Acceptance: Skin-Deep and Empty Words

Today is a significant one in world history. No matter which side of the fence we stand on, we have no choice but to accept. Around the world, governments are also preparing to show acceptance. And yet, there seems to be a global sense of uncertainty, and fear.

I fear for the minorities. I fear for acceptance. For tolerance. And I am reminded of something I wrote a few years ago for 1000 voices speak for compassion, which I think is as relevant today as it was then, if not more so.

I don’t like moths. I don’t like how they enter my house uninvited, fluttering blindly about, and cluster in a seething panic around any available light source. The frenzied flapping of their dull, tattered wings gives me the creeps.

But I love butterflies. When they gate-crash, I feel privileged, blessed, and patiently herd them out to freedom for fear their short, beautiful lives might meet an untimely end within my four walls.

When I found a glorious creature with stunning red and black markings walking determinedly across my doormat one spring morning, I assumed he was a newly hatched butterfly ready to test his wings. I opened the door respectfully, and watched him take flight.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered he was actually a day-flying cinnabar moth. Who knew that moths could be so gorgeous, or that some of them flew by day and not in the shadow of night?

I was struck, then, by my own superficiality. Me, who should know better. I know how it feels to be judged on appearance, and to be found lacking. I know how it feels to be probed skin-deep, and rejected. Is the sum of our worth truly wrapped up in the symmetry of our faces  and the slender lines of our bodies?

I suspect it’s a primeval thing, some kind of survival skill buried deep within that well of instinctual behaviour we no longer understand or need. Perhaps surrounding ourselves with beauty masks something ugly inside that we try to suppress. Perhaps associating with the beautiful makes us feel good about ourselves. Maybe it ‘rubs off on us’.

Of course, we’re in denial. We say brave words, like ‘Beauty is skin-deep’, or ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, or ‘Sticks and stones may break our bones but words will never hurt us.’ Admit it; they’re just empty words. We don’t live by them. And words hold enormous power. Too many young people have ended their lives after being bullied. Abused with words. They didn’t feel accepted.

Acceptance, whether it’s social or personal, requires approval and a non-judgmental state of mind. Being accepted gives us a sense of belonging. Ultimately, that’s what we all want. It’s what we’re all searching for in our own convoluted ways. But does being beautiful increase the chances of being accepted?

I was bullied at school, for many reasons; I wore thick glasses with National Health frames (definitely not beautiful), I didn’t speak with the local accent, nor was I a local girl, and I arrived in school only six weeks before the end of the school year. Bonds and social groups had already been formed. There was no peer pressure to try and ‘fit in’; I was a stranger, I looked and sounded different, and I simply wasn’t wanted. Boy, did they let me know it.

When I left school, I rebelled against this unfriendly society which had not found it possible to accept me. I defied their traditional, conservative, insular attitude.

It was the 80s: electronic music, big hair, frilly clothes and wild makeup which looked more like art. These young people were different. The disguise made us all look and feel beautiful. We were connected, united. I hid behind this flamboyant façade: it was an acceptance of sorts.

But I had to grow up. I didn’t want to work in an office or in a factory, so I joined the RAF instead. The RAF didn’t want us to be different, individual, unique; they wanted us all to be the same, their kind of same. Thrown into what seemed like chaos to us, a disparate band of females learned to pull together, accept one another, and become a team. Then the RAF split us up and sent us reeling in different directions, but it didn’t matter, because by then we were part of the machine. Acceptance was built in.

The tides of time washed me in its waters, sometimes soothing, sometimes stormy, but always eventful. I drifted, adding the roles of wife and mother to life’s CV. That’s when I ran aground, the meaning of acceptance suddenly rocketing to a whole new level.

Carys came into our lives. She was born with a rare syndrome, but we counted ourselves lucky, for she was never expected to live at all. Two days later, a tangle of blood vessels began to bloom on her forehead. It was the beginnings of a birthmark, a haemangioma, and it grew with a speed and virulence which astounded me.

Day by day it expanded, turning a deep, shiny red, a sinister parasite claiming its place on my daughter’s face. The surface began to wrinkle and pucker, forming little hills and valleys, a menacing roseate island in the soft smooth sea of her forehead.

People love to look at babies, have you noticed? A brief dip into Facebook or Pinterest throws up endless rounds of cute or amusing baby pictures with associated entertaining quotes. When my two sons were babies, I received many smiles and compliments from strangers, who looked into the stroller upon my boys’ perfect faces.

That didn’t happen with Carys. Oh, they gawped eagerly enough. Sometimes, they raised their eyes to mine in shock. Mostly, they just craned their necks and stared at my little girl as if she was something they had just scraped off the bottom of their shoe.

I can’t describe the pain that ripped through me. She was so innocent, had done nothing to anyone, just fought fiercely against all the odds to cling to the dirty, ragged scrap of life tossed her way.

When she was only four months old, she endured a long surgery to remove this ugly complex lump in the hope of saving her sight. With the haemangioma gone, I thought we would simply disappear into the masses, nothing worth seeing here. But I was wrong.

The wound developed a thick black crust. The edges were loose, and constantly seeped, but the doctors were happy, it was progressing exactly as they wanted. Now when people stared at Carys, their gaze quickly shifted to us, her parents, and I could see what they were thinking; were we simply neglectful parents, or abusive ones?

Carys, and other children like her, fall into a minority group which society as a whole has not yet found itself able to fully accept. True acceptance would, by definition, require the majority to allow the full integration and participation of the minority in all aspects of society. Even in these enlightened times, that doesn’t happen.

For example, Carys must go to a ‘special school’, which is tucked well away from the community where she lives. There is no other option. I resent that. Although the school is excellent, I would like her to attend our local school, which ideally should have an attached special care unit for disabled children.

How wonderful if Carys could be visited by her brothers during her day at school; how wonderful if the children from the mainstream school could integrate with the disabled children, help them, play with them at break, grow up never being afraid of them or developing ignorance and prejudice against them.

It’s as if society doesn’t want to be affronted by the sight, or blight, of disabled people. We hide them away and pretend they don’t exist. Perhaps their physical deformity reminds us of our own inner ugliness, something we’d rather ignore.

When participation in society is confined to only certain areas, then the majority is only practicing tolerance, not true acceptance. Tolerance and acceptance are not the same.

A decade later, Carys’s haemangioma is just a shadow of its former self; the scar has faded, but she still looks obviously ‘different’. The dangers of her syndrome are hidden within, where they can’t be seen and gawked at. People still stare, but not as much. I am less inclined to accept rudeness, but am also better able to let it go; I have grown, learned to tolerate and yes, accept these episodes of weakness from strangers.

Being Carys’s parent has broken my heart many times over, and filled and refilled it with more love and hope than I ever thought possible. She has taught me so much about what’s really important.

I want many things out of life for my sons. I work hard to set their feet on the path to achieving them. For Carys, the list is much shorter and simpler; happiness, love and a life as free from pain as possible.

And most of all, acceptance. Not just for Carys, and other children like her, but for all living beings.

Peculiar Pregnancies in Irish Mythology

Peculiar Pregnancies in Irish Mythology

Being a woman of a certain age, and a mother, I was wondering what it must have been like to be pregnant in ancient Ireland, so I decided to do some digging, and guess what? There’s hardly anything out there on the subject. For a society that was all about the fertility of the land, of the people and animals, that struck me as a little strange.

Then I got to thinking; all the stories of ancient Ireland we have were written down by Christian male monk scribes. Not only was the business of birthing children considered a female only ‘thing’ they might not have known much about, but they bumped women a few notches down the hierarchy scale whilst they were at it. Women were pretty much considered as lustful, evil creatures that had to be kept in their rightful place… a subservient place, that is.

The names of women in the old stories were forgotten or not considered important enough to remember (ie. the mother of Etain; the wife of Lugh wrongfully accused of an affair); or they were repainted as an insipid virtuous Christian ideal of femininity (ie Cuchulainn’s wife, Emer was said to possess the six gifts of womanhood: beauty, a gentle voice, sweet words, wisdom, skill at needlework and chastity. Hmmm… now does she sound much like a spirited Celtic Irish woman to you?); or they were branded as a lewd and crude, sex-crazed, egotistical harlot (ie Queen Medb).

So perhaps it’s not quite so surprising after all to find such a black hole of information. However, women were good enough for one thing, and that is for birthing heroes and kings. In fact, according to the ancient stories, they were quite good at that, although often, conception did not come about through the act of sex at all, but from swallowing something they shouldn’t.

Ok… settle down. I know, far too many puns for one paragraph. But someone really should have explained the birds and bees to those poor misinformed monks! 😂😝😉

Anyway, onward: here are some stories from Irish mythology about unusual conceptions, pregnancies and births.

nessa, mother of king conchobar

Nessa was the daughter of Eochaid Sálbuide, king of Ulster, and was married to Cathbad, a druid and warrior. One day, she asked Cathbad what the day was good for, and he answered, “Conceiving a king.” So they did.

Nessa goes into labour on the banks of the River Conchobar whilst she and her husband are travelling to visit friends. Cathbad tells her if she can hold on till the following day (Huh? Really???), her son will be born on the birthday of Jesus Christ. So Ness dutifully sits on a flat stone like a good little woman, and held in all night the child which was ripping her apart to get out. Maybe she crossed her legs, or something. The next morning, she pops out a son she names Conchobar, after the river he was born beside.

Bear in mind that this is the same Nessa who prior to her pregnancy, single-handedly as a woman raised a war-band of 27 warriors and took off after her father’s murderers with them, intent on revenge and killing. What a creature of contrast she is!

macha, mother of twins fir and fial

Macha, daughter of Sainrith mac Imbaith, was the wife of a farmer in Ulster named Cruinniuc. One day, while watching a chariot race, Cruinniuc bragged that his wife was so fleet of foot, she could outrun any of the King’s horses.

The King was not happy to hear this, and called Cruinniuc’s bluff. A race was set up. Despite being heavily pregnant at the time, Macha duly raced the horses and won. Well, of course she wouldn’t have wanted to make a show of her husband in front of the King over a trivial little thing like pregnancy, now, would she? It is a natural state, after all. Like a good wife, she did as she was told.

However during the race, she went into labour and collapsed on the finish line, giving birth to twins, a boy and a girl, whom she named  Fir and Fial, meaning ‘True’ and ‘Modest’. Sadly, she died soon after, but not before cursing all the men of Ulster to suffer with her labour pains in the future… I like her style! This was later to have dire consequences when it came to the battle of the Cattle Raid of Cooley.

dechtire, mother of cuchulainn

Cuchulainn was the champion of the afore-mentioned cattle raid, but the tale of his conception and birth is a curious one. Dechtire, half sister of King Conchobar mac Nessa, was married to an Ulster chieftain named Sualtam.

One night, a mayfly landed in her cup of wine, and she swallowed it without realising. She fell into a deep sleep during which Lugh Lamfhada, God of Lightning, visited her, and claimed that he was that mayfly and had impregnated her. He then transformed her along with fifty of her serving women into a flock of birds and flew them to Bru na Boinne (Newgrange).

She gave birth to a son there, and named him Setanta. The men of Ulster then came for her and escorted her home. Setanta grew up to become the hero, Cuchulainn.

the nameless mother of etain

Dechtire wasn’t the only woman to become impregnated after swallowing something; Irish mythology is rife with it. When Midir of the Tuatha de Danann falls in love with Etain, his jealous first wife, Fumnach, transforms her into a butterfly. After many adventures, Etain falls into a cup of wine in the hand of  the wife of Étar, an Ulster chieftain. Unaware, the woman drinks the wine and swallows the butterfly. She then becomes pregnant, and Étain is reborn, one thousand and twelve years after her first birth.

findchoem, mother of conall cernach

Findchoem was barren for many years, until finally she sought help from the Druids. The Druids raised their magic and sang spells over a well. Findchoem then bathed in the well and drank from its enchanted waters. With the water, she accidentally swallowed a worm, and thus Conall was conceived.

shapeshifting and birth

In the Tale of Two Swineherds, Friuch and Rucht are minding livestock belonging to the Gods Ochall and Bodb, when they begin to quarrel. A fight breaks out, in which they assume many animal forms in order to gain mastery of each other, finally becoming two worms. These are promptly swallowed by two cows grazing nearby, which then give birth to the two bulls Finnbhennach and Donn Cúailnge, around whom the Cattle Raid of Cooley was fought.

So there you have it… weird and wonderful pregnancy tales from Irish myth! Which was your favourite?

 Want more mythology straight to your inbox? Sign up to my mailing list.

COMING SOON: Conor Kelly’s Guide to Ireland’s Ancient Places, an exclusive free gift for all newsletter subscribers, featuring all the sites and locations upon which The Tir na Nog Trilogy is based. WANT ONE? It’s FREE, and coming to a newsletter near you soon! All you have to do is sign up to my Marvellous Myths newsletter.

Or try one of these…

The Joy of Walking and Making Sense of the Senses

Sometimes, things happen in our lives that fill us with deep joy; we can feel it swelling and expanding within us until it is so great, we think we might just burst, because we can’t possibly contain it. Have you ever had that feeling?

But it carries on growing regardless, because it’s not something bound by our physical limitations; it exists within our  soul. And quite often its caused by the little things in life, not that lottery win, or a new car, or a designer handbag that cost more than a house.

It’s climbing a mountain, admiring a beautiful view, inhaling the fragrance of a beautiful flower, feeling the sun on your face, the impromptu hug from a child.

Two weekends ago, I had this feeling walking through the Burren. I tried to capture it in my pictures. I don’t know if I did, but it doesn’t really matter. My senses still remember.

My walking enabled me to be in the Burren, and my senses enabled me to experience it. And it was truly an unforgettable gift.

Imagine if you can’t walk. Imagine if your senses interpret everything around you all wrong. Your life is limited already by being immobile; just think for a moment how that would impact everything you do in your normal daily life.

You wake up. You need to go to the toilet for your morning pee, but you can’t get out of bed. You can’t drive to work. You can’t walk down to the park at lunchtime to eat your sandwich in the sun. You can’t get into the bank because there is a step. The lift is out of order in the department store, so you can’t shop. You can’t cross the road because the curb is too high. There’s only one disabled trolley at the supermarket, and it’s already in use, so you can only buy what you can fit on your lap. The Burren? Forget it!

Now imagine how it would be if your senses gave you all the wrong information. The sound of the shower is like a roaring waterfall. The chink of keys is like a church bell ringing in your head. The kiss of a loved one feels like the unbearable tickling of a feather. Someone stroking your hair feels like they’ve just yanked a handful out of your head. The gentle blowing of the breeze in your face feels like it’s stolen your breath away and you’re suffocating. The tiled floor feels like razor blades beneath your feet.

Imagine you’re taken out to dinner in a restaurant. Firstly, everything is unfamiliar, and that’s enough to feel like the carpet has been tugged from under you. The chair is strange and uncomfortable. You’re hungry, but you have to wait till someone brings your food, then it’s so hot it feels like flames swilling around your mouth. It’s too lumpy, and feels like trying to swallow rocks. There are too many people, too many strangers, and the swirling of their voices all around you sounds like the roaring of lions. The powerful smells of so many different foods feels like trying to inhale pungent soup and makes you gag. Then the waitress, who you don’t know, tries to touch your curls, because they’re so cute, and it feels like claws raking through your hair. And all this when it’s nearly your bed time. It’s overwhelming.

That’s what it has been like for Carys all her life, and I never fully understood. No one did. We just wanted to try and have a normal life and include her in everything. She reacted with tantrums and crying. What else could she do?

But what a difference a year makes. Especially when you have the right people in your life who understand, and can help you.

This time last year, Carys couldn’t walk. Look at her now. See the joy in her face? Imagine the joy in mine. I know you can hear it in my voice. Carys loves walking. It’s not easy for her, but she enjoys it and wants to do it. It will never be as natural for her as it is for you and I, she will never be able to spend a weekend hiking in the Burren, but when she gets on her feet, she pulls her hands free so she can go it alone. She stumbles often. She loses her balance. But she walks. And walking makes her smile.

Not only that, but she is practising walking bare-foot over lots of different textures. She likes walking on grass. She likes walking on sand. She doesn’t like tiles, she goes back onto tip toes then. She can walk up steps so long as she has a hand to hold, but not down them yet. She can walk up and down ramps, but struggles with uneven surfaces. Now, we are working on transitioning; that means getting up from the floor, and getting down safely. I have a feeling when she has mastered transitioning, we will see a huge leap in her confidence and ability… I’ll need eyes in the back of my head, lol!

Teaching Carys to walk has been hard enough. But the senses, how on earth do we retrain them? With a lot of hard work, dedication, determination, consistency, and some therapies that seem totally weird. It’s not about exposure, like you might expect. It’s about re-directing the sensory input into the right pathway so the brain can interpret it correctly. Not everyone is convinced it works. But it is working for Carys. She is like a different child. In a good way!

We started with the Wilbarger brushing and joint compressions. Every 90 minutes during Carys’s waking hours. After a couple of months, we dropped down to five times a day followed by 10 minutes of sensory activities, such as walking, lateral swinging in a cocoon swing, deep pressure massage, back presses, wrapping her tightly in a blanket.

A couple of months later, we started vibratory work. Carys has something called a Z-vibe. It’s a little vibrating tube, roughly the size of a pen, which you can add different textured ends to. We started introducing this to her hands and feet, eventually working closer to her head and face. Then we tried putting it in her mouth. Now she has a spoon which goes on the end, and eats her food with it. From her teacher; she refuses it from me!

The idea is that this desensitizes her mouth, and wakes up her taste-buds, her chewing, and her swallowing reflex. This is all about getting her to feed herself. We are a loooong way from achieving that goal yet, but she has already improved significantly.

The latest therapies involve bathing, which takes three people as it requires applying deep pressure massage to the head while trying to wash her hair. Carys is very protective of her head, and hates water going anywhere near her head. Also, her weighted vest just arrived, which she must wear for half hour intervals throughout the day.

It sounds like a lot of work, and it is, for Carys as well as me and her carers and teachers at school. Is it worth it? Definitely! Carys is much calmer, confident and more settled. She has far fewer tantrums. In fact, when she has a tantrum now, I sit her on my lap and hold her  very very tightly, and she will stop within five minutes! It’s the deep pressure of being held so tightly which calms her. Previously, her tantrums could go on for hours.

You might think that this would spoil her, that she would throw a tantrum to get attention and cuddles. But it doesn’t seem to work like that. Carys gives and receives hugs and cuddles all day long, she knows how to get me to cuddle her, and the tantrums have lessened, not increased.

I can take her out to the shops, even to the hospital, and she is relaxed and not stressed. In fact, when we are out, she likes to hold my hand and walk about, instead of sit in the safety of her buggy.

In the past, Carys would only tolerate restaurants sitting on mine or Daddy’s knee (preferably Daddy’s), cuddling her soft familiar blanket for comfort, with her headphones on to block out all the noise, and a Peppa Pig DVD to focus on and distract her from all the activity and commotion. Sometimes, we would get disapproving looks; people like to see children interacting with their families around the dinner table, not glued to their phones or tablets. But these were Carys’s survival techniques.

We haven’t taken her out to dinner yet since we started this process… that’s planned for this weekend. So wish us luck!

NB: I don’t know for sure how all this feels to Carys, as she is non-verbal, and can’t tell me. I have based this on how I imagine it must feel having observed her reactions and beghaviours, and after having talked to her occupational therapist. 😊

The Fosterling in Irish Mythology

The Fosterling in Irish Mythology
The Fosterling in Irish Mythology

Ireland has a strange history when it comes to the care of its children. Sometimes, it seems as if they were treated as possessions to be traded rather than flesh and blood to be cherished, our country’s future.

We have a dark legacy to come to terms with, as we discover pits at nursing homes packed full of the remains of babies and young children; stories of babies torn from mothers at the Magdalene laundries and given into slavery in exchange for a donation, and people within living memory who have no idea of their true identity because they were adopted or fostered outside of the law.

In ancient times, fosterage played an important role in Irish society, but the process was governed by strict and complex rules as specified in the Brehon Laws. It was something practised by all classes, but particularly by the wealthy and the noble.

It strengthened natural bonds of kinship between various branches of a clan. In a turbulent world, it also served as a means of negotiating political advantage and gaining allies, and in war, fosterlings could be held for ransom.

Sometimes, a child was fostered out of goodwill, but generally a fee was paid to the foster parents. This was graded according to the child’s rank, so for example, three cows might be paid for fostering a farmer’s son, but eighteen cows might be paid for the son of a king. In those days, cattle were used as currency.

Fostering a girl was far more expensive than fostering a boy. The reason for this is unclear; perhaps she required closer supervision, or perhaps it was more complicated to teach her women’s skills.

The legend of Princess Tuag might indicate why the cost of fostering female children was greater than fostering males. Tuag was the daughter of High King Conall Collamhrach, but he was killed after only five years of rule. The princess was fostered at Tara by the new High King Conaire, and had a great retinue of ladies and waiting women to serve her. She was so beautiful that no man was allowed near her, for she was destined to be married to a great King, perhaps to Conaire himself.

When she was just fifteen, however, Manannán the Sea-God decided he would take her for himself. He sent his druid, Ferdia, to steal her away from Tara. Ferdia disguised himself as a woman, and sang a sleeping spell over her, and thus managed to escape with her.

He carried her to the mouth of the River Bann, and set her down on the sand whilst he went to get a boat in which to take her to Manannán’s land. She was still sleeping. As the tide rose, a great wave washed over the Tonn and carried her out to sea, where she was sadly drowned.

No doubt Conaire had to repay his foster-fee to Tuag’s family.

Children were often fostered as young as one year old, but seven was more typical. Often, strong affections resulted from fosterage at such a tender age.

We see this in Irish mythology with regard to the God, Lugh, and his foster mother, Tailtiu. She was the only mother he had ever known, and when she died, he was so overcome with grief, that he founded the annual Festival of Lughnasa in her honour at Tailten (Teltown in Co Meath, between Navan and Kells), where she had lived and was buried.

It was expected that a foster child be reared in accordance with the role they would fulfil in life as an adult. Foster parents were responsible for ensuring the child was taught the knowledge, business, or trade suited to their rank. If the quality of the fostering was found to be inadequate in any way, the foster parents would be subjected to a hefty fine of two thirds of the original foster-fee.

Lugh was known as the Samildanach, or ‘Master of all Arts’, because Tailtiu had seen to it that her foster son was taught not just in the battle arts, but many other skills also, such as healing, playing the harp, composing poetry, working metals as a smith, to name but a few.

Fosterage was considered complete if the child died, committed a crime, or was married. For a girl, marriage was legal at fourteen, and for a boy, seventeen. If the foster parents had no children of their own, they were entitled in old age or sickness to be supported by their foster children.

The laws which governed the fosterage process were very detailed and complex and controlled even the minutiae of their daily lives; stirabout (a type of porridge) was given to all fosterlings for breakfast, but only the sons of kings were allowed to flavour it with honey. Fresh butter was given to the chieftains’ sons, but the lower ranks had to make do with salt butter.

Even the colour of their clothing was controlled by the law. The lower ranks could wear yellow, black, white or beige, but children of noble status were allowed to dazzle in red, green and brown. Purple and blue were reserved only for royalty. This probably had much to do with the scarcity and costliness of certain dyes.

If a child committed any crime, it was the foster parent rather than the natural father who was liable for the offence.

When Diarmuid ua Duibhne, a warrior of the Fianna, committed an offence against his leader, Fionn mac Cumhall, he was already a young man, and so his foster father, Óengus Óg, Denann God of Love, was not held responsible.

Diarmuid eloped with Grainne on the night of her wedding to Fionn mac Cumhall. Deeply offended, Fionn chased the love-struck pair across the length and breadth of Ireland, even when Grainne grew heavy with child.

It was Óengus, foster father, not biological father, who stepped in and intervened with Fionn, thus calling off the hunt and arranging an uneasy truce. However, Fionn was to get his revenge many years later.

If a fosterling was physically marked in any way, either through being struck by the foster parent, or injured whilst in their care, the foster-fee was forfeit. If the child became seriously ill, or diseased, the foster parents had the right to return it to its natural parents.

If a child died, and the foster parents were found to be negligent, the child’s biological parents were fully entitled by law to seek direct retribution.

When Cuchullain was born to Lugh and the mortal woman, Dechtine, daughter of Ulster King, Conchobar mac Nessa, the nobles of Ulster squabbled amongst themselves over who should foster the boy. The matter was only settled when Morann the Wise intervened and chose a team of six foster parents for their own particular skills, who all had a clearly defined role in the boy’s upbringing.

Interestingly, Fionn mac Cumhall was fostered at birth by two women. They took him to a secret place in the forests of the Slieve Bloom Mountains, to raise him away from the reaches of his father’s enemies. Bodhmall was his aunt and a druidess, and saw to his education, whilst the mysterious Liath Luachra trained him in hunting and the battle arts.

But perhaps the most famous fosterage story of all in Irish mythology is that of Deirdre of the Sorrows. Deirdre was the daughter of the King’s storyteller Fedlimid mac Daill. Cathbad, the King’s chief druid prophesied that the child would grow up to be so beautiful that kings would go to war over her, much blood would be spilled, and Ulster’s three greatest heroes would be exiled.

Hearing this, many people called for her death, but the King of Ulster, Conchobar mac Nessa, refused to have a baby murdered, and took her into fosterage. He gave her to a druidess named Lebhorcham, and ordered her to be reared in the forest in isolation, where she could cause no harm.

Deirdre grew up into a beautiful young woman, and one day quite by chance, meets Naoise, a warrior frrom the King’s court. They fall in love and fearful of the King’s wrath, elope to Scotland with Naoise’s two brothers, Arden and Ainnle.

Conchobar tracked them down, and had Naoise and his brothers killed. He married Deirdre, but then decided to give her to the man who had murdered her lover, Naoise. Distraught, Deirdre threw herself from the chariot, hitting her head on a boulder, and so was killed.

These myths are tragic indeed, but pale beside the true stories which have been emerging in Ireland in recent years. Brehon law, although altered by the Christians to fit with their beliefs, continued into the middle ages. These laws, so ahead of their time, protected the rights of not only the fosterlings, but the foster parents and the birth parents too.

That they came to be scrapped in order to pave the way for the abuses which are still coming to light even now was a step not into enlightenment, but ignorance.

Get more mythology straight to your inbox. Sign up to my mailing list.

Or try one of these…

A Mother’s Thoughts and Fears | Update

Covered in blood
Covered in blood

Some people say that the internet community is not really composed of actual friends. I always felt that wasn’t true, and now, after yesterday’s experience, I know it.

I’ll admit I was fragile yesterday. I know if I had reached out into my physical locality, I would have found love and support from my ‘real’ friends, but I actually couldn’t face facing people, if you know what I mean.

So I poured it all out here, and you rallied round. It was amazing, and humbling. Something I am grateful for, and will never forget.

But what you really want to know is, how is Carys?

Well, she is a little star! Daddy brought her home about 1pm. She looked like she’d been in a war zone, she was covered in blood, and I mean, it was everywhere! But she smiled, she ate and drank, took her meds, played, interacted and was completely and utterly charming, as if nothing had ever happened.

9 perfect baby teeth
9 perfect baby teeth

But wait till you hear what they did to her! Removed 9 baby teeth, because they were obstructing her adult teeth and preventing them from coming down; four fillings, and snipped the skin flap which joins her bottom lip to her gums, because it was too small and tight.

Poor little girl!

Anyway, thank you for all your kindness, support, caring comments and love for Carys. Have a great weekend, everyone. xxx

A Mother’s Thoughts and Fears

It’s 630 in the morning, and outside, the sky is dark, but not so black as my mood. Carys is on her way to the children’s hospital in Dublin, and I’m sitting here, chain-drinking coffee while my heart breaks.

It’s only dental work, but it’s never ‘only’ something for children like Carys. There’s no way she’s going to let a dentist look in her mouth, or go anywhere near her, thank you very much.

A year ago, it took five of us to hold her down while a dentist gave her some temporary fillings. No needles or drills involved. It was a traumatic experience for everyone involved, not least poor Carys herself, who has absolutely no comprehension of why we’re doing that to her, except that it’s bound to be something she’s not going to like. Or hurt her.

So today, she will be having a general anaesthetic, and I’m scared, really scared. GA always carries a risk, but for Carys, with her bloated fragile heart, it’s a very serious risk, and I’m terrified she won’t wake up.

I know she will have an excellent anaesthetist. I know he will have read her file. I suspect her cardiologist will have been consulted. I know she is in good hands.

But she’s out of mine. My hands have always held her, but not today. I am home with my boys, and Carys is with her Daddy, and I am riddled with guilt. I can’t leave the boys here on their own, but I should be with Carys and Conor.

Yesterday, I was in such a state with this hanging over me, that my youngest son asked me why I was so angry and doing so much cleaning. Sounds funny, right? Conor said it would probably be best if he took her to the hospital.

Carys is always calmer with her Daddy. She’s a Daddy’s girl. She sleeps in his arms. I do the feeding and the nappies and the hair-washing and the therapies. I do the activities, the work and the fun stuff. With him, she feels safe and relaxed. I am in a stressed and emotional state. Today, I am not Carys’s best advocate.

I know this, but still I feel guilty. Not only am I not there for Carys, but I am not there for Conor. He will have to make that long walk down the corridor to the operating theatre with Carys in his arms, alone. I have condemned him to hold Carys while they administer the first drug which puts her to sleep.

If you have ever had to hold your child while this is done, you will know it feels like watching them die.

And then, while you are still in this extreme condition of terror and bemusement, they snatch her out of your arms and manhandle you out the room too quickly for your mind to register what just happened.

To wait, while some butcher takes a knife, or in this case a drill, to your precious baby.

Of course, they’re not butchers, they are life-saving angels, and two of my children are alive and well thanks to these very special people. Words can never convey such gratitude. ‘Just doing my job, ma’am.’ They really think it’s just a job.

Last time we went through this, Carys was only four months old, and she had a complex surgery to remove her haemangioma. It took four hours, and I remember sitting on her hospital bed, waiting, holding her blanket to my face and breathing in her baby scent. I remember how helpless and desolate I felt.

Today’s procedure is only a short one in comparison. But I’ll still feel the same. The risks are just as great. Conor is on his own in Dublin, and I am alone here. And we’re waiting. Just waiting. And hoping. And while Conor is being a good parent, I’m feeling like a bad one, because I’m too weak and too selfish to be there in his place.

And I’m so afraid that she won’t wake up. That her weak heart can’t cope. That after everything we have been through together in the last ten years, we could still lose her.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

And please, if you want to leave a comment, say anything at all but not what a good mother I am. I can’t handle that today.

The Angels on my Tree Hugh’s Charity Christmas Tree Topper Photo Challenge

My Christmas tree, slightly unfinished, as decorated by the boys. An improvement on last year. I slightly (ahem) rearranged after they'd gone to bed. They never noticed!
My Christmas tree, slightly unfinished, as decorated by the boys. An improvement on last year. I slightly (ahem) rearranged after they’d gone to bed. They never noticed!

My tree does not have an angel on top. No, what it has is a rather plain, very slightly sparkly silver star.

But it does have angels on it. Four of them. These smiley faces belong to the angels on my tree.

Their names are Craig, Jacob, Brody and Charlie. They had the same syndrome that my Carys has, and in just over a year, they all earned their angel wings. I got to know them through their lovely, brave mothers on facebook. Their lives were short and bittersweet, but full of love, and in that time they taught us so much. I can’t believe they’re gone. RIP little lovelies. Gone, but NOT forgotten.

This post is part of Hugh’s Charity Christmas Topper Photo Challenge. Hugh will donate £1 to The Dogs Trust for every Christmas Tree Topper photo that is posted here on Planet Blog up to a maximum of £250.  The challenge is open until Tuesday 5th January 2016 and he will publish a post on Twelfth Night, January 6th, showcasing everybody who participated in the challenge and letting you all know how much we all managed to raise.

If you want to participate and help Hugh raise £250 for The Dogs Trust, here is what you have to do;

1. Take a photo of what sits on top of your Christmas tree.
2. Create a new post on your blog entitled “Hugh’s Photo Challenge: Week 8 – Charity Christmas Tree Topper Challenge.”
3. Add the photo(s) you have taken to the post and tell us a little about what you are showing.
4. Create a pingback to his original post or leave a link to your post in the comments section of his original post so that other participants can view your post.

Happy Christmas, everyone! Only one more sleep to go…