The Encounter of Líadain and Cuirithir

Last week, I listened to one of my lecturers read aloud a poem in Old Irish, and I learned a few things:

  1. Old Irish is a language which is meant to be listened to.
  2. Listening to someone read poetry aloud in Old Irish, even when you don’t understand what the hell he’s saying, is… well, let’s just say it’s very pleasant. 😉

The Encounter of Líadain and Cuirithir is a romantic tragedy, and a story I had not yet come across. It is told, as many old Irish stories are told, in both poetry and prose, with the poetry normally being reserved for speech, or to emphasize a particularly important point, or exchange. And because February is the month of love (just look at all the people born in November and tell me it isn’t!), I thought I’d share it with you.

Linguistically, the story dates to the ninth century, but is set back in the seventh century. It concerns two poets, and the love which grew between them, and how it ended in tragedy.

Líadain of Corco Duibne was a lady poet (see… women could be poets in ancient Ireland!) who was touring the province of Connacht, where she met  Cuirithir mac Doborchu, a local poet. Well, it was love at first sight, and being lusty Irish, they spent the night together.

Cuirithir wanted more than a one night stand; “Why do we not make a union, o Líadain? Brilliant would be our son whom you would beget,” he entreated her, no doubt alluding to their combined skills as poets.

Líadain had fallen even more deeply in love, but something held her back… her love for God (you might know he’d poke his nose in at some point, if St. Patrick wasn’t available).

She told him to come for her at her home when she has completed her tour as a poetess. This he does, and the couple then approached Bishop Cummine for guidance.

He was not kind. He instructed Cuirithir to renounce his love and banished him to a monastery far away over the sea. Líadain takes the veil, but never forgets her passion for her lost love.

As he crossed the sea in his coracle, she mourned the cruel loss of her lover from a vantage point on a boulder overlooking the bay, and died of a broken heart.

The Bishop then placed the stone over her grave. What became of Cuirithir, if he ever learned of his lover’s death, we don’t know.

This is part of the poem Líadian composes about Cuirithrir:

I am Líadain,
I loved Cuirithir.
It is as true as they tell it.

It was a short time that I was
in the company of Cuirithir.
Towards him, my companionship was good.

The music of the wood
used to sing around me when I was with Cuirithir
with the sound of the blood-red ocean.

I would have thought
that nothing of whatever things I might do
would bring Cuirithir against me.

One shouldn’t hide it:
he was my heart’s desire,
even if I loved everyone besides him.

A roar of fire
has broke my heart.
It is known that it will not live without him.

I think these words are so poignant, so sad and heartfelt. The passing of centuries has not diminished them. She clearly regrets having turned him down, having let her fear of God come between them. It is a lament that she hurt the man she loves so dearly… look how often she repeats his name: she is obsessed. I really feel for her.

There does seem to be some confusion in the story; the delay to their getting together is attributed to both her desire to become a nun, and her desire to continue her tour as a travelling poetess. Clearly, it can’t be both, so which is it?

If she becomes a nun first and then sleeps with Cuirithir, then clearly they have both sinned, which explains the Bishop’s harsh decision. But if she becomes a nun after Cuirithir leaves her, then clearly her decision to put her career as a travelling poetess first offended him deeply, in which case she should forget about the selfish arse!

If the former is true, then the story is one of chastity, punishment, love of God, and that most heinous of crimes, female lust. But if the latter is true, more than likely the story has an older source, and is a tale of love and tragic misunderstanding which has been tampered with by Christians to suit their moral code.

Was Líadian a historical figure? It’s hard to say. Her name means the ‘Grey One’, or the ‘Grey Lady’, perhaps in reference to the nun’s habit she wore. Her name does crop up elsewhere in the company of three other female poets, but there is no actual evidence that she really existed.

However, medieval writers were wont to put their stories in the mouths of historical personae as speakers of history. It may even be that her story is true, but she did not write it, at least, not in the version which currently exists. Linguistically, some of the rhyme in the text has been found to date specifically to the ninth century.

So, till next time, Myth Lovers…


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The Friday Fiction with Michael Bolan

I am delighted to introduce Irish author Michael Bolan to you today. Like me, Michael bases his books on Irish myths. Here is an excerpt from his latest book, The Stone Bridge; check it out,  and give the gift of a book this Christmas… even if it’s to yourself! Enjoy!


Michael Bolan’s latest book

Isabella’s good mood stayed with her as she walked her horse slowly through the ancient trees of the forest. It seemed that most of the world was covered by trees, something she never complained about. The soft sounds of the forest soothed her, the rustling of the leaves overhead helped her forget the perils that lay ahead.

She kept thinking about her mission and about the family she had left hours previously. Their life was etched in sweat and toil, bound by the cycle of the seasons. It was so different to the pampered life she had enjoyed in Leuven, or even the unusual existence she had built for herself within the warband, something she had only been able to do because of the education, both formal and informal, that she had received as Duke Henry’s daughter. And yet, despite being simple, uneducated folk, Dentek and his family were happy; happier than most.

Spending time with them had refreshed her; as a long bath washes grime from the skin, her brief sojourn with the farmer left her feeling more alive than she had for weeks. Her burning need to rejoin her people was lessened, her desire for Conor banked like an overnight fire, as she found her thoughts repeatedly returning to the simple family. Leaving Dentek without offering some form of recompense for their hospitality galled her, so she slowed her horse and wheeled the beast around. She would hide her coinpurse where it would be easily found. She found herself humming a gentle ditty as she moved through the woods, dappled in the sunlight.

The sun was beginning to sink towards the western horizon when she smelled the smoke. Assuming that one of the farmers in the hamlet was burning stubble in the fields, she thought nothing of it and continued riding. Something struck her as odd about the smell. It was early to be clearing fields; that was done post-harvest, the ash serving to enrich the soil for the next year. And the smell was strange: not the golden dryness of burning straw, redolent of leather and sunshine; but a more acrid smoke which made her think of Leuven’s ironworks. Frowning, she picked up her pace, bouncing in the saddle as she trotted her horse towards the hamlet.

As she crested the ridge overlooking the shallow valley in which the homestead lay, she felt bile rise in her throat. The thatched rooves of the farmhouses were ablaze, the livestock running wild. Of Dentek, his family and his neighbours, there was no sign. She felt a curious detachment settle over her as she slipped from her saddle and unhooked her packs. Without haste, she loaded her four pistols, strung her bowstaff, checked the fletching of her arrows, and loosened her throwing knives in their sheaths. Satisfied she was ready for battle, she remounted and kicked her heels hard into the horse’s sides. Well-trained for war, the stallion galloped headlong through the trees towards the village.

*****

The roan steed crashed through the treeline like a cannonball, hooves ripping up great clods as it raced towards the homestead, rider clinging centaur-like to its neck. As they neared the village, Isabella could smell the metallic tang of blood and knew her worst fears would be realised. The dispassion that had taken her deepened. Her mind focused on what was to come.

Rider and mount burst into the open space between the houses, unable to stop. Her eyes caught glimpses of dead bodies strewn between the buildings, and she almost crashed into two demons running from one of the houses, swords dripping garish blood onto the hard-packed earth. The pistol in either hand boomed, and the two demons fell, their twisted carmine masks alive as they screamed. Her hands holstered the spent guns and raised her second pair. Hoping that the madcap ride had not loosened their deadly load, she raised and fired, dropping another pair of demon-masked men. And then she was through, her mount barrelling out of the homestead and back into the open fields.

Isabella paused at the treeline to reload her guns and then trotted the lathered horse along the edge of the fields to approach the village from a different angle. Her horse gathered speed once again, and she used her knees to steer it between houses, surprising yet another pair of attackers. One gun rang true, dropping a fifth, while the other misfired. With the grace of an acrobat, she drew her spare pistols and kicked her leg over the saddle, dropping to the earth and rolling, the farmyard dust coating her dark leather armour. She regained her feet with grace, sighting the attacker as she did so. Firing both pistols, she killed him without qualm.

Her senses were fast becoming overloaded with the rank charnel-house odour when stone chips exploded from the wall of the house behind her. She hadn’t even heard the report of the musket. Another shot boomed out, pinning her down behind the low stone wall of the communal well. A brief lull suggested that there were only two marauders left, and that they were reloading their guns. Thinking it likely they both had pistols as well as their muskets, Isabella’s mind raced, unfettered by emotion. Knowing her current position was untenable, she looked around for ideas.

The well-bucket lay on its side, its contents long soaked into the dry soil. Hefting it with her right hand, she used a throwing knife to saw through its rope before throwing it backwards over the well, towards the muskets’ position. Two shots rang out immediately, and she burst from cover, sprinting in a crouch towards the byre. The large double doors were barred shut, but the small picket hung open. Inside she could hear the bellowing of the bull, driven mad by the noise and smell. She dove headfirst through the door, hearing two more shots ring out, higher-pitched than before. Pistols, she noted, as she skidded face-first through the fragrant loam of the byre floor. She rushed to the doors and lifted the stout wooden bar that held them closed, before spinning and flipping the latches of the bull’s pen.

The enraged beast burst from its stall like a horse at the beginning of a race, knocking the byre doors from their hinges as it escaped its confines. Twelve hundredweight of prize beef made no attempt to pause for the man before it; in fact the bull’s weak eyesight didn’t register the obstacle until it was too late. Isabella followed the beast from the byre to see one of the remaining attackers crushed to a messy pulp under its broad hooves, dead before he could scream. She ran for cover, throwing knives in hand as she sprinted.

“A woman!” roared a voice behind her, astonishment colouring the anger it contained. “You demonic bitch!” it screamed, the irony of the statement lost. Isabella skidded to a halt beside the wall of one of the houses, realising with a start that it was Dentek’s. At least, it had been. Fury rose inside her, as she stood and walked into the open.

Before her stood a heavily-muscled man, his six-foot frame clad in blood-red leather armour. He cast his pistol aside, having no time to reload it, and drew a shortsword from his belt. His left hand held a long dagger, blade crimson with the spilled blood of the villagers. As Isabella walked towards him, he spat and stretched his neck from side to side, readying himself to pounce. “Who are you, whore? I would know your name before I fuck your dead body,”

The pair were separated by no more than three yards. Isabella dropped her knives. “I am the bull of seven battles; I am the eagle on the rock.” She undid her belt buckle, allowing her empty sheaths to fall to the earth, doing the same with her shoulder quiver. “I am a flash from the sun; I am a strong wild boar.” Her voice grew from a whisper, gaining strength as she stared at the man. Never had she felt such hatred, such righteous anger.

Impatient to finish her, the man attacked. His shortsword slashed crosswise before swinging back, as he stabbed his dagger towards her belly. He was fast, but Isabella was not where he had thought. She skipped aside. “I am a salmon in the water.” Her right foot shot out, catching the warrior in the side, knocking the wind from him. He whirled, both blades swinging low to catch her legs. She jumped, smashing a foot into his face as she spun sideways. “I am the word of knowledge,” she cried as he attacked again, his blades finding nothing but air as she spun away.

The man stepped back, ripping off his mask, exposing a cold face reddened with anger. “Who are you, bitch?” he shouted. “Ach, it matters not, you will die!” He leaped forward again, swinging both blades in sequence, chopping and scything as if cutting wheat. Isabella’s hands darted out, blocking the insides of his forearms, deflecting his blows, seemingly at the last possible moment. Her punches began to take on force, beating him in the stomach, the chest, the neck, the head, as she shouted in his face, “I am the head of the spear in battle!

Her hands flew back, striking his wrists at the same time, knocking the blades from unfeeling fingers. With all her force she drove her right fist forward, her bunched knuckles hitting the man’s throat. She heard the gristly crunch as his windpipe collapsed. He flew backwards, landing on his back.

Isabella stared down at his gurgling countenance. “I am the god that puts fire in the head. I am vengeance. I am Nemesis. And I will wait for you in Hell.”

She stamped her heel down on his face.




Michael Bolan: nomadic Irish storyteller

Author Michael Bolan
Author Michael Bolan

It took Michael Bolan over two decades of running in the corporate ratrace to realise that all he actually did was tell stories.

There was no Damascene revelation for Bolan which caused him to pen his first work of fiction, “The Sons of Brabant”. An avid reader, he simply felt that he could do as good a job as many of the authors he read and decided to put his money where his mouth was.

Living and working in many countries left him with smatterings of a dozen languages and their stories, and his love for history focused his ideas on the Thirty Years War, the most destructive conflict that the continent has ever seen.

Now living in Prague (again), Michael brings alive the twisted alleys of the 17th century and recreates the brooding darkness of a fractured Europe, where no-one was entirely sure who was fighting whom.

Michael writes while liberally soused in gin, a testament to Franz de le Boë, who was mixing oil of juniper with neat spirit while the thirty Years War raged around him.

His website (http://www.michaelbolan.org) is a place where he can post his thoughts and feelings – along with reviews of books he finds lying around the internet.

 Twitter: https://twitter.com/michaelbolan225

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/michaelbolan225

LinkedIn: cz.linkedin.com/in/bolanov

Author Central: https://www.amazon.com/author/michaelbolan

The Glade #writephoto

The Glade Sue Vincent's #writephoto Prompt www.aliisaacstoryteller.com
The Glade Sue Vincent’s #writephoto Prompt
http://www.aliisaacstoryteller.com

I haven’t taken part in many writing challenges recently. Quite honestly, its all been a bit of a struggle for a while, writing and researching for the blog, keeping up with all your lovely blogs and comments, writing books and all my motherly duties as well. Sometimes everything seems to conspire to suck the inspiration out of you, and it’s a downward spiral from there. But Sue’s picture really spoke to me; it reminded me of all the old places of Ireland I love with my heart and soul and bones. I need to pay some visits. In the meantime, I wrote this, and added a poem I started when I was about 17, but only finished last year. It seems to fit the prompt. At least to me.


the glade

Beards of moss drape old stones with velvet softness. Stark-raw and already ancient, these great stone-bones once teased and tortured from the earth into grey new skeletons, wherein men danced and dreamed and viewed the stars, survive in hunched fragments of former glory.

Now tumbled and crumbled, they lie discarded, forgotten, memories of magic dormant yet still alive throbbing within them. You can feel it if you touch them, feel the vibration in the air on your skin. Be still.

The earth remembers. Time is meaningless here; there is no rush. She feels her way, creeping slowly over recumbent remains, claiming lost treasure torn from her flesh. She heals the hurt without reproach while no one notices.


ancient places
What cities lie buried beneath each hill?

Monuments born of ancient times,

Forgotten and lost but standing still,

Neglected, disconnected, these are our crimes.

*

What histories are etched into ancient stones?

Tales decayed with the fall of walls,

The sag of dynasty, the crumble of bones,

The march of ghosts through tumbled halls.

*

If we could learn to unlock the past

What shrouds would unfurl from our eyes?

Would realisation be ours at last?

Understanding the what, when, who and why's.

*

The power was strong, up on Shee Mor,

I felt at great peace, content.

At Moytura, where warriors fought their war

no harm for me was meant.

*

At Uisneach, by the lough where Lugh was drowned

I grieved for Eire's loss, watched Beltaine fires leap.

Then to Tara, where High Kings were crowned,

the Sacred Stone sadly lost in eternal slumber deep.

*

These places, their magic floods my soul,

washes me clean of the now.

Their stories surge through me, re-make me whole,

ancient voices tell of the how.

*

Ancestors sing and call me home.

I would go if I knew the way.

Under my feet, beneath the loam

stirs blood, beats heart of a by-gone day.

Head on over to Sue Vincent’s blog to take a look at the other entries, and if you fancy giving it a go yourself, here is what you have to do;

Use the image to create a post on your own blog… poetry, prose, humour… by Wednesday 25th May and link back to Sue’s post, not this one, with a pingback. Please make sure that the pingback works and if not, copy and paste your link into the comments section of  Sue’s post.

Don’t forget to use the new and shiny #writephoto hashtag in your title:)

Due to the volume of entries, only the first few posts will feature on Sue’s blog during the week and all posts will be included in a round up on Thursday 26th May.

Feel free to use #writephoto logo or include the prompt photo in your post if you wish or you can replace it with one of your own to illustrate your work. Have fun!


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Speaking in Tongues of Fire

Speaking in Tongues of Fire. www.aliisaacstoryteller.com
Speaking in Tongues of Fire.
http://www.aliisaacstoryteller.com

According to legend, the Danann poet Cairpre mac Edaine composed the first satire in Ireland. You’re probably thinking, ‘So what?’ Let me tell you, it was actually a big deal. A HUGE deal. It led to a High King being deposed, and a huge battle in which the fortunes of a race of people were forever altered.

In modern terms, satire refers to biting, snarky sarcasm, often humorous, generally aimed at politicians and people of power.

But back in the day of the ancient Irish, when society was founded on a code of honour, satire had a much darker, and more practical purpose. To compose a satire against someone was to challenge their authority and to threaten their status in the community. It called their honour into question, and caused them to publicly ‘lose face’.

In fact, a poet was expected to be able to raise a satire so powerful, it could cause blemishes, ie boils to appear on the face of the accused, or other deformities. Should the accused be a chieftain, or King, he was thus made unfit for rule, and could be removed and replaced.

As you can see, the power of the poet could work on behalf of the common man, who might not otherwise have had a voice when it came to bringing a grievance against a superior.

In fact, the poet, known as Fílí in Irish, was held in very high regard himself. In his highest rank, that of Chief Ollamh, he was just as powerful as the High King. Powerful people often keep their own secret agendas, however, making this ability to depose Kings mighty handy.

As high ranking as he was, however, the poet didn’t have free rein to do as he wished. As with most aspects of ancient Irish society, the satire, like just about everything else, was governed by the Brehon Laws.

In legal terms, the satire was considered an assault, and so could not be tossed about lightly on a whim. If a satire was found to be unjust and insulting, ie, it called someone names, or if it mocked their physical appearance, the poet had to pay compensation in the form of an honour price, or eric. And of course, the higher the accused’s status, the higher the fine. Legally, a satire had to be based on truth.

Mind you, we know how elusive truth can be. And sometimes, a poet’s satire back-fired. But I’m rambling again… more of that later.

The Uraicecht Becc is an ancient legal text which goes into great detail on the status of all members of early Irish society. It lists, for example, the seven grades of poet, their honour prices, and what they can expect to earn per poem. It also mentions the three qualities required of a poet; the Imbas Forosnai (knowledge which illuminates), the Teinm Láeda (‘breaking open’ ie the analysis of poetry), and the Dichetal Do Chennaib (extempore chanting).

You could strip away the mystique and claim these skills as mere inspiration, technical expertise on the art of creating poetry, and improvisation, if you like, but that would be rather short-sighted of you (read my post Imbas Forosnai Poetic Inspiration of the Irish Filidh to find out why). But according to Cormac’s Glossary, another ancient text, these techniques actually involve much preparation and ritual, which reinforces the poet’s magical and supernatural abilities.

Oh yes, magic does exist, didn’t you know? It’s all around you, but perhaps you have to open your eyes to see it.

Believe it or not, the satire fell into ten categories, the most serious of which was known as the Glám Dicenn. You want boils on the face of your wicked evil King? Then, this is the satire for you.

The glám dicenn, when raised by a powerful poet, could cause ‘the Three Blisters of Satire’ to appear on the face of the victim, thus marking his shame and dishonour for all to see.

No doubt you’re chortling away to yourself as you read this. How can a poem give someone blisters and boils? Ridiculous, right? It’s just a poem.

And yet, it’s not. To be able to physically affect someone, it’s more than just a poem, it’s a spell. These poets were a class of druid. They could enter the Otherworld and communicate with its inhabitants to seek knowledge and prophecies. They knew the secrets of the mysteries, denied to the ordinary folk. They had long, long years of learning. The history of Ireland and its people was contained in their heads. If anyone could cast a spell, use magic, it would be them.

Magic is just energy, after all.

So people, especially those who had a lot to lose, feared what the poet’s magic could do. If it was said a poet could raise boils with his blistering satire, everyone believed it, and no one wanted to risk their honour.

So it is not at all surprising, then, that Ferdia reluctantly agreed to fight against his foster-brother, Cuchullain, in single combat, rather than be shamed by the poets and satirists that sneaky Queen Medb threatened him with during the long, drawn out campaign of the Cattle Raid of Cooley.

So what did the Three Blisters of Satire look like? According to the Cauldron of the Gods: A Manual of Celtic Magick by Jan Fries, the three boils were black, red and white and represented disgrace, blemish and ugliness. They were raised on the face of a woman by a poet named Aithirne Ailgesach, who was a thoroughly nasty piece of work, and travelled around Ireland making preposterous demands under threat of glám dicenn.

So what was the woman’s great crime? She was promised to marry King Conchubar, and so refused to sleep with the evil poet and his two sons. Don’t blame her. However, she was so ashamed of the three boils which appeared on her face, that she died there and then. Nice.

The glám dicenn often resulted in death. In another story, which appears in Cormac’s Glossary, Nede is the greatest fili in all the land, and adopted son of the King, Caear. Nede composes a glám dicenn against Caear in the hope of deposing him, marrying his Queen and usurping his position.

Caear was so ashamed of his three blisters, which were red, green and white, representing shame, stain and ugliness, that he assumed a new name, ran away and went into hiding, leaving Nede to fulfill his dastardly plan.

After a year, Nede began to feel guilty about what he had done. He went in search of Caear, and found him hiding in a cleft in a rock. As the poet tried to apologise, the old King fell down dead, and the rock heated up and burst open. A splinter of rock shot out and pierced Nede through the eye, thus killing him.

Dramatic stuff, and a fine example of a wrongful satire backfiring and killing the poet who composed it. I imagine such stories served as a warning to poets not to fall too much in love with their own power and authority.

By the way, after causing a heap of mayhem up and down the country, Aithirne got his just reward… the men of Ulster rose up against him and killed him. Slowly and painfully, I hope.

And now back to Bres. The story goes that Cairpre was travelling through Ireland and stopped off at Bres’s place. Bres was High King at the time, and Cairpre being an important poet, it was expected that he would be received with the finest hospitality.

Hospitality was a matter of honour in ancient Ireland. (You can read more about that in my post, 6 Founding Principles of Ancient Irish Society.) However, Cairpre was not treated well, and shot his King down in flames with his fiery little verse. According to Shee-Eire, this is what happened;

“Cairpre, poet of the Tuatha Dé Danann, came in his travels to the house of Bres. He entered a narrow, black, dark little house, with neither fire nor chair nor bed in it. Three small cakes he was given, and they were dry. On the morrow he arose, and he was not thankful. As he crossed the threshold he made this magical curse:

‘Without food quickly on a dish,

Without cow’s milk for a calf to grow on,

Without a man’s abode under the dark of night,

Without pay for a company of storytellers –

Let that be Bres’s condition.”

Doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Cairpre was merely wishing for Bres to be on the receiving end of some of his own treatment, not to kill him. The people of Ireland were already dissatisfied with their King, though, because he favoured his Fomori heritage, and forced the Danann to work like slaves and pay high tribute to them.

“All this time that Bres held the kingship, there was murmuring against him among the Tuatha Dé Danann, for their knives were not greased by him, and however often they visited him their breaths did not smell of ale. And there was no entertainment in the household from either poet or bard or satirist or harper or piper or hornblower or juggler or jester. They saw no races, no sporting contest.”

Again, hospitality and honour seems to be called into question here. But Cairpre’s satire gave the Danann the ammunition they needed. Bres was rapidly deposed, Nuada with his new silver arm was reinstated as King, and war declared on the Fomori. The Danann were victorious. And the rest is history. Um… well, mythology, at least.


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Irish Words and Symbols of Love

irish words and symbols of love www.aliisaacstoryteller.com
irish words and symbols of love
http://www.aliisaacstoryteller.com

“Love wasn’t like it was portrayed in the movies; I understood that now. It wasn’t an ethereal cloud of hearts and flowers and happy-ever-afters. It was a solid gritty living lump with sharp edges plunging around in my chest, a spiky ball of complex conflicting emotions all rolled into one indistinguishable, exquisite messy mass which extended feelers into every aspect, every layer of my being.”

This is how Cethlenn, the main protagonost of my latest WIP, Swanskin, describes the experience of falling in love.

Of course, it’s different for everyone. Here are some thoughts on love from some of Ireland’s more famous writers;

“Hearts are not to be had as a gift, hearts are to be earned.”

-William Butler Yeats

“You don’t love someone for their looks or their clothes or their fancy car, but because they sing a song only you can hear.”

“Never love anyone who treats you like you’re ordinary.”

–  both by Oscar Wilde

If you want to tell someone special how much you care this Valentine, here are some things you could say in Irish…

Gráim thú

(pronounced graw-im hoo)

I love you

Is tú mo ghrá

is a more formal way to say I love you

mo chuisle

(pronounced muh khish-la)

my pulse

 

a chuisle mo chroí

pulse of my heart

grá mo chroí

love of my heart

Which reminds me, around this time last year, Jane Dougherty and I published some retellings of Irish love myths. You can get a free copy on Smashwords, but if you want to download from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com, you’ll have to pay 99p/99c… they won’t let us permafree it, sadly. If you haven’t read it, get it… it’s free (on Smashwords) and it’s perfect for the season that’s in it!

GMCFinal version sml

Now for some poetry. I came across this, and thought it was quite sweet…

“The red rose whispers of passion,
And the white rose breathes of love;
O, the red rose is a falcon,
And the white rose is a dove.
But I send you a cream-white- rosebud
With a flush on its petal tips;
For the love that is purest and sweetest
Has a kiss of desire on the lips.”

– John Boyle O’Reilly

“Love hath a language of his own – A voice, that goes
from heart to heart – whose mystic tone
love only knows.”

– Thomas Moore

Here are some old country Irish marriage proposals, which I quite liked…

  • Come live in my heart, and pay no rent.
  • Would you like to hang your washing next to mine? And the reply – Tis a lonely wash with no man’s shirt in it.
  • November is the time to wed, the harvest’s in and it’s cold in bed.

And some old Irish sayings about love…

  • If he/ she doesn’t hear poetry, they won’t hear anything at all.
  • Love is like stirabout (porridge); it must be made fresh every day.
  • A little fire that warms the heart is better than a big fire that burns.

According to tradition, Irish oysters are an aphrodisiac, especially when eaten with a pint of stout. It’s said to be more powerful magic than standing under the mistletoe at Christmas.

Finally, the Claddagh Ring is a symbol of Ireland that we all know and recognise. It is often used in place of a wedding ring, but in Ireland, it is just as often given and worn as a sign of friendship, as of love.

The design takes the form of a crowned heart nestled within two hands. It symbolises the intention, ‘let love and friendship reign’. It is thought that originally this ring was an heirloom belonging to a family from the fishing village of Clauddagh in Galway.

The Claddagh is a variation of a type of ring known as a fede. The fede dates back to Roman times, when the gesture of clasped hands was a symbol of pledging vows, and represented faith and trust.

Queen Victoria was said to have worn a Claddagh ring. It was only then that the crown was added to the design, and the ring gained popularity as a wedding ring.

There is a lovely story concerning the origins of the Claddagh ring. Richard Joyce, a silversmith from Galway was captured by Algerian Corsairs around 1675 while travelling to the West Indies. He was sold as a slave to a Moorish goldsmith who taught him the craft.

He was freed fourteen years later, when King William III sent an ambassador demanding the release of all British subjects who had been enslaved. Joyce then returned to Galway, taking the ring he had made while in captivity, which he gave to his sweetheart upon their marriage.

Tradition dictates that the ring must never be bought for oneself, but only given as a gift. The people of Clauddagh were said to have handed them down through the generations of their families as heirlooms.

The way the Claddagh is worn can reveal a lot about the wearer; if you are single, you should wear the ring on your right hand with the heart facing outward from your body. If you are in a relationship, you should wear the ring on your right hand with the heart facing inwards. If you are engaged, you should wear the ring on your left hand on the third finger with the heart pointing outwards, and if you are married, you should wear the ring on your left hand on the third finger with the heart pointing inwards.

Who knew the wearing of a ring could be so complicated! Only in Ireland…

 

Goddess of Spring

Goddess of Spring www.aliisaacstoryteller.com
Goddess of Spring
http://www.aliisaacstoryteller.com

Happy Imbolc! Today is the first day of Celtic spring, a tradition known in Ireland as Imbolc. This weekend we’ve had snow, we’ve had torrential rain, we’ve had wild winds, and we’ve had fog… it certainly doesn’t feel spring-like, and I wonder if the seasons have gradually slipped out of sync with the calender.

Today I was going to bring you to somewhere special, to a place associated with Brigid, but I’ve been ill this week, and so have my kids, a voyage of discovery out in the countryside just wasn’t going to happen. Instead, I’m going to tell you a little bit about Brigid.

I feel a connection with many characters from Irish mythology, but of them all, Brigid is the one I am most drawn to. Brigid was the daughter of the Dagda, a Druid and High King of the Tuatha de Danann, an advanced race with seemingly supernatural powers, who invaded Ireland some 4000 years ago.

Her feast day is celebrated at Imbolc, which falls half way between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, and is usually held on the first day of February to welcome the arrival of Spring.

Imbolc (pronounced I-molk) is one of four ancient Celtic/Gaelic festivals, the others being Beltaine, celebrated on May 1st; Lughnasadh, on Aug 1st; and Samhain, held on Nov 1st.

These major festivals were celebrated with the lighting of huge fires. My favourite explanation of the Old Irish word Imbolc comes from imb-fholc, meaning ‘to thoroughly wash/ cleanse’. To me, this is clearly a reference to the ritual cleansing and purification of fire and smoke.

However, it is generally accepted to mean ‘in the belly’, with reference to the pregnancy of ewes. Indeed, the C10th manuscript known as Cormac’s Glossary explains it as oimelc, or ‘ewe’s milk’. As such, Brigid has popularly become associated with the onset of the lambing season.

Sheep are not a native species of animal to Ireland; they are thought to have been introduced by Neolithic settlers some time after 4000 BC, so there would certainly have been sheep around in Brigid’s day. However, they don’t get much mention in Irish mythology, which is highly unusual; almost every other animal, wild or domestic, did.

The Danann were well known for their milk-white cattle, indeed, cattle were highly prized among our ancient ancestors, as the many stories of cattle raids, real and mythological, through the ages will attest. Queen Medb was famous for going to war over a bull, as told in the Cattle Raid of Cooley, for example. Cows were used as a measure of currency, as a measure of value, and as a measure of wealth.

In the ancient text known as the Lebor Gebála Érenn, Brigid was said to have kept  two royal cattle called Fea and Feimhean, the Boar King known as Torc Triath, and Cirba, who was King of the wethers. In case you don’t know, a wether is a castrated male sheep. She owned a number of castrated male sheep. No lactating ewes.

So it’s very interesting that in the tower on Glastonbury Tor, there is a carving which depicts her milking, not a sheep, but a cow.

Brigid was herself credited with the gifts of healing, of poetic inspiration, and metalworking. As with many of the Irish female deities, for example, the Morrigan (Badb-Anann-Macha), and the Sisters of Sovereignty (Eriu-Fodhla-Banbha), she was a Triune Goddess, meaning she was one and three all at the same time.

This triple aspect of their femininity related to the stages of womanhood, namely maiden-mother-crone. Unusually, Brigid’s triple aspect revolved around her skills, poetry- smithcraft-healing. I like that she stood out from the crowd, and I like her combination of skills.

Whilst we are on the subject of the triple nature of the Goddess, Imbolc was believed to be when the Cailleach, or Crone, gathers her firewood for the rest of the winter. If she intends to make the winter long and hard, she will bless Imbolc with a bright sunny day, so she can gather plenty of firewood to last her a long time. If Imbolc is a day of foul weather, it means the Cailleach is asleep and winter is almost over.

The name Brigid means ‘bright/ exalted one’, from the Sanskrit brahti, and is thought to refer to her association with fire and the sun. When she was born (at sunrise), a tower of flame was said to have extended from the top of her head to the heavens, giving her family home the appearance of being on fire. This is how the C10th text, Cormac’s Glossary describes here;

“Brighid, a poetess, daughter of the Dagda. She is the female sage, woman of wisdom, Brighid the Goddess whom poets venerated as very great and famous for her protecting care. She was therefore called ‘Goddess of the Poets’. Her sisters were Brighid the female physician, and Brighid the female smith; among all Irishmen, a goddess was called ‘Brighid’. Brighid is from breo-aigit or ‘fiery arrow’.”

I like the description of the fiery arrow. I think it is more fitting for her role as a poetess, that she would receive divine inspiration or knowledge in this way. It also corresponds with the glowing white-hot iron she would have manipulated in the fire of the forge, and the light she would have used as energy to conduct her spiritual healing. However, modern scholars are not in agreement with Cormac.

Brigid married Bres, of mixed Danann-Fomori heritage, with whom she had a son, Ruadan. Bres was an unpopular High King; he was mean and a tyrant, and after seven years, the Danann opposed his rule and reinstated Nuada as their leader.

Bres enlisted the help of his Fomori relatives and attacked the Denann. During the battle, Ruadan entered the Denann camp on a mission to kill Goibniu, their master-smith, but was himself killed in the attempt. According to an ancient text known as Cath Maige Tuireadh, Brigid collapsed in grief over her son’s body, crying her sorrow, and was thus said to have invented the act of keening (in Irish caoine, or cine) for the dead.

It is thought that following Bres’s death, she later went on to have three sons, Ichvar, Ichvarba and Brian, with a man named Tuirean. After that, her name seems to drop out of the stories.

You can read more about Brigid and Imbolc in my other posts…

Irish Mythology The County Cavan Cult of Brigid

Irish Mythology Brigid, Queen of Imbolc

Today it’s Imbolc, and of course it’s SNOWING!

Irish Mythology The Tuatha de Danann Come to Ireland

Ireland also has a Saint Brigid, whose feast day is also celebrated on 1st February. Some say she is the Christianisation of a much loved pagan Goddess that the Irish people refused to give up. It is also said that she started out as a Druidess who tended the eternal flame at the Shrine of Brigid, and was responsible for bringing about its conversion to Christianity. However, that is a post for another day…

A Poem for Samhain Witches Lament

A Witches Lament | A Poem for Samhain www.aliisaacstoryteller.com
A Witches Lament | A Poem for Samhain
http://www.aliisaacstoryteller.com

I wrote this poem for Samhain last year, and decided to re-post it, because it fits with the season so well, and also with the atmosphere of last week’s poem, The Princess on the Hill.

They hide the truth,

these gaudy costumes,

the carved lanterns,

the trick or treat.

Reality is macabre,

glossed by lies and pretence.

They fear the truth.

*

Once, I was revered.

Earth’s power rose within me,

I cured, I foretold,

I held in my soul

the key to life’s mystery,

and the Goddess spoke through my voice.

Once, I was adored.

*

In those days I could fly…

Yes, really.

But superstition and ignorance

stripped me bare.

Instead, I turn away

and I hide.

Oh, but I could fly!

*

Fires honoured the dead,

they blessed summer’s end,

witnessed the birth of a year

dark and terrible and new.

They brought light, warmth, hope

to where the darkness was.

Now, they consume the living.

*

Women like me,

we burn in the flames,

we drown in the bog,

held down by the weight

of our skills, misunderstood.

They hunt us, they hate us,

women like me.

*

What once made us powerful

thus renders us weak.

The old ways can’t prevent

the onslaught of

the new convictions.

The danger of zealots

makes us only fearful.

*

I was beautiful, then.

With youth on my side,

and the knowing of the universe

filling my heart.

I was invincible, or so I thought,

until I watched them suffer and die.

I am withered and empty, now.