Showing posts from January, 2012

St. Bridget's Day in Ireland

Only a year before we moved in, the site of the Dublin house that I grew up in was a field. Down the road, after the house was built and the developers had moved on, there was a scrubby patch of trees. They've disappeared now, under concrete and more housing. But when I was a child a spring rose in the scrubland, flowing briefly between two oaks and disappearing again among their twisted roots. I remember hours spent swinging out over the water on a rope tied to a branch, and letting go at the crucial moment to land in squelching mud on the other side.That survival of the countryside, hemmed in by two roads, was a favourite playground for us local kids. We called it St. Bridget's. And at the time I never asked myself why. I don't know now if Bridget's name survives there. But I know that for thousands of years before I swung out across that water, people had come there to pray. It was the site of a holy well. Wells dedicated to Bridget are found all ov

A Celtic Ritual Worth Remembering

In Corca Dhuibhne you're always aware of the ocean.    And with water on three sides of you, the light is always amazing.  A mountain range runs down the narrow peninsula, disappearing into the waves at Dún Chaoin and rising again in seven offshore islands, called the Blaskets. The Atlantic waves are white where they curl against the  cliffs and edged with pale golden foam where they thunder onto the  beaches. Farther out to sea, their colours constantly change under the wind-blown clouds, shifting from turquoise to emerald, pewter and pale jade. At sunset they're streaked with scarlet. At dawn they're tinged with faintest mother-of-pearl. The people of the peninsula have always been fishermen. For generations they fished from  boats made of tarred canvas stretched on slender timber frames, powered by oars and single sails. In the past, the Blasket islanders depended on the ocean for the food they ate and the produce they sold; a bad year's fishing could b

Nollaig na mBan - Another Great Irish Winter Festival.

Corca Dhuibhne rears powerful women. I have elderly neighbours here who grew up living lives that would flatten me in a week. They kept house, looked after kids and old people, milked cows, made butter, cared for calves, raised poultry, grew their own food, and baked and cooked with great skill over open turf fires on stone hearths. As children they walked barefoot to school. As adults they often went barefoot too, and worked in the fields with the men; a friend of mine remembers women with legs and ankles cut raw by the stinging wind. Electricity and piped water didn't come to the houses in this village till the nineteen sixties. In the days before they got here, women washed everything by hand, carrying water from the spring, and boiling it on the fire. Last winter, during a week of power-cuts, I got an inkling of what that meant. And I just had to wash dishes. They washed laundry too, for households of up to fifteen people, and dried it on lines or on bushes. Living