Nuala’s Secret: Part 3

Brother Jericho took a few moments to clear his mind. Then, leaning forward on the fur-lined couch, he spoke again as though it were from the mouth of Mother Sweeney herself.

Our life with the priests was serene. I soon learned to love our Lord, and the monks baptized me, calling me “Noella,” for I had come to them close to the birth day of our Lord. I taught my son to respect learning, and he did learn quickly under the teaching of the priests. I told him that his father had wanted him to be an ollamh and even a king. 

I am shamed to say that I never told him the truth about his father. I was terrified lest he should find out, and go to find his father, and be torn in half by the vengeful mother of Rídach. And so I told him that his father had died in a great battle, in a faraway land. I told him his father was of high birth, regarded as a king in Éire, but that he wanted to be left unmourned and his grave unknown when he died.

mother childwwwdothollysierra.com.pngMy son rebelled against the priests’ attempts to convert him. Even from an early age, Owen was headstrong. He told me often that there could be no blessed heavenly father, for he himself had no father. What kind of heavenly father would take away a child’s father before he could know him? I blame myself for his unbelief. Surely I alone kept him from knowing the comfort of our Lord.

Father, forgive me!

At last, when Owen was sixteen years old and he had come to the age of Self-Will in Gallia, he declared that he would leave the monastery where we lived, and he would sail for his home country. Even though born on the soil of Gallia, he considered himself an Éireannach, and he had learned the language from monks and native speakers alike.

oisin in sacred tara
“Oisin at Tara,” detail from the work by Jim FitzPatrick

And thus with a heavy heart, I sailed with my son back to Éire. He wanted to go to the land of his father. And so I chose a part of Éire, far out on the great peninsula near the Bay of Trawbreaga, where I thought we could live in peace. Owen went from settlement to settlement, asking about his father. He studied every cairn, every heap of rubble, every bit of ogham scratched into stone to find a clue to his father. I wept then, and I weep now, to think of it.

Of course, no one knew the name “Rory Sweeney,” for the name Sweeney had come from my own area of Dál Riata, a name from the land of the Picts. And the name “Rory” was my own invention, for I knew it held the word “king” embedded in its meaning.

joining.png

Soon after we arrived, Owen met and fell in love with a beautiful tall, dark-haired woman named Aileen. She loved him totally, and she was as devoted to him as I was myself. Within three years, she had borne him two sons and a daughter. But as day rolled into day, I saw my beloved son begin to lose his reason. Aileen saw it, too, and she mourned with me as we saw him shouting and drunk, verbally abusing us, disappearing for weeks on end.

madness

She often pleaded with me to tell him more about his father. “Nuala, for his sanity, for his health, will you not relent and tell your secrets? For the sake of his children, who may grow up to fear and hate their own father?”

I hung my head. I could tell no one the dread secret. I had even kept it from the priests, for I knew not whether one of them would reach Éire and let slip where Owen may be found.

And so, to save the life of my son, I slowly lost the life of my son. I shed bitter tears every day of my life to think of it.

Lord God, forgive me!

At last, to stop his searching, I relented just a bit and told him that his father hailed not from Éire but from Alba, across the expanse of the leaden North Sea. I even believed it, for I thought he was traveling from Alba when I met him. At my words, he went completely wild, raging and shouting. “How will I ever find him in that vast, barbaric land?”

borvo healing god

He left us for more than three months. I thought he had perhaps hired a currach and sailed to Alba in search of his father. But one day he came back home, looking haggard and old, hardly talking. I found later that he had gone on a “booley,” a kind of lonely trek to the mountains like the sheep herders, in search of his own sanity. After he returned, he never again spoke of his father. To this day, I know not what took place inside his mind, for something else happened after he returned that became the focus of our lives.

Brother Jericho stopped talking. He knit his brows. “This part is where she began to cry. It was hard to understand many of her words. Clearly she is tormented to the point of despair.”

“Do your best, dear brother,” I urged him. He nodded and continued.

 

This part of the odyssey of Owen Sweeney will conclude next week.

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Tara: In the Cradle of Kings

Photo by Jim Dempsey

Tara–the very name evokes the ancient beginnings of Éire. That was the location of the famous Lia Fáil, known as the Stone of Destiny. That was the legendary site of the famous Mead Hall of the high kings…the Mound of Hostages….White Grange… the ráths or ringforts of kings and even mythic beings.

In the map shown here, you will see that Tara lies in Co. Meath, not far from Dublin. During the fifth century AD when my novels take place, Tara was  the site where Ireland’s high king Leary had his “bally” or settlement, and it served as the seat of his power. In the times well before that, since the dawn of Ireland’s civilization, this area was venerated as the sacral center of neolithic people around 5,000 years ago.

According to Ireland’s legends, Tara predated even those neolithic people, as it was the cradle of the Tuatha Dé Danann, pre-Celtic dwellers who held this land sacred. One can see by looking at a panoramic view that Tara is elevated gently, commanding a viewer to see for miles around. In a country largely devoid of peaks, this must have been a natural site to place its kings–close to the ocean, near rivers that feed the verdant, rolling hills where thousands of head of cattle could roam.

The Hill of Tara figures prominently in several of my novels, both published and unpublished. The first time the character Caylith stands on the ancient grounds, she is with her mother listening to the High King as he utters condemnations and bestows endowments from the Throne of Judgment. Later, she and the other characters watch a hurling match in a field near the sacred mounds, hosted by the king himself. In a later book, Caylith returns with her new husband in a failed attempt to forestall a confrontation between King Leary and St. Patrick. The the bold priest has set himself to lighting a huge bonfire to rival the king’s own Beltane purification fire. This event, supposed to have happened in 432 AD, is the part of the climax of my novel The Wakening Fire.

In my recent novels Warrior, Ride Hard and Warrior, Stand Tall the characters are in a “flashback” setting, as I tell what was happening behind the scenes when Caylith and her mother were given lands before the Throne of Judgment. Later, one of the characters is captured and held inside the Mound of Hostages, and still later another character is severely wounded and left to die under a huge dolmen near the sacred hill.

Photo by Jim Dempsey

Two of  the most intriguing and compelling sites at Tara are the Mound of Hostages and the Lia Fáil, both unarguably several thousands of years old.

From neolithic times, the leaders (later, kings) of  Ireland held “hostages” or representatives from the various sub-kingships of the island. Ireland’s most famous High King, called Niáll Noígíallach, is known to this day as Niáll of the Nine Hostages, for he held hostages not only from the five provinces of 5th-century Éire but also from Alba, the land we now know as Scotland.

 

It is possible that the ancient kings actually sacrificed some of those unlucky hostages. Here we see the structure called the Mound of Hostages where it is surmised that some held were allowed to die as representatives of their people. Here is an overview of the mound, taken on a stormy day, that to me evokes the frightening aspect of that place:

 

Photo by Jim Dempsey

A closer look at the opening reveals that it is really quite low, no more than four feet or so. In Warrior, Ride Hard the young man Wynn is thrown into this enclosure and finds that he can hardly sit up, and he cannot move around, because the dimensions inside are so cramped. As I wrote of his captivity, I imagined those hostages from centuries past trying to find air to breathe and room to stretch their limbs in this dire place.

I imagined those huge stones at the entrance being rolled across, allowing scant air for the prisoners to breathe. All in all, this famous mound is one to stop a visitor in his tracks. It is clear that it dates from the neolithic period, and that it really was once the site of sacrifice–whether human or animal–and that it was an important part of the rhythm of life of those early dwellers in Ireland.

In my most recent novel, STAG HEART, all the action occurs at sacred Tara…action most unbecoming such a venerable site! Mischief and mayhem combine in a tour fe force among several strong men.

To most Irish people, the word “Tara” conjures up the unforgettable image of the Lia Fáil, the Stone of Destiny.

Photo by Jim Dempsey

The stone is undeniably, proudly phallic. On this greyish-white stone, would-be kings would have reverently placed their hands. On the ground at the base did the ancient seekers after kingship place their feet. Legends say that if the stone roared, or cried out joyfully, the seeker was the true king.

One wonders what happened to those unlucky candidates who heard nary a peep. I suspect that the seekers after the throne had their minions ready somewhere to simulate the sound of approval from this mighty rock!

The stone itself is barely six feet high. But in centuries past, this height was no doubt much greater than that of the people. It is said that the stone even passed over to Scotland to usher in the realm of Fergus in ca. AD 500, but modern scholars have debunked that notion. It is more probable that a threshhold stone was taken instead, one of sufficient size to warrant being a “swearing-in” stone, but not this several-ton behemoth!

We do know that in the nineteenth century, the Lia Fáil was taken from its place near the Mound of Hostages and placed on its current site.

As if to rival the pagan stone of old, a modern statue of St. Patrick now looms on the Hill of tara, near where it is  told that he lit his famous Paschal Fires in defiance of High King Leary.

 

Patrick seems even now to defy the pagan beginnings of the ancient Hill of Tara, as his imposing figure stands in a place of honor not so far from the neolithic Stone of Destiny.

This modern map of the northern and central section of Ireland shows Tara a little more in context.

All the characters in my historical books have roamed these boglands and hills, these seas and bays and lakes. You will meet them in the following novels:

The Twilight of Magic (fantasy for all ages): http://amzn.to/2C6SI6m 
The Dawn of Ireland (M/F fantasy romance): http://amzn.to/2pxBRGY
The Iron Warrior trilogy (M/M romance-adventure): http://amzn.to/2n3sTgh

 

treachery correx!

Stag Heart (M/M fantasy romance-adventure):

QRI:  https://is.gd/bQK5lo  (all links, reviews, explicit excerpt)

~and~

Kindle US https://is.gd/G6elnN  

Kindle UK https://is.gd/ocon0O  

SeaToSky https://is.gd/MrfeiG  (pdf or epub)

Smashwords https://is.gd/vU7yxi  (epub)

Slán until next time…Erin O’Quinn
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Clootie wells and trees: Ancient celtic places of purification

Now that Iron Warrior novels and the sequel Stag Heart are out, it’s time to talk about one of the themes that runs through them–the idea of defilement/pain and purification.well#2 j200

In Warrior, Ride Hard one of the protagonists—Wynn, a young trainer of wild ponies—is beset by druids who are bent on defiling him along with other men they have captured and drugged. In plain language, the druids are intent on raping him as they have abused other captive men.

(Please note that I am not intent on disparaging the druids. My story is just that—a story. No one knows about the personal lives of those long-ago priests, and so I have exercised “poetic license” to tell a compelling story about individuals, not about a group of people.)

bentinrain 190

Wynn is bent over the sides of a sacred well by two malevolent druids. He escapes, but not until he is convinced that the high king’s two chief druids, Loch and Lucet, have assaulted him while he is unconscious. In the following novel Warrior, Stand Tall, Wynn seeks out the place of his defilement (the sacred hill of Tara) along with a few friends who are there to help him seek justice. But Wynn doesn’t want justice. He wants to be cleansed of what he feels is a deep disease, or inner contamination.

In a later sequel set on the Hill of Tara (Stag Heart), a clootie well  and tree take on great significance.

I’d like to talk about the healing and purification, through the means of the clootie well and the clootie tree.

In Wakening Fire, the crippled Owen Sweeney MacNeill is taken to the sacred well each month by his loving wife, where she seeks to bathe his ruined legs in the holy waters. Later in that same novel, Owen is taken to sacred waters at Cloudy (Clóidigh) near Derry to bathe his legs. Later still, Caylith brews a “gruit,” or special herbal mix for Owen, using the branches of the hawthorn as well as other plants growing around the well.

In Wynn’s mind, the way to cleanse himself is through the common means of a clootie well, a well filled with water sacred to a spirit or a local goddess. In another novel, a young woman in pain, about to bear a child, travels to a  clootie tree to pray to the goddess Brighid. For centuries, folks throughout the celtic world would cleanse a diseased or malformed part of their body in the sacred water. After the advent of Christianity, when the wells’ spirit was transposed to a saint or other religious figure, the wells became the focus of folk pilgrimages.

The word “clootie” or “clougthie” is actually Scotttish Gaelic meaning “cloth” or  “clothing.”

The tradition of dipping rags or cloths into sacred water is apparently a very old one found throughout modern celtic locales–Scotland, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Cornwall, Wales, and other places. Those seeking purification would dip a strip of cloth in the water, then apply it to the affected body part. After hanging the cloth on a nearby tree–in Ireland, usually a hawthorn–they would leave it to the elements. They believed that by the time the sun had bleached it and the passage of time had cleaned it, the part of the body it had touched would be cured by the attendant spirit or goddess.

Usually, the wells one sees today are adorned with Christian crosses, and there are areas designated for pilgrims to leave tokens. Originally, however, the wells were probably declared “holy of holies” by some attendant druid or representative of  the spirit that watched over the  healing waters.

Photo by J. Champion 8.29.2006

The well pictured here, left, is from a site called Madron in Cornwall. The large cross, called the Boswarthen Cross, is located nearby.

Photo by J. Champion 8.29.2006

There are scores of sacred wells throughout the countries commonly called “celtic.” But sadly, many of them are beginning to disappear–usually through the ignorance of people, but often enough because of the lack of local laws preserving such precious sites from urban development.

An example of such desecration is the recent complete ruin of the Well of St. Brigid in Co. Dublin, Ireland, razed to make way for a building work. An article in Wikipedia mentions the destruction of such a well at Rath Lugh in the Tara-Skyrne Valley of Ireland that has recently been razed during the construction of a motorway.

The tree where the cloths were hung is known as a “clootie tree,” always located at or near the well itself. Both the wells and trees are seen to this day throughout celtic locales, especially in Scotland, but also in Ireland, Cornwall, Wales and other parts of Britain. I mentioned that in Ireland, the sacred trees were commonly hawthorns, long thought of as sacred; in Scotland and other places, Wikipedia mentions that the sacred trees are usually whitethorn, though sometimes ash.

It is noteworthy that right up to the present moment, there are “clootie” trees throughout the celtic world. Nowadays, it is not uncommon to see trees from apple to oak festooned with cloth, paper tags, even religious and other icons. There is even a modern offshoot of the clootie tree called a “wish tree,” sometimes seen as “wytch tree,” whereon one hangs good wishes for the future and other signs of luck. Students of religion will no doubt see similarities to India’s sacred Bodhi tree, and even to our modern Christmas tree.

Although I have not seen any sources that make the specific connection, I see the ancient “celtic tree” motif in the clootie tree. The motif, common nowadays in celtic design, seem to be an archetypal symbol of the tree of life. The hanging of cloths–and later, yarn, pieces of paper, even shoes and neckties–seems to reflect a universal human longing for the connection between our souls and the trees whose deep roots wind through the earth itself.

Below, I list the links to the works I have mentioned in this article.

The Twilight of Magic (fantasy for all ages): http://amzn.to/2C6SI6m 
The Dawn of Ireland (M/F fantasy romance): http://amzn.to/2pxBRGY
The Iron Warrior trilogy (M/M romance-adventure): http://amzn.to/2n3sTgh
Stag Heart (M/M fantasy romance-adventure):

QRI:  https://is.gd/bQK5lo  (all links, reviews, explicit excerpt)

~and~

Kindle US https://is.gd/G6elnN

Kindle UK https://is.gd/ocon0O

SeaToSky https://is.gd/MrfeiG  (pdf or epub)

Smashwords https://is.gd/vU7yxi  (epub)

Slán until next time…Erin O’Quin

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Ancient Irish dog breeds: Wolfhound and collie

The small isle of Éire boasts the world’s tallest dog…and the world’s most intelligent dog. The first is the wolfhound, and the second is the border collie.

Yes, there are many other breeds considered to be “Irish,” among them the Irish setter, water spaniel and varieties of terrier. Today, in the spirit of my blog, I want to talk about the two that we can trace to pre-Christian times, or at least (in the case of the collie) back to the time of the Viking invasions in roughly the 9th century AD.

No one is sure when the wolfhound “arrived” in Éire. Perhaps, like the giant elk, it developed because the sheer size of the elk required the evolution of a huge dog to pursue and bring it down. Scholars have argued for a date 3,000 years BC to around the 5th century AD, but there is no consensus.                      

The wolfhound is, in a word, humongous. Modern AKC size standards are a minimum of 32 inches at the shoulder. One man writing in 1790  referred to the dog as being 36 inches; even before that, Campion in 1571 said, “They (the Irish) are not without wolves and greyhounds to hunt them, bigger of bone and limb than a colt.”

Thus as big as they are now, the wolfhounds were no doubt even larger up until a few hundred years ago. When the wolves began to die out in Ireland, so too did the large hunters of wolves. Only after careful breeding did the wolfhound survive, and even thrive.

The coat is most often wiry. The animal is muscular and deep-chested, with an appearance often described as “commanding.”

In spite of its size and apparent ferocity, though, the wolfhound is a gentle dog, very attuned to its human companions. Some breeders feel that due to its sensitivity to humans, it makes a good guard dog because it can sense malicious intent (say, on the part of an attacker or burglar) and react swiftly.

Given the size and overall appearance, it is not surprising that the wolfhound became a byword in Irish folklore because of the exploits of a mythological god-warrior once called Sétanta. As a child, Sétanta was said to have killed the giant dog of Culann in self-defense. From that time on, he was called “Cú,” after the Gaelic word for “whelp” or “pup” and Chulainn after the name of Culann.                                                                                                               

 

 

 

 

 

 

cu c:fight j250
In his typical posture of “riastrad,” the champion thereafter called “Cu”  does battle with a wolfhound. Nude even,

There are some who  will argue that Irish collies are actually older than the wolfhounds. It is certain, however, that they were bred from the dogs that the monks used starting in the 6th century AD to tend their cattle and sheep. When the Vikings swept across Éire, plundering the monasteries, the monks fled to Scotland with their cattle, sheep and of course their dogs.

An author colleague, Kemberlee Shortland, has written to me of the derivation of the word “collie”:

“The Border Collie… was first bred in Ireland! Not the Borders of Scotland. The word Collie is an Anglicized word from an ancient Irish word no longer in use that meant ‘helper’. The Irish word coileán means pup or puppy. That word stemmed from the ancient word for helper.”

“Over the centuries, those dogs moved into England, but because of the farming in the Scottish lowlands, the dogs thrived in the region and large scale breeding came about. Who didn’t want a dog who could fetch sheep from the side of a mountain while you stood in the valley whistling at it?! This is why they became known as the Border Collie, aka the Scottish Border Collie—a collie or helper dog bred in the Borders of Scotland. In reality, they should have been called Irish Collies.”

Regardless of which breed came first, few will argue that the working collie is on the genius scale of canine brains They have been bred for centuries to take care of errant cattle and sheep, and they seem to have an unerring way of knowing just what to do in every circumstance.                      

 

I would like to end this article with a reference to another writer colleague, Miriam Newman, who is involved in dog rescue. If you go to her Blue Rose Blog (see my blogroll on the right side of this page), you will see why she has devoted hundreds of hours to the rescue of dogs of all breeds.

I’m sure Miriam and Kemberlee both would join me in urging you to hug a pup today! Sure an’ if it can’t be an Irish pup, or if ye have no pup, visit your local shelter and learn about unconditional love.

Slán, Erin O’Quinn

If you live in the New York area, follow this link to rescue an endangered pet:www.middlemutts.com
If you live in Central Texas, my dog-loving animal rescue friend James Martinez has given me two links:
Please note that I am re-publishing this article in June of 2018. Your comments are always welcome.
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Cú Chulainn–Ultimate Irish Hero?

After reading several sources about the fabled warrior Cú Chulainn, I need to ask–was he really the quintessential Gaelic hero? Or was he, as Irish playwright Samuel Beckett famously described him, “the . . . patron saint of pure ignorance and crass violence”?

First, let’s get his tongue-twisting name straightened out. In the Irish Gaelic tongue, his name (a bit simplified) would be roughly   coo HOO lun   where the “ch” sound is similar to the Germanic “ch” sound, as in ach.

Every age, every culture needs its larger-than-life heroes. If  Cú Chulainn did not exist, he would have to be invented to fill a human need. Just so, the filí--the bards–of ancient Ireland needed to sing the exploits of a young man who was beloved of women, admired by warriors, respected by enemies, and indomitable in battle. In short, he was a man who represented all that the beautiful, wild land of Éire was to its people.                                                         

Legends about Cú Chulainn abound from about the end of the iron age, just about the time when Caesar was riding roughshod over Celtic territory. Perhaps there is a link between the hero and the conquerer here, but history is silent. Because Caesar’s exploits took place in Gaul, and our warrior  was centered in Ireland, there may be no more connection than a universal knowledge of the hero Achilles in the ancient Homeric epic, or that deep-seated need for a people to extol a national hero.

Cú Chulainn was not born with that name. Legend has it that he was the son of a god and a mortal woman. He was named Sétanta, roughly  sha DAN tuh  in Gaelic.

Although still a stripling, his aspect was so striking and his talents so amazing that he was pressured into seeking a wife. His fancy was for beautiful Emer–but she taunted him with the fact that he was still a boy and sent him off to learn to be a warrior.

So learn he did. He studied under a famous female warrior whom he not only bedded, but he sired a son by her daughter! He later married Emer, who became devoted to him. Cú Chulainn was definitely attractive to the ladies. But women would prove to be his undoing.

Again at a tender age, he attended a feast at the home of one named Culann, a sidhe smith who owned a huge wolfhound. As the legends have it, the dog attacked Sétanta, who killed the beast in self-defense. Feeling bad about killing the dog, the hero offered to stay until another guard dog could be trained. From that time onward, he bore the name “Cú” meaning whelp or young dog, and “Chulainn,” a form of Culann–The Hound of Culann.

Even such a warrior as Cú Chulainn would be just another legend if it were not for Queen Maeve and the famous Cattle Raid of Cooley. The mortal warriors of Ulster, true to a curse uttered by the goddess Macha, were rendered impotent for battle when Maeve’s army attacked. So our divine-born hero, unaffected by the curse, took them on single-handedly.

The standard of battle in legends was that one warrior could challenge another on behalf of whole armies. And so Cú Chulainn, greater than any warrior of the time, easily conquered any that Queen Maeve could send. Finally she was forced to make a bargain with him to end the bloodshed.

One of the most enduring aspects of Cú Chulainn was the “battle frenzy” or ríastrad, that seized him while fighting. Similar to the berserker aspect of the later Vikings, many a legend and picture of him shows him in full “warp spasm,” a term coined by the translator Thomas Kinsella.

Cú Chulainn died as violently as he had lived. Having angered the powerful Queen Maeve, he was cursed by her sending against him the deadly triple aspect of Goddesses called the Morrigan. To make a short tale of a brutal and bloody end, he was pierced by his own spears. He dragged himself to a standing stone and lashed himself there in order to remain standing. Most renditions of his death–including a famous statue in the General Post Office of Dublin–show him bound to the stone with a raven perched on his shoulder as a symbol of death. There is even a rock in Co. Louth fabled to be the stone he died upon.

As for my initial question–whether Cú Chulainn is a true hero or a symbol of all that is ignorant and brutal–I shall leave that for others to decide. If he is crass and ignorant, so then are the indomitable heroes of the Iliad, and mighty Beowulf, and for that matter the Biblical David and scores of other heroes who made their bones not by their intellects or moral fiber, but by their mighty deeds.

 

Erin O’Quinn’s romance-adventure novels are set in fifth-century Ireland, when deeds of old would soon give way to the godspels of the New Testament as spread by tonsured priests and the famous bishop Patrick. But those old ways have died hard—if at all!

The books are available as follows:

~The Twilight of Magic series (fantasy for all ages)
http://amzn.to/2C6SI6m  

~The Dawn of Ireland series (M/F fantasy/romance)
http://amzn.to/2pxBRGY

~The Iron Warrior series (M/M romance/adventure)
http://amzn.to/2n3sTgh

Stag Heart (M/M romance/adventure)

  https://is.gd/bQK5lo  (all links, reviews, #explicit #excerpt)

~and~

Kindle US https://is.gd/G6elnN  

Kindle UK https://is.gd/ocon0O  

SeaToSky https://is.gd/MrfeiG  (pdf or epub)

Smashwords https://is.gd/vU7yxi  (epub)

 

 

 

Featured

How to be an Instant Irishman

map 250

‘Tis not just the lilting, musical tone of Gaelige that charms the ear and wins friends and sweethearts. The Irish have a way of speaking even curses that plays on the soul and begs to be sung.

I’ve gathered some of my own favorite Irish blessings, curses, drinking toasts and folk sayings. I’m sure you have a treasure trove of your own. If so, please add them to the comment section below.

When I could find the Gaelige, I put it next to the English translation. I’ve also added a few common endearments and other everyday expressions.

Cheers and sayings related to drink:                                                                                                           

Health! (Cheers!) Sláinte!

Ireland forever! Eireann go Brach!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Beannachtai na Feile Padraig!

Thirst is a shameless disease…so here’s to a shameful cure.

‘Tis the first drop that destroys you. There’s no harm at all in the last.

Good as drink is, it ends in thirst.

                        Blessings:

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields,
And until we meet again,
May God hold you
In the palm of his hand.

May you live as long as you want,
And never want as long as you live…

May the road rise with you.
Go n-éirí on bóthar leat.

(And my favorite:)
May your feet never sweat.

 

Curses:                                                                                                                                                 

                                                                                                        

Burning and scorching on you.
Dóite agus loisceadh ort.

May you leave without returning.
Imeacht gan teacht ort.

May you fall without rising.
Titim gan eiri ort.

[And, if it’s a particularly cringe-worthy curse:]

The same to you.
Gurab amhlaidh duit.

Kiss my butt!
Póg mo thoin!  pronounced <pohg muh hoin>

Folk Sayings:                                                                                                 

Say little but say it well.
Beagán agus a rá go maith.

May you be across Heaven’s threshold before the Devil knows you’re dead.

He who gets a name for early rising can stay in bed until midday.                                                                   

Man is incomplete until he marries. After that, he is finished.

You can’t kiss an Irish girl unexpectedly. You can only kiss her sooner than she thought you would.

Wisdom is the comb given to a man after he has lost his hair.

God is good, but never dance in a small boat.

The man with the boots does not mind where he places his foot.

The only cure for love is marriage.
Nil aon leigheas ar an ngra ach posadh.

Many a time a man’s mouth broke his nose.
Is minic a bhris beal duine a shron.

 

Other sayings:

I put the following original sayings in the mouth of one if my characters, Ryan Murphy, a character in Storm Maker and The Wakening Fire. Ryan is a kind of home-spun cowboy who always has something to say about the ageless dance of man with woman.

The less said, the longer wed.

A woman’s mouth can be a man’s downfall–or the way to stand him up again.

If ye’d be wealthy, marry a smart woman.

When first ye wed, ye stay in bed.

 

Quotes about the Irish:

[The Irish]  is one race of people for whom psychoanalysis is of no use whatsoever. ~Sigmund Freud                     

I’m troubled, I’m dissatisfied. I’m Irish.  ~Marianne Moore

 

Terms of endearment and everyday sayings:

The equivalent of “Hello” means “God be with you”:
Dia dhuit   < dee-ah dwit> or <dee-ah gheet>

My dear/darling/treasure…
A chuisle mo chroí...  <a quish/leh  muh kree>  Literally means “beat of my heart”

I love you.
Is tú mo ghra.  <ees too muh grah>

In conclusion, may I say

Goodbye… an’ blessings on ye.
Slán agus beannacht leat.

Those who enjoyed these expressions may also enjoy the characters in my novels–ancient Gaelic warriors, cowboys, brehons, druids, tonsured monks, high kings, St. Paddy himself, and many more. I use Gaelic words often, for I love the cadence and the soft blur around the edges of the language.

Note: In order to update this blog, I’ve put a new date…and a whole new look…to the post you just read.

 

 

Featured

Romancing the stones: the Picts

Part I: The Symbols

Which came first–the splendid stone work of the Picts . . .  or the lavish tattoos that history says adorned their bodies, and whose designs are found on stones all over Scotland? (Note from the map that the stones are heavily concentrated in the east, north of the Forth and extending as far as the Orkney and Shetland islands.)

As an introduction to the unusual art of the Picts, let me say that historians and archaeologists long ago fossilized the Pictish stone work into “Classes,” depending on the assumed age of the carvings and on the subject matter. Here is a brief breakdown of those arbitrary categories:

Class I: Rough stones containing only symbols, dating from the 6th to 8th c AD.

 

Class II: Stones usually rectangular in shape, usually showing Christian crosses on one or both sides in addition to other symbols, dating from the 8th and 9th c AD

Ab 2 330

Class III: A controversial classification  that “throws in” such free-standing markers as gravestones, crosses and boundary markers; none of the class III stones bear symbols.

The first fact to note here is that the classifications all include post-Christian dates, i.e., from around 600 AD, a few generations after St. Patrick went to Ireland and sent his monks throughout Éire and Alba (modern Scotland).

And yet, the designs themselves tell of a people long predating the Christian influence.  There are anywhere from 30 to 50 such designs, with the following designations:

V-rod/with crescent

 

Z-rod/with double disc

Mirror case

Comb design

Horseshoe/arch design

These designs do not take into account the figures of animals, fish, birds, “monsters,” and humans that found their way onto the stones and that are so widely copied today on our bodies and clothing too. I will show these figures in part II of this article next week.

The point I am making here is that the symbols shown above seem to reflect a society and a style far older than the 6th c AD. I tend to agree with those who theorize that these symbols were first painted on walls, made into jewelry, and placed on everything from door lintels to shields–even  on the bodies of the Picts themselves–before they were carved into stones. This would mean that the Picts’ artistic influence was felt long before many scholars theorize. It would also give credence to the Roman chroniclers’ accounts of blue tattoos on the bodies of these warriors whom they apparently feared enough to erect an immense wall to keep them out of Britannia. (See the article “Hadrian’s Wall” in these archives.)

According to a web article at www.orkneyjar.com:

These symbols, it has been suggested, predate the symbol stones and were perhaps based on the tattoos the Pictish tribes used to decorate their bodies.

From body adornments, which may have had symbolic or magical properties, the symbols may have been transferred onto objects such as jewellery, shields and doorposts before finally ending up on the symbol stones.

The article “Pictish stones” in Wikipedia says:

Simple or early forms of the symbols are carved on the walls of coastal caves at East Wemyss, Fife and Covesea, Moray. It is therefore thought likely that they were represented in other more perishable forms that have not survived in the archaeological record, perhaps including clothing and tattoos.

I have absolutely no doubt that Pictish inscriptions were painted in caves, and that they will be found by archaeologists, along with creature symbols to rival those of the neanderthal-age cave paintings in France.

The stone pictured on the right is called the Dunnichen Stone, a Class I stone as you can see from the presence of symbols only, and the lack of any Christian cross design. Some have said that the “comb and mirror” designations reflect the matrilineal society of the Picts and perhaps denote the property, grave or other territory of a locally powerful female figure. The top figure on the stone is  thought to be a  flower, a relatively rare symbol in Pictish stone work.

The stone was found in a farmer’s field, plowed up to expose its sandstone face. It has since been moved to nearby Dunnichen in Scotland. The stone measures a little over four and a half feet tall, two feet wide and one foot thick.

My writer’s imagination immediately seized on this spectacular stone, and I have given it the name “The Queen’s Stone.” It  has found a place in my writing, and a lovely woman has already been created (by artist/author Rebecca Poole) to befit the stone. I show the link after this article.

Here is another stone found near Aberlemno in Angus (roughly 20 miles NE of Dundee, Scotland) that is famously called the Serpent Stone. Archaeologists call it Aberlemno I, referring to its “class I status” as I describe above. As much as the first stone reminds me of a powerful woman, this one speaks of a strong male figure, perhaps a king. It is five feet tall, and the back of the stone is incised by “cup marks,” perhaps carved in a distant prehistoric time. The “feminine” symbols of mirror and comb are located near the bottom, and the center, like the Dunnichen Stone, is dominated by the Z-rod and disk symbols. The dominant position of the serpent  and the overall phallic shape are, to me, remarkably a male, just as as the flower and overall shape of the Dunnichen Stone conjure up a female image.

This one is a roadside stone, marred somewhat by plow marks, located in a dry stone wall.  It is one of the few that have been left in their original location; most have been moved to churchyards and museums.

My  identification of “male” and “female” symbols and stones are strictly my own, based on a fertile imagination and a lifelong love of stones.

 

 

 

 

As promised, here’s an image and link to my short story inspired by (ta-DAH) that Dunnichen stone.

QueensStonesRP=pizap.com14891797169801

QUEEN’S STONES: A short romance set in ancient Scotland 

How can a cheeky stranger know the ancient secret of the stones? And even if he could ever guess…how could he possibly discover her own?

~

MF historical fantasy romance 99c

Prequel to MM story ON FALCON WINGS

Amazon US: http://amzn.to/2mtvf90  

Amazon UK: http://amzn.to/2mbamgj  

http://www.seatoskybooks.com/erin-oquinn/5744-queens-stones/?page=2 (pdf or epub)

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/709851 (pdf)

Original art of woman by Dreams2media Rebecca Poole

 

Featured

Hadrian’s Wall: Roman vs. Scot? Or not?

The Wall of Hadrian is strung like a stone necklace across the thin neck of England, just south of Scotland. From a little distance, I can almost imagine myself in China gazing at the Great Wall, seeing the famous Roman construction follow the lines of the rolling hills from horizon to horizon.

The wall was built under orders from the emperor Hadrian. It runs about 73 miles east to west, made of local limestone and, where stone could not be quarried, of turf and rubble. According to Wikipedia, “It is a common misconception that Hadrian’s wall marks the boundary between England and Scotland. This is not the case; Hadrian’s wall lies entirely within England,” south of the Scottish border by about half a mile in the west at Carlisle, and by about 68 miles in the east at Wallsend.

As we say in America–close enough for government work!

Massive as the undertaking was, the wall took just six years to build. Started in 122 AD and completed in 128 AD, it seems to have been constructed by three sets of Roman legions, laboring in fair weather or foul, seemingly as consumed with the task as they were with the construction of their hugely expansive roads. The Romans were dedicated, to say the least. Perhaps the whip was set to their back. Or perhaps the promise of rewards back in Rome kept their backs bowed to the task.

The question I have is this: why was this wall built? Historians have speculated on the various purposes of the Wall of Hadrian, and they have settled on four possible reasons:

To keep the Scoti and other Caledoni, the northern tribes, from invading Britannia. From fragments found by archaeologists, we know that part of Hadrian’s purpose was “to keep intact the empire.” The emperor’s biographer states that Hadrian’s policy was “defense before expansion.”

 

But from records of the time, it seems clear that these tribes were hardly a threat to the well-armed and  heavily-fortified Romans. Crude spears against metal swords, tribes on foot against mounted soldiers, swarming masses on the ground against well-trained men in fortified walltowers, or at least on the high ground–it  seems likely that the wall was overkill if it was meant to drive out the barbarians.  Historians theorize that all these reasons argue against the wall being purely defensive.

wall cutaway 240

To mark the extent of the Roman empire in the north. Building limites, or markers, was common for the Romans. But a 73-mile marker (the singular Latin form is lime) would seem to be somewhat overkill–I use that word again–simply to mark the Romans’ world from that of the barbarians.

To give the Romans a large degree of control in exacting customs and other taxes from those traveling to and from the wall. Here is an argument that seems a little silly to me, but of course I am no historian. How many wayfarers could there have been then, traveling to and from the relatively wild area of the far north of Britannia? And how wealthy were those who sought to travel across the wall? If the Romans wanted to enrich the empire by means of customs, it would have been more logical to place customs checkpoints at the harbors, such as Deva Victrix, where several thousands of people traveled by land and sea.

To serve as a tangible reminder of the might of Rome and, above all, the power of its grand emperor.  In fact, the emperor himself once made the long journey to northern Britannia to watch the progress of his wall. If the area was so dangerous, it seems unlikely that he would have been idly watching from his litter as the legionnaires bent to the task. The Wikipedia article notes that “Once its construction was finished, it is thought to have been covered in plaster and then white-washed, its shining surface able to reflect the sunlight and be visible for miles around.” In those days, whitewash was a combination of lime and chalk used to protect outdoor surfaces from the ravages of the weather. So it seems reasonable that yes, the imposing wall shone in the sun’s rays and bedazzled travelers by its size and its radiance too.

So it seems that the wall served multiple purposes: to keep out unwanted, possibly dangerous foreigners; to mark the territory of the Romans; to serve as a customs-gathering means of fattening the pocket of Rome; and to serve as a reminder of the glory of Rome and her emperor Hadrian.

hadrians 240I am fascinated by the Wall of Hadrian, and I have placed two of my characters in, on, or around that wall. Gristle, known as Marcus when he was a soldier, was stationed in the nearby hills of the Lake District in Warrior, Ride Hard. He and his soldiers were pitted against the roaming Pictish tribes. In the sequel titled Warrior, Stand Tall, I introduce a character named Dub or Dubthach who fought at the wall and ventured beyond to marry a Caledonian maiden.

The country itself is magnificent, as you can tell by looking at the various photos here. As I was browsing the images, seeing so many “tourist photos,” it came as rather a shock to see a few taken during the winter, where Gristle sardonically remarks that he “froze his buttocks” on the unyielding walls. It is also remarkable how the Romans built this huge enterprise by following the lay of the land. But of course, how else could they have done it?

Read more about the ancient world of Britannia, Hibernia, Wales, and Alba (Scotland) in the  novels of Erin O’Quinn:

The Twilight of Magic (fantasy for all ages): http://amzn.to/2C6SI6m 
The Dawn of Ireland (M/F fantasy romance): http://amzn.to/2pxBRGY
The Iron Warrior trilogy (M/M romance-adventure): http://amzn.to/2n3sTgh
Stag Heart (M/M fantasy romance-adventure):

fierce 200QRI:  https://is.gd/bQK5lo  (all links, reviews, explicit excerpt)

~and~

Kindle US https://is.gd/G6elnN

Kindle UK https://is.gd/ocon0O

SeaToSky https://is.gd/MrfeiG  (pdf or epub)

Smashwords https://is.gd/vU7yxi  (epub)

Slán until next time…Erin O’Quinn

Featured

Who were the Picts? And what about those tattoos?

While reading about those mysterious people called “Picts,” I found out a few interesting bits that I’d like to share with my readers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

True or false? The Picts were really Caledonians, the people who later became Scoti to the Romans, and finally “Scots.” Answer:  PROBABLY FALSE.

True or false? The Picts bore blue tattoos on their bodies, virtually from head to toe. Answer: MAYBE.

I realize that I’m hedging my bets here. But almost 2,000 years after the Romans wrote about those people with picti, or pictures on their body, who’s to know for sure where they came from and what those blue marks really were?

Let me begin with the first “myth”–that the Picts were really just an offshoot of the Caledoni, the tribes that the Romans found when they invaded present-day Scotland at the dawn of the first century AD.

If the evolution of language is a way to trace the ancestry of a people, then perhaps it’s only a myth that our present day Scotsmen can trace their lineage to the Picts. Even though the Roman chroniclers were careful to distinguish among the people they conquered–and even those they did not–it seems that the Picts were one group of people, a distinct race, among others that the Romans found when they invaded the north of the great island of Britannia.

There is one school of thought that traces the Picts back to Iberia, the Roman’s name for modern Spain. Others think that the Picts originated in the Orkney and even the Shetland islands, two island groups that lie well north of the Scottish mainland. Could the original immigrants have come from Norway–or even Iceland and beyond–and settled in those islands, centuries before the Norsemen penetrated as far as Britannia itself?

Most scholars think that the Picts were a large distinct tribe that inhabited most of present-day Scotland until about the fifth century AD. Then they began to be subsumed with the people the Romans named the Scoti, a nation of people that emigrated from the region called “Dál Riada,” encompassing the modern day Inner Hebrides and a portion of Northern Ireland, modern Co. Antrim. On the satellite image pictured here, Dál Riada is in the shaded oval. Thus the Irish Gaels merged with the Picti to form a nation called Scoti, or Scots. The term “Caledonian” seems to be almost generic, a term the Romans used to refer to anyone beyond the great walls they erected to keep the savages from penetrating the rest of Britannia.

The question that no scholars have been able to answer is this: how could such a large number of people, spread throughout thousands of miles, have virtually disappeared in a few generations? It’s possible that instead of disappearing, the hardy Picti merely intermarried with the Scoti, to form the rugged, handsome people we now call Scots.

Mind you, this is a guess. No one knows for sure. One of the greatest mysteries of the Picts is their language. Not a trace of their language remains except in stone markings called “ogham,” a language that has been traced to the so-called P-Celtic tongue. Not a trace of their widespread early culture remains except in the form of standing stones with distinctive artwork, in unearthed burrows, and in the traces of stone houses, among other remnants.

Likewise, no one really knows the truth about the famous Pictish “tattoos.”

I’m almost reluctant to use the word “tattoo,” originating as it does from Tahiti/Samoa as late as the 17th century. In fact, in a short story I wrote about a blue-marked Pict, I used the term “pricked-in” to refer to the falcon embedded on his chest, and below you’ll see why I settled on that term.

The very word “pict” derives from the term used by  a Roman chronicler who thought that these people were covered with blue “pictures.” The blueness of the markings has been thought for centuries to be derived from a plant called “woad,” a member of the mustard family, whose ground roots render a distinctive blue dye.

Until recently, it was assumed that the woad plant was inserted under the skin after elaborate markings were picked, or pricked-in, with some kind of slender needle. But experiments show that first of all, the woad dye is short-lived, lasting only a week or two before it becomes so faded that it almost disappears. Second, anyone injected with woad paste or powder becomes very ill. It’s a substance that humans can hardly tolerate.

So how did the Picts make their tattoos?

Well, it’s entirely possible that the markings were not picked into their skin at all, but were painted–much the same as the Amerind “war paint.” I like to think that those who saw the distinctive blue swirls and designs were on the wrong side of the Picts’ better nature, and those marks were the sign of outright hostility–war paint, if you will.

Another plausible theory is that the blue paste worked under their skin was woad mixed with an iron-based pigment that would ensure that the marks remained, and that did not sicken the wearer.

I like to think that these ancient warriors, with a  culture based on matrilineal descent, were naturally drawn to the  intricate curved and geometric designs that we think of to this day as “Celtic” or “Pictish.”

Remembering that the Picts lived in a matriarchal society, ask yourself:  Who but a woman would have thought first of adorning herself with lovely patterns that highlight the muscles and natural curves of the body? You read it here first, my friends: Pictish tattoos were invented by a woman. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.  😉

The early novels of Erin O’Quinn are centered largely in the northern portion of ancient Ireland—Derry, Inishowen, Tyrconnell (Donegal), Coleraine. From there, the characters have journeyed to sacred Armagh and Tara, south  to Wales, across Britannia to Deva Victrix, to Cambria, north to the great wall of Hadrian and beyond.

Join the growing number of readers who are beginning to learn about the wild-ass people of this exciting time on the cusp of written history through a series of unique novels.

~The Dawn of Ireland
http://amzn.to/2pxBRGY

 

~The Iron Warrior
http://amzn.to/2n3sTgh

Erin O’Quinn’s Man in Romance blog:  http://romancemanlove.wordpress.com/

This short story explores, in part, the history of homoerotica in the 8th C AD. Why did Ireland stand apart in its “modern” attitude about gay love?

FalconZon

#gay #fantasy #historical #erotic #romance
Kindle US: http://amzn.to/1WQ59IQ
Kindle UK: http://goo.gl/vxtk4T

I do everything backwards, I think. Here’s the prequel to the book above…all about the mother of the Pict Tawn. Just published! (March 2017) It’s much more mainstream, yet it has a certain sensual charm…

QUEEN’S STONES

#mf #fantasy #historical #romancequeen secret coll=pizap.com14893794293486

Amazon US: http://amzn.to/2mtvf90
Amazon UK: http://amzn.to/2mbamgj
http://www.seatoskybooks.com/erin-oquinn/5744-queens-stones/?page=2
https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/709851 (pdf)

Original art of woman by dreams2media Rebecca Poole

Featured

Ireland: A Landscape Built in Dreams

The Lagan, near Belfast after a rain

All my early books about Ireland were written looking from my window at the rain-parched landscape of central Texas. If ever I needed an inner eye, an active imagination, it was when Caylith and her immigrants first walked on the soil of Éire–when they embarked from their little skin-clad currachs from the bay where today stands the city of Belfast at the juncture of the Irish Sea and the lovely Lagan River.      

From there, I needed to envision the lush rolling hills, the green bogland, the cattle-dotted land between the coast and the huge Lough Neagh, Ireland’s largest lake. And the home of Father Patrick, the famous hill of Emain Macha, had to be not just distinctive but awe-inspiring–the place where the faith of a whole nation was born through the dedication of a man and his ever-widening ministry.

A panoramic view of the Hill of Macha, showing a modern roundhouse on the top
The Foyle not far from Derry

On the hill of Macha I set a large clay-and-wattle roundhouse and a perpetual bonfire, a reminder by Patrick to the people of Christ’s immortality. Even though that fire was my own creation, still it seems a logical fixture in the place where the later saint started his ministry.

Once Caylith and the pilgrims made their inland trek north to Derry, the settlement they built along the River Foyle, she naturally sought out the swift river and the large rocks imbedded along the bank and in the water itself. There she could fish for salmon and trout as she lay on a large rock, daydreaming as the cold, flashing currents swirled and leapt their way to the lake beyond, and from there to the northern sea.

The mighty Foyle, swiftest river in Éire

Many of my visions were mental ones. Writing that first romance, Storm Maker, I did not know how to navigate the web, how to instantly call forth the photos I show today. I’m surprised now, in retrospect, how close my imagination came to reality. And in some locales, I’m shamed at the disparity between the site and my inner perspective of the place.

One view of Trawbreaga Bay, Inishowen

Never mind.  The sites are vivid to me each time I re-read the passages where, for instance, in The Wakening Fire Caylith and Liam stopped on their way to Limavady and conceived their first-born under a red-berried holly. Or the winding bay, the lovely Trawbreaga Bay in Inishowen, where the two of them washed off the stench of their captured enemy in Storm Maker; and where later, in Fire & Silk, a future king established his first domain.

As the books continued and my ability on the computer improved, I was able to see actual photos of the treacherous Tory Island that figured so prominently in Captive Heart, the pyramidal Mt. Errigal with its rose-quartz color at sunset, the fingers of lightning that plague the north coast of modern Donegal, and much more, in Fire & Silk.

A rocky strand on Trawbreaga Bay

And yet, even with photos in front of me, I still needed to walk the land and sift the soil between my fingers. I needed to see the broken-knife shapes of the rocks on Tory and imagine them as resurrected warriors. I needed to see through the eyes of a future king the hill fort overlooking the Swilly River, and much more.

And so, even though these photos capture part of the spirit of my books, I can honestly say that my imaginary landscape is lovely and compelling too.

Mt. Errigal seems to reflect its color back to the clouds.

I’ll leave this flight of fancy with my imaginary waterfall on Mt. Errigal, as Mariana saw it:

She stood under a tall, rough escarpment, one that lay at an angle that would shield this low ground from the force of the prevailing wind. And then her ear was caught by a growl so continual and insistent that it took her several seconds to understand that a waterfall flowed from the bluff, hidden by a line of nearby tall pines. Enthralled, she walked toward the sound.

Emerging from the trees, she stood openmouthed. She had never seen a waterfall before. This one arched from the highest part of the bluff, catching the sunlight in its crystal sprays, tumbling and singing down the side of Errigal like a jeweled ornament. She soon understood the roar as a series of sounds—the rush of the water itself, the pounding of waves on rock, the echo it made as it tumbled and fell from Errigal’s thighs. Yes, she agreed with Flann. Errigal was a woman. She was a wanton, a beguiler, a siren, and a summoner of men. For the first time, she began to form an idea of Flann’s attraction to this place. 

As far as Flann goes,

He was walking into [a] recurrent dream. He wanted Mariana to see his mountain, his waterfall, through his eyes. Would the myriad diamonds of the cascades reflect back in her eyes? Or would the flashing brilliance of her eyes jump and swirl in his waterfall? He ached to find out.

Please come with me to ancient Éire and experience the landscape for yourself–both the real one and the one conjured in my dreams.

“Baylor’s Teeth” on Tory Island

The Dawn of Ireland Trilogy http://amzn.to/2pxBRGY
Storm Maker
The Wakening Fire
Captive Heart
Fire & Silk… To be re-released

The Iron Warrior trilogy
http://amzn.to/2n3sTgh
Warrior, Ride Hard
Warrior, Stsnd Tall…
Warrior, Come Again

Stag Heart (sequel to Warrior, Come Again), set on the sacred Hill of Tara, site of mischief and mayhem:

  https://is.gd/bQK5lo  (all links, reviews, #explicit #excerpt)

~and~

Kindle US https://is.gd/G6elnN  

Kindle UK https://is.gd/ocon0O  

SeaToSky https://is.gd/MrfeiG  (pdf or epub)

Smashwords https://is.gd/vU7yxi  (epub)