would travel to and from home in either a logboat, or a coracle. But some sites had timber or stone causeways which were submerged. Whether they were under water at the time they were in use is not known for sure, but in terms of defence, it would certainly have hindered the enemy if they could not see the route of the path.

In later years, crannogs continued to be used for other purposes, sometimes as military strongholds in times of war, or as feasting halls for kings and chieftains in more peaceful years. Interestingly, they have also been found to be associated with the processing of iron ore and blacksmithing.

This seems hardly practical, or even logical, but in ancient times, the mastery of fire and forge was seen as magic and sacred knowledge. Perhaps working alone out on a crannog, a smith was better able to keep his knowledge and power secret.

It’s quite interesting to me that the Tuatha de Danann were thought to have come to Ireland from Lochlanns, as in the Irish language, this means ‘lake dwellers’. Some versions of the story claim that they first settled at the beautiful and scenic Lough Derraveragh.

There are several crannogs located on the Kiltoom side of the lake, and in the hills nearby, there are many ring forts. In the 1970s, a dugout logboat was recovered from the water. But Lough Derraveragh is most famous for the legend of the Children of Lir, who were forced by their jealous step-mother to live for 900 years in the form of swans.

By now, you will most likely be wondering about the mermaid featured in the image at the top of this post. Well, yes, Ireland does have its own mer-people, they are called merrows, from the old Irish murúch, or murdúchann, and were described in the Lebor Gebála Érenn as siren-like. So far as I know, they were sea creatures, and not lake-dwellers. I just liked the picture.

Having said that, I do know of one lake-dwelling mermaid. Lí Ban was a woman of the Sidhe. One day, a stream burst out of the ground beneath her house, forming the mighty Lough Neagh. She was immediately turned into a mermaid, and forced to live in the lough for three hundred years, with her pet dog, which had been turned into an otter. Eventually, she was captured and rescued by monks, whereupon she was so grateful that she agreed to be baptised as Muirgen (‘born of the sea’) into the Christian faith. Thus she lost her pagan longevity, but her soul was saved.

Tuatha de Denann | Who Were They Really?

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Stories of the Tuatha de Denann were passed down through the ages into legend via the ancient oral tradition of Ireland’s poets. Later, Christian monks began assembling and recording them in an effort to produce a history for Ireland. Inevitably, these texts were influenced by their beliefs and doctrines, their translation skills (or lack of), and the desire to please their patrons. What we are left with is impossible to distil into fact and fiction.

These myths are so fantastic, so bizarre, that no scholar or historian worth his salt would ever entertain them as anything other than pure fantasy. But I am not a scholar, and I don’t have to worry about academic reputation, and I say there is no smoke without fire.

Tuatha de Denann (pronounced Thoo-a day Du-non) is translated as ‘tribe of Danu’. Scholars are agreed that Danu was the name of their Goddess, most probably Anu/ Anann. However, that is unproven, and I believe could equally have referred to their leader or King, or even the place from which they originated.

They were a race of God-like people gifted with supernatural powers, who invaded and ruled Ireland over four thousand years ago. According to an ancient document known as the Annals of the Four Masters (Annála na gCeithre Maístrí compiled by Franciscan monks between 1632-1636 from earlier texts), the Denann ruled from 1897BC until 1700BC, a short period indeed in which to have accumulated such fame. They were said to have originated from four mythical Northern cities Murias, Gorias, Falias and Finias, possibly located in Lochlann (Norway).

The Book of Invasions (Lebor Gebála Érénn compiled c.1150) claims in a poem that they came to Ireland riding in ‘flying ships’ surrounded by ‘dark clouds’. They landed on Sliabh an Iarainn (the Iron Mountain) in Co. Leitrim, where they ‘brought a darkness over the sun lasting three days’. There is a lovely line (which I have mentioned on this blog before) which illustrates perfectly the bewilderment felt towards these conquerors;

“The truth is not known, beneath the sky of stars,
Whether they were of heaven or earth.”

A later version of the story relegates the flying ships to mere sailing ships. The dark clouds became towering columns of smoke as the ships were set alight, a warning to observers that the Denann were here to stay. Clearly, the monks recording this story were trying to make sense of something which was well out of their comfort zone and beyond the limits of their understanding.

And so we have our first dilemma; which story to believe. Did they arrive from the skies, or from across the sea?

So, what did the Denann look like? They certainly looked very different to the small, dark native peoples of Ireland at that time. The Denann are generally described as tall, slim but powerful, with red or blonde hair, blue or green eyes, and pale skin. To wondering onlookers, they must indeed have seemed like living Gods walking the earth.

Interestingly, archaeology has unearthed evidence all around the world of small colonies of red-haired people from the same time period as the Tuatha De Denann’s arrival in Ireland. Excavations in Xinjiang Province, China have revealed mummies of red and blonde haired people living around four thousand years ago. The extremely well preserved Egyptian mummy of nobleman Yoya, c 1400BC, shows he had blonde hair and Nordic features, as did his wife, Thuya. She was also Tutankhamun’s great-grandmother.

Archaeologists try to explain reddish hair colour as resulting from the mummification process, or from lying in peat bogs, or simply from hundreds or thousands of years of ageing. What they can’t explain is the genetic testing which proved that snowy-maned Egyptian Pharaoh Rameses II was red-haired before he grew old, or that statues of these Egyptians depicted them with their red or blonde hair and in some cases, their blue eyes.

Going back to the Denann, in order to win supremacy over Ireland, they had to fight against the existing ruling tribe, the Fir Bolg, in the First Battle of Moytura. During this encounter, the Denann High King Nuada Argetlam (pronounced Noo-tha Or-geth-lam) lost his arm. He survived, but was forced to give up his position, as a king could not be seen as anything less than ‘whole’, if he was to bring his people continued success.

In an intriguing turn of events, the physician Dian-Cecht replaced the lost limb with a fully functional ‘arm of silver’. Later, Dian-Cecht’s son, Miach, also a physician, caused skin and flesh to grow over the metal arm. Thus ‘whole’ again, the kingship was restored to Nuada following the ousting of his replacement, the tyrant Bres.

So here we have another case of strange, advanced (dare we say ‘alien’?) technology. Could this be the first ever prosthesis, a robotic arm built over four thousand years ago? Six million dollar man, eat your heart out!

The Denann brought special equipment with them into Ireland, which were known as the Four Treasures/ Jewels of Eire (you might have heard of them; I wrote a book about them… ahem, just sayin’). These four magical talismans of great power were;

  1. The Sword of Light – also known in Irish as Claoimh Solais (pronounced Clee-uv Shull-ish). It was said to have been made by Uiscias in the northern city of Findias, and brought to Ireland by Nuada, and that no-one ever escaped from it once it was drawn against them. It is also described as a ‘glowing white torch’. The similarities to the imaginary light sabre are quite striking; could this sword have been some kind of futuristic laser weaponry?
  2. Lugh’s Spear – also known as ‘the finest/famous yew of the wood’, said to have been made by Esras in the northern city of Gorias. Lugh used it to kill his Formorian grandfather, the giant-king Balor at the Second Battle of Moytura (although some versions of the story claim he used a sling). It has been suggested that Lugh’s spear, the spear Crimall which blinded High King Cormac mac Airt rendering him unfit (not ‘whole’) for rule, and the Lúin Celtchair are one and the same weapon, although there is no evidence to back this up. The Lúin Celtchair is a fascinating legend; it was a long, fiery lance from which ‘sparks as big as eggs flew’ when ‘the spear-heat takes hold of it’. In order to prevent the flames of the tip from consuming the haft and the warrior holding it, the spear head was dipped into a cauldron of mysterious sorcerous liquid. In ‘The Destruction of Dá Derga’s Hostel’, a saga of the Ulster cycle of mythology, the Lúin Celtchair is claimed to have been discovered at the Battle of Moytura, the same battle where Lugh killed Balor. This spear, then, could well be Lugh’s, and seems to possess many of the qualities of the Sword of Light; it could be another product of an advanced technology, perhaps even an alien one.
  3. The Dagda’s Cauldron – Also known as the ‘Cauldron of Plenty’ (Coire Ansic in Irish, pronounced Kwee-ra On-sik). It was made by Semias of the northern city of Murias. Not much is known about this vessel, although it was thought to have had the power to bring the dead back to life, and that ‘none would go from it unsatisfied’. Dr Ulf Erlingsson has suggested that the giant stone basin found in the eastern passage of the central mound at Knowth, part of the Newgrange complex, could be the Dagda’s Cauldron, and that the concentric circular design depicted on it could be a map of Atlantis, as described by Plato. How could the Denann have come by this knowledge?
  4. The Lia Fáil – Also known as the Stone of Destiny, and the Coronation Stone. It was made by Morfessa of Falias, and brought into Ireland by the Denann, where they duly placed it at the Hill of Tara, in Co Meath. Legend has it that its cry confirmed the coronation of the rightful High King of Ireland, and that its roar could be heard throughout the land. It was broken in half sometime later by Cuchullain when it failed to proclaim him or his protégé. One half was carried away to Scotland, where it eventually ended up in the throne of the British monarchy, although there is a whisper that the true stone was hidden, possibly beneath the River Tay, and remains there to this day. A stone with a voice sounds too fanciful to be true, but perhaps it was misunderstood; perhaps the stone was no more than a stage upon which the new king stood. Perhaps the voice which roared out across the land was amplified through a microphone, perhaps a technology so tiny and unobtrusive as the wireless ear-mics currently worn by pop stars today when performing.

More famously known as Tir na Nog, or The Land of the Ever Young, this was thought of as the original home of the Denann. It could be reached through water, by travelling west over the sea, or passing through the gateways of the Sidhe mounds. In these places, the veil between the worlds was considered very thin, and therefore more easily traversable. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the magical realm is not the eternal youth, beauty, joy and plenty it represents, but the passage of time attributed to it.

In Tir na Nog, time seems to stands still, while in the mortal world it passes in the blink of an eye. The story of Oisin, Fionn mac Cumhaill’s son, and his Otherworld lover, Niamh, illustrates this perfectly. After only three blissful years in the magical realm, Oisin returns home to find three hundred years have passed. When he falls from his horse and his feet touch Ireland’s soil, age catches up with him, and he dies an old man.

This idea of infinite paradise where no one grows old and time has no meaning has parallels with space travel, alternate dimensions, and even the mundane, such as advancements in health care and medicine. Were the Denann immortal? Not in the absolute sense of living forever; they could be killed in battle, or by sickness, although compared with the natives at that time, they were clearly long-lived. Even modern man would seem ageless and long-lived in comparison with our early ancestors.

The reign of the Denann came to an end in just two battles with the Milesians, whom historians and scholars alike agree were probably the first Gaels in Ireland. Not only were the Denann defeated by military might, but by cunning too. It was agreed that the new invaders and the Denann would each rule half of Ireland, and so it was that Amergin of the Milesians chose that half of Ireland which lay above ground, leaving the Denann to retreat below. They were led away to their new domain via the Sidhe mounds by Manannán, God of the sea, who then shielded them from mortal eyes by raising an enchanted mist known as the Faeth Fiadha (pronounced Feh Fee-oh-a), or ‘Cloak of Concealment’. As time passed, they became known as the Sidhe (Shee), Ireland’s fairy-folk.

So, were the Denann Gods or Aliens? It’s too easy to cry ‘aliens!’ or ascribe the unexplainable to God-like entities. To be honest, I find both incredibly annoying. Humans are capable of amazing things; why is it not possible, in the long long history of the existence of our planet, that there were prior civilisations we know nothing about, who advanced and developed in their own ways on a par with our own development?

Think of it this way; to one who observes without understanding, even an aeroplane flying through the sky carrying people in its belly to far distant, unimaginable lands seems like powerful magic; so does flicking a light switch, a television screen, a mobile phone. The plane becomes a ship, transported on dark clouds; a television screen becomes a vision, the phone, a stone which speaks, perhaps an oracle giving advice direct from the Gods.

Those who manipulate such magic must surely be Gods themselves; they look like Gods with their red-gold hair, sky-blue eyes and milk-white skin; they wield fiery, powerful weapons; they appear to be ageless and immortal, and they are wise, beautiful, and fearsome.

Denann ‘magic’ can be explained, though not proven, as technology misunderstood by the local population. Whether it was man or alien made, is debatable. It is certainly possible that these were migrating people from advanced civilisations in our world, perhaps displaced by the Great Flood, searching out new homes, bringing with them what remained of their knowledge and technology.

I also believe that ‘we are not alone’ in this great cosmos, and that visits from other worlds and dimensions cannot be ruled out. Or perhaps it was magic after all, a force which, having no comprehension of, we seek to deny.

Experts, being of scientific and analytical mind, will insist the lack of physical evidence proves the Tuatha de Denann never existed. The fact so many stories about them remain, however, is evidence enough to me that they did.

Friday Fantastic Flash with CS Boyack


Author and blogging friend Craig Boyack responded brilliantly to my recent call for participation in my new feature Friday Fantastic Flash, so without further ado, here is his masterpiece.


“Captain Stevens, the pressure on the hull is building again! I don’t know how much longer before it crushes,” Ensign Lola said.

I buckled myself in my chair. “Everyone buckle up. Boost the shields to the pressure points. The last time the pressures were followed by that awful shaking.”

“Pressures seem to be coming from the top and bottom of the ship. Like being in a big vice. I can divert some power from the sides, but it’s just a guess.”

“Do it!”

“Pressure is easing up, but we’re in motion again.”

“Hang on everyone.”

The ship moved violently from side to side. The sudden change in direction reminded me of a whip cracking. Half the crew would be in sick bay tomorrow if we survived whatever kind of storm this was. It wasn’t bad enough to risk landing here for fuel, we might need more repairs than we could handle after this.

The lights failed, and emergency lights cast a shadowy glow across the cabin. “Try to get a fix on where we are now. If we have to send an emergency signal, we need to tell them where we are.”

Lola paused. “We haven’t moved far at all. It’s almost like some kind of vortex. We don’t have enough power to break free, and all we can do it ride it out.”

“Damages?”

“Some surface damage to the upper part of the ship. The bottom has some too, but not as bad. We appear to be coated with a watery type substance.”

“Not unusual for a storm, right Lola?”

A creaking pressure silenced us all. Lola focused on her terminal and worked on the shields in silence.

“Well?” I asked.

“So far so good, but we can’t take another round of this.”

***

“Honey, grab her while I finish folding this blanket and putting our lunch away.”

“She’s okay. She’s just sitting in the shade being happy.”

“I know, but I want to change her diaper before we drive back to your mother’s.”

“Hey, big girl. What ya got there? Somebody’s old toy spaceship. That’s nasty. Daddy will buy you your own someday. Honey? Do we have her teething ring in the cooler?”


I have just finished beta-reading Craig’s most recent work, a collection of short stories entitled The Experimental Notebook of C.S. Boyack, and let me tell you, it’s GOOD! If you enjoyed his flash piece, you will LOVE his book… out soon, watch this space. In the meantime, you can content yourself with one or all of his other books, available on Amazon, of course, each one a cracking good read; I know, I’ve read ’em!


Deception 2

And so to this week’s Friday Fantastic Flash Challenge. Deception and lies. You discover someone has not been honest with you. Why? All is not as it seems beneath the surface. How do you feel? What do you do about it?

You can submit here, I will feature one story each week and include links to your blog and books. Entries must be under 500 words, but please remember that I write YA, so there may be young people on this site… please keep it family friendly. I really hope you will join me and take part in the craic!

Capturing History Challenge

Ali Isaac:

Ed is running a Photo Challenge as part of Heritage Week. Got any pictures you’d like to send in?

Originally posted on Ed Mooney Photography:

10675570_809983652429846_5455560492157749282_n Baltinglass Belltower

With today being World Photography Day, I have been scouring the web to see what is going on. It amazes me that the first commercially available 35mm film camera was only developed 90 years ago?  And the digital camera only came out 20 years ago. In fact would you believe that camera phones were only beginning to come out 15 years ago? With advancements in digital technologies photography is now easily accessible to every Man, Woman and Child. Whether it’s a quick selfie on your smart phone or an artistic landscape or portrait taken on a DSLR, we can now capture images anywhere and anytime.

Dunamase Castle Dunamase Castle

And so the little hamster in my head started to race around on his wheel and I got thinking, this weekend is the start of National Heritage Week here in Ireland, which runs from 22 – 30 August 2015. You can…

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Irish Mythology and the Movies

selkie3

Apparently, Hugh Jackman of Wolverine fame will be bringing Irish Mythology to the big screen. You might think I would be happy about that. Guess again.

It seems that the Wolverine character has Irish blood. As a result of that, he is coming to Ireland in search of his heritage, and Mr Jackman thinks it’s a good idea to include Cuchullain and Fionn mac Cumhaill in his supporting cast.

Jackman is reported as saying, “A friend of mine from Ireland gave me a book of them (Irish legends), and Cuchullain and those stories, they’re amazing.” Well, thanks! Glad someone noticed.

Needless to say, Irish media is in a fawning frenzy all over the poor guy.

I’m sure the making of part of a blockbuster Hollywood movie would bring a lot of revenue to Ireland, and heaven knows, we could do with it.

I have always wanted to bring the wonders of Irish mythology to a new audience, to keep it alive. But not this way, not by cheapening our two greatest mythological heroes as Wolverine’s sidekicks in a trashy X-men movie.

Don’t get me wrong; I have no problem with adapting the old stories into modern ones which speak to the youth of today. Even the seanchaí of old did that, when tales were spoken rather than written down. But at least do so with respect.

Some movie-makers have done just that. Ondine is a beautiful, powerful, emotional movie based on Irish folklore, which I highly recommend.

Interestingly, out of all the movies made since 1948 based on Irish mythology (there are 24 of them), 3 are about fairies, 1 about ghosts, 6 about selkies, and 12 about leprachauns. Only 1 was about Fionn mac Cumhaill.

Leprachauns! Is that really the best we can do? Is that what the outside world really thinks of us, when it thinks about Ireland?

Our heritage tells of the adventures and exploits of the Tuatha de Denann, the tall red-headed folk with magical powers, upon whom Tolkien based his elven races. George Lucas’s Sith in the Star Wars series is just another spelling of the Sidhe, Ireland’s fairy folk descended from the Sidhe.

We have Gods, Kings, warriors, lovers, druids, epic battles, magic, tragedy, shape-shifters, sea voyages, mysterious other worlds, you name it, we got it, and yet half our movies involved Leprechauns.

This year’s movie, Song of the Sea, is yet another based on the selkie. Whilst undeniably beautiful, disappointingly, it’s hardly original.

So come on you movie-makers! There’s more to Irish mythology than selkies, fairies and leprechauns. If you’re not sure. I can point you in the right direction to stories which will thrill and enthral your viewers all around the world.

Earth’s Secret Race of Giants and Their Connection To The Annunaki and Nephilim

Ali Isaac:

Sacha Black is already well known for her blog on the writers journey, but there is a secret side to her, a penchant for the weird and wonderful, the mysterious and unexplained, which she is now starting to reveal to us with her new weekly series entitled Weekly Wonders. I thought followers of this blog might find her posts interesting, so sit back and enjoy…

Originally posted on Sacha Black:

Earth's Secret Race of Giants & Their Connection to the Annunaki and Nephilim

Giants are all over fiction stories like fairytales such as Jack and the Beanstalk and the BFG, but what about actual giants? You know, the ones that lived and breathed on planet Earth? Some argue it’s just another conspiracy. But I wonder if they saw a giant skeleton, knew about the ones hidden in the Smithsonian, heard about the theory connecting the Annunaki and Nephilim and the references littered in the Bible, whether they might change their mind…

View original 1,263 more words

Sacred Trees of Ireland | The Yew

yew3

 

The Yew tree, one of Ireland’s native evergreens, enjoys a high status in Irish mythology. In Old Irish, it’s name is Ibar, but in modern Irish it is known as an Iúr.

The yew is a long-lived tree; it is thought it can survive to the ripe old age of 9500 years, although it is hard to accurately date due to the unique way in which it grows. Branches reach earthward to touch the ground, forming new stems which entwine around the main central trunk, which is often hollow, eventually becoming inseparable from it.

I visited the yews at Loughcrew Gardens this weekend. Loughcrew was the birthplace and home of St Oliver Plunkett, Ireland’s most recent saint. These magnificent specimens were planted in the 1660s.

Yews have soft dark needles, twisted gnarly trunks and flaky bark. They are very tactile. The male trees produce cones, the females produce red berries, each one containing only one seed.

Interestingly, the leaves, bark, wood and seeds are highly poisonous, and yet the very substance, taxol, which makes them so toxic has also been found to have beneficial effects in treating cancer. Taxol inhibits cell growth and division, but it would take ten 200 year-old trees with trunks ten inches in diameter, to produce enough taxol sufficient for a single dose.

The yew was revered by our ancient ancestors for its longevity, and because it remained green and vibrant, thriving in the harshness of winter when all other trees succumbed.

In those times, it was more plentiful and grew in mixed woodland. The deep shade beneath its dense needles and branches combined with the toxins secreted through its roots ensured not much grew within its vicinity. These natural open spaces were perfect locations for conducting pagan ritual and ceremonies. Thus the yew was seen as a ‘holy’ or sacred tree, and in time was adopted by the Christians, who built their churches and abbeys around them. We still see yew trees growing in churchyards today.

The yew tree fell out of favour as cattle and livestock became more important as an indication of wealth and status. Only a tiny amount of poison from a yew was enough to kill a cow or horse, and so many of the trees were eventually destroyed.

The three oldest trees in Ireland happen to be yews. The yews of Crom Castle, Co Fermanagh are said to be over 800 years old.

At Maynooth College, there is a yew which is said to be between 700 -800 years old, and the yew at Muckross Friary in Killarney is 670 years old.

The oldest yew tree in Ireland, (Plmerstown, Dublin), was thought to be over a thousand years old when it finally fell during storms back in the 1880s. Dublin boasts another famous yew tree; it is located at the Old Glebe, Newcastle, and is named The Dean’s Tree after the writer Jonathon Swift (1667-1745), who would sit penning his works beneath it.

In Irish mythology, the yew was one of five sacred trees brought into Ireland from the Otherworld when the land was divided into its five provinces. It was protected under Brehon Law as one of the seven Chieftain trees.

The Druids chose yew from which to make their wands, or staffs. Being so long-lived, and yet also so toxic, it was seen as having powerful magical properties, a tree associated not just with death, but also longevity and rebirth.

Poets also used staves of yew as memory aids when learning long incantations and poems. It is said that these rods were very long with eight sides, each one inscribed with ogham characters.

In a version of The Wooing of Etain, the Druid, Dalladh, divines that Etain is at the court of King Midir by making two rods of yew wood and inscribing them with ogham spells.

In the beautiful and tragic love story of Baile and Aillinn, a yew tree grows from Baile’s grave which bears the likeness of his face in its bark. You can read Jane Dougherty’s haunting version of this story for free in the book that she and I wrote together, Grá mo Chroí, Love Stories from Irish Myth.

Here is a series of Twitter poems (#gramochchroi) I wrote back in May in honour of the legend;

He lies beneath a weight of stones

in the shadow of love and loss

and from the hill a yew tree grew

now aged and covered in moss

 

Sacred apple, fruit of womb

falls from the branch like tears

while silent in his cold dark tomb

her lover sleeps away the years

 

Yew boughs twined together

Lovers’ limbs interlace

Twisted, tattooed with ogham

In the bark, an image of a face

 

From that tree a branch was took

his story for to tell

of life and love and death and loss

and the woman who loved him well

There is a strange story about a yew tree in the Historical Cycle of mythology. An old yew tree, said to have been wrought by Sidhe magic,  stood in a place called Ess Magh. Three brothers, Mac Conn, Cian and Eogan, fell under its spell and greatly desired to own it. They took their dispute to King Aillil, who awarded it to Eogan. Consumed with jealousy and anger, Mac Conn fought two battles with Aillil over his poor judgement. Many brave warriors were killed, including Mac Conn himself, and all of Aillil’s seven sons. Mac Conn’s daughter, Sadbh, was poisoned by the yew tree’s toxins. What became of Cian and Eogan is not told. I guess the moral of this story is not to mess with the Sidhe and their property, nor to underestimate their magic.

It should be noted that the name Eogan actually means ‘born of the yew’, so it’s not surprising Aillil gave the yew to him.  The yew has given its name to many places in Ireland. Co Mayo, for example, comes from the Irish Magh Eo, meaning ‘Plain of the Yew’. The village near where I live is called Virginia, but in Irish its name is Achadh an Iúr, which means ‘Field/ Meadow of the Yew’.

Incidentally, the townland I live in is called Billis, which in Irish is na Bilí, meaning ‘sacred tree’. Just down the road from my house is the hugest yew tree with the broadest trunk I have ever seen. It stands on private land, so I knocked on the owner’s door, hoping to find out a little of its history, but no-one was home. Could it possibly be the sacred tree Billis is named after?

Yew Billis

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