AGHABOE ABBEY AND THE FLAMES OF IRISH HISTORY

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Few people have heard of Aghaboe Abbey, in County Laois – I only came across it on the way to Kilkenny by chance! Strange because it is one of the most important ecclesiastical sites in Irish history.

It was founded in the 6th century by Saint Canice (also known more famously as Cainnech) who was one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland, a group trained by Saint Finian to ‘educate’ and convert the pagans of Ireland to Christianity. Over the next 200 years Aghaboe Abbey evolved into not just an important Christian place of worship, but a recognised seat of education, commerce and farming.

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Saint Canice was actually a Druid descent of the high kings of Ulster and his conversion to Christianity led to not only the construction of a monastery and in later years, a cathedral in his name, but an entire city – for Kilkenny is so named from ‘Cill Chainnigh’ or ‘Church of Cainnech.’

canice

Ironically, despite the Church’s persecution of Galileo in the 17th century to the point he was tried and convicted of heresy, one of the first Abbots of Aghaboe Abbey was Saint Virgilius in the 700s – some nine hundred or more years before the Italian astronomer.

Saint Virgilius was one of the earliest documented astronomers in Irish history. He also had the nickname of the ‘Geometer’ due to his extensive geographical knowledge.

Feargil

Saint Virgilius finally left Ireland in 745, choosing to reside in France and become advisor to the Royal Court. He used the work he collected on canon law at Aghaboe Abbey to elevate Pippin the Younger to the status of King before moving on to Salzburg and the construction of the first Cathedral where the famous Baroque building now stands. Saint Virgilius’s original Cathedral was struck by a bolt of lightning in 842, in a twist mirroring the fate of Aghaboe Abbey.

At the start of the 10th century Viking invaders plundered and burned Aghaboe. It took some 150 years to complete rebuilding and at this time relics of Saint Canice were enshrined within. Fire seemed to be the arch-nemesis of this site as the Abbey was razed to the ground once more by flame in 1116.

Either unlucky or by design, the Abbey once again suffered destruction in the 13th century, seemingly due to its proximity to a Norman fortress and ongoing conflict with a local clan. On its further reconstruction, it became an Augustinian priory and then finally at the time of suppression and dissolution of monasteries in the 16th century it was under the Dominicans and remains so to this day.

In the 18th Century a Church of Ireland Church was built adjacent to the current ruins and as close as possible to the very first foundation stones of the Abbey itself. The Church was built sympathetic of its immediate neighbour and incorporated some of the Priory stones as well as the construction of its bell-tower in Medieval proportions.38542098_292090438007379_3380123770004963328_n

 

The remains of Saint Canice are buried within the grounds. The day I chose to visit I was in total solitude and it is one of the most intriguing locations I have visited.

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While a sense of serenity and grace were very much evident, the weight of history and destruction very much carried on the gentle breeze, landing firmly on my shoulders.

 

 

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THE DARK EMERALD ISLE -MAGIC, MYTHS AND MONSTERS

Triqetra

For generations, children of Ireland have been reared on mythology and folklore. Of course to us they are far more than the tales of ancient legends, they are where we are from and define who we are now.  From Cú Chulainn to Fionn mac Cumhaill and the Salmon of Knowledge to the triple goddess The Morrigan, giants, demi gods and creatures from the ethereal realm have always been a part of our lives.

Most of Ireland’s regional and national festivals evolved from the gods and goddesses of ancient times, especially from the Tuatha Dé Danann, deities deemed as the forefathers of Irish culture and civilization.  Of course the Formorians, a wild and altogether darker and more sinister supernatural race, still have their part to play.

The goddess Brigid is immortalized in the spring feast of Imbolc and Saint Brigid’s Day, while Lughnasa is the harvest festival in the name of the god Lugh.  Lugh was actually the son of a king of the Tuatha Dé Danann and his mother a Formorian.  His games known as the Tailteann were a test of strength and agility among his people.  Today these games have become known as the Gaelic Games, played in every village, town and county throughout Ireland.

Lughnasa

Fear is at the source of the majority of folklore tales and practices, particularly in relation to death and the protection of the soul as well as safeguarding against the ethereal creatures of darkness. The festival of Samhain is a prime example, taking place at the end of October intertwining the light and dark, shielding against bad spirits and misfortune, but also welcoming back the dead with open arms.

The fear for celebrants was that malevolent spirits and evil entities could also cross with their loved ones as could the Devil himself.  As well as the dead, homeowners had to contend with the fairies travelling abroad to create mischief.  Gifts in the form of food or milk would be left on doorsteps to guarantee a fairy blessing and anyone foolish enough to not do so would be subject to pranks by the cheeky wee folk at best and victim to a fairy curse at worst.

Without a doubt the most terrifying of these supernatural beings are the harbingers of death.  Crom Dubh was the sacrificial god associated with death and slaughter and his incarnation was The Dullahan, a part of the ‘Unseelie court’ of the fairy realm.   The Unseelie fairies are those deemed the most evil and malicious of all the otherworld entities. Also known as Gan Ceann, meaning without a head, The Dullahan hunts the souls of the dying in the night.

 

Dullahan

Dullahan

Banshees have forever been known as portents of death and the goddess Clíodhna was the very first of these wailing spirits seeking death for revenge and torment as well as calling on those due to die. Individual families often having their own personal Banshee heralding a death to this very day.

From these gods and goddesses an entire culture and belief system has grown, with Ireland being home to a myriad of ethereal creatures and spirits, from both the ‘good’ Seelie Court and ‘sinister’ Unseelie Court.

Once again fear is the driving force behind the behaviour and response to these creatures and their accompanying threat, with fortification rites being fundamental.  Druidic runes for example focus on strength, energy, health and protection.  The markings on runes tend to come from Ogham, an ancient language of Ireland uncovered by archaeological finds over the centuries by way of Ogham Stones.  These Stones have been found all over Ireland, usually associated with burial stones of ancient kings and warriors, however they are not of the past – Druidic practices are not just ongoing in modern Ireland but growing in popularity.

In previous centuries much of the population of Ireland couldn’t read or write and hexes, protection spells and rituals involved symbolism to get the point across.  A Piseóg is a curse, placed on feuding neighbors, competing farmers and so on.  Often recognized by a circle of eggs found in the hay or a talisman placed on a wall, they are set to bring misfortune on the home.

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The power of the Piseóg lies in fear, a farmer would be so terrified of the curse he would destroy his own crops and cattle.  But these curses can’t still be happening today can they?  Tell that to the terrified man in Kerry I spoke to recently, who found a circle of eggs on his boundary wall and hasn’t slept properly since, his mind trying to figure out who would curse him and why.

What of the cute and friendly leprechaun? Don’t kid yourself! There are several types of leprechaun and not all of them guard a crock of gold! Around for over 1000 years, the leprechaun is descended from the Tuatha Dé Danann and are a part of the Sidhe or Fairy family.  The name Leprechaun has two sources, both from old Irish.  The first is ‘Leath Bhrogan’, meaning shoe maker and the second is Luacharmán meaning small body.

Leprechauns like to keep themselves to themselves and really don’t like mortals – or each other.  Very much loners they are happiest in their own intoxicated company, however there is one you should be afraid of and that is the Fear Dearg which translates as ’Red Man’.  Recognized by his blemished yellowy skin, Fear Dearg is dressed head to foot in red and his greatest delight is your fear and dread.  He has the ability to make your nightmare a reality.

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Of course this is all just the tip of the iceberg.  We have Fairy Shock Troops riding the wind, devastating farmlands and cattle just for kicks, spirits of the eternally damned wandering the earthly realm looking for Irish souls to steal, serpents, mermaids and hellhounds.  We have the Púca, a shapeshifting creature who terrorizes the night and ghosts, demons and the Devil himself.

If you thought Saint Patrick had driven all the paganism and darkness from Ireland, you would be wrong. Far from Christianity banishing these beliefs and rituals, the early monks actually documented these mythological events into such manuscripts as the Book of Leinster and the Annals of the Four Provinces.  Instead of turning the Irish away from their gods and goddesses, the clergy fashioned their stories into those of Saints such as Saint Brigid.  This is why Christian and Pagan stories are intertwined in much the same way Irish History and Mythology can never be separated and why we are great storytellers, it’s in our blood, heritage and very essence of being.

Ireland is a land rich in mythology and folklore, mixed with dark history and truth, bound neatly in fear, magic and excitement.  Welcome to the Emerald Isle!

 

THE CURSES, RITUALS AND MAGIC OF LOUGH GUR

Lough Gur Feature Image - Liam McNamara

Deep in County Limerick, nestled at the foot of Knockadoon Hill and Cnoc Áine, lie the mystical waters of Lough Gur. The lake itself is replenished by a series of underground springs and forms the shape of a horseshoe, which ties in nicely with the tale I am about to tell.

The land surrounding Lough Gur has history more than 6000 years old and has been a place of worship and settlements dating back to the Neolithic period.  Throughout the Bronze Age and Iron Age it was home to local tribes and this continued into early Christianity and Medieval times.

As well as the discovery of Beaker Pottery, a more substantial find was discovered in the shape of what is now known as the ‘Sun Shield of Lough Gur’. Straight out of the Bronze Age, this Yetholm-type piece of armory originates from the Scottish Borders and is one of only a handful that remain in the world.

The concentric circle design of the shield imitates that of a sun, which lends itself to the overall purpose and ceremonial importance of Lough Gur and the lands that touch the waters.

Within the grounds of Lough Gur stand two castles – Bourchier’s Castle was built for Sir George Bourchier, son of the Earl of Bath during his time in Ireland in the late 16th century.

Lough Gur castle - Liam McNamara

The other is a Norman fortress known as the Black Castle. It was used during the Desmond Rebellion after the Earl of Desmond relinquished his English attire and status and rejoined his Irish bretheren.

Ireland’s Stonehenge

Stone Circle Grange - Liam McNamara

The Stone Circle of Grange is the largest of its kind in Ireland and is also known as ‘Lios na Grainsi’ or ‘Stones of the Sun’. It pre-dates much of Stonehenge and has been a place of mystical, ceremonial and sacrificial significance for centuries.

With standing stones averaging a height of over nine feet, the circle of continuous uprights spans a diameter of just under one hundred and fifty feet. There are a total of 113 standing stones and the entire structure is banked and custom made for ritualistic purpose.

Crom Dubh

The largest stone of this awe-inspiring construction is more than thirteen feet high and is called Rannach Crom Dubh, or the division of Crom Dubh and weighs more than forty tons.

Crom Dubh is descended from the god Crom Cruaich and is synonymous with dark rituals, death and folklore.

Crom Cruaich was first introduced to Ireland some time before the arrival of the Tuatha Dé Danann.  Tigernmas was one of the first High Kings of Ireland and as a Milesian brought the worship of this deathly idol to Ireland, building a shrine at the top of Magh Slécht in County Cavan to win favour from his god.

King Tigernmas and most of his troops mysteriously died on Magh Slécht on the night of Samhain, now known as Halloween, as they worshipped their dark, sacrificial deity.  As the centuries passed, Crom Dubh evolved from Crom Cruaich and became a worshipped figure in his own right throughout Ireland, with Lough Gur clearly no exception.

Druids and Festivals

The entire area is soaked in druidic symbolism and ritual intent. Overall the circle is a giant astronomical calendar, in full alignment of the summer solstice. The stones themselves carry an acoustical phenomenon whereby the circle resonates with sound at certain points.

The celebration of the summer solstice continues to this day along with the festival of St, John’s Night Eve on 23rd of June.

The eve of the feast of Saint John the Baptist has been celebrated in Lough Gur since the formation of the early Christian fort known as Carraig Aille.

A bonfire would be ignited at sunset on 23rd June and kept aflame until the small hours of the following morning. Prayers and ritual blessings would take place to ensure plentiful crops and to protect against drowning for the coming year.

Celebrations continued through the night including music and dance as well as games to prove prowess, strength and agility among the men. Women would be invited to jump the fire and the way in which the flames responded would supposedly reveal infidelity and misdeeds.

Áine – Queen of the Fairies

Aine

Áine is the Irish goddess of summer and prosperity, although her story is synonymous with the winter festival of Samhain.

Born of the Tuatha de Danann, Áine was said to be the daughter of The Dagda, an all-powerful god who was a father figure with immense potency and influence. He is also tied strongly to Crom Cruaich and Crom Dubh.

8th century text tells of Ailill Olom, King of Munster attending the festival of Samhain. He lay down to rest on what is now known as Cnoc Áine or Knockainey. When he woke, Ailill discovered all the grass had been stripped clean from the mountainside during the night.

Bewildered, the son of Eoghan Mór sought an explanation from a seer after travelling to the province of Leinster. Fearcheas mac Comáin was so fascinated by this strange turn of events, he journeyed with Eoghan back to Munster in time for the following Samhain celebrations.

As they held vigil on the Limerick mountainside, Ailill fell asleep.  Believing themselves to be unseen, the King of the Sidhe appeared with Áine at his side. As a hidden Fearcheas crept up and murdered the Fairy King, Ailill awoke and saw the incredible vision of exquisiteness before him. Overcome with lust, he raped Áine and in fury and anguish she tore off his ear.

The outraged goddess had reaped the ultimate revenge on her power-hungry aggressor. Under ancient Irish law, no man was fit to rule unless his body was complete. By tearing off Ailill’s ear, she had forced him to rescind his crown.

Geróid Iarla and the Curse of Lough Gur

Lough Gur Main - Liam McNamara

The Fairy Queen was a bewitching beauty who continued to have mortal men lusting and coveting her as the centuries passed.

Áine came down from her throne on the mountain and removed her mystical cloak to bathe in the spring waters of Lough Gur. The Earl Fitzgerald was passing by and was enchanted by her naked form. Determined to have her, he took her cloak which left her with no choice but to do his bidding.

Their night on the banks of the lake resulted in a son who became known as The Magician. Áine returned to her land of the Sidhe and her son was raised by Geróid Iarla on the condition his inherent magical abilities were not to be encouraged in any way.

As a young man, Geróid discovered he could shrink himself into a bottle and jump back out again. When he showed his father, the old Earl could not contain his astonishment and in his excitement the young man jumped into the Lough, transformed into a goose and was never heard from again.

In absolute dismay, the goddess came down from her throne and cursed the man responsible for the loss of her son. The Earl Fitzgerald was imprisoned beneath the lake and every seven years he rises from the waters astride his horse shod in silver.

As he rides around the lake he looks hopefully at the horseshoes of silver on his mare’s hooves. It is said that when the silver is finally worn away, Geróid Iarla can walk among mankind once again.

As for Áine, she continues to watch over the sacred lake and is sometimes seen at Samhain, celebrating the magic and mystery of Lough Gur.

Lough Gur 3 - Liam McNamara

The incredible photographs within this piece are kindly provided by the talented Irish photographer Liam McNamara of Ireland Through My Lens Photography. Follow his work here:

https://www.facebook.com/Irelandfrommylensphotography/

 

 

THE DRUID’S CURSE OF MOOREHALL

Moore Hall Front

Overlooking Lough Carra in County Mayo stands the burned out family manor of one of the most influential families in Ireland.  A burned out shell that has touched on the worst parts of Irish history and was said to have been built on an ancient curse.

George Henry Moore was a prominent Irish Politician in the eighteenth century and both he and his descendants rose to distinction in military, political and cultural fields. Moore himself emigrated to Spain following the implementation of the penal laws and rose to prominence gaining a place in the Spanish Court.  He set up a business trading in brandy and fine wines, which afforded him the luxury of having enough money to build his own mansion upon returning to Ireland.

With many sites to choose from, George Moore settled on Muckloon Hill overlooking Lough Carra.  Locals vehemently warned against such a location as the land was deemed to be cursed.  In around 400 A.D The King of Connacht, Brian Orbsen was slain by his enemies.  The King’s Druid, Drithliu, however made good his escape.  He sought sanctuary on Muckloon Hill but failed to outrun his pursuers who caught up with him and Drithliu bled out on the shores of the Lough.

The stubborn landowner went ahead regardless and Moorehall was built by Waterford Cathedral architect John Roberts, with Moore taking up residency in 1795.  Shortly afterwards George Henry Moore suffered a stroke and was left blind. And so the curse of Moorehall had begun.

George’s son John trained as a lawyer and was made President of Connacht which was a Republic at the time of his commission in 1798.  Unfortunately, his position was a short-lived affair following the appointment of Command-In-Chief of Ireland, the1st Marquess Cornwallis in direct response to the Irish Rebellion.  John was arrested by the Lord Lieutenant and was given the death penalty.  George Moore used some of his fortune to secure the best lawyers he could find and had his son’s sentence commuted to a deportation order.  While on remand awaiting the transport ship John succumbed to the injuries he sustained in custody.  Just a few months later George Moore was also dead.  The curse had struck again.

The next owner of Moorehall was also named George Henry Moore.  His money was made in horseracing yet not without tragedy.  In 1845 his brother Augustus was jockeying a horse by the name of Mickey Free in the English Grand National.  He fell from his horse during the race and died.   George himself won the Gold Cup the following year and used the money to buy grain and cattle for his famine struck tenants.  It was documented that not one of the people on Moore land became victims of the Famine.

George Augustus Moore was to be the last resident owner of Moorehall and the great grandson of the man who had built the very same.  Born in 1852, he went on to study the arts and become a prolific writer as well as a founder of the Abbey Theatre.  George’s social circle included Oscar Wilde, folklorist Lady Gregory and occultist and esteemed writer W. B Yeats, all regular visitors to his grand ancestral home.

George Augustus Moore

While George was residing in England at the height of the Irish Civil War, the anti-treaty IRA took umbrage at his cousin Maurice’s political stance and after commandeering Moorehall, set the mansion with explosives and burned it out.  Was this the final part of the curse?

Apparently not.

The facade remains, exposed to the elements.  Creeping tentacles of ivy crawl through the dark soulless voids where the windows once reflected the beauty of the sky and the Lough.  If you pass through the undergrowth and the age weary tunnel at the rear of the once majestic building, you can see the lowest level of Moorehall, left much as it was in 1923, whatever remains within peering up into the twenty first century sky.

Visitors to the cursed site describe ominous sensations and the overwhelming feeling that they are being watched by some unseen presence.  There have been reports of hearing children’s laughter and seeing shadows darting through the remaining structure. The woods themselves that encompass the fallen noble home are said to have an oppressive and foreboding silence within them.

Historic tragedy has befallen the residents of Moorehall over generations, which has directly led to accounts of paranormal activity within the ruins and the tale of a serpent like creature known as a péist dwelling in the waters of Lough Carra. It should also not be forgotten that the Moore family are interred close by in their ancestral vault. Included is John Moore who’s body was not located until the mid-twentieth century where he was brought home and laid with his kin following a full military send off.

Moore grave

So could the murder of an ancient Druid on Muckloon Hill have created a curse so strong that is has spiraled down through the centuries?  Is part of that curse that the Moores’ remain in residence for eternity? No one will ever know for sure.  No one but a Druid named Drithliu.