Monday 19 February 2024

Tairis is Down (Sorry)

A number of people have got in touch this past while asking about the fate of, which has been unavailable for a while (and/or difficult to access). 

So first of all, I'm so sorry the site's been down for so long! I'm not actually sure what's happened but I've been assured it can be fixed, so the Tairis site will be back – at some point (I hope...). I'm just waiting for my husband (and resident person-who-knows-what-the-heck-they're-doing-with-this-sort-of-thing) to find a moment where he's actually able to sit down and take a look at it. Things are quite hectic at the moment, to say the least, though, so as much as I'm hoping that will be soon I can't make any promises. 

In the meantime, the site can still be accessed via the Wayback Machine, so try the following link below (I've chosen a snapshot from a time when the site was less broken than it's been in recent years... oof):

Second of all, I'd just like to say thanks to everyone who's got in touch in the past few months or so to ask what's going on and express their sadness that the site might have gone comletely. Your kind words have meant a lot, I really appreciate it.

Sunday 15 September 2019

The Grianán of Aileach

Further adventures on holiday...

After being generously indulged with all things archaeological on our last holiday to Ireland, back in 2014, this time around the only thing I really really wanted to do, besides visiting the statue of Manannán, was a trip to the Grianán of Aileach (the 'Sunny Place' of Aileach), which is situated just across the Irish border in Co. Donegal:

Credit to Mark McGaughey via Wikimedia Commons

As you can see from this overhead shot (most definitely not taken by me) it's an impressive stone hillfort with really thick walls – they're about 4.5m thick, or nearly 15ft for you imperialists.

Historically speaking, the site is thought to have been occupied as a hill-fort of some sort or another from as early as the Bronze or Iron Age, although evidence of activity may go back as far as the Neolithic. It's situated at the top of a hill that commands an impressive view. To one side there's a view of Lough Swilly, while to another there's a view of Lough Foyle, which heads off towards the Atlantic.

The walls as they stand today are thought to have originally been built some time in the sixth or seventh century, and the place was occupied for several centuries until it was destroyed in 1101 by Muirchertach Ua Briain, the king of Munster (and self-proclaimed king of Ireland at the time). By the nineteenth century it was in a state of disrepair, and restoration work was undertaken in 1874-1875. After the walls partially collapsed in the early 2000s, further restoration was undertaken, which proved rather controversial.

Given how exposed its situation is, the walls do a good job of protecting the interior of the fort from the elements.

There's only one entrance, so it's pretty good for defence, too.

The hillfort served as a royal capital for the Cenél nEógain ('the Kindred of Eógain,' or 'Owen' as the name is Anglicised), a branch of the Uí Néill ('Descendants of Niall'), but it's the mythology that's attached to the site that interests me. There are several Dindshenchas ('Placename Lore') stories that explain the origins of the site and how it got its name, and even within these stories there are several explanations that may be given.   

The main version of the story tells of how a son of the Dagda, Áed, had an affair with a married woman. The name of the woman is apparently irrelevant because we're never told it, but her husband, Corrcend, is not a particularly happy bunny upon discovery of the news. He murders Áed in cold blood and then decides to leg it right quick in order to avoid the consequences. The Dagda, however, being king at the time, marshals his resources and sends out a search party or two. Corrcend is eventually found and brought before the grieving king.

The Dagda decides to punish Corrcend for his crime and orders him to build a suitable grave for his son. Corrcend is forced to trudge down to one of the local loughs where he must then carry rocks back up to the top of the hill in order to build a grave-mound for Áed. As the grave is very near its completion, Corrcend carries an especially large rock up the hill. By this point Corrcend is exhausted and using every last ounce of strength in his reserves, but soon he finds he can't take it any more. As he reaches the top, he cries out from his exertions. First he shouts "Ail!" which pretty much means "the rock!" and then he shouts "Ach!" which pretty much means "ach!" And Corrcend's heart gives out and he dies on the spot.

The Dagda, evidently having a sense of humour even in the midst of a personal tragedy, declares that Corrcend has given the place a fitting name, and announces that Ailech shall be the name of his son's grave from that point onwards. Ailech, as it happens, can either refer to a pile of rocks, or else it can refer to a type of satire or an invective. By coincidence, the word aílech may refer to dung or manure.

So Corrcend's famous last words could effectively be interpreted as a rather stilted exclamation of "Shit!"

The Dagda then employs a couple of stonemasons to build a hillfort on top of the grave. When the hillfort is finished, the Dagda gives it to Néit and his wife Nemain.

A while later, after what we can only presume is a glorious reign because we know pretty much nothing about Néit's life, Néit is killed by Nemtuir the Red, a Fomorian. This is during the reign of Mac Cuill, Mac Cécht and Mac Gréine, the three sons of Cermait Milbél, another of the Dagda's sons, and their reign was long after the Tuatha Dé Danann defeated the Fomorians at the second battle of Mag Tuired. The fact that a member of the Fomorians is causing trouble – breaking the peace treaty that was agreed upon after the Tuatha Dé Danann won the battle – is a bad sign.

Upon hearing the news of Néit's death, the three kings make haste to the Grianán of Aileach, having heard rumours of a crap ton of treasure being up for grabs. There's no indication that the kings made any effort to retaliate or seek justice for Néit's death, their only concern is treasure and this is another bad sign – a king's job is to demonstrate good judgement and ensure justice is done (amongst other things, of course), but to all intents and purposes neither Mac Cuill, Mac Cécht, nor Mac Gréine have shown any concern in this. As traditional narratives go, this is a pretty big sign of impending doom...

While they're at the Grianán of Ailech, a member of the Milesians, Íth son of Breogán, arrives from Spain. Íth is the first of the Milesians to arrive in Ireland, having spotted land in the far distance while looking out to sea from the top of a great tower his father had built, and he decides then and there to sail over to this new land and see what it might have to offer. Having made his way to the Grianán, Íth finds the three kings of the Tuatha Dé Danann still bickering about the treasure, although they stop for a moment to welcome their new guest. During his stay, Íth acts as a peace broker, settling the matter once and for all.

Íth also comments on how rich and wonderful Ireland is, how pleasant the climate is, and how the country has everything one could want a home to offer. Mac Cuill, Mac Cécht, and Mac Gréine hatch a plan to kill Íth, seeing him as a threat. He hasn't made any threats outright, but his comments clearly imply an interest in muscling in on everything Ireland has to offer, and naturally Mac Cuill, Mac Cécht, and Mac Gréine aren't interested in sharing. Íth is killed on his way back to his ship, the site of his death then taking his name, Mag Ítha, or 'the Plain of Íth.'

The mysterious disappearance of their beloved relative prompts the sons of Míl, Eber, Donn, and Éremón to sail over from Spain in order to see what's going on. This ultimately ends up in a battle between the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Milesians over Ireland's sovereignty, which is fought at Tailltiu. In spite of the Tuatha Dé Danann's best efforts to fend off the invaders, the Milesians win, and the three sons of Cermait Milbél are killed. The impending doom that's foreshadowed by the three kings' bad behaviour is fulfilled. In the resulting peace agreement, the Tuatha Dé Danann take to the hills and the otherworldly síde, and Ireland is handed over to the realm of human mortals.

As it happens, the fort does appear to have been built on top of a Neolithic grave mound, which might have influenced the story of Corrcend. That's assuming the site's identification with Ailech is correct, however; since Ailech was originally destroyed in 1101, the place remained a symbol of political power in the area, and poets linked named various different places as being the 'real' Ailech, which has confused matters somewhat. In recent decades, a number of other sites have now been suggested as the possibly 'original' Ailech, but – as yet – these proposals have yet to gain much traction.

Whatever the case may be, it's a beautiful and unique place and well worth the visit. If you ever get the chance, go!

Ailech I in the Metrical Dindshenchas
Ailech II in the Metrical Dindshenchas
Ailech III in the Metrical Dindshenchas
Ailech in the Prose Tales of the Rennes Dindshenchas
Lebor Gabála Érenn Part V

Saturday 7 September 2019

Visiting Manannán mac Lir

It's been a while...

Back in January 2015, if you recall, news broke that a statue of Manannán mac Lir, which had been erected at Gortmore Viewing Point on Binevenagh Mountain, near Limavady, just one year previously, had been stolen. After removing the statue (apparently using an angle grinder), the thieves left a large wooden cross in its place, which read 'You shall have no other gods before me.'

The theft, which appears to have been religiously motivated, received a huge amount of attention, both locally and internationally, and even prompted a (rather tongue in cheek) missing person's appeal by police to help raise awareness. Although the people responsible for the theft and vandalism of the site have never been caught, the statue was eventually found by a group of ramblers – exactly one month after its disappearance – just 300m from its original position. Aside from having been cut from its platform right at the feet, the thieves had tried to remove the head. It was decided the statue was beyond repair, and after some debate (with some vocal opposition railing against restoring the 'paganistic monument'), local councillors agreed to commission a replacement from the original sculptor, Darren Sutton. Just over a year after the original statue's theft, the new statue (which was made with additional reinforcements to make any future attempts at a repeat more difficult) was put in its rightful place. 

Back in 2014, Mr Seren and I took the kids on holiday to Ireland, basing ourselves in Dublin and taking in the Newgrange complex, Kildare, and Tara, amongst other things. In July this year, we decided to take a trip back over the water, and this time we based ourselves in Portrush, right in the far north near the Giant's Causeway and not too far a trek from Binevenagh Mountain itself. It's an amazingly beautiful area and we somehow managed to pick one of the hottest – and sunniest – weeks of the year to do it all, which was incredibly lucky. Being so close, the chance of visiting the statue was too much to resist, so one evening (on our 16th wedding anniversary) we took a drive up, an hour or two before sunset.

Close up it somehow seemed smaller than what I was expecting, just from having seen photos of it. The details and craftsmanship of the statue itself is absolutely breathtaking, though, from every angle.

Unfortunately, as you can see in the picture below, there's some minor damage to the statue, including what appears to be a gouge mark on the right leg.

I couldn't say if this is the result of deliberate, malicious attempts to damage it (again), or if it's accidental, though.

The statue was erected at the site because of Manannán's reputed connections to the local area; storms and rough seas are said to be the result of his fury. From the viewing point where the statue stands, you can see Lough Foyle as it meets the Atlantic Ocean.

 Looking out to sea it's absolutely stunning, and turning further inland isn't bad, either. 

The statue of Manannán himself stands on a ship, or part of it, at least. At the back of the ship, the sculptor has detailed some of the most iconic items that were found with the Broighter Hoard, which was discovered in a field near Limavady in the late nineteenth century:

You can see here the torcs and chains, collar, bowl (possibly representing a cauldron), and the miniature boat (replete with tiny oars, benches, and mast), which were all made out of gold.

When they were originally discovered, the items were squashed and badly damaged by the plough that had brought them up to the surface, and the finders – two men working the field, James Morrow and Thomas Nicholl – sold the hoard to the landowner (and their employer), Joseph Gibson, for just £5. At the time, items like this were often sold for scrap; their great age and significance wasn't really understood or appreciated so it wasn't unusual for old gold like this to end up being melted down and turned into something shiny and new, the original form of the items lost for good. Who knows what's been lost because of this, but luckily in this instance the hoard was saved from this sort of fate. It was sold to a private collector, Robert Day, who then had the items restored by an experienced goldsmith. It was only at this point that the form and intricacy of the boat was uncovered (for one), and Day then sold the whole lot to the British Museum for £600.

The Royal Irish Academy, who had become increasingly invested in rescuing items of this nature by this point in time, had tried to secure the hoard for themselves, but it had already been sold before a full inquest had been carried out to establish whether or not it qualified as treasure trove. The RIA believed it did, and were less than pleased that the British Museum had snapped the gold up for themselves. The dispute eventually ended up in court where it was argued the British Museum had bought the hoard unlawfully, because as treasure trove the hoard would belong to the Crown, not Robert Day himself.

The key point in the case was in deciding whether or not the person (or people) who had left the hoard in the field ever intended to recover the items. If the judge ruled that there had been the intention to recover the hoard (say if they'd been buried temporarily, for safekeeping), then they would qualify as treasure trove and the hoard would belong to the Crown. The British Museum would have to give up the gold, and that would pretty much suck for them. If they managed to argue that the items were never intended to have been recovered by the original owner(s) (or a rightful heir), however, the hoard would not be treasure trove and the British Museum would be able to keep them and do with them as they wished.

The British Museum set out to argue that the hoard had been deposited as a votive offering to an Irish sea god, and they brought in an expert to confirm to the judge that there was indeed such a deity – a 'mythical Irish Neptune,' as the judge later referred to him in his ruling – in the form of Manannán, who (crucially) was well-known in local legend. The British Museum also brought in experts who testified that the field in which the items had been found would have been under sea at the time of their deposition, some time in the first century B.C.E., and they further suggested that in order to deposit the items in that particular spot, they would have had to have done so from a boat. As an offering, then, there was no way anyone ever intended to recover them at a later date and that meant the hoard couldn't be considered to be treasure trove.

Hedging their bets a little, the British Museum then also argued that if the court accepted their argument that the hoard was a votive offering, then it couldn't be viewed as having been abandoned because clearly it did have an owner now – Manannán himself! This would mean the hoard couldn't be viewed as treasure trove on two accounts.

The judge, however, had little time or patience for any of this. He dismissed the whole idea as 'fanciful,' and instead accepted the ‘commonplace but natural inference that these articles were… hidden for safety in a land disturbed by frequent raids.’ The hoard was subsequently ruled to be treasure trove and the British Museum were instructed to turn the hoard over to the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin. Except for the occasional tour or loan, the hoard is still on display there today.

Since the court case in 1903, however, the controversy over the true nature of the hoard has continued. Rumours emerged that the hoard was not an ancient deposit at all – votive or otherwise – but had, in fact, been discovered wrapped up in a very modern umbrella, possibly having been hastily stashed after a robbery. Claims were also made that the bulk of the hoard was not Irish in origin (except, perhaps, the ornate collar), but had been imported from India. At around the same time as these claims were gaining traction, another gold hoard at the museum that had ultimately been revealed to be a fake was melted down. As doubts grew about the Broighter hoard, it could have easily suffered the same fate.

In more recent decades, studies have concluded that the hoard really is genuine. The gold itself is not local, and some of the items may be Roman in origin, but none of it is Indian in origin. The craftsmanship of the torcs and the gold collar are clearly Irish, and were probably made in the same area they were ultimately deposited in, around the first century B.C.E. The bowl and boat are so unique there is nothing really to compare them to, but the boat in particular appears to represent a large currach. The rings on the bowl suggest it was meant to have been suspended, just like a cauldron, although its shape doesn't appear to reflect any local examples of that period. Analysis of the local landscape has shown that while the place in which the hoard was deposited wasn't permanently underwater, it would most certainly have been intermittently flooded, and otherwise marshy.

Based on comparisons with other depositions from similar sorts of sites around Ireland, it now seems clear that the Broighter Hoard really was a votive deposit. Whether they were actually intended for Manannán himself is not something we can ever really know, but I think it's rather striking that these repeated controversies (and attitudes of religious intolerance, or dismissiveness towards anything pagan) have worked in favour of raising Manannán's profile so effectively on more than one occasion. Had the statue never been stolen by bigots, I don't think so many people would have heard about the statue in the first place – I certainly didn't know about it until the news broke, for sure. Clearly, Manannán wants to be seen.

Sunday 4 February 2018

An update for Tairis with added plagiarism (again...)

Là Fhèill Brìghde arrived, and our little household welcomed in Brigid, and the Spring with ceremony and feasting. Rosie did the honours with making our dealbh Brìde this year, which now takes pride of place on the shrine in the kitchen, and she also took charge of inviting her to come visit us. Brigid was welcomed with the words of a very shy, but excited, ten-year-old.

As I posted a while ago, last year, I bought a mould with the idea of making some small candles, and I finally got around to having a go at them. For a first effort they came out pretty good, I think, in spite of the bubbles (I need to regulate the temperature of the wax better, I'm guessing is the problem). I tried out a few colours and the kids are still debating which ones they like the best. I think Rosie did a fantastic job with our Brigid doll – she made several and then picked out the one she thought was most appropriate for the occasion, which she kept under wraps until the big reveal:

We also put out our brat for Brigid to bless, and Rosie chose to put out a necklace she got for Christmas this year, so she has something she can carry around with her.

I made a few crosses while the kids were at school, and then when Rosie got home she decided to join in. I helped her make a three-armed cross out of rushes, and then she had a go at some more out of pipe-cleaners. They really are easier for kids to work with, though I have some reservations about the metal in them. If it contains iron, it kind of defeats their purpose, you know? But still, they weren't the only ones we made, so it's OK. The different colours helped Rosie keep track of where she was, as she tried her hand at a four-armed cross for the first time:

I felt like mixing things up a little so decided to try my hand at something new this year. I've made three- and four-armed crosses most years, as well as the "diamond" type crosses I grew up with, so this time I figured I'd try making a style of cross I've never made before. I settled on the "interwoven" type, which is when, during some searching for images I could work from as a guide, I found a web page that's plagiarised my own page on making the cros Bríde (or crois Brìghde, if you want to Gaelic it up). So that's nice.

On the plus side, it helped me realise that the type of cross I was looking to make was wrongly described on my own page, which has followed through on the plagiarist's page and had a knock on effect in wrongly describing other crosses as well (the Bogha Bríde is a cross inside a circle; they've shown the interwoven type as a Bogha Bríde instead). So I've corrected my own page and I apologise for the confusion, folks. My bad – I think an older source I looked at used the same term to describe an "interwoven" cross (referring to multiple crosses woven together) as other sources did to describe something else (the type of cross I was actually looking to make).

On the negative side, I'm a tad bit annoyed that once again someone is using my words to sell their own religion... I mean, come on. If you want to write about something, use your words! Do your own research! I suppose they at least acknowledge the original source this time, and haven't gone so far as to prevent other people from copying text on their own web pages because they don't want people to do to them what they do to others themselves. Like my previous plagiarist did. Twice.

It's still frustrating, though. And fucking rude. I could report the page with a DMCA takedown notice, but that requires giving my personal details, including home address etc, which is then publicly available online, and that sucks. You can be sure that negative comments to the blogger herself are ignored.

Still. Besides updating the original page, I've also added a new page on Tairis with a guide for making the interlaced or interwoven cross. It's an easy cross to make, with a little bit of preparation, and Rosie had a go at making one, too. I tried a simple version with only three strands along the horizontal and vertical (as did Rosie – in the picture below), and then I tried a bigger one with five strands each – that was all I could fit in, based on the length of the rushes.

From what I've read, these are common to Co. Cork, where much of my nan's side of the family come from. The three-armed crosses are common to Co. Antrim, where most of my husband's family come from.

Wednesday 3 January 2018

Book Review: Landscapes of Cult and Kingship

Bliadhna Mhath Ùr! Happy New Year!

I hope your 2018 is off to a good start... Round these parts we celebrated Hogmanay in typical rock 'n roll fashion by cleaning the house from top to toe, feeling less smug once said cleaning magically produced a massive pile of laundry to get through, and then finally sitting down to relax of an evening with Shaun of the Dead before ringing the bells in with the Beeb, while Mungo looked rather worried about whether or not the house-cleaning meant my mother was coming to visit.

But onto another review!

Landscapes of Cult and Kingship: Archaeology and Text
Roseanne Schot, Conor Newman and Edel Bhreathnach (Eds.)

This is both one of the most amazing and most frustrating books I've ever read.

It's amazing because it's a collection of essays that are pretty much all firmly dealing with my areas of interest, while it's frustrating because – and do excuse my language – there's absolutely no fucking way to actually own this book at the moment. And that doesn't look like it's likely to change in the near future as far as I can tell.

The good news (ish) is that some of the chapters are available online in pdf format, so you can get a taster for yourself (hopefully these links all work):
The book itself is the product of a conference that was held at NUI Galway back in 2009 (the book being published two years later), and it aims to explore the sacral and religious aspects of kingship and how it relates to the landscape – both in terms of the archaeology its left behind, as well as the way these things are expressed in literature, historical practices, and so on. This inter-disciplinary approach is one of the things I appreciate the most about this book (besides the content itself), and it's very much becoming the in thing these days, so hopefully there will be more to come.

I mentioned in my last review, for Brian Lacey's Lug's Forgotten Donegal Kingdom, that I have a longstanding interest in exploring how the gods relate to the landscape and the people of pre-Christian Ireland (and Scotland and Man, of course, but they're not the focus here). This book is another one for the bookshelf if that's what you're looking for as well, though it concentrates less on the gods and more on what a ritual landscape really means and how it works (or, more to the point, how it might have). As a collection of articles that covers a broad selection of subjects relating specifically to cult and kingship, it's a very different book compared with Lacey's own, which has a far narrower focus.

There are plenty of familiar faces to be found contributing to this book, some of them like John Waddell and Brian Lacey have books I've previously reviewed, while others like Edel Bhreathnach are authors whose books I've yet to get around to reviewing, plus a few others who're on my wishlist (like this one). There are also some authors I've not heard of before, but for the most part they're all solid contributions. Out of them all I think there are only really two that didn't really blow me away – the first chapter, which just seemed to strike an odd tone, to me, considering the rest of the book, and a much later chapter, Marie Lecomte-Tilouine's "Imperial snake and eternal fires: mythified power in a Himalayan sacred site of royalty (Dullu, Nepal)," that had very little to do with anything Irish at all – I appreciated the striking similarities it suggests, but personally don't feel it's helpful to rely too heavily on a comparative approach.

I'll concentrate on some of the chapters that stood out to me the most here (though that by no means implies the others are less worthy of note... I just don't want to waffle on too much), and I'll start with Conor Newman's "The Sacral Landscape of Tara" as an especially thought-provoking contribution; while I sometimes struggled to keep up with some of Teh Big Wurdz and felt it relied on a comparative approach a little too heavily at times, I liked it because it gives an excellent overview of the subject but didn't shy away from offering an interpretation of what it all means, especially in terms of Tara as a ritual landscape. This means bringing together the historical traditions as well, like the stories of the Dindshenchas that relate to the area (not just Tara itself, but the broader complex of the Tara-Skryne valley), and I think that this is the sort of thing that's incredibly important to anyone who wants to try to reconstruct an ancient belief system – not in the sense of reviving an ancient concept of sacral kingship (tell me a hideous-looking hag sovereignty goddess came along and slept with you before transforming into a beautiful young maiden who then made you king and I'm going to think something's terribly wrong with your beer goggles, mm'kay?), but in the sense of how a landscape is seen in symbolic, ceremonial terms; how it's used, what it means, what it makes us see and think, how it helps channel the flow of our religious experiences and our senses on a personal and communal level... It's all deliberate, it all has a purpose.

This brings us neatly onto Bridgette Slavin article a couple of chapters later on, which is titled "Supernatural arts, the landscape and kingship in early Irish texts." Here she makes the point that since the landscape is experienced through our senses, and its form can be used to channel and shape our own sense of it, any change in the landscape therefore changes our perception of it, and how we relate to it. These changes are therefore significant, and this is true in a literal sense, but it's also something that's important in a literary sense, as we see in so many tales where the state of a king's reign is often reflected in the state of his kingdom around him. As Slavin adds, however, there is often a connection between the supernatural arts of the druids, filid and (later on) the saints, with that of the king; they act as a sort of intermediary between the king and the land, being both the king's protector, but also the human agent through which a king might ultimately meet his downfall (Cairbre's curse against Bres for his lack of hospitality, for example). This is a fascinating chapter and well worth a read, I think; it's a shame that this one isn't available online because it really does offer some great insights.

John Waddell's contribution builds on a similar sort of theme as Newman's chapter but with a broader scope, looking at the landscape as a whole (not just the Tara complex itself). He argues – convincingly, I think – that the landscape shouldn't be looked at in simple "ritual" terms, but in mythological and historical terms as well; the landscape, and the way it came to be used – as a ritual centre, as part of a mythological story, an expression of cosmology or cosmogony, as a legal, political boundary or centre – are all intertwined. Politics and religion are hard to untangle in pre-Christian terms, but as Waddell argues, this carried on well into the medieval period as well, precisely because it was so hard to untangle. He also gives some examples of how the gods in the landscape are used over time to articulate certain things; the continuing importance of Áine in the Knockainey area means that she crops up in prophecy poems that was intended to comment on certain political alliances in the thirteenth century, where she is still portrayed as a guardian spirit, if not goddess outright. He also points to an entry in the Annals of Tigernach where the poet Gilla Lugan describes the cause of a plague (spoiler: demons did it) based on information relayed to him personally by Óengus mac Ind Óc, son of the Dagda.* As Waddell himself comments, "There is no reason to suppose that the power of ancestors had diminished; if anything, they played as great a role as ever in the social and cosmological order of the tribal societies of the time." It seems the same goes for the gods, too, up to a point.

Roseanne Schot's exploration of Uisneach and its significance answered a lot of questions for me, and she focuses especially on the site's connections with fire as well as water, noting that the stories surrounding Uisneach itself often focus on origins – especially in terms of manifesting various "primordial waters." This has fascinating implications as far as the subject of creation myths go, but considering the frequent associations between rivers and sovereignty in general, it also brings up some food for thought in that area too. As Schot goes on to illustrate, it's no wonder that Uisneach also has associations with Lug. As Schot sees it, Lug is the "archetypal, omniscient 'king'," so his links with Uisneach, as a sacred centre, as well as a royal centre, make sense (but what about Núadu...?).

Lacey's chapter here, titled "Three ‘royal sites’ in Co. Donegal," is what prompted me to hunt out his book, and for the most part you'll find that they both complement one another nicely. To a degree this chapter is more of the same from the book itself, but that's no bad thing, really, since we get a bit more depth than the book itself has space for – especially in relation to the connection between Lug and local saints such as St Begley (Beag Laoch, meaning "little warrior" or, perhaps originally, Beg Lug, "little Lug"). It offers up some good food for thought for anyone who's interested in Lug, but the broader implications are fascinating too – if this happened to Lug, which other deities got the same treatment that we aren't yet aware of?

One more chapter bears a mention, and that's Elizabeth Fitzpatrick's (et al) "Evoking the white mare: the cult landscape of Sgiath Gabhra and its medieval perception in Gaelic Fir Mhanach," which gives a great overview of the whole horse controversy – the one where Giraldus Cambrensis described an inauguration ritual which involved the new king "embracing" a horse (yes, in that way) before killing it, bathing in its broth and then eating as much meat and drinking as much of the broth as possible. There's long been a debate on how accurate the description is; old Gerald certainly had an agenda and had no desire to be too complimentary about the Irish (he was reporting to the new Norman overlords, after all), so how far can he be trusted on this? Especially when it's unlikely that he ever actually witnessed such a ceremony himself. Some feel he went out of his way to describe as many lurid and frankly damningly barbaric details as he could possibly come up with. Others point to the similarities in the over all description with that of the ancient Vedic asvamedha ceremony, which suggests there may have been at least a grain of truth in Giraldus's description... Unfortunately it doesn't go into details about the significance of horses in Irish tradition (as they relate to sovereignty), but the chapter does go on to conclude that such a ceremony is unlikely to have taken place during the time of the Méig Uidhir inauguration ceremonies (from the thirteenth century), at least. It also goes on to describe another ceremony – the rite of the single shoe – which was used by various dynasties as a way of laying claim to the kingship; the shoe, being left at a certain spot, was meant to be symbolic of the claim the shoe's owner had to the succession.

On the whole this is a very academic book that I'm not sure has an especially mass appeal. In that respect I can understand that it's very niche, which probably explains its limited availability (print on demand, please?), and really it's not going to be of much help to the beginner – at first, anyway. Some prior knowledge of the subject would be useful, for sure. Nonetheless, I think it's an important contribution to the subject that would be complemented nicely by a number of volumes, some of which are – unfortunately – just as hard to get hold of now. That said, if you manage to get hold of Edel Bhreathnach's The Kingship and Landscape of Tara or Bart Jaski's Early Irish Kingship and Succession, Elizabeth Fitzpatrick's Royal Inauguration in Gaelic Ireland c.1100-1600: A Cultural Landscape Study, and Francis John Byrne's Irish Kings and High Kings, you're probably off to a good start.

The Annals of Tigernach – T1084.4
A great pestilence in this year, which killed a fourth of the men of Ireland. It began in the south, and spread throughout the four quarters of Ireland. This is the causa causans of that pestilence, to wit, demons that came out of the northern isles of the world, to with, three battalions, and in each battalion there were thiry and ten hundred and two thousand, as Oengus Óg, the son of the Dagda, related to Giolla Lugan, who used to haunt the fairy-mound every year on Halloween. And he himself beheld at Maistiu one battalion of them which was destroying Leinster. Even so they were see by Giolla Lugan's son, and wherever their heat and fury reached, there their venom was taken, for there was a sword of fire out of the gullet of each of them, and evey one of them was as high as the clouds of heaven, so that is the cause of this pestilence.