aliisaacstoryteller

Ali’s Blog

I nearly didn’t go. I had a handful of essays on the go for uni at the time, but it was Samhain, and Treasa had been kind enough to invite me a second time, and I couldn’t believe it was already a year since the last time I was there. That was a euphoric experience, and I wondered, how would it be second time around, now that I knew what to expect.


Sliding into the mouth of Oweynagat.
Sliding into the mouth of Oweynagat.

Oweynagat is an incredibly female site, in its physicality, its mythology, and in its energy, something I was immediately struck by on my first visit, and so it felt right that this was a women-only experience. Queen Medb was born in its dark depths, and the Morrigan is said to use the cave as a conduit between this realm and the Otherworld.



This is how Queen Medb describes the cave in her story from my latest book, Mavourneen:

 

“There is a cave at Cruachan. Its small dark mouth yawns at your feet beneath a shroud of hawthorn bushes, and is never lit up by the sun. You can slide your way in, if you dare. The only way is supine on your belly, sinuous as a snake in the thick blackness, or on your back, enclosed so closely that the rock wall brushes your skin as you pass, the weight of the earth pressing on your consciousness, on your lungs, filling you with the fear of rockfalls, of demonic creatures which burst through from the Otherworld, of the terrible Goddess of strife and death we call the Morrigan, of the dread that once inside, you will become trapped, unable to ever return to the surface. Your heart begins to race, and you pant for breath, lungs squeezed flat in your chest. This is a potent place; a deep, dark cleft in the earth which men fear, a place associated with powerful women, sacred women, sorcerous women, women who command all the skills and strengths which men feel should belong to men alone, alongside the dark, disturbing female magic they cannot comprehend. That is why they call it ‘the Hell–Mouth of Eire’. They fear to penetrate it, they fear what is born out of it. But when you, the brave feminine, have traversed its uterine passage, have felt the energy pulsing in cold moist, glistening, flesh–coloured stone, have slid through the glutinous membrane of mud which lines the inner, womb–like cavity, have listened to the earth breathe around and beneath and above you; when you leave, then you will feel reborn. And you will know me, for I am Medb, and this cave is where my mother, Cruachú Crobh-Dearg, lowly handmaid to Étain, squatted to bring me forth into the world.”

And if you think that sounds dramatic, know that is exactly how it feels, how it looks. The mud that coats you as you leave is like the blood of birth. The experience changes you. Perhaps that is the same of all deep, dark places. I don’t know. But there is something special about Oweynagat, something addictive, a braving of one’s fears perhaps, or the communion with something not quite of this world, made all the more special by sharing it with this unique group of strong, spiritual women. I think, I hope the Great Queen approves.

Oweynagat 2018

I would like to thank Treasa for inviting me on this special journey once again, and I’m looking forward to next year’s adventure already. Treasa operates the Full Moon Walking Tour of the Hill of Tara, Spiritual Tours of the Hill of Uisneach, and private guided tours of Loughcrew, and Glendalough. You can find out more on her Facebook page, Sacred Sites of Ireland.


Living on the edge of Táin territory, Dún Dealgan is a place I’ve long wanted to visit. A couple of weeks ago, I got my chance, as I was writing a piece about his long-suffering wife, Emer.

If this was where Cuchulainn was based during his heroic escapades of the Cattle Raid of Cooley, this is where he must have brought her after they were married, although it seems from the tales that she spent much of her time at the ‘Royal Site’ of Emain Macha.


 


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I‘ve been channelling Emer this weekend for my manuscript, Mavourneen, so as I live on the edge of Cuchulainn country, I thought I’d head down to their neck of the woods and see some of the sites associated with their legend.

As the wife of Cuchulainn, Emer spent much of her time at the court of King Conchobar at Emain Macha, but originally she was from Lusk, which is just down the road from where I used to live when I first came to Ireland, Skerries.


Dún Dealgan, Cuchulainn's Fort, www.aliisaacstoryteller.com


However, according to the old stories, Cuchulainn had his own dún near the town we know today as Dundalk, and as such, it is reasonable to expect that Emer would have spent at least some of her time there. The site was later developed by the Normans; the stone tower we see today would not have stood there in Cuchulainn’s day. I’ll write more about this wonderful site another time.

What I really want to show you is this… Read More

I needed to get some air. Clear my head. Breathe. Feel the wind ruffle my hair. Listen to the sound of birds, let the slap of water on the shore soothe away my tension. I needed to feel small and inconsequential in that vastness of space and light, a part of it, but not the hub. To stand on the periphery and see it all, feel it, relax and enjoy it.

To watch the trees stoop and lower trailing, knotted branches into the water like aged fingers gnarled with arthritis. To listen to the protest of their rustling leaves as they are pulled into autumn and cast off. To follow their bright drifting path from sky to earth, lighting up the chill with their last flare of fiery russet glory. To watch the clouds gather, then melt apart. To watch the sunlight dance on wind-rumpled water. To travel the winding path. To rise and descend the sloping shoulders of the gently rounded, green-robed hills. To remember the warmth of summer which leaves us too soon. I just needed to be. Read More

Walking the Ceremonial Path at the Hill of Tara

I went back to Tara today to walk the ceremonial path. I thought it may be interesting, in light of recent posts and comments. to take a closer look.


The Teach Miodchuarta, or Banqueting Hall at Tara. www.aliisaacstoryteller.com

Looking down the length of the Tech Midchúarta from the top of the embankment.


You may recall that early writers described this feature as the banqueting hall of the Kings of Tara, naming it Tech Midchúarta, which in Irish means exactly that. Of course we now know it was nothing of the sort, but in actual fact is an ancient road by which the summit of Tara and all its monuments are approached. The evidence, such as the raised embankments with their irregular slots suggest a ritual, or ceremonial purpose. Read More

To listen to the way people talk, you’d think abortion and birth control were a modern phenomenon. Not so. As  John M. Riddle, J. Worth Estes and Josiah C. Russell say in their paper, ‘Birth Control in the Ancient World’, it’s been going on ‘ever since Eve’. And believe it or not, it was big business.

Silphion, known in later times by its Latin name, Sylphium, was grown in the seventh century BC  by Greek colonists who founded the city of Cyrene in what we know today as Libya. Silphium was a member of the genus Ferula, commonly known as the giant fennel.


#Abortion and #BirthControl in ancient #Ireland. www.aliisaacstoryteller.com


It was so effective as a contraceptive and abortive agent, that it was featured on coins, in plays (Aristophanes in The Knights), in poetry (the Roman poet, Catullus), and in medical and botanical literature (Pliny the Elder in his Natural History, and Greek botanist Theophrastus). Read More

In October 2015, I had a very strange experience at Tlachtga, the Hill of Ward. As I walked the site, I became increasingly dizzy and developed a powerful headache. Half an hour after driving away from the site, the headache had gone and I felt fine.


Tlachtga, Hill of Ward. www.aliisaacstoryteller.com. #ancient sites #ireland

Google Earth view of Tlachtga, showing all that remains of its quadrivallate ditch and embankment system


I don’t believe I’m very receptive to picking up the energies and vibes of a place. I’m often in the presence of people who are, and it irritates me immensely that I don’t feel the power they are feeling when we stand together on an ancient site.

I was deeply affected by what I felt that day at Tlachtga, however. Here is what I wrote about it at the time: Read More

There’s this new book come out that I can’t wait to read; it’s called VICTOR, and it’s the second in the series of The Eden East Novels by my friend and author Sacha Black.



But today, I want to whet your appetite by talking about the first book in the series, KEEPERS. This is a YA series which reminded me very much of The Red Queen series by Victoria Aveyard, and of course, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. This is because, like Aveyard and Collins, Black has, with great skill and lots of research, managed to build a convincingly believable imaginary world in fine detail and great depth, yet one which remains individual and entirely unique. Read More

Some of you may remember my recent Facebook posts about the school sponsored walk. In some ways, it’s a bit ironic that a little girl who can’t walk is being asked to go on a sponsored walk. Walking is something we have been working on since Carys was about three years old. We have had many trials and tribulations along the way, but for someone who was never expected by medical experts to even be born alive, she’s doing pretty well!

Besides, Carys’s school is worth it. She goes to the Holy Family School in Cootehill. We are so lucky. The staff, from the teachers, to the kitchen staff, the therapists, the two lovely nurses, the cleaning staff, the bus driver and monitors, they are all totally dedicated to our special children, and there is so much love and joy and happiness in that school. I can’t think of anywhere I would rather send Carys. They have my complete trust.

There is no point doing a sponsored walk, and then sitting in a buggy the whole way round. Carys had to do her bit too. Read More

According to legend, there were five great roads which led to the Hill of Tara. One of them runs between the north and south campuses of my university at Maynooth, and I’ve been crossing it almost every day for the last two years. Of course, it looks a bit different today; it’s tarmacked for a start, cars drive along it instead of carts, and it has rather a lot of traffic lights. You can read more about the five great roads in my post, The Ancient Origins of the Irish Road, but since then I’ve learned a whole lot more about them which I’d like to share.

It has always been believed that the Hill of Tara was the royal residence of the High Kings of Ireland; after all, we have inherited a vast wealth of early Medieval literature which tells us so. However, since the 1980s, a new school of thought began to emerge which interpreted these medieval tales as a reflection of the times they were written rather than the Iron Age which they claim to portray.


Mound of hostages, black and white images, people standing on top of it.

Mound of hostages at Tara. (c) Ali Isaac


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Following my recent posts on Macha and the site of Emain Macha, it occurred to me that I have referenced, but never really elaborated, on the concept or function of the sovereignty goddess in Irish myth.

To be honest, she’s quite a hard character to pin down. She is thought to represent the land, and sovereignty over the land. A would-be king was expected to unite with her in order to legitimise his right to the kingship. Feasting would be involved, and sex. Another important feature was the offering of an alcoholic drink by the goddess to the king.

According to Muireann ní Bhrolcháin, the sovereignty could manifest in three ways, and an element of transformation was always involved;

  1. She appears to the king as an ugly old hag, who becomes young and beautiful when he completes the challenge she sets him, usually sex or a full-on kiss, at least.
  2. She appears as a woman who loses her mind and then regains it.
  3. She appears as a woman who loses her status, but regains it.

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