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

GLIMPSING THE MORRIGAN ~ A new painting.



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.


Sunday, 30 July 2017

LUGHNASADH - Gathering Fraochans at Brón Trogain.

Along the boreen flowers are becoming fruits and the year is turning towards Lughnasadh.


Honeysuckle flowers depart & berries appear.

The earliest name for Lughnasadh, derived from Old Irish, is Brón Trogain, which likens the earth to a woman in labour, sorrowing as she births her fruit.
As green berries are revealed, the first wild fruit to ripen is usually the fraochan.



Also known as fraughan, bilberry, whortleberry, blaeberry, heatherberry, whorts & hurts.


Fraochans have been known in Ireland since ancient times and their seeds have been discovered during excavations of Viking and Anglo-Norman settlements in Dublin. 

Across rural Ireland it was customary to celebrate this time of year by visiting the heights of the land to pick the berries. 



Purple dye was produced from the berries and the juice was believed to be a cure for eczema

The shrubs grow low on heathland and wet mountainsides where their solitary flowers produce purple-black berries, rich in vitamin C.
Bilberries were traditionally gathered on the last Sunday of July or the first Sunday of August and Domhnach na bhFraochog, Fraochan Sunday, was considered a day of great festivity when people danced, sang and played games in the wild places. 



Ard Éireann on the border between counties Laois and Offaly, 
was a popular place to harvest fraochans.



In 1942 massive crowds were reported as streams of cars, pony traps and bicycles from the surrounding countryside made their way to Arderin to pick the berries.


Large quantities of bilberries for export to Britain were harvested in Carlow, Wicklow, Tipperary and Waterford in the early 20th century. The price paid was very low and the baskets large but hundreds of people picked them to earn money to support their families.



During the 2nd World War imports of bilberries to Britain from Europe were disrupted resulting 
in the price paid to Irish pickers increasing dramatically, especially as British pilots 
reported that bilberry jam improved their night vision.


In earlier times the gathering of fraochans appears to have involved only the young people who would spend the day walking to the slopes, foraging for berries and celebrating. 
In Co. Donegal the aged were not allowed upon the hill tops so berries were strung on long stalks of grass, cuiseógs, to be brought down to them. 



At Glenkitt, Co. Laois people gathered to climb the slopes of Ard Erin in search of berries.


Many accounts describe Fraochan Sunday as a time for courtship, a festival where people could hope to find a husband or wife.
Young men threaded berries, making bracelets as gifts for the young women. 
Custom dictated that the bracelets had to be removed and left on the hill top at the end of the day, although the reason for this has long been forgotten.



A plentiful supply of the berries were thought to bring good luck to the coming harvest.


Bilberry pies called Pócai Hócai, were made by young women to be presented to their chosen partners and fraochan wine, a mixture of sugar and berry juice, was given to lovers in the hope of hastening a wedding.
Perhaps the tradition of courtship associated with Bilberry Sunday is an echo of the old Teltown Marriages lasting for a year and a day, which also took place at Lughnasadh ?

Gathering bilberries upon the heights brought people to the hilltop mounds and fairy-forts and there are accounts of the Old Gods and the Good People being honoured at this time. 



A celebration was held on Knockfeerna Hill, Co. Limerick where flowers and fraochans were strewn around a small cairn, the ‘Struicín near the summit, reputedly the entrance to 
Donn Fírinne’s underground palace. 




On the small hill, the Spellick, near to Slieve Gullion, Co. Armagh, everyone who gathered fraochans had to sit on a rocky formation known as the Cailleach Beara’s Chair, for luck.
However Crom Dubh, the ‘black stooped one’, was the pagan deity most associated with the festival and gathering berries any later than Fraochan Sunday was thought to bring his curse. 




Of the many traditions associated with Brón Trogain, later Lughnasadh, it appears that Fraochan Sunday has stood the test of time. In many areas people still pick fraochans on the hills. 




Here in the midlands Ard Erin was silent this year and Glenkitt a lonely place, 
but the fraochans are still thriving on the hills. 
***

Take a sound journey through Glenkitt to Ard Erin with local guide Mick Dowling who remembers the days when thousands gathered on Frochan Sunday. 









Sunday, 16 July 2017

Meeting the Othercrowd in a Scented Land.

St. John’s Eve had not long passed, the air on the Slieve Aughty mountains was warm and along the way the foxgloves bloomed, a portent of what was to come.


Foxglove, Lus Mór, has long been associated with the Good People.
Also known as fairy thimbles, fairy gloves and witches’ bells they were considered 
unlucky to bring indoors.




A ritual involving foxglove was utilised by parents whose child had suffered a ‘fairy stroke’ 
and was thought to be a changeling. 
Three drops of foxglove were put in each ear and on the tongue of the infant before placing it on a shovel at the house door. 
The door was swung open three times whilst saying “ if you’re a fairy away with you.” 
If it was a changeling the child would die, if not the infant would recover.




St. John’s Eve was believed to be the best time to collect foxgloves but unless you were being paid 
to cut the flowers, great care had to be taken not to cross the Good People. 
One story tells that a woman was stopped from collecting them by a voice which called  
“ Don’t cut that if you’re not paid, or you’ll be sorry.”

Soon I was back on the Burren, truly a fertile rock at this time of year. 



The Land of the Fertile Rock - link to previous post HERE



I was greeted by mossy islands. 



 And miniature landscapes.



A green swathe around St. Fachtnan’s well.



Clear water pooled & a creature swam within, too fast to capture.



New offerings had been left, a tribute to Brigid.



From limestone crevices ferns unfurled.



 And orchids bloomed.

My destination lay hidden in peaceful hollow, a scented land.





Founded 40 years ago, The Burren Perfumery is a self-sufficient island 
where limestone walks lead to sensual delights. 




Over 700 species of flowering plants flourish on the Burren and the perfumes, soaps and creams created here are fragranced by indigenous plants. 







Leaving buildings and visitors behind I entered the herb garden, built on the site of the original 
old farmhouse garden of 1800’s.





A path, leading deeper into dappled green 




brought me to a secluded nook, a wilder place where foxgloves flourished.




Breathing deeply, eyes closed, I sat on old stone and cast my mind adrift.



It was in that silence I heard Them.
Quiet laughter at my side, a quiver in the leaves close by. 

I held my breath, all senses keen, 


but only the bowing foxgloves betrayed the passing of the Othercrowd.

***


To discover more about The Burren Perfumery please visit their website - HERE

Take a brief tour of the perfumery, the tea rooms and the grounds -