Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Wonderful Goodbye to Ireland

Today we drove to Punchestown to see the Long Stone unfortunately it was in a field with a group of bulls so we could only take a photo from a distance. The great granite stone is 7m long and weighs 9.236 tonnes. The stone fell in 1931 and was re-erected. During this work it was found that the sub-surface part of the stone showed evidence that it had been shaped with a stone hammer. The stone had been erected in setting of thirteen stones. Against the south-west side of the stone setting was a small polygonal cist formed by four stones that contained a single pig bone, but could have originally contained a burial. There is no dating evidence for the Punchestown stone. The nearby Longstone in the Longstone Rath at Forenaghts Great also had a trapezoidal cist which contained cremated human remains, pottery and a fragment of an archer’s wrist guard which is a classic Beaker Period find. This suggests the Forenaghts Great Stone was erected in the period 2450-1900 BC when Beaker was in use in Ireland and the Punchestown stone probably dates to the same period.

A local tradition recorded in the nineteenth century is that the stone was hurled by Finn MacCumhail from the top of the Hill of Allen during a contest. Gerald of Wales in his twelfth century book The Topography of Ireland referred to the Punchestown stone as the Giant’s Dance and related how it and the other standing stones of the area had been brought by giants from Africa and set up on the plains of Kildare near Naas.

Just had to share that we went to Hollywood, who knew you could do that in Ireland
Our next stop was to see the Athgreany Pipers Stones. The green Wicklow Hills setting provides a serene background for this sad tale of merriment gone wrong, the piper and his dancers suddenly turned into blocks of stone because they were dancing on the Sabbath Day. This late Bronze Age (1400-500 BCE) monument consists of 14 granite stones, in a rough circle about 23 m (75.5 ft) in diameter. According to the legend these are the ossified dancers, some standing and some now lying flat on the ground. One larger stone, some 2 m (6.5 ft) high, stands outside the circle 36.5 m (40 yd) to the northeast, representing the piper in the legend.

Writing for the Ordnance Survey in 1841, John O’Donovan reported that there were 29 stones in the ring, and that “there were, it is said, nearly as many more in number which were broken and carried away for the purpose of building.
“On the inside are lying in the ground two stones which are said to be ‘Women Giants’ transformed by ‘Druidical Art’. On one was visible the form of a face till it was for the most part effaced.”

No less than five different stone circles in Ireland have been given the name “Piper’s Stones.”  The story of the dancer and the piper turned to stone for their violations of the Sabbath is similarly widespread. There are nine such legends from France, and 26 from England and Wales.

One possible translation of the Irish name Áth Gréine is “Field of the Sun,” which might point to the use of the site for ceremonial purposes, since townland names can provide support for the associations between places and traditions.

We then made our way to Kildare to see the wells and Fire Temple dedicated to Brigid. Kildare Abbey is a former monastery, founded by St Brigid in the 5th century, and destroyed in the 12th century. The Gaelic word for Kildare is Cill Dara, which means the Cell or Church of the Oak. St. Brigid built her Abbey in Kildare around 480AD, on a hill beside a great oak tree. However, we all know that the Irish/Celts believed in a Goddess Brighid long before she became a Saint and this area was sacred to her. This was always an important gathering place and pilgrimage site in earlier centuries. Without Brighid/Brigid, there would not be a modern town of Kildare. Before Christianity took hold of Ireland there was a great cult that surrounded the Goddess. She presided over healing, inspiration/poetry and smithcraft. She is provider of plenty, giver of life and is also identified with nurturing, fertility and fire.

All wells are sacred to Brighid for they are the doorway to the Underworld and the womb of our Mother, the source of all life. The Priestesses of Brighid kept her flame eternally lit. 19 Priestesses kept vigil and made sure the flame was never extinguished. When Christianity spread throughout Ireland, the Goddess was so engrained in the Irish people that they couldn't eradicate her, therefore she became a Saint. In the 6th century, a monastery was built on the same site where the Priestesses kept vigil at the Fire Temple. The original monastery no longer exists but a new Cathedral was built on the site during the 13th century. This Cathedral still stands and the sisters of St. Brigid (nuns) continued the work begun by her Priestesses. They too kept her flame ignited until the time of the Reformation in the 16th century. It was at this time that King Henry XIII destroyed many of the monasteries. The flame was extinguished but never forgotten. On February 1, 1807 Daniel Delany, Bishop of Kildare, began the restoration of the Sisterhood of St. Brigid. Their mission was to restore the ancient order and bring back the legacy and spirit of this amazing figure.

Fire Temple of Brigid

Just as we were arriving at the Temple the group of the Brigid's Way were just leaving the temple after their ceremony, we were to follow this group all day from one Brigid site to the next.
On the north side of the Cathedral are the restored foundations of an ancient fire temple. A small fire is often lit in the fire temple for ritual on St. Brigid’s feast day on the 1st February. This flame was symbolically relit in 1993 and for the present is kept in Solas Bhride House.
This is the site believed to be where the Priestesses of Brighid kept her eternal flame lit. Later, when Christianity spread throughout Ireland, the Sisters of St. Brigid (nuns) continued this role that was started by her Priestesses. The Fire Temple is located in the rear of the Cathedral and it's such an awesome experience to stand on this ancient and sacred ground and feel the energy of the Goddess and the many women who honoured her here.

St. Brigid’s Cathedral is located on the original grounds of St. Brigid’s wooden church. Between 1223 and 1230 the present Cathedral was built. It was semi-ruinous by the year 1500, derelict by 1649, partially rebuilt in 1686 and finally restored to its present form from 1875 – 1896. Its environs include a Round Tower and a high cross. Major Restoration works took place in 1996.

The Round Tower of the Abbey

Brigid's Kitchen a Burial Vault in the church grounds

Inside the vault
In 1993, Brighid’s perpetual flame was finally re-kindled in Kildare’s Market Square by Mary Teresa Cullen, who at that time was the leader of the Brigidine Sisters. The sacred flame was kept by the Brigidine Sisters in their home and on February 1, 2006, the flame was brought back to the center of the Market Square where it has been permanently housed in a large glass enclosed vessel.

The St. Brigid’s Flame monument was unveiled by President Mary McAleese on St. Brigid’s Day, 1st February, 2006 at the Market Square Kildare. The flame which had been extinguished centuries previously by the Norman Archbishop, Ralph de Londres, had been brought back to Kildare in 1993 by the Brigidine Sisters. This ‘inextinguishable flame’ of St. Brigid has been forever commemorated in this beautiful sculpture.

St Brigid Flame Monument
We then walked through the Irish National Stud/Japanese Gardens/Saint Fiachra's Garden & Horse Museum. This lovely Japanese garden is one of contemplation and beauty. The pilgrim soul enters the garden through the Gate of Oblivion, then walks through the cave of Birth followed by the tunnel of Ignorance up to the Hill of Learning, continuing along the parting of ways to the Island of Joy and Wonder to find themselves on the Engagement Bridge to then walk along the Honeymoon Path. The Hill of Ambition gives views of the whole garden then as you leave the garden you stop at the Well of Wisdom over the bridge of Life you may rest on the Chair of Old Age on the way to the Hill of Mourning leaving the garden through the gateway of Eternity.

The abbey ruins are in the grounds of the Irish National Stud. The Knights Hospitallers or Knights of St. John of Jerusalem founded the Black Abbey sometime before 1212 at Tully. The Abbey thrived under the patronage of the various Lords of Kildare but remained a Hospitaller preceptory until it was surrendered to the Crown during the Reformation. It was known as the Black Abbey because the Hospitallers wore black habits in the preceptory.

St Fiachra's Garden seeks to present to the visitor a natural environment which inspired the spirituality of the 6th & 7th centuries monastic movement in Ireland. The garden does not try to symbolise Fiachra's achievements of what he became, but to capture the spirit and love of the man through the landscape which, in part, formed him.

The gardens natural spring

Monastic Cells - A stone hermitage similar to those found on Skelligs

Within the main cell, a subterranean garden of crystal rock, fossils, ferns and orchids light the darkness of the hermits cavern, all hand carved by Waterford Crystal.

Vintage Crop born 1-3-1987 won 16 races earning over 1.3 million euros. In 1993 the first horse ever to travel to Australia for the Melbourne Cup and won. Also the first to win 1 million Irish pounds.

St Fiachra's depicted as the spiritual hermit reaching skyward as if linking heaven and earth. In his hand is a seed the kernel of nature and creation. The sculpture is the seed and the man is he who nurtures the seed.
St Brigid, Virgin and Abbess, secondary patron of Ireland (Feast). Brigid of Kildare (Irish: Naomh Bhríde) (c. 451-525) was an Irish nun, abbess, and founder of several convents. Like many early saints there is much debate among scholars and even Christians as to the authenticity of her biographies. The earliest life of Brigid is the Vita Brigitae of Cogitosus which is thought to have been written no later than AD 650. According to tradition, Brigid was born at Faughart near Dundalk, County Louth, Ireland. Her parents were said to be Dubhthach, a pagan chieftain of Leinster, and Brocca, a Christian Pict who had been baptized by Saint Patrick. Some accounts suggested that Brigid’s mother was actually a Portuguese, kidnapped by Irish pirates and brought to Ireland to work as a slave in much the same way as Patrick. Brigid was given the same name as one of the most powerful goddesses of the pagan religion which her father Dubhthach practised. Brigid was the goddess of fire, whose manifestations were song, craftsmanship, and poetry, which the Irish considered the flame of knowledge. From an early age she was said to have been inspired by the teaching of St Patrick (who began his mission in Ireland in AD 432). Against the will of her father, she was set on entering religious life. There are many stories of her piety and her deep concern for the poor who were never turned away. Her generosity did not please her father and when she gave away his bejeweled sword to a leper, he accepted the nature of her vocation and she was sent to a convent.

She received the veil from Saint Mel and professed vows dedicating her life to Christ. She is believed to have founded her first convent in Clara, County Offaly. But her major foundation was in Kildare. Around 470 she founded Kildare Abbey, a double monastery, for nuns and monks, on the plains of Cill-Dara, “the church of the oak”, her cell being made under a large oak tree. As Abbess of this foundation she wielded considerable power. Brigid was known for her common-sense and most of all for her holiness. Even in her lifetime she was regarded as a saint. Kildare Abbey became one of the most prestigious monasteries in Ireland, its fame spreading throughout Christian Europe. She died at Kildare about 525 and was buried in a tomb before the high altar of her abbey church. After some time her remains were exhumed and transferred to Downpatrick to rest with the two other patron saints of Ireland, Patrick and Columba (Columcille). Her skull was extracted and brought to Igreja de Sao Joao Baptista (Lumiar) in Lisbon, Portuga by three Irish noblemen, where it remains. There is widespread devotion to her in Ireland where she is known as the “Mary of the Gael” and she is considered one of Ireland’s patron saints along with Saints Patrick and Columba. Her cult was brought to Europe by Irish missionaries, such as Foillan, in the centuries after her death. In Belgium there is a chapel (7th-10th century) dedicated to Sainte-Brigide at Fosses-la-Ville. Her feast day is February 1, the traditional first day of spring in Ireland.
The Wayside Well seems to be older and not as well known as the other well, however, it is actually the main well where the waters run off, feeding the newer well. The inscription in Irish translates "St Brigid Mary of the Gael pray for us". 
Again the Brigid's Way group had been at this well before us which gave it a lovely energy. They are a walking pilgrimage group who started at Brigid's Holy Well in Faughart, County Louth then walked over a 9 day period to St Brigid's Well in Kildare. They were unified by the iconic symbol of the divine feminine of Brigid the Saint or Goddess of Ireland. They commenced on 7th July St Brigid's Pattern Day and walked the along the ancient route of Dundalk to Tara, then followed the Grand Canal to maynooth and onto Brigid's monastic city of Kildare.

St Brigid's Well is large and elaborately decorated and is the well that most people visit. It is very well kept with a bridge leading onto the sight and a beautiful statue of Brigid. There are 5 prayer stones standing in a line and its customary to stop at each stone and reflect upon an aspect of Brigid/Brighid:

First stone: Brigid a woman of the land

Second stone: Brigid the peacemaker

Third stone: Brigid the friend of the poor

Fourth stone: Brigid the hearth woman

Fifth stone: Brigid woman of contemplation

Behind the 5th stone is a round well that you are to encircle 3 times deosil to achieve harmony within yourself and within the universe.

We arrived at St Brigid's Well and the group were having the final ceremony of the pilgrimage so we made our way to Suncroft a nearby village to see the Statue of Brigid to give them time to finish without our interruption.

The statue is located in the church yard of the village. When you look closely at the carving of a small cross on Brigid’s chest. In the center of the cross is a crescent moon. When the artist, Annette McCormack, was originally carving the cross on the statue, the shape of a crescent moon began to appear before her eyes. The sudden appearance of the crescent moon in the center of the cross is as if the two worlds were joining. It’s believed to be a sign connecting the old world with the new. Brighid embodies Pagan Celtic and Christian Celtic Ireland. She inspires unity and peace in a troubled world. We need to bring into our lives this wholeness and the miracle of the crescent moon appearing is symbolic of this.

We then returned to St Brigid's Well as the group were singing the last song of their ceremony and rejoicing in the finish of their pilgrimage.

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