Who are the Irish, and where did we come from? These are such academic questions. What we should really be asking is what power this island holds over us, and in what way does it transform and transfix us upon our arrival here? It's not in the origins of the Irish we should be looking, for these lines of inquiry will lead to arbitrary conclusions and follow dull lines of material and conventional inquiry.
In 1992, it was suggested that the sacred site of Uisneach, the traditional "centre" of Ireland located in present-day Westmeath, was aligned with the Loughcrew megalithic complex and Slieve Gullion for summer solstice sunrise. Anthony Murphy investigates the remarkable accuracy of this 63-mile alignment using Google Earth.
The late Irish poet William Butler Yeats needs no introduction. He is probably Ireland's most famous poet, and is acknowledged as a significant figure in literary modernism and twentieth-century European letters. Here, I look at one of his poems (and one of my favourites), the Song of Wandering Aengus, and examine briefly some of its mythical and symbolic importance.
My journeys to and from the megalithic monuments of Brú na Bóinne always involve the Drogheda to Slane Road, the N51. Sometimes, I take a left at Townley Hall on the old Dowth road. More often than not, I carry on past that turn, through Sheepgrange and Rossin, and hang a left after Dolly Mitchell's pub at Monknewtown. I feel as if I've been travelling those roads for centuries.
While the whole population of Ireland and people of Irish descent around the world celebrate Saint Patrick's Day this coming Saturday, not many people will know that the day after, March 18th, is dedicated to Patrick's wife, Sheelah. Yes, Saint Patrick was married, according to tradition!
A team of researchers has begun searching for "the lost landscapes" of the Irish Sea that were flooded as the sea level rose in ancient times. The team, from the Irish Marine Institute and IT Sligo, has joined with a University of Bradford "Lost Frontiers" programme to explore the extensive submerged landscapes between Ireland and Britain.
A new study in the journal Nature suggests that the Neolithic population of ancient Britain was almost completely replaced by newcomers, the Beaker people, by about 2500BC. The huge study involved the extraction of DNA from 400 ancient Europeans, including samples from Neolithic, Copper Age and Bronze Age peoples, 226 of them from the Beaker period.
I was honoured to be asked to launch the 11th annual Brigid of Faughart Festival in Dundalk on Thursday 11th January 2018. Here are the notes of the talk which I gave at the launch night, which was held in the Louth County Library in Dundalk.
Professor George Eogan's new book, 'The Passage Tomb Archaeology of the Great Mound at Knowth' is an enormous tome and a hugely comprehensive and impressive account of the four decades of excavations at the monument.
As we say goodbye to 2017 on this, New Year's Eve, I've decided to take a trawl through my photographs of ancient sites from the past 12 months and pick out my favourites for you to enjoy. I hope you like them as much as I loved taking them. Happy New Year!
Artist Lar Dooley has reviewed Mythical Ireland: New Light on the Ancient Past. Below is the text of his review.
On Wednesday and Thursday, December 20th and 21st, the winter solstice celebrations at Newgrange will be broadcast live on the internet by Ireland's Ancient East in conjunction with the OPW. Visit this page at 8.30am on both mornings to watch the broadcast below.
I feel honoured and privileged to be able to stand in the doorway of Síd in Broga on the shortest mornings of the year and to be present at this special moment in the same place as those distant ancestors once stood.
If, like most people, you are not among the winter solstice lottery winners who will have exclusive access to the chamber of Newgrange during the coming days around winter solstice, 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 approach the winter solstice, and the celebrated illumination of the 5,200-year-old chamber of Newgrange by the rising sun on the shortest days, I've decided to pick out my favourite images of the famous megalithic monument from the past 12 months. Some of these choices were easy, as in a few cases I think the images are very dramatic and unique. In other cases, I had a harder choice. There are a lot of very good images that didn't make the final gallery.
In 2016, in the lead-up to the winter solstice at Newgrange, I released a series of images called The 12 Days of Solstice. Each day I released a new image until the day of the solstice itself. Here is that series of images, in one gallery, for you to enjoy.
A new book retells an ancient myth about how the great god Lugh of the Tuatha Dé Danann defeated the Fomorian king, Balor of the Evil Eye. The story is beautifully retold from versions of the tale told in County Donegal.
There are many archaeological monuments and features in the Brú na Bóinne complex. Some of these are very obvious in the landscape – there are passage-tombs, mounds, enclosures, standing stones and cursus monuments. However, others that are less obvious provide archaeologists with many questions.
It's been a busy few days here at Mythical Ireland headquarters. I've been packaging copies of my new book, Mythical Ireland: New Light on the Ancient Past, to be posted out to all those who pre-ordered copies here on the website.
Sometimes, the most interesting coincidences occur. Today, I was lucky to have been able to spend a few hours at Loughcrew in glorious winter weather. There was a mix of mist and fog, sunshine and cloud and the atmospheric conditions made for some wonderful photography.
A fascinating discovery in the darkness of a cave in County Clare has forced archaeologists to rewrite the history of Ireland. A bear bone found in the cave pushes back the date of human presence in Ireland by 2,500 years - to 12,500 years ago.
The first copy of my latest book, Mythical Ireland: New Light on the Ancient Past, was received within the past week. This is my fifth book and my third work of non-fiction. In this video, I give you a short reading from the book.
It's competition time. To celebrate the dual launch of my new book Mythical Ireland: New light on the Ancient Past, and the new-look www.mythicalireland.com website, I am giving one lucky follower the chance to win a copy of the new book.
The following is an excerpt from an extraordinarily prescient short story written by George William Russell (AE) in 1897. It appears to portray, in beautifully poetic and descriptive prose, the sun illuminating the chamber of Newgrange – long before the discovery and repair of the roof box in the 1960s. Until the excavations, the winter illumination of the interior of Newgrange hadn't been seen for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Watch the video below.
It's not exactly megalithic, although it was built with lots of stone. It's not exactly Neolithic, belonging more to the Medieval period. But the Old Abbey, tucked away in the centre of Drogheda not far from the main street, is a real historical and archaeological treasure. Its proper title is the Abbey and Hospital of St. Mary d'Urso.
In this video, I take a look at the location of many of the major monuments of the Boyne Valley using Google Earth, a free program which is very useful to those researching the megalithic sites. Google Earth has high-resolution satellite imagery of Ireland and in this video, we take a look at the situation of Newgrange, Knowth, Dowth, Tara, Slane, Millmount, and some of the other prehistoric sites of the Boyne region.
Here is a video I made last night (2nd November 2017) at the end of a long but exhilarating day, on which the new Mythical Ireland website went live AND I received the first printed copy of my new book.
What a momentous day it's been today. I didn't plan it this way, I can assure you, but the first two copies of my new book, Mythical Ireland: New Light on the Ancient Past arrived at my publisher The Liffey Press. And the new Mythical Ireland website went live too. On the same day. And it's Samhain!
The first evening of the new year was a glorious one at Newgrange in the Boyne Valley. The first sunset of 2017 was magnificent, followed by a descent into twilight that featured rich hues and colours, and then the crescent moon next to Venus, the Evening Star, made it a really gorgeous close to the day. In a couple of the shots, you might also catch a glimpse of Mars, which was trailing the Moon and Venus. I was lucky to be able to spend time there putting together this very special time lapse video. It might have been cold, but it was lovely.
The following is taken from a chapter of Candle of Vision by A.E. (George William Russell), published in 1918. The chapter is called The Celtic Imagination.To one who lay on the mound which is called the Brugh on the Boyne a form like that the bards speak of Angus appeared, and it cried: "Can you not see me? Can you not hear me? I come from the Land of Immortal Youth."
This large henge (embanked enclosure) located beside the River Boyne at Brugh na Bóinne, known on archaeological maps simply as Site P, has been identified tentatively by archaeologist Geraldine Stout as the site referred to in ancient lore as Caisel nOengussa, the Cashel of Oengus.
Many people look for meaning in the symbols carved in stone at the great monuments of the Boyne. Sometimes the most facile examination (and perhaps the most puerile too!) is to indulge in pareidolia. When I took this image at Knowth/Cnogba today, I was conscious of the image of the Cailleach, having been reading about her quite a lot lately. I will quote the lovely words of the late Patricia Monaghan, whose book 'The Red-Haired Girl From the Bog' I am currently reading:"Rock is the hag's prime element, her stony spine.... Cailleach time moves form moon to moon, harvest to harvest. It is pagan time, rooted in the eternal return rather than the once-off redemption."
37 years ago, in 1980, Martin Brennan, Jack Roberts and their team of researchers made several significant discoveries relating to the astronomical alignment of several ancient chambered cairns (passage-tombs) in the Boyne Valley region. One such discovery, made in early August of that year, was the apparent alignment of the passage of Cairn S at Carnbane East, Loughcrew. Sitting in the chamber of the (now roofless) cairn, Brennan and his team saw that the Lughnasadh cross-quarter sunset was visible through the passage.
Back in February of this year, at Imbolc, myself, Ken Williams and Lar Dooley witnessed the sunrise shining into the ancient passageway of Cairn U at Carnbane East, Loughcrew. That day, I noticed that when I was crouched in the chamber of Cairn U, the Hill of Tara was visible through the entrance of the passage. Based on that observation, I figured that a viewer on the Hill of Tara might see the sun setting over the hills of Loughcrew at Bealtaine (May) and Lughnasadh (August).