Sunday, 28 February 2016

The promised Spring arrives.

The sun is warm, the Lough Field hares have a new leveret and Brigid’s promise of Spring has unfolded.

Earlier this week I made my way to Kildare.

Town square with the Tourist Information Centre, perpetual flame & statue of the saint. 

Kildare takes it’s name from Cill Dara, the cell or church of the oak claimed to have been founded in 480 CE by the saint and her followers.

Pic © civic
The town’s modern coat of arms features a Brigid’s cross and oak branch with the motto ‘Spirit and Courage’.

In the square stands a statue of the saint, a memorial to the 350 men who were killed by British forces during the Irish Rebellion of 1798 on the Curragh of Kildare. 

Nearby her perpetual flame rises as a symbol for hope, justice and peace.

As I explored the town I glimpsed Brigid’s sun wheels rendered in reeds, stone and metal. 

The exhibit of various designs, made afresh annually by a local man, was displayed in a grocery shop window.

Visiting the ancient site of St Brigid’s Fire Temple revealed signs of the ritual which took place on 1st February this year, when her fire was kindled again.

Offerings of hyacinths & white quartz stones in the fire pit. 

The town was bustling in the spring sunshine but the tranquility of the Well was calling me.

The Well gardens near the site of the millrace which was said to have been used by the saint.

Sunlight at the entrance where candles burn to Brigid.

The statue of the saint stands on a tiny island around which water flows. 

Home made crosses and flowers left at Brigid’s feet.

The well itself was unadorned and the water clear.

Beyond it stood a RAG TREE festooned with offerings and healing requests.

As I stood savouring the sound of birdsong and flowing water I considered the importance of Kildare to the followers of Brigid, goddess and saint.
My mind then wandered to my own ancestors and family name, originally Mac Giolla Bhrighde, 'son of the servant of Bridget'.
Perhaps centuries ago, inspired by her flame, they had also known this place as pilgrims and I had walked in their footsteps. 

A short visit to the Rag Tree and Brigid's Well narrated by the late Daithi O hÓgáin.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

The Homeplace

My new painting:  ‘The Homeplace’.

When returning home through night dark lanes there is no greater pleasure than seeing a welcoming light in the window and turf smoke drifting like mist across the fields.

In rural Ireland it is said that “there was once a house to every field”, now many lie cold and empty.

Empty cottage in Glenbarrow.

Famine, eviction and enforced migration meant that homes were left to fall and today this continues as young people and families emigrate seeking employment. 

Home to a local dowser and once a well known ‘rambling’ house where neighbours would gather 
of an evening to chat and exchange news.

Another empty family home which never knew electricity, 
lit only by oil lamps & candles.

Few live now in the musical or rambling houses, where you were once welcomed to the hearth, especially if you could share a tune or tell a tale.

An abandoned cart and tractor speak of lives lived close to the land. 

In places, where walls stood, all that remains are stones.

Many are green ghosts of their former selves.

The remains of  Biddy Early's house. 

Others are marked annually by flowering bulbs, once planted by the Woman of the House, or by a rambling rose which still guards a gateway.

Reminders of old beliefs also remain.

Small pieces of iron, horseshoes, tobacco, whiskey and Christian medals have been discovered in the foundations of old homes, thought to be offerings to the spirit of the place.

A donkey or horse shoe placed above the door was common and understood to bring good luck 
and deflect the attentions of the Good People. 

The house itself could not be built where it would disrupt Otherworld inhabitants or hinder the movement of 
the Good People on their fairy paths.
Whilst folk traditions ensured that the homeplace and family remained safe.

House leek grown in a thatched roof to guard against fire in Co. Limerick. 
Growing house leeks was probably a form of sympathetic magic as the plant resembles small flames. 
Photo © Barry O’Reilly.

Traditionally the use of white quartz, materials from sacred sites and ruins were taboo when building, as was red oak. 
To ensure protection, a Brigid’s cross was made annually and hung above the door, the hearth or placed in the thatch. 

Even in town houses and pubs the Brigid’s cross gave protection.

Of the many folk practices one of the most extensive seems to be the prohibition against extending
the home westwards.

Donn, the god of the dead, had his house off the west coast. 
About Donn HERE

It was thought that ‘only a man stronger than God would extend his house to the west’.
This tradition appears to stem from the belief that the place of the setting sun was the place where the dead went and in some areas the west room was used for laying out the deceased. By building on westwards it was understood that a death would occur in the family soon after the new room was completed.


The Homeplace in my painting once stood across from my own home. 

Only stones remain to tell the tale.

Although the people have long gone, I sometimes imagine that I catch voices and a drifting tune on the air and I’m not alone in having glimpsed a glow of light where the old homeplace once stood.

Despite the changes in the country neighbours do still gather over a cup of tea to exchange news and there are modern day kitchen sessions.

This one in Lisdoonvara shows Sean Nós dancing on the flags by the fire with Brigid’s Crosses hanging in the background. 
Sean Nós Dancer Stephanie Kane, session hosted by Joe Kelleher with the accordion player Bobby Gardiner.

‘Raths and Fairies’ - tales of what can happen when you cross the Good People by Michael Fortune, from his Co. Wexford folklore collection.