An ancient youth.

Boyne-Valley.jpg

In archaeological terms Ireland is a child.  There were no humans on the island in the paleolithic.  We have no history of neanderthals, homo habilis, homo erectus or earlier australopithecenes.  In the grand history of man we arrived on the island as fully formed modern day humans.  The earliest people arrived between 10,000 and 8,000 years ago.  They probably walked here over land-bridges left by the retreating ice sheets of the last great ice age.

At  the same time the history of Ireland is ancient.  We have great monuments and burial mounds that pre-date Stonehenge and the Pyramids.  We occupy a landscape that is steeped in history and sense of place.  We are well rooted in our environment and secure in our place in the world.

Tourists come to Ireland and take a quick spin around what is a small island.  They tick off the boxes on their holiday to-do list;  The Wild Atlantic Way, the Cliffs of Moher, Giants Causeway, Dublin Castle, Irelands Ancient East, Killarney, Queen Maeves Grave, Yeats Tombstone, the Guinness Brewery, Rock of Cashel etc.  In the new world that is how you have vacations, you go from tourist attraction to tourist attraction.

The odd time you meed a real world traveler who understands how to see Ireland properly.  Ireland is to be found in the fields and ditches, down back alleys and up mountain sides.  It is a country of many small attractions, each one having its own story.  The trick is to find the local historian who can walk a site with you and bring it to life.

Then you go to the pub and discuss the important things; sport, politics, religion, the shape of a girls ankle and the fall of a sparrow.  On your way home, if you are very sensitive to your surroundings, you may even be lucky enough to turn out a shadow that could be a fox, or a fairy, a banshee or the shade of a long dead king.

At Currabwee; by Francis Ledwidge

Every night at Currabwee
Little men with leather hats
Mend the boots of Faery
From the tough wings of the bats.
So my mother told to me,
And she is wise you will agree. .

Louder than a cricket’s wing
All night long their hammer’s glee
Times the merry songs they sing
Of Ireland glorious and free.
So I heard Joseph Plunkett say,
You know he heard them but last May.

And when the night is very cold
They warm their hands against the light
Of stars that make the waters gold
Where they are labouring all the night.
So Pearse said, and he knew the truth,
Among the stars he spent his youth.

And I, myself, have often heard
Their singing as the stars went by,
For am I not of those who reared
The banner of old Ireland high,
From Dublin town to Turkey’s shores,
And where the Vardar loudly roars?

Solstice Vs Shortest Day

Druids

Today, Dec 21st, is the shortest day of the year.  Many believe this makes it the Winter Solstice, but the one is not always the other.

The Solstice is when the Sun rises in its lowest position in the year.  This does not always fall on the Shortest Day.  In 2015 the Solstice occurs at dawn on the 22nd.  That is the morning you want to be in Newgrange or Stonehenge or one of the other great megalithic clocks.

It is funny to read about the 50 people who were disappointed at Newgrange when the clouds obscured the sunrise.  They won the annual lottery to attend the event on the 21st.  Did they realise they were there on the wrong day?

 

A Leaf From The Tree of Songs; by Adam Christianson

When harpers once in wooden hall
A shining chord would strike
Their songs like arrows pierced the soul
Of great and low alike

Aglow by hearth and candleflame
From burning branch ot ember
The mist of all their music sang
As if to ask in wonder

Is there a moment quite as keen
Or memory as bright
As light and fire and music sweet
To warm the winter’s night?

Solstice Survived

newgrange-2004b

We survived another Winter Solstice, dodged another bullet. The sun has arrested its long descent into darkness and is waxing again even as we speak.

Here in Tipperary the morning was clear, the skies were clear and the Solstice Dawn was a thing to behold. Sadly for the thousands who gathered in Newgrange there was a misty start to the morning in County Meath and they were not treated to the full spectacle of the dawn shining down the passage of the burial mound.

Newgrange is a neolithic monument, built around 3,200 BC and predating both the Pyramids and Stonehenge. It is a testament to our early ancestors that they could, and did, track the heavens so faithfully. Newgrange is all the more impressive given that Ireland is such a young country. The first humans only arrived after 8,000 BC. We had no Neanderthals here, no Paleolithic people and only a smattering of Mesolithic settlements.

Farming was key to the success of the Neolithic peoples. They brought a “farm kit” with them; wheat, oats, barley, sheep, goats and cattle. Knowing when to plant was crucial to their existence. Hence the focus on megalithic clocks such as the one at Newgrange.

The Times Are Nightfall; by Gerard Manley Hopkins

The times are nightfall, look, their light grows less;
The times are winter, watch, a world undone:
They waste, they wither worse; they as they run
Or bring more or more blazon man’s distress.
And I not help. Nor word now of success:
All is from wreck, here, there, to rescue one—
Work which to see scarce so much as begun
Makes welcome death, does dear forgetfulness.

Or what is else? There is your world within.
There rid the dragons, root out there the sin.
Your will is law in that small commonweal…