Prancing at Lughnasa? St Marcan’s Lough, Mayo

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A Long Tail – Image: Rafael Peñaloza/Flickr Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Last night I was reminded, via the Twitter Machine, of a great two-parter written by Christiaan Corlett – this time last year – entitled ‘Lughnasa at St Marcan’s Lough, Clew Bay, Co. Mayo’ (See Part 1 here and Part 2 here). St. Marcan’s Lough is the location of a medieval ecclesiastical site, now almost gone, on the shores of Clew Bay, Co. Mayo. Remains of possibly two churches and a leacht  recorded in the 19th & 20th centuries, no longer survive. An altar and holy well (Tober Marcan) show some sign of partial preservation and a cairn/pilgrim station located on the loughs foreshore is still exposed at low tide. A Childrens Burial Ground is depicted in the vicinity along with a crannóg/platform within the Lough itself.

There is considerable Lughnasadh type folklore and traditions associated with the site, with a particular emphasis on cattle being driven in the waters of the lough, originally a freshwater lake (during the first week of August – as a curative or preventative protection/charm) in and around the cairn/monument and holy well. Corletts articles goes into great detail on this and he draws parallels with other similar traditions and accounts of horse/cattle rituals at other suspected Lughnasadh sites in the country.

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No Horses for Courses: Christian Horror of Horseflesh in Early Medieval Ireland [Part 3]

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Image: Tatum/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

(Continued from Part 2…)

Straight from the Horses Mouth

Ultimately, what comes across from a (relatively!) brief survey of the range of archaeological, historical and etymological material are the following commonalities:

  • Widespread distribution of archaeological evidence for horse activity, iconography and ritual associated with high status figures and burials in late prehistoric Europe.
  • Widespread attestation of horse motifs, symbolism and metaphor associated with sacral and ancestral kingship/inauguration in late antiquity/early medieval Europe.
  • Widespread ecclesiastical condemnation of horseflesh and equine attributes in later medieval literature
  • Widespread ecclesiastical adaptation and transformation of horse/kingship motifs & traditions in sources pertaining to secular royal authority and legitimacy.

In terms of depicted pre-christian ritual associated with royal inauguration, certain motifs and cultural components appear frequently:

  • Outdoor assembly/meeting/burial locations
  • Public performance & display; power, authority, legitimacy
  • Horse/King sacral & symbolic union; association, attributes, metaphor
  • Horse sacrifice & consumption
  • Communal feasting and drinking
  • Large cauldrons/containers/receptacles to facilitate communal participation
  • Reiteration and renewal of royal/tribal prosperity and fortune

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No Horses for Courses: Christian Horror of Horseflesh in Early Medieval Ireland [Part 1]

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No horses allowed! (Image: wallygrom / flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

This last week has seen much media attention and online mirth concerning the discovery of horse meat in certain high street beef products on sale throughout Ireland and the UK. For a good round-up of the initial reports, see Slugger O’Toole’s post here which contains the following quote from the Chief Executive of FSAI:

“In Ireland, it is not in our culture to eat horsemeat and therefore, we do not expect to find it in a burger…”

The concept of a deep-seated cultural and/or religious abhorrence of horse meat within modern Ireland and Britain struck me as extremely interesting. The disgust expressed in some quarters over the thought of inadvertently ingesting the same reminded me of certain historical and archaeological parallels within our shared cultural legacy.

As far back as the early medieval period, there are indications that both insular and European ecclesiastical authorities not only disapproved of the practice, but actively engaged in efforts to dissuade others from partaking of the same. So apparently successful was this early Christian disparagement, that todays cultural condemnation could perhaps be argued as not only being derived from an early medieval repugnance towards horseflesh consumption; but perhaps even, an underlying revulsion to what it may have represented to early Christian mindsets. Continue reading