Seanchas (Irish Mythology)

An Irish Equivalent For Geek Or Otaku?

Gaeilge (Atari)

Gaeilge (Atari)

I was recently asked if there is an Irish word that is the equivalent of the Anglo-American term Geek or its Japanese near-equivalent Otaku (おたく/オタクおたく/オタク). I couldn’t think of anything unless one went for something like a crude Gaelicisation of the originals in the form of Geic (?) or Odacú (?). Then I remembered the Irish and Scottish literary genre of aislingí (“dreams, visions”),  stories and narrative poems that began in the Medieval period with mythological or ecclesiastical tales and which later developed a more political edge in the turbulent 17th and 18th centuries. Though principally focused on interactions with or expressions of the Otherworldly it often bore a commentary on current events. In this context the Irish word aislingeach, which means “dreamer, day-dreamer; visionary”, seemed a suitable equivalent for geek. A bit clunky though, given the subject matter.

Could others come up with a better or more organic term?

[Update]: Thanks to Méabh in Nua Eabhrac who claims that Aislingeach is too long and established as a word. It needs to be something (and I quote) “…with vocal punch” and a neologism to boot. I agree.

[Update]: Pól offers up on Facebook the word teicnóg for geek or geek culture. You could gloss that as “young-tech” which I kinda like. A lot! Though should it be teicóg?

[Update]: Well it seems that “officially” the Irish language does have an equivalent for the word Geek. It is Geocach which is “geoc-” (geek) with the “-ach” ending to make it a thing (in this case a person). To my ears it sounds rather unappealing and judging by the reaction it seems I’m not the only one.

So far on Facebook the suggested term Teicóg (loosely “young-tech”) is gathering some favour. So that would give us:

Teicóg = geek culture
Teicógach = a geek
Teicógaigh = geeks

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186. Imbolc

Séamas Ó Sionnaigh (An Sionnach Fionn):

Lá Fhéile Bríde shona daoibh, a chairde. It is the great Irish and Gaelic spring-festival of Iombolg or Lá ‘le Bríde and the days are getting slightly longer (if also wetter). It started at sunset yesterday and will finish at sunset tonight so enjoy.

Arna chéadfhoilsiú ar ancroiait:

Imbolc shona daoibh

Tá an geimreadh ag iompar an samhradh

Lá Fhéile Bríde/Là Fhèill Brìghde/ Laa’l Breeshey Shona daoibh

Tine BhrídeBain taitneamh as an lá.

Téigh go tobar naofa ag breacadh an lae is ól uisce ann,

déan Brídeóg sa bhaile is téigh ó theach go teach léi ag bailiú bia is rudaí eile le cuir uirthi,

las tine ‘s abair filíocht is ceol, bí ag ithe is ag ól…

San oíche déan leaba luachra dár nDia Torthúlachta is glaoigh amach di

A Bhríd, a Bhríd, tar a slí is gabh do leaba X 3

Tabhair meas speisíalta do na mná an lá seo. Is leo an Fhéile seo.

Cill Aodáin le Antoine Ó Raifteirí 1779–1835

Anois teacht an earraigh

beidh an lá ag dul chun síneadh,
Is tar éis na féil’ Bríde
ardóidh mé mo sheol.

Ó chuir mé i mo cheann é

ní chónóidh me choíche

Bunleagan 129 focal eile

Gremlin, Gruaimín

Gremlin, Gruaimín?

Gremlin, Gruaimín?

Over on his OUP blog the Russian-born etymologist and author Anatoly Liberman speculates at length on the origin of the Anglo-American word gremlin and comes up with a somewhat surprising source:

“Our last demon for today is the gremlin. The noun has been around only since 1941 and is one of the war words that stayed and made a spectacular career. Still later (1970) the car called “Gremlin” was introduced. I have no idea why it was given such a mischievous name and whether it lived up to it. John Moore, in an article published in The Observer for November 8, 1942, discussed the folklore of gremlins and suggested that the sprite had come out of Fremlin beer bottles. This amusing explanation has been recycled by several authors, among others by Joseph T. Shipley, the least reliable etymologist among those whose books have been published by the otherwise dependable presses. The rhyme fremlin / kremlin / gremlin is obvious, but, regrettably, that is where we should stop, for we have no evidence that the word, which sprang up among British aviators, owes anything to its look-alikes. A more certain clue is the suffix, for it may have been borrowed from goblin.

Spitzer said in passing that gremlin had the same origin as grimalkin. Other scholars traced this word to an Old English or a rare Dutch verb. Such attempts should be rejected out of hand. If it is true that gremlin had not been heard of before 1941, in what limbo did it vegetate for centuries? It does happen that a word sometimes leads a hidden life in the language of the underworld, escapes from its environment, stops being slang, and enters aristocratic parlors. Gremlin does not seem to be one of such words. The suggestion that the etymon of gremlin is Irish Gaelic gruamin “ill-humored little fellow” is acceptable, but, as ill luck would have it, we don’t know whether the originator of the word was an Irishman or someone fluent in Irish Gaelic. Also, in the life of a word, its history following the moment of “conception” is of no small importance. How did gremlin gain such popularity? Why among pilots? Genies occasionally come out of the bottle; gremlins probably don’t. The origin of gremlin remains unknown, but a respectable imp should have a name beginning with gr-. Otherwise, who will be afraid of it?”

I know that the Irish word gruaimín does mean “gloomy, sullen little fellow”, being derived from related adjectives for gloom or despondency (c.f. gruamaire “gloomy, morose person” and the diminutive gruamachán). However it is difficult to see how this was reflected into English as gremlin. A more regular adaptation would surely have been something like grumeen or grumon. A quick check of eDIL doesn’t reveal much, even using Old or Middle Irish spelling. Neither does Foclóir Uí Dhuinnín. So I’ll have to have a deeper root around in my digital and hardcopy dictionaries. Meanwhile there is more information here.

Lá An Dreoilín Shona Daoibh Go Léir!

Lucht an Dreoilín

Lucht an Dreoilín “the Wrenboys”

Happy hunting to all those who join the Lucht an Dreoilín today.

Wolfing Around

The “Legend of Priest and Were-Wolves” from the Topographia Hibernica by Gerald de Barri (Giraldus Cambrensis), the Medieval Norman-British chronicler and propagandist

The “Legend of Priest and Were-Wolves” from the Topographia Hibernica by Gerald de Barri (Giraldus Cambrensis), the Medieval Norman-British chronicler and propagandist

Given the importance of wolves in the traditions of the Indo-European peoples as far back as one can go into the archaeological, literary or linguistic records the claim that the first domesticated dogs evolved from an ancient species of wolves found in Europe some 10,000 to 30,000 years ago is somewhat appropriate. From Britain’s Independent newspaper:

“The domestic dog originated from wild European wolves in the Stone Age before the development of farming, when humans hunted and gathered their food, according to a genetic analysis of ancient canine remains.

Scientists have long puzzled over how domestic dogs came into existence and their efforts have centred on the grey wolf, their closest living relatives of dogs, but there is conflicting evidence on when and where wild wolves were first tamed.

Earlier studies suggested that wolves may have been domesticated by the first farmers about 10,000 years ago in the Middle East or Asia, possibly to guard livestock. However, the latest study has found that it began much earlier in Europe, long before the development of agriculture.

Professor Robert Wayne of the University of California at Los Angeles said that an ancient European lineage of grey wolf, which has since gone extinct, is the most likely direct ancestor of the first domesticated dogs based on similarities in genetic sequences.”

For Celtic and Germanic expressions of wolf cultism may I suggest this article on the Fianna of ancient Ireland some of whom, as the annals record, spent their time ag faoladh “…wolfing around”.

Oíche Shamhna Shona Daoibh

Feis Shamhna - the festival of Samhain. The Meascán Méabha, Cnoc na Riabh, Contae Shligigh, Éire

Feis Shamhna – the festival of Samhain. The Meascán Méabha, Cnoc na Riabh, Contae Shligigh, Éire (Íomhá: © Seán Monaghan,

A pale yellow sun has sunk below the grey horizon here in Baile Átha Cliath and the Feis Shamhna is upon us, the sunset-to-sunrise festival of Samhain which marks the start of the winter in the ancient Celtic calendars of Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man (and probably the rest of the Celtic world too). The event gives us the Christianized All Saints’ Day or All Hallows’ Eve (Halloween) and is popularised as the Celtic New Year in contemporary culture. Whether that was also the original meaning is much debated though certainly Samhain was one of the four great quarter-festivals of the Gaelic year, alongside Imbolg, Bealtaine and Lúghnasa (or Lúnasa), and one of the two dividing points on the calendar between the winter and summer halves of the year (the other being Bealtaine in May).

Importantly, compared to all the other seasonal celebrations, Samhain was the supernatural festival par excellence. This was the time when the barriers between the two worlds that made up the Celtic cosmos, that of gods and men, were lowered. Though the preternatural could intrude into the natural at any time it was at Samhain that it was most often encountered and around which the most Otherworldly tales clustered. In purely practical terms of course, as the commencement of the winter season, it was also the period when communities battened down the hatches and prepared to wait out the increasingly dark and dismal days ahead. Cattle and other valuable livestock were brought down from their hillside pastures and placed in pens or fields closer to home. Winter grazing foods, such as mast, were gathered along with berries and fruits. Fences and ditches were repaired, roads and trackways cleared, roofs and walls refurbished. Warfare came to a halt for several months (theoretically at least) and people tended to stay close to their homesteads and fortresses foregoing travel.

Not only did Samhain symbolise the start of the winter it was also the setting of the last major market-festivals until Imblog in February, a final opportunity to exchange or purchase goods, including harvest surpluses for those lucky enough to have produced them. This facilitated great communal festivities across Ireland and the Gaelic nations between kings and their people where loyalties were renewed and legal disputes settled or placed into arbitration. From these and many other traditions we get the Feis Shamhna and a legacy that remains one of the Gaelic peoples’ greatest contributions to popular Western culture.

Below are a series of articles on the indigenous literatures of the peoples of Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man, focusing primarily on the Irish tradition.

Tuatha Dé Danann

Na Fomhóraigh


An Sí

Na Fathaigh

Na Bocánaigh, Na Bánánaigh

Na Púcaí

Na Péisteanna

Na Murúcha

Seanchas Agus Litríocht na nGael

Na Fianna

An Gal Gréine

Monocultural Ireland – Conform Or Die

English versus An Ghaeilge - conform or die?

English versus An Ghaeilge – conform or die?

After sunset this evening we will officially be in the period of the Feis Shamhna, the Festival of Samhain, from which is derived in large part the Western World’s celebration of All Hallow’s Eve or Halloween. Under the indigenous Irish, Scottish and Manx calendars Samhain was the great festival marking the commencement of winter and possibly the new year too. Nearly 1500 years after the conversion to Christianity the Gaelic nations continue to celebrate one of the most important cultural events of their Celtic ancestors, albeit in a much debased form.

So it is a sad irony and a true reflection of the linguistic regime that we live under that the eve of Samhain is the very day that the government of Ireland announces an end to its tokenistic effort to encourage the positioning or recruitment of Irish-speaking officials to the civil service. Already forced to speak English in virtually all interactions with the institutions of this state, from the highest to the lowest levels, this policy move will ensure that Irish-speaking citizens and communities in Ireland are further denied access to the resources of the state unless they surrender to anglophone conformity.

Which, given the unrelenting antipathy of the Fine Gael and Labour coalition government to its indigenous-speaking citizens, is perhaps the very purpose of the policy change.

Ireland, an Irish nation? Don’t make me laugh.

The Fatal Strain: Cultism

Leila Ida Nerissa Bathurst Waddell, one of Aleister Crowley's "Scarlet Women", c.1913

Leila Ida Nerissa Bathurst Waddell, one of Aleister Crowley’s “Scarlet Women”, c.1913

I’ve always been interested in clandestine military, political or religious groups, be they revolutionary movements, secret societies or arcane cults. Growing up in Ireland one is imbued in a culture where such organisations are integral to the social history of the nation, at least from the 18th century onwards (and arguably much earlier if one were to reach back to the era of the promiscuously exuberant Fianna of Medieval Ireland and Scotland). I was raised in a country where the Buachaillí Bána and the Irish Republican Brotherhood were part and parcel of the education syllabus and the Orange Order and Apprentice Boys part and parcel of the nightly news. How could one escape a fascination for the esoteric in such a milieu?

Even the more outrageous cults hold an interest for me, especially the practitioners of early 1900s “magick”. The kinks in human psychology that led the likes of W.B. Yeats to fall for the allure of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn or allowed Aleister Crowley to get away with his deviant shenanigans are intriguing. When I was younger I used to read the Fortean Times for fun and I still recommend it, especially when it’s at its most humorously cynical. I suppose that is why I am also prone to the literary and artistic genres of Fantasy and Science-Fiction (though the former also owes an awful lot to growing up with the tales of the Aos Sí – as indeed does J.R.R. Tolkien). One of my favourite Science-Fiction books is Frank Herbert’s seminal Dune and there is plenty there to wet one’s cultic appetite, from the Bene Gesserit to the Fremen. Herbert wasn’t the first author to posit the society of the “witches” but he was certainly one of the more imaginative and convincing (I’ll diplomatically gloss over Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, unashamed literary jackdaw that he was – and I won’t mention Terry Brooks!).

All of which rambling serves as an introduction to this article by Jeff Sharlet on the secularist website Killing the Buddha investigating a highly secretive Christian-based society in the United States known simply as the Fellowship. If you have any interest in religion, cults and the power of the Evangelical Right in regions of the US I highly recommend a read.

New Monument Discovered At Brú Na Bóinne

Sí an Bhrú "Otherworld Residence of the Palace", the largest mound of the Brú na Bóinne complex, An Mhí, Éire

Sí an Bhrú “Otherworld Residence of the Palace”, the largest mound of the Brú na Bóinne complex, An Mhí, Éire

Ireland’s Brú na Bóinne (“Palace of the Bóinn”) is generally regarded as holding north-western Europe’s greatest concentration of intact prehistoric monuments with the main burial mound of Sí an Bhrú (“Otherworld Residence of the Palace”) dating to 3200 CE. It has been poured over by antiquarians, historians and archaeologists for centuries so it is a bit of surprise that a new monument has been discovered within the complex. From the Evening Herald:

“Using light detection and ranging imaging known as LiDar, an underground passageway and several other previously undetected features have been discovered near the river Boyne, Co Meath, on private land south-west of Newgrange.

The LiDar imagery showed a mound with a circular enclosure, while further work involving new technologies, known as magnetic radiometry and resistivity, unveiled a definite passage, leading northeast out of the newly discovered tomb.

It is the first discovery to be made without any archaeological digging, instead being found through use of LiDar and other “ground-probing techniques.” The archaeologists who made the discovery, led by Kevin Barton, are calling on the Minister for Heritage, Jimmy Deenihan, to declare the site a national monument.

Because the new discovery is on private ground, the team of archaeologists need the Minister to do this as without Government designations, an excavation would be impossible.

Activist group ‘Save Newgrange’ are backing the archaeologists’ request to the minister, as well as requesting that Meath County Council include the new findings in the Management Plan for the World Heritage Site.

The results of a full scale excavation could lead to an expansion of Newgrange and could halt any further plans for an N2 Bypass of the site, which would be critical if there were any more requests from local council to build the motorway.

In 2012, An Bord Pleanala refused an application for the bypass because of proximity to the monument. Local politicians, however, are still hoping to procure a bypass.”

I bet they feckin’ are! The modern Oirish surely love to hate their history. So, what’s the bets on the government not looking the other way while some major, party-donating construction company concretes over the discovering? What? No takers? Oh, what intelligent readers I have…

Death Of The Irish Harp

The book-cover of St. Aodh Óg, Ireland, c.1000 CE. The earliest unambiguous depiction of an Irish harp

The book-cover of St. Aodh Óg, Ireland, c.1000 CE. The earliest unambiguous depiction of an Irish harp

For those interested in the psychology of art symbolism there is a great study by Mary Louise O’Donnell, of the University of Limerick, examining the slow dilution of the Irish Harp as the recognised emblem of the modern nation-state of Ireland. In particular since the sudden growth and equally sudden demise of the country’s so-called Celtic Tiger socio-economic model Ireland’s political and social elites have been at the forefront of chipping away at the historical legitimacy of their own state. A cultural phenomenon perhaps unique in modern Europe.

“Peter Alter notes that ‘national symbols are not static’ and can ‘lose their political integrating force and their credibility especially when the national programme for which they stand loses its persuasive power and is replaced by a different programme’.

The concept of branding has become an integral part of Irish harp iconography in the last decade. Terminology such as ‘emblem’ and ‘symbol’ has been replaced by the term ‘logo’, which is now the most potent tool in corporate branding and the creation of brand recognition. The Irish harp emblem, which is regarded increasingly as visually anachronistic, has been replaced by a variety of harp logos…

The Irish harp emblem is increasingly rejected in favour of a selection of fluid, oblique images of harps which reflect postmodern Irish society and culture. Fredric Jameson suggests that postmodernism ‘only clocks the variations themselves, and knows only too well that the contents are just more images’.

He notes that ‘there can-not but be much that is deplorable and reprehensible in a cultural form of image addiction which, by transforming the past into visual mirages, stereotypes, or texts, effectively abolishes any practical sense of the future’.

Dorothea Olkowoski-Leatz explores the consequences of this dispersion and fragmentation of images, suggesting that ‘there is nothing to know; there is only the distribution of information. There is no longer any history, only the parodying repetition of the past: a repetition visible in art culture, styles, political posturing.’

Harp logos, as employed by government departments or agencies, are arbitrary images which claim to represent reality but which, in truth, mean nothing. Jean Baudrillard used the term ‘simulacra’ to describe signs which serve no purpose and have no connection with reality. In Simulacra and Simulation he identified four orders of simulacra: firstly, the creation of false images which no longer represent what they are intended to signify; secondly, the reproduction and repetition of these false images; thirdly, the collapse of any distinction between the real image/sign and its simulation; and finally, pure simulation which has no relation to any reality.

The increasing employment and reproduction of harp logos, or false harp images, in place of the Irish harp emblem exemplifies the early stages of Baudrillard’s theory of simulacrization

Sadly, it seems that the Irish harp emblem has no significant role in the image-driven culture of post-modern Ireland. It has an uncertain future.

The national symbol, the potent visual representation of centuries of Irish politics, culture and history is evidently not an ‘integral part of a visual identity’ for the period… In light of the transformation of the Irish harp emblem over the last two decades one wonders how much longer it can remain an integral part of Irish identity.”

I’m no fan of the Irish Harp as such, nor indeed of the Tricolour or National Flag of Ireland. The latter in particular seems ugly and alien to me, unlike say the Gal Gréine. However I would mourn the passing of the Harp, with its ancient emblematic lineage, as one of the symbols of Ireland. If that does happen, and I suspect Mary Louise O’Donnell’s prediction may prove to be correct, it simply adds to the general feeling so readily observable all around us that we live in a “false” Ireland. One that the certain classes and cliques in Irish society seem determined to impose instead of the “real” Ireland which came before.

An Creideamh Sí

Tuatha De Danann - Carn T, Cairn Loch Craobh, Sliabh na Cailli, Loch Craobh, An Mhi, Cúige Laighean, Eire

Tuatha Dé Danann – Carn T, Cairn Loch Craobh, Sliabh na Caillí, Loch Craobh, An Mhí, Cúige Laighean, Éire (Íomhá: Séamas Ó Sionnaigh 2009)

Militant atheist and secularist though I am I still respect religious beliefs as a vital component to the cultural heritage and identity of countless peoples and nations around the globe. Far too often non-believers find it necessary to denigrate the practices of faith adhered to by believers. This is simply a form philistine atheism. There is a beauty and an integrity to religious traditions that one should cherish. They form part of the greater whole of Human civilization which belongs to and enriches the lives and intellects of us all.

In an Irish context, despite my antipathy to the Christian faiths, I still enjoy the architectural beauty of many church buildings or admire the devotion of those who make the long walk up Sliabh Mis or suffer the purgatory travails of Loch Dearg. Why on earth would one belittle such customs or such experiences? Are they any less valid than the desire of those who follow their own traditions by pilgrimaging to some far away destination, be it an Ibiza club or a New York department store? We each of us seek our own form of solace, be it spiritual, social or retail.

Such is the human condition.

Therefore I embrace the traditions of my pre-Christian Celtic ancestors as much as I can – or as much as one can given the limitations of the sources of information available. When asked my religion I have always replied none. When pressed by those who insist that something must have come before nothing I reply that my faith is that of the Fiannaíocht. I could, I suppose, just as easily have stated that my faith is the Creidheamh Sí, a more recent label for a many-faceted thing. In any case tradition, more than belief, is what I respect. Unfortunately in this shallow and venal dystopian republic of ours believing in anything Irish, anything of Ireland, is frowned upon. Or ridiculed. Unless it comes from the mouth and pen of a poet. And even he or she must, perforce, toe the official line: such things are of our past, not of our present or future. Some argue that the great concrete furrow that scars the many-hedged fields and woods around Teamhair na Rí, spouting modernity and fumes, was a test for we contemporary Gaels. If so it was a test we failed.

In any case, via Kathryn Nic Dhàna, the folklorist and ethnologist Dr. Jenny Butler discusses the living tradition of the Creideamh Sí below.

Fionn And The Man In The Tree

Fionn mac Cumhaill: "Finn heard far off the first notes of the fairy harp" (Íomhá: Stephen Reid, 1910)

Fionn mac Cumhaill: “Finn heard far off the first notes of the fairy harp” (Íomhá: Stephen Reid, 1910)

One of the more mysterious mentions of the legendary hunter-warrior Fionn mac Cumhaill in the indigenous literatures of Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man is “Finn and the Man in the Tree”, a short 8th century Old Irish text containing several Latin words or phrases. It is found in the Seanchas Mhór, an important compendium of Medieval Irish law tracts, where it is used to illustrate the divinatory practice of iomas forosna (“illuminating knowledge”). The first part of the story explains how Fionn acquired this ability by catching a finger in the door of a Sí or Otherworld residence (alternative origins for the skill exist in other texts). The second half shows Fionn using this preternatural skill to identify an exiled member of the fianna, Dearg Corra, who is discovered sitting in a tree with three animal companions nearby, a blackbird, a stag and a bowl-bound trout. In a study for the e-Keltoi journal William Sayers argues that the literary motifs used in the tale refer to an Irish and Celtic division of the universe into three parts or worlds. He describes this as a:

“…tripartite cosmos that is also represented symbolically in the blackbird, stag, and trout.

Although the evidence is allusive and never as explicit as a statement of preserved prior belief, durable sets of motifs and far-reaching homological correspondences among these sets suggest an archaic Celtic conception of an equilibrated tripartite cosmos comprising 1) the sky or heavens, 2) the earth’s surface, the human world, and 3) the underearth and undersea. Christian theology, with its linear, rather than cyclic, time, and hierarchy of heaven above and hell below, modified the pagan worldview in both subtle and far-reaching ways and the synthesis as we meet it in the learned and narrative Irish texts of the early Middle Ages is distinctive. The two spatial co-ordinates—vertical and horizontal—organize cosmological motifs in early Irish literature: “vertical” but not necessarily hierarchized triadic sets and their “horizontal” extensions through homological correspondences that may vary in scalar terms. We may imagine a grid with such groupings as 1) elemental dimensions (heaven; earth’s surface; underearth and undersea); 2) social estate (kings, priests, lawmen, poets, historians; warriors; hospitallers, cultivators, herdsmen, hunters); 3) body parts (head, eyes, faculty of speech; arms, upper torso; lower torso, legs); 4) royal sins (injustice, sacrilege; cowardice, misuse of military force; economic extortion, sexual abuse); 5) punishments (hanging; wounding with weapons; pits, prisons); 6) colors (white; red; blue/green/black); and so on.

Three understudied reflections of the tripartite cosmos and its homological extensions that may be reviewed prior to a reconsideration of “the man in the tree” are water-fowl in early Irish narrative, the incantatory human stance called corrguinecht, and standing stones, sacred trees, and other expressions of the axis mundi. Water fowl often occur in the run-up to the central action of several Irish tales. They are elusive, when hunted by Cú Chulainn and his fellow Ulstermen in Serglige Con Culainn (The Wasting Sickness of Cú Chulainn), or tauntingly joined by chains of red gold as they fly overhead. Such birds are hypostases of women from the síd or “fairy mound”. In linking the water fowl motif with cosmic organization, we may identify the bird’s trifunctionality in its ability to fly in the air, walk on land, and stand or swim in water. The crane, to take one gawky but graceful example, thus comprehensively resumes the inherent verticality of such phrasings as heaven, earth, and undersea. In early Irish texts the magic-working technique called corrguinecht (perhaps with an allusion to corr “crane”) is an attribute of superior figures (euhemerized gods) and of sorcerers. A vow or curse is given greater efficacy by the practitioner, with one eye closed, reciting in one breath into the fist of one hand, while standing on one leg (on occasion by a doorpost, see below). The three cosmic components are here implicated in the following equivalences: eye, breath (head) = sky; fist (as part of the arms and torso) = earth’s surface; leg = underearth, all joined along the axis of the human body. The vertical position is combined with a reduction of the binary or dual (in a sense, horizontal and lateral) to the unitary, in what seems both a sacrifice and compensatory intensification of power (cf. the potent one-eyed and one-armed figures of many earlier and medieval literatures, not least Norse Óðinn and Týr). While not always an inimical or anti-social act, corrguinecht is performed alone and seeks to alter the course of events. The vertical axis that informs most allusions to a tripartite cosmos is also to be found in a variety of other metonyms, miniatures, or compressions of various kinds—all instantiations of the fundamental cosmic integrity.

To move closer to the anecdote of Finn and Derg Corra, the widespread conception of a cosmic or world tree—its roots in the underearth, the tips of its branches in the heavens, and the ceaseless activity of our best-known world throughout its boughs and foliage—has homologues in the various sacred trees (bile) of early Ireland that also served, it is believed, as traditional territorial boundary markers. Standing stones may offer a fainter echo of this conception. A similar linearity is telescoped in the image of the doorpost to a hall, which has two coordinates, since, with its lintel and threshold, it also marks, horizontally, a limes, a threshold between the civilized, hierarchized, ruled Within of the royal hall and the wild, amorphous, and unruly Without of the forest, moor, and shore. In exercises of metonymical sacralization it would seem that almost any site on earth could be chosen and given provisional but heightened status as a kind of omphalos, an entry to, or contact point with, the whole cosmic force-field.”

While I agree with most of the analysis offered here (and I recommend reading the article in its entirety) I am less than convinced that the pre-Christian Irish, Scots and Manx believed in the concept of an axis mundi (a Latin term used in modern studies of ancient mythologies to indicate a world tree or world pillar that normally lies at the geographical centre of the universe, often binding different levels of it together). There is no denying that sacred trees (and groves) were part of Gaelic and Celtic culture in general. The Irish language uses the words bile “scared tree” and crann beatha “tree of life” to indicate trees that were held to be of great significance, usually in association with mytho-historical legends. Many Irish kingdoms had a bile within their territory, often in a central region, which was venerated by the local population and held to be of import to the kingdom’s well-being (military raids to cut down or burn these trees by external enemies were not unknown well into the historical era). Such trees were usually associated the Otherworld People, the Tuatha Dé Danann and Aos Sí, and this along with their origin-stories was normally why they were given such prestige and respect. A distant echo of this survived into the 20th century with the untouchable “fairy trees” that used to proliferate across the Irish countryside (though it is debatable if such a tradition still survives in these venal times).

However that does not mean that every tree was sacred or held to be of significance to the gods in pre-Christian and early Medieval Ireland. Timber and wood were essential materials in the ancient Irish economy and indeed many woods and forests were privately owned. By the 8th century CE some of the great monastic-towns had become mercantile corporations with a considerable investment in forestry, in the process taking ownership of many hitherto wilderness lands (which of course placed them at odds with the youthful or property-free hunter-warrior bands of the historic fianna who traditionally regarded such regions as their own). So while some trees were honoured most were not.

Likewise the use of galláin or standing-stones to indicate the sites of ancient burials or battles, sacred areas or as boundary markers, was a mixture of the religious and the practical. The stones were clearly of some significance and some could be carved or inscribed with Ogham writing but one rarely reads of anything approaching worship. It should be stressed that contrary to some popular modern myths neither the Irish nor the Celts in general believed in “nature spirits” or that all trees or stones had some form of animate life. Yes, certain stones could cry out at the touch of a king or such-like, but they were very much the exception and the thinking behind it not readily reducible to that of spirits within.

By far the most common division of the universe in the Gaelic traditions of Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man is the duality presented by the surface world and that of the subterranean/submaritime Sí or Otherworld (depending on the context the Irish word Sí means both “the Otherworld” in general and specifically a single “Otherworld residence, territory”). While the surface world is the home of mankind the latter form’s the home of the ancient gods and goddesses of the north-western Celts albeit carefully rearranged and disguised in literary dress as the Tuatha Dé Danann and Aos Sí by the Irish monastic scribes. The Otherworld People lived in a parallel world beneath our own, with its own sky, sun, lands and seas, only of far greater beauty and wonder. This idealized version of the world above was reached in part through the ancient burial mounds and other prehistoric monuments that dotted the landscapes of western Europe and which were often presented as the concealed residences of the leading lords or kings of the Otherworld folk (hence the dual meaning of the word Sí). Alternatively it could be reached through caves, under springs or lakes, under or across the sea, through mists or simply though sudden revelation.

Nowhere does the actual sky or firmament feature as a cosmological abode. The Celtic pantheon most assuredly never dwelt in the heavens. The Celtic heaven, if we may name it as such, was below the ground and sea or it invisibly weaved its way throughout the lands of humankind. Thus the encounter with and revelation of Dearg Corra’s identity probably has more to do with revealing the presence of the Otherworld in this world than in some tripartite “sky-earth-underworld” allegory (despite the symbolic love of triads in the Celtic and Gaelic civilizations). This does not discount the importance of the day-time or night-time skies as a basic fact of nature and thus requiring a place in any ancient cosmology. The pre-modern Gaels must have had some explanation for the sky above and indeed such creatures as the Bocánaigh and Bánánaigh were inhabitants or beings of it. Likewise birds in flight or the movement of clouds could be used for divination or predicting the future (the outcome of a battle or such like). And of course the ancient Irish oath calling for the skies to fall upon the earth along with earthquakes and floods implies some sort of understood myth. But the sky, as far as one can tell, was the lesser of all the Irish literary motifs or symbolic tags.

Even in the florid descriptions of the Otherworld, where significant tress and groves abound, there is no mention of a tree that has roots and branches reaching through all the worlds or which lies at the cosmological centre of all the worlds. And while there may have existed the Ail na Míreann or great stone at Uisneach, the ancient centre of Ireland, the concept of a single “world tree” on the lines of a Yggdrasil or a world pillar seem absent from most accounts, even in allegorical terms.

Below is the original Old Irish text for the anecdote known to modern scholars in English as “Fionn and the Man in the Tree” from Kuno Meyer’s 1904 Revue Celtique edition:

Fo chosmailius dorigne Finn húa Baiscne. In tan búi in fian oc Badamair for brú Siúire dodechaidh Cúldub mac húi Birgge a síd ar Femun ut Scotti dicunt co mbert a fulacht núadaib. Co teóra aidchi amin degéni friu. Isin tres fecht iarum norat Finn co luid riam i síd ar Femun. Fortngaib Finn la techt isa síd co torchair allda anall. A ndosreng fris a láim fritninnle in ben asin tsíd & escra fliuch ina láim iar ndáil isin úair riam & doinsort a comlaid frisa síd co ndruid Finn a mér itir in comlaid & in ursain. Gabais iarom a mér ina béolu. A donic as afrithisi foopairt dicetal. Fortnosmen an imbas condebert: ‘Tair Femen fuigial formuig meis mui muic cetson sirchrand sirlúath laith find sra aulad Cúlduib chanmae.’ 

Cinn ree iarom dobertatar mná braite a Dún Iascaich a tír na nDésea. Dobreth ingen álainn léo. Atecoboride menma Find in ben dó. Focairdd sí menmain for in gilla búi léo .i. Dercc Corra mac húi Daigre. Ar ba hé a abras-side. Céin fonnuithea fulacht léo léim & doléim in gilla tarsin n-indiu. Tre sin didiu carais an ingen é & asbert fris laa n-aill ara tísed cuice i lighe. Ní foét són Dercc Corra déag Finn. Atagegai domnid1 dó. Cotsáid fri Finn & asbert: ‘Fortaprom ar écin!’ Asbert iarum Finn fris: ‘Éirgg es’, ol sé, ‘de m’ inchaib & rotbia essomon trí laithi & teóra n-aidchi & fomcialta-sa ó suidhiu inund!’ 

Luid didiu Derc Corra for loinges & arfoét caill & imtighed for luirgnib oss n-allta (si uerum est) ar a étrumai. Laa n-aill didiu do Find isin caill oc a cuingidh-som co n-aca Find in fer i n-úachtar in craind & lon for a gúalainn ndeis & find-lestar n-uma for a láimh clí, osé co n-usce & hé brecc bedcach and & dam allaith fo bun in craind & ba hé abras ind fir teinm cnó & dobered leth n-airne na cnó don lun nobíth for a gúalaind ndeis, no-ithed feisin al-leth n-aill & doicsed a uball asin lestar n-uma búi for a láimh clí & norandad i ndé & docuireth a leth don dam allaid búi fo bun in craind. No-ithad som iarom in leth n-aill & no-ibed loim fair den uisce asin lestur huma búi for a láim co mbo comól dó frisin n-iich & a n-oss & in lon. Friscomarcar didiu a muinter do Finn cia bo hé hisin crunn, ar nínathgéntar som dáigh celtair díclithe búi imbe. 

Is de dobert Finn a hordain ina béolo. Addonich as eisib afrithisi fortnosna a imbus & dichan dicetal co n_eipert: ‘Con fri lon lethcno contethain cotith in dithraib Dercc Corra comól fri hich ni ba filliud fabaill a uball fín mblais cona fricarbaith mac úi co dedail Daigre.’ ‘Dercc Corra mac húi Daigre’, ol sé, ‘fil isan crund’.

What follows is my updated translation of the Myers’ original:

“When the fiann were at Badhamhair on the edge of the Siúr, Cúldubh the son of Ó Birghe came out of the Otherworld residence on Feimhean and carried off their cooking from them. For three nights he did this to them. The third time however Fionn knew and went before him to the Otherworld residence on Feimhean. Fionn laid hold of him as he went into the Otherworld residence, so that he fell inside. When he withdrew his hand, a woman met him [?] coming out of the Otherworld residence with a dripping vessel in her hand, having just distributed drink, and she jammed the door against the Otherworld residence, and Fionn squeezed his finger between the door and the post. When he put his finger into his mouth. When he took it out again he began to chant, the iomas illumines him and he said… [text never translated]

Some time afterwards they carried off captive women from Dún Iaschaigh in the land of the Déise. A beautiful girl was taken by them. Fionn’s mind desired the woman for himself. She set her heart a servant whom they had, even Dearg Cora son of Ó Daighre. For this was his was his practice. While food was being cooked by them, the servant jumped to and fro across the cooking hearth. It was for that the girl loved him. And one day she said to him that he should come to her and lie with her. Dearg Crra did not accept that on account of Fionn. She incites Fionn against him and said: ‘Let us set upon him by force!’ Thereupon Fionn said to him: ‘Go from here,’ said he, ‘out of my sight, and you shall have a truce of three days and three nights, and after that beware of me!’

Then Dearg Cora went into exile and dwelt in a wood and used to go about on shanks of deer for his lightness. One day as Fionn was in the wood seeking him he saw a man in the top of a tree, a blackbird on his right shoulder and in his left hand a white vessel of bronze, filled with water, in which was a jumping trout, and a stag at the foot of the tree. And this was the practice of the man, cracking nuts; and he would give half the kernel of a nut to the blackbird that was on his right shoulder while he would himself eat the other half; and he would take an apple out of the bronze vessel that was in his left hand, divide it in two, throw one half to the stag that was at the foot of the tree, and then eat the other half himself. And on it he would drink a sip of the bronze vessel that was in his hand, so that he and the trout and the stag and the blackbird drank together. Then his followers asked of Fionn who he in the tree was, for they did not recognise him on account of the cloak [hooded-cloak?] of concealment which he wore.

Then Fionn put his thumb into his mouth. When he took it out again, his iomas illumines him and he chanted an incantation and said: “’Its is Dearg Cora son of Ó Daighre,’ said he, ‘that is in the tree.’”

Steampunk In Ireland

Well-known Irish Steampunk and Alt model Black Swan Persona

Well-known Irish Steampunk and Alt model Black Swan Persona (Íomhá: Joanne Pasternak)

Because there is far too little Steampunk in Ireland, here are some links:

Steampunk Collective Ireland

Steampunk Ireland

The Josie Baggley Company

Talking to a friend a few days ago who is a sean scoil Steampunker I found him frustrated by the way the movement in Ireland is subsumed into the cod-Victoriana of the Pax Britannica, even by Irish adherences, with no distinctive identity of its own. The conversation actually came about as part of a discussion relating to the Fenian fáinne Chladaigh and other 19th century Irish Republican memorabilia. Recently he has moved towards the more welcoming environs of the Belle Époque and his Continental peers and it easy to see why. I’ve written a few unpublished stories in the Steampunk genre myself, using the struggle of the Fenian movement against the British colonial powers in the mid to late 1800s as the background with one Séamas Ó Muircheartaigh as the hero (better known to some as Professor James Moriarty).

So is there a distinctly Irish Steampunk aesthetic? I believe there is – or at least there could be. And what of a name as Gaeilge? The term Gaelpunc is probably another example of Béarlachas (not to mention that some might understandably take it as a reference to Gaelic/Celtic Punk). It would probably be right up there with other poor Gaelicisations like “Fantaisíocht. Ugh!

So, any suggestions?

UPDATE: So this post is my second mention in a year on the satirical hipster webzine They will probably hate me for describing them as hipsters, but honestly is there anything more hipsterish than sarcasm? I of course strongly deny being a hipster myself. I’m not sure about the “Gaelster” accusations though (apparently speaking Irish is now considered the very definition of “hipster” in Ireland!). It went under the headline “Fenian Steampunk” which to be honest I sorta like (though that might not have been the intention). There was actually a large market in “Fenian literature” in the late 1800s and early 1900s that has been all but forgotten now. Several authors made a living from it, as did a number of illustrators. There was even some Fenian “scientific romanticism” or Science-Fiction added to the mix (e.g. “A Modern Daedalus” by Tom Greer, 1885). So we certainly have some precedents on our side ;-)

A Modern Daedalus by Tom Greer (1885)

A Modern Daedalus by Tom Greer (1885)

UPDATE TWO: It seems I have upset Portadown Belfast journo Newt Emerson. Oh dear. And when I regularly post articles surely more offensive to Status Quo and Unionist sensibilities than this entirely innocuous one? Its a funny old world. But at least he was kind enough to link to this piece and so help to surge today’s number of visitors. Which was nice… :-D

Féile Lúghnasa

Binn Éadair, Cúige Laighean, Éire, Lúghnasa 2011 (Íomhá: Séamas Ó Sionnaigh)

Binn Éadair, Cúige Laighean, Éire, Lúghnasa 2011 (Íomhá: Séamas Ó Sionnaigh)

Lá Fhéile Lúghnasa Sona Daoibh!

Tuatha Dé Danann
Na Fomhóraigh
An Sí
Na Fathaigh
Na Bocánaigh, Na Bánánaigh
Na Púcaí
Na Péisteanna
Na Murúcha
Seanchas Agus Litríocht na nGael
Na Fianna
An Gal Gréine

Scottish Mythology And Folklore

Lia Fáil, Teamhair na Rí, An Mhí, Éire (Íomhá: Séamas Ó Sionnaigh, 2008)

Lia Fáil, Teamhair na Rí, An Mhí, Éire (Íomhá: Séamas Ó Sionnaigh, 2008)

Some of the most popular (and visited) pages on An Sionnach Fionn are dedicated to the core elements of the Seanchas or indigenous mythology and folklore of Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. I have several lengthy articles discussing the likes of the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Fomhóraigh (not to mention the Lucharacháin or Leprechauns). However a number of Scottish friends and readers have taken me to task for not examining in closer detail some of the more unique aspects of the Scottish tradition. They have also levelled (some gentle) criticism at me for not providing enough names and titles as Gàidhlig (in Scottish or Scottish Gaelic). In my defence the shortage of Scottish language names is largely due to the lack of an agreed spelling in Modern Scottish for many characters or groups from the indigenous literatures of the Gaelic peoples. So one naturally defaults to Modern Irish spelling, which I admit is somewhat unfair. I certainly hope to remedy this failing in the near future (time permitting).

However until then I can recommend no better place to start one’s study of Scottish mythology and folklore than Tairis, the website of Seren who describes herself as (in her own words) “…a Gaelic Reconstructionist Polytheist”. Okay. While that description might appeal to some of you to others it will be positively off-putting. It certainly was to me, hard-headed atheist that I am, when I first came across the site many years ago. However I – and you – could not be more wrong. Tairis is clearly based upon years of scholarly study into the known or surmised beliefs of the Celtic and Gaelic-speaking peoples. The academic foundations of the site are obvious and it contains some of the best (and most accessible) summaries of modern Celtic studies on the web. More importantly it does it all with a definite Scottish focus that should satisfy most of my Gaelic cousins o’er the sea. Related to the site is a regularly updated personal blog filled with lots of useful cultural notes and engaging speculations on all things historical from Scotland, Ireland and beyond.

Both come recommended.

Meanwhile I hope all of you are celebrating Lá Bealtaine (which of course began yesterday at sunset) in suitable fashion. For my sins I’m working, otherwise I would be joining you.

By the by, and related to this, is it not time that the four great festival days of the indigenous Irish calendar were designated national holidays in Ireland instead of the colonial hangover of the utterly meaningless bank holidays’ system?

Hmmm. I do believe I feel a campaign coming on…