Bective Abbey

Bective Abbey was located within Norman controlled Ireland, called The Pale, which was the area around Dublin conquered by the Normans starting in 1171, and is the source of the phrase, ‘beyond the pale’. If something is beyond the pale, it is unacceptable or unseemly. In other words, here be dragons. Bective Abbey, and Trim Castle which is not too far away, are located on the River Boyne, which in some eras formed the barrier between Norman and Irish controlled Ireland—though Trim is on the inner bank and Bective on the outer. Dan: Does that mean it wasn’t always a Norman abbey? It was founded in 1147 by the king of the Irish Kingdom of Meath. I’m not pronouncing his name because I would only butcher it. It was a ‘daughter house’ of Mellifont Abbey, located close to Drogheda, and Read more…

Tintern Abbey Ireland

? The Tintern Abbey in Wales has been referred to as ‘Tintern major’ and the abbey in Ireland as “Tintern of the vow” Dan: It can’t be a coincidence they have the same name. It isn’t, anymore than New York is name for ‘York’ in England. In this case, both abbeys were founded by the Norman Lord of Chepstow. In the case of the Tintern Abbey in Wales, that was Walter de Clare, and that abbey will the subject of a video coming up. Tintern Abbey in Ireland was founded by William Marshal, who was a later Lord of Chepstow, and named the Irish Tintern after the Tintern Abbey in Wales. As we talked about last week, William Marshal married Isabel de Clare, daughter of Richard de Clare, who made himself Lord of Leinster by marrying the daughter of Diarmait, Read more…

Clonmines

Clonmines is one of my favorite spots in Ireland and one we were not supposed to go to. Sshh! We were driving beside the road and said, “what is that!” and we just had to see it. It turned out to be a medieval town, established by William Marshal, the great knight and Lord of Leinster, as an alternative port to one already established. What’s incredible about Clonmines is the way it is so intact. One of the things we remarked upon as we were traveling throughout the country was how few medieval sites there were. Clearly there is a variety of reasons for this, which I won’t go into today. Clonmines survival may in part be due to the fact that it is on private land. To be perfectly frank, we trespassed, if inadvertently, to take these pictures. The Read more…

Norman-Irish Christianity

Is Norman-Irish Christianity different from just plain Norman? It is different in the sense that the Normans didn’t conquer parts of Ireland until a hundred years after they conquered England. Dan: I don’t recall talking about the Norman conquest of Ireland last year. Weirdly, we didn’t really, or at least not very much. So, in a nutshell, in 1169 Richard de Clare, known to history as Strongbow, who was the Earl of Pembroke in Wales, took it upon himself to aid Diarmait, the King of Leinster, against his enemies. In exchange, Diarmait promised to give Richard his daughter in marriage as well as the throne of Leinster upon Diarmait’s death. The glitch in this plan was that King Henry of England did not think that one of his vassals should become a king in his own right. As a result, Read more…

The Hill of Tara

Tara started out as Neolithic site, with a Neolithic passage tomb, called The Mound of Hostages, built around 3200 BC and holding the graves of over 300 individuals. Then, in the early Bronze age, some thousand years later, a giant ‘woodhenge’ was built on the hilltop to surround the passage tomb. The Celtic period begins with the Iron Age, starting roughly around 500 BC. Several large enclosures were built on the hill, the largest of which, The Enclosure of the Kings, had a circumference of 1000 meters. Another two structures were built in a figure eight—one called Cormac’s house and a second that is the royal seat. It is at this point that Tara unites history and religion. In Celtic mythology, Tara was the capital of the Tuatha de Dannan, the Irish gods, and its Neolithic passage tomb was seen Read more…

Neolithic Passage Tombs in Ireland

Knowth, Dowth, and Newgrange are Neolithic Passage tombs located in the Boyne Valley of eastern Ireland. They make up what archaeologist refer to as a necropolis—basically a city of the dead. Together, these three tombs are some of the oldest examples of monumental Neolithic architecture in existence. Newgrange was begun first, starting around 3200 BC. It consists of a large circular mound with an inner stone passageway and chambers. Human bones and possible grave good or votive offerings have been found in these chambers. The mound has a retaining wall at the front, made mostly of white quartz cobblestones, and it is ringed by engraved kerbstones. The passage into Newgrange is aligned for the sunrise on the Winter Solstice, which appears to have been one of the most important events in Neolithic religion. The Winter Solstice, for those for whom Read more…

Pre-Celtic Religion

Although Britain was occupied for hundreds of thousands of years, the pre-Celtic era we’re talking specifically about is the Neolithic period, which begins around 4300 BC. The Neolithic peoples of Britain and Ireland are set apart from their ancestors because they began to exhibit an increasing control over their environment. They were farmers and herders; they had villages; and they started building religious monuments, what archaeologists call ‘neolithic monumental architecture’. This includes burial mounds, stone circles, and standing stones, all of which were part of what we would view now as their ‘religious’ system. Unfortunately, we have no written documents dating to this time, so can only use evidence from the monuments themselves and artefacts that survived to make informed guesses about what prehistoric people actually believed. While there was no single or continuously developed belief system in prehistoric Britain, Read more…

Women in Celtic Society

It is a stereotype that women in the Dark Ages (and the Middle Ages for that matter) had two career options: mother or holy woman, with prostitute or chattel filling in the gaps between those two. Unfortunately, for the most part this stereotype is accurate. The status and role of women in any era prior to the modern one revolves around these categories. This is one reason that when fiction is set in this time, it is difficult to write a self-actualized female character who has any kind of autonomy or authority over her own life. Thus, it is common practice to make fictional characters either healers of some sort (thus opening up a whole array of narrative possibilities for travel and interaction with interesting people) or to focus on high status women, who may or may not have had Read more…

The Norman Conquest of Ireland (part 1)

The Normans were conquerors. Even more, they conquered. It was what they did. It was only natural, then, that eventually one of them would set his sights on Ireland.  That someone, in this case, was Richard de Clare, otherwise known as Strongbow. Now, Strongbow wasn’t entirely at fault for what came next. In fact, in 1169 he was invited into Ireland by the ousted king of Leinster, Diarmait Mac Murchada. Murchada had been removed from power by the High King of Ireland, Rory O’Connor, and, naturally, he wanted his lands back. He knew about Norman military prowess and looked to south Wales, where Clare was the Earl of Pembroke, for assistance. And what did Clare get out of it? Murchada had no male heir, so he promised Clare his daughter and the kingship of Leinster if they succeeded. For Clare, that Read more…

How did the potato get to Ireland?

One of those anachronisms that can trip up an author of medieval fiction is the nature of medieval food. In particular, the potato, a ubiquitous British food these days, comes from the “New World” and didn’t arrive in Britain until after the Spanish conquest. “The potato was carried on to Italy and England about 1585, to Belgium and Germany by 1587, to Austria about 1588, and to France around 1600. Wherever the potato was introduced, it was considered weird, poisonous, and downright evil. In France and elsewhere, the potato was accused of causing not only leprosy, but also syphilis, narcosis, scronfula, early death, sterillity, and rampant sexuality, and of destroying the soil where it grew. There was so much opposition to the potato that an edict was made in the town of Besancon, France stating: “In view of the fact Read more…

The Irish in Wales

The Irish, Welsh, and Scots all have a Celtic ancestry, but they settled their respective regions before the Roman conquest of Britain.  There is an amazing amount of debate as to the origin of the Celts:  were they Phoenician?  stocky and dark?  tall and blonde?  as culturally cohesive as the label suggests?   The standard theory is that the Celts were an Indo-European group that gradually migrated across Europe and Asia, with an identifiable, distinct culture by 750 BC.  As a group, they were well-known to the Greeks and Romans. http://archaeology.suite101.com/article.cfm/archaeology_and_the_celts The Celts had arrived in Britain and Ireland by 400 BC, super-imposing upon whatever native peoples were already there.  The Celts in these regions, then, were on the fringes of Celtic culture, not their heart, which was centered in Northern Europe, particularly in what is now Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Read more…

Demons of the Ancient World

The Dark Age Celts had their share of supernatural creatures within the various mythologies (Welsh/Brittany/Ireland/Scotland), in addition to the pantheon of actual gods and goddess (for Wales, see Children of Don; Children of Llyr:  https://sarahwoodbury.com/the-sidhe/). Here are some notable demons from Celtic mythology: Cwn Annwn (Welsh hellhounds):  Yes, they really do exist outside of the TV show, Supernatural (great show, by the way.  Watch it at Netflix).  The Cwn Annwn are the hunting dogs of Arawn, Lord of the Otherworld and are associated with the Welsh form of the Wild Hunt.  “The Cwn Annwn resemble small wolves. The pack leader, Fflyddmyr, is black while the other three hounds are white with red-tipped ears. Their abilities include super-speed and super-strength.”  http://otherworldseries.wikia.com/wiki/C%C5%B5n_Annwn The Fomori:  “In Celtic mythology, the Fomori are demons that live in the impenetrable darkness of the sea’s depths and in lakes and Read more…