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,
The Hoverter Sholl Box Huckleberry
Can you name a plant that covers 8 acres of land, is 1300 years old,
will protect you and bring you luck as you enter the new year?
My quest to find an herb worthy of being featured as the first in a series for 2021 unfolded magically! My daughter Mycenea self quarantined for 14 days, as did I, so we could be together for Christmas. We spent a lot of time outdoors, and one of our favorite jaunts was to visit the Hoverter and Sholl Box Huckleberry in Perry County, Pennsylvania.
The box huckleberry is a member of the acidic soil loving Ericaceae family, which include azaleas, rhododendron, trailing arbutus, cranberries and blueberries, among others. Unlike the giant Sequoias and the Bristlecone pines, known for their their age, the box huckleberry is only about a half a foot tall. It covers the forest floor and can easily be overlooked.
The box huckleberry and blueberry are often confused, but there are differences. The blueberry grows in clusters, and the box huckleberry, as well as the huckleberry, has more singular berries, with occasional small clusters. Though the skin of all of the berries are blue, the blueberry is white or light green inside, and the huckleberry and box huckleberries have a deep red violet or purple inner flesh with a tendency to stain.
There are several folk names for the Huckleberries, including Blaeberry, Whortleberry, Bilberry and Hurtleberry. Bilberry is a folk name for the Blueberry. It gets confusing. Fortunately, scientists use Latin names to provide clarification. We are referring to the box huckleberry (Gaylussacia brachycera) in this case.
There were two box huckleberry plants in the area we visited. One, at Losh Run, is thought to be over 13,000 years old! Bristlecone pines, at 5,000 years old, were considered to be the oldest living organisms on earth, yet the box huckleberry is significantly older. The age is determined by the rate of growth, approximately 6 inches a year, and was calculated by the size of the plants.
The Losh Run Box Huckleberry, which at one time covered an area of about 100 acres, nearly 10 times larger than the Hoveter Sholl, was damaged by a forest fire in 1963, then partially destroyed during the 1970s due to road construction of U.S. 22/322. The remainder is in an area difficult to access.
The younger plant is estimated to be 1,200 to 1,300 years old, and fortunately has been in a protected area as a National Natural Landmark since 1929. The 8 plus acre box huckleberry, named because its leaves resemble boxwood, is situated within a 10 acres area in Tuscarora State Forest with a quarter mile path around the plant. Twenty-seven stations along the loop give an educational overview.
The Hoveter Sholl plant was discovered in 1845 by Spencer Fullerton Baird, a professor at Dickinson College in Carlisle. He was a naturalist and later became the first curator of the Smithsonian Institution, advancing to become the second Secretary of the institution.
The box huckleberries were almost forgotten until 1948 when Dr. Fredrick Coville, a graduate of Cornell University working for the Department of Agriculture, determined the plants, one covering over 8 acres, and the other nearly 100 acres, were each individual massive plants! The relict species, miraculously surviving the ice age, is considered self-sterile, and reproduces through a system of root stalks.
This remarkable plant has not always been well revered. Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is probably the most well know of the huckleberries, and in an interview in an interview in 1895, Twain said he used the name to indicate Finn was a boy “of lower distraction” than Mark Twain.
A more positive huckleberry reference was featured in the song Moon River in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It is beautifully explained by Jessica Dang, Single Girl Dinner. “For years I had no idea what it meant: "My huckleberry friend." It hung in my mind. I searched Paul Varjak's relationship with Holly Golightly for the answer. Theirs was a mutual adoration laced with innocent flirtation; there was a certain playfulness that freed them from being neither friends nor lovers."
On New Year’s Eve, the residents of New Bloomfield, PA traditionally assemble to pay homage to their oldest resident. They lower a huge huckleberry from the courthouse clock tower at midnight to pay tribute to this humble herb. This year’s pandemic will prevent the assemblage, but they will hopefully meet on New Year’s Eve next year to honor this enormous, ancient plant.
As you enter 2021, I wish you the blessings of huckleberry! May you gather magic and find luck and protection in “berried treasures”, I’m hoping there will be unexpected blessings and virtues all around you. And may each of you find a ‘Huckleberry friend”!
“Everyone should have a huckleberry friend at one point or another.
It is an experience that showers your life with magic for as long as it lasts,
whether it be for a couple of weeks or a couple of years.”
~ Jessica Dang, Single Girl Dinner, #SingleGirlDinner
I recently read a story about a man who dreamt he was a softly moving beam of light floating through a crowd. The dream prompted him to consider the impact he had on others as he moved through his day. He made the decision to literally be a 'beam of light'. He made a commitment to bring warmth and light to his personal '10 foot zone". With our 6 feet social distancing area during the pandemic, it is positive way to think of filling the space.
There are people who light up the area around them naturally. Wouldn't it be phenomenal if we would all become aware of the warmth we can extend to others, whether in a long line at the grocery store, a traffic jam or passing a neighbor? A smile and a kind word can make all the difference. If they don't smile back, we shouldn't take it personally. We never know what is going on in people's lives. But most of the time people will be receptive, and they'll probably pass the warmth along to others.
We can't control what is happening in the world, and the media makes us very aware of the ugliness and injustice. Yet we are much more powerful than we realize. Extend a warm smile, a sincere compliment, gentle reassurance - it doesn't cost anything to use our boundless source of love and energy to make the world a kinder, gentler place. We all have the power to impact our own 6 foot radius. If each one of us commits to that small area, and all of the circles connect, the impact would be immeasurable.
“The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing
"My mission is
to help others see and cherish the beauty,
romance and treasures within and around them
that are often dismissed or completely overlooked."
Mikell is a writer, artist and professional treasure hunter, finding the greatest treasures in the wonderful people who enter her life!