Sunday, 3 December 2017

Knockfierna, where Donn of the Dead rides out ....

In these short, dark days of the dying year the figure of Donn Fírinne haunts my imagination.

Donn, Lord of the Dead and Fairy King, rides out from his Otherworld palace beneath Knockfierna 
on his white horse, roaming the landscape of Limerick and beyond.

Knockfierna, Cnoc Fírinne, ‘Truthful Hill’ served as a local weather guide with predictions 
based on the appearance of the summit in the morning. 

In the past the Hill was known as Knock Dhoinn Ferinne, ‘mountain of Donn of Truth’.
Also called ‘The Black Hill’, it only rises to 949 feet but is visible from almost all areas of Limerick and from parts of Kerry, Cork, Tipperary and Clare.

Donn, once known locally as Donn Ainech, ‘the dark face’, had his palace, Brugh na Bruidhne, beneath the hill, entered through a deep hole in the hillside, Poll na Bruinne
There were dire consequences for anyone looking to investigate this entrance to the Otherworld.

Local stories tell of the Surveyor, Ahern, who, attempting to measure the depth of the hole, 
was pulled into it by his own plumb-line, never to be seen again. 
And there was Carroll Ó Daly who tried to “knock at the spirits’ door” by throwing a stone into 
Poll na Bruinne and had his nose broken when the stone was returned.

Untimely deaths were often attributed to Donn and to see him could portend a death or a momentous happening. 
He was also responsible for stealing children, leaving a changeling in their place. 

To others who saw his benevolence, he was as "quick to reward as to punish". 

A farmer was allowed into the palace to meet his brother and sister who had died many years previously and
 “both were restored to the farmer as a reward for his good service to Donn in preventing the dirty water from his yard over-running Donn’s palace grounds.”

The summit and remains of a cairn are now dominated by a 36ft cross erected in 1950.

Locals believed they would enter his palace after death and there are reports of several people meeting with Donn on the evening before they died.
Folklore also explains that they would be taken to the hill as they approached the end of their lives to enter the palace of Donn. 
This journey was known as the path of truth - "tá sé tá sí imithear shlí na fírinne", ‘he / she has set out on the path of truth’.

Beneath the summit of the hill lies Glownanérha, ‘the glen of broth’, which was known to be plentiful as Donn ensured that his people never hungered in the Otherworld.

View the complete painting of Donn HERE

Traditionally Donn Fírinne appears to mortals seated on a white horse and when the weather turned stormy at night locals would say "Donn is galloping in the clouds tonight”.

However, his excursions were not confined to Knockfierna. 
In Co. Clare he resided on Cnoc an tSodair, ‘Hill of the Trotting’,

as well as on the west coast, where as Donn na Duimhche, ‘Donn of the Dune’, he was seen riding a white horse across 
the sands at Dunbeg.

Looking towards Dunbeg dunes, where Donn rides with his fairy host.

Here Donn was known for his generosity; giving a gift of pipes, tobacco and matches to seaweed gatherers and a fistful of silver coins to a starving widow and her family.
The punishment for refusing his gifts was death.

As Fairy King, he was described as beautiful “like the blossom of flowers”, 
as “Lord of the grey and mossy rock, smooth hill and pleasant bower” and in the area surrounding Knockfierna it was customary to visit the hill at least once a year and place a stone upon the cairn at the summit, known as the Stricín, in honour of Donn.

At Bealtaine and Samhain offerings included eggs buried in hay and corn and parts of dead animals.
In particular a cock, ritually slaughtered, was bestowed upon Donn.

At Lughnasadh flowers and FRAOCHANS were offered.

My own pilgrimage to honour Donn took place at Bealtaine this year when Knockfierna 
was clad in gold and green. 

Unable to climb the hill my offerings were left in a field below the Stricín.

Sunset at Knockfierna - photo courtesy of Derek Ryan Bawn at The Tipperary Antiquarian

Now that winter is here I imagine the hill, silhouetted by the sinking sun,
resounding with hoofbeats as Donn Fírinne rides out.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Tales from The Cailleach: INTO A HARE

A sharp sickle hangs above the Lough Field.

By the hearth I rest my bones, thoughts conjured by shifting shadows.
How much reaping have I seen since those first seeds were planted?

How many harvests by scythe, then horse now harvester?

In bygone days they thought my spirit in the corn.

Cutting the Cailleach, Co. Antrim.
Pic ©

At times my hare-shape, spied amongst the stalks, caused old ones to make the sign and murmur against ill-wishing.  
They recognised my power.

Still now, at my great age, I go about at harvest to fulfil my duty. 
Barley, wheat, oats and grass, all are judged for fitness.
This year was no exception.

At the swollen moon I lay besides the hearth, shawl wrapped tightly, trusting my gnarled fingers 
to remember. 

Nine haws, nine knots, a hag stone bound in red. 

Eyes closed I breathed archaic words upon the charm.

Damp earth-scent replaced turf smoke. 

I diminished, 

I re-formed.

Detail from "Into a Hare" by Jane Brideson.

A twitch of whiskers then I was off across the silvered land.

Past Lone Thorn, 

Detail from "Into a Hare" by Jane Brideson.

Shining Mound

Detail from "Into a Hare" by Jane Brideson.

and Sacred Well.

Detail from "Into a Hare" by Jane Brideson.

Around the Hag’s Hill then spiralling far beyond. 

Fulfilling work began at EQUINOX 

"Into a Hare" by Jane Brideson.

The cycle ended I sensed the wholeness in the land.


Next morning, an old woman once again, I rose and placed the kettle on the range for tea.

The phone rang. 
I knew that smiling voice,  “All’s well?” 
“ Yes. The harvest’s saved, great goodness in the grain this year. 
 We’ll celebrate at Samhain so?” I asked.

“Ah, we will of course” came his reply. We laughed and I could see that twinkle in his eye. 
The Dagda’s parties were legendary.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

At the Well of the White Tree

Driving through the Blackstairs mountains I was in a daze.

Irritated that I had forgotten the map, I took the wrong direction out from town and now I needed to clear my head. Negotiating a bend in the road I was thinking the perfect place to stop would be at a sacred well...

... minutes later there it was, an ivy covered sign and a path leading away from the road.

By chance I had stumbled upon Tobar Cranabhán, the Well of the White Tree, a ritual site and holy well. 
Also known locally as “Saintly Cranavane”  its’ name is said to derive from a silver birch tree which grew over the well and tradition tells that it was once the site of pre-Christian ceremonies associated with druids and aligned to the sun. 

Today a whitethorn grows above the well.

In later times it is thought that St. Finnian, born at nearby Myshall, founded a monastery on the site and other sources connect Cranabhan to St. Barrach, whose church lies in ruins along the road.

The stone near the well is said to bear the foot print of St. Finnian. 

In common with many holy wells in Ireland, sacred water, a tree and a special stone are all present at Cranabhan and collected folklore tells of a circle of standing stones which once stood between the well and the old church.

The nine stones may refer to the large slabs now built into the surrounding walls,
thought to be grave markers or perhaps they are stones with a more ancient use. 

Tobar Cranabhan where water rises to the surface as a spring.

The well holds cures for soreness of the eyes, pains and afflictions of the limbs, and the water 
is especially powerful if taken during Bealtaine, May. 

In the past hundreds of people came to Tobar Cranabhan on the pattern day, May 3rd however, 
during the Rising of 1798 gatherings were banned by the British authorities and the visits ceased for 
a time.
Large crowds returned in 1800’s when whiskey and poteen were sold by the roadside and faction fights ensued. 
The pilgrimage to the sacred well was finally banned in 1870 by the parish priest.

At the entrance to the well there is a large, stone lined, coffin-shaped trough where it was customary to bathe
delicate children on the third day of May.

There was also a local tradition of dipping coffins in this water before taking them on 
for burial in nearby Barragh graveyard.

A few metres to the north of Tobar Cranabhan there is a second spring well.

Above this, a third well once flowed but its location, name and any traditions associated with 
both these wells has been lost.

Over time the wells at Cranabhan became overgrown although they were still visited by local people.
In 1998 the community cleared the foliage and landscaped the site and it was officially opened with a mass at the well in 2000.

From Carloviana - Journal of the Old Carlow Society 1994-1995.

The sacred wells were restored but remained as they were originally constructed and a stone cairn 
was re-built which may have been a pilgrimage station or the remnant of some other ritual.

Today the site is well maintained and peaceful.

I wandered away from the well and into the trees where the light was green and calm.

Along a path lined with mossy stones and the bones of a home reclaimed by nature
I sat within the old walls.

Clear-headed and finally relaxed I resumed my journey.
Tobar Cranabhan had worked its’ magic.


You can find read my other posts about Sacred Wells in Ireland by clicking these links:

Sunday, 24 September 2017


Twenty years ago I woke from sleep, heart hammering and paralysed with fear. 
In a corner of my room darkness gathered, a shadow draped figure stood watching.

I closed my eyes but she remained. 

Finally, finding my voice I asked her name, already knowing who she was. 
Mór Ríoghan, The Morrigan, Great Queen of Ireland.

Then she left me terrified, enthralled and questioning. 

Over the years she came again; a shape moving through dark leaves, a chill gust raising crows to flight, 
always wreathed in shadows.

On the eve of my departure for Ireland she returned. 
Now victorious with bloodied hair and hands, dark thorny, flowers. 

Living in her land, her shape still undefined, her intention became clear.  

Much later, one Samhain sunset, eyes open in trance, I saw her cave beneath the naked thorn.

Her cave Uaigh na gCat, Co. Roscommon.

Saw fierce clouds gather in a storm bruised sky and watched as she emerged,

rising on the beat of wings to call. 

And claim her own.


The images in this post are work-in-progress photographs.

‘THE MORRIGAN RISES’ my original painting, measuring approx 15" x 22”, is for sale.
Art cards and prints of ‘THE MORRIGAN RISES’ are available by sending a message on this blog
- form at the foot of the Home Page - or by visiting my Facebook Shop HERE

Details of prices are HERE

Sunday, 27 August 2017

The Mysterious Stone.

“ ’Tis a big yoke alright ” said Paddy,“ white and covered in circles, like someone’s taken a baked bean can to it.”

Paddy and the stone beneath a stump.

My neighbour was working for Coilte, the Forestry and his gang had cleared a section of coniferous trees up on the Slieve Bloom when Paddy came across a stone, the like of which he’d never seen. 
“Would you come and have a look?” he asked, so we agreed a day to meet.

Our destination was a small river valley lying between the shoulders of the hills. 
As we drove the landscape below stretched out as far as the Dublin mountains.

We climbed to Ballyhuppahaune and beyond. 

Past the last house and the old sheebeen.

Upwards until the road narrowed.

Ending in a forestry track, a silent place edged with mountain ash.

From there it was a hike across rough ground and islands of tree stumps until we reached the stone.

Composed of white sandstone, it was about half a metre wide, smooth and covered 
with perfect circles of of various sizes and depths. 
What was this ?

The day was warm, the valley peaceful, filled with birdsong and the murmuring Owenass River, 
so we sat and contemplated the boulder.
As my eyes wandered the designs, I saw cycles, suns, moons and carvings made by our ancestors. 
Excitement bubbled, ancient rock art in the Slieve Bloom!

But as I cleared pine needles and debris from the grooves I realised they were smooth, 
shouldn’t there be ‘pick marks’ made by tools? 
If not man made what were they? 
After a while Paddy asked what I thought and I admitted I was mystified. 

Later, I returned with friends and together we levered up the stone to peer beneath.

A few circles were marked on the underside.

We scrutinised it, we meditated on it.
Was it a bullaun stone? 
Was it rock art? 
Were those cup and ring marks?
We argued this way and that. 
After an hour or so we gave up and decided to seek the opinion of someone with more experience in rocks.
A length of white string was tied around the nearby tree stump as a marker, photographs were taken and still puzzled, we went home. 


The geologist, Dr. John Feehan, felt the stone was intriguing enough to make a site visit and a few days later he contacted me with his opinion: the circles were not hand carved but made by nature.

I was disappointed as my rock art theory went up in smoke, however John couldn’t say how the markings had been made.
As he sent his photographs and measurements to various geologists across the world to find the answer I eagerly awaited their conclusion, imagining huge bursting bubbles or some prehistoric creature leaving shapes in the sand.

But no answer came, the geologists were baffled too. 

Soon the stone was shrouded again in shadows and trees.

To this day the origin of The Mysterious Stone remains an enigma.
Perhaps Paddy was right. Maybe it was a man with a baked bean can after all.