IRELAND

Green Gaelic Gaea


By Jheri St. James


A true colour image of Ireland, captured by a NASA satellite on 1/4/03. Scotland, the Isle of Man, Wales and part of Cornwall are visible to the east

     Ireland, a land of ancient history, folklore and castles, is located in Western Europe and occupies five-sixths of the island of Ireland in the North Atlantic Ocean, west of Great Britain. Northern Ireland makes up the other one-sixth and shares a land border with the Republic of Ireland. It was created by the government of Ireland Act, 1920.

The Gaels

     The Gaels are an ethno-linguistic group in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man whose language is one that is Gaelic. The word in English was adopted in 1810 from Scottish Gaelic to designate a Highlander. The Gaels, mostly restricted to Ireland during the beginning of the Christian era, believed themselves descended from people in the north of Iberia, mainly Gallaecia (modern Galicia and northern Portugal). This belief persists in the Gaelic cultures of Ireland and Scotland up to the present day. Discovery of a form of early Ogham script in Gallaecia, as well as genetic studies linking the Gaels to the Basques and Galacians in northwestern Spain, lend credence to such a theory.

For the great Gaels of Ireland
Are the men that God made mad,
For all their wars are merry,

And all their songs are sad.
G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)


One View of Dublin

Ireland

     In the 4th century B.C., the Gaels evolved a Celtic civilization that in its full flowering, after St. Patrick introduced Christianity in the 5th century, produced superb works of art and sent religious and cultural missionaries to the rest of Europe. It was severely damaged by the Vikings in the 9th and 10th centuries. In 1166 the Anglo-Normans invaded Ireland, and thereafter the English tried continually to assert their authority over the native Irish and the settlers, who did assimilate. The Act of Union (1801) ended parliamentary independence from England. Nevertheless, despite the potato famine (the blight of 1845-1848—1,000,000 died) and continuing violence, a measure of constitutional independence was slowly attained through agitation for Catholic Emancipation and the emergence of leaders like Daniel O’Connell and C.S. Parnell. One result was a second cultural Celtic Renaissance of the 1890’s. The inability of British governments to implement Home Rule led to the bitter Easter Rebellion (1916), and the armed struggle after World War I resulted in Britain’s grant of dominion status to the Irish Free State (1921), but the civil war was continued on a terrorist basis by the Irish Republic Army (IRA) until 1923. Eamonn de Valera, in power from 1932, broke with the British Crown and renamed the country Eire (1937). In 1949, as the Republic of Ireland, it left the British Commonwealth.

     The Irish Free State was plagued by poverty and emigration until the 1990’s. That decade saw the beginning of unprecedented economic success, in a phenomenon known as the “Celtic Tiger”. By the early 2000’s, it had become one of the richest countries (in terms of GDP per capita) in the European Union, moving from being a net recipient to a net contributor and from a population with net emigration to one with net immigration.

Northern Ireland

     From its creation in 1921 until 1972 Northern Ireland enjoyed limited self-government within the United Kingdom, with its own parliament and prime minister. However the Protestant and Catholic communities in Northern Ireland each voted almost entirely along sectarian lines, meaning that the government of Northern Ireland was always controlled by the Ulster Unionist Party. Consequently, Catholics could not participate in the government, which at times openly encouraged discrimination in housing and employment.

     Nationalist grievances at Unionist discrimination within the state eventually led to large civil rights protests in the 1960’s, which the government suppressed heavy-handedly, most notably on “Bloody Sunday”. It was during this period of civil unrest that the paramilitary Provisional IRA, who favored the creation of a united Ireland, began its campaign against Unionist rule. Other groups, legal and illegal on the unionist side, and illegal on the nationalist side, began to participate in the violence and the period known as the “Troubles” began. Owing to the civil unrest the British government suspended home rule in 1972 and imposed direct rule.

     In 1998, following a Provisional IRA cease-fire, the Good Friday Agreement was concluded and attempts began to be made to restore self-government to Northern Ireland on the basis of power sharing between the two communities. Violence has greatly decreased since the signing of the accord. In 2001, the armed police force in the north, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (or RUC for short), was removed in place of the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) as a result of easing tensions. On July 28, 2005, the Provisional IRA (PIRA) announced the end of its armed campaign and on September 25, 2005, international weapons inspectors supervised the full disarmament of the PIRA.

Ireland never was contented . . .
Say you so? You are demented.
Ireland was contented when
All could use the sword and pen,
And when Tara rose so high
That her turrets split the sky,
And about her courts were seen
Liveried Angels robed in green,
Wearing, by St. Patricks’ bounty,
Emeralds big as half a county

Water Savage Landor (1775-1864)

The Last Fruit Off an Old Tree (1853)

    Peace in Ireland? Even an uneasy peace sounds good. Was it fairies?

 

The elemental kingdoms throughout the world are magical places filled with beauties and a few mischievous beasts. Ireland is no exception; in fact, the fairies and leprechauns of Ireland are globally the most well known. There are few places on earth today with as much fairy energy as Ireland, where the mighty gods of the ancient ones lived in luxury and ruled their earthly possessions. Tir no N'Og is the land of eternal youth, and a familiar place to fairies; perhaps it explains their youth and immortality.



     Fairies, as we know them today, are the ancient remnants of the Tuatha de Danaan, which means the people of the goddess Anu, a being like Mother Earth (also called Gaea). The Tuatha were nature gods and goddesses, some good and some pretty frightening. Tuatha De Danann, or the Tribe of Dana, were beings of light called the Shining, or Shimmering or Ancient Ones, descended to earth from the sun—immortals, gods and goddesses. With the onset of Christianity, these creatures, a rich part of Celtic myth and legend, grew less forbidding and powerful, becoming the whimsical, ethereal, airy, creatures we think of today. Supernatural creatures of human form, they live in everyday surroundings, and are mostly beneficial to humans. However, they do play pranks and demand respect. They are small, beautiful, airy, nearly transparent in body, and can assume any form. In Ireland fairies are called Sidhi, (pronounced "shee").


When the first baby laughed for the first time, the laugh broke into a thousand pieces and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies. And now when every new baby is born its first laugh becomes a fairy. So there ought to be one fairy for every boy or girl.

James Matthew Barrie (Peter, in Peter Pan, Act 1)

 

     The Fairly Land King and Queen are Finbarr and Oonagh. Their subjects are found in fairy mounds, tree circles, stone circles, and in the lakes. Never anger a fairy or break any fairy rules and laws. For instance, never cut off the top of a tree on your property. This brings calamity to everyone in the house. Fairies cast spells, steal mortal children and live in fabulous wealth and splendor. They love dancing, singing and merry making. They create fairy money, which returns to soil or moss after the spell wears off. They tend the green lands of the world, and it is to them Ireland can be thankful for the dozens of magnificent shades of green seen in this magical island.

     One of the best known goddesses of Ireland is Aine, friendly to men and worshipped for bestowing fertility, abundance and prosperity. She mated with humans, creating a magical fairy/human race. An Irish Earl stole Aine's cloak while she swam in a river, and would not return it to her until she married him. Their son was known as the Magician. The Earl, in showing surprise when his son performed a wonderful superhuman deed, set Aine free to return to the fairies, as she had warned him. Her son lives in Lough Fur in County Limerick, waiting to expel all foreigners from Ireland. Every seven years he rides around the circumference of the lake, and will continue until his horse's silver shoes are worn out.

Here are some other Irish fairy-folk:

     The word merrow or moruadh comes from the Irish muir (meaning sea) and oigh (meaning maid) and refers specifically to the female of the species. Mermen, the merrows’ male counterparts, have been rarely seen. They have been described as exceptionally ugly and scaled, with pig-like features and long, pointed teeth. Merro

 

themselves are extremely beautiful, promiscuous with mortals, and differ physically from humans in that their feet are flatter and their hands have thin webbing between the fingers. As members of the sidhe, or Irish fairy world, the inhabitants of Tir fo Thoinn (the Land beneath the Waves) have a natural antipathy towards humans. In some parts of Ireland, they are regarded as messengers of doom and death.

     Merrows wear special clothing to enable them to travel through warm or cold ocean currents; a small red cap made from feathers, or sealskin cloaks, giving them the appearance of seals. When she comes ashore, the merrow abandons her cap or cloak. Any mortal who finds these has power over her, as she cannot return to the sea without them. Hiding the cap or cloak, a man may persuade the merrow to marry. Such brides are often extremely wealthy in gold fortunes plundered from shipwrecks. But the merrow usually recovers the cloak, and leaves her human husband and children behind. A number of famous Irish families claim their descent from merrow unions.

     The name leprechaun may have derived from the Irish leath bhrogan (shoemaker), although its origins may lie in luacharma'n (Irish for pygmy). These aged, diminutive men are frequently intoxicated on the home-brew poteen. However they never become so drunk that the hand which holds the hammer becomes unsteady, affecting their shoemaker's work. Leprechauns are guardians of ancient treasure (left by Danes when they marauded Ireland), burying it in crocks or pots. If caught by a mortal, he will promise great wealth if allowed to go free. He carries two leather pouches: in one a silver shilling, a magical coin that returns to the purse each time it is paid out; in the other a gold coin, used to bribe his way out of difficulties, which later turns to leaves or ashes. The leprechaun is Ireland's national fairy, can vanish in an instant, and is much coarser and earthier than the gossamer-winged, sparkling fairies of light. They have short tempers and mischievous personalities, and are found where the rainbow ends, since this is the spot where full abundance can be manifested. They hoard the pot of gold, have an uncanny way of making us release our treasures and gold, and make wealth appear or disappear in the blink of an eye, accompanied by a hearty laugh.

     The banshee (bean-sidhe) is an ancestral spirit who forewarns only five certain ancient Irish families of their time of death. She appears in one of three guises: a young woman, a stately matron or a raddled old hag. These represent the triple aspects of the Celtic goddess of war and death, Badhbh. She wears a gray, hooded cloak or the winding sheet or grave robe of the unshriven dead, appearing in human form as bean-nighe (washing woman) and washes the bloodstained clothes of those about to die. Her mourning call is heard at night. There are records of human banshees attending the great houses of Ireland and the courts of local Irish kings. In some parts of Ireland, she is referred to as the bean chaointe (keening woman) whose wail can be so piercing that it shatters glass. The banshee may also appear in other forms, such as a hooded crow, hare or weasel - animals associated with witchcraft.

 
Grogochs were half human, half-fairy aborigines who came from Scotland to

settle in Ireland and on the Isle of
small elderly man, covered in
or fur, he wears no clothes, but
and dirt from his travels. Grogochs
hygiene and there are no females.
or freezing cold, his home may be a
landscape. In the northern countryside
known as grogochs' houses. He has the
allows only certain trusted people

Man. Resembling a very
coarse, dense reddish hair
sports a variety of twigs
are not noted for personal
Impervious to searing heat
cave, hollow or cleft in the
are large leaning stones
power of invisibility and
to observe him, or he may

attach himself to one person and help them with planting, harvesting or domestic chores, for a jug of cream. Like other fairies, the grogoch has a great fear of clergy and will not enter a house if a priest or minister is there.

     No fairy is more feared in Ireland than the Pooka (phouka, puca), who leads travelers astray, creating harm and mischief in the guise of a sleek, dark horse with yellow eyes and a long wild mane. Roaming the countryside at night, it tears down fences and gates, scatters livestock, tramples crops and damages remote farms. The pooka is a small, deformed goblin who demands a share of the crop, so several strands, known as the 'pooka's share', are left behind by reapers. A huge, hairy bogeyman who terrifies those abroad at night, it can take the form of an eagle with a massive wingspan or a black goat with curling horns. The mere sight of the pooka prevent hens laying eggs or cows giving milk. It is the curse of all late night travelers, swooping them up on its back and then throwing them into muddy ditches or bogholes. The name may come from the Scandinavian pook or puke, meaning 'nature spirit'. Horse cults prevalent throughout the early Celtic world may have provided the underlying motif for the nightmare steed.

     Another creature in the Irish fairy realm is the dullahan, a wild black-robed headless horseman seen around midnight on certain Irish festivals or feast days, riding a dark, snorting steed across the countryside. He carries his head either on the saddle-prow raised in his right hand. The head is smooth, the color and texture of stale dough or moldy cheese, and a hideous grin splits the face from ear to ear. The eyes, which are small and black, dart about like flies. The head glows with the phosphorescence of decaying matter and the creature uses it to light its way along darkened lanes. Wherever a dullahan stops, a mortal dies.

     In researching fairies, this writer attests to their mischievous influence: While downloading some of the information from www.Google.com, the printer broke, the materials refused to copy and print, and the images of fairies you see in this writing were not copied or pasted; they just appeared!

"Every time a child says, 'I don't believe in fairies,' there is a fairy somewhere that falls down dead." James Matthew Barrie (Peter, in Peter Pan, act 1)

     Fairy tales are the seed of the Irish love of literature. For a comparatively small country, from ancient to the present-day Ireland has made a disproportionately large contribution to world literature in all its branches, mainly in English, in folk tales, lyric and narrative poetry, novels, short stories and drama. Irish literature is notable for having been written in both Gaelic and English. During its Golden Age (c. 700-1000), Gaelic lyric poetry and myths flourished. The Irish continued to write good poetry in Gaelic through the mid-1800’s, during which time a group of Irish writers, led by playwrights William Butler Yeats and Lady Gregory, created a singularly Irish literature in English, and thereby an Irish literary revival.

     Irish poetry represents the oldest vernacular poetry in Europe with the earliest examples dating from the 6th century; Jonathan Swift, still often called the foremost satirist in the English language, was wildly popular both in his day (Gulliver’s Travels, A Modest Proposal, etc.) and at present, among both children and adults. Ireland has produced four winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature: George Bernard Shaw, William Butler Yeats, Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney. James Joyce, the author of the revolutionary Ulysses (1922), was a key figure in the development of modern Irish literature and is widely considered one of the most significant writers of the 20th century; Ulysses is sometimes cited as the greatest English-language novel of that century and his life is celebrated annually on June 16th in Dublin as the Bloomsday celebrations. Other important Irish writers include Oscar Wilde, J.M. Synge, Bram Stoker, Frank McCourt, Maeve Binchy, Roddy Doyle, Marita Conlon-McKenna, and Edna O’Brien.

I will not wish unto you the ass’s ears of Midas,
nor to be driven by a poet’s verses, as Bubonax was,
to hang himself, nor to be rhymed to death,
As is said to be done in Ireland.

Algernon Sidney (1622-1683)

     These days, language itself is in transition in Ireland. While most people speak English, Irish is the official language. Nearly every sign in Dublin is written in English with the Irish translation italicized below. Irish Gaelic, one of the four surviving Celtic languages, is called simply “Irish” by native speakers, perhaps to avoid confusion and to distinguish it from other Gaelic languages. Irish declined most rapidly after the Great Famine of 1845 when many of the fluent speakers died or emigrated. Irish was abandoned in the schoolhouse in favor of English at a time when many young people were emigrating to America and other English speaking countries. The Gaelic League in 1884 helped promote the use of Irish, supported by James Joyce. Although less than five percent of the population today is fluent in Irish, all students are required to study the language and university entrance exams include a section of Irish.


Trinity College

     Irish traditional folk music and dance are also widely known. In the middle years of the 20th century, as Irish society was attempting to modernize, traditional music fell out of favor, especially in urban areas. But during the 1960’s, and inspired by the American folk music movement, there was a revival of interest in Irish traditional music, led by bands such as The Dubliners, the Chieftains, the Clancy Brothers and Sweeney’s Men, and individuals like Sean O’Raida and Danny O’Flaherty. Irish and Scottish traditional music are similar. Before long, groups and musicians including Horslips, Van Morrison and even Thin Lizzy were incorporating elements of traditional music into a rock idiom to form a unique new sound.

     During the 1970’s and 1980’s, the distinction between traditional and rock musicians became blurred, with many individuals regularly crossing over between these styles of playing as a matter of course. This trend can be seen more recently in the work of bands and individuals like U2, Clannad, the Cranberries, Van Morrison, Rory Gallagher, Boyzone, Westlife and The Pogues. Nevertheless, Irish music has shown an immense popularity among many who attempt to return to their roots. There are also contemporary music groups that stick closer to a traditional sounds and fusions of styles like Altan, Gaelic Storm, Lunasa and Solas, Afro Celt Sound System and Canadian Loreena McKennitt. Ireland has done well in the Eurovision Song Contest, being the most successful country in the competition with seven wins.

     Having gone way beyond Irish traditional jigs and folk dances, Michael Flatley brought Irish dancing to the international world in his hugely successful Lord of the Dance productions. His new dance spectacular, Celtic Tiger is a bold and daring concept, which fuses the spirit of Ireland and its history with dance and music. He pushes the creative boundaries to deliver Irish dance as a dynamic and powerful art form. He produces a spectacle that unfolds with the Celts and ends with the portrayal of modern Ireland as a nation state and a people who are constantly emerging from the jaws of defeat. Michael Flatley (a member of MENSA) and U2’s Bono use their intelligence and influence to do much good work in the world, aiding childrens’ aid programs, and many others. They are the good fairies of fame, and that’s no blarney.

     The Blarney stone is from Blarney Castle, in legend holding the magical power to confer the gift of eloquence on those who kiss it, and apparently even those who have never kissed it but live in Ireland. World famous, the Blarney stone is situated in the highest battlements of the Blarney castle, and is believed to be half of the Stone of Scone, which originally belonged to Scotland. Scottish kings were crowned over the stone, because it was believed to have special powers. The stone was given to Cormac McCarthy by Robert the Bruce in 1314 in return for his support in the Battle of Bannockburn. Queen Elizabeth I wanted Irish chiefs to agree to occupy their own lands under title from her. Cormac Teige McCarthy, the Lord of Blarney, handled every royal request with subtle diplomacy, promising loyalty to the Queen without giving in. Elizabeth proclaimed that McCarthy was giving her “a lot of Blarney”, thus giving rise to the legend.

The Blarney Stone is located at the top battlements of Blarney Castle

     Ireland is mostly level to rolling interior plains surrounded by rugged hills and low mountains with sea cliffs on the west coast. The Hill of Tara is another legendary site among all the castles and other legendary landmarks in Ireland. Before Celtic times the Hill of Tara was named as the capital of the Tuatha De Danann, pre-Celtic dwellers of Ireland. The hill became the place from which the kings of Meath ruled Ireland with godly status. Atop the hill stands a stone pillar that was the Irish Stone of Destiny on which the High Kings of Ireland were crowned.


The Hill of Tara

     Common Ground 191’s soil collector in Ireland is Anne Coyle, from Carlingford, Ireland. Her collection location was the foot of Cooley Mountains where they live. On the map she enclosed, Carlingford looks very near the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and the Cooley Mountains, predictably, have legends attached to them. The hero of one is the giant Fionn MacCumhail (Finn MacCoul, Finn MacCool), who was the greatest leader of the Fianna, the military elite of ancient Ireland (300 B.C.), responsible for guarding the High King. Until Fionn mac Cumhail implemented a code of honor among them, the Fianna had a reputation of being a somewhat unruly bunch of men who considered themselves above the law. Fionn challenged the Fianna to become champions of the people, to make of themselves models of chivalry and justice. This tale is argued to be the basis of the Knights of the Round Table in England. One of the most celebrated characters in Irish mythology, he became the leading warrior of the fierce warrior band Fianna. After his titanic battle with the Scottish giant, Ruiscare, Finn lay

down to rest on the Cooley Mountains, leaving his outline, which can still be seen on Slieve Foy today, behind Carlingford town. Some even hear him snoring. The Cooley Peninsula resounds with legends and folk tales about giants and fairies and great deeds. It was the setting of the epic saga of the Tain bo Cuailgne, the Cattle Raid of Cooley, the single-handed battle between the hero Cucullain, Hound of Ulster, and the armies of Queen Maebhe of Connaught, herself possessed by an insatiable lust to possess the mighty Brown Bull of Cooley. Cooley Peninsula has been inhabited by the Vikings, the Normans, the colorful Irish storytelling people, and our soil collector, Anne Coyle.

     Present-day Ireland is a tapestry of castles, fairy tales, folklore, literature, music, green hills, crashing ocean cliffs and growing economic strength, averaging a robust 7% growth in 1995-2004. Agriculture, once the most important sector, is now dwarfed by industry and services. Per capita GDP is 10% above that of the four big European economies and the second highest in the EU behind Luxembourg. Ireland joined in circulating the euro on January 1, 2002. Ireland is the pot of gold where the rainbow ends. Was it the leprechauns? Fairies do after all tend the green lands of the world. Many of Ireland’s wee people sprang from the earth, the soil. The preponderance of wars (even merry ones), famines (potato and other), births and deaths have occurred on the land masses of the globe. And yet seventy percent of the surface of the Goddess Gaea (Mother Nature) is water. The Gaelic splendor of Ireland may one day drown beneath the rising waters of global warming. With that possibility in mind, the soil of the Cooley Mountains in green, green Ireland has an extra special meaning.

Nil se ina la, neil a grah, nil se ina la
is ni bheidh go maidin . . .”

(It isn’t daylight yet, my love, it isn’t daylight yet.
It is a long time till dawn’s breaking.)
An old Irish drinking song.

     Common Ground 191 thanks Anne Coyle for her time and energy in contributing this important soil to our project. The word for peace in Irish is Siochain.

Was it for this the wild geese spread
The grey wing upon every tide;
For this that all that blood was shed,
For this Edward Fitzgerald died,
And Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone,
All that delirium of the brave?
Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
It’s with O’Leary in the grave.

September 1913
William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)




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