Tag Archives: Irish Heritage

Bealtaine, the beginning of Summer (we hope!)

The Celtic calendar had two main seasons, warm and cold. The end of the cold season and the beginning of summer were marked by one of the most important festivals of the year, Bealtaine. The corresponding festival for the end of the Summer and beginning of the winter was Samhain which has now become Halloween.

Belenus- The go-to God for all things Bealtaine

Belenus- The go-to God for all things Bealtaine

Bealtaine traditionally fell on the first of May and was highly symbolic for the indigenous population of Ireland. This corresponded to the date when cattle could be driven to open grazing and was therefore a time of great importance for pastoralist societies.  The lighting of great fires in prominent locations was central to the celebration of this festival, presumably to reflect the rebirth and rejuvenation of the sun. It was also customary to drive cattle between large fires in order to protect them from disease. TGE Powell in his book The Celts believes that the word is a combination of the celtic word for fire (tine) and reference to a god called Belenus known widely in Northern Italy, south-eastern Gaul, Nordicum and south-west Britain. Belenus is thought to have been a sun-god and his name is believed to have meant ‘Brilliant’ or ‘Bright’ one. In modern Irish Bealtaine is still the name given to the month of May.

Fire, a key component of Bealtaine

Fire, a key component of Bealtaine

More recently a particular raucous festival has become very popular in Edinburgh know as Beltane which involves naked dancers, drums and massive fires on Carlton Hill on the eve of the 1stof May.

Dramatic scenes at the Beltane Fire Society's annual festival on Edinburgh's Calton Hill

Dramatic scenes at the Beltane Fire Society's annual festival on Edinburgh's Calton Hill

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Croagh Patrick, County Mayo: St Patrick’s Place

As St. Patrick’s Day approaches once more, Know Thy Place take a look at one of the sites that is most associated with the Irish patron saint- Croagh Patrick, in Co. Mayo.

Croagh Patrick, Co. Mayo (Wikimedia Commons)

Croagh Patrick, Co. Mayo (Wikimedia Commons)

Croagh Patrick or ‘The Reek’ is one of the most famous places in Ireland. Rising to 2507 feet, it is an imposing feature on the landscape and visible for miles in all directions. It is reputedly the location of Saint Patrick’s 40 day fast, and it remains a major centre of pilgrimage to this day. On the last Sunday of July every year,thousands of pilgrims climb the mountain- many in bare feet- in commemoration and adoration of Ireland’s most famous saint. Archaeological excavations on the summit in 1994 and 1995 identified the buried foundations of a dry stone oratory which was radiocarbon dated to AD 430-890- a time not too distant from St. Patrick’s life.

The Pilgrim's Path on Croagh Patrick, Co. Mayo

The Pilgrim's Path on Croagh Patrick, Co. Mayo (Wikimedia Commons)

There is also some archaeological evidence indicating that the mountain was an important site prior to Patrick’s arrival, and was possibly a Celtic Hillfort, although further research is needed to confirm this. Tradition has it that the mountain was sacred to a Celtic deity Crom Dubh and was the location of a festival related to the harvest festival of Lugnasa. This pre-Christian Croagh Patrick was known as Cruchan Aigli. Certainly it was common for early Christian missionaries to Ireland to make good use of pre-existing traditions and beliefs to sell their own brand of religion! Indeed it has been claimed that until relatively recently some Irish-speaking locals murmured ‘In ainm Crom’ (in the name of Crom) instead of the normal Christian ‘In ainm De’ (In the name of God).

The Summit of Croagh Patrick (Wikimedia Commons)

The Summit of Croagh Patrick (Wikimedia Commons)

Undoubtedly the impressive profile of Croagh Patrick overlooking Clew Bay was always an imposing sight and legends and rituals grew around it for as long as people lived in the surrounding area. As for its association with Ireland’s patron saint, Patrick is reputed to have climbed Croagh Patrick and fasted there for 40 days and 40 nights during Lent, following the example of Christ. It is during this time that he is supposed to have banished the snakes from Ireland after they attacked him during his fast. This is a story told in every class room in Ireland. The reference to snakes is highly symbolic and one wonders if they in fact refer to the Pagan Gods. The location of Patrick’s fast, in the lair of the Pagan deities, may have been designed to indicate his imperviousness to fear of the old Gods and his victory over their powers. Whatever the truth, the story stuck and the result is now one of the most iconic images in Irish culture: pilgrims climbing the Reek holding rosary beads while deep in prayer, many in bare feet and some on their knees. One would wonder what rituals took place there before the advent of Christianity….

St. Patrick Showing the Snakes Who's Boss...

St. Patrick Showing the Snakes Who's Boss...

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Know Thy Place on Television Tonight!

For anyone who wants to find out more about Know Thy Place and see how we produce the charts (and what the archaeological sites they are based on look like!)- Colm Moloney, Louise Baker and Damian Shiels from the team will be appearing on Country Focus tonight. Fifteen minutes of the show will be dedicated to Know Thy Place; the Country Focus team met up with us in our offices to learn about our charts, before we took them out in the field to see some of the typical archaeological sites we come across when conducting our research.

Karina Charles of Country Focus and Damian Shiels of Know Thy Place discuss Garryvoe Tower House (background)

Karina Charles of Country Focus and Damian Shiels of Know Thy Place discuss Garryvoe Tower House (background)

The show airs on Sky Channel 201 in Ireland at 20.30 GMT tonight, and will be shown on PBS in the U.S. at a later date. For anyone who wants to see a promo for the programme you can check it out on the Country Focus Facebook page here. We hope you can tune in- please let us know what you think!

Country Focus on location for Know Thy Place at Garryvoe Lower Church

Country Focus on location with Know Thy Place at Garryvoe Lower Church

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Know Thy Place at Showcase Ireland 2012

As part of the launch of our County and Irelandcharts we decided to exhibit this year at Showcase Ireland, Ireland’s largest expo for creative products and ideas. Our attendance was designed to make contacts with potential retailers who would be interested in selling our products both in Ireland and the United States. As a result of our attendance we have concluded deals with a number of outlets and are in negotiations with several more. We thought we would share some of our experience at the expo with you through the medium of photography- captions provided by Know Thy Place Director Colm Moloney!

Our stand had to be erected on a Saturday so it was an early start from Cork to get to the RDS and have everything installed before 6pm. This is me setting off early from Midleton, County Cork (my place!). Many thanks to Rubicon for the loan of the van.

Our stand had to be erected on a Saturday so it was an early start from Cork to get to the RDS and have everything installed before 6pm. This is me setting off early from Midleton, County Cork (my place!). Many thanks to Rubicon for the loan of the van.

Leinster Rugby Club were playing a match across the road from the RDS exhibition centre, I decided to wear my Munster Rugby Club jersey as Munster are the prime rivals of Leinster in Ireland. This is me having just arrived at the stall, upsetting the locals in my jersey! The officials at the gate asked me to change!

Leinster Rugby Club were playing a match across the road from the RDS exhibition centre, I decided to wear my Munster Rugby Club jersey as Munster are the prime rivals of Leinster in Ireland. This is me having just arrived at the stall, upsetting the locals in my jersey! The officials at the gate asked me to change!

Louise designed the layout of the stall and I provided labour to get everything in place. We tried to provide examples of how our products could be displayed in a shop environment. We exhibitioned framed examples, examples in a cradle and we also designed a rotating display cabinet. The majority of smaller outlets preferred the framed example while larger shops were interested in our custom built cabinet. Here is me putting the display together under the direction of the lovely Louise!

Louise designed the layout of the stall and I provided labour to get everything in place. We tried to provide examples of how our products could be displayed in a shop environment. We exhibited framed examples, examples in a cradle and we also designed a rotating display cabinet. The majority of smaller outlets preferred the framed example while larger shops were interested in our custom-built cabinet. Here is me putting the display together under the direction of the lovely Louise!

The end result of all our efforts!

The end result of all our efforts!

Our proposed unit for retail outlets

Our proposed unit for retail outlets

The Expo is massive with 350 exhibitors with a bewildering variety of products. It is a great opportunity to meet both domestic and international buyers and see if your products would suit their shop. This was particularly important in the case of Know Thy Place as we produce a unique product. We spoke to people who have Irish shops in the US and needed products to cover all of the counties of Ireland. our county charts seem to be the perfect fit for this market! Here is a photo of me checking out the opposition!

The Expo is massive with 350 exhibitors with a bewildering variety of products. It is a great opportunity to meet both domestic and international buyers and see if your products would suit their shop. This was particularly important in the case of Know Thy Place as we produce a unique product. We spoke to people who have Irish shops in the US and needed products to cover all of the counties of Ireland. our county charts seem to be the perfect fit for this market! Here is a photo of me checking out the opposition!

The exhibition was officially opened on the Sunday by our new President, Michael D. Higgins. President Higgins gave an excellent speech on the importance of fostering our craft industry and promoting Irish products abroad

The exhibition was officially opened on the Sunday by our new President, Michael D. Higgins. President Higgins gave an excellent speech on the importance of fostering our craft industry and promoting Irish products abroad

I think the lovely Louise has a soft spot for Michael D! The Expo was a great success. We raised our profile and had lots of interest in our products, a lot of which has been converted into orders since the event. We also made lots of friends amongst the other exhibitors- people we hope to meet at further similar events in the future.

I think the lovely Louise has a soft spot for Michael D! The Expo was a great success. We raised our profile and had lots of interest in our products, a lot of which has been converted into orders since the event. We also made lots of friends amongst the other exhibitors- people we hope to meet at further similar events in the future.

Louise Kicking off Showcase Ireland in style!

Louise kicking off Showcase Ireland in style!

Exhausted but happy after three long days exhibition the Know Thy Place charts

Exhausted but happy after three long days exhibiting the Know Thy Place charts

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How St. Valentine became an Irishman

St. Valentine's Day image c.1910- where did it all come from?

St. Valentine's Day image c.1910- where did it all come from?

Valentine’s Day is once again on the horizon. This event sees worldwide chocolate supplies decimated, red-roses massacred by the million, and restaurant reservations become more valuable than the combined GDP of several small European countries. But who was St. Valentine? And what connection does he have with Ireland?

There are a number of different St. Valentines, and it remains unclear which of them the 14th February date refers to. At least two lived in Italy; one was a Priest in Rome, the second a Bishop in Interamna. They were both martyred sometime in the 3rd Century AD. A third St. Valentine was from Africa and also became a martyr, but little is known of his life. It is thought that the tradition originates with one of the Italian Valentines, and various legends have sprung up around him to explain his romantic associations. These include one tale which relates that the future saint fell in love with his gaoler’s daughter, and sent her the first Valentine card to express his feelings.

Charles of Orleans, one of the original Valentine love poem set

Charles of Orleans, a love-sick French Knight

It seems likely that the day has some connection with Lupercalia, a pagan health and fertility festival that was celebrated around the same time as Valentine’s Day; February was also an important month in the worship of Juno, the Roman Goddess of Marriage. However it was in medieval France and England that the days connection with lovers really took off, and began to take on associations that we would recognise today. During this period February 14th was seen as the beginning of the birds’ mating season, and it was a natural jump to connect this with love-ties in human romance. The earliest known Valentine’s poem also appears at this time. It dates to 1415 and was written by Charles, Duke of Orleans in the Tower of London, where he was being held following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. Entitled ‘A Farewell to Love’ it was for his wife, and begins with the lines:

Je suis desja d’amour tanné,
[I am already sick of love]
Ma tres doulce Valentinée,
[My very gentle Valentine]

Pope Gregory XVI who sent St. Valentine to Ireland in the 19th Century

Pope Gregory XVI who sent St. Valentine to Ireland in the 19th Century

But what of the Saint’s connection to Ireland, and Dublin in particular? This dates back to 1835, when an Irish Carmelite, Father John Spratt, visited Rome. He was a renowned preacher and was invited to speak at the famous Church of the Gesu in the city, which was thronged for the occasion. Pope Gregory XVI wished to give the Carmelite a token of his esteem, and so Father Spratt was presented with some of the supposed remains of St. Valentine and a vessel containing the martyr’s blood. He had them taken back to Ireland, where he was overseeing the construction of Whitefriar Street Church in Dublin. St. Valentine (or at least a part of him) arrived at his new home on 10th November, 1836, where he is to be found to this day in a specially constructed shrine within the church.

The reliquary of St. Valentine has now been in Ireland for some 177 years, and can be visited by the public. Given his long-time residence in the country, a period which has seen a scientifically documented increase in the romantic tendencies of the Irish (based on sales analysis of ‘Kiss Me I’m Irish’ t-shirts across the same time-span), it goes without saying that at this point he is considered a true blue ‘Dub’, and is firmly regarded as one of our own!

The Shrine of St. Valentine, Whitefriar Street Church, Dublin

The Shrine of St. Valentine, Whitefriar Street Church, Dublin

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