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for Lebor na hUidre!



I attended a conference in Sligo this weekend: Into The Earth, The Archaeology Of Darkness.  It was fantastic, and I intend to write up what I gleaned, as well as a bit of my adventures there.

I headed up on Friday, passing through bogs in Offaly and Roscommon.  Desolate, windy spaces: they practically howl a primal language.  The landscape and mystery of the bogs feature prominently in Irish myth and folklore.  The archaeological record speaks of votive offerings and buried bodies,  laid to rest deep beneath their murky, otherworldly waters.

Anne Stahl

Quagmire, swampland, morass:
the slime kingdoms,
domains of the cold-blooded,
of mud pads and dirtied eggs.
But bog
meaning soft,
the fall of windless rain,
pupil of amber. (Heaney, 1975)

Irish poet Seamus Heaney writes a lot about bogs.  He has referred to the bog as a sort of Jungian, as well as geological, memory-bank, a “dark casket where we have found many of the clues to our past and to our cultural identity” (Broadbridge, 1977: 40). He sees the bog as a symbol of the Irish psyche, as contrasted to the American psyche which, in its pioneering spirit, looks  “outwards and upwards, to fulfilment through movement, advance, exploration and openness” (Corcoran, 1986: 62). The Irish bog is the “answering myth” to the frontier myth of the American consciousness (Heaney, 1980b: 55).

Landscape artist T.P. Flanagan also loved the bogs.  Flanagan romantically described the bog as “the fundamental Irish landscape” which had “primeval connection” with a pagan past. His perceptions were of “the moistness, the softness of the bog, its fecundity, its femininity…” (Parker 1993, 87). Heaney dedicated his first bog poem to his friend and fellow
bog-lover, Flanagan:

For T.P. Flanagan

We have no prairies
To slice a big sun at evening –
Everywhere the eye concedes to
Encroaching horizon,

Is wooed into the cyclops’ eye
Of a tarn. Our unfenced country
Is bog that keeps crusting
Between the sights of the sun.

They’ve taken the skeleton
Of the Great Irish Elk
Out of the peat, set it up
An astounding crate full of air.

Butter sunk under
More than a hundred years
Was recovered salty and white.
The ground itself is kind, black butter

Melting and opening underfoot,
Missing its last definition
By millions of years.
They’ll never dig coal here,

Only the waterlogged trunks
Of great firs, soft as pulp.
Our pioneers keep striking
Inwards and downwards,

T.P. Flanagan

Every layer they strip
Seems camped on before.
The bogholes might be Atlantic seepage,
The wet centre is bottomless.
(Heaney, 1969: 55-56)

More than once I imagined myself  – one of the thousands of offerings placed in the bog, with its perfect liminality: neither fully water, nor fully earth – but a transition point, a threshold.  The funny thing is….. I was.

As I drove home Sunday, on a bleak stretch with rain lashing and wind howling: thump, thump, thump.

A flat tire.

I am a woefully negligent blogger.  This little cyber space was carved out so I could share the myriad new experiences, from the banal to the novel, that I expected would be mine when moving to another country.  Indeed, I have had and continue to have such experiences.  Regretfully, I also find that I get caught up in the task of living those experiences, so much so that I forget to write about them! To be honest, I also know that many of my Irish friends and acquaintances now read this blog, which gives a little introvert like me pause… particularly before I dish about any Irish gossip or generally slag the country!

One rather novel experience of late was learning that, colloquially, the Irish call Fox babies “cubs”, even though the proper term here, as elsewhere, is “kits”.  I also learned, some time ago, that baby pigs are called “bonnies”!  Isn’t that the cutest thing you’ve ever heard?  Apparently, the fox cubs are out and about now.  I haven’t seen any on our lane but someone posted a picture of one on the Irish Wildlife site.  It’s adorable!  When we were driving into Midleton for the Farmer’s Market on Saturday, I did see an adult fox trotting across a field with a rabbit in its mouth.  Perhaps she was a pretty little Vixen going to feed her little Kits.

On the rather routine note, said tongue in cheek, I had visitors recently.  Two of my friends from the US were here for a short visit en route to Paris.  Naturally, it was raining and cold while they were here.  I’m thankful the weather gods got my request and gave them very typical Irish weather.  Since it was windy, cold and pissing rain, I simply HAD to get them out in it, and what can better provide a true Irish experience than traipsing to stone circles!

Our first visit was Inchydoney beach near Conakilty.   It’s a great beach!  There is plenty of parking, a nice long stretch of sandy, walkable beach and the surrounding scenery is lovely.  I bet it’s a busy little spot in the summer.  Next, we meandered over to one of my favorite circles: Drombeg.  This compact and powerful circle is aligned to the winter solstice sunset.  There are two outlying stone buildings, one erroneously marked as containing a fulacht fiadh – if you assign cooking as the purpose of these pits.  I don’t, though. I see these pits as being used for ritual purification baths or healing soaks.  It could also be a purification sauna.  Either way, the site was for isolated ritual purpose and those Ancient Irish took their ritual making seriously.  No way were they cooking a spot of meat….maybe cooking a human sacrifice!  🙂

After this breathtaking excursion, we snaked our way to Bantry and then over to KealKill stone circle.  This spot was new to me….and Oh My!! I am in love! It is majestic, expansive, and a celebration.  We spent a good deal of time here and I engaged a bit in one of my favorite past-times…. stone hugging.  I am recently fascinated with the theory that the stones used in these circles are carved to depict topographical maps of the surrounding countryside.  Indeed, when we studied the stones at both these circles we could clearly identify significant features in the immediate landscape.

In due time, we merrily trotted down the way to Carraganass Castle, where immense silliness ensued.  First, we needed to sing about the severed quivering limbs.

You see, legend has it that the occupant of the castle,  Donal Cam, lost his wife to foul play!  He vowed, or someone vowed, that he would avenge her murder and the following curse ensued:

No food, no rest shall Donal know
Until he lays they murderer low
Until each severed quivering limb
In its own lustful blood shall swim

After this bit of merriment, we traipsed around the other side and attempted, in true contortionist fashion, to take a photo with all of us in it and the castle in the background, on my iPhone (which is not known for its screen size).  We inhibited traffic only a bit, laughed outrageously to excess, and left happier than when we arrived.  After this, we almost ran off a cliff, but I won’t go into that in the event Himself reads this.  (ssshhh, don’t tell him either because I may have fried his clutch)  When the smell of burning clutch settled…I mean, we stopped laughing hysterically, we turned toward Kenmare in search of a bullaun stone.  Unfortunately, there was a diversion in Glengarrif so we called it a day and stopped in for a meal and a pint.  This entire area is stunning (no surprise, Beara is spectacular!) and I purpose to get back there before the summer is out!

I can not say enough about the benefits of getting lost in Ireland.  Get yourself an OS map of the area you are visiting and then take random turns.  I promise, you will not regret it! There are adventures around every corner, but you will not find them unless you let go of the preconceived and just say, …… YES!


The weather was fantastic this morning! Sunny, clear, and mild (gale force winds having finally abated)! I discovered little shoots making their green appearance in the gardens, and since we weren’t here in spring last year their genus remains a delightful mystery. The earth is truly ripe with expectancy! Even the air smells new.

I feel the approach of Imbolc, and with it, the beginnings of spring!

(for the nerds in the house)
The etymology of Imbolc has fairly conclusively been tied to the word for milk (Hamp,106). The etymology in Sanas Cormaic (ca. 900) made this out to be oímelc, “sheep’s milk”, butEric Hamp has argued – successfully I think – that the (complicated) etymology should be *uts-molgo- < *ommolg so that oimelc is a misunderstood spelling for *ommolg. *Molgo- in turn likely comes from the Proto-Indo-European root *Hmelǵ- which meant “to cleanse”, and which is very close to *melg-the root for “milk.” Ultimately, Hamp derives Imbolc from a root meaning both “milk” and “purification” (111). Hamp mentions instances in Irish literature where milk is a cure for poison darts(2) ,where it is poured into the battlefield furrows of Eremon(3), and the odd detail from the story of Suibhne, where he drinks milk from a hole made in manure—the original implication being that milk would purify even dung!

I am definitely feeling the season of purification and renewal approach.  In fact, during the winter I’ve been incubating beautiful ideas and dreams…. about my relationship, my life, my academic and professional goals, and my family.  Last year I felt adrift.  I had forgotten myself, or at least was incredibly unsure of who my Self was here in Ireland.  That’s getting better, and you know why?  Because I remember that I have to just be mySelf.

It sounds so simple, and silly even.  How could I, someone who has dedicated so many years to self-discovery and exploration, forget such an elemental concept?  That there is no Self like mySelf, and that my only task and highest aim is to fully be that unique, quirky, silly, strange Self.  It’s easy.  Any type of change can knock us off course and upset our balance.  The important thing isn’t to be perfect but to keep going.  To be gentle with ourselves when we fall and offer ourselves the gift of grace.  At least….that’s what I’m doing.

So, a milk bath may be in my near future.  I need to purify this holy vessel.  I *am* the Beloved, and this year is gonna ROCK!

And many early Irish magical charms use butter as a curative agent; cf. Carney, “A Collection of Irish Charms”.
Eremon is the mythical first Milesian—i.e. human—king of Ireland; his name is thought to derive from the sameorigin as Aryaman/Airyaman, the Indo-Iranian embodiment of “Aryan-ness”, i.e. nobility and the ruling class.

*Hamp, Eric. “Imbolc, Óimelc”. Studia Celtica. 14/15 (1979-80), 106-113

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