St. Patrick wasn't Irish, he wore blue, not green and there were no snakes.
But there were vampires and leprechauns and witches. Oh my!
In celebration of St. Patrick's Day, I'm using my alphabet prompts to learn more about all things Irish. I'm only doing one or two topics per letter, even though I can think of many more for some.. Even so, be warned. This will be a long post. Happy St. Patrick's Day!
A - Abhartach - the Irish Vampire
Let's start with something light and fun! Ha!
A is for Abhartach, the Irish Vampire.
Even though Dracula, the character created by Bram Stoker, is most often associated with Transylvania, in reality he may have been based on an Irish king, Abhartach. He was said to be a dwarf and considered to be evil and feared by all who knew him.
He was a very jealous man and was suspicious of his wife, convinced that she was having an affair. While spying on her from a high castle window, he fell to his death. The entire kingdom was relieved.. They buried him upright, apparently the correct burial position for royalty, and enjoyed a peaceful night's sleep. One. Just one.
Because the next day, he rose from the dead, and demanded that all of his subjects slit their wrists and drain their blood into bowls. Well, you can imagine they were upset, so they traveled to the next village seeking help from another king, Cathan, who came, killed him and buried him once more.
You guessed it. Up he came, ready for yet another snack.
This continued until Cathan decided to seek help from a saint who explained there was no way to kill someone who was already dead!
His suggestion was to bury him upside down, cover him with thorns and ash branches, and top it off with a huge boulder. As far as we know it worked, and peace returned to the kingdom. He served as inspiration for Stoker's Dracula, and all lived happily ever after!
B - Banshee
A banshee is a terrifying, wispy, floating specter with a piercing scream who warns of a coming death in the family. First reports were in Ireland in the 8th century. This alarming figure, usually female, varies in age from a young maiden to an old woman. Some families were reported to have their very own banshee, possibly having been a family member who had passed. They were known for their keening, mournful singing and wailing, as they lamented the death of loved ones.
C - Children of Lir
,King Lir, Bobd Derg, was left with four motherless children, one daughter and three sons, when his wife Aoibh, the queen, unexpectedly passed away. The king decided to marry Aoife, his wife's sister,
, to help him over come his grief. That didn't work out very well.
Aoife was jealous of her husband's love for his children and their love for each other. On a journey, she ordered a servant to kill them but he refused. She tried to complete the evil deed, but was unsuccessful so instead of death, she turned them into swans, destined to live for 900 years, By now you've probably guessed she had magical powers.
The children/swans spent 300 years on Lake Derravargh, 300 on the Straits of Moyle, and 300 on the Isle of Irish Glora, where they all sang mournfully, yet were admired for their extraordinary voices.
There are several version of the story. My favorite is they eventually heard a bell rung by a godly man and the spell was broken. Keep in mind it took 900 years. I'm wondering if there was a shortage bells or godly men or both. After hearing the bell, they were turned back into children and reunited with their father, who fortunately was still alive and kicking, and thankfully had banished Aoife.
D- Dance - Irish Dancing Stepping Out
What a wonderful documentary on Irish Dance!
E - Emerald Isle
Why is Ireland called the Emerald Isle? Well, as Johny Cash would say, because it has at least 40 Shades of Green.
Don't you love that name? I wonder if he had a brother named Cool?
Finn was a mythological warrior and a giant, famous for sucking his thumb. The habit was acquired not in childhood, but later in life.
It seems there was a salmon that contained all the knowledge and wisdom in the world. Finn decided instead of studying and learning on his own, he would simply catch and eat the salmon.. (Immediate gratification has been around longer than I realized!) The juice from the salmon squirted onto his thumb and burned him as he was cooking the poor deceased fish. He immediately stuck his thumb in his mouth to provide relief. From then on, he had to suck his thumb if he wanted to obtain any information transferred from the salmon.
F - Faeries
i'm trying to limit my letters to only one topic, but it would probably be bad luck to leave out the Irish Faeries! Faeries (fairies) exist in some form in every culture through out the world, but in Ireland they are even more special! They have the ability to take on any form they wish and most often choose to look human. Beware! They may be beautiful and alluring but they are mischievous and often bring bad luck!
G- Giant Causeway
Remember Finn, the giant who sucked his thumb? One letter back - the first F.
Well Finn lived along the Antrim's northern coast with his clever and beloved wife Oonagh. (I am obviously not going to run out of Os for my alphabet list!)
Finn had heard of another giant, Benandonner, who lived across the ocean in Scotland. He challenged him to duel and made plans to travel across the waters for the confrontation but decided he didn't want to get his feet wet, so he built a huge causeway of stepping stones. Much to his dismay, as he walked across the stones, he saw Benandonner for the first time and realized he was much larger than expected. He immediately turned and ran back to the coast.
He knew if he didn't show up in Scotland, Benandonner would soon come looking for him. He had no idea what to do and turned to his dear wife Oonagh for help! You'd think he would have just sucked his thumb, right? Anyway, she dressed him as a baby, and put him in a huge carriage where Benandonner would be certain to see him. When Benandonner saw the enormous baby, he imagined that the father must be monstrous, so he turned and ran, ripping up the stepping stones on his way back to Scotland and creating the Giant Causeway.
H - Celtic Harp
“No harp hath the sound so melting as the Irish harp.”
The Celtic harp, triangular in shape, was associated with the Gaelic ruling class. It appears on the coats of arms and coins of the Republic of Ireland> It is hauntingly beautiful.
I - Ireland
The island of Ireland is fairly small (32,599 square miles) -
similar in size to the state of Indiana (32,910 miles).
J - Jig
This is one of many Irish jigs or songs. A jig can also be a dance.
K- Dame Alice Kyteler (1280 - some time after 1325)
Witch? Serial killer? Four husbands. Ergot poisoning. Escape. You may want to look this one up. It would take me hours to combine all the research on Alice. This is a brief over view.
Alice was the first person condemned to death for witchcraft in Ireland. She escaped, but her servant was flogged and burned at the stake on November 3, 1324. Something about that doesn't seem quite right?
Life certainly wasn't dull for Alice! She was the only child of a Flemish family of merchants who settled in Ireland. Not much more is mentioned about her until her second marriage, when she and her second husband, a money lender, are accused of killing her first husband. Guess that all dissipated until the arrival of husband number three, following the convenient demise of husband number two. Well, by the time husband number four came along, and he died of poisoning, suspicion was building yet again. You can read more about the trial on line if you google it, and there is a poem by William Butler Yeats' immortalizing her. I'm overwhelmed and need to move on to the letter L.
L - Leprechaun
Today we think of leprechauns as very short and dressed in green from tights to top hat, but at one time they were tall and often appeared in the form of an old man The leprechaun is the most famous of the Irish faeries and has a fondness for gold. He spends his life gathering and storing it at the end of the rainbow. If you are lucky enough to catch a leprechaun, he is obligated to grant you three wishes. Very few catch them, only a rare few have been able to obtain their gold, and fewer still have been able to keep it. They have a knack for tricking their captors.
M - Movies to watch on St. Patrick's Day
These are just a few suggestions, in no particular order, to enjoy on St. Patrick's Day if you decide to stay home and watch a movie instead of heading to a bar crawl for green beer!
N - Other Names for St. Patrick's Day
O - O'Briain, O'Brien or O'Brian
If your name is any of the above, you'll want to pay particular attention!
Long ago, between the years of 1002 and 1014, there was a famous king named Brian Boru. He was very busy during the twelve years he ruled Ireland. He had several wives and is said to have fathered at least six sons and four daughters.
He was slain at the Battle of Clontarf, by Brodir, a Viking from the Isle of Man Descendants of Brian Boru are thought to have the surnames O'Briain, O'Brien, or O'Brian.
P - Parades
The biggest parade is normally held in New York, while the largest celebration in the southern hemisphere is in Sydney, Australia. Dublin has a parade that attracts hundreds of thousands of people, while in Chicago the river is dyed green for a few hours.
And Baltimore has a fantastic parade too! Photos from last year's event are below! Wouldn't it be wonderful if we'd dye the waters in Baltimore Inner Harbor green for a couple of hours on St. Patrick's Day?
Q -Queen Maedh
Queen Maedh, also known as the Warrior Queen of Connacht, was one of the most famous queens in Ireland. There are varied accounts of her personality. Some considered her ill tempered and belligerent, and other accounts suggest she was a goddess. Her first husband was Conchobar Mac Nessa, the High King of Ulster. I say 'first" because there were more. They had one son, Amalghad. Queen Maedh left her husband after "taking a disliking to him and went on to marry four other kings." No wonder she was famous! Four more kings. That's a total of five kings! Not just husbands - kings! And she had seven sons to one of the kings. Where did she find so many kings? When did she find the time?
Keep in mind that life expectancy was not as long as it now, unless they moved to Tir na nOg (see the letter T below). Meeting people was challenging as there were no phones or internet dating sites, and travel was slower and more difficult.
So many questions, and the more I read about her, the more confused I become. Her greatest claim to fame is said to be the theft of a stud bull, the Cattle Raid of Cooley, Personally, I think she had more impressive talents.
R - Rocks
Ireland is known for it's rocks and there are maps and posts on the types and distribution if you're interested. I'm trying to give the letter R it's due, but I'm not going to get carried away. I did find it interesting that the oldest rocks in Ireland, several miles off Malin Head and the north west, are volcanic igneous rocks and estimated to have been created 1750 - 1780 million years ago!
S - St. Patrick, Snakes and Shamrocks
,St.Patrick, a Christian missionary from the 5th century A.D., was credited with driving all of the snakes out of Ireland when they attacked him as he was completing a forty day fast on the top of a mountain. A scientist from National Geographic has studied fossils in Ireland and states that there never were any snakes in Ireland. If I had fasted for forty days, I'd probably be seeing things too. Or it's possible that the term 'snakes' was symbolic of evil?
Shamrocks do exist, however, and St. Patrick used a shamrock to explain the Christian Trinity with each leaf representing the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The leaves of the shamrock are also said to represent hope, faith and love. God is credited with adding the luck, with or without an extra leaf.
T - Tir na nOg
Tir na nOg is "The Land of the Young", a place where people never grow old. I can't locate it on the map. If you find it, call me?
U - U2
Just in case you don't know - I can't imagine - U2 is an Irish rock band from Dublin. They have been together since 1976 and are still performing. Bono, the lead singer, has a sterling voice, Edge on guitar, Adam Clayton plays bass guitar and Larry Mullen Jr., percussion. Their songs have a spiritual aspect with commentary on sociopolitical events. They have won 22 Grammy Awards, more than any other band. Seeing them live was one of the most cherished musical experiences of my life.
In my attempt to find the perfect song for this blog, I was amazed to find a list of over 200 of their songs, was actually ranked. People fascinate me. The ways we choose to spend our time is certainly indicative of our personal interpretation of our significance. For example, I've spent much too long putting this blog together, but I have learned a lot and amused myself. So why am I amazed to find someone has taken the time to listen to, and rank, 218 U2 songs? I'll share the last and first.
218. “Boomerang II,” B-side to “Pride (In the Name of Love)”
"No. Really. Not every experimental thought needs to be recorded and released, especially if you’re considering it to be part two to another throwaway."
1. “Where the Streets Have No Name,” The Joshua Tree
“It’s the point where craft ends and spirit begins,” Bono has said about “Streets,” and if you do not like Bono or U2, it’s the kind of thing that makes you hate them. But if that’s true, you have also never stood in the middle of an arena or a stadium or an open field surrounded by jumping people caught up in the sheer elation of this song"
V - Volunteer
The Republic of Ireland's soldiers are called Volunteers. The Irish Nationalists created the Irish Volunteer Army in 1913. Their mission was "to secure and maintain the rights and liberties common to the whole people of Ireland". They participated in the Easter Rising, the Irish War of Independence, April 24 - April 29, 1916.
W - Wearing 'o the Green
Why do we wear green? The original color worn by St. Patrick was blue, and leprechauns were often seen in red and gold jackets, but over the years green has become the color associated with the holiday. Ireland's nickname, the Emerald Isle, the green in the flag, and the wearing of shamrocks for good luck were the beginning of the shift. The wearing of the green, associated with the Irish Rebellion of 1798, stated "they are hanging men and women for the wearing of the green." The Society of United Irishmen adopted green as their official color and manufacturers began making garments in green. Everyone jumped on board to support the Irish, including the leprechauns who have worn if from head to toe since that time!
X - Xtra Blessing!
This blessing is one of many examples of the spiritual wisdom of the Irish.
Y - Young Ireland
Young Ireland was a political, cultural and social movement of the mid-19th century. There aren't a lot of Ys, according to my research on Ireland, and quite frankly, I'm trying to wrap this up.
Zozimus is a pseudonym for Michael J. Moran (1794 - 1846). Michael, "Blind Bard of the Liberties", was a sightless Dublin street performer, known for his rhymes. He was also known as the "Last of the Gleemen". He was blinded by illness at two years old. As a child, he developed an extraordinary talent for writing lengthy poems with religious or political themes, then memorizing and delivering his lively renditions to audiences to make his living.
He called people to gather by beginning each performance with
Ye sons and daughters of Erin,
Gather round poor Zozimus, yer friend;
Listen boys, until yez hear
My charming song so dear.
If you have the fortune to travel to Dublin, you will find the Zozimus Bar, a restaurant honoring his name.
As I researched the information for this blog, I was fascinated by the wealth of information on Ireland and St. Patrick's Day. I intend to continue to explore more of these topics in depth and I encourage you to do the same. If I want to get this posted before St. Patrick's Day - and I do - it is time to consider it finished.
An Irish Blessing!
May you always have -
Walls for the winds
A roof for the rain
Tea beside the fire
Laughter to cheer you
Those you love near you
And all your heart desires.
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Welcome!! I’m Mikell (pronounced Michael). If you love spicing up your life with herbs, recipes, decorating and crafts, symbolism and rituals like I do, I hope you’ll sign up for my newsletter and free Enhancing Your Life with Herbs e-book!
Mikell is a writer, artist and professional treasure hunter, finding the greatest treasures in the wonderful people who enter her life!