Tá reilig i mBaile Átha Cliath a bhfuil breis agus míle bliain aici, agus crois ann a tartháladh ó loiteadh Chromail. Ach tá cuid de mhuinntir na h-áite mí-shásta leis an saghas cúram a bhfuil Comhairle Cathrach Bhaile Átha Cliath ag tabhairt di agus táid ag iarraidh iad féin a bheith freagrach as cúram na reilige.
Tá Reilig Naomh Channaithe suite díreach siar ón débhealach a ghearrann trí Fhionnghlas agus shéipéil.
“Tá uaimheanna ann do na h-uaisle áitiúla — teaghlach Maffett — atá daingnithe anois”, adeir Joe Lynch ag caint i mBéarla, “chun cosaint a dhéanamh ar robálaithe uaighe. Tá tuamaí cófra ann do na sagairt a fuair bás agus easpaig, agus cinn cloiche simplí do na comóntóirí.”
Bhí athair Joe Lynch mar airíoch ar an reilig agus bhí teaichín aige cois reilige dá bharr; b’ann a tógadh an clann páiste, Joe san áireamh. “Thugtaí isteach mé chuig an reilig i mbarra rotha,” adeir Joe, ‘agus mé ceithre bliain d’aois. Agus bheinn ag iarraidh cabhrú nuair a ligfí amach mé.”
B’ab, sagart agus misinéir Éireannach é Cainnech (515 / 16-600) as Achadh Bhó ins an Condae ainmnithe ar a shon, Cill Chainnigh chomh maith le bunaitheoir mainistreach i rith na luath-mheánaoise. Tugtar “Saint Canice” air i mBéarla in Éirinn, “St. Kenneth” in Albain nó “St. Kenny” agus i Laidin “Sanctus Canicus”. Tá an Cainneach ar cheann de Dháréag Aspal na hÉireann agus rinneadh sé seanmóireacht ar an gCríostaíocht ar fud na tíre agus ar na Cruithnigh in Albain. Scríobh sé tráchtaireacht ar na Soiscéil, ar a tugadh Glas-Chainnigh nó “Lock Kenneth” nó “Slabhra Chainnigh” ar feadh na gcéadta bliain.
Tá an chuid is mó dá bhfuil scríofa faoi shaol Cainnech bunaithe ar thraidisiún, ach measadh go raibh sé ina fhear le dea-cháil, le solabharthacht mór agus le léann. I 544 rinne sé staidéar faoi Mobhí Cláraineach i scoil Ghlas Naíon, le Ciarán as Cluain Mhic Nóise agus Comgall de Bheannchar. Nuair a scaip plá an pobal sin, chuaigh sé go mainistir Cadoc i Llancarfan i Glamorganshire sa Bhreatain Bheag, áit ar ordaíodh ina shagart é i 545.
Tá tagairt dá ainm luaite i sé logainm déag ag Wikipedia: in Éirinn, sa Bhreatain Bhig, in Albain, ins na SAM, san Astráil agus sa Nua-Shéalainn. Déantar comóradh ar a lá féasta an 11ú Deireadh Fómhair san Eaglais Chaitliceach Rómhánach agus in Eaglais Cheartchreidmheach an Oirthir de réir a gcuid féilirí faoi seach (Gregorian nó Church Julian) le laethanta féasta breise an 1d nó 14ú Lúnasa in Eaglais Cheartchreidmheach an Oirthir.
Bhí meitheal oibre ann sa Reilig trathnóna Déardaoin seo chaite agus iad ag baint fiadhaile agus féir, ag gearradh driseacha, eidhneáin is a leithéid. Bhí na préamhacha go doimhin in áiteanna agus ba léir nach ndearna cóiriú ceart le tamall fada. “Tá an eidhneán ag clúdú ballaí an fhothrach agus de réir a chéile ag déanamh dochar dó. Is ón 10ú nó 12ú Céad an cill agus ba cheart na ballaí a chaomhnú,” adúirt ball den chumann staire áitiúil.
“D’úsáid teaghlaigh Protastúnacha agus Caitliceacha an reilig,” adeir Joe, “lucht creidimh amháin ag teacht isteadh geata amháin agus an geata eile ag an gcreidimh eile. Ach ní gá dúinn an dá gheata anois agus táim ag tathant ar an gComhairle an geata eile a tháthú le fada.”
Deir lucht an chaomhnaithe go ndearnadh an crois ársa a roinnt i gcodanna sa 17ú Céad ionnas go bhféadfaí a chur i bhfolach nuair a chuala go raibh fórsaí Chromail le teacht thríd an dúiche, de fhaitíos go ndéanfadh siad an siomból a scrios mar a bhí á dhéanamh acu ar fud na tíre (ag iarraidh “íoldadhradh” a ruaigeadh). Thóg na fórsaí céanna bóthar eile ach d’fhan píosa na croise i bhfolach go ceann breis agus 160 bliain, go dtí go ndeachadh an t-urramach Walshe á lorg thrí bhéaloideas na h-áite agus tháinig air, ach níor fuarthas bun na croise go dtí seo.
Tá an crois céanna sa Reilig anois agus glacadh ag cumainn áitiúla mar siomból na dúiche. De réir Joe Lynch tá an Comhairle Cathrach ag iarraidh an crois a bhailliú as an reilig ach tá sé féin agus daoine eile ag iarraidh go bhfágfaidh ann é agus cúram na Reilige a fhágáil ag muinntir na h-áite.
Tá meithil eagraithe chun oibre ag an reilig trathnónta Sathairn agus oícheannta Déardaoine agus tuilleadh eolais ar leathanach Facebook na reilige.
ST CANICE’S CEMETERY IN FINGLAS – “LET US HAVE THE RESPONSIBILITY”
(Reading time: 2 mins)
There is a cemetery in Dublin that is over a thousand years old, containing a cross that was salvaged from Cromwell’s destruction. But some locals are unhappy with the kind of care that Dublin City Council is giving it and want to take responsibility for the care of the cemetery.
St. Canice’s Cemetery is located just west of the dual carriageway which cuts through Finglas and churches.
“There is a crypt for the local esquires, the Maffett family – now cemented,” says Joe Lynch, “to protect it from grave robbers. There are chest tombs for the dead priests and bishops, and simple headstones for the commoners. ”
Joe Lynch’s father was caretaker of the cemetery and had a cottage next to it; it was where Joe was raised as a child. “I was taken to a cemetery in wheelbarrow,” says Joe, “when I was four years old. And I would want to help when I was let out.”
Cainnech (515 / 16-600) was an Irish abbot, priest and missionary from the county named after him, Kilkenny, and the founder of an early medieval monastery. He is called “Saint Canice” in English in Ireland, “St. Kenneth” in Scotland or “St. Kenny” and in Latin “Sanctus Canicus”. Canice is one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland and preached Christianity throughout the country and to the Picts in Scotland. He wrote a commentary on the Gospels, known as “Lock Kenneth” or “Chain of Canice” for centuries.
Most of what is written about Kenny’s life is based on tradition, but he was considered a man of good repute, great eloquence and learning. In 544 he studied at St. Mobhi’s in Glasnevin, with Ciarán of Clonmacnoise and Comgall of Bangor. When the plague spread, he went to Cadoc Abbey in Llancarfan in Glamorganshire, Wales, where he was ordained a priest in 545.
Wikipedia connects his name to sixteen placenames: in Ireland, Wales, Scotland, the USA, Australia and New Zealand. His feast day on October 11th is commemorated in the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church according to their respective calendars (Gregorian or Church Julian) with additional feast days on the 1st or 14th of August in the Eastern Orthodox Church.
A “meitheal”, a cooperative work party was at work last Thursday afternoon pulling weeds, cutting grass, brambles and ivy. The roots were deep in places and it was clear that site had not been properly tended for a long time. “The ivy is covering the walls of the ruin and gradually damaging them. The church dates from the 10th or 12th Century and the walls should be preserved,” said a member of the local historical society.
“The cemetery was used by Protestant and Catholic families,” says Joe, “one group entering one gate and the other faith at the other. But we don’t need both gates now and I’ve been at the Council to weld the other gate for a long time. ”
Conservationists say the ancient cross was divided into parts in the 17th Century so that it could be hidden when they heard that Cromwell’s forces were coming through the area, for fear of their destroying the symbol as was being done all over the country (to banish “idolatrous worship”). The same forces traveled another route instead but the pieces of the cross remained hidden for over 160 years, until the reverend Walshe investigated local folklore and found it, but the base of the cross has not been found to date.
The same cross is now in the Cemetery and has been accepted by local societies as a symbol of the district. According to Joe Lynch the City Council is trying to remove the cross from the cemetery but he and others want it to remain there and the care of the Cemetery to be left to the local people.
The cemetery has a working group organized on Saturday evenings and Thursday evenings, more information on the cemetery ‘s Facebook page.
In 1843 the lyrics of In Memory of the Dead were published anonymously in The Nation but it seems to have been an open secret in Dublin political circles that the author was John Kells Ingram. As often happens, the song became known by its opening line “Who Fears to Speak of ‘98” and years later Ingram admitted having written the lyrics. Though it never once mentions Daniel O’Connell, taken in context of its subject, time and where it was published, the song was a blistering attack on the politician and his Repeal of the Union organisation. Yet while Kells Ingram was many things, he was no revolutionary — unlike the editors of the Nation and many of its readers.
John Kells Ingram was a mildly nationalist mathematician, economist, philosopher and poet who was selected to write expert entries for the Encyclopedia Britannica. But although he was no revolutionary it is clear that he felt a distaste for O’Connell’s distancing himself from the memory of those who had risen in rebellion four decades earlier.
Supporting O’Connell initially, The Nation sought to create a patriotic and indeed revolutionary culture through its pages. One of The Nation’s founders and editors, Thomas Davis was perforce also one of the periodical’s contributors and his compositions The West’s Awake and A Nation Once Again are still sung today, the latter very nearly becoming Ireland’s national anthem. The lyrics of Who Fears to Speak celebrated historical memory of resistance and lamented death and exile, the latter to the USA, where many of the surviving United Irish had gone (“across the Atlantic foam“). Davis’ In Bodenstown’s Churchyard, commemorated and celebrated Theobald Wolfe Tone, remembered as the father of Irish Republicanism and martyr.
Three years after co-founding The Nation, Thomas Davis died of scarlet fever in 1845, a few months short of his 31st birthday. Two years later, in “Black ‘47”, the worst year of the Great Hunger, the Young Irelanders finally and formally split from O’Connell’s Repeal Movement and in 1848 had their ill-fated and short uprising – again jail and exile for the leaders followed. Just under a score of years later, 1867 saw the tardy and unsuccessful rising of the Fenians with again, resultant jail sentences and exile (in addition to the executions of the Manchester Martyrs).
Two years following the rising of the Young Irelanders, in 1850 Arthur M. Forrester was born near Manchester in Salford, England (the “Dirty Old Town” of Ewan McColl) and in 1869 his stirring words of The Felons of Our Land appeared in Songs of a Rising Nation and other poetry (Felons reprinted by Kearney Brothers in a 1922 collection including songs by Thomas Davis). Songs of a Rising Nation was a collection published by the militant and resourceful Ellen Forrester from Clones, Co. Monaghan, who struggled to raise her children after the early death of her husband and included poems by her son Arthur and daughter Cathy.
Felons of Our Land indeed contains some of the themes of Who Fears to Speak (of which Arthur was doubtless aware) but in addition those of jail and death on the scaffold. By that time, the Young Irelanders had been added to the imprisoned and exiled, some in escape to the USA but others to penal colony in the Australias. And Forester added the theme of pride in our political prisoners:
A felon’s cap’s the noblest crown
an Irish head can wear.
We love them yet, we can’t forget
the felons of our land.
Twenty years after the publication of The Felons of Our Land, in 1889, another Irishman, Jim Connell, writing in SE London, would contribute the lyrics of the anthem of the working class in Britain, The Red Flag. Although commonly sung to the air of a German Christmas carol, Connell himself put it to the the traditional Jacobite air of The White Cockade. Connell, from Crossakiel in Co. Meath, also invoked historical memory and included the theme of martyrdom in explanation of the flag’s colour:
The workers’ flag is deepest red —
it shrouded oft’ our martyrs dead,
And ‘ere their limbs grew stiff and cold
their life’s blood dyed its every fold.
The traditions and themes of resistance and struggle are handed from generation to generation and song is one of the vehicles of that transmission. But songwriters borrow themes not just from history but from the very songs of the singers and songwriters before them. In 1869 Arthur M. Forrester wrote in Who Fears to Speak of ‘98:
Let cowards mock and tyrants frown
ah, little do we care ….
Jim Connell, three decades later, took up not only the themes but also that line:
Let cowards mock and traitors sneer,
we’ll keep the red flag flying here.
References in lyrics to themes
In Who Fears to Speak of ‘98 (1843)
Some on a far-off distant land
their weary hearts have laid
And by the stranger’s heedless hands
their lonely graves were made.
But though their clay
be far away
Across the Atlantic foam …
In The Felons of Our Land (1869)
“…We’ll drink a toast
to comrades far away …
…. or flee, outlawed and banned
In The Red Flag (1889)
In Who Fears to Speak of ‘98 (1843)
In The Felons of Our Land(1869)
(Apart from the title and refrain)
… though they sleep in dungeons deep
Some in the convict’s dreary cell
have found a living tomb
And some unseen unfriended fell
within the dungeon’s gloom …
A felon’s cap’s the noblest crown
an Irish head can wear……
In The Red Flag (1889)
Come dungeons dark or gallows grim ….
of martyred death:
In Who Fears to Speak of ‘98 (1843)
Alas that might should conquer right,
they fell and passed away …..
In The Felons of Our Land (1869)
….. Some on the scaffold proudly died …
In The Red Flag (1889)
….. their life’s blood dyed its every fold ….
….. to bear it onward til we fall;
Come dungeons dark or gallows grim,
this song shall be our parting hymn.
of cowards and/ or traitors:
In Who Fears to Speak of ‘98 (1843)
Who fears to speak of ‘98,
who blushes at the name?
When cowards mock the patriot’s fate,
who hangs his head for shame?
He’s all a knave or half a slave
Who slights his country thus …
In The Felons of Our Land (1869)
…. And brothers say, shall we, today,
unmoved like cowards stand,While traitors shame and foes defame,
the Felons of our Land.
Let cowards mock and tyrants frown, …
In The Red Flag (1889)
. ..Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer (repeated in the chorus, sung six times)
It suits today the weak and base, Whose minds are fixed on pelf and place To cringe before the rich man’s frown, And haul the sacred emblem down.
of the higher moral fibre of revolutionaries:
In Who Fears to Speak of ‘98 (1843)
Repeated reference in every verse to such as
a true man, like you man and you men, be true men etc.
Alas that Might should conquer Right ….
In The Felons of Our Land (1869)
… No nation on earth can boast of braver hearts than they ….
And every Gael in Inishfail,
who scorns the serf’s vile brand,
From Lee to Boyne would gladly join
the felons of our land.
In The Red Flag (1889)
The banner bright, the symbol plain, Of human right and human gain.
With heads uncovered swear we all To bear it onward till we fall; Come dungeons dark or gallows grim, This song shall be our parting hymn.
of eventual victory:
In Who Fears to Speak of ‘98 (1843)
… a fiery blaze that nothing can withstand …
In The Felons of Our Land (1869)
None – but inferred.
In The Red Flag (1889)
It well recalls the triumphs past, It gives the hope of peace at last; The banner bright, the symbol plain, Of human right and human gain.
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 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.
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.
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.
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?
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
“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’.
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”.
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).
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.
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)
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:
Heavenforbidthat that should happen to me.
Sufficeit 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!
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”.
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.
1go 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.
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.
If people know anything about the Lakota nation, known to Americans as the Sioux, then it is the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn, in which the Lakota dealt the United States Army a humiliating defeat, completely destroying the Seventh Cavalry of General George Custer. This battle, however, was merely one chapter in the continuing struggle of the Lakota people against the ongoing colonialism practiced by the United States government.
The Lakota, a semi-autonomous people whose reservations occupy huge Areas of North and South Dakota have defined themselves over generations by stubbornly clinging to their culture, language and values against the forces of cultural assimilation wielded against them by the United States government.
In the 1860s, conflict arose as settlers entered the Lakota homeland, which covered a huge swath of the American Great Plains. A nomadic people, the Lakota lifestyle centered around hunting the massive herds of bison. The Lakota signed treaties protecting their homeland in 1851 and 1868, but the United States government broke them before the ink was even dry. After the disaster at Little Big Horn, the American army hungered for revenge and it responded with a campaign of terror, beginning with the Wounded Knee massacre, in which soldiers slaughtered hundreds of Native people, including women and children.
The sovereignty of the Lakotas depended on bison, and the American government embarked on a program of systematic extermination of these herds, In a three-year period, hunters butchered more than three million bison, close to 3,000 animals a day. Their food source gone, the Lakota were forced to end their armed struggle and live on reservations, which was often the poorest and most desiccated land.
The Lakota were to experience even worse horrors than the destruction of their traditional way of life. Their very culture was targeted for extermination. The American government mounted a nearly 100 year-long calculated assault on the Lakota as the state tried to force them to assimilate. The government banned the Sundance, the Lakota’s most sacred ceremony, with its days of fasting and ritual bloodletting and they were forbidden to openly practice their religion. However, perhaps most devastating to the Lakota psyche were the boarding schools, in which generations of Indians were forced to assimilate into white culture. Lakota children were severely beaten for even speaking their native tongue. As a result, many Lakota began to doubt the worth of their indigenous culture and lack of cultural pride still is an issue haunting many Lakota today.
The Lakota still struggle to cope with the attempts to destroy their culture. Their reservations are the scenes of grinding poverty. The Lakota have tragically high rates of unemployment, alcoholism, drug addiction, family abuse and suicide. There is a severe housing shortage on the reservations, which has magnified the effects of the covid pandemic on the Lakota.
Lakota culture, though, proved difficult to exterminate and their faith survived. Central to that faith is the belief that nature is our mother and that humans should live in harmony with nature. This belief manifested itself in 2014 when the Dakota access pipeline was announced. The 3.78 billion dollar underground oil pipeline was intended to run for 1,172-mile-long (1,886 km) across Lakota lands. The Lakota immediately objected to the project because it not only threatened the Missouri River, their water supply, but also would destroy sites of cultural, historic and religious significance to the Lakota.
In the Spring of 2016, The Lakota mobilized to protest the pipeline, but it seemed like David fighting Goliath. The protests, which lasted months through sub-zero winter temperatures, were organized by Lakota teenagers on the Standing Rock Reservation. In the vanguard of the protesters were women who defied mace attacks, arrests and strip searches. The police used teargas, bulldozers and “military-style counterterrorism measures” to suppress the protesters, but the Standing Rock protests attracted tens of thousands of Native Americans from across the continent, becoming the largest Native American demonstration against the government in over a century. The rallying cry of the protestors in Lakota was “Mni wichoni! Water is life!” The protests became a cause célèbre, drawing media attention from around the world, as international environmentalists supported the Lakota defiance.
President Donald Trump supported construction of the pipeline and spoke out in favor of crushing the Native American protestors, but in a shocking decision on August 5, 2020, a district court ruled in favor of the Lakota. ” Mike Faith, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, expressed delight at the verdict, “Today is a historic day for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the many people who have supported us in the fight against the pipeline.”
Trump, though, was not finished in his battle with the Lakota and would continue disrespecting them. Trump deliberately chose to target the Lakota by celebrating the July 4th holiday of American Independence at an inflammatory site: Mt. Rushmore, where massive heads of American presidents were carved into mountains the Lakota hold sacred. “Wherever you go to connect to God, that’s what the Black Hills are to the Lakota,” said Nick Tilsen, a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe and the president of NDN Collective, an Indigenous activist group. Prospectors seized the land during a gold rush in the 1870s, violating the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, which recognized the Black Hills as Lakota property. In 1980, A Federal Judge sided with the Native Americans in a suit to reclaim the Black Hills but awarded them a monetary settlement in lieu of the land. The Lakota, offended by the decision, have never touched the money.
The statues were carved by a white supremacist with strong ties to the Ku Klux Klan. Harold Frazier, the chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, called the monument a “brand on our flesh” that needed to be removed. He said,” Visitors look upon the faces of those presidents and extol the virtues that they believe make America the country it is today. Lakota see the faces of the men who lied, cheated and murdered innocent people whose only crime was living on the land they wanted to steal.” Washington and Jefferson were both slave owners, and Lincoln ordered the hanging of 38 Lakota men in Minnesota after an uprising of 1862. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of every ten are.”
Trump’s arrival again spurred Lakota protests and at least fifteen activists were arrested for blocking the highway leading to Mount Rushmore. One of the activists, Michael Patrick O’Connor, said he came because he wanted to express his outrage at the desecration of his people’s sacred lands and his frustration at a president who has failed the people of America. “I couldn’t find any reason not to be up here,” he said. “I felt like I owed it to the grandmas and grandpas, owed it to the people who suffered before us to do something and to come here because our people were gathering.”
Good Voice Elk, a spiritual advisor for the Lakota, was among the older protestors. He said this was by no means his first protest. “I grew up in protests,” he said. “The seventies were really bad, and those kids, now they are the leaders.” Protesters ranged in age from senior citizens to children as young as 10. One girl was brought by her father from the Ute Mountain tribe in Colorado so she could experience Indigenous communities coming together.
Nick, Tilsen, the leader of the non-violent protest, has been singled out for retribution by local officials. He is facing felony charges that bring his potential prison sentence to 17 years. Tilsen is just the latest victim in the American government’s attempt to crush Lakota resistance. Despite the heavy-handed response to the protests, it’s hard to imagine the tenacious Lakota giving up anytime soon.
“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. The original poem is in the voice of the personification of Ireland, Éire, lamenting the exile of Bonnie Prince Charlie.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.
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.
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.
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.
From Workers’ Republic, 18 March 1916.
Transcribed by The James Connolly Society in 1997.
Proofread by Chris Clayton, August 2007.
The question often arises: Why do Irishmen celebrate the festival of their national saint, in view of the recently re-discovered truth that he was by no means the first missionary to preach Christianity to the people of Ireland? It is known now beyond the shadow of a doubt that the Christian religion had been preached and practised in Ireland long before St. Patrick, that Christian churches had been established, and it is probable that the legend about the shamrock was invented in some later generation than that of the saint. Certainly the shamrock bears no place of any importance in early Celtic literature, and the first time we read of it as having any reference to or bearing on religion in Ireland occurs in the work of a foreigner – an English monk.
But all that notwithstanding there is good reason why Irish men and women should celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. They should celebrate it for the same reason as they should honour the green flag of Ireland, despite the fact that there is no historical proof that the Irish, in the days of Ireland’s freedom from foreign rule, ever had a green flag as a national standard, or indeed ever had a national flag at all
The claim of the 17th of March to be Ireland’s national festival, the claim of St. Patrick to be Ireland’s national saint, the claim of the shamrock to be Ireland’s national plant, the claim of the green flag to be Ireland’s national flag rests not on the musty pages of half-forgotten history but on the affections and will of the Irish people.
Sentiment it may be. But the man or woman who scoffs at sentiment is a fool. We on this paper respect facts, and have a holy hatred of all movements and causes not built upon truth. But sentiment is often greater than facts, because it is an idealised expression of fact – a mind picture of truth as it is seen by the soul, unhampered by the grosser dirt of the world and the flesh.
The Irish people, denied comfort in the present, seek solace in the past of their country; the Irish mind, unable because of the serfdom or bondage of the Irish race to give body and material existence to its noblest thoughts, creates an emblem to typify that spiritual conception for which the Irish race laboured in vain. If that spiritual conception of religion, of freedom, of nationality exists or existed nowhere save in the Irish mind, it is nevertheless as much a great historical reality as if it were embodied in a statute book, or had a material existence vouched for by all the pages of history.
It is not the will of the majority which ultimately prevails; that which ultimately prevails is the ideal of the noblest of each generation. Happy indeed that race and generation in which the ideal of the noblest and the will of the majority unite.
In this hour of her trial Ireland cannot afford to sacrifice any one of the things the world has accepted as peculiarly Irish. She must hold to her highest thoughts, and cleave to her noblest sentiments. Her sons and daughters must hold life itself as of little value when weighed against the preservation of even the least important work of her separate individuality as a nation.
Therefore we honour St. Patrick’s Day (and its allied legend of the shamrock) because in it we see the spiritual conception of the separate identity of the Irish race – an ideal of unity in diversity, of diversity not conflicting with unity.
Magnificent must have been the intellect that conceived such a thought; great must have been the genius of the people that received such a conception and made it their own.
On this Festival then our prayer is: Honour to St. Patrick the Irish Apostle, and Freedom to his people.
I seem to recall that Connolly wrote something else about celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, perhaps when he was living and working in the USA but can’t find it now. For similar reasons to what he lays out here, I supported and indeed organised public celebration of the feast day in London.
And I might have agreed with Connolly in the case of Ireland at the time he wrote it: the whole country under British occupation, in the middle of the First World War with thousands of Irish casualties in the British armed forces and coming up to the 1916 Rising.
But now? I don’t think so, neither with what it celebrates nor how it is celebrated, which always makes me want to get out of Dublin. Republic Day, which Connolly was party to creating but could perhaps not have anticipated being a national festival day, is what we should be focusing on now, I think.
No, that title is not a cryptic clue for a crossword but instead refers to a very common and much-despised plant with a truly remarkable story. A plant that has found amazing ways of propagation and distribution.
The week before last I saw my first dandelion of this year in bloom in Dublin. On a cold, dark and wet day, it had its sunny bloom shining on a bit of waste ground. And not far from it, a coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara)in bloom too, a relative in the same genus sometimes confused with the dandelion, also in bloom. But this is the story of the ubiquitous dandelion, which we knew as “Piss (or Wet) the Bed”, from a mistaken belief that keeping the blooms in one’s bedroom would make one void one’s bladder while sleeping.
We have two common species of dandelion in Ireland, T. vulgaris and T. officinalis, Caisearbhán and Caisearbhán Caol Dearg (?) respectively in Irish. They belong to the genus or larger family of Asteraceae, one of the two largest genera of the flower family, including so many species, from the diminutive daisy to the giant sunflower.
It is an important early source of pollen and nectar for insects in this latitude, when not many other blooms are about.
The name “dandelion” is a rendition of the pronunciation in French of “dents de lion”, i.e “lion’s teeth”, said to refer to the serration of the leaves reminding people of lion’s teeth. Well, perhaps of a cartoon or heraldic lion, or one as imagined by Europeans who had never seen the animal.
As the season progresses, soon those cheerful yellow blooms will be seen everywhere, on roadside verges and waste ground, in gardens and fields, in woodlands, on hillsides ….. Except in bogs and strangely in some parts of the Burren1, there is hardly a place where it cannot be found, which makes us see it as common and perhaps view it with disdain.
But it is far from being an everyday plant.
PUFF CLOCK AND PARACHUTE BABIES
As children, we thought to tell the time by blowing on the fluffy balls that develop from the bloom in late Summer or Autumn, each puff being an hour and the correct time being the number of puffs to blow the last seed parachute away. It seems unlikely such an impractical idea would have occurred to us and we only did so because we had been told about it by adults.
But there is some wonder in those fluffy balls, full of separate parachutes, each bearing one seed. This is possible because what I have been deliberately calling a “bloom” rather than a “flower” is, properly speaking, a capitulum, a head actually containing many, many little flowers, or florets – and each one of those will bear a seed. It is a wonderful arrangement capable of producing a multiplicity of seeds even if parts of the bloom are damaged.
Each floret grows a silky “parachute”, the plant not only using the wind for seed dispersal (as do grasses with pollen) but developing such a means of delivery to cover great distance.
Upon hitting disturbed ground or even a crevice with soil, the seed takes quickly – the dandelion’s children are great opportunists — and sends down a long taproot, while above ground, leaves grow in a rosette shape upon rosette, later sending out hollow stalks that will bear the bloom of florets. Each bloom “responds to changes in light, in fine weather stretching the florets to the sun and following its course across the sky, or closing the head up as soon as rain threatens, opening also for sunrise and closing at evening.”1 As the florets die, their bracts close and the seeds and parachutes develop inside; then their surrounding bracts drop, allowing the expansion of the full ball of silky parachutes – i.e the maximum possible number of seed-carriers.
When the seeds have gone with the wind, the hollow stem dries up and falls away. The tap-root regularly shrinks and pulls the rosette of leaves tight to the ground: maximum absorption of sun and moisture but also maximum possible cover on ground, making it difficult for other plants to compete close to it.
Unless I dreamed it, somewhere I came across a phrase and image that I considered very democratic but have not been able to find it since. I had thought it spoken by a Shakespearian character but no search has turned it up. As I recall it, a worker or person of “low” social status says that his blood is as good as any royal person’s, for “a king on the march scatters his seed like a dandelion”!
To the average flower or vegetable gardener, the dandelion is an invasive noxious weed, rapidly colonising newly-dug, hoed or even raked soil and competing with what it is desired to grow. And the fact that hoeing the leaves off even a couple of times will not kill the plant, the root sending out new shoots, makes it worse. Using a rotavator chops up the tap root but many of the resulting sections can regenerate and start a new plant.
All this is amazing enough, were it not for the plant’s sex life – or absence of it!
SEEDS WITHOUT SEX
Most flowers, blossoms and blooms exchange pollen, usually with the assistance of pollinators – generally insects and in particular, bees. This fertilises the plants and causes the production of seeds, whether in the form of fruit or nuts or just plain “seeds”. The shape and colour of the bloom attracts the pollinator, knowing that inside there is nectar and pollen to be eaten (or collected, in the case of bees).
Well, dandelion blooms contain nectar and are visited by many insects, including bees – but the plants don’t exchange pollen in order to produce seeds. They produce the seeds alright, as we have seen – but asexually. Without sex. So why produce blooms and nectar at all?
Each new plant is a copy of the parent but no breeding occurs. Another mystery: there are a huge number of different microspecies of dandelion, differing in sometimes minute ways from one another and living and seeding in the same general area (more than 70 in Co. Dublin alone3). ‘In the British Isles alone, 234 microspecies are recognised in nine loosely defined sections, of which 40 are “probably endemic.”4
Let’s imagine an ancestral dandelion plant – how did it come to produce all these micro-species, seeding true but each separate and without cross-breeding? Botanists don’t seem to know: ‘the humble dandelion is, indeed, as the new Webb’s An Irish Flora confirms, “a very difficult genus”, its flowers not always to be told apart, even in the hand. The American ecologist Paul Ehrlich once described the reproductive policy of dandelions as “perhaps the greatest mystery in the world of plant sex”.‘5
FOOD, DRINK, DYE …. AND RUBBER?
All over Europe and Asia the plant has been known for culinary and/ or medicinal qualities but rather than just quote hearsay and unverified publications, I prefer to pass over most of the detail of these alleged qualities as the subject requires more research than I am prepared to undertake at this time.
All of the dandelion plant is edible1, except perhaps the bloom-stem: root, leaves, buds and blooms. Which is probably how this native Eurasian plant came to colonise America (though North America does have its own native species too) – brought there as a culinary plant by European colonists. The green leaves are likely to be too bitter for many tastes unless blanched first – i.e covered to deny them sun for a week or so, when they will turn yellow and lose much of their bitterness but still remain crisp.
Dandelion wine has been made from the flowers (a gallon of flowers for a gallon of wine7, but some other ingredients must be added, as with all European plants with the exception of the grape or the gooseberry). A mildly-fermented drink, dandelion and burdock8, has also been made from a combination of the dandelion flowers and burdock roots.
The flowers have also been dried, then ground into a powder to make a light yellow dye but I lack information on its colourfastness.
The white sticky liquid (latex) in the stems and along the main rib of the larger leaves has been said to remove warts but having tried it myself without success I doubt this claim. Furthermore, I believe the remedy may be confused with a similar-looking white sap from a completely different plant, the petty spurge (also known as “milkweed” and other common names), Euphorbia peplus, which I have found efficacious. However, the white sap in the dandelion has been developed by selective cultivation in one species to replicate the latex of the rubber tree9 and dandelion rubber may one day become a familiar product.
Soon, this seemingly ubiquitous flower of many “cousins” and many uses, an opportunist colonist with thousands of daughters sailing the wind, will be brightening our ways everywhere. Once we know even some of its qualities, can we ever again look at the dandelion with disdain?
1In New Atlas of British Irish Flora, quoted by Michael Viney, “Pissey beds lion’s tooth” etc (see Sources, References)
2Ibid, also Taraxacum – ‘A very difficult genus of a multitude forms, which set seed without pollinating, and never, therefore, interbreed.’ An Irish Flora by D A Webb, Sc.D. 1977, quoted in Wildflowers of Ireland (References, Sources).
I observed in Language Is a Treasure Chest 1 that it is full of wonders but that it has some horrors in it too. And I found it to be so again.
I was reading a novel in which the word “Cimarron” appeared and, doing some quick research on the word, I came across a 2004 query in an email website or page called Word Wizard:
What is the etymology of the word cimarron? I’ve always been told that it means “runaway slave” in Mexican Spanish. Can anyone verify this?
The reply is dated the same day:
From Greek. It refers to people who live in perpetual mist and darkness, akin to the ‘land of the dead’. Latin ‘Cimmerius’, Greek ‘Kimmerios’, Assyrian ‘Gimirri’ even the bible ‘Gomer’ Gen.10:2 and Esk. 38:6. In Western United States it refers to a stretch of land that gets rainfall when other near by areas are desert year round.
Apart from the topographical reference, I thought the expert’s explanation highly dubious. And in fact I happen to know something about the Spanish-language origins of the word.
The searcher replied:
Thanks, Jim. I just wonder what connection this word has to Hispanics of Mexican origin because it shows up in their surnames (although not as common as Lopez or Vargas or Garcia). Is it just Mexican in origin or did that also come from Spain? So the “runaway slave” theory has no foundation then?
The expert’s reply did come back with a Spanish-language connection and he may be on to something with the topography, though I think he has it the wrong way around (as we shall see).
The “runaway slave” theory is not so obsolete.
Mexico did not have slaves (Outlawed in 1810)but
American slaves who fled to Mexico had to pass
through lands with water, or else parish (sic).
When relating their tales of woe to the locals
the word ‘cimmaron’ arose to describe their flight
through the South West desert.
Very curiously, there was no further contribution to the discussion. I tried to leave my own but had to register, which I have done (though wondering if worth the trouble) and am now awaiting confirmation1.
THE FOLK MEMORY WAS TRUE
Continuing with a little light online research I find that the Castillian-language (Spanish) origin is the explanation most often given, with rarely a reference to Greek or other classical or archaic languages. For example, in yourdictionary.com:
American Spanish cimarrón, wild, unruly ( from Old Spanish cimarra, thicket): probably origin, originally referring to the wild sheep (bighorn) found along its banks
(Latin America, of animals) feral (having returned to the wild)
Synonyms: alzado, bagual, feral
(Latin America, of people) rural; campestral
(Latin America, of plants) of a wild cultivar.
But …. what about the “runaway slaves”? Under the title Cimarron People, Wikipedia has this to say: The Cimarrons in Panama were enslaved Africans who had escaped from their Spanish masters and lived together as outlaws. In the 1570s, they allied with Francis Drake of England to defeat the Spanish conquest. In Sir Francis Drake Revived (1572), Drake describes the Cimarrons as “a black people which about eighty years past fled from the Spaniards their masters, by reason of their cruelty, and are since grown to a nation, under two kings of their own. The one inhabiteth to the west, the other to the east of the way from Nombre de Dios”. (location in Panama — DB)
While we may indulge ourselves in a sardonic smile at commissioned pirate Francis Drake talking about the cruelty of others, or about slave-owning by a country other than England in 1570, we remember also that at the time Spain was the main competitor with England in the rush to plunder the Americas – and had got there well before them.2 Both colonial powers were already plundering Africa for raw materials and slaves.
The meanings of animals having gone “feral” or “returned to the wild” would easily have been applied by the society of the time to escaped African slaves, a society which, despite evidence to the contrary including agriculture in Africa, would have considered indigenous inhabitants of Africa as people living in the “wild”. Once escaped and no longer under European control, they would be seen as “returning to the wild”.
So what happened to the Cimarron People? Their settlements were subject to punitive raids by the Spanish, killing people and burning crops, so that in the end they came to a treaty with their old enemy. The Wikipedia entry says no more except that the “Cimarrons” and the English quarreled (not surprising, given that they were of no further use to the latter). I believe some of their settlements in Florida were raided and burned by US “pioneers” and soldiers and that the remainder became part of the Seminoles, a native American tribe that resisted the USA in the longest and most costly of the USA’s wars against the indigenous people, the Native (North) Americans. The Seminole had many tribe members of part-African origin in their midst.
And here – a surprise: The word “Seminole” is derived from the Muscogee word simanó-li, which may itself be derived from the Spanish word cimarrón, meaning “runaway” or “wild one”!
So, in line with what that on-line searcher back in 2004 had heard, no doubt a folk belief, the word cimarronis, in Mexico (and in the USA), of Castillian (Spanish) language origin and is connected to escaped slaves of African origin.
Some of the sources for “cimarron” also give us “marron” or “marrón” which is also related to escaped slaves and, in English, became “Maroons”. The Maroons, escaped slaves who inhabited mountainous regions of Jamaica and elsewhere became a great problem to the English settlers (after they took the island from the Spanish) which they failed totally to quell, the Maroons emerging victorious in many military engagements. In the Cockpits area of Jamaica, I have read, there is a place called Nanny Town, which is believed to be one of the settlements of the Maroons; their chief was said to be a woman called “Granny Nanny”3, whether because of her former slave occupation or for other reason4. In the end, like the Spanish with the Cimarron People, the English had to treat with them. Sadly the treaty required the Maroons to return newly-escaped slaves, which they did and for which they received payment.
However if instead of being a voluntary escapee to go to a wild place you were forced by people or circumstance, well then, like Alexander Selkirk’s “Crusoe”, you’d be “marooned”!
Well then, what about the “cimarron strips” in the southwest of the USA? Could the word refer to strips of land “gone wild”? Or could the expert replying to the question in 2004 have been on to something?
If the slaves escaping through the desert from the USA to Mexico did indeed make their way through strips of watered land (not just for the water, as the expert speculates but for vegetation to conceal them), then there is a connection between escaped slaves and these strips of land. But not as the expert sees it, rather the other way around: since the escaped slaves, the “cimarrones” were travelling the strips, they would be called by those who knew about it (escapee hunters, escapee helpers and just observers), “cimarron strips”, i.e “those strips through which the runaway slaves travel.”
CHRISTIAN ETHNIC PREJUDICE
However, if the word comes from Castillian (Spanish) what were the origins of the word in that language?
Perhaps a year ago, I was reading a book that described the Spanish State as having been characterised, contrary to many other European states, by mass expulsions and exiles on a number of occasions throughout its history5. Naturally enough, first on the list of expulsions was the well-known example of the Moors and the Jews. Those who were not slaughtered by the forces of the “Christian Monarchs” of Ferdinand and Isabella in the “reconquest” were obliged to convert to Christianity or to leave “with only the clothes on their backs”. This also occurred in Portugal.
Those Jews who left were the Sephardim or Sephardic Jews, who spoke Ladino, an archaic kind of Iberian Romance6language with Aramaic and Hebrew words, along with the Moors, who spoke an Iberian-Arabic mixture or Arabic. The key of their houses or gates have been handed down to this day in families of both groups.7
Many converted, often referred to by Christians as “conversos” (Jews) or “moriscos” (Arabs) but were constantly under suspicion of reverting to their old religion even with the threat and constant trials and torture of the Spanish Inquisition. According to what I have read they too were sometimes called “marronos”, i.e in the eyes of the Spanish Christian ruling class, those who had been “domesticated” (Christianised) but had “returned to the their wild way”, (Moslem) i.e “gone feral”.
Wikipedia on Marrones in Iberia confirms:The (Spanish) Inquisition was aimed mostly at Jews and Muslims who had overtly converted to Christianity but were thought to be practicing their faiths secretly. They were respectively called marranos and moriscos. However, in 1567 King Phillip II directed Moriscos to give up their Arabic names and traditional dress, and prohibited the use of Arabic. In reaction, there was a Morisco uprising in the Alpujarras from 1568 to 1571. In the years from 1609 to 1614, the government expelled Moriscos.
THE BUSH FROM THE NUT?
And is “ci” or “cy” in “cimarron” then merely a prefix? The word “marrón” exists as a colour in Castilian and a number of Romance languages and came into English as the colour “maroon”. Its development is taken as originating from the colour of the large ripe chestnut, rather than given to it later. Of course there are a number of words for colours or tints which have a botanical origin, “orange” being an obvious one.
Alright, then the nut and tree might have been associated with uncultivated or “wild” areas, similar to those to which the “cimarrons” would escape. But where did the “ci” suffix come from? Somewhere in the midst of what I have been researching I came across an explanation, derived from Latin, meaning “towering”, “high” etc. But can I find it now?
The online sources are telling me that the relevant pages are up for deletion and I can join the discussion. No thanks, I do not have anything like sufficient knowledge to enter a debate on that, nor the patience of an academic to research it thoroughly.
But “high” and “wild” could easily correspond, given that valleys and plains lend themselves more easily to cultivation, as a rule, than mountainy areas, which might remain wooded or with with thick undergrowth. And that might also give us the “bush” or “thicket” referred to in a number of references for “cimarron”, which in turn might describe the “cimarron strips”. In parts of Latin America (and for all I know, in all of them) such as Chile, a “cimarra” is also a thicket or densely-grown area. The article in the Language Journal (see reference) comments that the “arra” cannot be a Romance language word-ending but even if true it seems to me that the author (or authors quoted) might be unaware that among those from Iberia who colonised or settled in the Americas, Romance language speakers were not alone. There were also Basques who spoke Euskera/ Euskara and for evidence, they applied a number of toponomics and left family names from the Basque Country (Basque descendants make up to 10% of the population of some Latin American countries). And “-arra” would be a common enough suffix or word-ending in Euskera.8
OKLAHOMA PANHANDLE AND THE CIMARRON STRIP
In the 19th Century wars between the Mexican Republic, the USA and the Native Americans in the area, it was carved up with less and less left to the Native Americans. Prior to the American Civil War, white Texas wanted to join the Union as a slave state and due to a US federal law prohibiting slavery north of 36°30′ parallel north, white Texas surrendered a strip of land north of that latitude. The settlement (temporary of course), left a strip as “Neutral Territory” (one can only imagine the temptation for African slaves in Texas to make for there). After the Civil War big cattle ranchers moved in, disregarding treaties and named the area the Cimarron Strip.
But that was because the word Cimarron was already in the area, from the “Cimarron Cutoff” leading to a crossing of the Cimarron river. And yes, there was a popular 1967-1968 TV series called “Cimarron Strip”, starring Stuart Whitman. But, though I used to watch it, that is only faintly related to the story of the word that set me out on this journey.
1Which days later had still not arrived – perhaps the site is no longer in operation, which would explain the silence after those two posters.
2Columbus voyage to America 1641 and Spain’s first colonial settlement 1565 (now Florida); Mayflower expedition to America with English settlers 1587 (now Virginia). However, Europeans had founded settlements much earlier, as with the Norse in the 10th Century and very likely Irish monks in the 6th Century. But it was the English and Spanish who conquered most, the Dutch, French and Portuguese less. The descendants of the English settlers after gaining independence from England completed the seizure and colonisation of most of the North American continent, while English colonists remaining loyal to the English Crown seized land to form what is now Canada.
4All the folk tradition, albeit conflicting on some points, declares that she had not been a slave which leaves one to wonder how she might have reached Jamaica from Africa without having been enslaved.
5 I borrowed the book from the public library and cannot remember its title at the moment.
6“Romance languages” is the name give to the group on Indo-European languages such as Castillian (Spanish), Catalan, Galician, Portuguese, Romanian, Italian and French. They are sometimes called “Latin-based” or “Latin Languages” but there is some dispute about the origins and developments of these languages.
7 Ironically, the door or gate “key” is also a symbol of return for Palestinian refugees driven from their homes by Zionist massacres, threats and fear during the founding of the State of Israel.
8 Among toponomics of North America’s southwest Durango (Colorado and Mexico), Navarro and Zavala Counties (Texas) are perhaps the best known; while Aguirre, Arana, Bolívar (Bolibar), Cortazar (Kortazar), Duhalde, Echevarria (Etxebarria), García, Guevara (Gebarra), Ibarra, Larrazábal, Mendiata, Muzika, Ortiz, Salazar, Ugarte, Urribe and Zabala are but some among a host of family names of Basque origin from the American south-west to Latin America. And of course the country of Bolivia, from Simon Bolívar, a Basque surname from a Basque toponomic.
We now approach the festival called Christmas. A Christian festival, apparently, celebrating the birth of Christ, the baby Jesus.
Away in a manger
No crib for His bed
The little Lord Jesus
Lay down His sweet head
The stars in the sky
Look down where He lay
The little Lord Jesus
Asleep on the hay
Such a sweet, holy image.
But actually, when we look around us, it seems more like a festival of the pagan gods: Bacchus, the god of alcohol and of Mammon, the god of wealth. Bacchus, because in non-Moslem countries, drinking of alcohol will be for most a big component of the festival. Whiskey, brandy, wine and beer will be bought to stock up the house. Alcohol will be drunk at Christmas parties (including office parties, where for months afterwards some people will regret what they did or said – or even what they didn’t do or say).
Alcohol will be not just drunk but also put into some of the traditional food and even poured over it.
Then Mammon. Well, you can see the retail businesses stocking up for weeks or even months ahead of the festival which, after all, was only supposed to be a one or at most a two-day event. Giving and receiving gifts has now become part of the festival and in most cases, gifts have to be bought. Which is a really big gift to the retail businesses and thence, really a sacrifice to Mammon.
In the Christian gospels of both Matthew and Luke, it is written that one “cannot serve both Mammon and God” — which goes to show how little they understood capitalism, where Mammon IS God. A theologian of the Fourth Century saw Mammon as a personification of Beelzebub, which in his time was another name for Satan or the Devil.
Interestingly, Protestant Christianity, which some credit as having invented capitalism, at the same time regarded Mammon, or said they did, as “one of the Seven Princes of Hell”.
Now, Santa Claus is also a big part of the Christmas festival, especially in western countries, a much more acceptable face than that of greedy Mammon and alcoholic Bacchus, right?
But originally, the Christians saw him a representation of St. Nicholas, 4th Century Bishop of the Greek city of Myra, a location now in Turkey. He was he patron saint of archers, repentant thieves, sailors and prostitutes. The prostitutes probably had to be repentant ones, of course! The sailors, who probably had at least as much recourse to prostitutes as had any other calling, were apparently not required to be repentant – to be in danger on the sea was enough.
But St. Nicholas was also the patron saint of children, pawnbrokers and brewers, so we can see how close he was getting there to the modern spirit of Christmas.
Now, the Christmas Tree, der tannenbaum, so much a part of the symbolism of modern western Christmas, came to us from Germany, as did the sled and the reindeer. The reindeer are not autochthonous or endemic in historic times to Germany, so they must have been brought in their myths from Scandinavia from where originally, the Germanic tribes came from. In turn, the Christmas Tree, Yule Log, reindeer and sled were exported from Germany to England in the reign of Queen Victoria, by her consort Prince Albert, who was German. And since the English ruled all of us in Victoria and Albert’s time, the Christmas Tree came to us too, to the cities first and then slowly spreading through the rural areas.
When you think about it, this German-English worship of the tree was a bit ironic, since the English had wiped out most of our forests already and were still cutting down our remaining trees in Queen Victoria’s time.
And Victoria, through Albert, gave us the Santa Clause we know and love today. A jolly man, well fed, white beard, twinkly eyes, dressed all in red with white trim ….
Now, wait a minute! It turns out he wasn’t always dressed in red. Originally, he was dressed in a brown, or green cloak. He was, originally among the Germanic people, a god of the forests – hence the evergreen Christmas tree. And like any sensible woodsman, he dressed in appropriate colours, brown or green. Neither Albert nor Victoria ever represented him as dressed in red. So how did it become so that we are incapable of seeing him today in any other colour than red? Well, it turns out that Coca Cola is the responsible party.
Yes, although it was the cartoonist Thomas Nast in 1870s United States who first portrayed Santa in a red suit with a belt but it was Coca Cola, in their advertising campaign of 1931 and onwards who made his clothes red world-wide. Coca Cola is a drink served cold and almost undrinkable when warm and who needs a cold drink in cold weather? I guess Coca Cola needed a warm image to make it still attractive in winter. So therefore the warm, jolly man dressed in red, with a bottle of Coca Cola in his hand.
Coca Cola brand is worth about $74 billion dollars today, far ahead of any other cold drinks product. Which I guess brings us back to …. yes, Mammon.
You can mix the drink with a number of alcoholic beverages too, so tipping a nod – and a glass – to Bacchus.
Now, the German Santa Claus, this originally woodland god, is also thought to have been something like Thor, a god of fire and lightning. So can it be any coincidence that two of his reindeer are called Donner and Blitzen, i.e “Thunder” and “Lightning”? Of course not!
Although we see the image of Santa Claus everywhere and even pretend Santa Clauses all over our city streets, everyone knows that nobody sees the real Santa Claus. Children have to be asleep when he arrives to distribute his presents and somehow adults don’t see him either.
Which I suppose is a good thing …. I mean if you found an intruder in your house at night, not to mention near your children, you’d be liable to whack him with a hurley (that’s an Irish cultural reference) …. or a baseball bat (that’s a U S cultural reference) …. or stab him with a sharp kitchen knife (that’s an international cultural reference).
It was bad enough when somehow that portly – not to say fat – man could somehow come down your chimney and go up again, without waking anyone … but now he can get in your house or flat even when you don’t have a chimney.
Which is at least creepy, if not downright scary.
Let’s lighten the mood and sing together:
You better watch out You better not cry You better not pout I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is comin’ to town
Santa Claus is comin’ to town
He’s making a list
He’s checking it twice
He’s gonna find out
Who’s naughty or nice
Santa Claus is comin’ to town
Santa Claus is comin’ to town
He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake
Yes, lovely, lovely.
“You better be good, you better be nice, I’m not telling you twice” — Is it just me, or is that not downright threatening? And he knows when we’re sleeping or awake? He has our children under surveillance? In some kind of list?
HO! HO! HO! IN MORALITY PLAYS
Morality Plays were a genre of theatrical performances of the medieval and Tudor eras in which a character was tempted by a personification of Vice. Now Vice (not unlike a lot of police Vice Squads), was often seen as the epitome of evil, corruption and greed – in other words, the Devil. The playwrights tended to portray the Devil as somewhat of a comical character, perhaps to keep their audiences entertained (or to disarm them). So the character who played the Devil would announce his arrival with a stage laugh: “Ho, Ho, Ho!”
You can probably see where I’m going with this.
Nowadays, we tend to see the Devil portrayed in black but in earlier times, he was more often seen as coloured in red. The colour in which Coca Cola just happens to have dressed Santa too.
The German or Nordic Santa was originally a god of fire also, while even the modern Santa drives a magical chariot pulled by horned beasts and he is portrayed all in red. Traditionally, the Devil is seen as residing in Hell, a supposed place of eternal flames below ground. What does Santa Claus give to children who have not been good? A lump of coal! In other words, a mineral from underground that can burn to make fire.
Santa Claus is supposed to be modeled on St. Nicholas …. and what is the popular abbreviated version of Nicholas, i.e the nickname? Yes, Nick.
And the common name for the Devil, Mammon, Beelzebub, Satan ….. Old Nick!