Culture & Reference
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Hi again from Ireland where we finally have a new Government. Months after the General Election three Political Parties have banded together to form a Coalition. They are facing into a headwind though. The Covid-19 economic wreckage is about to combine with the never-ending saga that is Brexit. Austerity is predicted.
In this month's newsletter we have a tale from a remote island off Ireland's Southern coast and recall Cathbad, the mysterious Druid from Irish Mythology!
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Ireland finally has a new Government after Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and The Green Party agreed to a coalition arrangement.
With Ireland still reeling from the financial effects of the massive hit to the economy that the Covid-19 restrictions have had, it is perhaps no great surprise that these three Political Parties have agreed to some pretty big compromises in order to get the job done.
Sinn Féin will now become the main opposition Party in what may well be an important turning point in Irish Political history. With Fine Gael and Fianna Fail agreeing to work together in Government the differences between these two Parties have now never seemed smaller. And as for The Green Party, this is clearly their golden opportunity to get their core policies integrated into the fabric of Irish life.
In what surely must count as one of the greatest come-backs in the history of Irish politics Cork-man Micheál Martin has been elected Taoiseach and will serve in that office until the end of 2022, when Fine Gael will reassume the leadership, with their Party leader and former Taoiseach Leo Varadkar likely to take the top job. It is the first time in Irish history that the concept of a 'rotating Taoiseach' has been implemented.
Micheál Martin was part of the Fianna Fail Government that was in power during the demise of the 'Celtic Tiger' years, when reckless lending by the Irish banks and incredibly lax oversight by Irish regulators resulted in the economy collapsing and massive loans being provided to the country by the EU/ECB/IMF.
Fianna Fail were hammered in the 2011 General Election that followed, losing 51 out of 71 Parliament seats. It took nearly a decade to recover but Fianna Fail are now back in Government, to the amazement of many Irish commentators.
Although early cartographers' fears and ignorance have been largely dispelled by Man's adventurous spirit, some of the areas they covered are still pretty much a mystery.
Sherkin Island is one of a group of Islands in Roaringwater Bay off the Southwest coast of Cork. I visited the island a few times some years ago and have fond and amusing memories of this special place.
While staying there for a weeks holiday I remember many a lively night spend in a pub on the Island, which perhaps better remain un-named. Admittedly there is few to chose from so a reasonable guess will land you in the right place. You remember of course this was in the days of draconian pub opening and closing times, which were the curse of the drinking classes.
Sherkin Island is approximately a mile from the mainland town of Baltimore. It was in Baltimore, back then, that the local constabulary were housed and it was from there they would have to launch any surprise attack on the after hours drinkers on Sherkin.
Every effort was extended to protect the honor and good name of the guests in the pub, and to that end a great dark green velvet heavy curtain was pulled over the door as the legal drinking hours came to an end.
It should be noted that the front door of the pub faced the mainland and opening it after dark was like shining a search light across the bay. If a late night customer, having enjoyed the liquid entertainment, was to open the door without having the curtain pulled across a horrified gasp would rise from the crowd followed by friendly shouts of abuse.
The last evening I spent in this splendid establishment the forces of the law decided to raid the after hours festivities. Of course being a mile or so off shore they had to make their trip in a heavy wooden rowing boat. Luckily one of the patrons had gone to use the outdoor facilities and saw the boat leave Baltimore.
Rushing back in with the shout 'the Garda are on the way' cause everyone to rush back out for a look. The landlord who had done extensive training for such an emergency quickly produced a 'Guest Registration Book' and we were all ask to sign in a guests of his bed and breakfast. Apparently all forty or more of us were staying in his four bedrooms.
The Garda were closely observed rowing across the bay and the landlord estimated there was plenty of time for another pint before their arrival.
They finally arrived and the rowing crew waited at the landing while the Sergeant came to investigate the carry on at the pub.
The landlord knew him well and told him we were all guests and showed him the registration book.
'That's grand' he said, 'I just came over to check.'
The landlord anxious to keep relations on a firm footing offered the good Sergeant a pint, which was gratefully accepted. 'It's a long old row over the bay, you get a thirst on you' he said,
'God bless all here!', he said raising his glass.
find out more
The mysterious Cathbad was the Druid to King Conor MacNessa of Ulster who served not only as his advisor but also eventually as a means of checking the excessive use of power by the King.
The word Druid can mean 'oak knower' or 'oak seer' and Druids were often seen as members of an exclusive occupational class, and also as sorcerers. It is generally accepted that the Druid was a type of intermediary, a conduit to the Otherworld.
The centre of a Druidic ritual was in a sacred place located close to trees. The favorite trees of the Druids were the Oak trees and the Rowan trees and it was on wattles of this tree that a Druid would sleep to gain prophetic visions from their dreams.
A Druid's opinion was always sought on matters of law and tradition. They could identify wrong-doers, interpret dreams, cure illnesses and give shrewd military advice. While the Druid was believed to possess mystical powers they should not be confused with 'the bard' who was more often a leading figure such as a poet whose verse was believed to have magical connotations. The teachings of the Druid were based on the five elements: earth, sea, sky, sun and moon.
Cathbad held the highest office at the Court of King Conor MacNessa. As was the tradition at the time no one was permitted to speak before the King, but even the King himself waited to hear first from Cathbad!
Cathbad's prophecies are pivotal in many of the stories of that ancient time such as the occasion when Cuchulainn took up arms after Cathbad predicted that anyone to do so for the first time on that day would live a memorable, albeit short life. Immediately the boy hero Cuchulainn took up arms and slay three champions who had long dominated Ulster, instantly becoming a hero.
It was also Cathbad's prophecy about Deirdre of the Sorrows that sets in motion her tragic tale.
When Deirdre was born, Cathbad was able to see from the cry she gave when she was still in the womb that she would bring death and destruction after her. Conor MacNessa tried to avert this prophecy, but his pride and jealousy was so great that he could not let Deirdre go, as a grown woman, to be with the man she loved, Naoise. After luring Deirdre and the sons of Ushnu back to Ulster under a false promise of peace, the King enlisted Cathbad's help in subduing the fearsome brothers.
Cathbad agreed to help, only on condition that Conor not kill the sons of Ushnu. Cathbad surrounded the warriors with a spell that made them feel as if they were enveloped by water. They had to swim until their arms were so tired that they dropped their weapons. The King then seized his chance and had the brothers executed, keeping the letter of his promise by having someone else actually despatch them from the mortal realm.
Cathbad was furious at the King's misuse of his powers and put a curse on Conor MacNessa: that his line would end with him, and he would have no descendants after him. This was a terrible curse in a culture that prized a person's legacy and lineage.
King Conor MacNessa was proud though and thought himself safe, having many sons. But he underestimated the power of the Druid's curse and over the course of his life, one by one, all his sons died, and by the time he was an old man only the exile Cormac Cond Longas still survived, living in Connaught. The King asked Cormac to come back to Ulster to succeed him. Cormac agreed and set out on his journey to meet his father, only for a deadly accident to befall him on the way, fulfilling Cathbad's curse.
Other legends of Cathbad have it that the Druid Cathbad was in fact the father of King Conor MacNessa, making the curse he placed upon him even more sinister. It is told that the Princess Nessa had consulted with Cathbad, enquiring of him what that particular day would be suited to. He answered:
'This day is auspicious for begetting a King upon a Queen!'
His meaning was clear and he lay with Nessa begetting the son Conchobar, later known as Conor, who would become the King of all Ulster.
Cathbad is the quintessential Druid of Irish mythology. The relationship between the King and Druid was of extreme importance, for it determined the fortune of the King and that of his people.
If there was a good King there was seen to be good corn and meat and therefore prosperity for the people. Thus the Druid represents the child of wisdom, born of the male sun representing the cult of the King with mother earth symbolized by the female Goddess. Despite possessing great knowledge, a Druid also held great power. Not only did Druids serve a high king, but they also curtailed the power of that ruler.
This was especially true in the tales of Cathbad and King Conor MacNessa with some tellings having it that Cathbad cursed his very own son, thus ending the line of Conor MacNessa, the great King of Ulster.
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I hope that you have enjoyed this issue!
by Michael Green,
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