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

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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

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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 held by Tina Barcoe and Paranormal Researchers Ireland.  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 instruction and supervision of Tina Barcoe, the watchful eye of owner Aidan Quigley, and with horror writer and paranormal investigator Chris Rush as 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 Chris 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 Chris.  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 Chris used his torch 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 Chris 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 Chris and I 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.  Chris 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 Chris 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 Tina Barcoe and her 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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DEATH, HAUNTING AND THE BLOOD RED ROSE OF BALLYSEEDE CASTLE

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Just off the main N69 Tralee/Killarney Road, just three miles outside of Tralee stands the majestic Ballyseede Castle. Covering some 30 acres and approached from the road via a sweeping drive, the Castle is now a majestic four-star hotel and favourite wedding venue, however its current status is far removed from the dark and violent history for which it has notoriety.  It is little wonder that it ranks so highly among in the world’s most haunted hotels.

 

Built by the Fitzgerald family, the castle was their garrison for what became known as the Geraldine Wars during the late 16th Century.  Gerald Fitzgerald, 16th Earl of Desmond joined the Rebellion in defiance of the English and the Fitzgerald family openly refused to swear their allegiance to the Queen.

After years of fighting, Gerald was captured in Stacks Mountains, the range that dominates the Tralee skyline. Charged with treason to the crown, on 11th November 1583 he was taken to the Demesne at Ballyseede and beheaded by the local executioner, Daniel Kelly.  As a warning to others not to disobey Queen Elizabeth, Gerald Fitzgerald’s head was taken to London and was exhibited in a cage at London Bridge.

The Crown instructed the Governor of Kerry, Sir Edward Denny to lease what was then 3000 acres of estate at Ballyseede over to Thomas Blennerhassett of Cumberland, England in 1590. The unique annual rent was six pounds and a single red rose to be picked from the Castle gardens on Midsummer’s Day.

BleedingRose

Although remaining in the Blennerhassett family, the once proud castle fell into disrepair until the early eighteenth century when William, son of the former lessee, took it upon himself to build the current imposing structure.

Upon William’s death, the entire estate was bequeathed to his son Arthur, who at the very young age of 21 was appointed High Sheriff of Kerry, leading to a successful political career. It was during this time that the castle was expanded and the grounds landscaped further.

Arthur married the daughter of the Knight of Glin from the neighbouring county of Limerick and they had a daughter called Hilda who went on to become a nurse. During the First World War she was awarded the 1914 Mons Star, an honour usually given to male officers, however Hilda was one of a handful of nurses to receive the medal for her work in France and Belgium.

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Hilda however, had not seen the last of the bloodshed and horror of war. In 1923, just two years after the Irish War of Independence and just one year after the death of Michael Collins, a quartermaster of the IRA issued an order for the death of Free State Army Lieutenant Paddy O’Connor.

On 6th March the unsuspecting Officer was decoyed to Knocknagoshel and a mine trap where he and five of his unit were killed outright.  Outraged, the Free State took immediate retaliatory steps.  IRA prisoners were being held at Ballymullen Barracks in Tralee, so shortly before dawn the following day, nine were removed and taken to Ballyseede Crossroads, close to the castle.

The road itself had been barricaded with rocks, tree trunks and explosives. The prisoners were bound, then forced to stand against the blockade, at which point the command to detonate was given.  Not satisfied that all the prisoners were all dead, a further order was given and the mutilated men were subjected to machine gun fire in the shadows of Ballyseede Castle gates.

 

A cross stands at the gates in their memory and a bronze memorial known as the Ballyseede Monument stands further along the road in honour of Irish Republicanism.

Ballyseede Monument

Hilda herself died in 1965 and was buried next to her family members in nearby Ballyseede graveyard. In keeping with her persona, there is a simple cross marking her grave.  Hilda was the last of the Blennerhassett bloodline and the estate was put up for auction.  The single red rose that had kept Ballyseede Castle in the Blennerhassett family for almost four hundred years was no more.

HIlda grave

The Castle was converted into a hotel, however one particular member of the Blennerhassett family was checked in as a permanent ghost. Hilda has regularly been seen and indeed conversed with in the hotel, particularly in the Crosby room, which had been hers.

Despite legend having Hilda appear on 24th March each year, she has been seen much more frequently.  Interestingly since Hilda’s passing, roses have never been present in the hotel, however on the top floor, the strong scent of roses can be noticed.

Hilda herself can be seen at her window looking out across the grounds and beneath her window the letters RIP eerily appear and then vanish.

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The staff at Ballyseede have had many of their own experiences, however Esther has had more than her fair share.

Esther, had been stock taking and had sole access to the premises. As she approached the castle along the drive, she could clearly see a shadow at Hilda’s window and it appeared that the television and lights were on.

After unlocking the door and dashing up the stairs, Esther rushed into the Crosby room to discover everything was turned off. Almost as if to let Esther know it wasn’t her imagination, this occurrence repeated itself the following day.

On another occasion two ladies who were staying in the Crosby room where dining in the Stoneroom, being served by a young girl called Paige. The ladies had told her that Hilda had been talking to them and so Paige asked Esther if she could go to the room and see for herself.

A while later Paige returned, white as a sheet and told Esther that Hilda had spoken with her.  The former nurse had told Paige she would be gone from the hotel within the year and overseas.  Less than twelve months later Paige was working in England.

Of course Hilda isn’t the only spirit to wander the halls of this stately home. Former landlords keep a careful watch on the upkeep of Ballyseede and undoubtedly those who were executed or died in battle remain in the grounds, or in nearby Ballyseede woods where the original house once stood.

I recently had the opportunity to stay in this magnificent building and whilst I did not encounter Hilda, I witnessed enough to know that the living are not the only guests at Ballyseede Castle, however only the living check out.

ST. STEPHEN’S DAY AND THE KING OF ALL BIRDS

WrenBoys

‘The wran, the wran, the king of all birds,

On St. Stephen’s day was caught in the furze.

His body is little but his family is great

So rise up landlady and give us a trate.

And if your trate be of the best

Your soul in heaven can find its rest.

And if your trate be of the small

It won’t plaze the boys at all.

A glass of whiskey and a bottle of beer

Merry Christmas and a glad New Year.

So up with the kettle and down with the pan

And give us a penny to bury the wran.

Although there are many variations of the infamous Wren Boys’ song, these particular words are the ones I recall being sang to me by my mother at Christmas time. The history of the Wren Boys and Wren’s Day is a long and complex one with a myriad of potential meanings and beginnings. It must be said however, that the tradition itself is very much a stalwart of the Irish Christmas and one that is still very much a part of St. Stephen’s Day celebrations today.

What are Wren Boys and Wren’s Day?

Wren Boys historic

Wren’s Day or Lá an Dreoilín can be dated back in one form or another to the second century and probably started in connection with Samhain as opposed to Christmas. Usually found in rural areas, this tradition and celebration centres around the wren, an iconic bird in Irish Mythology and Pagan and Christian religions.  On St. Stephen’s day, boys use to dress up in brightly coloured clothes and were known as the Wren Boys.  Others would dress in suits made from straw and be known as ‘Mummers‘.

Until the early 20th century, a real wren would be hunted and placed in a makeshift cage at the top of a pole that would be carried by the Wren leader. The challenge in the hunt of course is that the wren is scarce in winter! The Wren Boys and the Mummers would march through small townlands and villages, demanding money to keep the bird alive. At the end of the day the money would be used to throw a celebratory gathering for the townsfolk.  The boys would be joined by musicians and would hand out feathers to those who donated for good luck.

The pole would take centre stage at the celebrations, being bedecked in ribbons, evergreens and flowers and the locals would dance around it. As times began to change, the real wren was replaced with a fake bird, that would be hidden for the Wren Boys and Mummers to find as opposed to hunting the wren.

So why the Wren?

Celtic Mythology

Clíodhna

Clíodhna was a Celtic goddess of feasting and hunting, with her home in Munster and was believed to be the original Banshee. Whilst Clíodhna had a regal reputation and was worshipped, she also had a sinister side.  She would lure men through her beauty and powers of seduction and they would drown off the coast of Cork, where she resided.  Finally, one man discovered her secrets of magic and power and devised a way to destroy her.  Realising this Clíodhna transfigured into a wren and made her escape back to the Other Realm.

Druids

Druid

For centuries those who practise Paganism have revered the wren and viewed it as a symbol of divinity and wisdom. The wren was considered so precious by the Druids, that curses were cast upon those who sought to steal eggs or hatchlings, leaving homes destroyed and bodies mutilated.  The wren would also be used in the Pagan practice of Divination, each chirp and sound deemed a message for the Druid High Priests.  Indeed, the Irish word for wren, Dreoilín, translates as ‘Druid Bird and as Samhain approached, the wren was a symbol of the old year and the robin a celebration of the new.

 Christianity and Saint Stephen.

Stoning Saint Stephen

Although Saint Stephen was not Irish, he became a patron saint and the subject of an Irish National Holiday. One of the original deacons selected by the Apostles, Saint Stephen was outspoken with his teachings and distaste for the hypocrisy of the Jewish Authorities.  A warrant was issued for his arrest and while in hiding it is said that a wren gave away his location by chattering and flapping its wings.  Stephen was captured and stoned to death, making him the first official martyr of Christianity.

It was these events that enabled the Christian Clerics in Ireland in the Dark Ages to convince people to turn against Paganism, citing the wren as a symbol of evil.

The Wren of Treason

There are two events in Irish history where the wren is said to have caused the demise of Irish forces. Once during the Viking invasion, Irish soldiers had an opportunity to stage an attack as the enemy slept. A single wren landed on the drum of a soldier and began pecking at crumbs, creating a cacophony that awoke the Vikings and led to the slaughter of the home forces.  The very same turn of events occurred centuries later during a planned ambush on Cromwellian troops.

 Wren’s Day in Modern Ireland

Dingle-Wren-Day

As with most Irish Folklore and Tradition, the origins are an entwining of Christianity, Paganism and Celtic Mythology, so the definitive meaning of the wren and Wren’s Day will never be truly known. The practice continues however in small towns and particularly parts of Sligo, Leitrim and Kerry, with Dingle having an extraordinary display of costume and colour every St. Stephen’s Day and in prior years would put on a display of early combat.

The Wrens and Mummers now consist of men, women and children and the focus is very much on traditional music, with the Wrens travelling between pubs and collecting money for charity and performing in retirement homes and hospitals.

So whatever the reasoning behind the tradition of the Wren Boy, it is one that remains in Irish culture and the Wren itself is forever associated with Irish religion, folklore, myth and tradition.

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GRIEF, GHOSTS AND GOTHIC REVIVAL AT DUCKETT’S GROVE

Ducketts Grove

Although only ruins now, the outline of the towers and turrets of Duckett’s Grove stand resplendent against the horizon and surrounding countryside of the estate to which they have belonged for nearly two centuries.

Duckett’s Grove was originally a modest two story house built in the style of its day in the mid eighteenth century by a descendant of the Duckett family, who arrived to the townland of Kneestown in County Carlow some 100 years previously.

As the family grew in wealth and social standing in both Carlow and Dublin city, it became clear that the somewhat ordinary family home was insufficient to meet the Duckett needs. Owner William Duckett, married an heiress by the name of Harriet in order to further his aspirations of grandeur.

William Duckett

William Duckett

In 1830 therefore, the services of Thomas A Cobden, renowned architect were secured and work began on making Duckett’s Grove a Gothic revival masterpiece of epic proportion, with regal arches, neo-gothic oriel windows and grotesques added to the majestic towers and imposing structure.

One of the only photographs of Ducketts Grove before the fire of 1933.

One of the only photographs of Ducketts Grove before the fire of 1933.

Now believing his home was suitable for his social needs, William Duckett began to throw lavish parties inviting the socialites of Dublin to mingle with local gentry and the Duckett family. William was somewhat of a philanderer and married his second wife, Maria Thompson in 1895 when he was 73 years old, bringing her and her daughter Olive to reside at Ducketts Grove.

William passed away in 1908 and was buried in the family plot at nearby Knocknacree. Maria continued to live in solitude at the mock Gothic castle as she and her daughter had become estranged. Finally Maria abandoned the property in 1916 to live in Dublin.

In a twist, when Maria died she was still so furious with Olive, that in her will she left nothing but what was known as the ‘Angry Shilling’ to her absentee offspring.

Not wishing to be done out of her inheritance, Olive went to court and in a week and a half long hearing, it was revealed that mother and daughter had a tempestuous and physically violent relationship, much to the shock of the Dublin city social scene. Maria was given a cash settlement and the Ducketts of Duckett’s Grove were no more.

Originally purchased by a farmer’s collective, bickering and greed over shares led to default on payment and the Land Commission stepped in and took over. During this time in the early 1920’s the IRA made use of Duckett’s Grove for training purposes and it was the base of its flying column, a mobile armed unit of soldiers.

Despite the nature of its use post-Duckett, the great house was well maintained until it was brought to a smoking shell by way of a catastrophic fire on 20 April 1933 – the cause of which was never discovered.

Although nothing but a husk, it would seem that the events within Duckett’s Grove have left their mark, with several agitated spirits being witnessed over the decades, making the building ruins a hotspot for numerous paranormal investigations, including America’s Destination Truth in 2011.

The most notorious entity identified is the Duckett’s Grove Banshee. Banshees have forever been known as portents of death, with most connected to families and more than a few of these wailing spirits seeking death for revenge and torment.

Banshee

Banshee

In this instance, the Banshee is the result of a Piseóg, a curse placed on the house and family to bring about death, despair and financial ruin. This particular curse was cast by the angry grieving mother of a young girl who had been having an affair with William Duckett and was riding on the estate when she fell from her horse.

The bringer of death can be heard shrieking on the wind through the ruins of Duckett’s Grove from the towers for two days and nights, with stories of those that heard her suffering fatality and family tragedy. Noted accounts include a woman who dropped dead in the grounds and a worker in the gardens who heard the feared cry and whose mother died the follow morning.

Servants have distinctly been heard working in what was formerly the kitchens and pantry and a phantom horse and carriage has rolled up to the former entrance.

Disembodied voices, bangs, floating balls of light and spectral shadows are just a few more of the paranormal phenomena to occur in the Carlow castle. Apparitions of various figures, believed to be members of the Duckett family have been seen, including what is believed to be the ghost of William Duckett himself, riding a horse on his estate.

The Ducketts had extremely strong ties to the Protestant church and a vocalised hatred of Catholicism, so some investigators have provoked heightened paranormal responses from the entities of Duckett’s Grove, by bringing Catholic relics such as rosary beads to investigations.

Now Duckett’s Grove is open to the public, with visitors touring the extensive gardens and woodlands. For those who look at the Gothic skeleton that remains, it is a statuesque reminder of the opulent and lavish lifestyle that used to be lived within.

Ducketts

For those who are braver, the ruins provide a hive of paranormal occurrences to be witnessed from the brightest and busiest of tourist days to the dead of night.

With a family history of materialism, violence and infidelity, and with a Duckett family motto of ‘Let us be judged by our acts’, it is little wonder therefore that this noble family and those whose lives they touched remain the eternally restless residents of Duckett’s Grove.

GHOSTS OF RMS LUSITANIA AND THE PORT OF COBH

With a sea faring history going back hundreds of years, Cobh in County Cork is an unassuming port that continues to be visited by some of the largest ocean liners in the world today.  A picturesque town with strong regal connections, it is hard to imagine that Cobh is synonymous with two of the biggest passenger liner tragedies of all time, just three years apart – RMS Titanic and RMS Lusitania. 

7th May 2015 marks the one hundred year anniversary of the sinking of RMS Lusitania.  As Cobh is making itself ready to remember the dead of this First World War tragedy, what part did the former Queenstown play in the disaster and why do some of the victims of the sinking refuse to leave?

CONSTRUCTION AND USE OF THE LUSITANIA

RMS LUSITANIA

RMS LUSITANIA

Built in Scotland, the Lusitania was largely funded by the Admiralty, as Europe was in a state of unrest and conflict was believed imminent.  By contributing to the cost and overseeing the construction, the Navy would be able to call on the 787 ft liner in the event of war, while in the meantime she was one of Cunard’s front running cruise vessels setting records for speed.

The Lusitania made 201 successful transatlantic voyages as a passenger ship since 1907.  Once war broke out, the cruiser was also used to ship weapons to Britain with travellers knowing little or anything about the additional military cargo stored a few decks beneath their feet.

The Cunard liner was painted camouflage grey as war approached but continued to be used as a passenger vessel.

THE FATEFUL CROSSING

Pier 54, New York

Pier 54, New York

On 1st May 1915, RMS Lusitania set sail from New York for Liverpool on her 202nd voyage with 1962 passengers and crew on board.

By now the cruise ship had been transformed to her initial glory from the camouflage grey, however she was not bearing flags in marked out war zones, contravening Cruiser Rules dictated by the First World War.  These rules were set to safeguard passengers in the event of capture or attack and prevent any misidentification by the enemy.

The ship set sail from Pier 54 in New York despite the following statement from the German Embassy being printed in dozens of American newspapers:

“Notice!

Travellers intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war exists between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and her allies; that the zone of war includes the waters adjacent to the British Isles; that, in accordance with formal notice given by the Imperial German Government, vessels flying the flag of Great Britain, or any of her allies, are liable to destruction in those waters and that travellers sailing in the war zone on the ships of Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk.

Imperial German Embassy

 Washington, D.C., April 22, 1915.”

Although the ship’s manifest openly documented munitions in the cargo hold, the extent of undocumented firepower has never been fully disclosed and undoubtedly contributed to the Lusitania’s demise.

KINSALE AND THE TORPEDO

GERMAN U-20

GERMAN U-20

As RMS Lusitania approached the south coast of Ireland, a German U Boat crossed her path and due to the nature of her cargo, prior warnings and without the relevant flags, the captain of the U-20 give an order to fire.

The Lusitania sustained a direct hit which in turn caused further explosions within the hull, most likely due to the extent of ammunition and artillery on board.

Due to the lack of lifeboats being launched, poor execution of evacuation and the way in which she tilted and descended, the Lusitania sank to the bottom of the sea, 11 miles from Kinsale, County Cork in just twenty minutes.

The sinking of the Lusitania, both in speed and manner was eerily reminiscent of RMS Titanic, just 3 years earlier.  Despite rescue efforts from localised fishing vessels, 1201 souls were lost.

Sketch of the sinking Lusitania

Sketch of the sinking of RMS Lusitania

AFTERSHOCK

Some of the deceased were brought to Kinsale by rescue boats and interred at St Multose Church, while it was also in Kinsale that the local Coroner launched an official enquiry the following day.

The majority of the bodies however, were either brought to or washed up in Cobh, (Queenstown as it was known at the time) along with the few survivors.  In the Old Church Cemetery on the outskirts of Cobh, almost 200 of the victims of the tragedy are buried in mass and individual graves.  Of course many more were never recovered at all.

Mass Funeral Service for Lusitania Victims

Actual image of the Funeral Service for victims of RMS Lusitania

In a sickening coincidence, Ireland’s first custom built hotel, The Commodore opened for business in 1854 and its focus was to attract the many passengers embarking on voyages including the Titanic and Lusitania.  At the time of the sinking of the Lusitania by a German U Boat, the hotel was under German ownership.

Otto Humbert and his family were forced to hide in the cellars as a crowd gathered and demanded the hotel be burned to the ground. The hotel itself was then converted into a hospital and makeshift morgue for the victims.

THE COMMODORE HOTEL, COBH

THE COMMODORE HOTEL, COBH

GHOSTS AND HAUNTINGS OF RMS LUSITANIA

While locals feel there must be some residual energy left from the fear and torment of the poor passengers within Cobh and particularly The Commodore Hotel, the haunting most reported is one witnessed on more than one occasion from a diverse section of the community including the White Witch of Cobh and a Graves Inspector.

This supernatural event is none other than the chilling sound of a mass funeral procession for the victims of the Lusitania which had taken place on 10th May 1915.  The White Witch herself claims to have ‘seen’ it, however most accounts refer to many low murmuring voices and the sound of footsteps approaching the cemetery wall.  Some have in fact assumed a current funeral was approaching and have looked up to see nothing but an empty road.

With so much maritime tragedy at its heart, it is little wonder that as the broken bodies of the victims of the RMS Lusitania lay in Cobh, the despairing spirits also remain.

Lusitania monument, Cobh, County Cork

Lusitania monument, Cobh, County Cork

More tales of Haunted Cobh can be found here! 5 Haunted Places to Visit in Cobh

GRACE O’MALLEY – THE PIRATE QUEEN OF IRELAND!

Sea Queen of Connaught  When it comes to pirates, the Irish knew a lucrative industry when they saw one and some of our greatest pirates were women! This account is that of Grace O’Malley, the Sea Queen of Connaught!

Grace O’Malley – The Pirate Queen of Ireland