Gealach | An Irish Moon

Last Sunday I was fortunate enough to witness the autumn equinox. This Sunday, I got to witness another rare and special celestial event… what a week!

So I was intrigued to see how the supermoon would look tonight. It is one of those rare Irish evenings; a lovely clear night, and the moon is big and radiant, dominating the sky. We live out in the sticks, so the sky is always stunning on cloudless nights, as there is no light pollution.

If getting up early for the equinox was hard, staying up late to observe the lunar eclipse is looking highly unlikely. In the meantime, here are a few pics I took earlier.



The Irish word for moon isΒ gealachΒ (pronounced gyal-akh). Our Irish ancestors didn’t seem to have a dedicated god or goddess of the moon, as most other cultures did, but there are some who have been tentatively associated with it for various reasons.

Aine, for example, is said to be the goddess of love, cattle and light; in fact, her name is said to mean ‘bright’, and therefore this is enough to associate her with the moon.

Similarly with Epona, a Celtic goddess of the night and dreams, who rides her white mare across the sky, running from the sun. Rhiannon, another Celtic goddess also rode a white horse through the night sky, and thus she is also said to be a goddess of the moon.

Although most ancient cultures equate the moon with the divine feminine, there are also many male deities thought to be moon gods.



In Ireland, Elatha, a Fomori prince who fought the Tuatha de Danann at the second Battle of Moytura, is believed to have originally been a moon or sun deity due to the imagery which surrounds him.

Admittedly, this is just one part of his story, in which he is described by his lover, Eriu, as a ‘beautiful young man with yellow hair who arrived over a flat ocean on a silver boat, wearing cloth of gold and five gold torcs’. Sounds like the sun was shining out of his …ahem!

The ancient people of Ireland counted their days as starting from sunset, in other words, their day started with the night, not the morning. So it would be logical then that the moon and the stars would have great significance to them.

They counted the year by thirteen lunar cycles, rather than twelve months, as we do today. This corresponds with the thirteen menstrual cycles women experience in a year.

The moon was also associated with fertility. In fact, the ancestors did not see the face of a man in the moon, as we do today, but the shape of a hare, and hares and rabbits were seen as signs of good fortune and fertility.

As time passed and the new religion took hold, the moon held less sway over the people, and half forgotten beliefs degraded into superstition and fear. For example, it was thought lucky to see the full moon over your right shoulder, but to see it over your left was unlucky.

Even worse, if the light of the full moon was to shine on your face while you were sleeping, it was considered very unlikely that you would live to see out the end of the year. So make sure to draw your curtains at night… scary stuff indeed!


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61 Comments on “Gealach | An Irish Moon

  1. Lovely post, Ali – sorry I’m so late to the comments, I’m still catching up! We saw the moon, first red gold and hanging low over the land, as we drove home from Wales last weekend. Then it grew more silver as it climbed higher, though we didn’t stay awake for the eclipse. It was beautiful, though, as are your photos πŸ™‚

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    • Don’t apologise! I don’t expect you to read every single post! I only want people to read what genuinely interests them. I’m sad that I never got to see the blood moon, it was quite silver when I saw it, and also I missed the actual eclipse too, just couldn’t stay awake, how feeble is that??? LOL!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well, your posts always interest me, so I definitely want to read them. I’m just catching up on everything now πŸ™‚ Yes, the orange moon was quite fab – we were in the car and I didn’t take a shot, wish I had. And we were wiped, no way we could have stayed up for the eclipse either, especially on a school night πŸ™‚

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  2. At 4am on Monday I was in a taxi after a flight… so I saw the eclipse, but not the blood moon. You can never have it all, it seems. But moon events are the most magical, magical things. I wouldn’t mind starting my day at sunset. If only I could just get everyone else to do it with me! Beautiful post, Ali.

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  3. I’d love to say I stayed up for it (or got up early for it, whichever is preferred), but frankly I was too tired thanks to a big family get together. It’s been good to see the photos, though, from so many sources. The insights you’ve added have given your images a bit more to them than the usual “Ooh look! Photos of the moon!” posts you see in some places.
    Like the new layout, by the way

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  4. Your photos are gorgeous! Thanks for sharing all the interesting folklore. It is hard to wrap my mind around a day starting at sunset. By then I am in my pajamas and ready for a relaxing evening. I’m not sure what I’d be doing if it was “morning” at that time.

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    • Ali should correct me if I’m wrong but actually, I think you’d just be sleeping. It wasn’t that morning began at sunset, as in people got really active and started the day. Rather I understand the idea is that the day itself began with sunset, in the darkness. Rather than the day starting at sunrise, which if you match it with the life of a plant, say, would be like life beginning at the moment the plant is bursting out of the ground sprouting shoots, Celtic cultures placed the start of the day at dusk, corresponding to the time in a plant’s life when it is a seed just barried underground. Both the seed and the night were seen to cultivate the vitality of living. The sun emerged from the darkness, but it was that darkness that nurtured and prepared the sun for rising. Just as the dark of the earth, the enclosure of the soil, nurtured and prepared the seed. So people recognized that we, like the seeds, renewed ourselves each day not with waking but with sleeping. Without the darkness to hold and shelter us, without rest, the ability to dream ourselves into the next many hours of action that shapes who we are, we, like the sprouts that wouldn’t be able to seed, or the sun, would be unable to rise. So you would rest and dream, like you already do. πŸ™‚

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      • I’ve just seen this comment, Γ‰ilis, and I think you are absolutely right, and said it so eloquently! Also, its much like life beginning in the womb, the human being (or animal) forming in maternal darkness, before birth. The beginnings of life, be it plant or animal, almost seem to start in secret, well, it’s certainly not obvious at first.

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  5. Beautiful post, Ali. I hope you got a chance to see pictures or a video of the eclipse anyway. It was way past the middle of the night for you. I was outside for about 40 minutes last night taking it in. πŸ™‚ Very powerful night.

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  6. I love folklore, and have always been enamored of the moon. Hmmm, guess that means I’m moonstruck, LOL. Supermoon/blood moon was a bust in my area. Once again, the cloud cover did in my nigh time sky gazing. Those pics you shared are very moody and atmospheric. I can hear the werewolves with the last one πŸ™‚

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  7. Thanks for your fascinating Irish window to the moon, Ali. My Gealach experience that I fondly recall from my schooldays is in the poems of Walter de la Mare; he effuses in silver tones about ‘The planet of Evening’s silver flame’, ‘Slowly, silently, now the moon / Walks the night in her silver shoon; / This way, and that, she peers, and sees / Silver fruit upon silver trees;…’

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    • Thats lovely, Raj! I love the moon, she always makes me feel comforted in the dark. I love the stars too, but they seem somehow cold and detatched, as if they watch what goes on down here, but dont care either way. Maybe its because they are so much further away, whereas the moon belongs with us.

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  8. I had plans… we are in Suffolk, in the dark it was a clear night. And I slept through! Darn. And like you I don’t have a decent camera. Still it was a good excuse to learn some about Irish legends and stories. Not sure about the moon on the face bit; sounds like something spread around by a curtain maker touting for business.

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  9. I watched it for about an hour. It was a beautiful clear sky and a brilliant moon. Looked just like it oughtta. But none of the shots came out. Beyond the capacities of my phone and I couldn’t find the camera. Either that or blood moons don’t come out in photos…

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  10. Nice shots Ali, looks like you are fortunate to be free from light pollution πŸ™‚ I still have no camera in working condition so I purposly forgot about this last night. I wonder if their were any Mac Tire roaming the land as a result? Fascinating reading as always πŸ™‚

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    • I took hundreds lol! Then deleted them all. 😁 just a bunch of white blobs on a black background. I only have my smartphone. I just couldnt get any detail no matter how I tried. Im definitely going to treat myself to a bridge camera that you were telling me about… when I can get my hands on some spare dosh sigh!

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      • Ha, ha, you did good with the phone, to get nice Moon shots, you really need a good 300mm+ lense with an extension tube and some cropping.
        Spare dosh????
        Havent seen any of that since the kids came along, lol.
        We shall have to write a few books to finance our camera’s I think :-0

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          • Really???
            Now im scared πŸ™‚
            I alwas thought writting them was the hard part!
            The wife goes mad everytime she sees a new one come through the door. LOL.
            I tell her to get rid of some shoes and ill clear out some books, so needless to say, I got a nice little library building up:-)

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            • Lol! Us women are all the same… wy do we love shoes so much? Although my library is invisible nd takes up no space at all these days… its all on my kindle app.

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            • A disgrace, Ali Im shocked at you. You cant beat a physical book in your hands, turning pages, dog ears its all part of the enjoyment. Kindle just cant match it. I do see the reason behind it. All my music and movies are stored on my server now, but books?
              Can never see me changing……….

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            • Yes, I love it! I love real books too, but for me its the content which matters, so I dont care how I read it, on a screen or on paper. Advantages and disadvantages to both.

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            • I’m with Ali here, I do have hard copy books but I only read the digital ones. Now I have to say, I’m not a fair person to ask because my iPhone has made reading kindle books possible and before that I couldn’t read 80% of the books on the planet because they were only in print format. So my library takes up no space either. πŸ™‚ I love it, and even figured out how to do continuous reading. Awesome! Seriously, this is the best century so far to not have sight in.

              Fifty shades in Ireland… yeah, it would sell like mad… I however am shuddering and cringing metaphorically in a corner. I read the first two and had mixed feelings (it was not for plot value, more like morbid curiosity) … and learned a lot about concepts like worth and how to value it, or not, so there are probably still good reasons to read some of it. It was when I was a bit older I understood the difference between, say, empowerment on the one hand and power and control on the other; or submission versus self-respect, when I started getting visceral avoidance reactions to fifty shades. Sorry for going off on that, the risks of being a philosopher commenting on a blog, I plead. lol. It’s my personal opinion which no one need agree with — unless they do, of course.

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            • Ha,ha, I can see the value of kindles and the like. But most of my reading is research and for some reason I can’t absorb as much info from a computer screen as I can from a page.
              I read two pages from the first, under duress. Now I’m no writer, but I could the writing to be quite amateur. Obviously not my cup of tea but I reckon if someone did write it, it would sell like hotcakes, too each their own, I say. I’m more game of thrones myself 😁

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            • Actually, with respect to research, that’s a good point. I read philosophy in Braille, either on a display or printed out. I can’t take in complex arguments only by ear. Anything else though, I have no trouble listening to it in one digital form or another. Really, it’s a good thing we have many options.

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            • yeah… look what happened to them, all because they wouldnt read on their screens either, terrible way to go! πŸ˜† Am I being a bot facetious?

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            • LOL!!!

              But on the other hand, what if that was actually the problem? They could have all been looking at their screens and failed to see the asteroid…heads up! …

              Liked by 1 person

            • Its probably the best century to be a writer in, actually! If only writers today were revered half as much as the bards of old…

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  11. Pingback: Gealach | An IrishΒ Moon | Scenes of futures past

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