SAMHAIN, SUPERSTITION AND SUPPERS FOR THE DEAD

samhain

As Samhain is upon us, it is a time to reflect on the origins of this pagan celebration and what it meant to those who, over centuries maintained the traditions and rites synonymous with this feast in Ireland, the precursor to Halloween!

Samhain (pronounced Sow-en) would begin at sunset on 31st October and ends at sunset on 1st November, signalling the beginning of a new year.  It is one of four major celebrations during the Celtic year and signifies the end of summer.

This was a time when cattle were brought in and slaughtered for the winter months, the bitter cold and poor pasture leaving farmers no choice.

The ceremonies for Samhain were intertwined – the light and dark, protections against bad spirits and misfortune and a welcome for the dead to return.

As with Beltane, at the heart of Samhain is the customary communal bonfire. The fire was a protection ritual, to purge bad fortune and influence and to defend from harm during the long hard winter.

All house fires would be quenched, the central fire the only one alight. Each family would take a burning ember from the bonfire, carried in a hollowed out turnip and use it to reignite their own hearth, instilling the same protection and cleansing into their own homes and lives.

The bones of slaughtered cattle would be cast onto the fire as an offering for a good winter and objects symbolising wishes or ailments would be thrown on the flames, individuals hoping to be cured or receive their hearts desires.

Samhain is the time of year when the curtain between our world and the next becomes so fragile that the both the fairies and the dead can take a simple step between realms.

Many of the dead were welcomed back into the family fold with open arms, a place set for returning souls to sit at the table. This was known as a Dumb Supper and all living guests were to dine in silence, listening and watching for a word or sign from their dearly departed.

The fear for celebrants was that of course malevolent spirits could also cross over as could the Devil himself. These evil entities were thought to wreak havoc on the villages by making cattle sick and bringing disease to households so ‘guising’ would be carried out as a symbolic gesture to hide from those not wanted.

A typical costume was the Láir Bhán (White Mare) which would consist of a man covered in a white cloth, carrying a horse’s skull in his hands. He would lead a group of youths from farm to farm blowing on cow horns and asking for food.  Woe betide any farmer who refused for he would be cursed with bad luck for the coming year.

As well as the dead, homeowners had to contend with the fairies travelling abroad to create mischief on this most ethereal of nights. Gifts in the form of food or milk would be left on doorsteps to guarantee a fairy blessing.  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.

It was these beliefs and traditions that led us to trick or treating and costumes in today’s Halloween, so a fistful of sweets for protection from mischief and misfortune is a small price to pay don’t you think?

Bram Stoker’s Dublin For Dracula Fans

Ruins and Graveyard of Saint John the Baptist – baptism location and Church of Bram Stoker. Photo by Ann Massey

I stood before 15 Marino Crescent, Clontarf, Dublin. I was here, at the very place Bram Stoker was born and raised. I continued my journey through Dublin, walking in the footsteps of the master Gothic horror novelist and creator of Dracula. I am now sharing that journey with you. Please click on the link to my Top 10 Bram Stoker locations for Dracula fans everywhere that I have written in my role as Ireland Editor for spooky isles.com

https://www.spookyisles.com/bram-stoker-dublin-dracula/

THROUGH THE GATES OF HELL – HAUNTED WICKLOW GAOL

Entrance to Wicklow Gaol, photo Ann Massey

Situated in Ireland’s Ancient East, the County town of Wicklow is shadowed by the imposing and sinister Wicklow Gaol.  For more than three hundred years, prisoners have been subjected to torture and hardship and the three storey building with sprawling foundations and walls of granite has witnessed some of Ireland’s must oppressive and historical events.

Over the years it has become a favourite venue for tourists and Paranormal Investigators alike, so let’s find out some more about Wicklow Gaol, listed as one of the world’s ‘Top Haunted Locations.’

HISTORY OF WICKLOW GAOL

Since 1702 there has been a prison on the site at Kilmartin Hill.  The existing buildings were constructed over the remnants of the first gaol and were gradually expanded over the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The Rebellion of 1798 brought ongoing notoriety to the prison as freedom fighters were jailed before trial and exile or execution.  This pattern continued through the Famine, Easter Rising of 1916 and the Irish Civil War.

1798 Uprising

 

In the mid-nineteenth century overcrowding at Wicklow gaol brought expansion as the authorities feared the granite walls themselves would collapse under the pressure. Britain was forced to bring about changes due to European Prison Reform and that included the gaols of Ireland and as a result, facilities now included classrooms, workrooms and proper medical quarters.

The prison was downsized in 1877 and renamed a ‘Bridewell’, which was a remand prison for those awaiting trial and sentencing for petty crimes.

Wicklow Gaol had been dormant for sometime, however the Irish Civil War of 1922-23 brought the prison back into use for political prisoners, primarily members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and Sinn Féin, including Erskine Childers, notable Irish Nationalist and gun smuggler,

The early twentieth century also brought in a change of use to an army barracks. It became home to the Cheshire regiment, which in a strange twist of fate, was founded thirty years previously by none other than Hugh Childers, cousin of one of Wicklow Gaol’s most famous prisoners.

Finally, in 1924 the Gates of Hell closed on the prison as it fell into disuse and disrepair, until such time as it was respectfully restored and opened to the public.

CRIMES, PUNISHMENT AND EXILE

The prison was used for years for general convictions, however the 1798 rebellion saw its use change to include the incarceration of political prisoners.  Many inmates, from those rebelling against the crown to petty thieves were taken from Wicklow Gaol to the convict ships and exiled to distant lands such as Australia. A replica of the deck of the convict ship HMS Hercules, has been built inside the gaol.

There was no segregation within the prison as such and people who had stolen to provide food for their families in times of hardship found themselves sharing with the mentally ill, murderers and political prisoners.

Those who were exiled may have deemed themselves lucky, as the torture and methods of execution, poor conditions and suffering were unpleasant and unending.

Prison reforms introduced rehabilitation through education, although attempts at segregation, silence and torture were the preferred methods of atonement.

Torture devices included the everlasting staircase, a treadmill of sorts designed for maximum fatigue, breaking of spirit and isolation and a shot drill, a metal ball that was required to be held for periods of time suited to the prison guard, or else loss of rations would be enforced.

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Flogging was by far the most favoured form of punishment, especially due to increased numbers of local workers being imprisoned for drunk and disorderly conduct.

When it came to execution, in the early eighteenth century prisoners would be hanged from the gallows arm jutting out of the prison walls.  After death, the head would be severed from the body which would be buried.  The head would then be scavenged and eaten by the gaol’s ‘pet’ hawk.

Other bodies would be unceremoniously dumped at sea, until the problem became enough for local fishermen to threaten to stop fishing due to pollution.

DISEASE,  DIRE CONDITIONS AND DEATH

Overcrowding was a consistently major problem and expansion just couldn’t keep up with demand, peaking at an inmate population of almost 800 being housed in just 77 cells.

As a result, the spread of disease was rife and death wasn’t far behind. Often if a prisoner died of an infection they were left in the crowded cell, the rotting and diseased corpse bringing about the hideous deaths of those within the four walls, prison guards or ‘turnkeys’ just looking on, afraid to enter for fear of becoming a victim themselves.

The Great Famine (1845-1952) brought around a very different kind of problem. Upstanding citizens would commit crime in order to be incarcerated in Wicklow Gaol, as prison reforms guaranteed them shelter and regular meals – life staples they could not get on the outside.

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There were no asylums or care facilities for the mentally ill in Wicklow, so the insane were mixed in with the general population.  The women prisoners would be responsible for the welfare of these inmates.

Attempts were made to ‘employ’ prisoners for local work such as making nets for fishermen, however this practice stopped due to a growing fear of authorities that these items would be used in an attempt to escape.

INFAMOUS INMATES

Some of Ireland’s most famous rebel sons and at least one daughter were incarcerated for their attempts to bring about political change and create a Free State.  This included Billy Byrne, mounter of several ambush attacks during the 1798 rebellion who was tried and then hanged at Gallows’ Lane.

James ‘Napper’ Tandy worked long and hard for political change, however after a short imprisonment he was exiled to France despite being convicted of treason.  It is believed Napoleon may have exerted some influence, hence his designated place of exile.

Erskine Childers was a London born author and avid sailor. A firm believer in Ireland as a free nation, Childer’s used his yacht the Asgard to smuggle guns into the east coast of Ireland.  His arrest was made after being found in possession of a gun, a gift from Michael Collins. Childers was convicted and executed by firing squad on 24th November 1922.

Childers

HAUNTINGS BEYOND THE GATES OF HELL

Wicklow Gaol has been the subject of paranormal activity for centuries and has attracted worldwide interest from paranormal investigators including myself and the other members of Irish Paranormal Investigations. Over the years we have found ourselves at the centre of a myriad of supernatural experiences.

At least one medium has entered Wicklow Gaol and claimed to have made contact with Erskine Childers, however there have been many witnesses to other phenomena.

A young child is regularly seen in the former school room and can also be heard. Other ‘inmates’ of the spectral variety are seen shimmering in and out of cells and along walkways.

On the replica of the Hercules deck, visitors are overcome with a sense of foreboding and eerie mists circle unsuspecting visitors.

Certain cells have been the epicentre of extraordinary paranormal occurrences including smells from stagnant to the sublime, female apparitions in black floating and sounds to terrify the hardiest of souls.

A ghostly prisoner can be seen on the walkway, hands behind his back and the eerie sounds of long gone children fill the ancient prison.

Our own experiences have included stones being thrown across a solitary prison cell during a loan vigil and murmuring and ice cold touch in the prayer room. We have had a host of K2 meters collectively responding to questioning by Natalie in a cell previously giving no tangible readings.

We have had REM-Pods going off on an empty landing and voices carrying up from the dungeons. The ship deck has consistently projected a feeling of wariness and fear, goosebumps appearing involuntarily as we felt the temperature drop and the location grow darker. Shadows have darted in the recesses between kegs and footsteps sounding on the stairs.

While our last time within the gaol was probably the quietest, perhaps with 2020 having seen the prison closed for the most part, the spectres of despair are ready once again to call out to you if you enter the Gates of Hell into Wicklow Gaol.

 

FREDERICK DOUGLASS- THE AMERICAN SLAVE WHO FOUND FREEDOM IN OPPRESSED IRELAND.

Portrait of Frederick Douglass by Irish Artist, Jim Fitzpatrick. Reproduced with kind permission of the artist.

As a nation oppressed and shackled to English rule and tyranny for generations, the people of Ireland have historically joined hands with those suffering a similar fate around the world, especially Native Americans and the enslaved African American people.

It is this network of support and inspiration that led a young escaped black slave from the East Coast of America to Irish shores. A journey that motivated this brave man to become one of the most influential figures in the fight for the abolition of slavery.

Frederick Douglass became an author of his trials and tribulations, a motivational public speaker and leader of the Abolitionist Movement, but life began in more humble and harsh roots and with a different name.

Born into Slavery

In 1818, an enslaved woman called Harriet Bailey gave birth to a son, Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey. His father was never officially named, but was believed to have been the master of Holme Hill Farm, Talbot County, Maryland.

The infant was taken from his mother and she was transferred to another location. Frederick barely saw his mother again and was raised by his grandmother until he was sent to work as a slave as a boy of just seven years of age.

As easily as handing off a baked apple pie or a used book, Frederick was “given” to Lucretia Auld. Her husband Thomas, in turn sent the young boy to work for his brother Hugh and sister-in-law Sophia in Baltimore.

Sophia felt for the boy and gave into his instance on education by teaching him the alphabet. Frederick then took it upon himself to show his fellow captives how to read and write by using the Bible as a teaching aid. Word spread that slaves were being educated and Hugh’s brother Thomas was outraged that the Auld family were at the centre of gossip.

As punishment, Frederick was delivered to a most wicked master, Edward Covey. Edward was notorious for whipping and beating the slaves within his domain, his intention to break their hearts and minds, while leaving the bodies just damaged enough that they could continue to toil.

First Step to Freedom

Frederick made several attempts to escape, each time bringing down more wrath on the defiant young man. During his time working at a nearby shipyard, he befriended and began to fall in love with Anne Murray, a free woman. This spurred him onto a successful bid for freedom and he travelled to New York City with the help of abolitionist David Ruggles, while taking a great risk, as part of his journey took him through the enslaved state of Delaware.

Once in New York, Frederick and Ann were married and looking to start a family of their own, however Frederick was still an escaped slave, so they moved to the free state of Massachusetts and Frederick began to take his steps towards becoming a free man.

One of these steps was a change of name. Friends of the couple were fans of Scottish author and poet, Sir Walter Scott and suggested he change his surname name to that of the main characters of his poem, ‘The Lady of the Lake.’

His relationship with David Ruggles progressed and Frederick subscribed to ‘The Liberator,’ an abolitionist newspaper run by William Lloyd Garrison and Isaac Knapp. From here Frederick Douglass began attending meetings and then spent six months travelling through America as a public speaker , during which time he was repeatedly assaulted in the streets.

It was at this point, William Lloyd Garrison encouraged Frederick to visit Britain and Ireland to raise much needed funds and awareness for the movement.

Ireland’s Call

As Frederick made plans to travel, he had also completed writing his memoirs. His Irish friend, a printer in Dublin called Richard Webb, agreed to publish the autobiography.

Still an escaped slave, Frederick boarded an ocean liner in Boston with a first class ticket that had been purchased for him. The black man was forced into steerage as he did not have the ‘right’ to enjoy First Class. Douglass disembarked in Liverpool before continuing his journey to Dublin.

As Frederick set foot onto the Emerald Isle, the country under English Rule was at the beginning of what was to be one of the worst periods of Irish history – The Great Hunger, also known traditionally, as The Irish Potato Famine.

Despite their own suffering and fear, the people of Ireland welcomed Frederick Douglass with open arms and he put the wheels in motion with Richard Webb to print copies of his autobiography for sale at sold out lectures in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Belfast. The book was selling faster than it could be printed, such was the impact the 27 year old African American was having on the oppressed nation.

The Liberator – Daniel O’Connell

It was however, the impact of Irishman Daniel O’Connell, who coincidentally became known as ‘The Liberator’ and who was a staunch supporter of the Abolitionist Movement.

On 29 September 1845, Irish Nationalist Daniel O’Connell took to the stage at a meeting of the Repeal Movement at Conciliation Hall in Dublin, inspiring Frederick Douglass to new levels of determination.

“I have been assailed for attacking the American institution, as it is called, negro slavery. I am not ashamed of that attack. I do not shrink from it. I am the advocate of civil and religious liberty all over the globe, and wherever tyranny exists, I am the foe of the tyrant.” – Daniel O’Connell

Spurred on by his time in the company of the Irish Nationalist, while in Belfast, Frederick Douglass wrote from his room at the Victoria Hotel to his friend William Lloyd Garrison on 1st January 1846 after four months touring Ireland.

Frederick Douglass
Victoria Hotel, Belfast,
January 1, 1846

To William Lloyd Garrison

My Dear Friend Garrison:

  1. I am now about to take leave of the Emerald Isle, for Glasgow, Scotland. I have been here a little more than four months. Up to this time, I have given no direct expression of the views, feelings and opinions which I have formed, respecting the character and condition of the people in this land. I have refrained thus purposely. I wish to speak advisedly, and in order to do this, I have waited till I trust experience has brought my opinions to an intelligent maturity. I have been thus careful, not because I think what I may say will have much effect in shaping the opinions of the world, but because whatever of influence I may possess, whether little or much, I wish it to go in the right direction, and according to truth. I hardly need say that, in speaking of Ireland, I shall be influenced by prejudices in favor of America. I think my circumstances all forbid that. I have no end to serve, no creed to uphold, no government to defend; and as to nation, I belong to none. I have no protection at home, or resting-place abroad. The land of my birth welcomes me to her shores only as a slave, and spurns with contempt the idea of treating me differently. So that I am an outcast from the society of my childhood, and an outlaw in the land of my birth. “I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner as all my fathers were.” That men should be patriotic is to me perfectly natural; and as a philosophical fact, I am able to give it an intellectual recognition. But no further can I go. If ever I had any patriotism, or any capacity for the feeling, it was whips out of me long since by the lash of the American soul-drivers.
  2. In thinking of America, I sometimes find myself admiring her bright blue sky—her grand old woods—her fertile fields—her beautiful rivers— her mighty lakes, and star-crowned mountains. But my rapture is soon checked, my joy is soon turned to mourning. When I remember that all is cursed with the infernal spirit of slaveholding, robbery and wrong,— when I remember that with the waters of her noblest rivers, the tears of my brethren are borne to the ocean, disregarded and forgotten, and that her most fertile fields drink daily of the warm blood of my outraged sisters, I am filled with unutterable loathing, and led to reproach myself that any thing could fall from my lips in praise of such a land. America will not allow her children to love her. She seems bent on compelling those who would be her warmest friends, to be her worst enemies. May God give her repentance before it is too late, is the ardent prayer of my heart. I will continue to pray, labor and wait, believing that she cannot always be insensible to the dictates of justice, or deaf to the voice of humanity.
  3. My opportunities for learning the character and condition of the people of this land have been very great. I have travelled almost from the hill of “Howth” to the Giant’s Causeway, and from the Giant’s Causeway to Cape Clear. During these travels, I have met with much in the character and condition of the people to approve, and much to condemn—much that has thrilled me with pleasure—and very much that has filled me with pain. I will not, in this letter, attempt to give any description of those scenes which have given me pain. This I will do hereafter. I have enough, and more than your subscribers will be disposed to read at one time, of the bright side of the picture. I can truly say, I have spent some of the happiest moments of my life since landing in this country. I seem to have undergone a transformation. I live a new life. The warm and generous co-operation extended to me by the friends of my despised race—the prompt and liberal manner with which the press has rendered me its aid—the glorious enthusiasm with which thousands have flocked to hear the cruel wrongs of my down-trodden and longenslaved fellow-countrymen portrayed—the deep sympathy for the slave, and the strong abhorrence of the slaveholder, everywhere evinced—the cordiality with which members and ministers of various religious bodies, and of various shades of religious opinion, have embraced me, and lent me their aid—the kind hospitality constantly proffered to me by persons of the highest rank in society—the spirit of freedom that seems to animate all with whom I come in contact—and the entire absence of every thing that looked like prejudice against me, on account of the color of my skin—contrasted so strongly with my long and bitter experience in the United States, that I look with wonder and amazement on the transition. In the Southern part of the United States, I was a slave, thought of and spoken of as property. In the language of the LAW, “held, taken, reputed and adjudged to be a chattel in the hands of my owners and possessors, and their executors, administrators, and assigns, to all intents, constructions, and purposes whatsoever.”—Brev. Digest, 224. In the Northern States, a fugitive slave, liable to be hunted at any moment like a felon, and to be hurled into the terrible jaws of slavery— doomed by an inveterate prejudice against color to insult and outrage on every hand, (Massachusetts out of the question)—denied the privileges and courtesies common to others in the use of the most humble means of conveyance—shut out from the cabins on steamboats—refused admission to respectable hotels—caricatured, scorned, scoffed, mocked and maltreated with impunity by any one, (no matter how black his heart,) so he has a white skin. But now behold the change! Eleven days and a half gone, and I have crossed three thousand miles of the perilous deep. Instead of a democratic government, I am under a monarchical government. Instead of the bright blue sky of America, I am covered with the soft grey fog of the Emerald Isle. I breathe, and lo! the chattel becomes a man. I gaze around in vain for one who will question my equal humanity, claim me as his slave, or offer me an insult. I employ a cab—I am seated beside white people—I reach the hotel—I enter the same door— I am shown into the same parlor—I dine at the same table—and no one is offended. No delicate nose grows deformed in my presence. I find no difficulty here in obtaining admission into any place of worship, instruction or amusement, on equal terms with people as white as any I ever saw in the United States. I meet nothing to remind me of my complexion. I find myself regarded and treated at every turn with the kindness and deference paid to white people. When I go to church, I am met by no upturned nose and scornful lip to tell me, “We don’t allow n——s in here”!
  4. I remember, about two years ago, there was in Boston, near the south-west corner of Boston Common, a menagerie. I had long desired to see such a collection as I understood were being exhibited there. Never having had an opportunity while a slave, I resolved to seize this, my first, since my escape. I went, and as I approached the entrance to gain admission, I was met and told by the door-keeper, in a harsh and contemptuous tone, “We don’t allow n——rs in here.” I also remember attending a revival meeting in the Rev. Henry Jackson’s meeting-house, at New-Bedford, and going up the broad aisle to find a seat. I was met by a good deacon, who told me, in a pious tone, “We don’t allow n——s in here”! Soon after my arrival in New-Bedford from the South, I had a strong desire to attend the Lyceum, but was told, “We don’t allow n——s in here”! While passing from New York to Boston on the steamer Massachusetts, on the night of 9th Dec. 1843, when chilled almost through with the cold, I went into the cabin to get a little warm. I was soon touched upon the shoulder, and told, “We don’t allow n——s in here”! On arriving in Boston from an anti-slavery tour, hungry and tired, I went into an eating-house near my friend Mr. Campbell’s, to get some refreshments. I was met by a lad in a white apron, “We don’t allow n——s in here”! A week or two before leaving the United States, I had a meeting ape pointed at Weymouth, the home of that glorious band of true abolitionists, the Weston family, and others. On attempting to take a seat in the Omnibus to that place, I was told by the driver, (and I never shall forget his fiendish hate,) “I don’t allow n——rs in here”! Thank heaven for the respite I now enjoy! I had been in Dublin but a few days, when a gentleman of great respectability kindly offered to conduct me through all the public buildings of that beautiful city; and a little afterwards, I found myself dining with the Lord Mayor of Dublin. What a pity there was not some American democratic Christian at the door of his splendid mansion, to bark out at my approach, “They don’t allow n s in here”! The truth is, the people here know nothing of the republican Negro hate prevalent in our glorious land. They measure and esteem men according to their moral and intellectual worth, and not according to the color of their skin. Whatever may be said of the aristocracies here, there is none based on the color of a man’s skin. This species of aristocracy belongs pre-eminently to “the land of the free, and the home of the brave.” I have never found it abroad, in any but Americans. It sticks to them wherever they go. They find it almost as hard to get rid of it as to get rid of their skins.
  5. The second day after my arrival at Liverpool, in company with my friend Buffum, and several other friends, I went to Eaton Hall, the residence of the Marquis of Westminster, one of the most splendid buildings in England. On approaching the door, I found several of our American passengers, who came out with us in the Cambria, waiting at the door for admission, as but one party was allowed in the house at a time. We all had to wait till the company within came out. And of all the faces, expressive of chagrin, those of the Americans were pre-eminent. They looked as sour as vinegar, and bitter as gall, when they found I was to be admitted on equal terms with themselves. When the door was opened, I walked in, on an equal footing with my white fellow-citizens, and from all I could see, I had as much attention paid me by the servants that showed us through the house, as any with a paler skin. As I walked through the building, the statuary did not fall down, the pictures did not leap from their places, the doors did not refuse to open, and the servants did not say, “We don’t allow n——s in here”!
  6. A happy new year to you, and all the friends of freedom.
  7. Excuse this imperfect scrawl, and believe me to be ever and always yours,

Frederick Douglass

Sailing to Freedom

From the beauty of Howth to the wonder of the Giant’s Causeway, from Cork and Father Theobald Matthew and to Dublin and Daniel O’Connell, the people of Ireland showed Frederick Douglass wonder, warmth and inspiration, not hunger, death and oppression. He became known as ‘The Black O’Connell’, a camaraderie founded on persecution between the two inspirational speakers.

From here, Frederick sailed for Scotland and Glasgow where he continued to speak to gain support for the Abolitionist Movement.

Early in 1846, Frederick Douglass sailed the Atlantic Ocean with the money from his tour and book sales. When he stood back on the terra nova of the land of the brave and the home of the free, he took that money and bought his own freedom.

The life and times of Frederick Douglass continued for many more years, his commitment to freeing slaves and pushing for the abolition of slavery was unyielding. His dream was realised in 1865 when he was 47 years old, with the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution.

Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was born a slave in 1818. Frederick Douglass died in 1891, a free man. Let us not forget that some 46 years previously, this man of great strength and determination lived the life of a free man in oppressed Ireland.

“Instead of the bright blue sky of America, I am covered with the soft grey fog of the Emerald Isle. I breath and lo! The chattel becomes a man.”

References: RTE Archives, History Channel, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, University at Buffalo, Yale University.

Artwork reproduced with the kind permission of Jim Fitzpatrick.

CARNAGE AT CARRIGFOYLE CASTLE

Carrigfoyle Castle – photo by Ann Massey

Creation of a Munster Stronghold

The Guardian of the Shannon stands weary yet proud, where the County Kerry banks of Carrig Island meet the flowing waters of the tidal Shannon estuary.

The whole area surrounding the village of Ballylongford in the Kingdom County was under the control of the O’Connor clan. The village itself is known for being the birthplace of world renowned Exorcist, Father Malachi Martin, but the darkness of evil tyranny found its way to the area long before the Jesuit priest was born.

Carrigfoyle is Carraig an Phoill in Irish, translating as ‘Rock of the Hole.’

Carrigfoyle Castle – photo by Ann Massey

It was built by Conor Liath O’Connor at the end of the fifteenth century, a stronghold overseeing the shipping lanes into the main port of Limerick city some 40 miles along the river. This meant the O’Connor Kerry clan could board and loot many of the merchant ships due into the Viking capital of Munster.

Carrigfoyle Castle- photo by Ann Massey

It was constructed some 86 feet high over 5 levels from limestone. A Bawn was created with a pontoon for landing boats and the surrounding woodland gave added protection. High vaulted ceilings on two levels gave added grandeur and it was finished off with a wide spiral staircase, with 104 steps leading you out onto the battlements and sweeping views of the Shannon estuary and surrounding farmlands.

Carrigfoyle Castle- photo by Ann Massey

As well as the main halls, there are several smaller chambers on each floor, more than I have seen in similar guardian towers in the region.

Carrigfoyle Castle – photo by Ann Massey

In 1579, as the war on Catholicism was taking hold, Spanish reinforcements arrived at Smerwick Harbour further along the Kerry coastline. This men were papal forces sent to assist the Irish defence during the Desmond Rebellion.

Desmond Rebellion and Bloodshed

Carrigfoyle Castle- photo by Ann Massey

Some of these soldiers were ordered down to Carrigfoyle Castle as this was the seat of the Earl of Desmond. An Italian engineer, Captain Julian also arrived to assist in the reinforcement of the critical stronghold.

Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, Sir William Pelham was leading the assault against the Irish Rebellion and had headquartered in Limerick city.

Under the orders of Queen Elizabeth, Easter 1580 saw the English Commander lay Siege to Carrigfoyle Castle. His fleet were positioned within the estuary and in the woodland of Carrig Island and at first were subjected to missiles in the form of boulders and weaponry being fired from the battlements by the men of Desmond.

Carrigfoyle Castle – Photo by Ann Massey

As time wore on however, the English managed to scale the castle walls with assault ladders and the battle began in earnest. Sir William reported that the waters and castle walls “became slippery with blood”, as naval canons began their bombardment of the fortress.

Carrigfoyle Castle – Photo by Ann Massey

After two days of siege, the structure began to collapse inwards, crushing many of the soldiers fighting for Irish freedom to death. The remainder try to flee into the shallow waters of the banks of the Shannon and woodland. They did not get far and were slaughtered by the blades of English troops. Captain Julian was hanged just a few days later.

View from the top of Carrigfoyle Castle- Photo by Ann Massey

Today Carrigfoyle Castle is eerily quiet, my climb to the top of the battlements solitary and silent. Drips of water gentle cascade down the limestone, caressed by the emerald green moss clinging to the walls of the past.

Carrigfoyle Castle Today

Carrigfoyle Castle- Photo by Ann Massey

Shadows creep out from the stone, crushing the glimmers of sunlight as the terrified men within the vast structure were crushed by canon fire. On the gentle estuary breeze, historic cries of fear and despair are but a whisper, tossed away, carried over the majestic Shannon and lost to time.

Carrigfoyle Castle – Photo by Ann Massey

Ghosts of the Battle of the Boyne

‘Battle of the Boyne’ Painting by Benjamin West, created 1778

Today marks the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland. The bloody conflict took place on 1st July 1690 (converting to the 11th in the Gregorian calendar, which was not adopted by Ireland until 1752) and although taking place on Irish soil, it was a fight for the Crown between James II of England and Ireland and the infamous William of Orange.

Prelude to Battle

Portrait of James II by Peter Lely

The deposed King James II was the last Catholic monarch who had converted to Catholicism and he had borne a Catholic male heir. Staunch Protestant, William of Orange and his noble peers overthrew the Catholic King to prevent a Catholic hierarchy. The Battle of the Boyne was an attempt by the deposed King James to regain his crown and this battle was just a part of the Williamite War in Ireland.

Portrait of William of Orange by Sir Godfrey Kneller

The Jacobites fought for Irish sovereignty and Catholic tolerance in the name of James, whereas the Williamites sought to enforce and maintain a Protestant hold under the sovereignty of William of Orange and his wife Mary, who was ironically, the Protestant daughter of James II.

William marched south from County Antrim with his forces, gathering additional troops en route, many led by his second in command, Duke Fredrick Schomberg. In total, William commanded a multi-national army of some 36000 soldiers, including highly trained infantry.

James lay in wait with his troops forming a line of defence along the banks of the River Boyne, close to Drogheda in County Louth. His own troops were considerably less, forming an army of 23500, made up primarily of Irish, with the addition of French troops and some English and Scottish Jacobites.

Bloodshed On the Banks of the Boyne

The battle took place at the favoured River Boyne crossing at Oldbridge, a strategic point now marked by the Mary McAleese Boyne Valley Bridge and at Roughgrange. The latter location proved to be formidable as a deep and swamp like portion of the river, preventing the two sides from engaging in close quarter fighting. Instead, many watched as aerial artillery took the stage.

Crossing the Mary McAleese Boyne Valley Bridge, photo by Ann Massey

At Oldbridge, the Duke of Schomberg chose to enter the waters with his cavalry and drive back the Jacobite foot soldiers. James II sent his son with a Jacobite cavalry to counter attack and the Williamites began to suffer heavy losses, including Duke Frederick, who was fatally wounded while riding his horse through the murky waters, attemptng to rally his troops. He is buried in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, his Latin inscription written by renowned Irish writer, Jonathan Swift.

While the Jacobites fought well, they were inevitably forced to retreat, possibly due to a lack of military leadership experience and of course, numbers. They incurred most fatalities, albeit it a small mortality rate of just over 2000 from both sides. Unheard of for a battle of this magnitude, it was partly due to incredible skill of the Jacobite cavalry, maintaining a tight defensive retreat, helped by the reluctance of William of Orange to be responsible for the death of his father-in-law.

While it was believed that some Irish troops eventually abandoned posts and chose life to fight another day over dying for a foreign crown, many Jacobites retreated to Limerick to continue their fight for James II.

Aftermath and the Declaration of Finglas

Williamite forces set up camp in the area of Finglas, as they arrived successful into Dublin. Here William of Orange created the Declaration of Finglas, announcing that any Jacobite foot soldier renouncing their allegiance would be pardoned providing they did so by 1st August, a deadline that was extended for three further weeks. It may seem like a generous offer, however it was a divide and conquer tactic to separate Jacobite leaders and the officers of James II from their troops.

Instead of ensuring submission, it riled the Catholic commanders, who continued their battle for Catholicism, albeit a futile endeavour.

While political advancement and battles continued for the next year or so and the Protestant hold over Ireland gripped tighter, an air of despondency and death loomed over the River Boyne and the ancient location still holds the souls of the departed for its own. Who are the ghosts of the Battle of the Boyne and what links are there to landmarks nearby?

Spirits of War

The Boyne Valley itself is one of the most mystical and ancient locations in Ireland and is home to the likes of Newgrange, the Hill of Tara, Slane Castle and of course the site of the Battle of the Boyne, which centred around Oldbridge and Roughgrange. It spans the counties of Meath and Louth, while sitting on Dublin’s doorstep and has been the enigmatic landscape for paranormal activity over centuries.

It is little wonder therefore, that the supernatural imprint of such an historic battle remains on the bloodied fields and banks of the River Boyne, as well as radiating out to other nearby landmarks.

James II and the Hanged at Athcarne Castle

Athcarne Castle, 1820

Athcarne Castle in County Meath is a late sixteenth century Elizabethan mansion house with castle style turret, that has served as home to the noble Bathe family for generations. It is believed that James II chose this stately home as his residence for the night before battle, with his defeated spirit continuing to wander through the crumbling stone walls. It’s location is only a few miles from the site of the legendary battlefield and the cries of fallen soldiers can be heard screaming in the night. A hanging tree, solitary and weighted with death, stands in the grounds, the twisting, writhing shade of a condemned soldier seen dangling ethereally in the moonlight. A bloodsoaked young spirit, stalks the castle boundary, her demented gaze both terrifying and desperate in equal measure, It now lies as a forlorn ruin, holding helpless souls captive in its shadow.

Saints and Heroes of Duleek

Saint Mary’s Abbey, Duleek, photographer anon.

Saint Mary’s Abbey in Duleek, has been a religious location since Saint Patrick founded a monastic settlement in the fifth century. It was also the place where the slain body of Brian Boru was taken before his final journey to Armagh following his death at the Battle of Clontarf.

Sir John Bellew was granted the title of Baron of Duleek in 1688 for his loyalty to James II and continued to fight in his name after the defeat at the Battle of the Boyne. The Baron lost his life during the Battle of Aughrim on 12th July 1691, one of the bloodiest battles on Irish soil. His broken corpse was returned to Duleek in County Meath and lies eternally in the shadow of the tower.

Talbot Tragedy at Malahide Castle

Malahide Castle, photo by Ann Massey

Malahide Castle Estate in North County Dublin dates back over 800 years and was the home of the Talbot dynasty which continued almost unbroken until the death of Milo Talbot in 1973. His sister Rose, unable to maintain the imposing castle and grounds, sold the historic landmark to the State.

Talbot Family Coat of Arms, photo by Ann Massey

On the morning of the Battle of the Boyne, fourteen Talbot men sat to breakfast in the Great Hall of the Castle, before leaving to fight for the Jacobites. They never returned, well not corporeally at least, bar one. There ghostly forms remain within their family home, kept company by a myriad of supernatural forces, from the shade of a heartbroken court jester to king slayer Myles Corbett, his armoured spectral form disintegrating before your eyes.

Great Hall at Malahide Castle, photo by Ann Massey

Sadly, much of the battlefield itself has been built over, with houses and businesses, all in the name of ‘progress’, despite the pleas of historians. Many of the homes on the site in Oldbridge however, have had individual reports of everything from poltergeist activity to the apparitions of children within their walls.

SLANE CASTLE, METALLICA AND THE SUPERNATURAL

 

 

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Slane Castle

As Metallica and thousands of dedicated fans descend on the Boyne Valley today, what is the history of Slane Castle and what are the supernatural links between this historic location on the River Boyne and a world famous Heavy Metal band? 

Wherever I May Roam -The Burton and Conyngham Families

A coincidence perhaps, but the founder of Slane Castle was the son of an Anglo-Irish politician, Francis Burton, who’s family hailed from Shropshire in England. Cliff Burton’s father Ray is also of British heritage.

William Burton Conyngham, was the son of Francis and his mother Mary Conyngham was also from a prolific Anglo-Irish political family with strongholds in both County Meath and County Donegal.

In the late 18th century, William legally changed his name to include his mother’s maiden name in order to inherit the vast estate of his uncle Henry.

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Disposable Heroes – Battle of  The Boyne

The Battle of The Boyne took place in 1690 close by to what was the  Fleming Castle. It was between King James VII of England (James II of Scotland) and William of Orange who had usurped James’ position as King. This battle for control of Britain and Ireland took place in one of Ireland’s most deep rooted historical locations, an insult to the legacy of the Irish High Kings so it was little wonder that Simon Fleming continued to fight for Irish power.

The Four Horsemen – Beyond The Pale

The land at Slane Demesne was the holding of the Barons of Slane and the Fleming family dating back to medieval times and they were not going to let it go lightly! The Fleming and De Lacy families had originally invaded Ireland from Normandy in the 11th century and taken the Hill of Slane by force. Generations later, Baron Slane had joined the Irish Catholic rebellion with the other Four Lords of ‘The Pale’, a strip of land including Slane under direct English rule.

The rest of Ireland outside of The Pale boundaries became known as a place of wild, unacceptable behaviour to the Crown, hence the phrase ‘Beyond the Pale.’ It was following this rebellion and the death of the Baron that lands were seized and eventually passed to the Conyngham family.

Eye of the Beholder – Slane Castle

The picturesque facade of Slane Castle and it’s famous natural amphitheatre that plays hosts to world class musicians including Metallica, came into being under the watchful eye of William Burton Conyngham and his nephew in conjunction with esteemed Irish architect, Francis Johnston, the man responsible for the gothic glory of haunted Charleville Castle in County Offaly.

Fight Fire with Fire – U2 and an Inferno

In 1984, a relatively unknown Irish band called U2 took up residence and recorded their iconic album, The Unforgettable Fire.’ In another strange coincidence, just a few years later, a third of Slane Castle was destroyed by you guessed it- an unforgettable fire. Years of restoration saw it return to its former glory.

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Holier Than Thou – Saint Patrick and The Hill of Slane

Long before Burton Conyngham and the Fleming’s, long before castles and The Pale, the Hill of Slane was a huge part of the Pagan culture and Druidic rituals of the time. It faced directly onto the nearby Hill of Tara, the one true coronation place of the High Kings of Ireland.

When Saint Patrick arrived in Ireland, he went to the Hill of Slane at Easter and lit the Paschal Fire. At this time of year, it was the pagan way to distinguish all fires until a new one was lit on the Hill of Tara. When the Druid priests saw the lit shining across the Boyne Valley they fearfully warned King Laoghaire if the flame was not extinguished it would burn eternally at a cost of their Druid ways.

Saint Patrick was met not by a crazed heathen, but a learned king who listened to the Christian man and granted him leave to continue his work in Ireland. A Christian Abbey was founded on the Hill of Slane, in direct defiance of the existing pagan shrine. The standing stones of this Neolithic monument still remain within the grounds of the Abbey ruins.

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All Nightmare Long – Shapeshifting Fairy of Slane

Slane Castle itself has protections pre-dating any of its prominent families. The Púca is a shape-shifting fairy of the Unseelie (Dark) persuasion. It transforms usually into a dark, terrifying steed with eyes of burning embers. If you are unfortunate enough to cross its path as a weary traveller and mount the mischievous beast, you will be taken the length and breadth of Ireland on the most frightening ride of your life, to arrive back at dawn, aged and weary.

Purify – Ancient Well of the Tuatha Dé Danann

In the grounds of Slane Castle, close to the river, lies an ancient well of mystical significance. It was blessed by the Alchemist Dian Cecht, physician to the Demi-god race, the Tuatha Dé Danann. He cast a spell of healing upon it, so injured warriors of the supernatural race could heal from any mortal wound other than beheading. In subsequent years it has become known as a Christian Holy Well and its waters are believed to continue to have restorative properties.

So if you are heading to Slane to see Metallica, take a moment to take in the history and supernatural occurrences where you stand, then enjoy the music and embrace it all – nothing else matters. 

THE HISTORY, HERITAGE AND HAUNTINGS OF CURRAGHCHASE

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Situated just off the N69 lies an historic woodland estate now known as Curraghchase Forest Park.

Curraghchase is an emerald gem, nestled between the historic town of Askeaton and the medieval village of Adare, both themselves laden with landmarks and centuries of historical significance.

Today the 300 hectares of natural beauty are an abundance of wildlife in a tranquil woodland setting, with landscaped vistas and a glistening lake. At the heart of it all lies the abandoned husk of a majestic mansion house, echoing the past glories of a distinguished lineage and a cornucopia of cultural delight. It is no surprise therefore, that the Curraghchase ghosts of the past are more than just a figure of speech.

Cromwell and The Plantations

The lands were originally known as ‘The Curragh’, the same as the famous Kildare racecourse. The name means marsh or bog land and belonged to the Fitzgerald clan, which was subsequently seized from John Fitzgerald. Following confiscation by Oliver Cromwell, they were handed to Vere Hunt, an esteemed officer of Cromwell’s army, as a part of the Lord Protector’s Plantations.

The Plantations related to the attempted colonisation of Ireland by Cromwell, through confiscation of property and lands and re-allocation to officers of his army. Labourers and house staff were also brought in as settlers on these estates to establish a colony designed to reduce Irish influence in rural locations.

The Vere Hunt Dynasty

Vere Hunt came from a prestigious lineage dating back to the tenant-in-chief of England for William the Conqueror in the late 11th century, who was named in the Doomsday Book. His name was Aubrey de Vere the first and the name is one that would once again become renowned in the Vere Hunt family in the years to come.

Vere Hunt’s great grandson was named after the Cromwellian officer; however, he had his sights set on higher political status and social standing than his great grandfather.

In December of 1784, the de Vere Barnonecy was created for the Vere- Hunt descendants. This title enabled Vere Hunt to become High Sheriff of Limerick and in later years join the Irish House of Commons as the representative for Askeaton. It was a successive title that lasted through to the death of the 4th Baronet in the early 20th century.

Sadly, for this Vere his aspirations outweighed his capabilities. In seeking to realise his dream to reprint notable Irish literary and historic works as well as a provincial newspaper, he failed to manage the businesses and property in his charge and spent much of his later years in debt and even served a spell in Debtor’s Gaol.

A Change of Name and Circumstance

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Vere’s son Aubrey seemed to have more of his Doomsday ancestor’s blood running through his veins. He received a solid Harrow education alongside Sir Robert Peel, founder of the Metropolitan Police and the romantic poet Lord Byron.

He married young and he and his wife Mary had eight children. During the mid-nineteenth century, Aubrey took the step of formalising the reversion of his family name to de Vere by Royal Licence. He continued to build his reputation as a respected landowner, employer and property manager, as well as dabbling in politics. However, his passion lay firmly in creating his own literary works and in the renovation and recreation of Curragh and Curragh House, which he renamed Curragh Chase.

The Poet Aubrey de Vere

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While most of Aubrey Hunt’s children followed military or political careers, one chose to follow a more cultural path in life.

Aubrey Thomas Hunt de Vere was born in January of 1814 and It was quickly realised that a penchant for literature and culture was clearly in the de Vere-Hunt genes. Aubrey read at Trinity College, Dublin and studied the works of philosopher Immanuel Kant among others.

Aubrey counted esteemed scholars, poets and dramatists among his friends and Byron and Wordsworth as his muses – these influences along with his devotion to Catholicism were mirrored in his writings.

While his works were critically well received, his intense passion for theology and looking deep into the roots of his Catholic faith, meant they were more reflective and introspective as opposed to structured and definitive in connotation and construct, which met with divided opinion among his peers.

The Limerick poet was a stoic and serious character, his intellect and demeanour perhaps holding him back from a life of social normality, as Aubrey remained a bachelor until his death in 1902.

Alfred Lord Tennyson and other De Vere Literary References.

In the mid nineteenth century, Poet Laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson stayed for several weeks in Curragh Chase and was very close to the de Vere family. In homage to his Irish friends, Tennyson wrote the famous poem ‘Lady Clara Vere de Vere’, a poem about a noble woman and an aristocratic family.

The most well-known line from the poem is “Kind hearts are more than coronets, and simple faith than Norman blood.’ From this Lewis Carroll based  one of his own works, J.M Barrie, creator of Peter Pan used the title in a line for one of his plays and Sir Alec Guinness’s blue-blooded film ‘Kind Hearts and Coronets’ was named in Time magazine’s 100 films of all time.

It is during his stay at Curragh Chase that Tennyson encountered the Lady of Lake…

The Demise of Curragh House

The structure itself was an exquisite representation of romantic, majestic architecture and the cultural décor and artefacts within were of equal thought and magnificence.

A John Flaxman Romanesque frieze adorned the wall, watched by a caste of Michelangelo’s Moses. As visitors crossed the detailed parquet floors, they would pass the best of European and Asian craftsmanship in furnishings, sculptures and artwork.

It was said that even the relic of a cross from the execution of Charles I was retained within the walls of the County Limerick manor house, only to be destroyed by flame, as sadly, all this would come to an end on Christmas Eve of 1941. A fire engulfed Curragh Chase and the family home teeming with history, culture and knowledge was reduced to a blackened, hollowed out corpse.

The Ghosts of Curraghchase

Lady of the Lake 1

Visitors to Curraghchase have reported supernatural occurrences over decades and centuries. One particular artist staying with the de Vere family sketched the image of a young ethereal girl as she negotiated the staircase, no foot falling on solid ground.

Warnings have been made not to venture into Curragh Chase after midnight as demonic coaches with headless drivers are seen dashing through the grounds.

Ghostly musical sounds of harps and other instruments playing carry through the night, and guests of the de Vere family would often comment on seeing mysterious lights as they ascended the stairs.

During Lord Tennyson’s stay in Curraghchase, he insisted he had seen the spectre of a lady with a sheathed sword rise from the lake, arm outstretched and pointing to the house.

On the night before Christmas in 1941, a tree was said to have leaned towards the stately home, a solitary limb outstretched, in an exact replica of Tennyson’s Lady of the Lake sighting. The fire in 1941 was said to be started by the tree limb reaching through the window and knocking over a candelabra.

While the Lady of the Lake has been reported climbing from the murky, misty waters many a night, every Christmas Eve she rises aglow, a burning effigy transfixed on the skeleton of Curraghchase.

Today the ruins of Curragh House stand as stoic as its former owner, protected by the sombre Yew trees within its shadow. An ancient monolith, ringforts and cairn are all within the estate – reminders that long before Oliver Cromwell and the de Vere-Hunt family there was a Fitzgerald Clan, Curragh Castle and druid lands belonging to the Irish.

Perhaps the Lady of the Lake was returning a stolen  domain back to the people of Limerick, a Celtic Avenger protecting lands that transcend confiscation and construction. Perhaps she remains to this day as a guardian, watching and waiting, ready to step forth with flaming sword and limb to hold on to Curraghchase as Munster’s own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.’

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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.

 

 

THE DARK EMERALD ISLE -MAGIC, MYTHS AND MONSTERS

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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.

egg piseóg

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.

leprechaun

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!