Saturday, 5 May 2018

Small Rituals at Bealtaine.

Flowers left on the fairy thorn.

It has been a long, hard winter. 
The greening of the land was slow this year but a walk along the river showed blossoming blackthorn
and blue hills released from snow.

Further afield Knocknaman, THE HILL OF THE WOMEN was decked in new growth.

Cnoc na mBan, Knocknaman, Co. Offaly, site of ancient hilltop fires at Bealtaine.

In the past I’ve celebrated Bealtaine with friends, in circles and woods at bonfires and sacred sites.
These days I quietly acknowledge the changing year around my home with small rituals, 
visiting the special places in the local landscape.

May Eve, Oíche Bealtaine, brought a gentle warmth as I decorated the MAY BUSH besides my door to welcome the summer with flowers.  

Slips of Mountain Ash protected the house from unwanted attentions of those who roam on this night.

As the evening deepened I left butter on a fairy path for the Good Neighbours

and milk by the old stone.

During the days that followed there were offerings at the river,
 on whitethorn 

and water.

 And flowers to greet the Good People at the places where they gather.

Decorated fallen thorn by the fairy path.

On the path to the fairy mound at SHEEAN

Tonight, on the old date for Bealtaine, the traditional fires will be lit upon the Hill Of Uisneach 
and my own small bonfire will join with others to welcome another summer.


All offerings left on trees are removed at the end of my Bealtaine devotions.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

TALES FROM THE CAILLEACH - Enough Old Women around for the magic to survive.

Outside a predatory wind circles, indoors the fire is red and I have company to share the long hours with.
“ I’ve made the tea, you take in the brack and butter. We’ll sit by the hearth.”

Soon a comfortable silence blankets the room as we gaze into orange depths.

“Why are you smiling, Granny?"

“Ehh. Oh I was just thinking about my sister, mo chroí. 
She was a woeful show-off back in the day, still is. 
This one time I caught her out, good and proper. Took her centuries to live it down.”

“Go on, go on, tell me what happened.”

This tale will take a while so I add more turf and take a good sup of tea. 

“Well this was donkey’s years ago, when we roamed all over, wild we were, only settling now and then when the mood took us.
My sister, Garavogue, was full of mischief and wherever we lived she delighted in taking eggs from the neighbours’ hens and stealing milk from their cows.
Skilled in charms she was and I remember she only had to chant the words “All the butter to me” three times and butter would fly from the churns into a bucket she held.
She caused some trouble I can tell you.

Anyway, this one evening an old farmer comes to my door looking for help.
He sat on the hearth like you are now and explained that his cows were giving less milk each day, 
his wife could no longer make butter to sell and he worried for the children.
A couple of his neighbours reported seeing a hare scampering amongst the herd at dusk and as soon as he said that I knew who it was.

Taking the shape of the hare comes easy to us and drinking milk straight from a cow was just her style, so I thought it was about time she had a taste of her own medicine. 

I told the farmer to go to the field with his friends that night and take their dogs with them. 
They were to hide and wait for the hare and when she came to the herd they were to let the dogs loose. 

I stood at my door at sunset.

I didn’t have to wait long either, as soon as the moon came up there was barking loud enough to be heard in the next parish.
The hare circled the field followed by the dogs, faster and faster they ran until one managed to sink his teeth in her leg. 
That spurred the hare on even more and soon she bolted from the field and ran up the boreen opposite.”

I poured a hot top on the tea and helped myself to brack.

“What happened then?”

“Well, the men called off their dogs and the farmer hurried along in the tracks of the hare, down the boreen to the old cottage. 
He burst through the door and what did he find?

Only my sister Garavogue, collapsed in her chair. 
She was nursing her leg, wrapping it in moss to stop the bleeding.
Not a word was spoken. 
She’d been found out and that was enough to put a stop to her shenanigans.
The next morning when I opened my door there was a basket of eggs and a bottle of poitín on the step, payment from the farmer.”

“What about your sister? Did she know it was you?”

“Ahh well, that evening Garavogue herself came over. 
Her limp was only slight, we Old Women heal fast. 

“Any news ?” she asked

“No, nothing strange or exciting” I told her as I put out plates.
“You’ll have your tea of course, there’s eggs on the boil and a drop of poitín while we wait.”

She spied the fresh bottle and she knew, I saw the twinkle in her eye.
She smiled at me and raised her glass ‘Sláinte!’

She got her own back of course, played many a trick on me and the others over the years.”

“Tell me more granny, please.”

“Not tonight, it’ll be time to sleep soon.”

“But just tell me … do all grannies do that? Turn into a hare and run about the fields?”

“ Not all of them, mo croi, but there’s enough Old Women around for the magic to survive.”


This tale of The Cailleach and her sister is based upon folklore from Co. Louth.
A wealth of collected Irish folklore is now available online at Dú

Images & Words © Jane Brideson.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Archaeology & The Art of the Ancestors.

Sketches of carvings within Brú na Bóinne by George Victor Du Noyer.

As an artist I am constantly inspired by the land of Ireland, her sacred sites and her people.

Cauldron detail from MÓR-RÍOGHAIN

For many years standing stones, cairns, rock art and archaeological finds have crept 
into my paintings.

Passage stone detail from AN CAILLEACH

Sometimes a single carving can inspire a larger painting.

Drawing of an antlered deer carving found by Eugene Conwell on a bone flake 
from Cairn H, Loughcrew.

Sketch, part of a new painting, 'Stone, Antler & Bone'.

With each view of these special places my respect for the skills of the ancient people of Ireland grows.

Carvings inside Cairn T, Loughcrew highlighted by the sun at Autumn Equinox.
More about this painting - AN CAILLEACH

Over centuries sites change, stones are taken for building or for private collections, finds removed to museums and carvings weathered or covered by lichen.

Lichen on a passage stone in the Mound of the Hostages, Hill of Tara.

However, the meticulous recording by past generations of artists and archaeologists has left us with beautiful representations of the Art of the Ancestors.

Dublin born George Victor Du Noyer, 1817 – 1869.

George Victor Du Noyer, an Irish painter, geologist and antiquarian, was commissioned over several years by the Irish Ordnance Survey and the Geological Survey of Ireland to realistically illustrate many sites across the island. 

Du Noyer worked in watercolour and pencil and his sketches are works of art. 

Sketches of Cairns T and L, Loughcrew by George Victor Du Noyer.

Image from Durrus History

His legacy is a series of images as fresh today as they were in the 1800’s. 

Du Noyer’s sketches can be seen HERE

Around the same period J.J.A. Worsee, a Danish archaeologist, was commissioned by 
King Christian VIII of Denmark to record ‘Viking-age antiquities and monuments of Scandinavian character’ 
during his stay in Dublin. 

Illustration by James Plunket from 
‘An Account of the Danes and Norwegians in England, Scotland, and Ireland’. 

Worsee assigned James Plunket to prepare a series of watercolours showing artefacts in the collections of the Royal Irish Academy. These became known as The Plunket Watercolours or The Worsaae Drawings.

Now housed in the National Museum of Denmark, they consist of twelve large drawings depicting objects arranged by type and period. 
Each artefact, from the Neolithic, the Bronze Age and later is drawn to full scale, beautifully coloured, with great attention to detail.

As well as their artistic value the Plunket Watercolours record the provenance 
of some early finds of The RIA’s collection of Irish antiquities.

Plunket’s watercolours can be viewed HERE

In more modern times the work of the Irish-American graphic artist, Martin Brennan, 
not only recorded ancient art but challenged the way in which people viewed Ireland’s monuments. 

Images © Martin Brennan.

Together with his friends, Brennan observed and documented evidence showing that the function of the great passage tombs, such as Newgrange and Loughcrew, were not only burial mounds but were also used as astronomical observatories over 5,000 years ago.

Kerb stone 51 at Dowth, known as the ‘Stone of the Seven Suns’, © Martine Brennan.

His clear, clean illustrations, focussing on the carvings rather than the textures, provide us with an inventory of Ireland’s Megalithic Art as well as possible insights into the motivation of the ancestors.

Brennan’s book 'The Stars and the Stones', republished as
‘The Stones of Time’ can be ordered HERE

Today cameras and computers have replaced sketch books and pencils but recording the beauty and intricacy of these carvings and sacred places continues.

Stone 52 at the rear of Newgrange © Anthony Murphy of Mythical Ireland.

Photographers, such as Anthony Murphy, keep the tradition of the antiquarian and the art of the ancestors alive for future generations.

The ceiling stone in the end recess of Cairn T, Loughcrew 
© Anthony Murphy of Mythical Ireland.

Visit Mythical Ireland HERE

Long may they continue to inspire us!

Sunday, 28 January 2018

The Protection of Brigid - making the three-armed Brigid’s Cross.

Across the island the most widespread custom associated with Brigid on the eve of Lá Fhéile Bríde, Brigid’s Feast Day, was the making of the Cros or Bogha Bríde, Brigid’s Cross. 

Hung in the home, often above the door or hearth, in the cattle byre and in the stable, the crosses were made to honour Brigid and to protect against “fire, storm, lightning, illness and epidemic” throughout the year.

The many forms of Brigid’s Cross displayed in Kildare.

Today the four-armed cross is the most well known, woven by pagans and christians to celebrate Brigid’s Day and Imbolg. 

Brighid’s Crosses made from straw.

The three-armed cross, reminiscent of the triskele and the Legs of Manannán, is the form of cross 
I make to hang above the threshold of my studio.

The Legs of Mann created by WILLOW MANN on the Isle of Man.

For many this design represents the goddess Brigid as Brigid of Healing, Brigid of Poetry and 
Brigid of Smithcraft, as well as her associations to Fire,

Brigid's Eternal Flame - public sculpture Kildare.

Sacred Wells, 

Brigid's Well, Kildare.
Read more about my visit to Kildare HERE

And the Land.

Croghan Hill, Co. Offaly.
Legend tells that Brigid had her smithy beneath the hill.
Read more about Croghan Hill HERE

Brigid’s triple armed cross is simple and quick to make, only requiring reeds / rushes, ribbon or wool and scissors.

The Common Rush, Luachra, which grows in moist areas is commonly used to make crosses.
Rushes (also known as reeds) or straw left over from making the Brigid's Cross was thought to
have curative powers, when tied around a sore limb or head and left on overnight.
The following morning the rushes were burnt to complete the cure.

Gathering rushes in the Lough Field.

Firstly collect your rushes choosing the thickest you can find, preferably on Brigid’s Eve,
31st January.
Traditionally, in some areas, it was the job of the man of the house to gather the rushes, although across the island making the Brigid’s Cross was usually the domain of women and girls.

Custom dictated that the rushes should be pulled out of the earth, however many people 
today prefer to cut the reeds close to the ground, leaving the roots in tact.

If reeds or rushes are not to be found use straw, pliable willow withies or pipe cleaners. 

Crosses made from straw, rushes and willow withies.

1 Begin to make your Brigid's Cross by picking two sturdy rushes and fold one in half across the other, forming a T shape. 

2 Hold firmly at the centre so that the cross remains intact then gently bend the horizontal rush 1.

3 Fold a third rush in half & place around reed 2 so that it lies next to rush 1.

Rotate the cross, holding firmly onto the rush you have just added.

5 Take another, fold and place around rush 4. Hold this recently added rush and rotate again. 

6 By now you will have a triangle forming at the centre.

7 Continue adding rushes, always holding firmly and rotating the cross before adding the next one.

8 Your cross will look like this and you can add as many rushes as you wish.

9 When you've added enough rushes ‘lock’ the final rush in place by gently easing out the loop of the nearest rush
Place the ends of the new rush through this loop then push the loop back into place. 
Make sure to hold firmly using your thumb to grip the centre.

10 To finish - start with the last arm you ‘locked’ and tie the ends securely with wool, ribbon 
or a strong rushes. Finish the other two arms in the same way.

11 Cut the rushes to neaten the ends or leave natural.

You have now completed your three-armed Brigid’s Cross.

Place above the threshold of your home. 

May it bring you the blessings of Brigid 
and her protection throughout the year.