Yo ho ho, and a bottle of poiteen

Photo by P.J. McKenna

The Ireland Before You Die website published my article 6 places in Ireland associated with pirates.

Here you’ll find out about:

  • Kinsale: Home of Anne Bonny
  • Baltimore: The stolen village
  • Dublin: A city founded by raiders
  • Saltee Islands: Treasure caves
  • West Cork coast: A haven for crooks
  • Clew Bay: Home of the Pirate Queen

Hope you enjoy!

Mogh Ruith, the Blind Magician

The blind magician of County Kerry. Reblogged from Ali Issac’s site.

aliisaacstoryteller

Mogh Ruith the Blind Magician http://www.aliisaacstoryteller.com

Without a doubt, one of the most interesting and mysterious figures from Irish mythology is the One known as Mogh Ruith. He’s right up there with Manannán, as far as I’m concerned. His name is said to mean ‘slave of the wheel’, curious in itself, and he was a blind Munster Druid who lived on Valentia Island in Co Kerry, which is now part of the celebrated Wild Atlantic Way.

Mogh Ruith was the father of tragic Goddess, Tlachtga, who left her name in the landscape of Ireland  at a place anglicised as the Hill of Ward, sacred to the festival of Samhain.

He is perhaps most famous for his flying machine, roth rámach, meaning ‘the oared wheel’, or ‘rowing wheel’ (could be a helicopter, don’t you think?), in which night appeared as bright as day. For this reason, it is believed…

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Snapshots into the Past

All photos are in the public domain.

While looking for images for this site, I found some wonderful old photos from the National Library of Ireland. You can see examples in Casement’s Last Stand and Are Ye Right There, Michael? I couldn’t resist sharing some more of their historic photos from along the Wild Atlantic Way.

Oh I do like to walk along the prom

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Promenade, Lahinch, Co.Clare

This photo was taken “between 1896 and 1914”. Lahinch opened up for tourism in the 19th century thanks to the West Clare Railway, but it wouldn’t become a prime surfing spot until the late 20th century. No idea if these are visitors or locals out for a stroll; that woman with the pram (mother? nanny?) is probably just trying to get the child to sleep. Hard to tell the weather from this photo; everyone seems well wrapped up, but most people were in Edwardian times.

Grazing on the edge

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Achill Island

From “circa 1910”, but if it wasn’t for the woman’s dress, this could have been taken yesterday. Achill Island is still a wild place. It’s the edge of Europe, “next stop America” (or to be specific, Newfoundland). I love the way the woman and the cow on the left are both striking a pose for the camera.

Market day

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St. Nicholas’ Church, Galway, taken by Robert French c.1890
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St. Nicholas’ Church, Galway, taken by B. Lawlor in 1990

Here are two photos from the same spot — outside St Nicolas’ Church in Galway — taken 100 years apart. The dress and transportation has changed, and the tree has grown significantly, but otherwise there’s a similar energy about the two scenes. The Saturday market is still going strong in the same area, a great place to buy your olives and woolly hats.

Further reference

There are loads more photos on the National Library of Ireland page on Flickr. Be careful: you could lose yourself for a long time in those archives.

Northern Sky

Malin Head, County Donegal

Photo of Banba’s Crown, Malin Head by Greg Clarke, licensed under Creative Commons

But now you’re here
Brighten my northern sky
— Northern Sky, Nick Drake

The Cree Indians saw them as the spirits of their dead ancestors. The Finns thought they were caused by a fox running so fast across the snow that its tail caused sparks. The Japanese thought a child conceived beneath them would be lucky, while the Icelanders believed that a lucky child would be born when they shone — but only if its mother didn’t look directly at them. The Vikings thought their glow came from the shields of the Valkyries. According the Estonians, they were the paths of horse-drawn carriages carrying heavenly guests to a wedding.

I am speaking of course of the Northern Lights, the Aurora Borealis (there is an equivalent in the Southern Hemisphere, the Aurora Australis, but few human habitations are in that region). We know now that they are caused by electrically charged particles from the sun colliding with gases in the earth’s atmosphere. They are normally seen at latitudes much further north than Ireland, but just occasionally, they come flickering our way.

Increased solar activity, particularly coronal mass ejections (CMEs) improve the likelihood of aurora displaying at lower latitudes. However, clouds can cover up this activity, and as any Irish person can tell you, clear skies are rarer than we’d like. Artificial lights compete with the natural glow, so they can only really be seen away from towns.

Compose in darkness.
Expect aurora borealis
in the long foray
but no cascade of light.
— North, Seamus Heaney

Malin Head, at 55.38ºN, is the northmost tip of the island of Ireland; although it’s in the Republic, it’s farther north than anywhere in Northern Ireland. “From Malin Head to Mizen Head”, signifying the full length of the country, is a familiar phrase from anyone who’s heard the sea area forecast. Far up on the Inishowen peninsula, Malin Head is a popular spot for viewing seabirds, particularly for their migrations in spring and autumn.

And on a rare occasion, on a dark clear night when the sun has thrown its brightest sparks out towards earth, you might catch a glimmer of those dancing lights.

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Into Exile

Rathmullen, County Donegal

Photo of The Flight of the Earls by Rhodora, licensed under Creative Commons

4th September 1607

The French ship bobbed in the moonlit waters of Lough Swilly. Hugh O’Neill felt like he had reached the end of the world.

He was uncertain whether he would sail today. Born to the powerful family that were descended from Niall of the Nine Hostages, he was still Earl of Tyrone, precarious though that position might be in these troubled times. He had played the political game, at times fighting with the English and at other times against them, but perhaps the game had finally caught up with him.

6 years earlier, he had been at the other end of Ireland, fighting alongside his good friend Red Hugh O’Donnell and a battalion of Irish and Spanish soldiers. But the Battle of Kinsale had ended in defeat, and Red Hugh died on his way to Spain to gather more support.

Rory O’Donnell had inherited the title of Earl of Tyrconnell from his older brother. He no more wanted to leave Ireland than O’Neill did, but the English authorities were tightening their grip and he saw no other choice. His wife had accompanied him, together with a retinue of servants. He looked towards his son — not yet a year old, named Hugh after his grandfather and uncle. The small boy grizzled at the lateness of the hour — it was near midnight — hiding his face in his nursemaid’s shoulder.

“A clear night, thank God,” said O’Neill, touching the gold cross that hung around his neck. It contained a relic of the True Cross, and he prayed now that it would give him guidance for making the right decision.

“You can’t rely on King James to pardon you again,” said O’Donnell. Following the Battle of Kinsale, O’Neill had pleaded his case in London. The Scottish king of England had shown mercy on the Irishman, but this had not been a popular move in his Parliament, and the recent Gunpowder Plot meant that Catholics were on shakier ground than ever.

Catherine O’Neill took her husband’s hand. He was startled — theirs was a political match and she wasn’t much given to public displays of affection. Their 7-year-old son Shane stood beside her, trying his best to look grown-up and unafraid.

“Ireland is no longer safe for us,” she said. “But we will return.”

“It will be a good day in Ireland when we do,” said her husband.

He decided to board the ship and sail from Rathmullan towards Normandy. The event would later be known as The Flight of the Earls and be seen as the death knell of the old Gaelic order in Ireland. O’Neill and O’Donnell never returned to see that “good day in Ireland”. They died abroad and were buried together in the San Pietro di Montorio church in Rome.

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