DUBLIN BOTANIC AFTERNOON – NATURE AND HISTORY

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time main text: 8 mins.)

Garraithe na Lus/ Botanic Gardens is one of the jewels in Dublin, either in the city centre or just beyond, depending on how one calculates it.1 It is free to enter and open all days of the week, though there have been closures and reduced hours during the current Covid19 pandemic. It contains over 5,000 living species and cultivars2 and also accidental fauna, most but not all of which is indigenous and the Tolka, one of the few uncovered rivers of Dublin, flows along its border and through part of it. Walking through the garden is relaxing but one is walking not only through nature but history too.

Text on the official website proclaims truthfully that “the National Botanic Gardens are an oasis of calm and beauty” and goes to state that the whole is “A premier scientific institution … and that “the gardens also contain the National Herbarium and several historic wrought iron glasshouses.” All of the glasshouses are closed currently as an infection protection measure but one that had fallen into disrepair will hopefully be restored to working order and will be available when the rest can be safely reopened.

In defence of its status as a “scientific institution” the website states thatwe do not allow dogs, picnics, bicycles, fishing, ball games, jogging or running, nor the playing of musical instruments or recorded music”, however this prohibition adds considerably to its calmness and the ability for visitors to take in the natural atmosphere, sound, views and smells without being jarred by those other features so common in many public spaces.

The gardens, at 19.5 hectares are not very large and certainly nowhere near the size of those at Kew, London, which are over 132 hectares in size but the smaller acreage of the Dublin site is arguably part of its charm. It is bordered on the west and south by Glasnevin Cemetery (well worth visiting too) and connected by a gate, while the Tolka (an Tulcadh) borders it to the north and cuts off the rose garden, which can be accessed by a short bridge. A road called Glasnevin Hill borders the eastern side of the Gardens and the Tolka runs under a bridge there on its way to the sea.

A bluebell glade (with a white variant) in Dublin’s Botanical Gardens, April 2021 (Photo: D.Breatnach)

The Gardens were a project of the Dublin Society (later the Royal Dublin Society), founded in 1731, the Gardens themselves being opened in their current location in 17953 and are now owned and managed by the Office of Public Works, a State body.

WALK LATE APRIL

IRISH YEW AND NORTH AMERICAN SQUIRRELS

At this time of year, some of the trees are in full leaf, some in early stages and some still bare or just in bud. It is a good time to note the shapes of branches, some seemingly fantastic and also the effect of the emerging leaves against them. The clumps of the parasitic mistletoe (Sú darach) can be seen high in the branches of many species in the Gardens and having spread also to some trees in the Cemetery.

Some strange branch shapes seen here surrounded (and contrasted) by early leaf and sky, April 2021 (Photo: D.Breatnach)
Close-up of the contorted shapes, with some of the contrasts lost but more play on shadow. (Photo: D.Breatnach)
The dark clumps are mistletoe, a photo taken in June (2020), when they are less obvious among the leaves of the tree. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

We would not expect the Gardens to be restricted to native species and although there are examples of those present, there are species of plants present from at least six continents, varying from tall trees to low cacti or succulents. But among the native flora there is a surprise for many: the Irish (compact) yew.

Many places in Ireland are named in connection with trees and the yew (Iúir) figures in a number of those, the most prominent perhaps being Iúr Chinn Trá or its more modern name An tIúir (Newry). The heartwood of yew was used to make the English longbow, from which the “cloth yard” (about 37 inches, or 94 cm) arrows played such a decisive role in the defeat of the flower of the French knighthood and cavalry at Agincourt in 1415. Because the yew is slow-growing it was policy in England to plant them in order to ensure a supply and yeomanry were required to practice at weekends. No doubt the English took their toll on the yew in Ireland as they did on other trees such as the oak.

The European Yew typically had a spreading growth but in County Fermanagh in 1767 George Willis, a local farmer, discovered two freak seedling specimens that grew in a tight, compact shape. Of those original two, one is still living4 in the grounds of Florence Court Estate demesne and it estimated that over five million offspring have been propagated from that one tree, typically seen in churchyards, graveyards and parks, not only in Ireland but in many parts of the world.

Four Irish Yew in the Dublin Botanical Gardens early April 2021 (Photo: D.Breatnach)
An Irish Yew specimen at close quarters in Dublin’s Botanic Gardens. Millions of these around the world were propagated from two ‘freak’ types found in Fermanagh, Ireland in 1767. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

From export to the world let’s turn to an import ubiquitous in the Gardens – the grey squirrel (Iora liath). This is an invasive species to Ireland originally from North America and is blamed for helping to greatly reduce our own native species, the red squirrel (Iora rua) which, to my mind, is a much more attractive animal.

Research on Irish wildlife a few years ago showed the red squirrel making a comeback in some areas and that is associated with the slow increase in the presence of the pine marten (I prefer its traditional if inaccurate name “Cat chrainn” to “Marten péine”) which had been recently nearing extinction in Ireland. It is a predator on squirrels but apparently finds the grey species easier to catch since the latter spends longer on the ground.

Strangely, I have not noted grey squirrels in the nearby Griffiths Park so they do not seem to be expanding in that direction – at least, not yet.

Grey Squirrel (Iora Liath) in Dublin’s Botanical Gardens (Photo: D.Breatnach))

HISTORY

BATTLE OF CLONTARF

The Battle of Clontarf, which was fought in this area on 23rd April 1014, was between Brian Boróimhe’s (Boru) forces of mainly Munster and Connacht forces, along with some Viking allies, against the forces of the Viking King of Dublin and the King of Leinster, aided by a substantial force of Viking mercenaries from the Orkneys and Manx. It was of great consequence since the High King of Ireland and many petty kings were killed in it but it also put a definitive stop to any further expansion of Viking power in Ireland (though their Dublin kingdom was tolerated but required to pay tribute).

The available history tells us that Brian’s headquarters camp for the Battle of Clontarf (Cluain Tairbh) was in Glasnevin (Glas Naíonn). Brian’s camp may have been where the Cemetery is now, since the highest point there is higher than the Gardens’, or even a little further north around where St. Mobhi’s Church is today, higher still. Wherever it was is where he was slain too, in a sneak attack by one of the Viking mercenaries from the Isle of Man, according to one of the accounts.

The Battle was certainly not fought at Clontarf but is where one part of it ended, as defeated Viking mercenaries ran for their ships there, many being killed at a bottleneck at a salmon weir (round about where Ballybough is now), only some surviving to reach their longships.

Some boys brave a small weir on the Tolka just east of the Botanical Gardens. There is little sign on this day in late April 2021 of the surging flood of which the river is capable and from which it takes its name. (Photo: D.Breatnach)

The name of the river is an old Irish word for “flood” and had there been heavy rains in the Dublin hills, the river level might have been high generally but would certainly be so anyway in the estuary at high tide. Since the record tells us that the battle started at high tide and was still high tide when it finished, it means the battle lasted 12 hours. Twelve hours of fighting in any kind of battle is hard enough but with hand-operated kinetic weapons, along with shields and armour, impossible without taking rest breaks. So the fighting waned at times by agreement or by mutual exhaustion but was engaged again. The actual battle site has never been found5 but was probably fought along the Tolka (Tulcadh) for some of its length.

Unlike battles today, all the commanders of high rank in it on both sides were killed, including Brian (though not in the actual battle) and the King of Leinster, Maél (‘Maol’ in modern Irish) Mórda Mac Murchada, the latter killed along with many of his troops and Dublin Vikings at the other bottle-neck, the only bridge then in existence across an Life (the Liffey), perhaps around Islandbridge (Droichead na hInse). This was probably at the delayed intervention in the battle of the forces of the King of Meath, Maél Sechneill Mac Domnaill (though one of the annals has his actual death at the hands of a relative of Brian’s who himself received mortal wounds from Maél Mórda).

1916 RISING

The cancellation of the Rising by Mac Néill for Easter Sunday (23rd April that year) and its reinstatement by the IRB’s Military Council was resolved by going ahead on Easter Monday (24th April). When news of that reached the area around Maynooth, a group of Irish Volunteers who had gathered the day before but stood down, set off for Dublin along the banks of the Royal Canal, arriving in Dublin city late on Easter Monday. They found two Volunteers guarding the Cross Guns Bridge over the canal and were advised that proceeding into Dublin city centre might not be advisable in that evening.

The men spent the night in Glasnevin cemetery and set off again the following morning, crossing the now unguarded bridge and making their way, hungry and footsore, down to the very centre and the GPO on the Tuesday of Easter Week, where they remained in action until the evacuation of the burning building on the 28th. One of their number, Tom “Boer” O’Byrne, who had served in the Irish Brigade against the English in the Boer War, had his sore feet bathed there by Cumann na mBan Volunteer Lucy Agnes Smyth, whom he escorted with most of the other women Volunteers from the GPO and wounded prisoners to Jervis Street Hospital on Friday 28th and whom he would later marry.

End.

Missel Thrush (Smólach Mór), if I’m not mistaken. This one seemed quite unafraid, going about its hunting a few yards from me. The caterpillar-seeming forms on the ground are catkins from the poplars in Griffiths Park, which follows the Tolka eastward from the Botanical Gardens (Photo: D.Breatnach)
Hooded Crow (Caróg Liath), the Irish (also Scottish, Icelandic) species closely related to the all-black carrion crow, seen here on a field of grass and daisies, late April 2021, Dublin Botanical Gardens. They are wary and difficult to get close-ups of without a tele-lens. (Photo: D.Breatnach)
Mostly dandelion (caisearbhán) on a grassy slope above a stretch of the Tolka between Botanical Gardens and Griffiths Park. The dandelion is a plant with a cheery flower which would be highly prized were it not so common (it also has a startling nature which is not discussed here). (Photo: D.Breatnach)

FOOTNOTES

1One of the ways in which people locate Dublin’s city centre is “between the canals”, i.e between the Royal Canal on the south side (of the Liffey) and the Grand Canals on the north side. However, the location of the Botanic Gardens is only a little past the Royal Canal, a matter of five minutes’ walk.

2A cultivar is an artificially developed variety of a plant through selection or the result of cross-breeding (eg the Loganberry or the Nectarine). As to the numbers, Wikipedia claims “approximately 20,000 living plants” for the site while the figure given here is from the Botanical Gardens’ own web page.

3That century was one in which Dublin rose in status as a city of the British Empire and many of its prominent residents took civic pride in the city and strove for improvements in a number of fields for the city and for Ireland in general. The Botanical Gardens were opened three years before the United Irishmen uprising but when the organisation was already in existence and pushing, along with more liberal constitutional elements, for Catholics and Presbyterians to have the vote and to be permitted to stand for election for the Irish Parliament, which was being blocked by the Crown administration and some vested interests. After the Rising, the Irish Parliament was abolished and so began the decline in importance of Dublin from what had been considered the second city of the British Empire.

4The other was recorded as having died in Willis’ garden in 1865, almost a hundred years later.

5I did hear years ago that some artifacts had been found in excavations for the site of the current meteorological station building near Mobhi Road but I have not seen any documentation of that. There was mention in one account of the battle of tired fighters slaking their thirst at a well and the location of that was thought to be in Phibsboro/ Glasnevin, at the junction of the southward part of the one-way system. And a housing development I noted there is called “Danewell”.

SOURCES

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Botanic_Gardens_(Ireland)

The Irish Yew: https://futureforests.ie/products/taxus-baccata-fastigiata

Grey & Red Squirrels in Ireland and the Pine Marten: https://www.rte.ie/brainstorm/2020/0616/1147681-red-squirrels-comback-ireland-pine-martens-grey-squirrels/

Battle of Clontarf: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Battle-of-Clontarf/Showdown-at-Clontarf

The Battle of Clontarf in Irish history and legend


Maynooth Volunteers traveling to Dublin for the Easter Rising http://www.kildare2016.ie/history/maynooth-company-irish-volunteers-and-the-easter-rising/

https://www.irishlifeandlore.com/product/sheila-oleary-b-1921-her-daughters-emer-oleary-and-maeve-oleary-and-her-niece-margaret-sheeran/

https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/heritage/love-and-war-one-family-s-incredible-connection-to-the-1916-rising-1.2281929

Rappers in Catalan and Spanish call for freedom of expression — and commitment!

Catalan political activists are in jail for following their electorate’s wishes for independence from the Spanish State, while many election observers are on trial or threatened, along with 700 town mayors in Catalonia … meanwhile other political activists are in exile. In exile too is a rapper who had been sentenced to jail for his lyrics and actually in jail is rapper and poet Pablo Hasél.

Excellently compiled performance slices here in this video put together by rappers (and dancers) in Castillian (Spanish) and Catalan:
“Freedom of expression!

Take up a position!

Down with the prisons!

The Bourbons are robbers!”

Repression reigns in the southern Basque Country too and anywhere people in the Spanish state take up a position of dedicated resistance. But Catalonia is the current frontline.

Pablo Hasel portrait mural painted by street artist Jordit on a basketball court in Naples, southern Italy Photo: Ciro Fusco/ EFE)



End.

ALBUM REVIEW: TIR NAN OG – ‘Sing, Ye Bastards!’ (2021)

Love, life, death and lots of alcohol! Yeah the sort of themes you expect to hear on a Celtic-Punk album but in the hands of German band Tir Nan Og on their new album Sing, Ye Bastards! these traditional themes are anything but traditional!

Read the rest of the review on https://londoncelticpunks.wordpress.com/2021/03/07/album-review-tir-nan-og-sing-ye-bastards-2021/

NEW SINGLE ‘A Song’ FROM LUTON IRISH BAND MISSING THE FERRY

Reblogged from London Celtic Punks wordpress blog

Four second-generation Irish lads, three brothers and their best friend from school write songs about identity and belonging. With influences as diverse as Brendan Shine, The Pogues and The Stone Roses their mission is to get people dancing and thinking.

Hot on the heels of their last single, the fantastic, ‘God Bless You And Keep You’, comes new music from Luton’s very own Missing The Ferry. Recorded mostly pre-Covid in Deptford, SE London and then remotely between bedrooms in Luton/SE London by the band then sent to our friend Luise (https://www.facebook.com/LuiseLondonAudio) in Germany to sprinkle some magic Teutonic Folk party Punk dust on.

Missing The Ferry Left to right: Kevin Cunningham – Guitar/Vocals * Chris Anderson – Fiddle/Mandolin/Vocals * Kevin Anderson – Bass/Vocals (Lead vocals on ‘A Song’) * Paul Anderson – Whistle/Mandolin/Vocals *

A Song is about daring to dream; escaping from the box that the government, class and circumstance have shoved you in all your life.A Song is about self-destruction, hitting rock bottom, temptation and redemption.A Song is for the voiceless, the poor, the lonely and dispossessed.But at the end of the day, it is just a song.

Anyone who has ever missed, or nearly missed, the Dublin-bound ferry from Holyhead will get the name.
Don’t be Missing The Ferry yourselves!

The symbol known as “St. Brigid’s Cross”

— Pagan Seasonal Cycle or Christian Martyrdom?

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 12 mins.)

The 1st February is Lá Fhéile Bríde1 the feast day of St. Brigid, one of three patron saints of Ireland and one of the many traditions associated with this personage on her feast day was the making of the Cros Bríde (“St. Brigid’s Cross”) in many households and their placing in the loft or above the door, for example, to guard the house. But whether St. Brigid was a real historical person and whether the cross really represented her and Christianity, the origins of both are much, much older.

THE CROSS

The cross associated with St. Brigid is woven from rushes, a thin-stemmed plant growing in wet places (so, easily found in Ireland!), or from straw, the dried stalks remaining after the seed-heads and chaff of cereal crops have been gathered. The distinctive four-armed woven shape was the logo of Teilifis Éireann, the forerunner of RTÉ as the Irish national TV service, when it was launched in 1960 and remained so until it was short-sightedly removed in the 1990s. The four-armed shape was the symbol adopted by a number of organisations and it is still that of An Bord Altranais, the Irish national nursing profession authority. Though its ubiquity now is considerably less, it was recognisable as one of the symbols of Irish national identity, along with the Harp, the Shamrock and the Tricolour. But interestingly, a three-armed version has also been known historically2.

St. Brigid’s cross as the logo of Teilifís Éireann, Irish national TV broadcasting service, forerunner of RTÉ (Image sourced: Wikipedia)

The four-armed shape, with our without a large centre, has recurred in many places around the globe. The closest to us geographically perhaps where it is still in use is in the Basque Country, with the Lauburu (“four-head”) and the Basques, who tend to zealously defend their heritage and their role in developing that, say that it was from the Celts that they received it.

Lauburu of the Basques but whose tradition says they got it from the Celts (Image sourced: Wikipedia)

Long before the Nazis appropriated it, the Swastika was a symbol of deity and good fortune of people across Asia and I still recall the feeling of shock when I saw the symbol replicated many times across the stonework of the Indian Embassy in Aldwych, London. It is still used in a number of important Eastern ceremonies. The swastika also had a strong presence in Europe under different names but the Nazis have ensured it will be a long time before it can be used in the Western world without its fascist association. It also has a presence among American Indigenous people and has been found in archaeological excavations in Africa.

nkontim of the Ashante, Ghana, Africa. (Image sourced: Wikipedia)
The Aztec swastika symbol (Image sourced: Wikipedia)

Further afield one could argue that the Ojo de Dios so widespread in Mexico and in some other Latin American regions is also one of them – or at least a close relative. Of course the mystic Eye is also a symbol in many cultures, thought to express divine providence, God watching over humanity and the Ojo may be another one of those as its name suggests — but in many places it is contructed by weaving yarn around two crossed twigs. And in any case could the Eye and the Cross all originally represent the same thing, the Sun in the sky?

Ancient swastika motif on possibly Zoroastrian mosaic excavated in Palestine. (Image sourced: Wikipedia)

Many anthropologists think that sun-worship was once an important part of human societies across the globe and, given the life-giving properties of the sun (and the fact that we live in its system, the solar system) that should come as no surprise to us3. In Ireland many places are associated by name with the sun, for example An Ghrianán (“Greenan”), in locations as far apart as the counties of Antrim, Armagh, Derry, Donegal, Down, Fermanagh and Tyrone in Ulster; Dublin, Meath, Wicklow, Westmeath and Wexford in Leinster; Tipperary and Waterford in Munster; Mayo and Sligo in Connacht (see Sources).

Ojo de Dios weavings on thin crossed pieces of wood. (Image sourced: Wikipedia)
Ojo de Dios made as crafts, perhaps in a school. (Image sourced: Wikipedia)

The symbol of circling movement might however also represent the turning of our planet Earth, the cycle of life through the seasons (see Wikipedia entry in Sources).

THE FEAST DAY – OF CHRISTIAN SAINT, PAGAN GODDESS AND SEASONAL MARKER

As noted earlier, February 1st is the feast-day of St. Brigid but it is also date of the pagan Celtic feast of Imbolc (though probably the exact date would have varied somewhat according to the astral calendar), one of the four great festivals of the year4. Falling midway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, it is considered in Ireland as the first day of the Spring season.

The feast-day’s role as the harbinger of Spring is mentioned in the first verse of Cill Aodáin, the poem (and song) by the celebrated blind poet Raifteirí (1779 – 1835), as with the coming of Spring he anticipates heading to his native Mayo:

Anois teacht an Earraigh beidh an lá dul chun síneadh

Is taréis na Féile Bride ardóigh mé mo sheol;

Ó chur mé i mo cheann é ní stopfaidh mé choíche

Go seasfaidh mé síos i lár Chondae Mhuigheo.

THE SAINT

Brigid is known in Irish as Muire na nGael (“Mary of the Gaels”), which points to her importance as an individual personage, since in Christian belief Mary is the mother of Jesus Christ, in turn believed to be an aspect of God in human form. Brigid’s status is underlined by her nomination as a patron saint of the nation but points also to the significance of the female, of some status in Gaelic society5 and very likely representing a trace of a more ancient matriarchical society.

Brigid’s feast day in Irish culture was of greater importance than that of St.Patrick’s, although the latter was always considered the highest in that he is thought responsible for the conversion of the society of the Gaels to Christianity. There was little ritual associated with the feast day of Patrick and even the wearing of shamrock on the day seems a late innovation6. On St. Brigid’s Day the Cros Bríde was woven, the old one burned or otherwise disposed of as the new one took its place as a protector of the house. In some areas there would be ritual visits to a well and I have read too, though I cannot now find the references, of ritual milking and butter churning. Of course the rituals may owe more to custom of veneration of the pagan goddess and the marking of a place in the cycle of the seasons than to the Christian saint.

Harry Clarke stained glass representation of St. Brigid, St. Mary’s Church, Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo (Image sourced: Internet)

There is some disagreement about the date and provenance of some of the early accounts of the life of St. Brigid as well as their accuracy but the earliest known is thought to have been written two centuries after her death7. We are told that she was born in 451 CE in Faughart near Dundalk, Co. Louth to Brocca, a Pict slave woman who became pregnant by Dubhthach, a Leinster chieftain who then sold her due to the jealousy of his wife. According to the tradition Brocca had been converted to Christianity by St.Patrick. The selling of a pregnant slave seems unlikely but according to the tradition not only was that done but she was sold to a Druid. At the age of ten Brigid went to Dubhthach’s home as a household servant and the tradition relates that Rí Laighin (King of Leinster) Crimthann Mac Énnai, noting her charity and piety, freed her (however it has been my understanding that slavery in this part of the world was not hereditary8).

Accounts of her life describe her performing miracles as a child and also of acts of charity towards the poor. The doing of great deeds as a child is one of the recurring themes in accounts of heroic characters in legends (in Ireland, think of Culainn’s giant guard hound slain by the boy Setanta with hurley and ball).

Around 480 CE the tradition has Bríd founding the abbey at Cill Dara (Kildare – “the Church of the Oak” or Oakwood) on the site sacred to the Celtic Goddess Brigid (see more later) where female devotees guarded an eternal flame and by this founding act alone the saint’s story is being conflated with the pagan deity. At the abbey St. Brigid brought about the institution of Christian female devotional community, starting with seven followers9.

St. Brigid founded two religious institutions, one male and one female and for centuries history records that the abbey was ruled by a dual abbotship, female and male with the former being considered head of all monasteries in Ireland.

At Kildare, Brigid founded a school of metalwork (another nod to the Goddess); also one of art and Giraldus of Wales (c. 1146 – c. 1223), the Norman-Welsh visitor (and founder of anti-Irish racism in literature) reported seeing The Book of Kildare with gorgeous illumination of every page, which he pronounced as beyond compare, declaring it to be “the work of angelic and not human skill” (a verdict of his on Irish harp music also). The book disappeared during the Reformation.

According to tradition, Brigid was a friend of St. Patrick and also traveled through many parts of Ireland.

Ruins of the 11th Century “Black Abbey”, Kildare, the oldest remaining., constructed by Norman invaders long after Brigid’s time. (Image sourced: Internet)

Among the many miracles which Brigid of Kildare was said to have made were healing, with which she has traditionally been associated and preservation of chastity. The latter seems more likely an outgrowth of feudal Christianity imported by the Norman occupation from the 12th Century and of course would have been highly valued by the Catholic Church in Ireland, in particular in the 19th Century.

Healing reminds us of the Druids and her foster-father, to whom her mother was given by her real father. There has long been an association between Bríd and healing, which is presumably why “her” cross is used as a logo for An Bord Altranais, the nursing authority in Ireland.

She was also reputed to be able to turn water into beer (some publicans have been reported tending towards accomplishing the reverse) and was also associated with dairy production. These latter two are reflections of plenty and are represented in a number of pagan deities. Brigid was also associated with fire, which reminds us again of the Goddess Brigid.

The St. Brigid Cathedral, Kildare Town. (Image sourced: Internet)

Bríd, Bridget and Brigid are common names given to girls in Ireland (also encountered in parts of the world where Irish missionaries have been) as are other variants: Breda, Bridie, Breedge, Bree, Biddy, Bridge, Bridgie. There are also variants of the name in other languages, for example Brigitte, Brigida, Bergit, Britt, Bricia, etc.

Christianity and Druids

If she existed – and it appears likely that someone of the kind did — it seems an impossible task to completely disentangle the abbess of Kildare from the pagan goddess. Indeed it is even possible that the Bríd or Brigid referred to in Irish Christian hagiography was herself a Druid and her early life with a Druid as her foster-father hints at that. However one of the traditions has her vomiting food he gave her which seems to represent a violently symbolic rejection of the old religion at a time when it was the dominant one in Ireland.

Being the daughter of a Pictish concubine10 slave is also interesting although the advent of Christianity in Ireland pressured for an end to chattel slavery.

The early history of Christianity in Ireland is curious for unlike most other countries in Europe, it was introduced into a pagan society largely without violence. The Gaels had a number of gods and goddesses and were very familiar with trinities and dualities, so that the (very late historically) account of St. Patrick explaining the Christian Trinity with reference to a three-leaved shamrock is of course pure nonsense. Nevertheless the conversion represented a radical enough change in culture and religious belief and one can only speculate on some kind of accommodation between the Druids and early Christian missionaries and certainly the Celtic Christian Church was quite different from the Roman one, as the family names signifying descent from priest and bishop attest, as well as those associated with a Christian ancestor11 who might well have been a monk or devotee of some saint. It is a matter of record that the Roman Christian Church struggled with the Celtic one to impose celibacy on monks, abbots, priests and bishops, as well as to insist on lay marriages being monogamous and to abolish the right of divorce.

CELEBRATION

From Wikipedia: “In Gaelic Ireland, Imbolc was the feis or festival marking the beginning of spring, during which great feasts were held. It is attested in some of the earliest Old Irish literature from the 10th century onward. It was one of four Gaelic seasonal festivals: Samhain (~1 November), Imbolc (~1 February), Bealtaine (~1 May) and Lughnasa (~1 August).

Fermanagh “Biddy Boys” celebrating St. Brigid’s Day/ Imbolc with the “Brideog” made of straw. (Image sourced: Internet)

“From the 18th century to the mid 20th century, many accounts of Imbolc or St Brigid’s Day were recorded by folklorists and other writers. They tell us how it was celebrated then, and shed light on how it may have been celebrated in the past.

“Imbolc has traditionally been celebrated on 1 February. However, because the day was deemed to begin and end at sunset, the celebrations would start on what is now 31 January. It has also been argued that the timing of the festival was originally more fluid and based on seasonal changes. It has been associated with the onset of the lambing season (which could vary by as much as two weeks before or after 1 February), the beginning of the spring sowing and the blooming of blackthorn.

“The holiday was a festival of the hearth and home, and a celebration of the lengthening days and the early signs of spring. Celebrations often involved hearthfires, special foods, divination or watching for omens, candles or a bonfire if the weather permitted. Fire and purification were an important part of the festival. The lighting of candles and fires represented the return of warmth and the increasing power of the Sun over the coming months. A spring cleaning was also customary.

“Holy wells12 were visited at Imbolc, and at the other Gaelic festivals of Bealtaine and Lughnasa. Visitors to holy wells would pray for health while walking ‘sunwise’ around the well. They would then leave offerings, typically coins or ‘clooties’ (see clootie well). Water from the well was used to bless the home, family members, livestock and fields.

“Donald Alexander McKenzie also recorded that offerings were made “to earth and sea”. The offering could be milk poured into the ground or porridge poured into the water, as a libation.”

Many young people went from house to house with a symbol of the saint, ‘The Brideóg’: this was an effigy supposed to represent St. Brigid and made according to the local custom. It was usually a straw doll, dressed to portray a human figure. Often small children went to the neighbours’ houses and were given money. In some areas unmarried girls carried the effigy bestowing Brigid’s blessing on the house, often they handed out crosses to the head of the houses they visited. It was accepted that the girl who carried the effigy was the most beautiful and modest of all. In other regions no effigy was used, the girl dressed in white and carried a locally made cross to represent the saint. Those who carried the ‘brideog’ were called ‘brideóga’, ‘biddies’ or ‘biddy-boys’.

Children in St. Aidan’s School, Cavan, making the traditional crosses in 2016 (Image sourced: Internet)

THE GODDESS

Whatever about the historicity of Saint Brigid, there certainly was a Goddess Brigid figure of great importance in Ireland and she was associated with the spring season, fertility, healing, poetry and blacksmithing. There is a suggestion that she may have been a triple deity from an entry in the 10th Century Cormac’s Glossary written by Christian monks, as it states that the Goddess Brigid had two sisters: Brigid the healer and Brigid the smith.

The Goddess of European Celtic society Brigantia may have had her qualities attributed to the Gaelic Brigid or possibly the latter was a Gaelic representation of Brigantia. The Graeco-Egyptian historian and geographer (among other scholarships) Ptolemy, who gave us the earliest description of a possible Dublin settlement, “Eblana” in 140 CE, mentioned a Leinster tribe called the Brigantes, possibly taking their name from the Goddess but nothing is known of them now. In Celtic pre-Roman northern England, an area centered around Yorkshire was the domain of the Brigantes, the largest Celtic tribe in Britain (and ruled by a queen) while there was an Alpine sub-tribe known as the Brigantii.

Eight inscriptions to Brigantia have been found from the Midlands to Northern Britain and the word appears on some Celtiberian coins. Elements of the name may appear in a number of settlement locations in mainland Europe and in Britain (including the river Brent) but is difficult to be certain of that due to the etymological origin of Brigid/ Brigida, “high, exalted” (ultimately of Proto-Indo-European origin), so that the toponym could also be describing the aspect of the location itself, “high place” or of the human occupants “high/ elevated”.

End.

Traditional St Brigid’s cross woven from green rushes, originally a pagan symbol (Image sourced: Wikipedia)
The rarer three-armed St. Brigid’s cross. (Image sourced: Wikipedia)

FOOTNOTES

1“Brighde” in older spelling; Là Fhèill Brìghde in Scottish Gaedhlig; Laa’l Breeshey in Manx.)

2The Celtic triskele is a relatively well-known shape also thought to represent the sun and, in the form of three legs, is the national symbol of the Isle of Man, a nation of celtic origin. But there is also a four-armed version of the triskele design.

3Indeed the pronunciation of the word “Dia” for God in Irish and the word “día” for “day” in Spanish and Catalan are not just coincidences as I discovered ‘digging’ one day, finding an etymological connection in Proto-Sanskrit.

4The others being Bealtaine, and Lúghnasadh and Samhain.

5Apart from the representation of important goddesses and warrior queens or chieftains in Irish legend and history, according to the Brehon Laws free women’s rights to their own property continued into marriage and they had the right of divorce and even female slaves had some right in law (and had the possibility to rise in status).

6See https://rebelbreeze.com/2017/03/17/the-shamrock-and-the-colour-green-native-or-foreign-imports-into-irish-iconography/

7Cogitosus, a monk of Kildare in the 7th Century: Vitae Sanctae Brigitae.

8Though the Wikipedia entry on Brigid of Kildare” says that she “was born into slavery” and that it was the King who freed her.

9The mystic number seven!

10Cúchullain (Setanta) was taught skill of arms by Scáthach, a female Pictish warrior and bore him a son, unknown to him after he left, with tragic consequences years later for both father and son.

11Mac an tSagairt/ Taggart (“Son of the Priest”), Mac an Easpaig/ Nesbig (“Son of the Bishop”), Giolla and Mac Giolla Chríost/ Gilchrist (Son of Servant of Christ), Mac Giolla Bríde (S. Of Servant of Brigid!), Maol Muire/ Mulmurry (S of Servant of Mary), Maol Eoin/ Malone (S of Servant of John) and many more.

12Many wells in Ireland were dedicated to a saint and therefore considered holy, probably too originally a pagan view of wells.

SOURCES AND FURTHER READING

St. Brigid’s Cross: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigid%27s_cross

https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/heritage/the-evolution-and-disappearance-of-brigid-s-cross-in-rt%C3%A9-s-logo-1.4141861

https://www.jstor.org/stable/25510514?seq=1

South American Eye of God: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God%27s_eye

The Swastika: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swastika

Irish sun-related toponyms (place-names): https://www.logainm.ie/en/s?txt=Greenan&str=on

Christian Saint Brigid: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigid_of_Kildare

Irish Christian-related family names: https://www.libraryireland.com/articles/Muls/Muls.php

St. Brigid in Scottish place-names: https://saintsplaces.gla.ac.uk/saint.php?id=28

Feast of Imbolc: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imbolc

Gaelic Goddess Brigid: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigid

Reference for “Biddy Boys” and the Brídeog

European Celtic Goddess Brigantia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigantia_(goddess)

Brigantes people: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigantes

QAnon: How Long Will the Madness Reign?

By Geoff Cobb

(Reading time: 3 mins.)

Prominent among the crazed mob that stormed the American Capitol building on January 6th were banners of QAnon, a far right-wing, loosely-organized network and community of believers who embrace a range of wacky, discredited beliefs. Ashli Babbitt, who was shot and killed during the violence inside the Capitol was a fanatical QAnon adherent. Babbitt’s social media feed was a stream of messages celebrating President Trump and QAnon conspiracy theories and many of her co-insurrectionists were also QAnon true believers. For many on the American far right, QAnon shapes their worldview and explains their fanatical support for President Trump, but what exactly is QAnon, how large and powerful is it, and what do they believe?

At its heart, QAnon is a cult united by the insane belief that President Trump was waging a secret war against a cabal of elite cannibalistic Satan-worshipping pedophiles. QAnon supporters believe that Trump was planning a day of reckoning, known as the “Storm”, when thousands of members of the cabal would be arrested. After the Storm, believers say military tribunals would ensure that these baby-eating traitors would be executed or sentenced to life in prison. Faced with overwhelming proof of the cabal’s existence, a stunned public would mourn; rage; and ultimately unite behind President Trump, ushering in a golden age of patriotism and prosperity.

QAnon supporters claim liberal Hollywood actors, Democratic Party politicians and high-ranking “deep State” government officials are all members of the cabal. They have also claimed that Trump feigned a conspiracy with Russians to trap Robert Mueller into exposing the sex-trafficking ring and preventing a coup d’état led by Hillary Clinton, Barrack Obama and George Soros. Disgraced General Michael Flynn, who was convicted of lying to the FBI, but then pardoned by Trump is one of the heroes of the movement. He was filmed reciting the QAnon oath — “Where we go one, we go all” — with his family.

No-one knows the exact number of QAnon believers but social media and opinion polls indicate there are at least hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people who believe at least some of the bizarre theories offered up by QAnon. In August, according to NBC, an internal Facebook review identified more than three million followers across a number of groups and pages. Roughly 10 percent of American adults believe in some or all of QAnon’s theories, according to a Pew Research study conducted last year.

It all started in October 2017, when an anonymous user posted a series of notes on social media message board 4chan. The user signed off as “Q” and claimed to have a level of US security approval known as “Q clearance.” These messages became known as “Q drops” or “breadcrumbs”, often written in cryptic language peppered with slogans, pledges and pro-Trump themes. True believers argue that deliberate misinformation is sown into Q’s messages, making the conspiracy theory impossible to disprove.

QAnon placard at Trump rally (Photo sourced: Internet)

“Q” signs and merchandise were first spotted at Trump campaign rallies in 2018 and the cult has spread like wildfire. In 2019, the FBI designated Qanon as a potential domestic terrorist threat. Using social media, QAnon believers swap conspiracy theories, welcoming opponents of vaccinations, people who believe the moon landing was faked, and followers of just about every other conspiracy theory into their community. QAnon is also tightly linked to the equally mad “pizzagate” conspiracy theory, which claimed that Hillary Clinton ran a pedophile ring from a Washington pizzeria. Many of the most popular QAnon groups also double as pizzagate groups, according to leaked documents. Theses fantasies though have spurred violent reactions among its believers. Both pizzagate and QAnon have been implicated in real-world violence, including armed standoffs, harassment campaigns, attempted kidnappings, a shooting and two murders. Data from digital researchers shows that QAnon content spiked during the early coronavirus lockdowns in the spring of 2020. Even after mainstream social media platforms began cracking down on QAnon-related accounts — Twitter banned them in July with Facebook and Youtube following in October — people continued spreading conspiracy theories through camouflaged account names and hashtags.

Prior to the 2020 election, a Yahoo Poll found that nearly half of Trump supporters had heard of QAnon, and of those, more than a third said they believe at least some of it is true. When asked about the baseless claim that “top Democrats” were involved in child sex-trafficking, half of all Trump supporters agreed.

Chansley aka Angeli aka Q Shaman, photographed inside the Capitol building 6 February 2021. (Photo sourced: Internet)

QAnon played a prominent role in the 2020 election. In the election, more than 70 congressional candidates endorsed some part of the QAnon ideology. The Texas Republican Party used a QAnon slogan for its 2020 campaign, (“We Are the Storm”), then rolled it out with a new line of swag and text messages to supporters (“Text STORM2020 for updates”). Fox News, playing to the group’s adherents, ramped up its coverage of sex-trafficking stings and, in an interview with Eric Trump, Fox host Jesse Watters said: “Q can do some crazy stuff, with the pizza stuff and the Wayfair stuff, but they’ve also uncovered a lot of great stuff when it comes to (pedophile Jeffrey) Epstein and when it comes to the deep state.” Trump himself mentioned QAnon during a debate in October claiming he knew “nothing about it” but had heard “they’re very strong against pedophilia, and I agree with that.”

Q predicted a Trump victory and true believers were devastated when Joe Biden won, but in a worldview dominated by the belief that Democratic elites have rigged the system, a Biden victory wasn’t a repudiation of the theory, instead it was further evidence of a scandal. A QAnon believer soon claimed that the Biden campaign used a powerful supercomputer known as the hammer to change millions of Trump votes to Biden ones. The Hammer story neatly fit into QAnon’s overarching narrative of corrupt Democrats stealing the election from its rightful winner, Mr. Donald Trump and hence, the presence of so many of its followers inside the Capitol.

Though Trump lost, in many ways QAnon won. Almost a million and a half Americans will be represented in Congress by people who support QAnon. Gun-toting Colorado Republican Representative Lauren Boebert who won her race to represent her district is perhaps the most famous QAnon supporter. In the wake of the Capitol attack, Boebert has faced fierce criticism for disclosing the secret location of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during the insurrection, putting Pelosi’s life in danger. Boebert has been called the “Qanon Congresswoman” for saying she hopes the conspiracy theory is “real.”

Lauren Boebert, Republican Colorado Representative, “QAnon Congresswoman”. (Photo sourced: Internet)

Boebert is not alone in the House of Representatives. Republican representative Marjorie Taylor Greene from Georgia has called “Q” a “patriot” who is “worth listening to and claimed that Q “posted many things that seem to verify that he is the real deal,” she says. “It’s not just someone poking in the dark, messing with people.” Taylor Greene has also accused holocaust survivor George Soros of collaborating with the Nazis and  Trump has called her a “future Republican star. There is speculation that she might run for the United States Senate or Governor of Georgia.

Republican Congresswoman for Georgia Marjorie Taylor Greene, hopes QAnon conspiracy theory is real. (Photo sourced: Internet)

Perhaps the poster child for the movement is the Q Shaman, whose name is actually Jacob Anthony Chansley. Also known as Jake Angeli, he was photographed striding through the Capitol bare-chested wearing a fur and horns, while carrying a six foot spear and a USA flag. In February, Mr Angeli was photographed at a Trump rally holding a sign that read “Q Sent Me.” Mr Angeli has called himself a “multi-dimensional or hyper-dimensional being” and claims he can “see into these other higher dimensions that these entities – these pedophiles, these rapists, these really high up people … that they can almost hide in the shadows in.” He faces multiple charges including violent entry and disorderly conduct. Angeli told federal authorities he traveled to the Capitol to answer the call from his President, who had asked his supporters to muster in Washington, D.C., on the day Congress met to certify the election defeat of Donald Trump. Angeli’s claim of following Trump’s order, along with the same claim made by others arrested in the insurrection, will serve as evidence in Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate.

Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska recently warned in an op-ed in The Atlantic magazine that the QAnon conspiracy theory movement is destroying his Party. He wrote, “We can dedicate ourselves to defending the Constitution and perpetuating our best American institutions and traditions, or we can be a party of conspiracy theories, cable-news fantasists, and the ruin that comes with them.” He added, “The GOP must reject conspiracy theories or be consumed by them. Now is the time to decide what this party is about.”

Will Biden’s victory dim QAnon’s allure? Or will these conspiracy theories always survive, even in the face of apparent contradictions? Will Sasse and rational Republicans prevail or is the movement too powerfully entrenched in the party to be extirpated? One thing is sure: Qanon is not going to go away quietly.

End.

LANGUAGE IS A TREASURE CHEST 3: THE POWER OF THE WISH AND THE CURSE

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 4 mins.)

Apparently the Subjunctive Mood is disappearing from modern languages, including the Indo-European groups of Celtic, Germanic, Nordic, Romance and Slavonic. The Subjunctive is the grammatical mood by which we expressed wishes and desires, with an underlying feeling that their realisation was uncertain. But why is the Subjunctive disappearing? I think that its disappearance reflects a profound change in our general thinking, a definite shift towards a scientific view of the world.

Subjunctive forms of verbs are typically used to express various states of unreality such as: wish, emotion, possibility, judgement, opinion, obligation, or action that has not yet occurred; the precise situations in which they are used vary from language to language.” (Wikipedia)

Wishing while blowing the seed parasols off a dandelion ‘clock’. The form of words combined with an object and perhaps an element of chance was believed to have a power of realisation. (Image sourced: Internet)

Firstly, let’s look at relatively common phrases where we find the Subjunctive Mood and in English, these are not as common as in other Indo-European languages such as Irish and Castillian (Spanish), for example.

In its article on the grammatical use of the subjunctive mood in English, the online Collins Dictionary gives, among others, these examples:

  • God save the Queen!
  • God bless you!
  • God help us!
  • Heaven help us!
  • Heaven forbid that that should happen to me.
  • Suffice it to say he escaped with only a caution.

As an antidote to monarchical and religious expression, I give you the example Long live the Revolution! which is also in the subjunctive mood.

Often we can arrive at the subjunctive form by beginning the sentence with the word “May”: e.g May God bless you; May Heaven help us; May Heaven forbid. Sometimes when we use “May” we have to change the order of words a little: May it suffice to say from Suffice it to say; May you go with God from Go with God; May the Revolution live long from Long live the Revolution! And sometimes the May or even more words might have disappeared in common modern usage but be understood as in (May) thy Kingdom come1 and (May you be) welcome or (May) God speed (you).

Certainly the calling or greeting of Happy Christmas and a Merry New Year heard and read everywhere around this time of year were originally preceded by May you have a ….

Well and good2 but what has that to do with the “profound change in our general thinking, a definite shift towards a scientific view of the world” which I interpreted as the cause of the disappearance of the subjunctive?

Well, although the use of the subjunctive expressed a wish about the outcome of which we were not certain, it seems clear that its use was believed to have power. So to wish someone to (May you) go with God in English ((Que) Vaya con Dios3 in Castillian and still common in most of South and Central America and in the USA Southwest4) expressed a feeling that by saying those words, one could invoke protection upon the person leaving. Go5 dté tú slán, an equivalent in Irish but without any mention of God, one can find in the last line of the chorus in the Irish Jacobite song Siúil a Ghrá. And when we did not wish someone well, we might express a curse, invoking ill upon them: May you go to Hell! May you never prosper!

A curse tablet from ancient Athens — sometimes it was not enough to say or to write the curse but one had to attach it to an object (or to the object of the curse). (Image sourced: Internet)

Uncertain as the outcome of expressing a wish for another, whether good or ill, was believed to be in more ancient times, we are fairly convinced today that it is empty of any predictive or enforcement power, i.e we can’t make it happen by wishing alone. The only power left in the words is in the expression of emotion for us and to convey a strong wish of good (even if only socially conventional) or conversely an intense dislike towards the object of the phrases.

So when we wish someone well today we are only expressing a positive regard (whether strongly emotional or only as a social convention) and similarly the reverse with an ill-wish. Gone is the belief that the use of the words themselves had any power at all over the outcome. If we were to say nowadays May you go to Hell or the truncated Go to Hell, we would do so without the slightest belief that we can somehow convey the person to that destination6 by the use of those words – we’d merely be saying something like “I really dislike (or hate) you” or perhaps “I am angry with you at the moment”. To really express a malevolent feeling, we might instead use “I hope” but again with without any expectation of realisation, as when Bob Dylan sang to the Masters of War:

“I hope that you die

and your death will come soon”.

Today, we find the remains of the Subjunctive mostly in prayers and greetings7 and to some extent in curses and in prayers. In religion, the traditional forms of prayer tend to be preserved, whether through strong devotion, convention or habit. The survival of the Subjunctive in greetings is probably retained through the inertia of convention. We also find its survival in a few grammatical constructions and in the feeling that “I wish I were in Carrickfergus8” is somehow better than the more commonly-heard “I wish I was in Carrickfergus”.

Hands in prayer, by Albert Durer. (Image sourced: Internet)

In general we no longer believe in the power of invocation, in making things happen by expressing a wish for them in a certain verbal way. We know now or believe that to make something happen, that we need to act. Even if wishful thinking can still be seen in much of political and social expression, that is more a reflection of a reluctance to confront reality or of hope for the future, rather than a real belief in the power of expression in verbal form. A scientific outlook has replaced that of the religious, of the otherworld, giving us a stronger intellectual tool to govern our actions, to bring a wish to reality.

As with the study of history, the study of language tells us a lot about who we were and who we are now — and helps us to speculate on who we are becoming.

End.

La Malediction Paternelle (the Curse of the Father) by Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725–1805). (Image sourced: Internet)

FOOTNOTES

1 go dtaga do Ríocht in Irish, from The Lord’s Prayer of Christians.

2 Or the full Conditional Mood: That may be all well and good 🙂

3“May you go with God” — the subjunctive mood – compare with Ve te con Dios (“Go with God”), the imperative mood.

4 And sometimes in Hollywood “Westerns”.

5The Irish word Go (pronounced as guh might be in English) in the Subjunctive precedes the verb to correspond to the use of the word May in English we saw earlier. In Irish, the name for the group of greetings is Beannachtaí which interestingly translates as “Blessings”.

6If we even believe any more in the existence of that place.

7And since greetings are important for social communication the Subjunctive often gives the learner of a language some difficulty, as in the Irish Go raibh maith agat, for example.

8A line in a centuries-old macaronic Irish song (i.e a verse in Irish followed by one in English etc), Do Bhí Bean Uasal or in English, Carrickfergus. Sadly most people are probably completely unaware of the verses in Irish.

FURTHER READING

https://grammar.collinsdictionary.com/easy-learning/the-subjunctive

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_subjunctive

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subjunctive_mood

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grammatical_mood

TRAINING HUMANS

Diarmuid Breatnach

(Reading time: 7 mins.)

‘Today’, she said, ‘we will discuss the training of dogs’.

The class looked at her face to see whether she was joking. She looked back at them patiently.

‘But Teacher,’ ventured one braver student. ‘We are here to learn how to control humans.’

‘That is correct,’ replied the Teacher. ‘This is a sociology class. But there is much to learn from the training of dogs. In many ways, it is the same thing.’

(Image sourced: Internet)

So, to begin: Where do dogs come from to us? Where did they originate?’

‘Are they not descended from wolves, Teacher? I think I read that somewhere.’

‘Yes, I did too. And dogs and wolves can interbreed, so they would have to be closely related.’

‘That is correct, they are closely related,’ replied the Teacher approvingly. ‘There is only 0.1% of a DNA difference between them and they can interbreed quite easily. The wolf is classified as Canis lupus and the dog as Canis familiaris. It is not strange to find dogs that are part wolf. The assumption is therefore that the common dog is descended from the wolf. And in some parts of the world, for example in South Africa and in Australia, there are wild dogs, dogs that live like wolves. We presume these were domesticated wolves that became dogs, that later again returned to the ways of wolves. So our question for discussion today is: How did wolves become dogs in the first place?’

‘But Teacher, if this occurred it must have done so in prehistory, surely?’

‘I think I read that it was in the Paleolithic Era.’

‘Well, then surely nobody knows, Teacher? No-one would have written to describe it as humans did not develop writing until much later.’

‘You are all correct, yes. But we can speculate. We can extrapolate from what we know. Now, when we have a dog as a pet – or as a working animal – it is in a social relationship with us, right?’

‘Well, yes. Some people see their dog as part of the family – you even hear them say that. But working dogs?’

‘Working dogs too, I suppose. A shepherd would have a close relationship with his dog … and so would a hunter. Even if the bond was primarily between the one person and the dog, it would have to recognise those close to the owner as ok, as safe, not to be attacked or growled at.’

(Image sourced: Internet)

‘Good, yes, we are getting there. The guard dog needs to know its owner or owners and who is acceptable. Sled dogs the same, even though they are a group, like a hunting pack. The hunter, the shepherd, the truffle-searcher, the seeing-eye guide dog – they are all in a social relationship with humans. We could, in fact, describe a dog as “a wolf-descendant in social relationship with humans.” But what is the normal social group of the wolf?’

‘It is the pack, isn’t it?’

‘Yes, that’s what I have read too. A hunting pack.’

‘Yes but not just a hunting pack. They have to raise pups, don’t they?’

‘Oh, and don’t they have an accepted leader?’

‘Yes, very good. The social organisation of the wolf is the pack. And they have leadership – a male and a female. They are called Alphas, Alpha Male and Alpha Female. They lead the pack – the other wolves obey them. So, how is it decided, do you think?’

‘They must have elections, Teacher.’

‘Very amusing. It is a serious question however, part of our discussion today.’

‘Maybe …. they fight over it? The strongest wins?’

‘Yes, correct, that is part of it. The male fights other males and the female fights other females.’

‘How civilised of them!’

‘You all laugh but you don’t realise how true that comment is. Now, let’s tease the process of leadership selection out a bit. Let’s concentrate on the males, for simplicity. Male A wants to be leader, so does male B and they fight. Male A is successful and wins. But he will be wounded, right? Right?’

‘Well, yes he would be. Bite marks, bleeding ….’

‘So up comes Male C now and he is not wounded. He fights Male A and beats him, so now he is top dog, or wolf, the leader of the pack, right? Right?’

‘Yes, it must be like that.’

‘Then we have at last an accepted leader of the pack. But in what state are the males? And if the females went through the same process, what state are they in and what are the consequences?’

‘They’d be walking wounded.’

‘A wounded pack can’t hunt well.’

‘Some might die of their wounds. Some would die of hunger.’

‘It’s not like that, is it Teacher? There has to be another way.’

‘Another process, yes. They must have a system, right Teacher?’

‘Yes. Very good. Exactly. They do have another system. Firstly, they very rarely fight a full fight to the end. And if there is a challenger, it is usually only one. Not all wolves want to lead. Maybe not all wolves think they can. So if there is to be a leadership conflict, Male A and Male B, for example, they will fight but usually to the point where one recognises the other is tougher or wants to be leader more, or has more to lose — say Male A. Then Male B gives up. And if Male A has to remind him or any of the other males at any point, he only has to threaten and they give up. They lie on their back or show their submission in some other way. The pack stays healthy and the Alpha Male and the Alpha Female are in charge. The rest of the pack accept them. And if they are good at what they do, the pack does well. If not, well, maybe another leadership contest. Or the pack breaks up.’

Wolf pack.(Image sourced: Internet)

‘Teacher? When pups are born, I presume they accept the hierarchy of the pack. But when the Alphas get old, or killed or injured in the hunt – or by hunters, humans – the process must start all over again?’

‘Yes and no, not completely. I didn’t tell you earlier but only the alpha females in the pack mate. The Alpha Female chases away other females if they come into heat and the Alpha Male may accept some males mating with her or may threaten other males so only he will mate with the Alpha Female, when she is in season. So the pups are all from the alpha female and from the alpha male or a few others. The next leaders will likely come from those pups – but not certainly. There are possible variations. They might all be killed or injured. An alpha descendant might take a different mate and that one will be alpha too. And so on. Now, let’s think about dogs. How did dogs come to be human-bonded?’

‘Hmmm. Maybe hunters killed the parents, took the cubs and raised them?’

‘Or found the cubs ….’

‘Yes, that is the common scenario. But after generations of the pack, how does a pup come to bond with humans? More to the point, how does it come to obey a human or a family?

‘Hmmm. Does it see the family as the pack, Teacher?’

‘Yes, and its master or mistress as the Alpha or Alphas?’

‘Very good. Yes, now you have it. I must be that way. But …. pups in a pack grow up and may want to become leaders themselves. We don’t hear of dogs deciding they want to run the human family, do we? What would we do if our dog decided it wanted to be boss and was prepared to fight?’

‘We’d have to shoot it.’

‘Yes, we couldn’t allow that.’

‘Wait a minute. Teacher, has that happened?’

‘Probably, in the early days. A domesticated wolf that would not accept the human as the Alpha was killed. Or ran away, maybe. Perhaps joined a wild pack, if it survived …. was accepted …. But in any case, the pups being raised by humans would not be descended from that disobedient wolf.’

‘So …. over generations, wolves …. were bred into dogs. Obedient individuals chosen …. disobedient ones killed …. or run off …. so only obedient dogs mate ….’

‘Yes … and every now and again you hear of a dog being “put down” because it attacked a human being …. especially a child …’

‘Wait! Are you saying humans have been bred to accept a hierarchy? And that the hierarchy is hereditary?’

‘Well, now – I hope I am not being accused of advocating monarchy … or feudalism?”

‘No, Miss …. of course not …. but …..’

‘Slow down, now. Don’t jump too far ahead to conclusions. Stay with the discussion a little longer, ok?’

‘Yes, Teacher. Sorry.’

‘That’s alright. Now, let’s unpick this a bit more. Is the non-Alpha wolf in the pack governed by fear alone? Does he or she have nothing to gain from its position in the pack?’

‘The pack hunts together, doesn’t it? So I suppose …. a pack can kill a bigger animal …. by working together?’

‘Yes, of course. A deer …. or antelope …. or bovine …. and then the whole pack will have enough to eat. Any other benefits?’

‘Defence? Lots of teeth, many individuals.’

‘Vigilance …. warning? Lots of eyes to keep lookout.’

‘Maybe warmth, huddling together against the cold?’

‘Yes, all those are true. And emotional warmth too, the solidarity of the group. The pack looks after the cubs also, as soon as they start to run around. This benefits the future of the whole pack as well as relieving the Alphas of their childcare from time to time. And the pack seems to get an emotional reward from looking after the cubs.’

‘Being a dog is quite a change then, Teacher. From being a wolf.’

‘Yes. But what are the advantages and disadvantages for the dog who is no longer a wolf? And there must be disadvantages, for some dogs have returned to the wild and the pack. As those I mentioned in South Africa and Australia. Advantages, first.’

‘The dog gets regular guaranteed food, doesn’t depend on the hunt for it.’

‘And the dog gets protection …. humans have weapons.’

‘And the dog gets …. gets …. medical care?’

‘Yes, all those things. But one very important thing dogs get that very few in the wolf pack get.’

‘They get to mate.’

‘Yes, exactly. No alpha telling them they can’t. Well, humans lock a bitch in heat up sometimes or we sterilise a male or female but otherwise, they mate. And a bitch gets to have her own cubs.’

‘Teacher …. are you implying that dogs chose not to be wolves?’

‘Well, it’s certainly an interesting question. If some dogs go feral, if some dogs form packs, and other dogs don’t, there would seem to be a choice involved, hmmm? And perhaps the ancestors of the dog did choose to leave the pack, rather than just being socialised and conditioned as captured pups. Some wolves may have hung around human encampments, getting scraps, warning humans of the approach of dangerous beasts …. other humans …. They may have been renegades from the pack …. dissidents …. The first domesticated wolf may have been an illicitly pregnant bitch, knowing that in the pack, her pups would get killed by the alpha female …. Her pups, socialised to humans as soon as they were born. Then, selection by the humans for non-aggression … obedience …. culling the ones that didn’t fit …”

‘Wow!’

‘So now we come to extrapolating what we can from managing wolves and dogs to managing humans. Postulate, please.’

‘The pack is a metaphor for our society.’

‘We generally accept our leaders, so long as they are effective.’

‘Sir, we train humans from childhood. Like pups in the pack’

‘And we give them some benefits so they choose to be in our pack’.

‘Yes, very good. And what about those who choose not to be in our pack?’

‘We eliminate them.’

‘Cull them.’

‘Isolate them.’

‘Marginalise them’.

‘Very good. For your written assignment, summarise in around a thousand words to be handed in next Monday.’

end.

Irish painter of Native Americans

Few people know the pain of being dispossessed of their land better than the Irish, but tragically in the 1870s, thousands of impoverished Irish immigrants ended up enlisting in American armies that were fighting to push Native Americans off their land.

Irishmen fought and died in the most iconic conflict between Native Americans and the United States Army at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana. The defeat of the General Custer’s 7th Cavalry by Native Americans on June 25, 1876 has become legendary. Many people know the story of Custer’s defeat, but few are aware of the role the Irish played in fighting the battle, and in creating the most famous painting of it.

One hundred and three Irish soldiers perished on that fateful day, and yet another Irishman, John Mulvany, realizing the popularity a canvas of the battle would create, painted his iconic “Custer’s Last Rally,” which remains today one of the most celebrated paintings of the American West.

Custer’s Last Rally, painted by John Mulvaney (Photo sourced: Internet)

In the 1870s, the hard and dangerous life of an American cavalry trooper was still the best option for many poor, newly arrived Irish immigrants. In 1875, Custer’s 7th Cavalry was full of Irish-born recruits when gold was discovered in the Black Hills of South Dakota, the sacred ground to the Lakota. These soldiers must have known the danger they faced when the United States claimed the land and invaded it, despite treaties the American government had signed with the Lakota, guaranteeing them its ownership. The military’s armed incursion into the area led many Sioux and Cheyenne tribesmen to leave their reservations, joining the rebel leaders, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, in Montana. By the spring of 1876, more than 10,000 Native Americans were camped along the Little Bighorn River – defying a War Department order to return to their reservations and setting the stage for the famous battle.

The charismatic General George Armstrong Custer and almost 600 troops of the 7th Cavalry rode into the Little Bighorn Valley, determined to attack the native encampments. Riding with Custer were over 100 Irishmen, ranging in rank from newly recruited troopers, many of whom could barely control their mounts, to Captain Myles Keogh, a heroic veteran of the Civil War from County Carlow. There were 15 Irish sergeants and three Irish corporals in Custer’s command, the backbone of his noncommissioned officers.

Today, we imagine Custer wearing his trademark buckskin jacket – it was sewn by an Irishman, Sergeant Jeremiah Finley from Tipperary, the regiment’s tailor. The song of the 7th Cavalry was another Irish influence. Just prior to Custer’s arrival in Fort Riley, Kansas, where he took command of the 7th Cavalry, Custer ran into an Irish trooper who, “under the influence of spirits,” was singing “Garryowen,” an Irish song. Custer loved the melody and began to hum the catchy tune to himself. Custer made it the official song of the 7th Cavalry and it was the last song played before Custer and his men separated from General Terry’s column at the Powder River and rode off into history.

Centre section of The Battle of Aughrim, by John Mulvany. (Photo sourced: internet

John Mulvany, who is known for his paintings of the American West and in particular “Custer’s Last Rally,” also painted “The Battle of Aughrim,” in 1885, which was exhibited in Dublin in 2010.
The battle, fought between the Jacobite and the Williamites forces in Aughrim, County Galway on July 12, 1699, it was one of the bloodiest battles in Ireland’s history, over 7,000 killed. 
The battle marked the end of Jacobitism in Ireland, a movement that aimed to restore the Roman Catholic Stuart King James II of England and Ireland (as James VII in Scotland) to the throne

Before the battle, the legendary Lakota chief Sitting Bull had a vision in which he saw many soldiers, “as thick as grasshoppers,” falling upside down into the Lakota camp, which his people saw as a foreshadowing of a major victory in which a large number of soldiers would be killed. Custer, however, blinded by ego and visions of glory, made a reckless decision to attack the huge gathering of Native Americans head on, saying, ironically, “Boys, hold your horses, there are plenty down there for us all.”

Foolishly splitting his command into three units, Custer tried in vain to attack and envelop the largest concentration of Native American fighters ever to face the American Army. The first assault against the Native American encampment was launched shortly after noon by three companies – 140 officers and men – led by Major Marcus Reno, whose men attacked along the valley floor towards the far end of the camp. Thrown back with many casualties, the survivors scrambled meekly for their lives to the top of a hill. Custer, with five companies totaling more than 200 men, advanced along the ridgeline, commanding the river valley on its eastern side. He further divided this force into two groups, one of them led by Captain Keogh.

There is debate about what occurred when Custer engaged the Native American forces just after 3 p.m. because the General and all his men were killed, so no one from Custer’s command could tell their tragic tale. Archaeological evidence suggests that Keogh and his men fought bravely, being killed while trying to reach Custer’s final position after the right wing collapsed.

On June 27, 1876, members of Gen. Terry’s column reached the Little Bighorn battlefield and began identifying bodies. Keogh was found with a small group of his men and his was one of the few bodies that had not been mutilated, apparently owing to a papal or religious medal that he wore about his neck (Keogh had once served in the in the Battalion of St. Patrick, Papal Army). Although Captain Keogh did not survive the battle, his horse, Comanche, did. The horse, spared by the Native American fighters for its heroism, recovered from its serious wounds and was falsely honored as the lone survivor of the battle (many other U.S. Army horses also survived). Comanche was retired with honors by the United States Army and lived on another 15 years. When Comanche died he was stuffed, and to this day remains in a glass case at the University of Kansas.

Comanche, Keogh’s horse, which survived his master who died at the battle. (Sourced: Internet)

White Americans, shocked and angered by the defeat of Custer and his men, demanded retaliation. And they got it. Soon after, over 1,000 U.S. troops under the leadership of General Ranald Mackenzie opened fire on a sleeping village of Cheyenne, killing many in the first few minutes. They burned all the Cheyenne’s winter food and slit the throats of their horses. The survivors, half naked, faced an 11-day walk north to Crazy Horse’s camp of Oglalas.

The victory at Little Big Horn marked the beginning of the end of the Native Americans’ ability to resist the U.S. government, but 37-year-old John Mulvany from County Meath saw opportunity in the tragedy.

John Mulvaney, photo by Anne Webber (Sourced: Internet)

12 YEARS OLD IN THE USA

Mulvany arrived in America as a 12-year-old. He went to art school in New York City and became an assistant of famed Civil War photographer Mathew Brady. He later covered the Civil War as a sketch artist for a Chicago newspaper, developing an amazing ability to capture battlefields on canvas.

Mulvany knew that a painting of the fight would be a sensation. He visited the battlefield twice and also found Sitting Bull in Canada so that his painting could capture even minute details of the battle and its combatants. Mulvany finished the epic 11 ft. x 20 ft. canvas in 1881, which was hailed as a masterpiece, and began a 17-year tour of the United States. The canvas made Mulvany the toast of Chicago, but his good fortune would not last.

Sitting Bull of the Lakota, photo by William Notman. John Mulvany sought him out to consult him about the Battle of the Little Big Horn. (Image sourced: Internet)

Mulvany eventually sold his painting and ended up destitute in Brooklyn, where he drowned in the East River in 1909 in what many labeled a suicide. Mulvany quickly became forgotten, but not the fame of his great canvas, which recently sold for $25 million. Mulvany painted many great works, but they are lost and there is a concerted effort to find these missing canvases. Perhaps we will soon find more works of this great, tragic Irish painter.

end.

LEFT IN THE LURCH BUT SINGING

“Mo Ghile Mear”, lyrics composed later in the the 18th Century lamenting the failing of an earlier Rising, a traditional Irish air at least generations old, combined in the 1970s, sung today in great style.

I have not researched the origins of this myself but the theme is well-known, so from relying on Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: “Mo Ghile Mear” (translated “My Gallant Darling”, “My Spirited Lad” and variants) is an Irish song. The modern form of the song was composed in the early 1970s by Dónal Ó Liatháin (1934–2008), using a traditional air collected in Cúil Aodha, County Cork, and lyrics selected from Irish-language poems by Seán “Clárach” Mac Domhnaill (1691–1754).

 

The lyrics are partially based on Bímse Buan ar Buairt Gach Ló (“My Heart is Sore with Sorrow Deep” (but “Gach Ló” means “every day” and there is no mention of “My Heart” in the title – D. Breatnach), c. 1746), a lament of the failure of the Jacobite rising of 1745.[1][2] The original poem is in the voice of the personification of Ireland, Éire, lamenting the exile of Bonnie Prince Charlie.[3] Mo ghile mear is a term applied to the Pretender in numerous Jacobite songs of the period. O’Daly (1866) reports that many of the Irish Jacobite songs were set to the tune The White Cockade. This is in origin a love song of the 17th century, the “White Cockade” (cnotadh bán) being an ornament of ribbons worn by young women, but the term was re-interpreted to mean a military cockade in the Jacobite context.[4]

Jacobite musketeers, reenactment.
(Source: Internet)

Another part of the lyrics is based in an earlier Jacobite poem by Mac Domhnaill. This was published in Edward Walsh‘s Irish Popular Songs (Dublin, 1847) under the title of “Air Bharr na gCnoc ‘san Ime gCéin — Over the Hills and Far Away”. Walsh notes that this poem was “said to be the first Jacobite effort” by Mac Domhnaill, written during the Jacobite rising of 1715, so that here the exiled hero is the “Old Pretender”, James Francis Edward Stuart.

The composition of the modern song is associated with composer Seán Ó Riada, who established an Irish-language choir inCúil Aodha, County Cork, in the 1960s. The tune to which it is now set was collected by Ó Riada from an elderly resident of Cúil Aodha called Domhnall Ó Buachalla. Ó Riada died prematurely in 1971, and the song was composed about a year after his death, in c. 1972, with Ó Riada himself now becoming the departed hero lamented in the text. The point of departure for the song was the tape recording of Domhnall Ó Buachalla singing the tune. Ó Riada’s son Peadar suggested to Dónal Ó Liatháin that he should make a song from this melody.[5]

Ó Liatháin decided to select verses from Mac Domhnaill’s poem and set them to the tune. He chose those that were the most “universal”, so that the modern song is no longer an explicit reference to the Jacobite rising but in its origin a lament for the death of Seán Ó Riada.[6]

THIS RENDITION is to my mind and ear an excellent one in traditional-type arrangement and voices (not to mention looks of certain of the singers) and all involved are to be commended. I have not always liked the group’s rendition but this is just wonderful.

In history, we fought in Ireland for two foreign royals at two different times and on each occasion they left us in the lurch.

end.