Sunday, 19 July 2015

First harvest - bringing home the turf.

We are approaching Lúnasa, the month when wild fruits and crops are gathered, yet already tractors pass by the door laden with a different sort of yield from the land.

 The turf crop © Jane Brideson
For me the first harvest of the year begins when the turf is brought home from the bog.
 The local bog with turf  'footed' to dry © Jane Brideson. 
The dry, black crop will provide fuel for a household throughout the winter months. 

A visit to the bog is a visit to a strange land, another world.
A place of deep waters, black earth and big skies. Alone there, surrounded by deep silence broken
by the call of birds and whispering wind, you can feel the age of the land and see time written in
the turf banks.

Turf bank with dark waters reflecting the sky © Jane Brideson.

Turf has been cut and used as fuel for centuries and the early inhabitants of Ireland also 
sojourned there. To our ancient ancestors the unique atmosphere and dark, still waters appear to 
have been associated with gateways to the Otherworld.  
Discoveries of objects made from precious metal, pottery and stoneware deposited in bogs may represent offerings made to the gods across the ages.

 Coggalbeg bog hoard from the early Bronze Age © 

 To read the full story behind this find click HERE
These areas are still important for the people of rural Ireland, many of whom spend long hours saving turf.
On my local bog the turf is now cut by machine, rather than by hand but the process is still labour intensive, requiring good weather and the help of neighbours. 

Types of slane ©  

In some areas turf is still harvested using traditional methods. 
The slane is used to cut the turf into long sods, which are then spread out to dry.

Turf and golden hoards are not the only treasures to be found. 
My visit, on a fine summers' day, saw the bog coloured by heather, bog cotton and wild flowers.
The unique flora here once provided communities with herbal remedies and dubh-poill,  hole black,
a black dye used for clothing.
Turf was also understood to bring good health at calving when it was rubbed three times under the belly of a cow to protect her and her newborn calf from troubles.

Wild flowers, bog cotton & heather © Jane Brideson.

The bogs' association with the Otherworld meant that it was viewed as a source of protection against the attentions of the Good People and it was believed that scattering the ashes from a turf fire on the doorstep could prevent an unattended child from being taken by the fairies. 

Brighid's Cross made from turf © Jane Brideson.

Moulded turf is still used as protection in the form of a Brighid's Cross hung by the front door. 

Returning home from this other world visit I called in on neighbours for a chat and was given tea
and home made apple pie, then sent on my way again with gifts.

Gifts © Jane Brideson.

Freshly laid eggs & the result of last years harvest - apple jelly.

Lying in the grass was yet another gift...

Turf  by the roadside © Jane Brideson.

two sods of turf  by the side of the road which later went on the fire in the studio to fill the end
of the garden with its' distinctive scent.

 Burning turf © Jane Brideson.

Watch Jim's video on Irish TV by clicking the link below to hear his reminiscences of cutting 
and saving turf in the traditional way:

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Pictures from an exhibition.

On Saturday evening we set up The Ever-Living Ones exhibition at The French ¼ Café
as part of The Festival Francais de Portarlington.
The café was decked in blue, white and red proclaiming Liberté, Égalité & Fraternité.

Interior of The French ¼ Café

As soon the paintings were hung...

the display of cards and posters arranged....

and the Visitors Book opened...

the first guests began to arrive.

Amongst the gathering were old friends, models...

Fiona, the model for Boann

Fred, the model for Dian Cécht.

and new friends who had travelled from north and south.

As people departed, others arrived.
The night wore on and the exhibition became a party as, camera forgotten, goodwill 
and conversation flowed.  

All too soon it was time to close and turn the space into a café again.

Watched over by The Ever-Living Ones it really was an evening of Liberté, Égalité & Fraternité.

My thanks to all at The French ¼ Café especially Eamon, Richard & the wonderful Éoin.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

An evening with The Ever-Living Ones

An opportunity to view the original paintings, 
meet the artist & buy cards or posters.
Please drop by for a glass of wine - everyone is welcome!

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Otherworld shenanigans- Digging for Gold.

The field of the Fairy Path - © Jane Brideson 2015

It was on an evening such as this back in the 1970's, when there was a good stretch in the day and work on the land was done, that Jim and his friends decided to dig for gold.

Everyone knew the story about the treasure that was buried in the Lough Field and how the place was home to the Good People, which was why no one had dared to go looking for it before.

The lads believed the story about hidden riches, for hadn't gold been found in Offaly just down the road?
The thought of wealth won out against their fear of the fairies' displeasure and they decided to
go ahead with the search.

The Lough Field is large so firstly they needed to find the right spot.
Advice was sought from Jack D, a well known dowser, who had found water sources for most of
the domestic wells in the locality. Jack was interested in archaeology so gladly took his hazel rod to
the field. He walked its' length and breadth and finally the rod twitched and the old dowser was convinced he'd found the right spot.
The Diviner - Pic © 'Ireland: the living landscape' by Tom Kelly, Peter Somerville-Large & Seamus Heaney.
The book can be found HERE

At first the lads used spades but it was heavy going and they realised it would take days.
Things looked bleak until someone suggested borrowing a digger.
The machine was brought and despite the boggy conditions the earth was scooped up into the bucket then deposited in a mound.

Pic © skyscraper

The mound got higher and the hole got deeper.
They reached a depth of thirty feet when the sides of the hole began to collapse.
Looking down into darkness the lads realised they had reached the bottom of Lough Duff.

The sun began to sink in the western sky and there was a chill in the air.
Sunset from the Lough Field 2014 © Jane Brideson.

They remembered the tales of the Good People and just as they were about to give up and go home there was a loud sucking sound and the digger brought up one final massive lump of earth.
As the bucket was lowered it became clear that this was more than wet turf.

Something large and heavy lay before them. 
"This is it" thought the lads, the gold was found and they would soon be rich!
Everyone took a hand cleaning away the mud until finally the treasure was revealed. 

Something had indeed been buried in the lough many years ago but it wasn't gold. 

"And begob" Jim said to me "if it wasn't a canoe!"
Before them lay an ancient dug out canoe.
It was long, dark and looked like a hollowed out log, shaped to travel through shallow water.

From Jim's description the Lough Duff canoe was similar to the picture above 
& may have been crafted in the Bronze Age circa 2,200 BCE. Pic ©

In the twilight the questions began: Was it worth anything? Whose boat was it? 
How old was it? Did it sink with a man on board, if so where was the body? 
A number of dug-out canoes have been uncovered in Ireland. 
They appear to have been used for travel on small rivers, lakes & used for fishing.
The canoe above was discovered when Lough Derryvaragh was drained & where, 
according to legend, some of the Tuatha De Danann settled.  

Even more worrying was the fact that it may not have belonged to a mortal at all. 

Everyone knew that there had been an island in the lough belonging to the Good People so perhaps 
it was a fairy boat from the Otherworld. 
Had they disturbed Them?  What would happen to the lads now?

This was serious and as all thoughts of wealth vanished they discussed their options. 
Finally it was decided to fetch the priest who was over from America visiting his relations nearby. 

"If anyone knew what was to be done, it was him" Jim explained.

The priest arrived and after berating them for their foolishness in messing with the Lough Field, 
he wisely told them to put the canoe back where it had lain for all those years.
If they didn't follow his advice and bury the boat, he told them, no good would come of their actions 
and they would have no luck.
And so it was done. 

The canoe was returned to the earth, the turf replaced and soon reeds covered the spot again.

Lough Field 2015 © Jane Brideson.

That was forty years ago. 
Jack, the dowser, along with Jim and the other lads are no longer with us, so there is no one left who remembers the spot where the canoe rests.
As I walk the Lough Field to cut the reeds each Brigid's Eve I remember them all on that evening 
and how the place still holds its secret, not gold but treasure of a different kind.

The 'Otherworld Shenanigans' posts are based upon the tales and reminiscences of my elderly neighbour, Jim, who lived his life in the same house he was born in. 

Jim died several years ago and is remembered as a real character by those who knew him.