Thursday, 31 December 2015

The Dawning of the Day . . . an Irish song and the strange tale of a sunken city off the coast of Co Louth

There are many strange tales in the myths and folklore of Ireland. One, several variants of which can be found in different localities, concerns the idea of a city or village beneath a lake or the sea. Sometimes, as in the legend of the mysterious island of Hy Brazil, the underwater realm becomes visible once every seven years. An extraordinary deluge tale was once recounted in the folklore of a fishing village called Blackrock (Na Creagacha Dubha), on the County Louth coastline near Dundalk.

A wonderful photo of the breaking dawn at Blackrock beach by Barry Kieran.
This village, which mostly fronts on to Dundalk Bay, faces out across the restless waters, offering its residents lovely views of the Cooley Mountains, whose undulating peaks roll out eastwards into the Irish Sea.

Blackrock's flood lore relates to a local version of a well-known song called Déalradh án Lae, 'The Dawning of the Day', written by James Clarence Mangan.

A note appended to the song in a manuscript by transcriber Nicholas O'Kearney says: "This song is founded on a tradition prevalent among the people in the vicinity, that an ancient city, with fine land adjoining it, are seen every seventh year by the fishermen off Blackrock shore near Dundalk. The bard, remembering the legends of Gerald Iarla in Mullach-Elim, and O'Neill in Aileach, considers the appearance a favourable sign for Ireland's liberation."

"It may have happened, time out of mind, that a city and land in this part of the Island were encroached on by the sea. A great causeway, built with huge mountain stones, has been traced from Dunany to Cooley Point, a distance of more than seven miles across the Bay of Dundalk . . . The old people used to tell many stories of the inhabitants of the enchanted city, and assert that some of their offspring still live at Blackrock."

Here is Mangan's translation of the song:

'Twas a balmy summer morning
Warm and early,
Such as only June bestows;
Everywhere the earth adorning,
Dews lay pearly
In the lily-bell and rose.
Up from each green leafy bosk and hollow
Rose the blackbird's pleasant lay,
And the soft cuckoo was sure to follow.
'Twas the Dawning of the Day!

Through the perfumed air the golden
Bees flew round me:
Bright fish dazzled from the sea,
'Till medreamt some fairy olden
World-spell bound me
In a trance of witcherie.
Steeds pranced round anon with stateliest housings,
Bearing riders prankt in rich array,
Like flushed revellers after wine-carousings—
'Twas the Dawning of the Day!

Then a strain of song was chanted,
And the lightly
Floating sea-nymphs drew anear.
Then again the shore seemed haunted
By hosts brightly
Clad, and wielding shield and spear!
Then came battle-shouts—and onward rushing—
Swords and chariots, and a phantom fray.
Then all vanished; the warm skies were blushing
In the Dawning of the Day!

Cities girt with glorious gardens
Whose immortal
Habitants in robes of light
Stood, methought, as angel-wardens
Nigh each portal,
Now arose to daze my sight.
Eden spread around, revived and blooming;
When . . . lo! as I gazed, all passed away—
. . . I saw but black rocks looming
In the dim chill Dawn of Day!

I'm not entirely sure whether this old song is related to the one very well known in modern times as sung by the likes of Mary Fahl (see video below). Luke Kelly sang Patrick Kavanagh's poem 'On Raglan Road' to the air of 'Dawning of the Day'.



With thanks to Barry Kieran for permission to use his beautiful photo of Blackrock.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Quote about the Celt from Irish poet W.B. Yeats


A lovely quote from the Irish poet W.B. Yeats about Celtic people. This is from the introduction to Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry, which was published in London in 1888.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Magical light over the Emerald Isle - Winter Solstice aurora borealis shines over Newgrange

With the Winter Solstice here, and the shortest days and longest nights having arrived, the aurora borealis (northern lights) treated us to a timely and magical display over Newgrange tonight. I hope I have captured some of this magic for you to enjoy. Happy Winter Solstice from the Boyne Valley!
Newgrange and Mound B (left) with an emerald green sky filled with winter solstice aurora tonight.
Green is the Irish gold . . . northern lights over Newgrange on the longest night of the year.
The bright green bands of the northern lights viewed from Red Mountain, with Newgrange to the lower left.
Emerald Isle . . . green aurora with the Plough over the Boyne river and canal at Newgrange tonight.
The aurora subdued after a while but the green still made for a great contrast with the orange clouds.
Bright green auroras shine over the Boyne Valley on winter solstice 2015.
A faint band of green to the right of Newgrange.

A message from Newgrange and Mythical Ireland on the shortest days of the year


There is a thought that sometimes manifests in my head when I think about the convoluted history of my people. In the stillness of the evening, standing alone at some monument of antiquity, I wonder if it was the sheer beauty of the landscape that made my ancestors stay here – those who were the first to arrive after the ice retreated, and those who later survived imperialism, starvation and poverty.
The world is a big place, and the human race is a migratory species. There were other places these ancestors could have gone to. But they held on.

The forces and factors that kept them here may be the same ones that make me a captive of this wondrous island. Ireland's landscape is lush and fertile. It is beautiful and enrapturing. Many places have an otherwordly placidity about them, even today.

In modern times, there is a tendency to over-rationalise and analyse, such that a landscape that has always been seen as somewhat magical and austere is reduced to something functional and banal. I suggest we refuse to occupy that space. Let us open up to a mystical vista.

Over the past few years in particular, I’ve spent a lot of time at Newgrange, the place most associated with the Tuatha Dé Danann in mythology, known variously as Brugh na Bóinne, Síd in Broga, Síd Mac Ind Oc and the Palace of the Boyne. It’s lovely spending time out there on my own.
I find it such a pleasurable and peaceful and introspective experience. I wrote about this in Newgrange: Monument to Immortality. I can go there, and can feel that, although I am only miles from home, I might have ventured to far distant otherworlds beyond the senses.

I expect that plenty of other people have spent time alone in the evening at Newgrange, but I hardly ever see anyone out there at night. I like it that way.

Newgrange . . . a sacred place with a message for today.

With the shortest days and longest nights upon us, in this, the season of the winter solstice, it would be nice now to think about how we first arrived into Ireland, and how our own journeying here perhaps reflects some of the other journeying going on in the world right now.

In Ireland today, our story is the same as it has always been, since the first days after the ice age. It is a story of comings and goings, of arrivals and departures. Dublin Airport is a great metaphor for Irish mythology and history. There are always people arriving, and always people departing. Some are going on holidays. Others are leaving forever.

How we arrive into Ireland is central to the nature of our belonging here. This is something the late John Moriarty realised and wrote about. Do we descend upon this island from a cloud, wrapped in a mist, like the Dananns? Or do we sail across the rough seas, like the Milesians, with their flotilla of ships – a Spanish Armada of the prehistoric world – to take Ireland, in an act of jealous longing, a rapacious conquest, driven by vengeance?

If we do that, we will never belong here.

I’d much prefer to descend into Ireland in a mist, from the stars, and set my foot gently upon her soil, wrapped up in the Féth Fiada with Manannán by my side. That way, my arrival might take place unknown, so that I could gently tiptoe across dew-covered grasses into some otherworldly copse, and there enchant my every thought with the newfound joy of arrival into an earthly paradise.

I would much prefer this to a Milesian arrival. From a distance of nine waves, as a Milesian you come in sturdy ships, beating drums of battle, and unfurl your banner of war, your standard of conquest.

But no nation ever conquested in spite or by subjugation or force could afterwards live a peaceful existence.


So I urge you to come like the Tuatha Dé Danann. Come in a mist. Arrive magically. And ask Eriú, gently, if perchance you can stay awhile, and dance and sing upon her carpet of tender green, and write joyous words and sing merry songs about netherworlds concealed in the ditches and vales of her beautiful quarters.

And I urge you, as the light creeps up through the dark womb of Newgrange into her cold interior, to think about the fact that, as an Irish person, you are just a visitor to this wonderful place. In essence, you are a migrant. We all came here from over the sea. As a human, you are a born traveller.
And if you arrive into Ireland, Danann-like – magically – you will know, as they did, that there is always room for others. This solstice, let’s share a little bit of that midwinter illumination, for the world of mankind is often dark, and right now it could do with a little bit more of that magical light.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Pledge to the king: unless the sky shall fall with its showers of stars on the ground, we shall not give ground


The fighting Irish . . . this is a quote from the famous Irish mythical epic Táin Bó Cuailnge. The Ulster heroes declare this to king Conchubhar when he calls upon them to leave a battle in order to meet an attack in another part of the field.

Heaven is above us,
and earth beneath us,
and the sea is round about us.
Unless the sky shall fall with its showers of stars on the
ground where we are camped,
or unless the earth shall be
rent by an earthquake,
or unless the waves of the blue sea
come over the forests of the living world,
we shall not give ground.

Read the entire Táin Bó Cuailnge here.

Mystery site - possible monument in heart of the Boyne Valley discovered by artist Richard Moore in 1999

In the summer of 1999, artist Richard Moore asked me if I would like to see a strange site that he had discovered in the heart of the Boyne Valley. It sounded intriguing. "What kind of site?" I asked. He said he didn't know, but that it was located in a place where it wouldn't be easily seen by archaeologists, and he said that as far as he could tell nobody knew about it but him.

The chance of an adventure into the Boyne Valley involving a mysterious unknown site, possibly an ancient monument, was indeed too tempting. So we agreed that the following weekend, we would go out there and I would bring my camera and he would bring his artist's sketch pad. The site is located on interesting terrain - a very steep forest-covered hillside that runs down to the Boyne river. It was difficult to access - even in dry weather. It can only be described as a semicircular man-made feature set into the side of the hill. There were stones forming a distinct semicircle that appeared to create a revetment. It is possible that the area within the semicircle has some sort of flagging stones on its floor - we certainly saw one large flat stone there, and there may have been others.

Richard Moore sketching the mystery site, which is covered by fallen trees. You can just see the Boyne through the trees.
It's all so long ago now that I can't remember a huge amount about it. Without expert knowledge, I can only speculate that it might have either been some sort of holy or sacred well (now dry) or that it might have been some sort of shrine. My opinion, for what it's worth, is that this is a relatively modern construction, but the archaeologists will confirm this one way or the other. One problem on the two occasions we visited was that the feature was partially covered by fallen trees, and apart from the semicircular stone wall, there was little else to be discerned.

We did, of course, report the find to a couple of archaeologists at the time. However, at the time of writing this blog it appears this possible monument is not on the Sites and Monuments Record (SMR). A major reason for that is undoubtedly the fact that the site is in a location that makes it very difficult to access - and it's hardly likely to have been noticed by many people over the years. In fact, on my first visit (we were there twice; on the second occasion I slipped and fell on the wet incline and wounded little more than my pride!), I remember thinking "how the hell did Richard find this place?"

It was located on private land, and as always, Richard had sought the permission of the landowner to access the land. How he ended up on the site of a steep and somewhat treacherous bank in a forest suggests that he has an intrepid spirit that urges him to go beyond the call of normal duty in the search of new things to paint. Below are some more photos of the site:

The site viewed from above.
Richard Moore points to a stone with a stick to add a sense of scale to the site.
A large flat stone which might have been some sort of flag stone on the floor of the feature.
Another view of the site showing how partial subsidence has concealed it.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Not among the Newgrange winter solstice lottery winners? Watch this fantastic video of the event


If, like most people, you are not among the winter solstice lottery winners who will have exclusive access to the chamber of Newgrange next weekend, then fret not. Because this fantastic video by Paul Kelly shows the sunlight streaming into the passage and chamber, and it's set to beautiful music that will enchant you and put you into a mystical mood!

As we count down to the shortest days of the year, in a week's time, the light of the rising sun will start to enter the roofbox over the entrance doorway at Newgrange and shine into the passage and chamber. As someone who has witnessed it directly, I can tell you that it is a beautiful moment. Paul's video captures the event marvellously. We thank him for making this very special video.

An image from Paul Kelly's wonderful Newgrange solstice video.

The Hill of Slane - where Christianity met prehistory


To me, the Hill of Slane represents the place where Christianity met prehistory. Saint Patrick is said to have lit the Paschal Fire here in 433AD, bringing the flame of Christianity to a very pagan Ireland.

Celtic cross headstones at Slane.
The photo on the right shows two headstones in the cemetery on the Hill of Slane which are based on a Celtic Christian Cross design. This cross, to me, represents the conjunction of Christianity and whatever spirituality existed when it arrived. I see in the Celtic cross the cruciform shape that is inherent in the major passage-tombs of the Boyne Valley, which probably predate Christ by three and a half millennia. And the inclusion of the circle of the sun in the centre of the cross is just another representation of the chamber of Newgrange - where sunlight intersected the centre of the cross in spectacular fashion on winter solstice over 5,000 years ago.

One thing that seems obvious when you walk up the eastern side of the Hill of Slane (which is the only way to get to it!) is that the monuments and remains relating to Christianity dominate, and that the "pagan" remains - which lie further up the hill on the summit - are shrouded by trees and are largely obscured from view.

The dominant feature from prehistory is a mound or motte, said in local lore to the burial place of Sláine, a king of the Fir Bolg. In the summer time, it is virtually impossible to see the mound, but in winter when the foliage is gone from the trees it is possible to get a look at it.

The mound of King Sláine is located shrouded in trees in the middle of this view.
Richard Moore and I wrote about this mound in Island of the Setting Sun in 2006, suggesting that it might possibly be a passage-tomb dating from the Neolithic. In recent years, ground-probing archaeological techniques have been employed at the mound to try to determine if there is a possible structure within. To date, the results are inconclusive.

The motte of King Sláine is very interesting for another reason. It marks the point of intersection of two ancient alignments of sites. We call these the Brigid alignment, or the Brigid's Way, and the Patrick alignment, which I prefer to call "Patrick's Equinox Journey".

The Brigid alignment connects Saint Brigid's birthplace at Faughart with her monastery in Kildare through a 67-mile straight alignment of sacred sites, which include Saint Brigid's Well at Faughart, the barrow cluster on Mount Oriel, the motte of King Sláine on the Hill of Slane, the Hill of Tara and the Curragh, where Brigid was said to have grazed her cattle, and which is located beside Kildare town where she founded her monastery. This video explains how the Brigid alignment was discovered:



One thing that should be obvious about the Brigid alignment is that it must predate Christianity because it involves many prehistoric sites. Indeed we find that Brigid was venerated as one of the Tuatha Dé Danann long before Christianity came to Ireland.

When Saint Patrick landed at the Boyne Estuary (ironically in the same place as the Milesian spiritual leader Amergin had reportedly done over two millennia previously) he made his way towards Slane. Richard Moore and I have documented an equinox alignment involving Millmount in Drogheda (another motte, said in local myth to be the burial place of Amergin) and the motte of Sláine. If you trace the line of this alignment on a map, it continues through Kells and on past Loughcrew, through the Cruachan Aí complex towards Mayo. In Mayo, the alignment follows the route of the Tóchar Phadraig, the pilgrim route from Ballintubber Abbey, through Aughagower, and eventually it lands exactly on the peak of Croagh Patrick. Is this apparent arrangement of sites from the east of the country, where Patrick landed and lit the Paschal Fire, to the west, where he battled with the demons, a coincidence? And indeed some thought must be given to the age of the alignment and its possible pre-Christian significance.
Hill of Mael in County Westmeath . . . on the Patrick alignment.
It may yet be that Slane's importance in the wider landscape is not yet fully understood. The Hill of Slane is the dominant feature in the landscape viewed from the east. From Slane (although the view is obscured today by trees), the dominant features to the west would be Loughcrew and Hill of Mael. The latter, which has a very impressive monument of unknown date on its peak, is exactly on the alignment. From there, one can imagine the possibility that the pyramidal peak of Croagh Patrick might just be visible on a very clear day . . .

The Hill of Mael viewed in Microsoft Bing maps.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Get up close and personal with the entrance kerb stone at Newgrange - without leaving your armchair!


This video shows the entrance kerb stone at Newgrange (known as kerb 1) in great detail, and allows you to view the carvings on the stone without actually having to be there. It was made by the Discovery Programme and the technology used to create the scan was an Artec EVA close range scanner. You can view the stone's famous triple spiral and the other Neolithic carvings in high resolution.

Modern technology is probing the ancient Boyne Valley landscape in ways that the archaeologists of the 20th century could only dream. The above video shows just one aspect of how that is taking place. People in the furthest parts of the globe can see the 5,000-year-old carvings at Newgrange without leaving their home - in fact, without even leaving their armchair.


Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Forgotten stone cross and well on the winter solstice alignment from Newgrange now in SMR


Approaching sunset on June 5th from Redmountain, looking towards Newgrange and Knowth.
Around the time of midsummer this year, I spent many evenings out at Redmountain, the hill on the southern side of the Boyne where the sun rises on winter solstice as it shines into the chamber of Newgrange. I was taking a series of photos of the sunsets behind Newgrange, viewed from the hill of Redmountain, because at midsummer, the setting sun is located opposite where the sun rises at midwinter. I became interested in looking for possible monuments or archaeological features that might be located along the winter solstice alignment. I looked at various maps of the hill to see if there might be any features of interest in the area.

The stone cross and well on an old OS map.
Imagine my surprise when I found, on two versions of old Ordnance Survey maps, a label indicating the presence of a 'stone cross'. And on one of the maps, there was also a 'well' marked beside the stone. These two were located not far from the road that runs down the western slope of Redmountain. Of particular interest was the fact that these features would be located on the winter solstice alignment from Newgrange - i.e. if you stand at the entrance of Newgrange on midwinter and watch the sun rising over Redmountain, you are looking in the direction of these features. I went to the National Monuments Service online map showing records on the Sites and Monuments Record (SMR) and found that it was not listed.

In early June, I reported this "find" by email to archaeologist Geraldine Stout of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, whom I know very well. Geraldine said that she hadn't seen this feature before and would refer it to the local contact in Meath, Michael Moore, who works on the Archaeological Survey of Ireland.

Well I'm glad to report that these features have been added to the SMR. However, it seems that upon investigation, sadly there is now no sign of any stone cross or well at this location, and no information available locally about them.
The cross and well are now in the SMR, but sadly there is no evidence of them now.
Here is the new entry in the Sites and Monuments Record:

ME027-104----

Class: Cross

Townland: ROUGHGRANGE

Description: Marked only on the 1915 ed. of the OS 6-inch map at a well where it is described in italic lettering as a ‘Stone Cross’. It is situated on a N and W-facing slope on the SE side of a NE-SW field bank that has a drain on its SE side and a large tree at the location. There is no evidence of a cross or a well here and there is no local information available.

Compiled by: Michael Moore

Date of upload: 11 September, 2015

Date of last visit: 31 August 2015

The Stone Cross and Well are within the range of azimuths covered by the Newgrange winter solstice alignment.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Fabulous new 3D images by Kerem Gogus show Ireland's Stonehenge as it might once have been

A new depiction of Ireland's Stonehenge at sunset around midwinter, by 3D artist Kerem Gogus.
I am delighted to unveil new 3D-generated images showing Ireland's Stonehenge as it might have looked, created by 3D artist Kerem Gogus. These new images are based upon the only known depiction of a lost monument - a magnificent structure that probably dated to the Stone Age and could be considered Ireland's equivalent of Stonehenge - sadly now destroyed. The only drawing of this great embanked structure of concentric stone circles was made by the antiquarian and astronomer Thomas Wright, in the 1740s. Since then, the monument was destroyed, such that it was thought to have been lost completely until its "footprint" was found on an aerial photo of the Carnbeg area outside Dundalk, Co. Louth, in 1988.

The monument at Carnbeg brought to
life by in this new image by Kerem Gogus.
With only Wright's drawing to go on, Kerem made a couple of images about a decade ago showing what the stone monument might have looked like. But this week, following my revelation that some of the largest stones of the monument might actually be buried beneath the soil where they once stood, the Dundalk Democrat newspaper wanted to do an article about this discovery. Their reporter Ian Cameron contacted Kerem and he agreed to make new images, which give us the first conceptual overview in high resolution of how this monument might have looked if we could transport ourselves back in time. The images give us a unique glimpse at a unique monument. As a result of Kerem's fantastic work, we are able to visualise this once dramatic man-made construction.

The monument consisted of two concentric stone circles surrounded by an embankment with a ring of huge stones outside.
Here is an extract from the article in this week's Dundalk Democrat newspaper about the monument:

Thomas Wright's 18th century drawing
of the monument.
While doing research over the years, he [Anthony] read that some of the smaller stones were taken away and used as gate posts. He believes it should be possible to locate even some of these in the area. Old stone gate posts are easy to spot and quite rare these days. Other smaller stones were sadly broken up to be used as material for roads. The Armagh road (now known as the R177) effectively cut through the site.
“The road was not there in the 1740s when Wright made his drawing. As far as I can ascertain, this road was built in the 1750s (maybe some of your readers might have more information about the exact date of construction?) and would undoubtedly have led to the part destruction of the monument.
Dundalk Democrat's article.  
“For years, I've believed that all of the stones were either removed or broken up. But I've discovered a source (Bassett's Louth Directory from 1886) that says some of the larger monoliths (all but one) were buried: ’Most of the rest were dropped into holes sunk behind them, and covered at a sufficient depth to escape the plough’. For me, that's very exciting news. It means there's a possibility that the largest stones - at least some of them - are still there. It might be possible, using archaeology, to ascertain how many are still there, and there's even the tantalising possibility of discerning potential solar and lunar alignments of the site, which was described in the early 20th century by historian Henry Morris as having been an ancient 'school of astronomy'."
Anthony also believes the site could present a viable and successful tourist attraction for Dundalk once it has been fully investigated and potentially restored.

Another of Kerem Gogus's wonderful new 3D images showing what Ireland's Stonehenge probably looked like.

Monday, 7 December 2015

Newgrange and the return of the Tuatha Dé Danann

I wake up some days and I wonder what we started when we left the forests and turned away from the hunter-gatherer lifestyle towards organised agriculture and monument construction. It was the beginning of modern civilisation, and perhaps the beginning of real conflict between humans. It was a brave but perilous step, emerging from the woods, and clearing land so that we could state in stone and earth something of our cosmology and our spirituality and of our meagre understanding of the great metaphysical mysteries. These questions do not have a time frame. They are relevant today just as much as they were in ancient prehistory:

Who are we?
Where did we come from?
Why are we here?
Where is here?
What is out there?
Why do people die?
What happens to us when we die?

Sunlight enters Knowth's western passage at the autumn equinox.
I've come to believe that the stone monuments of the Neolithic embody those questions. Their construction was an attempt at understanding - or at least attuning to - some of these mysteries. The mythology of the great monuments of Newgrange and Dowth speaks of the desire to control time on behalf of the gods or kings. If you could measure time, and elucidate some of the complex patterns of the sky, perhaps you could open a vista into deeper mysteries.

There has been a lot of speculation - some of it valid - around the idea of monuments as portals. Do passage-tombs such as Newgrange offer access to hidden realms - realms of consciousness or spirit? Realms of the gods? Detached from the sense world, in the darkness of the interior of Newgrange, do you hallucinate, seeing the geometric shapes that are carved onto the stones of the monument? Trance-like, do you meet the ancestors?

In ancient times, people brought the fragmented remains of their ancestors into these chambers and carefully, lovingly, placed them there in the obvious hope that out of their remains would spring new life - perhaps a life eternal, in other realms. These realms are spoken of in mythology.

In the myths, the gods wage war against each other. There are two battles of Moytura. Eventually, in the second battle, the "good guys", the Tuatha Dé Danann, win out against the "bad guys", the Fomorians. When you witness the magic of the winter solstice light in Newgrange - as I have done - and you see that beam of sunlight piercing the darkness, you begin to realise that that was what the journey of the ancient world was all about. It was about the defeat of darkness by light.

Winter solstice light in Newgrange. © Paul Kelly.
But the light of the Tuatha Dé Danann waned when the Milesians came from Spain. The Tuatha Dé Danann went underground, so to speak, agreeing to occupy the sídhe while the Milesians took sway over Ireland. They weren't defeated as such. They made an accord with the Milesians and vanished into the sídhe. But this was not their defeat, nor their end. In accessing the sídhe, those portals to other realms, they were guaranteeing their survival. And the lasting folklore of the Tuatha Dé Danann is that they will return. In fact, some folk prophecy states that they will return for one last great battle, some end-of-the-world scenario, some apocalypse, and that they will be victorious.

So what does all this mean in practical terms, if anything? Were the rumours of a coming return of the Tuatha Dé Danann (and sometimes other great mythical and historical figureheads, such as Fionn Mac Cumhaill or Gearóid Iarla) founded upon the wishes of a repressed and depressed people - an Irish population that had been beaten, downtrodden and starved by centuries of cruel occupation? It is likely that that is part of the tale.

However, there is something about these people of light that makes them endure and endear. They represent our hopes for a better world, those unquenchable hopes that, out of darkness, light will spring. We imagine the return of Lugh Samildánach to Tara, or we envision Aonghus Óg emerging from the great sídhe of Brugh na Bóinne, to reveal himself once more to the world. We should not lightly discard mythology as mere fairy tale. Joseph Campbell said: “Myth is much more important and true than history.” Myth offers a window into the human spirit, our core nature. We venerate the Tuatha Dé Danann(1) as manifestations of our light and compassionate aspects, those facets of our being with which we would bring about a peaceful, harmonious and just world, where the very best aspects of humanity would be allowed to flourish. Equally, we acknowledge the presence of the Fomorians, as manifestations of our tyrannous and malevolent aspects, those facets of humanity that would see the world destroyed and allow human suffering to endure. In world myths, the conquest of darkness by light is a recurring theme. This is unsurprising. The myth with light versus darkness at its core is an enduring myth of hope - hope that we will vanquish the dark side of our nature once and for all.

Newgrange before excavation, when the
light could not reach inside.
Newgrange slept for four millennia - its kerb and entrance concealed by the stones which slipped down off the cairn and sealed it shut. It was "reawakened" in 1699 when the entrance to its passage was rediscovered, and more significantly in the 1960s when it was excavated and its solstice alignment and illumination revealed to the world. Now, hundreds of thousands of people visit the monument every year. The Tuatha Dé Danann are reawakening.

But let us not make the mistake of creating a religion out of the Tuatha Dé Danann. Let us not make them gods or messiahs. Rather, let us make them symbols or metaphors for the reawakening of our own best aspects. In the constant turmoil of a sometimes baffling human existence, where we do the most horrendous things to one another, let us acknowledge that the power to bring about positive change lies entirely within. To create gods of the Tuatha Dé Danann is to engage in a circumvention of our own power, a cop-out in which we declare that the gods have the power, and that they control our destiny.

The truth of the mytho-prescient folk belief in the future return of the Tuatha Dé Danann is that we should not wait at the doorways of the sídhe for the unlikely emergence of some spectral forms in our desire to prevent a cataclysm. Joseph Campbell also said, in The Power of Myth:
“Heaven and hell are within us, and all the gods are within us. This is the great realization of the Upanishads of India in the ninth Century B.C. All the gods, all the heavens, all the world, are within us. They are magnified dreams, and dreams are manifestations in image form of the energies of the body in conflict with each other. That is what myth is. Myth is a manifestation in symbolic images, in metaphorical images, of the energies of the organs of the body in conflict with each other."
In choosing to allow the Tuatha Dé Danann to manifest within us, we are saying yes to heaven and no to hell. We are inviting the metaphorical image of light to transform into a practical reality, a living embodiment of our own goodness, so that we might prevent the Fomorian forces of darkness from bringing us to the brink of destruction.

Newgrange, with its reconstructed portal, reminds us that the
light can and will return.
The prophecy of the re-emergence of the Tuatha Dé from the sídhe should come as no surprise. In a world where darkness often appears to get the upper hand, we need Newgrange to serve as a reminder that the light can and will return - gloriously - and that the darkness is not unending. Imagine that for centuries, and more likely millennia, the winter solstice light was unable to enter Newgrange, because its structural stones had slowly subsided under the weight of the cairn, and the light was cut off. And yet, 5,000 years after it was first constructed, a miracle happened - the light began to shine brilliantly in the cold interior of the monument once again. So too will a miracle happen with the Tuatha Dé Danann. Countless centuries after they retreated to the sídhe, they will re-emerge. This is a metaphorical miracle - our own good nature must re-emerge, and as a species we must find a way to get along with one another. What other choice do we have? In a world constantly under threat from the forces of darkness, should we just retreat to hidden realms and allow the darkness to abide without challenge?

With Newgrange reconstructed, the portal is now open. It is up to us to call the Tuatha Dé Danann from the sídhe, to make them manifest within us, to ensure that, as the prophecy states, they will be victorious.

(1) It should be said here that the mythology of the Tuatha Dé Danann is not all filled with goodness. There are battles, and murders, and there is retribution (for example, the Fate of the Sons of Tuireann). However, in a broad sense, the Tuatha Dé Danann are seen as beings of light, and because of the complexity of themes in their story, especially those involving retreat and hibernation for some future awakening, we judge them as the best representation of our hopes for the re-emergence of goodness within us.

(Note: This blog post is a development of some of the themes explored in this previous post).