Well, Holy God! Irish Government to Levy Landowners With Holy Wells


Holy Well, c.1870. Image: National Library of Ireland / Flickr Commons [NLI Ref.: STP_2245]

For those unfamiliar with current Irish affairs, Uisce Éireann/Irish Water is the embattled new national water utility company which has been making headlines around the world because of fierce public opposition to its very organization, implementation and poor track record so far.

In what could turn out to be a high water mark in public outrage, not only will households have to register a second time – it now seems apparent that, following recent legal advice, the government is set to rush through emergency legislation which will enable them to capitalize on the presence of Holy Wells sited on privately owned land.

According to insiders in the National Monuments Division, the action on the part of the government is designed to fend off any potential legal challenges to the state bodies monopoly on water supply. It is understood that a recent repeal of outdated laws on the statute books – in particular, Anglo-Norman rights & privileges enshrined within the fourteenth century Codex Stultorum – brought to light a potential loophole with regard to landowners with ancient holy wells on their property. In order to avoid any such pitfalls, the new legislation will enable Irish Water to classify such wells as additional water sources and to levy extra charges against those landowners for the same.

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Patrick: Six Years A Slave

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Statue of St. Patrick, Foghill, Co. Mayo (Image: Author)

“I am a slave of a foreign people…”

Some time ago, I was kindly invited by Abarta Audio Guides to write a little something on the ‘Historical Patrick”. I jumped at the chance.

Abarta are an Irish company who specialise in audiobooks and audioguides concerning history, heritage, archaeology, culture and folklore. It also happens to be owned and run by archaeologists. There’s something special about heritage material produced by people who have researched, excavated, visited, surveyed and physically held such subject matter in their own hands. It’s comes across in their approach and work. Detail and perspective. I’d like to think it might occasionally come across in mine.

The medium of audio is something which I have been interested in exploring for a while. I’m a podcast and radio fiend who inhales historical media. Abarta gave me the absolute freedom to do what I wanted. The brief was to come up with something engaging for people interested in learning more about the Historical Patrick – something which would explore the real life person underpinning his later saintly namesake.

We wanted to give an idea of his overall background within Ireland and Britain of the time, the landscape he would have witnessed and to give a flavour of what is known about the physical, social and cultural realities. We wanted to let his own story, his own words from his own hands, take centre stage whilst also retaining a wider academic framework informing the narrative. We wanted something which would reflect the rich details, issues and complexities involved in studying Patrick and his works alongside his importance and place in the development of later Irish identity and tradition.

The resulting audiobook, ‘Patrick; Six Years A Slave’, has just been released.

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Irish Times and Misappropriation: Wren will it ever end?


National Library of Ireland / Flickr Commons / NLI Ref.: DIG5

Following on from last summers sterling example of digital misappropriation of other peoples text in a national newspaper, I am somewhat saddened (but not surprised) to bring to your attention the latest ‘In A Word’ column in the Irish Times (on the theme of St. Stephens Day/Wren Traditions in Ireland) which was published online at midnight last night (Monday, 00:00, Dec 29, 2014).

Aside from the usual hokey pokey ‘celtic’ codswallop and ‘druid lore’ that happily doubles as ‘informed’ speculation these days (despite a complete absence of contemporary historical or archaeological attestation) – it is the second half of the small piece that is of most interest. After an general introduction of a few sentences and the requisite quotation of the famous Wren Boys Rhyme (given the inclusion of ‘chorus’ in some of the lines, presumably taken from here ) the author then indulges us with some nuggets of ancient knowledge concerning Wren traditions.

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An Archaeology of Star Wars: A Long Time Ago On An Island Far Far Away

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View from Skellig Michael – Image: regienbb / flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Rumours abound that this Thanksgiving weekend in the States will see the release of the first teaser trailer/preview of the new Star Wars (7) film – scenes for which were shot on the early medieval monastic island of Skellig Michael, Co. Kerry. In anticipation, here’s a little something on the early history and archaeology of Skellig Michael itself – and why its perhaps appropriate that ‘an unearthly corner of planet earth, left behind on an island far, far away’ continues to be (re)used as the setting for a re-booted mythical blockbuster. Or something.

What better place to depict an ancient, mystical, martial asceticism in a galaxy far, far away than an actual ancient, eremitic, settlement dripping with stone-cold monastic austerity, located at what was for centuries the very ends of the earth, seven miles off the very tip of a western Irish peninsula?

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‘When all about you are losing theirs': The Provenance & Sale of Early Irish Archaeological Artefacts


Tandragee man, Armagh Cathedral (COI) – Image: Eelco / Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

A week too late unfortunately, but I recently became aware of yet another soul destroying sale of important Irish archaeological artefacts – right here in Dublin.  On Novemeber 8th last, in their ‘History and Literature’ auction, Whyte’s Auctioneers included  two ‘Iron Age stone heads’ for sale, amongst other Irish archaeological items. The stone sculptures could be early medieval in date, particularly the one associated with Lorrha, Co. Tipperary, although the other one bears strong similarities to several other insular stone figures, now housed in Armagh cathedral, including the famous Tanderagee Stone Figure. Whether Late Prehistoric, or Early Christian, such artefacts provide extremely rare evidence of monumentalized ritual sculpture from a very early period of Irish history/prehistory (although, without proper context, they can tell us precious little else about our ancestors).

The provenance of one of them is given as In the ownership of a family at Lorrha, Co. Tipperary for c. 100 years. A hundred years ago: 1912. If they know this, they should have a good idea where it was “found”.

The provenance of the other is given as From a 300 year old house, Claregalway, Co. Galway. 

These artefacts are scattered all over the country, in churches, in ruined abbeys, castles, houses, walls, side of the road etc. What is to stop people chiselling away at what surrounds them and then carry them off? Decency and a sense of heritage usually does. But, if people see there is money to be made on these artefacts, they may not last much longer in situ in the countryside.

‘Selling cultural heritage’, Pultes Scotorum Blog

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Saints in Scottish Place-Names


Image: Internet Archive Book Images / “The archaeology and prehistoric annals of Scotland” (1851) / Flickr (Public Domain)

Christmas has come early here at Vox Hib HQ with the very welcome and long awaited launch of the Database of Scottish Hagiotoponyms, aka Saints in Scottish Place-Names

This website is the result of a project, ‘Commemorations of Saints in Scottish Place-Names’, funded by a Research Project Grant from The Leverhulme Trust (2010-13), and undertaken by staff in the University of Glasgow’s School of Humanities (Celtic & Gaelic, and HATII).
Professor Thomas Owen Clancy (Principal Investigator)
Dr Rachel Butter and Gilbert Márkus (Researchers) & Matthew Barr (Systems Developer)
The database that has been assembled presents the fruits of our research. It contains over 5000 places, 13,000 place-names, and some 750 saints potentially commemorated in these names.

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‘All the Rabble Rout': Swimming With Saints at Lahinch, Co. Clare


Image: Andrew Miller / Flickr / (CC BY-NC 2.0)

I love me an auld folklore mystery. Especially when it involves the folklore of the west coast of Ireland. Throw in the possibility that it may contain enshrined elements of past ritual activity associated with surviving archaeology and I’m all yours. So when DrBeachcombing of Beachcombing’s Bizarre History Blog recently sent notice of a fantastic nugget of folklore concerning an 1830s Bathing Mystery at Lahinch (Co. Clare) which was classified by stuffy antiquarians as a ‘Pagan Observance on the West Coast of Ireland’… needless to say, he had me at ‘WTF’.

For the main event and details you should read the original post by DrB, which involves anonymous nineteenth century correspondence, a presidential address to the Folklore Society and the mysterious and scandalous bathing habits of the local population of nineteenth century Lahinch. These appear to have involved naked males, wooden implements of mass destruction, ceremonial procession, obscured rituals shielded from profane eyes and wild pagan delight along the lines of the Wicker Man afterwards. What are you still doing here? Read it.

“A sort of horror seemed to hang over everything until the bathing ceremony was completed, and everyone, particularly the women, seemed anxious to keep out of the line of procession, while the ceremony was strictly guarded from the observation of the ‘profane’. As soon as it was over, all the rabble rout, both male and female, of the village flocked about the performers, and for some time kept up loud shouts.”

Laurence Gomme, Presidential address to the Folklore Society, 1892

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The Rare Aul Times: Old Photos of Dublin and The Way They Might Look At You While Being Lifted Wholesale Without Attribution


Pipa Sigmund Horn (Image: Carlos Rincón/ Xarls R. – Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

You know all those social media accounts/pages that ”specialize” in sharing old photographs? The ones who don’t attribute or credit the very photos they trade in, and in doing so, remove any possibility of verifying the accuracy of their (usually incorrect) clickbait captions – not to mention the original photographer, institution or archive holding same – thereby contributing nothing tangible to follow for those members of the public that may actually be interested in following up out of historical interest?

You know, the ones whose actions fly in the face of the very principles of historical appreciation, accuracy and attribution whilst harnessing the nostalgic interest and blind faith of sheepish followers who can be depended on for mindlessly retweeting/sharing, liking and favouriting the photos they take from somewhere else  – thereby creating a viral feed for their own account/page/web traffic at the cynical expense of genuine historical institutions, archives and collections whose sterling efforts at digitizing their collections for the benefit of wider public interest (of which we were reminded, only today) comes at a time when most are chronically underfunded and facing further cuts and possible closures?

Yeah, those ones.

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Old Books and Old Wine: Armagh and the Comarba Patrick


Old times, old manners, old books, old wine…. ‘The Armagh’ – Image: Jonathan Caves / Flickr / (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

A fascinating historical tidbit of early medieval myth and ritual in the news today concerning the (long-expected) retirement of the current Archbishop of Armagh and the official appointment of his successor.

‘Archbishop Eamon Martin… today becomes Archbishop of Armagh, Primate of All Ireland and Coarb Phadraic.’

Remarks by Cardinal Seán Brady

For those unfamiliar with the historical and modern ecclesiastical landscape of Ireland, the holder of the office of the Armagh archbishopric is considered the ecclesiastical head of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland. An archiepiscopacy since the twelfth century church reform, it replaced an older insular system where the abbots, or leaders, of the Armagh church were long considered the coarbae (‘heir/successor’) of St. Patrick and the de facto leaders of the medieval Irish church – a status and authority which can be traced back to the seventh century AD.

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