GODS OF LIGHT AND DARKNESS – LUGHNASA, CROM DUBH AND SAINT PATRICK

Lughnasa

Folklore and traditions of Ireland have always been intertwined with Pagan, Celtic and Christian rituals, however there is no time more evident of this strange combination of beliefs than this very Sunday.  As July ends and August begins, festivals pertaining to the gods Lugh and Crom Dubh as well as pilgrimages in honour of Saint Patrick have been taking place for centuries.

The common denominators for all of these celebrations and rites are harvest and fertility.  Dating back to the earliest accounts of the Fir Bolg in through to recent times, the inhabitants of Ireland would do whatever it took to ensure a bountiful yield and enough produce to sustain them during the dark and unforgiving winter months.

As of today there are several recognised festivals that take place on the last Sunday in July and the first day of August, including the Pagan celebration of Lughnasa, Crom Dubh Sunday, Garland or Bilberry Sunday and the Reek Sunday Pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick.

All of them have definitive origins and purpose, so let’s take a look at them one by one, how they all link together and how they have survived in modern Irish Society.

Crom Dubh – The Sacrificial Fertility God

Crom-Dubh-by-Bryan-Perrin

Crom Dubh is a name that evolved from the Fertility god Crom Cruaich and is synonymous with dark practices and folklore.  It is believed that as well as the ritual slaughter of bulls in the name of the ‘Crooked One’, human sacrifices were also offered up to ensure prosperous crops and fat, juicy cattle.

Crom Cruaich was first introduced to Ireland some time before the arrival of the Tuatha Dé Danann, a cultured race of demi-gods.  A Milesian known as Tigernmas settled in Ireland and was one of the first of the High Kings.  He brought the beginnings of structure to the hierarchy, including a system of coloured clothing, the more dyes, the higher your status.  He also introduced idol worship and in particular the worship of the sacrificial god.

The Book of Leinster describes the idol as a golden sculpture, surrounded by twelve stone statues.  The shrine stood resplendent at the peak of Magh Slécht in County Cavan and was a place of worship for those who idolized the dark god of fertility and sacrifice.  It is ironic and quite disconcerting that the king who idolized Crom Cruaich and brought him so many followers should die as a result of his actions.  King Tigernmas and the vast majority of his troops mysteriously died on Magh Slécht on the night of Samhain, now known as Halloween, as they worshipped their dark, sacrificial deity.

Crom Cruaich was said to have descended into obscurity and his worship ended with the arrival of Saint Patrick.  The man who brought Christianity to Ireland stood on a hilltop opposite Magh Slécht and cast out his staff known as Bachal Isu, across to the Idol of Crom Cruaich, causing it to tumble and the twelve surrounding stones were devoured by the Irish landscape.

Crom Dubh descended from Crom Cruaich and became more of a worshipped figure of mythology than a god.  The practice of Crom Dubh Sunday, the last Sunday in July continued down through the centuries however, with gifts of crops and produce taken to the hillside and offered to the fallen dark one.  The practice is still continued in some more rural and mountainous regions of Ireland.

The darkest incarnation of the sacrificial god Crom Cruaich however, is the Dullahan, also known as Gan Ceann, meaning without a head.  The creature hunts the souls of the dying in the night.

The god did not want to be denied human souls following the introduction of Christianity and so disguised himself as the one without a head, a tribute to the sacrifices through decapitation that gave Crom Dubh his power.

Lugh of The Tuatha Dé Danann

Lugh

Lugh was not only one of Ireland’s early high kings, but a demi- god.  His father was of the Tuatha Dé Danann and his mother was of the Formorian race, supernatural beings who celebrated chaos and wildness.

The couple’s marriage was forged through the need for a coalition and Lugh was born.  As he grew older, Lugh joined with King Nuada of the Tuatha Dé Danann to defeat the Formorians and their evil leader Balor, during the Second Battle of Magh Tuireadh at Tara.

balor

Once Lugh had slain Balor with a single slingshot to his evil eye of death, Bres turned to his traitor kin Bres who was alone, weak and injured on the field of battle and Bres began to beg for his life.  Although highly intelligent and gifted, the Tuatha Dé Danann were unskilled in agriculture.  At his point of victory, Lugh forced King Bres to promise to teach his people how to farm the lands in return for mercy.

Lugh’s foster mother was Tailtiu, a fertility goddess who died of exhaustion after clearing the rugged and barren landscape and preparing the fields of Ireland for the sowing of crops.

Upon her death the Aonach, a congress brought together on the death of royalty, was convened and funeral traditions commenced.

Tailteann Games and The First Festival of Lughnasa

Tailteann

As was the way with previous funeral gatherings, it was a place for games, remembrance, celebration and the proclaiming of new laws.

The funeral pyre was lit, mourning songs and chanting began and the first Tailteann Games took place in honour of Lugh’s foster mother in the place now known as Teltown in County Meath.

As a testament to both the Tuatha Dé Danann and Formorians as well as Lugh’s own strengths as both a warrior and master craftsman, the games were contests in both physical and mental agility.

Competitions for physical prowess included athletics, swordfighting, archery, horseracing and swimming, while other challenges were in the Arts.  Storytelling, song and dance were of high importance and awards went to the best smiths, weavers and armourers of the day.

From the time of the first festival, new laws were passed.   One such law was the Brehon Law for marriage.  On the day of Lughnasa, there would be a mass wedding among clans and that marriage would stand good for one year and one day, after which time it could be nullified if either party so wished.

As the celebration of Lughnasa continued through the generations, the first cutting of the corn would be offered in tribute to Lugh, laid upon the highest piece of ground, a tradition that was previously reserved for Crom Dubh.  As with so many Irish practices, they are not let go of lightly and the sacrifice of an aged bull would take place, a remnant of the worship to the fallen but not forgotten ‘Crooked One’.

Bilberry Sunday

bilberry

During the early Lughnasa celebrations, Bilberries would be consumed at every mealtime, as the festival tied in with the harvest time for these blueberry like fruits.

This common practice evolved into its own ritual known as Bilberry Sunday.  On the last Sunday in June for generations, the young men and women of rural Ireland would climb into the mountainous areas and pick the bilberries from the heather clad and rocky terrain.  It was a painstaking and long process, so during the hours of work it became common for the single ones to pair off, matches made and courtship begun.

Reek Sunday and Saint Patrick

croagh patrick.jpg

The practice of climbing to hilltops during the worship of Crom Dubh, then Lugh evolved further with the spreading of Christianity throughout Ireland

Reek Sunday takes place on the last Sunday in July and is the day that dedicated Christians climb to the top of Croagh Patrick in County Mayo, many clambering barefoot over the rocky hillside to the summit, some two and a half thousand feet high in homage to Saint Patrick and to prove their commitment to their faith.

As is typical of all of Ireland’s Christian traditions it evolved from and is firmly intertwined with Pagan and Celtic practice.  For centuries it was a place of Pagan Pilgrimage and would have been the site of the placing of the corn and sacrifice for both Crom Cruaich and Lugh, however due to its associations with Ireland’s Patron Saint, it has become the focal point of the Catholic year in Ireland, even though it falls at Lughnasa, a distinctly Pagan celebration.

So while the focal point of worship and ritual may have changed over the centuries, in an agricultural and fertile land the purpose remains the same – to pray for good health, fertile lands and a bountiful harvest for the winter months and of course to give thanks.

It has become clear that regardless of Christianity, the teachings of Saint Patrick and the move away from rituals and traditions of any kind in a busy and commercially driven Irish Society, the Pagan and Celtic elements of our heritage remain and will never be forgotten. 

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LOFTUS HALL 666 – CELEBRATING THE 666th ANNIVERSARY OF IRELAND’S MOST HAUNTED HOUSE

Loftus Hall 2

Standing majestically on the Hook Peninsula in County Wexford, Loftus Hall is an imposing structure, ominously shadowing the isolated and sea whipped landscape for hundreds of years.  This building on the Hook Peninsula has worldwide recognition as Ireland’s most haunted house, with paranormal investigations from local teams to TV’s the Ghost Adventures for a ‘Halloween Special’.

This weekend marks the 666th birthday of the heritage of Loftus Hall, complete with a paranormal investigation. Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to be asked to take part in a unique lockdown on Friday 13th and this intrepid writer was not going to let this amazing opportunity pass her by!

Let’s look into the history of Loftus Hall, the stories and reports of paranormal activity and what I experienced first-hand in Ireland’s most Haunted House!

LOFTUS HALL – HISTORY

There has been a family residence on the grounds of Loftus since The Black Death reached its peak in 1350.  Originally constructed by the Redmond family, they maintained ownership until they were ejected during the Cromwellian confiscations during the seventeenth century.

As the Loftus family were already residing in Wexford, they were given ownership of the entire estate once Charles II regained power.  Henry Loftus took official residence in 1666, perhaps a sign of demonic events and tragedies in the years ahead.

Fast forward to the early 20th Century and the empty Loftus Hall was purchased by a religious order and adapted into a convent school for girls wishing to take Holy Vows.  It continued under religious ownership until it was purchased in 1983 by a man called Michael Deveraux who was intent in turning the historical local landmark into a hotel, using most of the financial resources at his disposal.  Just a few years later, doomed to failure, the Loftus Hall Hotel closed its doors.

Loftus Hall remained under ownership of the Deveraux family until 2011, at which point it was purchased as an abandoned building by the current proprietor Aidan Quigley.

A STRANGER, A CARD GAME AND THE DEVIL.

Devil card

While under the ownership of the Loftus family, Charles Tottenham, his second wife and daughter from his first marriage, Anne, arrived at Loftus Hall.  They were effectively house sitting for the absent landowners towards the end of the eighteenth century.

During their residency, an unusually wild tempest covered the Hook Peninsula in fog and an unfamiliar ship set anchor.  A stranger arrived by horse to Loftus Hall seeking refuge from the angry storm and was brought in and given shelter.

The charismatic young man soon charmed his way into the affections of Anne Tottenham and the couple began relations under the roof of Loftus Hall.

One night the family were sat around the table playing cards with the mysterious visitor dealing each hand.  As Anne seemed to only have been dealt two cards as opposed to the usual three, she glanced to the floor in case she had dropped one, only to see a third lying beneath the table.

Anne stooped down to retrieve the fallen card and as she did so, screamed out in terror, as the man she had given her heart to had revealed cloven hooves for feet.

Upon his secret being discovered, the creature shot upwards, crashing through the roof of Loftus Hall and out into the night sky.

Anne Tottenham became crazed with grief over her lost love and an embarrassment to her family.  Their embarrassment may will have been increased as the young woman was said to have been with child.  The circumstances of the birth and subsequent death of the infant remain a mystery, however the skeletal remains of a new-born were found in the wall of the Tapestry Room in recent years.

Anne remained locked away, a prisoner in the Tapestry Room, where she sat stooped and lifeless, not taking any food -just staring out of the window pining and hoping for the return of the ship to Dunmore East until she died.  So badly was her body contorted the poor woman had to be buried the way she sat.  Was her fatal grief for her lost love, lost child or both?

EXORCISM

exorcising

It was believed that the presence of the Dark Lord lingered and poltergeist activity became rife in the house, escalating to such a point that the Protestant clergy were powerless to abate it.

In desperation the Loftus family called upon Father Thomas Broaders, a Catholic priest residing on the townland also known as Loftus.  He performed an exorcism and appeared to banish the demons within.

Broaders rose to the position of Parish Priest and remained as Canon until his death in 1773.  He is buried in the old Horetown Cemetery and his gravestone reads:

“Here lies the body of Thomas Broaders,

Who did good and prayed for all.

And banished the Devil from Loftus Hall.”

HAUNTINGS AND MY OWN PARANORMAL INVESTIGATION AT LOFTUS HALL

Loftus Hall

 

For all his good work, the priest had failed to drive the supernatural from Loftus Hall and to this day supernatural occurrences, physical, visual and audible have been reported time and time again.  This year, on Friday 13th I decided to investigate these claims for myself.  Under the watchful eye of owner Aidan Quigley, and with our guide, our lockdown at Loftus Hall began.

The first thing you must realise, is that these investigations take place in total darkness.  It takes a while for your eyes to adjust and make the most of any light seeping in, whilst being mindful of tricks of the light, Pareidolia and your own vivid imagination!

The second thing to be aware of are the underlying sounds.  The wind outside, the sound of the sea, other people in the room, the house itself.  Once you get a ‘feel’ for the location, you can pick out the abnormal or indeed paranormal for yourself and not get swept up in the perceptions and opinions of others.

Thirdly and most importantly I believe you should be respectful, logical and grounded.  Unless you are taunting and disrespectful there is nothing to fear.  Most sounds and imagery will have a logical explanation, which should be considered first.  Once the reasonable has been discounted, it makes the things we cannot explain all the more significant and exciting.

THE CHAPEL

The chapel at first inspection seemed peaceful and in a way, comforting, even though strange noises were coming from behind me and I felt someone or something sit along the pew from me.  The longer I sat there the less afraid and more at peace I felt, until a ‘psychic’ entered the room as a late arrival.

At this point things changed.  She began crying and screaming and was convinced she could see a dark figure coming towards her as her skin crawled.  My personal opinion was that she was hysterical, maybe even acting, however what was clear was that her behaviour was drawing in something of a supernatural persuasion and it was not pleasant.

The room became colder, considerably colder and unbelievably it became darker.  While others said they too could see a dark image before them in humanoid shape, I myself could not.  It was at this point that the room brightened and the temperature rose once more.

For someone who considers themselves objective and logical, it was an interesting start to the night!

THE MORNING ROOM

In this room our guide told us that other groups had experienced loud noises, banging shutters and other phenomena.  We spread out and began asking questions.  One of our group stood in front of the shutters and asked more demanding questions, at which point a shadowy figure seemed to appear at his side as the shutters banged behind him.  Mind tricks sparked by preconceptions? Perhaps.  What was not a trick however, was the disembodied voice coming through the dormant communication unit carried by the guide.  A voice that cried out ‘Attention’, a voice that was heard throughout Loftus Hall.

THE UPPER ROOMS

These rooms are not accessible by the general public so we were privileged to be granted access.  The first room contained a couch and we just began to chill and talk about writing as we were the writers and readers group.  At this point there was the sound of singing, faint but definitely there.  Once acknowledged we continued our conversation where I was stopped mid-sentence as I felt a distinctive tug on my hair.  My first thought was to check I wasn’t caught on anything and a torch was used to check behind me and nothing was there. As soon as I felt the tug, a young woman with us at the other end of the room began sobbing uncontrollably.  Once she regained composure she explained she had felt something or someone touching her and holding her neck!

The second room we entered was stifling.  This was strange as the rest of the house was not this way and the door to the room had been open.  As the door was closed behind us, there was less air.  We began asking questions and it appeared that when I asked such questions as ‘Do you want the door left closed?’ and ‘are you enjoying trying to scare us?’, that sharp, deliberate taps were occurring as if in response on the shutter right behind me.  It should be noted that at this point the temperature dropped and there was a release of cool air, even though the door was shut.

THE TAPESTRY ROOM

Fully aware of the tragic circumstances relating to this room, we spread out and once again began trying to communicate.  Despite the heart-breaking history, I could not feel anything out of place.  At one point our guide was convinced I was stood beside him by the fireplace, however when he switched on his torch, it became clear I was on the other side of the room.  We moved places and similarly I became sure that another member of the group was beside me by the mantle so I asked a question only for him to answer me from the window! Were we sensing a presence that was not a part of our team? Possibly.  What definitely did happen, is that no one was standing were they had started when the lights came on and everyone had gravitated towards the centre of the room.

THE CARD ROOM

We seated ourselves at the card table and I was sat directly beneath the infamous hole in the ceiling.  There were cards strewn on the table and a group member picked up two in the darkness to use as tools to assist in communication.  The guide gathered up the rest of the cards so there would be no confusion or misidentification of sounds if anyone were to brush against them.

The first thing I became aware of was a burning sensation on my leg after I had jokingly asked was the stranger or devil under the table.  I thought nothing of it, assuming it was my jeans chafing my knee until the man opposite me announced the very same sensation.

I began to feel a sense of unease, hairs on the back of neck standing up and then a definitive yank of my chair! I was startled rather than afraid and suggested I was not welcome in that seat so a member of the group swapped with me.

Interestingly, our team member was still firmly clutching the cards in his fingers, not allowing them to move or slip.  After some questioning, the team member stopped mid-sentence as I heard the sound of something land on the table.  A card had been forcibly pulled from his hand and dropped onto the playing surface.  At that very moment, the signal for the finish of the investigation was given and the lights were turned on as we all vacated our chairs.  We turned and looked back at the table to see a solitary card with the face of the Devil staring back at us.

LUCIFER AND LOFTUS HALL

beast

If the account of the Devil reminds you of another tale you may have heard, it should.  An identical story was told of a card game being held at the notorious Hellfire Club of Dublin on Montpelier Hill, where a stranger with cloven hooves for feet sat at the table.

As well as the Hellfire Club, Montpelier Hill was the site of a hunting lodge known as Dolly Mount.  This lodge was owned by Henry Loftus.

So the question must be asked, with Henry Loftus taking residence in 1666 and the second visit by a cloven hooved stranger to the Hellfire Club on the very land in Dublin previously owned by the Loftus family, was Anne Tottenham an unfortunate victim in the wrong place at the wrong time?

What is the meaning of the Loftus association with signs of the Devil and was a pact made with Lucifer for the Redmond Estate?

We will never know for sure, however this year marks the 666th anniversary of the founding of the mansion house and this weekend the birthday of Loftus Hall is celebrated – will Satan return again and will you dare to be there if he does?

My opinion is there is definitely something more than stone and mortar at Loftus Hall.  There is history that you can feel in every corner, there is atmosphere, welcoming and foreboding in equal measure.  Is there a supernatural presence? Definitely and more than one.

Ongoing investigations and indeed public lockdowns at Loftus Hall solidify the consensus that the place is undoubtedly haunted.  The continued gathering of evidence and reports of activity on such a high profile location maintain the validity of claims, as well as giving the general public an opportunity they would not ordinarily get to experience.

There are undoubtedly many more chilling experiences awaiting those who dare to take part in future investigations, both this weekend and further into the year.  These daring individuals, under the watchful eye of a paranormal team will hear the main doors bang shut behind them as they begin their lockdown at Loftus Hall and their own journey into the world of the inexplicable and supernatural.  Will I be one of them? Most definitely!

 

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