aliisaacstoryteller

Ali’s Blog

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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Last week, I told you the legends of Macha; today we look at the monuments in the Irish landscape she is said to have inspired. EMAIN MACHA, also known by the name of Navan Fort, is real and still standing today, and like the Hill of Tara, and Cruachan, is open to the general public to access, free of charge.

The Hill of Tara gets all the glory and the visitors, but much as I love it, I think this is a bit of a shame. There is as much a wealth of heritage, in terms of archaeology, history, and mythology at our other provincial ritual sites as there is at Tara, and they are well worth experiencing.

The early literature of Ireland has identified a number of ‘Royal Sites’: Tara, in Co. Meath as the seat of Ireland’s high kings; Dún Ailinne in Co. Kildare, which is associated with the kings of Leinster; Cruachain, Co. Roscommon, as the fort of Queen Medb, and Emain Macha, said to be the palace of King Conchobar of Ulster.


Approach to Emain Macha through a metal 'kissing gate'. www.aliisaacstoryteller.com


These sites are all depicted in the literature as the royal residences of pre-historic provincial kings and queens. What the medieval writers saw in the landscape was pretty much the same as what we see there today, and they would have noted that these sites all share similar characteristics. What else could they be but the remains of the palaces of mighty pagan kings?


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Returning to the raison d’etre of this blog, and to Incredible Irish Women in particular (most apt in light of recent happenings in this country), I’d like to introduce you to MACHA.

There are several women by the name of Macha in Irish mythology, and with the exception of King Nuada’s wife, they are all associated with the ancient ceremonial site of Emain Macha, also known today as Navan Fort (even though it is nowhere near Navan).

Emain Macha (Listen here for pronunciation) is a site much like the Hill of Tara, and shares many of its characteristics, but I’ll tell you more about that next week. According to legend, it was once the site of the provincial palace belonging to King Conchobar of Ulster, and thus associated with the tales of the Táin and the Ulster Cycle. However, archaeology has shown that, contrary to popular belief, Emain Macha was never a site of habitation, just like Tara and Cruachan and Dun Ailine.

What has this to do with Macha? Read More

Hypocrisy, Truth and Lies #repealthe8th

It is a beautiful, sunny day, and today the people of Ireland are making history yet again by voting on changes to the constitution. Times change, society changes, people change, the world changes, and sometimes the legislation which governs us must change to accommodate that. The people of Ireland are not afraid; they’ve done it before, and I hope they will do it again.

What does it mean? Very simply, it means abortion could be legalised in Ireland. Most people would agree that abortion is a double-edged sword; no one wants to kill an unborn child. In Ireland, there will be strict controls so that the system cannot be abused, and abortions will only take place during the first twelve weeks.

The debate still rages over whether life starts at conception, or later. And until now, the right to life of the unborn child has been prioritised over the health of the mother, to the extent that women have been allowed to die rather than provide medical intervention which might compromise the life of the baby. Read More

I am sitting on the edge of Carys’s bed. She sprawls across my lap, fuzzy head tucked into the hollow of my neck, small arms clutching me tight. It is incredible how much strength there is in her under-developed muscles. I wait for her sobs to subside. It is three am. I am exhausted. We have not had a single solid night’s sleep in a month.

Carys has made great progress with her walking, so much so, that her PT feels that she no longer needs her AFO’s. How I rejoiced to hear that! But this particular silver lining, like so many, comes with its own dark cloud attatched.

We have always been grateful that Carys loves her sleep. She is a good sleeper, and if she wakes at night, usually she manages to drift off again. That is partly down to the ‘rituals’ we have adopted with all our children from day one: the soft blanket, the cuddly toy, the musical toy, the fun songs and stories, the hugs and kisses. She loves her bed, and she loves bed-time.

That’s so important to us parents; we can’t function well without good sleep, either. I turn into Godzilla if I don’t get my eight hour quota of zeds, and even then my family know not to speak to me until I’ve had my first coffee of the day! Read More

You may remember these two young ladies:


Incredible Irish Women. The Mysterious Deaths of Eithne and Fidelma


And you may remember also the block I had when it came to writing the next post in my Incredible Irish Women series, and how I was given to believe that I had ‘unfinished business’ to complete before I could move onto my next subject.

I decided to go to the site where Eithne and Fedelma had been baptised by Patrick, and where they were said to have to have immediately ascended to heaven afterwards. Let’s just say it was not at all what I expected. Read More