Sunday, 30 June 2013

Lullymore Heritage & Discovery Park

Today we drove to Lullymore Heritage and Discovery Park set on 60 acres on the edge of the Bog of Allen, Ireland's largest Peatland. The park was opened in 1993 with biodiversity boardwalks meandering through grassy lakes and rejuvenating peatland of birch, heathers and bog cotton.

In the 5th Century Saint Erc a bishop and member of the council of St Patrick set up a monastic settlement in Lullymore. It was an ideal location with fertile farmland, seclusion and protected from attack by the encircling wetlands.

The 1798 Rebellion is also an important part of Lullymores history. The life story of Captain John Doorly a native of Lullymore who was executed for his role in the uprising trying to obtain freedom for Catholics to be able to vote, own land, own a horse and be educated is also told.

Fulacht Fiadh - cooking place in the wild. Timbers were placed in a pyramid shape with stones inside them. The timbers were then set on fire and the stones were heated. Cooking took place in the central trough, the heated stones from the nearby fire were then placed in the pit where the water soon reached boiling point. The meat, usually wrapped in straw was then placed into the water.

The Lone Bush or Hawthorn has long been associated with the fairies in Ireland. So much so that even today it is quite common to see them in the middle of fields. They are left untouched because of the belief that its unlucky to damage or cut down the trees as the fairies will curse the proprietor. Long considered a sacred and healing tree in Ireland, normally they can live up to 400 years but the oldest recorded were over 700 years old. It is said the fairies and spirits have their meeting places under these special Hawthorn trees. The Irish word for fairy is SIOG a diminutive of the "Shee" in banshee. Some say they are fallen angels who are not good enough to be saved nor bad enough to be lost. The book of Armagh says they are spirits of the Earth. Most popular is the belief they are the "Tuatha de Dannan" who when they were no longer worshiped and fed, shrank and went underground.

The Fairy Bower
 As we are talking about the myth of the fairy tree I thought I would share with you another myth from which Navan the town we are staying in got it's name.

The myth and legend of The Milesians. According to Irish Mythology a man by the name of Mil Espaine is the common ancestor of all of the Irish. The story goes that there was a tribe in the north of Spain known as the Milesians, or the Sons of Mil. They invaded Ireland, dispossessing the Tuatha De Danann, and divided Ireland into provinces: Ulster in the North, Munster in the south, Connacht in the West and Leinster in the east and at the centre Tara. According to tradition, Eremon Mac Miled was the first Milesian King of all Ireland, and a contempory of King David (biblical King of Israel, who ruled c. 1000 BC). He is the ancestor of the Ui Neill and the rulers of Leinster, Connacht and Airgiallia.

While in Spain Eremon (Son of Mil Espaine) married Odhbha, who bore him three sons. After a time he abandoned her in favour of another woman (Tea, who would later give her name to Tara). When Eremon invaded Ireland, Odhbha followed him but died of grief soon after arriving on account of her husband's rejection. Her three children raised a mound in which to bury her. It is thought that Navan may take its name from the Irish world for cave (An Uaimh) the cave within the mound in which Odhbha's remains have rested for the past three thousand years.

The Famine Cottage

The Soup Kitchen

Peat piled for drying to harden and become ready for burning

We will be leaving Navan and the Boyne Valley tomorrow to continue our journey of Ireland, it has been a wonderful time in the valley so full of history, magnificent monuments and the most famous for it's fantastic myths.

The River Boyne derives its name from the legendary Celtic goddess Boann (or Boand). The story goes that there was once a magical well, the well of wisdom (Tobar Segais in Irish) which belonged to Nechtain, King of Leinster and husband to the goddess Boann. Nechtain was very protective of his magical well and no one but he and his three cup bearers were permitted to visit it. One day Boann decided to visit the well and see for herself its wonders. Some say she walked around the well three times counter sun-wise, others say she merely peered into its magical depths. Whatever the case, the waters of the well rose up blinding, mutilating and drowning the goddess, and then rushed seawards turning into a river. Though nothing remains of the mythical well, its waters remain in the form of the River Boyne, named after the drowned goddess Boann.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Giants Causeway

Today we drove into Northern Ireland to follow the Giant Causeway Coastal Route. The first highlight was the Mussenden Temple a small circular building located on the cliffs near Castlerock in County Londonderry high above the Atlantic Ocean on the north western coast of Northern Island. It was built in 1785 and forms part of the estate of Frederick Augustus Hervey the 4th Earl of Bristol, Bishop of Derry. Built as a library and modelled from the Temple of Vesta in Italy.

Giant Causeway Coastal Route
 The next place of interest was the Dunluce Castle located dramatically close to a headland that plunges straight into the sea, along the North Antrim Coast. Also the place of the sinking of a colony ship that broke up on the rocks off Islay in 1857 with the loss of 240 lives. The castle at the end of a narrow crossing to the rock formerly protected by a drawbridge to the gatehouse. The buildings on the rock are 16th & 17th century.

View of Giants Causeway from Dunluce Castle

The Wee Cottage across the road from the castle

The Giants Causeway a UNESCO World Heritage Site is a geological wonder with over 40,000 interlocking basalt columns. The Giants Causeway is the result of intense volcanic and geological activity. It provides a glimpse into the Earth's most ancient past. An epic 60 million year old legacy to the cooling and shrinking of successive lava flows.

The Giants Causeway is steeped in myth and legend. Carved from the coast by the mighty giant Finn McCool who left behind an ancient home full of folklore. Local people here believe that between the hexagons, the mythical features carved out in the rocks and the tumbling sea, there's real magic. The myth tells that the causeway was built by an Irish giant named Finn McCool as a way to walk to Scotland in order to fight his Scottish nemesis, Bernandonner. The story goes that Finn fell asleep before he could cross to Scotland, and Bernandonner came across to Ireland looking for Finn. His wife, Oonaugh, upon seeing that the Scotsman was much larger than her husband, cleverly wrapped him up, and passed him off to Bernandonner as her baby. Upon seeing this enormous baby, the giant Scot, thinking that the father must indeed be a larger giant than he, went back to Scotland, tearing up the causeway as he went, to keep the giant Irishman from coming for him in Scotland. The legend made sense to people for many years, as there are similar formations across the water on the Scottish side.

Resting in the giants boot that fell off as he hurried away

We then stopped at White Park Bay to take in the view.

This amazing road of dark hedges was breathtaking. Bregagh Road Ballymoney has beech trees that were planted by the Stuart family in the eighteenth century. It was intended as a compiling landscape feature to impress visitors as they approached the entrance to their Georgian mansion, Gracehill House. Two centuries later, the trees remain a magnificent sight and have become one of the most photographed natural phenomena in Northern Ireland.

We stopped at Glenariff Forest Park to see the waterfall.

As we were passing through Belfast we saw the Stenaline Ferry coming in from mainland Britian the same line we travelled with to Dublin.

Views from Bernish Viewpoint on our way back home.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Trim Castle & Hill of Tara

Today we visited Trim Castle the largest Anglo-Norman castle in Ireland, constructed over a thirty-year period by Hugh de Lacy and his son Walter. Hugh de Lacy was granted the Liberty of Meath by King Henry II in 1172 in an attempt to curb the expansionist policies of Richard de Clare, (Strongbow). Construction of the massive three storied Keep, the central stronghold of the castle, was begun c. 1176 on the site of an earlier wooden fortress. This massive twenty-sided tower, which is cruciform in shape, was protected by a ditch, curtain wall and moat.

The Great Hall outside the castle as the original was on the top floor and food was cooked on the bottom being very difficult to carry to the banquet, a new great hall was built outside the castle for easy access.

Looking down from the roof of the 4 story castle onto the new Great Hall site 

Barbican Gate

Beautiful bridge crossing the river in the village

The Yellow Steeple a tall bell tower remains from the Priory of St Mary 40 mtr high.

Looking back towards the Castle from the Yellow Steeple

The curtain wall of the castle 
St Patrick's Church 1891
Our next stop of the day was the Hill Of Tara (Teamhair na Ri), though best known as the seat of the High Kings of Ireland, it has been an important site since the late Stone Age when a passage-tomb was constructed there. On Samhain, all the Kings would congregate at Tara for a big festival and celebration, which would last the whole month of November. Ireland was broken into 4 provinces Ulster (northern) Cannaught (western) Leinster (eastern) and Munster (southern). Each province had their own ruling king with Tara having the High King. In its hey day it was a very powerful pagan site. Learning facilities were based here, Bards (poets) Ovates (philosophers) and Druid Priests. It is believed by some that the De Danann Kings reigned at Tara some 1,900BC. They were succeeded by the Milesians who came from Spain. There were 136 pagan and 6 christian kings said to have ruled at Tara uninterruptedly. Diarmaid was the last of them, his successors moved elsewhere.

Tara was at the height of its power as a political and religious centre in the early centuries after Christ. There are some 30 monuments spread over this low hill (about 500 feet high) near the Boyne River, and more are being discovered regularly. From ground level, the earthworks can be difficult to distinguish. The shape of the rings and mounds are best seen from the air, but the dramatic slopes and changes in ground level can be appreciated by a stroll around the ancient grassy landscape. The most important of the many earthworks at Tara are found on the summit of the hill inside an enclosure called Ráith na Ríogh (Fort of the Kings or Royal Enclosure), dating from the Iron Age in the first five centuries AD. The axis of the oval enclosure measures 318 m (1,043 ft) north-south by 264 m (866 ft) east-west. The ring-shaped formations within this enclosure are known as Teach Chormaic (Cormac's House) and the Forradh (Royal Seat). In the centre of the Forradh is the Stone of Destiny (Lia Fáil), a pillar stone that was originally located just north of the Mound of the Hostages. It was moved here in 1798 to commemorate 400 rebels who died in the Battle of Tara during the Irish revolution. If this is the original Stone of Destiny, which most scholars think is likely, it played a central role in the coronation ceremonies of over 100 Celtic high kings. According to legend, the stone would screech loudly when touched by the rightful king.

Just inside the Ráith na Ríogh enclosure is the oldest monument at Tara, and one of the most visible - the "Mound of the Hostages," a passage-tomb dated to between 2500 and 2100 BC. The name comes from the tradition of Celtic high kings to hold local nobles hostage, ensuring the cooperation of their lesser kingdoms.

The tomb is similar in layout to those at nearby Newgrange and Knowth, but on a much smaller scale. The short passage is astronomically aligned (less accurately than some) with the sunrise on November 8 and February 4, the ancient Celtic festivals of Samhain and Imbolc. Just inside the passage on the left is a carved stone; several Bronze Age burials were excavated in the tomb itself.

Mound of the Hostages
Other monuments at the Hill of Tara include: Ráith na Seanadh (Rath or Fort of the Synods) a ring-fort north of Ráith na Ríogh with three banks, in which Roman remains from the 1st to 3rd centuries have been uncovered - Ráith Laoghaire (Laoghaire's Fort) a ring-fort in which the 5th-century King Laoghaire was buried - Banqueting Hall a long rectangular earthwork (750 feet/230 m) on the north side of the site, which may have been a ceremonial avenue or cursus monument.

The Hill of Tara is also known as the womb of the mother in Ireland.

Royal Seat with Stone of Destiny 
Stone of Destiny 
Looking across Cormac's House towards the Royal Seat
Again looking back to the Stone of Destiny
Banqueting Hall
Just down the road we found the Well of the White Cow, before the arrival of Christianity in Ireland there were religious cults associated with the wetland areas dating back to the Later Bronze Age (1200-600BC). There is considerable evidence from the metalwork finds of this period in these wetland areas that religious and ritual activity took place here, but the rapid rise of bringing metalwork offerings to wetland areas is evidenced by the sheer volume of finds from the Early Iron Age (600BC-400AD). It is a common myth that these cults held ritual activities or gave ritual and religious importance to well sites. Almost all holy well sites that have been excavated show religious and ritual activity dating only as far back as one thousand, seven hundred years at the very most, and where archaeological finds have been made they are invariably Christian in nature.

It now seems far more likely that ancient Irish spirituality was extremely diverse, with local gods and regional beliefs in various sprites and spirits - somewhat like animist beliefs. However, that being said, there are a few well sites that have had a pagan past. Some well sites have ballaun stones which have been brought to the site after its Christian associations, so I am not referring to those places where there are inscribed stones or rubbing ballauns. This is not always a clear indication of a more ancient pagan past, but a site with a pagan past may indeed be the well at Tara. There are in fact six wells at Tara (or seven depending on what map you use as some may have been filled in or dried up) and not all of them are religious wells, although some bear the name of Saint Patrick. The Well of the White Cow is situated at the base of Tara Hill and just to confuse matters it has multiple names:

-Caprach Cormac; meaning ‘Cormac’s well’, a nod to one of the King’s at Tara.
-Liagh; meaning ‘the Physician’s well’, possibly a reference to the belief in its healing property.
-Tipra bo finne; meaning ‘the well of the White Cow’.
-Deare dubhe; meaning ‘the well of the dark eye’, possibly a description of its appearance or relating to its power to heal the eyesight.
-Poll tocair na tuiliche; meaning ‘Trial by Ordeal’. There is a medieval manuscript that talks about entering the waters and coming up again: if you had a black spot you were guilty and if you were spotless you were innocent.
-Saint Patrick’s well.

Some of the names can be explained with their connection to myth (Poll tochair na tuiliche), a possible local and more ‘modern’ fond invention (Caprach Cormac) or simply names expressing its use or purpose (Liagh and Deare Dubh), but the name of Tipra bo finne is by far the most intriguing name. This name appears in a mid medieval set of legends – from which almost all of the legends of Tara come. You will read and you will also be told that these legends are very early and speak of Ireland’s pagan past. I’m afraid they don’t; the myths are medieval in date and use obscure imagery often to convey Christian ideas – and the white cow is one such idea.

The main citations for the myths of a pagan, life-giving cow are the Ulster Cycle which contains the famous Tain Bo Cuailnge (Two sources; both twelfth century), the Historical Cycle containing the famous vision of Conn of the Hundred Battles (again a twelfth century work of poetry and prose, recently translated into English in full by Seamus Heaney) and the Fenian or Ossianic Cycle which contains the famous story of the well surrounded by trees and the salmon of wisdom (a thirteenth century work) and the Mythological cycle (a twelfth century work).

It is possible that legends of a white sacred, pagan cow were retained orally in the Irish storytelling tradition, but the poetic and prose works that were written in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries contain obscure Christian references – the symbolism of which is somewhat lost in the passage of time (for example, some suggest that the tales of sacred cows relates to the visions in the Book of Enoch)- and often use the tales as a means to teach ethics and etiquette, or even to reinforce feudalism and hierarchical social structures.

The well of the white cow