Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Ireland's general election: let us cherish our democracy and not light the "incendiary torches" of hatred

We live in a democracy. Supposedly. This Friday, many of us will have the opportunity to vote to elect a new government. Politicians have let us down. No doubt about that. While some of them are claiming the country is in recovery (like a sick patient), many others say the country is in an awful state. Personally, I think the measure of a state or government is its ability to look after its most vulnerable citizens, and there’s no doubt that on that front, the incumbent legislature has failed abysmally.

What are you going to do about that?

In a democracy, you have the power to change the government, and, with your vote, to elect someone who will stand up against cronyism and mismanagement and deception and fiscal ineptitude. In a democracy, you also have the right to free speech.

But do you have the right to behave like a thug?

There is a disturbing and worrying trend going on with the rise of the individual opinion on social media and the internet. Now I’m all for free speech, and I love the freedoms that we as a people enjoy. A lot of people paid very dearly so that we could enjoy these freedoms. I put a very high value on them.

But there is a nasty undercurrent to a lot of the commentary online lately, and I don’t like it. Yes, by all means, register your anger. Yes, let your feelings be known about the health service or the poor internet infrastructure or the mistreatment of the elderly or the bailing out of the banks or the lack of services in your town or area. By all means, say it. God knows politicians will only act when they hear enough people complaining about the same issues. And sometimes even then they don’t act.

But for the sake of the real democracy that we cherish, please put a stop to the thuggery and the nastiness. Who would be a public representative in this atmosphere? Who would put themselves up for public election and public scrutiny, knowing that so many individuals are waging campaigns of vilification against elected representatives? I don’t like this government. I don’t like a lot of the things they’ve done, and I am disappointed about the things they haven’t done. I’d like the chance to engage some of the candidates at the door, but so few of them have called, and at times when I am not here, so I’ve had to forego the opportunity. Do I then take my complaint online, and hurl abuse at them, and maybe even “shout” at them, so to speak . . . and perhaps even speak threateningly towards them?


IF we want to wage war on political failure, our principal weapon, apart from our voices and our pens and keyboards, is our vote. That’s what democracy cherishes. And that’s what we should cherish.

What’s going on in a very public way on social media (principally Facebook from where I’m sitting) is not democracy at work. It’s abuse. It’s nasty. It’s personal, vindictive, vicious and malicious. And it has to stop. If you don’t like such-and-such a candidate, vote them out. Put your number 1, and 2, and 3, beside those who you would like to represent you. And hope that enough people have the sense to do likewise. And when you’re online, keep it constructive, and above board, and don’t become a thug. There are enough psychopaths in powerful positions in the world. We don’t need psychopaths telling us how to vote, and we certainly don’t need them behaving appallingly towards those who, whether we like it or not, were voted into power by this democratic process that we cherish so much.

If you don’t like that, then put yourself in the position of an elected representative. Would you tolerate constant abuse, and threats? From anyone? I don’t think so.

CG Jung

I will finish with advice from the famous psychologist C.G. Jung, summed up nicely by his biographer Marie-Louise Franz in her book “C.G. Jung – His Myth In Our Time”, which I think is very relevant to the current situation:

That which in Jung’s view constitutes our greatest danger today is the presence everywhere in the West of subversive minorities who hold “the incendiary torches” ready and rejoice in the protection of our sense of justice. He often emphasized that one should not underestimate the danger inherent in this stratum, since it is not wise to be too optimistic about the “reasonableness” of the average citizen; among our respectable citizens there are too many criminals and personalities with latent pathology who, behind an appearance of normality, are undermined by unconscious illnesses and perverse tendencies. In the event of an upheaval, such individuals suddenly rise to the surface and strengthen the position of the public agents of violence. They are ruled by infantile wish-fantasies and personal affects and resentments and infect the normal citizen with these, unless the latter already happens to be aware of these things in his own shadow.
On Friday, use your vote. There’s no need to abuse anyone, or to threaten anyone. Just put some numbers on a sheet of paper. It’s that simple.

Note: I know this is not directly related to Mythical Ireland, but it's something I feel very strongly about. I'd been meaning to write about it for a while, and with the General Election two days away, I was prompted to write by something I saw online written by my friend Laura Murphy. Hopefully you can tolerate this slight diversion away from matters mythical. 

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

The peeling of the bells that calls you to your ancient self

Some day, I would like to try to sail down the Boyne, all the way from Carbury well to Inver Colpa. I know it's likely not possible, but I'd like to do it anyway. And I think that, in the doing of it, in the navigating of the puny Boyne, and the streamy Boyne, and the mighty Boyne, I might have relived a drama encompassing the journey of life; not a linear life, flowing from beginning to end, but rather a cyclical life, one with no beginning and no end, just a constant flow from one form to the next.

The river Boyne near Brugh na Bóinne.
And I wonder, just by contemplating the journey of the eternal river, if perhaps I might enter eternity myself, on the strength of a thought. Before you were born, I knew you. Before you were the Well of Segais, you were a million raindrops. Before your ejaculation on the slopes of Sídhe Nechtain, you had been glorified on the slopes of Mount Fuji, and on Kilimanjaro you had been a spring of nimiety; on the Matterhorn you had been a darkling brook, and at Elbrus a frozen fountainhead.

Segais, the beginning and the end.
Segais, the Alpha and the Omega.

Bless me with your sanctifying waters, so that I might spring forth a river, a mighty body of water whose end cannot be known. Cry me a river – not a river of sighs, or of broody reflection. Become Boyne, and give birth to a multitude of almighties, so that not one god, but a thousand, can become deified in your pools of crystal absolution. And there, on your shores, John the Baptist and Finneces the Wise will immerse the poor in spirit so that they may have their inner eyes washed clean, and that they may see with perfect vision the cloigtheach beneath the waves.

The mystery belfry below, the one that chimes mysteriously from the bottom of the lake, or from the brooding sea in the evening, is not a stony bell-tower left standing from the time of Atlantis's destruction.  Rather, it is that mystical something that must be awakened within you, that peeling of the bells that calls you to your ancient self – the you that was alive before the first of the ancient palaces were built, the you that is potent in the very matter of the universe.

Come down and ring the bells with the monks of the submarine heaven, that realm that lies beneath the darkness of your unconscious, and there make music that will echo in the very caverns of the sídhe. Go down, and be a bell-ringer for the awakening of a multitude. Call the world to enlightenment with a chorus of sound and voice from the deep, and bring the unrestrained joy of that chthonic music to every ear and heart and soul.

In memory of John Moriarty.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

The story of Finn and the Salmon of Knowledge

The story of Finn Mac Cumhaill and his eating of the Salmon of Knowledge from Fiacc's Pool on the Boyne river, with some commentary and explanation from Anthony Murphy.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Some old names for the town of Drogheda in Irish myths and place name lore

My home town is today called Drogheda. The common accepted nomenclature of Drogheda says that it is derived from the Irish Droichead Átha, meaning "Bridge on the Ford". I've always been curious about that, mainly because a ford or crossing point is something that obviously pre-dates a bridge, so that the name seems to refer to two distinct and different methods of crossing the river. Before bridges were built, rivers were crossed at shallow places called fords, or indeed at shallow places where the crossing was augmented by some sort of stone causeway built along the river bed.1

A view of Drogheda with its bridge over the Boyne from a mid-18th Century
painting by Gabriele Ricciardelli (Highlanes Gallery)
An ancient ford of the Boyne at Rosnaree, several miles upstream of Drogheda, is marked on early OS maps. It might have been one of the principal crossing places of the Boyne in prehistory, and was possibly the place where the great northern road from Tara, the Slíghe Midluachra, passed through the Boyne Valley adjacent to the great monuments of Brúg na Bóinne.

The ancient ford of the Boyne at Rosnaree. (Source)

In 'Island of the Setting Sun - In Search of Ireland's Ancient Astronomers', Richard Moore and I presented evidence that the name of the Boyne river might have been inspired by the Milky Way, the great "river of the sky" and that the Boyne might have been considered its earthly counterpart.

Some of Drogheda's numerous bridges.
So I have this pet theory, and it's only a theory, without much foundation, that perhaps the old name of Drogheda does not mean "Bridge on the Ford", but maybe something like "Ford of the Wheel" - droichead being related to the word droch, which means "wheel".2 I've also seen it written somewhere (although I cannot immediately recall the source) that suggested the word droichead stems from droch representing the wheel-shaped arches of a bridge. My theory is that the "ford of the wheel" is the crossing point of the earthly Milky Way, the river Boyne. Indeed, another great wheel of the sky - the Zodiac, through which the sun, moon and planets journey through the sky - was recognised in earlier times by the Irish phrase rael-draoch, the "circle or wheel of the stars".3

Anyway, I digress. Enough of the pet theories and deviations from the main topic at hand, which is the ancient name of the town we call Drogheda today.

In prehistoric times, the area where Drogheda is situated today was likely known as Inber Colpa (spelt different ways, including Inbher Colptha). There are a couple of different stories accounting for the origin of this name. One of these says that it is named after the shin-bone (Colptha) of the great monster the Mata, which was said to have been slain by the men of Éireann at a mysterious stone near Newgrange in Brug na Bóinne. Another story says the name is accounted for by the death of the Milesian brother Colpa during their battle with the Tuatha Dé Danann, who caused a fierce tempest to blow up as the Milesians attempted to land at the Boyne. You can read more about these stories in Island of the Setting Sun. Inber is an Irish word that means "the meeting of the waters", or a harbour or estuary.

Of particular interest to my little investigation here, though, are a couple of names for Drogheda which I had not previously encountered. Droichead Átha and Inber Colpa are well attested, but much less well known but equally interesting are some other names which were apparently given to the town, or features in its vicinity, in times long ago.

In their recounting of a famous story called 'The Colloquy of the Old Men', Cross and Slover in their 1936 book 'Ancient Irish Tales' refer to the separate journeys of  Oisín (son of the celebrated Finn McCool) and Cailte, son of Crunnchu mac Ronain. After visiting Finn's old nurse, Oisin and Cailte separate, one going north to seek Oisín's mother, who is one of the Tuatha De Danann; the other moving south toward Tara:

... Oisin went to the fairy-mound of Uch Cletigh, where was his mother, Blai daughter of Derc Dianscothach; while Cailte took his way to Inber Bic Loingsigh which at present is called Mainister Droichid Atha (the monastery of Drogheda) from Beg Loigsech son of Arist that was drowned in it, that is, the king of the Romans' son, who came to invade Ireland; but a tidal wave drowned him there in his inber (river-mouth). He went on to Linn Feic (Fiacc's Pool), on the bright-streaming Boyne; southwards over the Old Mag Breg, and to the rath (stronghold) of Drum Derg, where Patrick mac Calpuirn was.

Mellifont Abbey. 
There are a few things that are interesting in this passage. We know that Fiacc's Pool is likely situated on the bend of the Boyne beneath Ros na Rí (Rosnaree) and was the celebrated place where Finneces caught the Salmon of Knowledge, from which Finn gained all his wisdom. The 'Inber Bic Loingsigh' which was better known as the Monastery of Drogheda, is a curious one indeed. Bic of Beg is probably the Irish word for small. Loingsigh could be a variant of loingeasach, meaning "abounding in ships or in fleets".4 In his 1997 book Conversing with Angels and Ancients: Literary Myths of Medieval Ireland, Joseph Falaky Nagy asserts that the Mainistir Droichit Átha referred to in the text is Mellifont, the first Cistercian monastery founded in Ireland (in 1142). Not being a scholar in medieval Ireland, I cannot argue with him. However, the location of Mellifont a number of miles northwest of Drogheda, on a smaller tributary of the Boyne called the river Mattock, means it is some distance removed from the river mouth where Beg Loingsech was apparently drowned.

The story of the mysterious drowning of Beg Loingsech is interesting indeed. There are obvious parallels here between Inber Bic Loinsigh and Inber Colpa. Bic Loinsigh was the son of the king of the Romans, who "came to invade Ireland", but a tidal wave drowned him at the river mouth. Colpa was a son of Mil, the king of Spain, and he was drowned somewhere near the mouth of the Boyne by a storm whipped up by the Dé Dananns while trying to land for the purpose of taking Ireland from them. The Milesians could also have said to be "abounding in ships"; many of them were destroyed in the Dé Danann tempest. The parallels between these stories are so striking that one cannot but draw the tentative impression that they are two versions of a single old mythic narrative involving the naming of the Boyne estuary.

Another obscure ancient name from Drogheda is mentioned all too briefly in O'Donovan's Ordnance Survey letters, and it would be interesting to see if further research into this name - and its variants - yields information of interest. Here is what O'Donovan says, after writing briefly about the name Droichet Atha:

There are other ancient names of it still retained by some persons. Sarsfield, whom we have mentioned on our former letters, says the ancient name of it was Ath Dhunruaidhe, and Jones says the ancient name of it was Dun Dubhruaidhe . . . Others say it was called Treda prior to it having got the denomination of Drogheda - if it was so-called, Treda seems to have been the first Anglicized name of it. Droichet atha (Droichet Atha) occurs in several places in the Annals of the Four Masters . . .5

Literally translated, Ath Dhun Ruaidhe would mean "the ford of the red fort" or something similar and Dun Dubhruaidhe would mean "the fort of black-red" or something to that effect. O'Donovan puts a footnote in for the Sarsfield and Jones references which asks the question "Are these names preserved in any document?" Regrettably, the answer would appear to be no.


1. Drochet can also refer to a causeway as well as a bridge. See DIL.
2. See Vallancey (referenced in Newgrange: Monument to Immortality) and also for droch = coach-wheel, see the Shaw Gaelic Dictionary.
3. Newgrange: Monument to Immortality, Anthony Murphy, 2012, p.92.
4. Shaw Gaelic Dictionary, p.358.
5. Louth Ordnance Survey Letters, Co. Louth Archaeological Journal Vols. IV, V & VI, p.92.