Culture & Reference
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Hello again from Ireland where the country seems to be entering into a second wave of the dreaded Covid 19 epidemic. Cases have gone up recently putting many in fear of a second lockdown having to be implemented.
In this month's newsletter we recall the wonderful Cesair - the first woman in Ireland, We also have a story from Lady Wilde and have another witty offering from Mattie Lennon.
If you have an article or story you would like to share then please do send it to us.
Until next time,
P.S. Please Do Forward this Newsletter to a friend or relative. If you have a website or Facebook page or Blog (or whatever!) then you can help us out by putting a link on it to our website: www.ireland-information.com
Ireland has been placed on Level 3 of the Government's graduated scale of Covid-19 measures. Level 3 involves a number of limitations that are designed to quell the spread of the virus including:
- Only visitors from 1 other household are allowed
- No Social or Family gatherings are allowed
- A maximum of 25 people may attend a Wedding
- No indoor events ( such as parties, meetings ) are allowed
- No sporting events allowed
- Only 'take-away' or delivery food service allowed for restaurants
- Citizens must stay within their own County (except for work)
The restrictions are particularly hard on Restaurants, cafes and pubs, many of which have only recently re-opened.
Court actions have been taken against the Irish Government by several groups including Ryanair and Press Up Ltd. (who are one of Ireland's largest Leisure and Hospitality groups). The Press Up Ltd. group operate 55 premises including 5 hotels, 11 bars and a plethora of restaurants and are claiming that they will suffer losses of 20 Million Euro if the Government restrictions are extended to the end of the 2020. In their Court action the group are also claiming that the restrictions are unconstitutional.
This Court case could have massive implications for the Irish Government if the action is successful and would represent a stunning blow to Government efforts to quell the epidemic in Ireland.
Already there are fissures developing in Irish society in regard to the Covid-19 restrictions being unilaterally imposed by the Irish Government on its citizens.
Anti-mask and anti-restriction demonstrations and marches have seen relatively small attendance in Ireland so far. But they have begun to attract more and more attention while the recent recommendation by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), that the country should proceed from Level 2 to Level 5 was met with disdain in many quarters.
Including it seems in Government, where the recommendation was dramatically refused, with the country moving to Level 3 instead.
Despite an encouraging performance in Bratislava where the Irish football team created several golden chances to score, the Irish national team lost out on penalties and will not be participating in Euro '21.
The defeat to Slovakia was especially difficult to bear given that some of the Euro '21 games are scheduled to be played in Dublin, although everything is up in the air, with the shadow of Covid-19 extending to not just Football but to just about every major sporting occasion.
The team performance was good, with long passages of possession football being introduced into the Irish style by new manager Stephen Kenny. The main thing missing from the team is that which is hardest to find: a cutting edge. If a formula to get some goals can be found then there are genuine grounds for optimism for the Irish.
The Irish Supreme Court has legally declared Subway Rolls as not actually being bread, due to the high sugar content.
Irish law since 1972 has decreed that bread must contain less than 2% of sugar or fat, relative to the weight of the flour used. This is important as breads who do meet this standard are exempt from VAT (sales tax). Amazingly the sugar content of the Subway rolls is approximately 10% (that's a lot of sugar people).
The case was taken by a Galway Franchisee who will now have to accept that the Subway rolls are in fact 'baked goods'. In Ireland anyway.
Templeboden cemetery is a couple of hundred yards from my humble abode. It is not, however, our family burial ground due to marriage arrangements some generations ago the details of which I won't bore you with. By listening to the assembled mourners at numerous funerals at the graveyard gate, I as a young lad, added to my already dubious store of knowledge.
One could even pick up information on one's pedigree of which one had been previously unaware. Shameen from Ballinastockan was a static quantity at such a gathering. The oldest person in the area couldn't recall Shameen ever having missed a wake or funeral.
As one rhymester put it:
'Not a wake or a funeral for five miles around But you're sure to find Shameen in there with the crowd.
And at every funeral he could nearly always be relied on to come up with a unique if not philosophical statement. Like the day that the discussion came up about the construction of Templeboden Bridge (or 'Tompleboordin Brudge' as we locals call it) which took place during the 1840s.
We are a proud people and we always like to emphasize that there was no local died from hunger during the Potato Famine. Likewise it is always stated that the bridge was built through local contributions but was not a relief scheme although such schemes were in operation in the area.
One day, when the project was being discussed, a man said:
'All the same, the relief schemes were a great help to the people of this area.'
'Be God they were', replied Shameen,
'They would have died with the hunger around here on'y for the famine.'
Then there was the day when a visiting historian, who was obviously well versed in the part played by the pike-carrying United Irishmen of Wicklow in the 1798 rebellion.
He gazed on the rows of weathered granite tombstones, many off-parallel with the perpendicular and resembling the oral cavity of a septuagenarian rustic who hadn't ever graced a dentist's surgery, he commented:
I'd say there are 'ninety-eight' men buried in there.'
'Be God there is', said Shameen, 'Or there could be over a hundred in it.'
There were two identical twin brothers in the area and even in old age nobody could tell them apart. Eventually one of them died at an advanced age and the surviving brother was, of course, the chief mourner. He was approached, at the graveyard gate by Shameen who asked:
'Was it yourself or your brother that died?'
Shameen's chosen apparel was, at all times, wellingtons, dungarees and a hat that had seen better days. Even by the standards of the day personal hygiene wasn't high on his list of priorities but he did shave... infrequently... with the open or cut-throat-razor.
Among the many skills which he lacked was the ability to put a keen edge on the razor. One night at a wake the subject of whetting came up for discussion among the assembled males (some barely of shaving age).
Many suggestions were put forward by those who considered themselves knowledgeable in that field. Everything from: 'finish it off on your forearm' to 'give it a rub around the outside of a two-pound jam-pot' was put forward as the recipe for a fine edge.
Shameen listened attentively and took on board one piece of advice in particular.
Next day when he arrived at the funeral his face was a sight... it was in bits... It would have been a hematologists Paradise. His opening line, as he gingerly touched one jaw, was:
'I don't give a **** what ye say lads, the scythe-stone is not the thing for the razor'.
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Cesair was the leader of the earliest inhabitants of Ireland, the people who settled in Ireland before even the time of the Biblical flood.
Her exploits are recorded in the ancient manuscript 'Lebor Gabála Érenn', also known as the 'Book of Invasions' as it chronicled the arrival of the earliest peoples who inhabited Ireland. First were the people of Cesair, then the people of Partholon, the people of Nemed, the mysterious Fir Bolg, the supernatural Tuatha De Danann, and finally the Milesians who are the Gaels from which the modern people of Ireland are descended.
Cesair (pronounced 'sesser'), was the granddaughter of Noah, who was refused entry onto the Ark by her grandfather and so decided to create three Arks of her own.
When Cesair was but ten years old her foster father, a priest in Egypt, told her to gather together a group and set out in order to escape the flood that was to soon follow. She built a fleet of three ships which she populated with as many capable women as she could find, each possessing a different skill. When her own father Bith was refused entry onto the Ark, along with Fintan Mac Bochra and Ladra, Cesair offered to bring these three men to safety as long as they acknowledged her leadership.
They set sail for Inis Fail (the land of destiny, Ireland), reasoning that as Ireland was as yet unpopulated by man that no sin could have ever been committed there, and so would be safe from the flood sent to cleanse the world of evil.
The journey was perilous and took seven years but finally the people of Cesair arrived in Ireland. It was the year 2361 BC according to 'The Annals of the Four Masters', but only one ship had survived the journey, this containing fifty women and three men.
They decided to divide the women into three groups, each group to take one of the men to populate the land. They also divided up the sheep they had brought with them (the first sheep to come to Ireland). Cesair allocated herself to Fintan's group. Banba, a great warrior woman, was the leader of Ladra's group.
Now this was a huge responsibility for the three male warriors who remained with these women. And for Bith it was too much and he soon succumbed to illness, having been overwhelmed by the responsibility of impregnating sixteen women. He became the first man to be buried in Ireland.
Cesair and Alba divided his women and brought them into their own groups. Ladra, incapable of surviving the now increased greater demands, also died, which left Fintan as the only man on an island of fifty women!
Feeling inadequate in the face of this mammoth task, his reaction was perhaps unsurprising: Fintan fled.
He hid out in a mountain cave and when the flood struck he took the form of a salmon fish, and then a hawk, surviving for over five thousand years.
Cesair was broken-hearted at having been abandoned by her great love and died shortly afterwards. As for the remaining women they were all washed away in the flood, all apart from Banba. It is remembered that Banba and Fintan, the only two to survive, later gave existence to the mysterious and supernatural Formorians.
Cesair was the first inhabitant of Ireland, a fantastic leader able to exert her authority and power over all who followed here. She was unwilling to wait patiently while a wrathful God planned her extermination! She is thought to have been the earliest Irish Goddess, displaying power and sexuality, common traits in Irish Goddesses that were to follow her.
When Seanchan, the renowned Bard, was made Ard-File or Chief Poet of Ireland, Guaire, the king of Connaught, to do him honour, made a great feast for him and the whole Bardic Association.
And all the professors and learned men went to the king's house, the great ollaves of poetry and history and music, and of the arts and sciences; and the learned, aged females, Grug and Grag and Grangait; and all the chief poets and poetesses of Ireland, an amazing number.
But Guaire the king entertained them all splendidly, so that the ancient pathway to his palace is still called 'The Road of the Dishes.'
And each day he asked, 'How fares it with my noble guests?' But they were all discontented, and wanted things he could not get for them. So he was very sorrowful, and prayed to God to be delivered from 'the learned men and women, a vexatious class.'
Still the feast went on for three days and three nights. And they drank and made merry. And the whole Bardic Association entertained the nobles with the choicest music and professional accomplishments.
But Seanchan sulked and would neither eat nor drink, for he was jealous of the nobles of Connaught. And when he saw how much they consumed of the best meats and wine, he declared he would taste no food till they and their servants were all sent away out of the house.
And when Guaire asked him again, 'How fares my noble guest, and this great and excellent people?' Seanchan answered, 'I have never had worse days, nor worse nights, nor worse dinners in my life.' And he ate nothing for three whole days.
Then the king was sorely grieved that the whole Bardic Association should be feasting and drinking while Seanchan, the chief poet of Erin, was fasting and weak. So he sent his favourite serving-man, a person of mild manners and cleanliness, to offer special dishes to the bard.
'Take them away,' said Seanchan; 'I'll have none of them.'
'And why, O Royal Bard?' asked the servitor.
'Because thou art an uncomely youth,' answered Seanchan. 'Thy grandfather was chip-nailed--I have seen him; I shall eat no food from thy hands.'
Then the king called a beautiful maiden to him, his foster-daughter, and said, 'Lady, bring thou this wheaten cake and this dish of salmon to the illustrious poet, and serve him thyself.' So the maiden went.
But when Seanchan saw her he asked: 'Who sent thee hither, and why hast thou brought me food?'
'My lord the king sent me, O Royal Bard,' she answered, 'because I am comely to look upon, and he bade me serve thee with food myself.'
'Take it away,' said Seanchan, 'thou art an unseemly girl, I know of none more ugly. I have seen thy grandmother; she sat on a wall one day and pointed out the way with her hand to some travelling lepers. How could I touch thy food?' So the maiden went away in sorrow.
And then Guaire the king was indeed angry, and he exclaimed, 'My malediction on the mouth that uttered that! May the kiss of a leper be on Seanchan's lips before he dies!'
Now there was a young serving-girl there, and she said to Seanchan, 'There is a hen's egg in the place, my lord, may I bring it to thee, O Chief Bard?'
'It will suffice,' said Seanchan; 'bring it that I may eat.'
But when she went to look for it, behold the egg was gone.
'Thou hast eaten it,' said the bard, in wrath.
'Not so, my lord,' she answered; 'but the mice, the nimble race, have carried it away.'
'Then I will satirise them in a poem,' said Seanchan; and forthwith he chanted so bitter a satire against them that ten mice fell dead at once in his presence.
'Tis well,' said Seanchan; 'but the cat is the one most to blame, for it was her duty to suppress the mice. Therefore I shall satirise the tribe of the cats, and their chief lord, Irusan, son of Arusan; for I know where he lives with his wife Spit-fire, and his daughter Sharp-tooth, with her brothers the Purrer and the Growler. But I shall begin with Irusan himself, for he is king, and answerable for all the cats.'
And he said: 'Irusan, monster of claws, who strikes at the mouse but lets it go; weakest of cats. The otter did well who bit off the tips of thy progenitor's ears, so that every cat since is jagged-eared. Let thy tail hang down; it is right, for the mouse jeers at thee.'
Now Irusan heard these words in his cave, and he said to his daughter Sharp-tooth: 'Seanchan has satirised me, but I will be avenged.'
'Nay, father,' she said, 'bring him here alive that we may all take our revenge.'
'I shall go then and bring him,' said Irusan; 'so send thy brothers after me.
Now when it was told to Seanchan that the King of the Cats was on his way to come and kill him, he was timorous, and besought Guaire and all the nobles to stand by and protect him. And before long a vibrating, impressive, impetuous sound was heard, like a raging tempest of fire in full blaze. And when the cat appeared he seemed to them of the size of a bullock; and this was his appearance:
rapacious, panting, jagged-eared, snub-nosed, sharp-toothed, nimble, angry, vindictive, glare-eyed, terrible, sharp-clawed. Such was his similitude. But he passed on amongst them, not minding till he came to Seanchan; and him he seized by the arm and jerked him up on his back, and made off the way he came before any one could touch him; for he had no other object in view but to get hold of the poet.
Now Seanchan, being in evil plight, had recourse to flattery. 'O Irusan,' he exclaimed, 'how truly splendid thou art: such running, such leaps, such strength, and such agility! But what evil have I done, O Irusan, son of Arusan? spare me, I entreat. I invoke the saints between thee and me, O great King of the Cats.'
But not a bit did the cat let go his hold for all this fine talk, but went straight on to Clonmacnoise, where there was a forge; and St. Kieran happened to be there standing at the door.
'What!' exclaimed the saint; 'is that the Chief Bard of Erin on the back of a cat? Has Guaire's hospitality ended in this?' And he ran for a red-hot bar of iron that was in the furnace, and struck the cat on the side with it, so that the iron passed through him, and he fell down lifeless.
'Now my curse on the hand that gave that blow!' said the bard, when he got upon his feet.
'And wherefore?' asked St. Kieran.
'Because,' answered Seanchan, 'I would rather Irusan had killed me, and eaten me every bit, that so I might bring disgrace on Guaire for the bad food he gave me; for it was all owing to his wretched dinners that I got into this plight.'
And when all the other kings heard of Seanchan's misfortunes, they sent to beg he would visit their courts. But he would have neither kiss nor welcome from them, and went on his way to the bardic mansion, where the best of good living was always to be had. And ever after the kings were afraid to offend Seanchan.
So as long as he lived he had the chief place at the feast, and all the nobles there were made to sit below him, and Seanchan was content. And in time he and Guaire were reconciled; and Seanchan and all the ollaves, and the whole Bardic Association, were feasted by the king for thirty days in noble style, and had the choicest of viands and the best of French wines to drink, served in goblets of silver.
And in return for his splendid hospitality the Bardic Association decreed unanimously a vote of thanks to the king. And they praised him in poems as 'Guaire the Generous,' by which name he was ever after known in history, for the words of the poet are immortal.
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