Sunday, 16 July 2017

Meeting the Othercrowd in a Scented Land.

St. John’s Eve had not long passed, the air on the Slieve Aughty mountains was warm and along the way the foxgloves bloomed, a portent of what was to come.

Foxglove, Lus Mór, has long been associated with the Good People.
Also known as fairy thimbles, fairy gloves and witches’ bells they were considered 
unlucky to bring indoors.

A ritual involving foxglove was utilised by parents whose child had suffered a ‘fairy stroke’ 
and was thought to be a changeling. 
Three drops of foxglove were put in each ear and on the tongue of the infant before placing it on a shovel at the house door. 
The door was swung open three times whilst saying “ if you’re a fairy away with you.” 
If it was a changeling the child would die, if not the infant would recover.

St. John’s Eve was believed to be the best time to collect foxgloves but unless you were being paid 
to cut the flowers, great care had to be taken not to cross the Good People. 
One story tells that a woman was stopped from collecting them by a voice which called  
“ Don’t cut that if you’re not paid, or you’ll be sorry.”

Soon I was back on the Burren, truly a fertile rock at this time of year. 

The Land of the Fertile Rock - link to previous post HERE

I was greeted by mossy islands. 

 And miniature landscapes.

A green swathe around St. Fachtnan’s well.

Clear water pooled & a creature swam within, too fast to capture.

New offerings had been left, a tribute to Brigid.

From limestone crevices ferns unfurled.

 And orchids bloomed.

My destination lay hidden in peaceful hollow, a scented land.

Founded 40 years ago, The Burren Perfumery is a self-sufficient island 
where limestone walks lead to sensual delights. 

Over 700 species of flowering plants flourish on the Burren and the perfumes, soaps and creams created here are fragranced by indigenous plants. 

Leaving buildings and visitors behind I entered the herb garden, built on the site of the original 
old farmhouse garden of 1800’s.

A path, leading deeper into dappled green 

brought me to a secluded nook, a wilder place where foxgloves flourished.

Breathing deeply, eyes closed, I sat on old stone and cast my mind adrift.

It was in that silence I heard Them.
Quiet laughter at my side, a quiver in the leaves close by. 

I held my breath, all senses keen, 

but only the bowing foxgloves betrayed the passing of the Othercrowd.


To discover more about The Burren Perfumery please visit their website - HERE

Take a brief tour of the perfumery, the tea rooms and the grounds -

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Knockainey, Midsummer and the scent of Meadowsweet.

Midsummer is almost upon us, our senses filled with colour, the heady scents of woodbine 
and wild sweet pea, the sound of bees and birds. 

Almost overnight, clouds of meadowsweet appear along the boreen. 

In folk medicine meadowsweet, Airgead Luachra, ‘silver rushes’
was used to cure fevers and colds as well as easing pain. 

In Co. Galway meadowsweet was placed under the bed of a person afflicted by wasting sickness brought on by contact with the Good People. The use of the flower was fraught with danger however, as patients risked falling into a deep and deadly sleep.

Also known as Cúchulainn’s Belt, meadowsweet was said to have reduced 
the heroes’ fever and calmed his fits of rage. 

It was Àine however, the ‘bright’ goddess often associated with the sun, who gave meadowsweet its’ perfume. 
In the old tales she is described as “the best-natured of women”.

Àine is found in several places in the Irish landscape, including Lough Gur 
where she is remembered as Bean Fhionn, White Lady. 

Link to previous post about Àine & Lough Gur ~
LOUGH GUR - “a personality loved, but also feared.”

Her main residence however is her hill, Cnoc Áine, Knockainey, which is steeped in myth.

Knockainey from Bóher Na Sceach, ‘road of the thorns’. 

Ritual once took place here on Oiche Fhéile Eóin, St. John’s Eve, June 23rd.
The celebration falls close to the Summer Solstice and many believe it has its’ roots in pagan ritual. 

In legend Áine, using her magic, helped to take the hill from the Firbolg so that her people, the Tuatha Dé Danann, could settle there. 
Her price for preventing bloodshed was that “the hill were given to her till the end of the world.”  

At 528 feet high, the summit provides views across the landscape to the hills around Lough Gur, 
to Knockfierna and to the sacred fires which would once have been lit on hill tops to celebrate the changing seasons. 

Knockfierna to the west of Knockainey. 

Folklore tells that the local fairies, led by Áine, used to play a hurling match against the god, 
Donn Firinne who lived beneath Knockfierna. 
Whoever was victorious would ensure a successful potato crop.

The top of Áine’s Hill, difficult to reach in the summer months due to grazing cattle, has the remains of three mounds. These were believed to be the dwelling places of the Tuatha Dé Danann, Eogabal (said by some to be Aine's father), 
Fer Fi and Áine.

Diagram of Knockainey mounds from Thomas J. Westropp, 
 “The Ancient Sanctuaries of Knockainey and Clogher, Co. Limerick and Their Goddesses”
Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 1917 - 1919 

After visiting Knockainey Westropp describes’s Áine’s cairn as

 “a defaced, insignificant heap of earth and stones wrecked by treasure-seekers.” 

As late as the 19th century celebrations were held at Midsummer and at harvest when burning brands of hay and straw were carried to the summit.

Evans-Wentz, W. Y. - 'The Fairy-faith in Celtic Countries', London: H. Frowde, 1911.

The goddess herself was believed to lead a similar rite. 

Several wells are marked on the old maps suggesting that there may have been rituals involving water. 
One ‘curious’ well which flowed down the slope beneath her mound was recorded as 
Áine’s Well and she was said to haunt the local river as a banshee, combing her hair beside the waters of the Camòg.

All that can be found today is Mary's Well in the village.  

A series of exposed rocks, the remains of an old quarry, hide the elusive Áine Clíar's Cave.

The Hill and land around Knockainey is filled with ancient monuments, mounds and standing stones once part of Bronze and Iron Age burial traditions and ceremonies. 

The landscape holds its’ secrets but still whispers, in the summer months, of forgotten rituals, celebrations to the sun and to Áine, the “ beautiful spirit crowned with meadowsweet”.

Offerings to Áine at the river.

Click link below to read more about Knockainey & view the surrounding landscape from the summit ~ 

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Whitethorn ~ on the threshold of the Otherworld.

The month of May sees a procession of whitethorn stretching their long white fingers across the green land. 

They stand in the liminal places, between land and water,

beside sacred wells.

They guard ancient sites,

Oweynagat, “Cave of the Cats”, Co. Roscommon, home of the Morrigan.

Grange Stone Circle, Co. Limerick.

And gathering points where the Good People meet.

Distant whitethorn on the local Fairy Path where the Daoine Sídhe are said to gather. 

They trail across forgotten pathways

The path to Sheean. Link to read more: SHEEAN

and carry healing spells.

The Rag Tree at Killeigh, Co. Offaly. Link to read more: RAG TREE 

Standing between this world and the Otherworld the whitethorn, An Sceach Gheal, ‘bright, shining thorn’, is steeped in folklore and regarded with respect for fear of supernatural retribution. 

Felling a lone thorn brings bad luck and today many farmers continue to work around them.

Injury or even death could also befall anyone who damaged or cut down a lone bush. 
The close relationship between tree and Good People was acknowledged across the island. 

Some thorns were believed to have almost human attributes. 

In Co. Cork it was understood that a stick of whitethorn would have a temper of its’ own if used in anger and elsewhere blood was believed to flow from a lone bush if felled.

The kinship between thorn and Daoine Sídhe was occasionally utilised by people.
In Co. Laois it was once customary to sprinkle sprigs of whitethorn with holy water before planting them in fields in the belief that banishing the connection to the Otherworld would discourage the Good People from taking the crops.

Within old church yards thorns are left in place although they are often pruned 
to reflect Christian symbolism.

This bond was understood to be of service to cattle too.
Farmers would hang the afterbirth of a premature calf on a whitethorn believing that the bush would help it to survive and in some areas a sprig from a fairy thorn was hung in the milk parlour to encourage cows to produce creamier milk. 

The May Bush decorated skeletal remains of whitethorn and ivy.
Link to read more: MAY BUSH 

On May Eve when the bush was decorated there were differing views on the use of whitethorn for this purpose. 

In some areas it was acceptable and in others, using a branch of thorn was considered unlucky.

Throughout the country however, it was believed that bringing blossom into the house would shortly be followed by illness and death.

Whitethorn blossom exudes a scent that many find unpleasant and it has been found that the chemical trimethylamine, which is formed when animal tissues decay, is also present in the blossom. 

Unbaptised infants who had died and were denied internment in consecrated ground, were buried in the ‘sacred space’ beneath lone thorns, especially if they stood within fairy forts.

Lone thorn on Rath Coffey used as an infants' grave.
Link to read more: Cillín

Others mark age-old stopping places from hearth to grave.

Whitethorn standing between farm yard and road. 
It was customary for bearers to rest the coffin at the foot of this bush and local lore states 
that the thorn must not be removed. 

By the end of Lughnasadh the Whitethorn has become the Hawthorn,
limbs laden with red haws. 

And as the year progresses the tree reveals her true nature.

Thorn on the Burren - image © eyeem.

Living an average of 400 years, with some reaching 700, they become twisted and gnarled, claws sharp and fingers bent with age.

Thorns on the Burren coast.

A procession of bent forms reminiscent of hags, ridden by the wind.

'Wind-blown Trees' by Paul Henry.

At Samhain, standing starkly on the threshold of the Otherworld, they guard supernatural paths awaiting transformation.