aliisaacstoryteller

Athbhliain faoi mhaise daoibh
(pronunciation Ah-vleen fwee vosh-ah gheev)

Happy New Year to you all, and thank you for supporting Aliisaacstoryteller last year! I hope 2018 will be good to you. I can’t believe we’re already two weeks in… time sure flies.

Why the long silence, Ali?

Well, let’s just say the Christmas break did not go completely to plan. Two days before the big day itself I was flying around trying to make sure everything was ready, and I managed to injure my eye, which meant I could barely see, and was in agony. I couldn’t drive, do the food shopping, and certainly couldn’t see to read, write or blog. It certainly put a damper on the festivities for me.

After Christmas, Carys and I caught the Aussie flu. I was very ill, and in fact, I’m still not fully recovered, but life has to go on; I have my family to take care of, and I had to study for my exams… that was the last thing I felt like! Only one more exam to go next week, and then I have some time off until semester two starts at the end of January.

Of course I learned something from all this; as usual, I was trying to do too much, thinking ahead and not concentrating on the here and now; also, I need to take better care of myself, for my sanity as well as my health. I’m probably not the only one… am I right???

Top Posts of 2017

Thank you for visiting aliisaacstoryteller last year. I write for fun about a subject I love, and I’m so happy that so many of you enjoy it, and feel the same. Thank you also for all the emails; I love getting to know you, and appreciate you taking the time and trouble to get in touch. I try to answer each one, but sometimes I get a bit snowed under, as aliisaacstoryteller is just a one-woman-band, so if you didn’t get a reply from me, I apologize sincerely.

These are the posts you liked most in 2017:

  1. The Curious Phenomenon of the Irish Fairy Tree
  2. Warrior Women of Ireland
  3. The Red-Headed Folk
  4. The Crow in Irish Mythology
  5. The Serpent in Irish Mythology
  6. Double Trouble | Twins in Irish Mythology
  7. The Beast Within | Shapeshifters in Irish Mythology
  8. 6 Most Tragic Love Stories in Irish Mythology (Part One)
  9. The Swan in Irish Mythology
  10. The Power of Water in Irish Mythology
What’s happening on the blog this year?

Well, there will be plenty more of the features you know and like, such as Ancient Sites of Ireland, and more Mythology posts. The Planning Your Visit to Ireland series has closed for now, but will be continuing later on in the year. New series planned are Iconic Irish Women, from mythology and history, and What’s in an Irish Name? in which I look at a traditional Irish name, its meaning and heritage, and the individuals who shared it.

Also new is Ask Aliin which I will endeavor to answer all your Ireland related questions. So if there is something you have always wanted to know about Irish myths and legends, or archaeology, or Irish history, or if you want advice on where to visit, or eat, or sleep, get in touch. I will try my best to answer your query.

For the bookish among you, I will be continuing with the occasional Book Review, and Friday Fiction, concentrating on but not limited to, Irish authors.

Books I read last year

In the first year of uni, I was so overwhelmed that I dropped everything which did not include my family or my studies. Last summer, I decided I wanted to be a bit more in control of my life, and not miss out on the things I love.

That meant keeping the blog updated with regular new content, keeping in touch with friends, and reading books for pleasure. So in the last half of last year, I managed to read 49 books, which I think is fairly good going. Here, in no particular order, are a few of my favourites, that I highly recommend:

What can I say? I’ve never really grown up… I’m a YA addict!

uni

Is going really well. I really enjoyed last semester, because I was able to choose to a large degree what I wanted to study. I also had the opportunity to attend a series of workshops with Writer in Residence Sarah Maria Griffin, author of Not Lost and Spare and Found Parts, which was a fantastic experience. I am now quite literally in the middle of my degree course; only three more semesters till I graduate. In the mean-time, my studies are my priority, so writing and blogging may be sporadic until then. Apologies in advance for any interruptions… normal service will be resumed… eventually.

Carys

I did not post about Carys much last year, not because there was nothing to tell, but because every time I started a post, I ended up deleting it… my emotions were a bit raw, probably because psychologically, I was building up to writing my book, Unique, about her.

Carys had a growth spurt last year; she’s still small, and always will be, but for the first time ever, she grew out of her clothes before they wore out. She started staying overnight at respite, omg I was a mess getting used to that!

Now she is awaiting an assessment for eye gaze technology to assist with communication… her SLT thinks she is a great candidate for it. I can’t even begin to articulate what it would mean to us if we were able to meaningfully communicate with Carys. I promise to be better at keeping you posted, and thank you to those of you who emailed in asking how she is getting on… it means more to me than you know.

Guest Posts

This blog has quite a big readership now, particularly in the US. I would like to open my blog to Irish writers who blog or write books on all things Irish. Topics might include Irish history, archaeology, paganism, mythology, mysticism and magic, flora and fauna, Irish music and dancing, famous Irish people… anything Ireland related, really. I think it would be nice to be able to offer my readers more than I can give myself, and also to introduce other writers who are producing in broadly the same area.

So if that sounds like you, please do get in touch.

So that’s about it for now. I haven’t disappeared. This year, I will reach my 5th anniversary of blogging… 5 years! I’ll have to think of some celebrations for that. Meanwhile, watch out for some new posts coming soon to a laptop/ tablet/ phone near you!


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There may be more impressive castles in Ireland than Maynooth Castle, but this is certainly one of the oldest, and arguably, one of the most interesting and historically significant.

Although Ireland is well known for its castles, they’re not an Irish invention. It was the Anglo-Normans in the twelfth century who began building castles in Ireland, and originally they weren’t even made from stone; they were crude but rather effective, motte and bailey constructions.


By Hchc2009 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

A sketch showing what a motte and bailiey would have looked like. Courtesy Wikimedia.


A motte is a raised earthwork upon which a wooden tower, or keep, was constructed. The bailey is a courtyard at the foot of the motte which would have been enclosed within a wooden palisade. These were defensive structures which could be thrown up relatively quickly. In later years, the wooden keeps were replaced with stone, and castles became more elaborate.

The Anglo-Normans came to Ireland in 1169, and Maynooth Castle was established soon after in 1176. The King of Leinster, Diarmait Mac Murchada, had lost a battle in 1166 against the High King, Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair, and  Tigernán Ua Ruairc, who was King of Breffni (where I live).


 

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Diarmait fled to England and gained permission from King Henry II to recruit mercenaries to help him regain his Kingship. The consequences of his actions were to change the course of history for ever for Ireland.

One of the Anglo-Norman lords to answer Diarmait’s call was Maurice FitzGerald. He was awarded the lands of Kildare as a reward for his part in the invasion of Ireland, where he established Maynooth Castle as his stronghold.


By Unknown artist of the 12th century - National Library of Ireland, MS 700, f77, right margin, taken from [1], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43957977

I love this picture of Maurice Fitzgerald. It is taken from a 12th text known as Expugnatio Hibernica, written by his nephew, the awful Gerald of Wales! I think you already know my opinion of him!


The Fitzgeralds went on to become a very powerful family, appointed  Earls of Kildare, and even Lord Deputys of Ireland, which in effect meant that they ruled Ireland in the name of the English King.

When Silken Thomas, son of the ninth Earl of Kildare, rebelled against the English in 1534, the castle was attacked and defeated after a ten day siege. He and many of his family were executed.

The castle was restored during the seventeenth century, but fell soon after during the Eleven Years War. The Fitzgeralds abandoned the shell of their ancestral home and built themselves a new pad just up the road. Today it’s called Carton House, and has been converted into a hotel.


By emergingwriter, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14346812

Carton House, now a hotel. Wikimedia.


This is the last post in my ‘Planning Your Visit to Ireland’ series. In January I will be starting a new series on Iconic Irish Women from mythology and history, so I hope you will join me for that. Till then, have a great Christmas and New Year!


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Must be a week for poetry! From T.S.Eliot to Aemilia Lanyer in the space of just a few days! I wrote this poem for an assignment, and got an ‘outstanding’ for it. We were tasked with choosing one of the seventeenth-century poets we had studied this semester, and writing a response in the style of the work itself that addresses an issue raised in that poem. I chose Aemilia Lanyer’s ‘A Description of Cook-ham‘.

Aemilia is so adept at the old iambic pentameter, that some say she may have been the actual writer of some of Shakespeare’s works. Certainly women were victims of patriarchy at the time, and writing was considered manly work. Aemilia went right on ahead and published her own book of poems in 1611, something unheard of for a woman in those days. Maybe that’s why I like her so much! =-D

A Description of Cook-ham
About Aemilia


THE ‘SENSELESS’ TREE
My response to A Description of Cook-ham by Aemilia Lanyer

Fair lady, hark to my wisdom; this I
Have observed, rooted here ‘twixt earth and sky.
You think to disguise mankind’s foul actions
With your ode to his garden’s attractions,
While yon great pile of bricks you hold so dear
Is but a monument to greed and fear.
Into the arms of nature didst you flee
To find sanctuary with her and me.
You learned joy in the beauty and power
Of bird and beast, and in tree and flower.
You kept us silent, yet gave us human hearts,
But we do not weep for her when she departs.
You, who are naught but a villainous thief,
What could you possibly know of our grief?
The Bard’s paramour, his muse, and his pen,
Your frail female flesh betrays you again.
Hand in hand, a kiss so sweet and so chaste,
Looks hidden in books, an arm round a waist
Caged in whalebone, yearning to be free,
Burning with desire for what can never be.
Take it, if that is who you truly are.
Mayhap it is too soon, a step too far.
So go then, leave this place, do as you ought,
Surrender to man, dutiful consort.
Put aside the books that you so adore;
Knowledge is power, meant for you no more.
Know your proper place, for this is your worth:
To serve, be silent, obey and give birth.
And think you fondly of that ‘senseless’ tree
And know that, of we two, I am more free.


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Ive not managed to post anything this week, caught up in the pressure of the penultimate week of the semester, and the penultimate essay, a study on the form, language and style of modernist poem, The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot. I’m a bit disappointed, because I have managed, until now, to keep the blog going without missing a week. However, I have to accept that whilst I’m at uni, my priorities have to change. My sincere apologies to followers of this blog for the interruption, I hope to keep it to a minimum.

This morning I awoke to a few fresh flakes of snow, although not the avalanche we had been threatened with, a sore throat, and a poem in my head. I did not dream it, I just awoke and there it was, fully formed. It’s an incredible gift when that happens, so here it is, and as you will see, it’s a kind of response to my search for knowledge, and Eliot’s poem.


Reflections on the Pursuit of Knowledge: A Poem


reflections on the pursuit of knowledge

Its message is delivered in fragments,
Sharp edges burnished bright but veiled in obscurity,
requiring the glue of diligence.

The distance I must travel is not linear,
arching back eons
to lost literatures, ancient wisdoms, and
jumping ahead to future futility.

Understanding is elusive,
comes in brief flashes
revealed in hazy desert mirages, or
like morsels unpicked from between golden teeth, or
like glints from the surface of the slow slide of water.

I gather in the light, hoard it,
shoring up my inner darkness.
Devouring, shoveling in the light in spades.
But the cavern gapes ever empty.
I am aware only of the void.

I am surrounded by the Filled.
Daily, I see shards of light
scattered from eyes and lips.
It bounces off the ignorant, lying
shattered beneath marching feet.

I rescue some, but it doesn’t flow for me.
No epiphany.
It is too late
I am too lazy
and too far-gone…

They are instantly recognizable, and have spawned a whole genre of tourist souvenirs. They are worth seeing, though, and can be found at many early Irish monastic sites. I saw these recently at Clonmacnoise.

the cross of the scriptures

Also known as the West Cross, the Cross of the Scriptures (Cros na Screaptra in Irish) is located directly before the main entrance to the cathedral, or Daimliag. It was erected in 909AD by St Colmán and the King of Tara, Flann Sinna, to commemorate their alliance, and to inaugurate the founding of the Daimliag. On the east face of the cross, there is a panel depicting the two men planting the first post for the church. The detail is fantastic… look at Flann’s long hair and even longer moustache, and Colmán’s finely embroidered robes and tonsured head! Read More

A few weeks ago, I wrote a short piece about my visit to Fore, an ancient monastic site with a long and varied history stretching right back into the seventh century AD. I’m not normally a fan of Christian sites; I am usually drawn to earlier, older places, but I feel there is something special about Fore, even though there are far grander monastic sites in much better states of repair around Ireland.



On the day I visited, the sun was shining, and as I drove along the valley, breaks in the hedge allowed intriguing glimpses of the the building I was heading for. A raised walkway leads from the car park across the boggy valley floor to the Priory. Across the road lies St Feichin’s Church,  and beyond, a short steep climb brings you to the sixteenth-century Anchorite’s Tower, and the nineteenth-century mausoleum of the Nugent family. Read More

After all, we have plenty of them. Most of our holy wells are nowadays named after famous and beloved Christian saints, mostly Patrick and Bridget, but also some others, too. Personally, I think these were sacred springs long before Christianity came to Ireland, but that’s just my opinion. At the end of the day, your religion is of no consequence; these sites are clearly places of healing energy and spiritual peace regardless of your belief system, and I challenge you to visit one and be unaffected by your experience.

My favourite holy wells are those which lie somewhat off the beaten track. They are harder to get to, and therefore, the reward is greater. You feel you have earned the right to be there. However, these may be least impressive in terms of what you find when you get there… they may be untended by all but the wilderness, but for me that only adds to their charm and authenticity. I am a supporter of the underdog, though, it has to be said. The easier the access, the more commercial these sites tend to be. You have been warned! 😁

Don’t forget to take a personal offering of some kind, and please treat the fairy tree with respect: too many of these special trees are dying because they are poisoned with coins hammered into their trunks, or strangled by items being tied to their branches. Biodegradable offerings are best. Most of all, enjoy your experience. Read More

Today I met up with Treasa and a bunch of lovely ladies for a visit to Cruachan and Oweynagat. To say I was nervous is a bit of an understatement; not because I was meeting up with a group of people I didn’t know (daunting enough for someone like me), but because a) I’ve never been caving, and never wanted to, and b) you know, it’s a space which belongs to the Morrigan, and she’s definitely scary, in a wonderful and terrifying kind of way. But, Treasa invited me, and I trust her, and if you love Irish myth and ancient sites, you can’t not go. I’d avoided it long enough.

When I got up this morning and saw the sun was shining, I knew it was a day for facing fears.

We met for lunch first in the Percy French Hotel in Strokestown. I’m glad we did this, as it broke the ice, and was really fun, and also, it meant I could follow in my car behind someone who knows where they’re going, and hopefully not get lost. 😁

First we went to the main mound at Cruachan. It’s huge! And what a view! I could hear one of our group drumming as I walked up to the top. The beat carried to me faintly on the breeze, seeming to enter my bloodstream, so that I almost didn’t know if it was my pulse or my heartbeat stirring. It kind of felt magical, and right. Read More

I‘m not a fan of Halloween: it’s too commercial, too fake, too big. Samhain seems much simpler and more real to me. And whilst I’m not a pagan, (I’m not any religion, actually, just in case you were wondering, but were too polite to ask ☺) the old festivals seem to me to fit perfectly into the cycle of seasons and the passing of the year. And also with the ebb and flow of my blood, or the beating of my heart, or my body clock, whatever you want to call that natural instinctual internal part of oneself. You may try and suppress it, but it’s always still there.

If you feel the same, here are some places in Ireland that are associated with Samhain which you might like to visit: Tlachtga, the Mound of Hostages at Tara; Magh Slecht, and Oweynagat. I have visited the first three, and will be going to Oweynagat next Sunday, so I will let you know how that goes next week. Read More

I love bogs. Not only do they provide us with sweet-smelling turf for burning over the winter, which keeps us so warm and cosy and drowsy, but they hide extraordinary secrets which they allow us to find, now and again.

Such as bog butter…


Bog butter in wooden vessel on display at Cavan County Museum.

Bog butter in wooden vessel on display at Cavan County Museum.


Various spectacular votive offerings…


Gold torcs and bracelets on display at National Museum of Archaeology, Dublin.

Gold torcs and bracelets on display at National Museum of Archaeology, Dublin.


And bog bodies…


Gentle Face of Bog Body. Tollund Man. By Sven Rosborn - Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4330462

Gentle Face of Bog Body. Tollund Man. By Sven Rosborn – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4330462


And then there’s this… Read More