Tag Archives: midsummer

In Praise of May

This poem, translated by T. W. Rolleston, is attributed to Fionn Mac Cumhail:

May-Day! delightful day!
Bright colours play the vale along.
Now wakes at morning’s slender ray
Wild and gay the blackbird’s song.

Now comes the bird of dusty hue,
The loud cuckoo, the summer-lover;
Branchy trees are thick with leaves;
The bitter, evil time is over.

Swift horses gather nigh
Where half dry the river goes;
Tufted heather clothes the height;
Weak and white the bogdown blows.

Corncrake sings from eve to morn,
Deep in corn, a strenuous bard!
Sings the virgin waterfall,
White and tall, her one sweet word.

Loaded bees with puny power
Goodly flower-harvest win;
Cattle roam with muddy flanks;
Busy ants go out and in.

Through the wild harp of the wood
Making music roars the gale —
Now it settles without motion,
On the ocean sleeps the sail.

Men grow mighty in the May,
Proud and gay the maidens grow;
Fair is every wooded height;
Fair and bright the plain below.

A bright shaft has smit the streams,
With gold gleams the water-flag;
Leaps the fish, and on the hills
Ardour thrills the leaping stag.

Loudly carols the lark on high,
Small and shy, his tireless lay.
Singing in wildest, merriest mood,
Delicate-hued, delightful May.

From Eleanor Hull’s The Poem-Book of the Gael.

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Posted by on April 19, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Áine and the Fitzgerald family

Áine is a goddess closely associated with Knockainey (Cnoc Áine) and the nearby Lough Gur, as well the Fitzgerald family – an Anglo-Norman family who appear to have adopted Áine as a legendary ancestor in order to legitimate their claim over the land that was taken from the Irish and given to them.

The following tales give a few examples of how closely related she came to be with the Fitzgerald family, and given the name of the author of the article these are taken from, it’s probably no surprise that he goes into such detail: 

Some couple of Irish miles from Loch Guirr, at the foot of the ancient hill of Cnoc-Áine, and close by the brink of the little river Camóg, stands the square tower of an old castle; and at no great distance off is another spot, also by the bank of the river, called by the country people the Bonn, or foundation, which is the site of another castle. In these two castles, according to the tradition of the place, lived long ago a famous Earl of Desmond, and his more famous enchanted son, Geróid Íarla, Earl Gerald. They say that the Earl of Desmond led very much the life of a libertine, and that walking one morning along the river’s edge he saw a beautiful woman seated by the water, combing out her long hair after bathing. Her cloak was laid behind her on the grass, and knowing that if he had but possession of this he would have her in his power, the Earl advanced noiselessly from behind, and seized it before its owner was aware of his approach.

The beautiful woman was Áine-n’-Chlíar herself; and she told the Earl that he never could have had his will with her had he not seized her cloak. She told him further that she would bear him a son, whom he was to bring up with ail possible care, like any other gentleman, sparing no cost on his education. One caution however she gave her lover: he was not to show surprise at anything, how strange soever, his son should do. When the usual time of nature was accomplished Áine brought one day to the Earl his infant son; and the father’s pride was great in him, then and after, as he grew up from year to year to manhood. Of these years nothing specially strange is handed down. The young earl led just such a life as any other young lord of his day; and he excelled in the accomplishments of his age and rank. But one memorable evening it happened that there was a gathering of great ladies and gentlemen at the castle of the Earl of Desmond. There was dancing, and of all the ladies none could vie with a certain one among the guests. The grace and the endurance of this young woman were however beaten, every one said, by those of the young Earl Gerald himself. When the dance was ended, this lady engaged him in another contest, for while all were seated at the supper-table she suddenly arose, and at one leap cleared guests, table, dishes and all, and then leaped back again. The old Earl of Desmond turned to his son and said, “Can you do anything like that?” “No,” said Geróid. “Well, stand up and try. Don’t let yourself be beaten by a woman.” Thus commanded, Geróid Íarla rose to his feet, and making a spring from where he stood, leaped right into a bottle, and then leaped out again. There was great admiration at this feat; and with the rest the Earl of Desmond looked in the greatest astonishment at his son, saying he never thought he had such power. “Were you not warned,” said the young Earl, “never to show wonder at anything I might do? Now you have forced me to leave you.” He turned about at the words, and walked from the hall, his father and others following him. He walked out on the brink of the Camóg, which almost washes the base of the castle, and they saw him step from the bank on the water. Up to that instant he had the shape of an ordinary man, but when he touched the water he was transformed into a goose, and in that form away he swam before their eyes. Where he went to was an island in Loch Guirr, and from this he has his name of Gé-an-Oileáin, the Goose of the Island. From this too cornes the imprecation which many yet use in that cursing county, but few understand, “Im-theacht-Gédh-an Oileáin ort!” “That you may go like the Goose of the Island.”

Though he no longer dwelt in the castle at Knockainy after this, it is said that Geróid used to sometimes visit his father; that when the old lord was drawing near his end he made his will in favour of Áine and his strange child; and that both mother and son came to the castle the night before his death.

After the death of the Earl o’ Desmond, Áine long continued to dwell on Cnoc-Áine — as indeed she dwells in it yet. But in those days it was not such a rich and fertile piece of land as much of its surface, where clear of rock, is now. Geróid came one day to visit his mother, and looking round on the bare soil he said, “Is fad’ ó cathadh eórna inso, a h’ Aine” (It is long since barley was winnowed here, Áine). Next morning when he looked at the hill it was all planted with pease, set by his mother during the night.

Another time, coming from Loch Guirr on a like visit, it would seem that, though he was of the water himself, he was yet in danger of his life at the ford of Cnoc-Áine. “Is beag nár bádhag mé san áth-san thair,” he said, “I was all but drowned in yon ford to the east.” The day following, when he returned to the ford, behold, Áine had laid down the casán, the set of massive stepping-stones by the aid of which people now cross the swollen water in safety. But some old people say that it was not Áine, but another enchanted woman, the Cailleach Bhiarach1, that laid these stones.

Áine is sometimes to be seen, half her body above the waters, on the bosom of Loch Guirr, combing her hair, as the Earl of Desmond beheld her by the bank of the Camóg. The commoner account is that she dwells within the hill which bears her name, and on which she has often been seen. Every Saint John’s Night the men used to gather on the hill from ail quarters. They where formed in ranks by an old man called Quinlan, whose family yet (1876) live on the hill; and cliars, bunches, that is, of straw and hay tied upon poles, and lit, were carried in procession round the hill and the little moat on the summit, Mullach-Crocáin-Iámh-lé-leab’-an-Triúir (the hillock-top near the grave of the three). Afterwards people ran through the cultivated fields, and among the cattle, waving these cliars, which brought luck to crops and beasts for the following year. There was this about the night of the cliars, that if you came, say, from some neighbouring village to join in the sport it was necessary that on getting on the hill you should look at the moon, and mark what her position was in regard to the place to which you had to return: otherwise you would lose your way when the cliars were out, and you had to get back home in the darkness. One Saint John’s Night it happened that one of the neighbours lay dead, and on this account the usual cliars were not lit. Not lit, I should say, by the hands of living men; for that night such a procession of cliars marched round Cnoc-Áine as never was seen before, and Áine herself was seen in the front, directing and ordering every thing. On another Saint John’s Night a number of girls had staid late on the hill, watching the cliars and joining in the games. Suddenly Áine appeared among them, “thanked them for the honour they had done her,” but said that now she wished them to go home, as They wanted the hill to themselves. She let them understand whom she meant by  “they”, for calling some of the girls she made them look through a ring, when behold, the hill appeared crowded with people before invisible. Another time she came one night into the house of some people whose friends are yet living at one end of the hill, and brought them a sheep. So long as the family kept this animal, luck remained with them, and when they parted with it, luck
abandoned them.

Áine is spoken of as “the best-hearted woman that ever lived”; and the oldest families about Knockainy are proud to claim descent from her. These Sliocht-Áine (descendants of Áine) include the OBriens, Dillanes, Creeds, Laffins, Deas. We must add Fitzgeralds, what few remain thereabouts.

The meadow-sweet, or queen-of-the-meadow, is thought to be Áine’s plant, and to owe to her its fragrant odour.

David Fitzgerald, ‘Popular Tales of Ireland,‘ in Revue Celtique Volume IV, 1880, p186-190.


1 The note that Fitzgerald gives here comments that the Cailleach’s name means ‘a hooded woman’; indeed it does, but the meaning suggested for her second name, ‘horned’ is less likely; as Grant notes, it most likely relates to ‘peak, point, pinnacle’ – as in the mountain tops with which the Cailleach is so frequently associated. Fitzgerald himself mentions this in his note, and gives some interesting lore as well: “she has given her name to mountains; and the fine well at Oranmore, which runs wine every seventh year, is called from her, Tobar-na-Cailllghe Béaraighe…She appears in Cantire tradition, wherein she repairs every seventh year to a certain medicinal well to renew her youth (The White Wife etc., by Cuthbert Bede. London, 1865. P. 124)…She places stepping-stones etc. in the waters; and the floods, it is said, can never rise above them…”

In Ireland, the Cailleach is most commonly known as Cailleach Bhéarra.


Posted by on January 31, 2012 in Uncategorized


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The first ruler of Man

Manannan mac y Leirr, the Son of the Sea, was the first Ruler of Mann. He was a great Wizard, and he was so powerful that afterwards he was looked on as a god. He had a great stone fort on Peel Island, and he could make one man, standing on its battlements, seem to be a hundred. When he saw his enemies’ ships sailing, he would cover the island round with a silver mist so that it could not be seen ; and if, in spite of the mist, his enemies came near, he would throw chips into the water and change them into ships. He was out walking one day on Barrule, when he saw the warships of the Northmen were in the bay of Peel. And with that he made himself into the shape of three legs and rolled like a wheel down from the mountain top as fast as the wind. It was about low tide in the harbour, and there ran a stream of sparkling water out to sea. Now the banks of the stream were marshy, and by the river-side grew a quantity of sedge with broad, green leaves. So Manannan made little boats of the sedge, a good number of them, and sailed his boats in the stream. And when the little fleet floated out of the harbour, he caused them to look like great ships of war, well manned with fighting men. Then terror seized on the Northmen when they saw the Manx fleet, and they cut their cables, hoisted sails, and cleared away as fast as they could, and Manannan and his island were left in peace. Thus did he keep Mann, and not with his sword, or his bow and arrows.

In his fort he had a great banqueting-hall, where handsome boys made sweet music, and others played games and did great feats of strength. He had a horse called Enbarr of the Flowing Mane, who could travel like the wind over sea as well as land, swift hounds that could catch any wild beast, and a sword called The Answerer, whose wound was always fatal, besides his Magic Branch and his wonderful boat, Wave Sweeper.

He governed Mann well for long, long years. Manx people had the best of good treatment from him, and all the rent he wanted was that each one was to bring a bundle of green rushes to him on the Mountain of South Barrule on Midsummer Eve. The island was a happy place, full of sunshine and all pleasant things, and no person there was old or tired or sad.

Manx men have never forgotten Manannan, and this thousand years our fisher-men have prayed to him the following prayer, as they have put out to sea. Even up to the days of our fathers it has been used:

Manannan Beg Mac y Leirr
Little Manannan Son of the Sea,
Who blessed our island,
Bless us and our boat, going out well.
Coming in better, with living and dead in our boat.

From Sophia Morrison’s Manx Fairy Tales, 1911, pp171-173.

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Posted by on January 28, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Paying the rents to Manannán

Here is an excerpt of a sixteenth century Manx poem, which mentions the custom of paying the rents to Manannán at Midsummer:

Dy neaishtagh shin agh rish my skeayll, If you would listen to my story,
As dy ving lhieu ayns Chant; I will pronounce my chant;
Myr share dy voddyms lesh my Veeal, As best I can; I will, with my mouth
Yinnin diu geill dán ellan Sheeant. Give you notice of the enchanted Island.
Quoi yn chied er ee row rieau ee, Who he was that had it first,
Ny kys eisht myr haghyr da; And then what happened to him;
Ny kys hug Parick ayn Creestiaght, And now St. Patrick brought in Christianity,
Ny kys myr haink ee gys Stanlaa. And how it came to Stanley.
Mannanan beg va mac y Leirr, Little Mannanan was son of Leirr,
Shen yn chied er ec row rieau ee; He was the first that ever had it;
Agh myr share oddym’s cur-my-ner, But as I can best conceive
Cea row eh hene agh an-chreestee. He himself was a heathen.
Cha nee lesh e Chliwe ren eh ee reayll It was not with his sword he kept it,
Cha nee lesh e Hideyn, ny lesh e vhow; Neither with arrows or bow;
Agh tra aikagh eh lhuingys troailt But when he would see ships sailing,
Oallagh eh ee my geayrt lesh kay. He would cover it round with fog.
Yinnagh eh doinney ny hassoo er brooghe, He would set a man, standing on a hill,
Er-lhieu shen hene dy beagh ayn keead; Appear as if he were a hundred;
As shen myr dreill Mannanan keole, And thus did wild Mannanan protect
Yn Ellan shoh’n-ayn lesh Cosney bwoid. That island with all its booty.
Yn mayll deeck dagh unnane ass e cheer, The rent each landholder paid to him was
Va bart dy leaogher ghlass dagh bleiu; A bundle of coarse meadow grass yearly;
As eisht shen orroo d’eeck myr keesh, And that, as their yearly tax,
Trooid magh ny cheery dagh oie-lhoine. They paid to him each midsummer eve.
Paart ragh lesh y leaogher seose, Some would carry the grass up
Gyn yn slieau mooar ta heose Barool; To the great mountain up at Barool;
Paart elley aagagh yn leoagher wass, Others would leave the grass below,
Ec Mannanan erskyn Keamool. With Mannanan’s self above Keamool.
Myr shen eisht ren adsyn beaghey, Thus then did they live;
O er-lhiam pene dy by-veg nyn Geesh; O, I think their tribute very small,
Gyn kiarail as gyn imnea, Without care and without anxiety,
Ny doggyr dy lhiggey er nyn skeeys. Or hard labour to cause weariness.
Eisht haink ayn Parick nyn meayn, Then came Patrick into the midst of them;
She dooinney-noo, véh lane dy artue, He was a saint, and full of virtue;
Dimman eh Mannanan er y tonn He banished Mannanan on the wave,
As e grogh vooinjer dy lieh-chiart. And his evil servants all dispersed.

The original poem can be found in William Harrison’ Mona Miscellany, 1863, pp26-46, although I’ve followed Charles MacQuarrie’s capitalisations of certain words in Manx – see Macquarrie’s The Waves of Manannán, 1997, pp292-293.

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Posted by on January 28, 2012 in Uncategorized


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