Thursday, 23 May 2013


They're out late this year, but they're none the worse for it. The woods round here are awash in a sea of bluebells, waving gently in the breeze and basking in the sun as it shines patchily through the thickening canopy of leaves.

It will totally piss it down tomorrow, no doubt, but for now I'm enjoying being lulled into a false sense of security as far as warm and summery goes.

The downside, of course, is the midgies. But I can deal with that. Out in the garden we're starting to get the first few shoots of carrots and a single, brave leek. The suspect onions have miraculously sprouted, while the sprouts – donated by my neighbour last year – have gone to seed, more's the pity. The peas are looking good, though, and there may or not be a courgette growing. I'm not sure; it could be a weed but we're going with it right now.

Since Bealltainn, it finally feels like the long winter is over and it feels like that in more ways than one, I guess; I'm nearly weaned off my pain medication completely and it really feels like a mental fog has been lifted. I'm feeling almost energetic...

Friday, 10 May 2013

Notes: The Story of the Finding of Cashel

The Story of the Finding of Cashel 
Myles Dillon
Ériu 16 (1952)

This probably isn't a particularly well-known tale, but there's one thing of interest in here in particular that I thought was worth noting. The tale is pretty short and Dillon provides the original Irish and a translation of it with a goodly amount of preamble and notations. It's one of the notes that's of special interest (to me) in particular, but the tale also has a few other bits and pieces that are worth mentioning too.

The tale is set in the fourth century A.D. and centres on the founding of Cashel, the political centre of the Munster kings, by Conall Corc. Dillon notes that while it's difficult to tell how much of the legend might be based on kernels of historical fact, the tale itself seems to bear genuinely archaic hallmarks – though somewhat corrupted.

The tale begins in autumn, with two swineherds taking their pigs out to snuffle up the abundance of acorns that are available. They fall into a deep sleep for three days and three nights, during which they see a man, Corc, being blessed by an angel. They are shown a vision of all the future kings of Munster and are told how long each king will reign, and the kinds of peace and prosperity that each reign will usher in. Upon waking, one of the swineherds, Duirdriu, goes to his king and tells him of the vision he received, and asks for the place where he received the vision to be given to him; it's implied that the vision means Duirdriu has the right to it, and so the king agrees. Conall Corc buys the land off Duirdriu, and so Cashel is founded and thus begins a great dynasty of kings.

After a list of kings is given, the tale switches to the other swineherd, Cuirirán, who goes into a trance and gives the blessing of the kings of Cashel that he heard in a dream. Dillon doesn't give a translation, noting that the rhetoric is obscure, but the king replies: 'May it be a truth that is confirmed! May it be a power that is enforced!'

The tale then changes scene, with the two swineherds having another vision again after hearing "the sweetest music in the wold on the ridge beside them." They are shown the coming of Patrick, and an angel tells them that, 'He who shall first kindle fire here, entrust the kingship of Munster to him.' Lighting a fire is a traditional Irish way of claiming land as your own so that makes sense; here the idea is broadened to a political claim over the land as well.

Diurdriu goes to Conall and tells him of his vision, and that he had seen that Conall would be the first to kindle the fire. A druid is summoned by Conall, who makes a "druidic divination" for three days and three nights, to confirm that everything was as Diurdriu had said, and that fortune would be his. The druid tells Conall that Diurdriu is correct, and so Conall lays his claim. The tale finishes with the tributes due to the Cashel kings, and mentions the coming of Patrick, who baptised the men of Munster.

The bit of interest is the blessing that the two swineherds are party to near the beginning of the tale, which includes imagery of the three realms: "Blessing of heaven, cloud-blessing..." It's lengthy and is clearly Christian as its presented in the text, but as Dillon notes a similar version can be found in the Book of Rights, where it's attributed to St Patrick himself, as well as another, later version, found in Betha Pátraic. Dillon also notes that:

"Apart from the pious invocation at the end, it is, however, rather pagan than Christian in expression, and bears the mark of antiquity. The heptasyllabic metre common in the earliest law-tracts is here apparent, and a slight revision restores it in the whole of the second clause: 
Bendacht nime nél-bendacht
Bendacht toraid tír-bendacht
Bendacht mara iasc-bendacht
Bendacht gréine grád-bendacht
Bendacht ésca ord-bendacht
Bendacht latha lón-bendacht
Bendacht daithin drúcht-bendacht
Bendacht gaíse gal-bendacht
Bendacht aurith ar-bendacht
Arub ceantaib ciallatar."

I'd say FEAR MY AWESOME DICTIONARY SKILLS, but after checking through to attempt a translation I got as far as this:

Blessing of heaven, cloud-blessing
Blessing of earth, fruit-blessing
Blessing of sea, fish-blessing
Blessing of sun, rank-blessing
Blessing of moon, honour-blessing
Blessing of ale, food-blessing
Blessing of light, dew-blessing
Blessing of wisdom, valour-blessing
Blessing of ...., plough-blessing

I think "ardour" could work in place of valour, too. But with the final two lines we run into difficulties and I turned to Google in hopes of help and found this. Which would've saved a bit of time. But at least far greater brains than I are stumped too. The last line, however, could possibly mean "(it is) on their heads that they are meant." But who knows. Neither Dillon nor eDIL are helpful.

Either way, the fact that several versions of the blessing exist, and the metre is typical of the earliest law tracts, as Dillon notes, does suggest that it's been adopted into a Christian context and tweaked as it seemed appropriate for the occasion, rather than being a product of it. I think it's also striking that almost the exact same kind of imagery can be found in more than a few prayers in the Carmina Gadelica.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Doin' stuff

Where did April go?

Time seems to be hurtling onwards and Spring has only just decided to stick around for more than a few days at a time, as of about three weeks ago (going by the length of time since I turned the heating off in the house...). This year seems to be going so quickly so it seems odd to be thinking about Summer already, but all the signs are here – the longer days, the stronger sun, the dawn chorus and gangs of corvids of various kinds hanging around and looking for mischief (our postman carries dog biscuits with him for when he has to knock on the door and deal with potentially suspicious dogs – or our dog Mungo, who's a hugger and loves everyone whether they love him or not – and when he knocked on our door the other day he was extremely freaked out that first one crow and then a whole bunch of them had been following him down the road for over an hour. Not flitting from tree to tree every now and then. Hopping down the street behind him. He eventually threw a few dog biscuits at them and legged it).

The landscape is awash in the yellows of dandelions, cowslips, primrose and gorse:

The trees are unfurling their leaves:

And I've finally been out in the garden to see what survived, tidy it all up, and start some veg off. It's been good to feel the warm sun on my skin, while my fingers have been stuck into the cold soil...and it's long overdue but I've finally got to sowing the seeds of the coming harvest.

I wanted to get everything in before Bealltainn, so now I have some peas, courgettes, carrots and leeks on the go in the vegetable patch, and I'm attempting some onions but the sets I bought last year have dried out and I don't think they'll do anything. I'll get some more when I can but as it is a strawberry bush has taken over most of the containers I used for onions last year, so I won't have much space.

It looks like the back of my flowerbed has been taken over by raspberry or bramble suckers – I'm not sure which yet, but I'm hoping for raspberry. The blueberry and blackcurrant survived the cold snap as well so hopefully along with the strawberry that's attempting world domination we'll get some decent crops this year.

With the garden all done, then came Bealltainn. At the weekend I encouraged the kids to do some pictures based on a summer theme (with the idea of using one as a background for the fish tank, which has taken up the place where I used to put our murals) but things didn't quite go to plan...We started with a joint effort but Rosie decided to add in a giraffe and then Tom put in a paint monster doing battle with the giraffe, which all in all wasn't quite the theme or message I was looking for...Rosie then decided the fish would rather have a butterfly to keep them company, but it didn't quite turn out as she wanted and she didn't want to finish it. In the end, we did a collage with some colourful paper for the background, and some fabric butterflies and some stickers and gold sequins stuck randomly about the place. It was declared "actually quite good" so we've gone with that one.

For the day (or evening) I decided to stick to pretty much the same formula as usual, although instead of bannocks and caudle I bent the idea a little and made a honey and apricot cake, with some chocolate pudding. I was going to decorate the cake with some leftover fondant in the cupboard, but it turned out it had gone solid. Instead, I just used butter icing and some decorations – flowers and gold balls, which along with the honey and apricots were supposed to represent the fertility and prosperity of the season:

I blessed the cake and the caudle as I made them and managed to get the cake out of the pan in one piece (a good sign, or at least not a bad one). And around that I spent the day giving the house a final Spring clean, then set about preparing the feast. I was going to churn some butter with the kids but I could only get a small pot of cream from the shops and it didn't seem worth it, so I just whipped it to go with pudding instead. I did some breaded chicken for dinner (not exactly traditional, but slightly more so than leftover red lentil dahl, right?) and set the best bits out as opening offerings.

The house was invaded by Tom's friends after school so all the preparations we left to me, really. But with the friends finally turfed out and the feasting beginning, the kids were thoroughly appreciative of the fact that it was a "special day," and Rosie had picked some dandelions to bring the summer in and we put them on the shrine for decoration, and they both brought some more in the next day as well.

After the kids had gone to bed I went out to collect some rowan. I had the sense that there was a particular tree I should collect it from, and not the one in the garden as I did last year, so after I'd done the main part of my devotions and rekindled the hearth, I took some cake as an offering for the tree and went for a walk. I used a bit to make a charm and the rest has been put away for safe keeping.

Some more offerings were made, with a part of the cake going out for the spirits, based on the practice mentioned by Thomas Pennant and Carmichael. I've done this for several years now and some years I've adapted it, others I've done it as it's been recorded (per Carmichael):

“Here to thee, wolf, spare my sheep; there to thee, fox, spare my lambs; here to thee, eagle, spare my goats; there to thee raven, spare my kids; here to thee, martin, spare my fowlsl there to thee, harrier, spare my chickens.”

On the one hand I think adapting to my own circumstances would work because it's directly relevant to me and mine. On the other, it's tradishunal. And as I know I'm from farming stock I feel reading from the script, as it were, is a way of respecting and remembering my ancestors, and what they went through each year. Sometimes life is precarious... Ultimately it still works as a metaphor, to protect myself and my family from the kind of threats that are wily and often unseen or at least unpredictable. This year I did it the tradishunal way and comparing it to previous experiences it didn't necessarily feel any less right or wrong than other ways I've tried it. I think perhaps it felt more right than not..but with the many things my family has been through in the past year or so, perhaps tradishun is the one constant I can rely on and take comfort in. In the face of uncertainty, the predictable gives comfort.

Is tradition spiritual chocolate?

Maybe so. Maybe that's why doing the same thing over and over, year in year out, never gets boring for me.

Saining was done too, and while I was doing the kitchen Mungo was going mental at the back door; he's not usually a very vocal dog but he was very clear that whatever was out there wasn't coming in, thanks. I paid special attention to the threshold after that. I didn't get the sense of anything malevolent out there but I figured it's best not to take chances.

The next morning I made further offerings and looked out for any omens that might be about; a crow flying sunwise, so hopefully a good one. Either way, I hope so. And I hope you had a good one too.