Saturday, 30 December 2017

2017 Circling the Year

As 2017 passes I look back at the year's adventures.

The darkness of winter was illuminated by the magical work of Harry Clarke.

‘He might have incarnated here from the dark side of the moon … 
Harry Clarke is one of the strangest geniuses of his time’  
- George AE Russell

To read 'A Dark Beauty' click HERE


As Imbolg approached I left the hearth and visited Croghan Hill in search of Brigid's Well.

“ There were two St Brigids.
There was St Brigid up in Kildare, but this is the Brigid from this place.”

To read 'Searching for Brigid's Well' click HERE


In February I stepped upon the Stray Sod.

"The Stray Sod appears in Irish folk belief and is explained as a clump of grass, slightly greener than its’ neighbours, which has strayed from the Otherworld into this world.  
Stepping upon the Sod brings a sudden feeling of inexplicable disorientation." 

To read 'Otherworld Shenanigans: Stepping on the Stray Sod' 
click HERE


A new painting emerged and a tale from the Cailleach for Spring Equinox.

"At the mound, breath hoar frost on stone, I enter black stillness.
In this womb, the air, already laden with the scent of meadowsweet yet to bloom, 
shifts as I trace shapes within the stones. 
Patterns once danced upon the land in rhythm with earth, sea and sky."

To read 'The Cailleach tips the Balance' click HERE


As the sun shone I travelled further afield to discover the untouched beauty of Meehambee Dolmen.

"Entranced by stones, sunshine and the scent of ramsons, 
I thought of the time-worn rituals of burying and honouring the dead. 
Who were the people who stood here? What were their customs?
Did they mourn or celebrate the passing of their own into another life?"

To read 'Walking the Path of the Ancestors' click HERE


Bealtaine arrived and I made my offerings, entranced by water.

"On May Day, the start of summer, especially in the moments before dawn, 
water was understood to possess magical qualities 
and in rural Ireland the Good People used this medium to meddle in the affairs of humans."

To read 'Bealtaine, Water & Sun-Enchanted Dew' click HERE


In May whitethorn blossom covered the landscape.

"Standing between this world and the Otherworld the whitethorn, An Sceach Gheal, 
‘bright, shining thorn’, is steeped in folklore 
and regarded with respect for fear of supernatural retribution." 

To read 'Whitethorn - on the Threshold of the Otherworld' click HERE


As summer progressed the goddess Áine summoned me to Knockainey.

"The landscape holds its’ secrets but still whispers, in the summer months, 
of forgotten rituals, celebrations to the sun and to Áine, 
the “ beautiful spirit crowned with meadowsweet”."

To read 'Knockainey, Midsummer and the scent of Meadowsweet' click HERE


My annual visit to The Burren brought the scents of summer and a brush with Themselves. 

"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."

To read 'Meeting the Othercrowd in a Scented Land' click HERE


I gathered fraochans and folklore at Lughnasadh.

"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."

To read 'Gathering Fraochans at Brón Trogain' click HERE


Paddy finds the Mysterious Stone.

To read 'The Mysterious Stone' click HERE


In September I completed a new painting "The Morrigan Rises".

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

To read 'Glimpsing The Morrigan' click HERE


Driving through the Blackstairs mountains in October chance brought me to a sacred well.

" I had stumbled upon Tobar Cranabhán, the Well of the White Tree, a ritual site and holy well. 
Tradition tells that it was once the site of pre-Christian ceremonies 
associated with druids and aligned to the sun."

To read 'At the Well of the White Tree' click HERE


Samhain brought a second tale from The Cailleach.

"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."

To read 'Tales from The Cailleach: Into A Hare" click HERE


The darkness deepened and Donn Fírinne haunted my imagination.

To read 'Knockfierna where Donn of the Dead rides out' 
click HERE


On December 24th, The Cailleach returned with an old tradition.

"Below a thousand candles burn in windows to welcome the weary."

To read ' A million stars, A thousand Candles' click HERE


And now the sun has come full circle and though the nights are still long 
I look forward to another year.

Who knows what awaits me?

Sunday, 24 December 2017

A millon stars, a thousand candles.

Though the Solstice has passed the nights are long.

I walk through sleep-wrapped villages where turf smoke hangs low. 

Climbing the cold hills, all is silence.

Above a million stars.

Below a thousand candles burn in windows to welcome the weary.


Traditionally across Ireland a candle is left burning in the window on 24th December.
For many it symbolised a welcome to Mary and Joseph, to others the reborn sun after Solstice.

To all, the candle is a sign to wanderers that they will receive a warm welcome, food and a place to rest this night.

Thank you for taking time to visit The Ever-Living Ones.

As daylight lengthens may it bring you good health, good food & good company!

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: