A Student of History

February 16, 2012

Ireland: Plan to protect Hill of Tara

Filed under: Historic Preservation,Ireland — John Maass @ 8:51 am

A conservation plan has been commissioned for the State-owned lands on the Hill of Tara by the Irish Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan. The minister, in collaboration with the Office of Public Works (OPW) and the Heritage Council, has commissioned the Discovery Programme to undertake the plan. Brian Lacey of the Discovery Programme said the structure of a conservation plan is quite specific. It is recognised internationally as an ideal formula for protecting heritage and managing change in important historic places. In the summer of 2010, the Discovery Programme and its partners at NUI Galway doubled the amount of geophysical surveys on the hilltop, revealing in the process what is almost certainly the previously unknown whereabouts of the medieval manor of Tara. Archaeological works to investigate the significant degradation of the covering of the Mound of the Hostages have been completed. The Mound of the Hostages, Duma na nGiall, is one of the most prominent monuments among the concentration of prehistoric sites on the Hill of Tara.
The Tara-Skryne Preservation Group (TSPG) has welcomed Minister Deenihan’s announcement of a conservation plan. Carmel Diviney of the group, which was formed during the M3 motorway controversy, said it is a most welcome announcement to all concerned about the long-ranging state of disrepair on the Hill.
“A much sought-after comprehensive plan of management will be put in place on these State-owned lands which will ensure the preservation of one of Ireland’s most important sacred, historical, mythological and cultural sites,” she said.

From The Meath Chronicle (1 February 2012), http://tinyurl.com/7lnb3gr.

Though best known as the seat of the High Kings of Ireland, the Hill of Tara has been an important site since the late Stone Age when a passage-tomb was constructed there. Tara was at the height of its power as a political and religious centre in the early centuries after Christ. Attractions include an audio-visual show and guided tours of the site.

May 19, 2008

Old Ireland vs the New

Filed under: Ireland — John Maass @ 10:17 am

There’s an interesting article at the IHT website about how much Ireland has changed.  Most of the article focuses on Galway, but having been to Ireland in 1997, 1998, 2004 and 2007, I would agree that many changes have happened over those 10 years, and many are not great.  The so-called Celtic Tiger has made the economy tale off, but at what price!  So many trucks on the roads coming through small towns, very high prices for food, meals, pints, etc.  Much of the small town flavor of the countryside is gone too, and driving in and around Dublin is crazy.



March 3, 2008

Heaney Slams Tara Road Project

Filed under: Historic Preservation,Ireland — John Maass @ 12:00 pm

The construction of a motorway by the Irish Government through one of Ireland’s most historic areas has been condemned in a BBC Radio Ulster documentary, “Tar on Tara,” by the country’s foremost poet and 1995 Nobel Laureate, Seamus Heaney, and other international experts.

Seamus Heaney

February 15, 2008

St. Patrick’s Day to be next official US National Holiday

Filed under: Ireland — John Maass @ 12:11 pm

You can help make St. Patrick’s Day an official US National Holiday.  To do your duty, begin by clicking here.

February 1, 2008

The Feast of St. Brigid

Filed under: Ireland — John Maass @ 7:20 am

Today is the Feast of St. Brigid, one of Ireland’s most beloved saints.

 She is associated with Kildare, just west of Dublin.

Stuff collected from various websites:

Brigid’s father was Dubtach descendant of Con of the Hundred Battles, her mother Brotseach of the house of O’Connor. Her mother was said to have been a slave of Dubtach and she was sold, shortly before Brigid was born, to a Druid who lived at Faughart, a few miles from Dundalk.

The date of Brigid’s birth is disputed, but may be between 451 and 458; commonly it is taken as 453. Memories of the saint still linger around her birthplace. Her father’s family were natives of the Province of Leinster and Fr. Swayne, late Parish Priest of Kildare, claims that they were from Umaras, between Monasterevin and Rathangan in Co. Kildare. Another explanation of how she came to be born in Faughart was that her mother was visiting some relatives at the time.

In any case she was baptised in the Christian faith, receiving the name Brid or Brigid. It is said that she was reared on the milk of a white red-eared cow, the colour of the beasts of the Tuath de Danann.

From earliest childhood the stories of her kindness and miracles associated with her are told. While still a child she was put in charge of the dairy by her mother. One day she had given away so much milk and butter to poor people that none remained for the family. She feared her mother’s displeasure and so resorted to prayer. When her mother visited the dairy she found such an abundance of milk and butter that she praised the dairy maids for their industry. Brigid was also renowned for her love of animals and many stories were told of her kindness to stray and starving dogs.

The Tripartite Life of St Patrick mentions her meeting with St Patrick. We are told that while still a child she was brought to hear him preach, and that as she listened to him she fell into an ecstasy.

When Brigid came to marriageable age she decided to enter the religious life. Accompanied, it is said, by seven other young girls she left her home and travelled to Co. Meath where St Maccaille was Bishop. At first St Maccaille hesitated to take them into the religious life as they were very young, and he rather doubted their motives. However there was a great congregation in the church when Brigid and her companions entered to pray. They were all astonished when they saw a column of fire that reached to the roof of the church resting on Brigid’s head. When the Saint heard of this miracle he hesitated no longer but gave the veil to the eight young girls.

St Maccaille’s church was on Croghan Hill, in Co. Westmeath and it is here that St Brigid founded the first convent in Ireland. A large number of noble ladies entered the convent as postulants and here Brigid and her companions completed their novitiate. At the end of the novitiate Brigid and her original seven companions, journeyed to Ardagh where they made their final vows to St Mel, bishop of Ardagh and nephew of St Patrick. Here in Ardagh she founded another convent and remained for twelve years, during which time the convent flourished. At the request of many bishops she sent sisters to various parts of Ireland to establish new foundations.

St Brigid now went on a journey around Ireland. On her way she visited St Patrick who was preaching at Taillte or Telltown in Co. Meath. Having obtained St Patrick’s blessing she continued on her journey. Many stories are told of miracles and the foundation of convents in various parts of the country during that journey.

The Leinstermen were always conscious that Brigid was from their province, and they constantly asked her to return and make her home amongst them. She was offered any site in the province. She decided to make her foundation on Druim Criadh (the ridge of clay) near the Liffey, in what is now the town of Kildare. On the ridge grew a large oak tree and Brigid decided to build her oratory beneath its branches.

The new foundation prospered and developed rapidly. Soon, it is said, Drum Criadh was covered with the cells of the community. From all parts of Ireland and even from abroad girls came to join the community. Bishops and priests went to Cill Dara (the Church of the Oak), as it was now named, seeking Brigid’s advice and guidance. The poor, the sorrowful, and the afflicted flocked there in search of help and consolation, which was never refused. Kings showered gifts on the convent, and the privilege of sanctuary was conferred on the foundation, so that any who had offended against the law were safe within the precincts.

A most unusual community developed with both monks and nuns on the one site. It became necessary to have a bishop appointed to the foundation, as only a bishop could ordain priests. However the story is also told that St Mel was old, and a bit doddery, when he professed Brigid, and instead of professing her as a nun he consecrated her as a Bishop. St Brigid for that reason had all the privileges of a bishop.

In any case, St Brigid chose Conleth, a saintly hermit who lived at Old Connell (Connell of the Kings) near Newbridge.

St Conleth visited St Brigid in Kildare where they first met. He stayed some days preaching to the congregation and made a good impression. When the time came for him to return to Old Connell he mounted his chariot and asked Brigid for her blessing. He journeyed home across the Curragh plains, and it was only when he got home that he discovered that the wheel of his chariot had been loose throughout his journey, and it was a miracle brought about by Brigid that it had not fallen off and killed him.

About the year 490 St Conleth was consecrated the first Bishop of Kildare. He may also have been Abbot of the community of monks in the foundation. Brigid and Conleth seemed to have worked well together though they had a somewhat complex relationship.

A story is told of Brigid having given away the vestments which Conleth used for saying Mass, when she had nothing else to give the poor. These were vestments he had got from Italy. It appears that he was none too pleased. Brigid prayed to God with “great fervour”. Vestments exactly resembling those given away immediately appeared, and Conleth was appeased.

Despite her anxiety about Conleth’s vestments, it appears however that St Brigid continued to hold the reins firmly in her own hands and ruled over both communities, monks and nuns. Her authority is well illustrated by the story of how St Conleth met his end. He decided to go on a pilgrimage to Rome without obtaining Brigid’s permission. He did not get very far as he was attacked and killed by a wolf near Dunlavin in Co. Wicklow in 519 a.d..

There is no exact date for St Brigid’s death. It is said that she died at the age of seventy, which would make the date of her death somewhere between 521 and 528.

After her death the monastery flourished. The first Life of St Brigid was written not much later than 650, and perhaps even within a hundred years of her death. The author was a monk of the foundation in Kildare named Cogitosus. The “Life” was not really a biography as we would understand it, but rather a compilation of stories of St Brigid. It gives us a fascinating glimpse of life in Kildare some 1400 years ago. He describes the great church of Kildare where the bodies of Sts Brigid and Conleth were:

“laid on the right and left of the ornate altar and rest in tombs adorned with a refined profusion of gold, silver, gems and precious stones, with gold and silver chandeliers hanging from above and different images presenting a variety of carvings and colours”

The Annals record that in the year 836 a Danish fleet of 30 ships arrived in the Liffey and another in the Boyne. They plundered every church and abbey within the territories of Magh Liffe and Magh Breagh. They destroyed the town of Kildare with fire and sword, and carried off the shrines of St Brigid and St Conleth.

It is said that in fact in the previous year, 835, the remains of St. Brigid were removed for safe keeping to Down. However Down suffered too from the “Danes”. Accordingly her body was removed from Down and buried in a place known only to a few priests so that eventually all knowledge of her burial place was lost.

In 1185 St. Malachy was bishop of Down, and wanting to discover the burial place of St. Brigid who was supposed to have been buried with St Patrick and St Columba, prayed hard to the Lord to reveal the burial place.

A beam of light settled over a spot on the floor of the church and sure enough when St. Malachy dug at this spot he found the graves of Saints Patrick, Brigid and Columcille. Malachy petitioned Pope Urban 111 for permission to move the bodies to Down Cathedral. The move took place on 9 Jun 1186, the Feast of St. Columcille.

At the dissolution in the reign of Henry VIII, the sacred shrine was despoiled and the relics of the Saints were scattered. Luckily some were saved from destruction. The head of St. Brigid now rests in Portugal, in a chapel devoted to her in the Church of St. John the Baptist in Lumiar, near Lisbon, where her feast is celebrated yearly.

The farmers in the locality are said to regard St Brigid as their special patroness.

Below: Kildare Cathedral, which I visited in 2004.

January 29, 2008

Causeway centre proposal rejected in NI

Filed under: Ireland — John Maass @ 7:34 am

From the BBC:

Environment Minister Arlene Foster has refused a developer’s application for a privately funded visitors’ centre at the Giant’s CausewayMrs Foster told the assembly that she saw some merits in Seymour Sweeney’s proposal.  But she said that she had to turn it down on planning grounds.

The Causeway become widely known as the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’ from the 1700s when  large numbers of visitor’s came to view this amazing array of basalt columns, it is estimated that there are around 40,000 in total. Today’s visitor is free to wander over the stones but it was not always the case. Growing worldwide fame brought increasing numbers of visitors which inspired a syndicate to engage in a profitable charge’scheme to view the stones at close hand. For over a century prior to this scheme, There had been disputes of access and ownership, the stones have been fenced off, access denied and several  legal challenges made. However, in 1897 one lengthy legal battle  between this syndicate and local people who objected took place, the High Court in London recognised that a road to the stones had existed for public access to the foreshore but turned down recognition of access over the stones. The Giants Causeway Company subsequently improved the site, fenced off the stones and  levied a charge to view them at close hand. The Causeway came into public ownership in 1963 when it was bought by the National Trust but it is thanks to a small band of people who stood up for an ancient right of way in the late 1800’s that has led to this free access today. A house once stood at the point where the mini-bus now turns round, a caretaker lived there to monitor the stones and turnstile, through the Giants Gate  was a Victorian tea room –  both have long since gone.  There is nothing left of a two hundred year old tradition that existed amongst local people, who would set up small stalls along the pathway that leads to the causeway or the  guides who would show you round or the boatmen who would row you round to  Portcoon Cave or round past the Causeway to view the spectacular Amphitheatre.

January 15, 2008

New finds near Tara

Filed under: Historic Preservation,Ireland — John Maass @ 12:55 pm

A 6,000-year-old engraved megalith uncovered at Lismullin, in Ireland’s County Meath, was moved from the path of the M3 highway. The stone had been reused as building material during the medieval period in an underground, defensive structure.

Megalith found near Hill of Tara picture

January 9, 2008

Irish TV on the Hill of Tara campaign

Filed under: Historic Preservation,Ireland — John Maass @ 1:00 pm

There is a video from Irish TV on the Hill of Tara campaign, here.

November 30, 2007

This Orange should be Crushed

Filed under: Ireland — John Maass @ 1:02 pm

“The origins of the Orange Order may date from the 17th century battle for supremacy between Protestantism and Catholicism, but they have high hopes for this 21st century makeover.”  This report from the BBC is about Protestant attempts in Northern Ireland to create their own super hero for kids–based, of course, on sectarianism.  Just what the island needs…….

November 26, 2007

Ulster-American Heritage Symposium-2008

Filed under: Historic Places,Ireland,The Academy — John Maass @ 5:39 pm

The Centre for Migration Studies at the Ulster-American Folk Park, Omagh, is pleased to host next year the Seventeenth Ulster-American Heritage Symposium, 25-28 June, 2008, in partnership with the University of Ulster, Queen’s University Belfast and the National Museums and Library Service of Northern Ireland. Since 1976 the Ulster-American Heritage Symposium has met every two years, alternating between co-sponsoring universities and museums in Ulster and North America. Its purpose is to encourage scholarly study and public awareness of the historical connections between Ulster and North America including what is commonly called the Scotch-Irish or Ulster-Scots heritage. The Symposium has as its general theme the process of transatlantic emigration and settlement, and links between England, Scotland, Ireland and North America. Its approach is multi-disciplinary, encouraging dialogue between those working in different fields including history, language, literature, geography, archaeology, anthropology, religion, folklife and music.

The particular theme of the meeting in 2008 will be ‘Changing Perspectives, 1607-2007’ with the aim of presenting and exploring recent research that challenges habitual ways of thinking about the historical relationship between Ulster and North America over the last four hundred years.

I was blessed to have been chosen to be on the program at the 2004 meeting in Omagh, Tyrone, Northern Ireland, and had a wonderful time (paid for by Ohio State Univ., which made it even better).  I presented a paper on Scotch-Irish disaffection during the American Revolution in backcountry Virginia.

The Centre for Migration Studies at the Ulster-American Folk Park, 2 Mellon Rd, Castletown, Omagh, Co. Tyrone, N. Ireland, BT78 5QY.

Tel: .028 8225 6315
Fax: 028 8224 2241
Email: CentreMigStudies@ni-libraries.net

November 14, 2007

More good news from Ulster

Filed under: Ireland — John Maass @ 10:44 am

An AP Story reports that the largest Protestant paramilitary group in Northern Ireland renounced violence Sunday, officially ending the decades of terror it inflicted on the province’s Catholic minority.  The outlawed Ulster Defense Association said it was disbanding all of its armed units and would store its weapons beyond the reach of rank-and-file members, but was not willing yet to hand over its arsenal to international disarmament officials.

“The Ulster Defense Association believes that the war is over, and we are now in a new democratic dispensation that will lead to permanent political stability,” the group said, referring to the Catholic-Protestant administration established in May under terms of a 1998 peace accord.

November 8, 2007

The problems being a celebrity

Filed under: Ireland,Simple Living,The world today — John Maass @ 10:14 am

An Irish bishop of the Roman Catholic Church has some interesting things to say about fame these days, applicable not just to Ireland:

“A society which lives for celebrity will destroy not only its celebrities, but itself,” Bishop of Limerick Donal Murray said. 

The senior cleric was speaking on the subject of Religion and the Secular in Contemporary Ireland at the 10th annual Ceifin conference which opened yesterday in Ennis, a lovely town in County Clare on the west side of the Isle.

“There is nothing wrong with popularity, but becoming a celebrity is dangerous. Celebrities can be built up to an impossibly inflated position before we turn on them with an equally inflated hostility. When this happens, one can only hope that the people involved — whether pop stars or football managers or ‘personalities’ of any kind — have understood that there is more to life than this,” he told the conference.

He also is saddened by the lack of faith as well.  “A great deal of modern life proceeds as if the question of faith did not matter. We have passed from a society where faith and public manifestations of faith were the norm, to a society which is, at best, embarrassed by any public visibility of faith. Our world seems increasingly marked by what has been called ‘tranquil apostasy’.”

More is here.

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