Monday, 19 December 2016

The Many Coloured Land.

Yesterday, as daylight dwindled, I was sitting by the stove re-reading AE’s book
‘The Candle of Vision’ when my mind returned to the start of this year. 

I began 2016 here with a post dedicated to George William Russell, AE. 
His writing continued to inspire me through the bleak days of winter and later led me to seek out the Many Coloured Land, places of vision and creative power within myself and the landscape of Ireland.   

To read - Æ, artist & mystic - 
“And the old enchantment lingers in the honey-heart of earth.” LINK HERE

This January was icy but as daylight slowly grew I made preparations to honour Brigid on the Eve of her festival.

The cross was woven and set above the door. 

The brát was placed on the windowsill to catch her blessing as she emerged from nearby 
Croghan Hill, to walk the land. 

To read - "Brighid returns from the Otherworld" LINK HERE

The long desired greening had began by the time I travelled to Kildare, home of her eternal flame. 

Her fire pit held evidence of ritual 

and at Brigid’s Well I felt the rising of the year.

To read - "The promised Spring arrives" LINK HERE

In hindsight I now understand that water has flowed throughout my year. 
Visits to rivers, lakes, bogs and sacred wells have inspired me and strengthened my connection to the spirits of the land. 

I see now that it really began on the shores of Lough Gur, sacred to the goddess Áine. 

To read - LOUGH GUR - “a personality loved, but also feared.”

Then on morning walks to my local river I spied white blossom on dark limbs.

The blackthorn blazed like pale spirits across the country.

To read "Blackthorn, dark sister of the May" LINK HERE

Pale primroses peeped from beneath hedges and gold glinted in the fields.

Bealtaine came nearer. I welcomed summer on May Eve in the old way by decorating a May bush 

and lighting a bonfire at twilight. 

To read - "The May bush ribbons dance as the Fairy Host pass by" LINK HERE

As the land brought forth her flowers and the sun stretched the evenings
I felt a strong pull towards water, the west and Irelands’ many sacred wells. 

To read - "Sacred water and three thousand Holy Wells" LINK HERE

To read - "By Stone, Whitethorn and Well" LINK HERE

One well in particular, Rathin Well in Co. Clare, was to connect me to a deep sorrow still felt
by many communities.

To read - "In silent need they searched for Holy ground" LINK HERE

The year turned towards harvest but water still drew me to loughs 

To read - "Lughnasa, loughs and a last salute to Summer." LINK HERE

and the dark bog spirits of the Midlands.

To read - "Dark Spirits of the Bog" LINK HERE

There were places where the Otherworld felt close

To read - "The Burren: Land of the Fertile Rock" LINK HERE

and a morning when I stepped into The Silence.

To read - "Otherworld Shenanigans: The Silence" LINK HERE

Throughout this years’ adventures The Cailleach, the Old Woman, has been close by.

She has threaded her way through images.

To read - "The Cailleach - Hag of the Mill & Mother of the Herd" LINK HERE

And words. 

To read - "A Samhain Story - The Lament of the Old Woman" LINK HERE

As I prepare to celebrate the birth of a new year she whispers in my ear -

“ There is more, much more yet to come. You have merely glimpsed the Many Coloured Land.” 

Outside The Cailleach traces frost upon the leaves but I know she has already planted 
the seeds of next years’ adventures.

Many thanks to you all for reading, following and commenting on this blog. 

May your New Year be filled with good food, good health & good company!

Sunday, 20 November 2016

A Synchronicity of Ravens.

'The Fallen Castle' was inspired by a visit many years ago to Rattin Castle, Co. Westmeath. 
At the time I felt it would make an interesting painting, a symbol of a powerful elite that once held the land, now in decay. 

Rattin takes its’ name from Rath Aitinne meaning ‘Rath of the furze’. 
A rath or earthwork lies to the west of the castle. 

The area around the Rattin Castle is believed to have been inhabited possibly from as early as 
4000-2500 BCE and the building stands about 30 metres high, on raised ground like an island surrounded by marshland.

The castle itself dates to the 15th century and was constructed to defend part of the extensive 
Anglo-Norman territories of the midlands. Built on land owned by Hugh de Lacy, it later passed into the hands of Sir John D’Arcy and his family and was taken by Cromwell’s army in the 1640’s.

This was all I knew of Rattin but as I began to paint I was convinced that ravens and crows had to feature, though I had no idea why.
Finally the painting was finished, complete with corvids. 

It wasn’t until much later that I was alerted by a friend to the local folklore concerning Rattin Castle.

Reading this I felt that familiar ‘tingle’ of something awakening.

Over the years there have been many of these ‘meaningful coincidences’ which, when I paid attention, led me to make changes, deepen my knowledge or discover more connections which I could use in my artwork or my own spiritual practices.

This concept, termed Synchronicity by Carl Jung, is explained as: 

“ The experience of two or more events which occur in a meaningful manner, 
but which are causally unrelated. 
In order to be synchronous, the events must be related to one another conceptually, 
and the chance that they would occur together by random chance must be very small. ”

Perhaps the raven of the painting and the folklore of Rattin was a small example of synchronicity?


Two weeks later whilst driving I decided to turn off the familiar main road to explore a new landscape. 

The small road ran up Spa Hill and parking at the top I sat watching 
crows wheeling high above the land. 

Back behind the wheel, driving down the twisty way into a valley, my mind wandered. 
I pondered the nature of synchronicity, where did it come from and why did it happen? 
Did other people pay attention to it too? 

I turned around a sharp bend in the road  

where I was confronted by another raven.

The Raven sculpture by Saturio Alonso with airborne crow.

I had come unknowingly to the small village of Lisdowney, Lios Dúin Fhiaich, The Fort of the Raven or 
of Fiach, a local chieftain. 
The monument celebrates the history of the village with information about neighbouring settlements, so I stopped to read the notice board.

At that moment I felt the sense of excitement that unexpected happenings bring and my attention was caught by a picture of the ruined Balleen Castle, nearby. 

Balleen Castle.

The tale of the castle, handed down through generations, is that the builders were nearing completion when a raven flew over their heads and told them that the Lord of Balleen had become a ruined man. Seeing they would not be paid, the men left immediately and the story goes that Balleen Castle was never finished. 

So another raven, another castle and on the map a place named Clontubrid, ‘meadow of Brigid’s well’.
The map showed a holy well close to the church so I felt this deserved a detour. 

On arrival of course I expected to find Brigid’s Well there.

I discovered that it was St. Fiachra’s Well.

St. Fiachra? The figure, wearing a long tunic, has a "smoothly rounded head 
with large almond-shaped eyes and a pointed chin."

Fiachra, a personal name which originated in pre-Christian Ireland, is thought to be derived from 
the word fiach meaning "raven". 

The small house over the well is very old and may have originally been part 
of the cell of St. Fiachra, a hermit, whose festival was celebrated there on 8th February, 
the old date for Imbolg.

It seemed that the ravens were sending a message which by now I was hearing loud and clear, so as the evening light was fading I turned towards home.

I am still reflecting on that day and view these events as a synchronicity of ravens telling me to pay attention,
bringing me a message.
But where do they come from? 

Are they messages from our unconscious mind or from the inter-connected universe? 

Are they chance encounters with another realm or merely inexplicable coincidences?

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Tales from the Cailleach: The Lament of the Old Woman at Samhain.

I am known to my neighbours as the mad one who talks to the fairies and it is said I walk the roads 
whilst others sleep.
These same neighbours come to me for help with the troubles of country living; a sick mare, a lame cow or the strange event that preys upon the mind.
At these times I make the tea, stand the pot on the hearth and let the silence brew. 
I suggest a simple explanation for the opening door, the chill at the fireside or a room the dog won’t enter. 
Most times they are satisfied.
With others a pinch of truth is all that’s needed to recall piseogs and buried knowledge that goes on long into the night.

So I live amongst these people, not quite accepted by them, for I do not go to mass as they do 
nor hail the priest as father.
I keep to my own ways, spirit unbounded by men with rules and robes.
Now and then I catch a sharp glance from some busy farmer as I visit mound and thorn but they do not guess my secret.

Three times a year I leave my home in darkness, needing neither broom nor steed, I rise from bed 
to fly above the sleeping townland.
Whitethorn scent may rise to meet me or, as tonight, turf smoke greets my flight across grey fields.

Image by Peter Gordon at

Skimming winding river I am observed but not by human eyes. 
Deer, owl and hare all know my ways, the night is ours.

Over hidden valley and bald mountain top I rise to settle on the tumbled cairn. 
Below land stretches away in shades of darkness undisturbed.
A sigh, long and deep, escapes me. 
Eyes close to invoke Samhain long past when the people knew and held us close.
Heart heavy with old memories, sorrow gnaws at my breasts and I nurse it. 

Alone, unloved, forgotten in this modern world.

Bitter wind shakes me from the past. 

Keen-eyed again, I stretch my sight to spy the distant horizon. 
Far off, a shift, a smudge, disturbs my vision.
A wisp of smoke.   A soar of sparks.   Now a flare of yellow red. 
Tlachta’s fire is kindled !

One by one other heights reply; 

Teamhair, Cruacháin, Uisneach, Sliabh na Caillí, Cruachán Aigle and Binn Ghulbain. 
Sliabh gCuillinn, Sliabh Dónairt, twin fires upon Dá Chích Anann. 

Hill top beacons burst with fire. 
In valleys tiny flames wake as dormant village cross-roads ignite. 

A million flames, a rosary of fire across the land.

The old ways are remembered!

Three calls from sharp-mouthed Raven cleaves the silence, The Great Queen rises from her cave. 
Beneath Brí Éile Brigid’s forge is lit anew as one by one, across the night, mounds open 
and those who have never left return.

Here, upon the Height of Ireland, I stand tall again and at my side Manannán shares his secret smile with me. 

The tide has turned.

Samhain greetings to you all!

This story was inspired by reading ‘The Lament of the Old Woman of Beare’, an Irish poem written in the 10th century,
which led me to wonder if The Cailleach lived amongst us and if so, what sort of neighbour would she be?

This virtual film relates a version of the poem translated by the Celtic language scholar Kuno Meyer. 

In the ancient past the Samhain fire was ceremonially lit by the Druids on Tlachtga, the Hill of Ward in Co. Meath. 
It is believed that answering fires were also lit on other prominent places across the landscape.
In more recent times the Tlachtga ceremony has been rekindled and this short film shows part 
the ceremony in 2015. 

Sunday, 16 October 2016

The Cailleach - Hag of the Mill & Mother of the Herd.

Cailleach an Mhuilinn, The Hag of the Mill, a new painting.

For much of last winter and earlier this year I have kept company with the Cailleach, the Old Woman, the Hag, who appears in many guises in folklore, landscape and myth. 
Her great age, her ability to fly, to shape shift into animal form, her role as a Sovereignty goddess and her links to wild animals marks the Cailleach as a supernatural being, an ancient goddess. 

As Hag of the Mill she is associated with grinding corn and the harvest.

In many places the last uncut stalks of corn were plaited, cut and hung above the door at home as protection. 
This action was known as ‘cutting the cailleach’. 
In others areas it was believed she took the form of a hare who sheltered in an uncut corner of a field to avoid the scythe.

I was commissioned to paint her in her guise of The Hag of the Mill as she appears in Buile Suibne,
‘The Frenzy of Sweeney’, a tale recorded in the 1670’s. 
Rather than illustrate her part in the tale literally, I wanted to portray her energy and wildness. 

You can read the text of Buile Suibhne, translated by JG. O’Keefe HERE

Briefly Suibhne is described as the king of Dal Araidhe in the north east of Ireland. 
When news reached him that St. Ronan Finn was building a Christian church on his land and chanting psalms the pagan Suibhne, having no time to dress, left his home naked and expelled the cleric.

After throwing the psalter into a nearby lake Suibhne is cursed by Ronan to constantly wander Ireland, flying naked throughout the land until killed by a spear.

So he spends seven years leaping from hill to hill, living amongst trees and existing only on watercress. Suibhne appears to lose his sanity but he is eventually caught and left in the care of his kinsman, the miller Loingseachan.  

Suibhne is locked in a bedroom at the miller’s hostel until one day, during the busy harvest when all hands are needed, he is entrusted to the care of Lonnog, The Hag of the Mill. 

She is ordered not to speak to the captive but Lonnog has her own plans. 

She teases the king about his madness and he responds with tales of his freedom and the great leaps he once took across the hill tops of Ireland. 
Finally the Cailleach challenges him to make one more leap, this time through the skylight of the room. Suibhne does so and pursued by the Hag, is free once more. 

Detail - Teach Duinn, Donn’s House of the Dead, identified as Bull Rock, off the coast of  Co. Cork.

They visit Teach Duinn in the west, then travel across the landscape, with the Mill Hag driving him on, revealing to him his past life as a ‘madman’.

Detail - The Cailleach as bringer of winter, mother of the herd.

During their time together Suibhne recounts his meetings with the famous stags of Ireland, remembering his great adventures in the wild and although the king despises the Hag for bringing him back to his old ‘madness’, he recognises Lonnog as an ancient one, the progenitor, Mother of the great herds of deer.

“ O mother of this herd
thy coat has become grey,
there is no stag after thee
without two score antler-points.”

Finally, to be rid of the Hag, Suibhne leaps to Dunseverick on the Antrim coast where he jumps again, followed by the Hag of the Mill.

Detail - cliffs at Dunseverick, Co. Antrim.

The king survives by falling into the sea but the Cailleach lands on a cliff, her body broken, 
she falls into the water. 

After many more adventures St. Ronan’s curse descends upon Suibhne, he is killed by a spear wound and at death the pagan king is given the Christian sacraments.

But what of the ancient Cailleach ?

Later her body washes up on a beach and at that liminal place, between sea and land, 
she is carried away by her Otherworld kin, “the devil’s crew”. 

To this day the Hag, The Old Woman, is remembered and honoured at wild, lonely places across Ireland and at this time, when the harvest is over and winter is almost upon us, perhaps she haunts those places still.

Harvest offerings to the stone Cailleach, The Old Woman of Beara, who looks out to sea from the Beara Peninsula.