Monday, December 31, 2012

Knights Templar

The Templars were founded around 1119 by Hugh de Payens for the protection of pilgrims to the Holy Land. Initially guided by the Rule of St. Augustine they later adopted Cistercian practices under the influence of St. Bernard. After securin g ecclesiastical approval at the Council of Troyes (1129), the order spread rapidly and increased in wealth, prestige, and influence.

The earliest reference to the Templars in Ireland occurs about 1180 when Matthew the Templar witnessed a deed whereby Henry II granted them the vill of Clontarf as their principal Irish foundation or preceptory. Five other preceptories were established by the end of the twelfth century as well as nine smaller houses (Camerae). Though more military than monastic in appearance, these preceptories functioned as religious houses in which the Divine Office was celebrated, novices were recruited and trained, and to which older members retired. Like the Hospitalers, the Templars recruited almost exclusively from the Anglo-Norman community and sided with the colony in its struggles against the native Irish population.

As part of the general campaign against the order, fifteen Irish Templars were tried in St. Patrick’s cathedral, Dublin in 1310. In 1311, three preceptories were assigned to accommodate the Irish Knights for the rest of their lives while the rest passed to the Knights Hospitaler after 1312

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Medieval Irish Science

Seventh-century Ireland was well-known as an island of saints and scholars. But what of science? In fact, Ireland in the Early Middle Ages led the way in terms of serious scientific engagement with the physical universe and the attempt to understand the nature of the created world. The famous studies of Archbishop James Ussher in the seventeenth century have their antecedents in the efforts of Irish scholars, 1000 years before him, to offer rational explanations of the natural phenomena that they observed around them in their everyday world. More than anywhere else in Europe at that time, the Irish in the seventh century succeeded in figuring out ‘how things worked’ in the universe. They did so not only in the field of technical chronology (in which they were THE masters), but also in those areas of study that the modern world calls Science. 

Saints, scholars and science in early medieval Ireland – Prof. Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, NUI Galway

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Irish Wolf

There are a considerable number of Irish place names associated with wolves A few of these are in English, for example, Wolf Island in Lough Gill, but the vast majority of them are embedded in Irish place names. This is because there are a number of Irish words for wolves, including Mac-tire, e.g. the townland of Isknamacteera in Co Kerry; and faolchu, e.g. Feltrim Hill, Co Dublin. There are also numerous place names containing breagh and its variations, e.g. Breagh (wolf field) in Drumcree, Co Armagh, and Breaghva (wolf field) in Kilrush, Co Clare. - Dr Kieran Hickey

Image: Portrait of a wolf by Finbarr O’Connor

Monday, December 24, 2012


The name "Guinness" is derived from "Mag Aongus" meaning son of Aongus who in mythology was a member of the Tuatha Dé Danann and probably a god of love, youth and poetic inspiration. Aon = one and gus = choice thus literally meaning one choice but more accurately translated as 'chosen one'. In Irish orthography "Mac" meaning "son of" changes to "Mag" when the following name begins with a vowel. When the name is vocalised in speech it sounds like Ma'gaon-gus or ma'gan-gus which in turn is phonetically rendered to English as MacGuinness. During the 17th century under pressure from the English authorities many Irish families dropped the prefix "Mac" to make their name sound more "English".
In 1518 a town statute declared "Neither O nor Mac shall strut nor swagger through the streets of Galway."

Consequent of such pressures, the use of Mac and O’ was dropped by many families. Although some families have since revived the O or Mac, while others never did. This explains variations in surnames like Mahony and O’Mahony, Neill and O’Neill but each variant has a common history. Many old Gaelic names became Anglicised. Sometimes the Anglicised version was a translation, sometimes a phonetic spelling of the Irish, sometimes a mixture of the two.

The proprietor of the Guinness brewery Benjamin Lee Guinness chose the harp motif in 1862 and registered is a a trademark shortly after the passing of the Trade Marks Registration Act of 1875. Could Benjamin's choice of logo have come from the Aongus stories who had a harp that made irresistible music and his kisses turned into birds that carried messages of love.

Certainly Guinness (the product) is irresistible to some and without it (I surmise) many would not have been able to find love!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Commonplace Irish Words

The Irish language in everyday usage. - Mac is the Irish language word for son sometimes abbreviated to Mc in surnames. McIntosh is a transliteration of ‘Mac an Taoiseach’ which in turn translates as son of the chieftain. Nowadays however i t would translate as son of the prime minister for ‘Taoiseach’ is the title given to the Irish Prime Minster. The source of the McIntosh surname is from the Gaelic regions of Scotland.

Jef Raskin employed by Apple computers envisioned an easy-to-use, low-cost computer for the average consumer and he wanted to name the computer after his favourite type of apple, the McIntosh. However, the name had to be changed for legal reasons for it was too similar to the ‘McIntosh audio equipment’ brand. Hence the Macintosh brand name but mostly marketed as the Mac.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Magic - Biblical Wise men

The English word 'Magic' is derived from the Magi or the story of the wise kings from the nativity. Similarly the Irish word for 'magic' is 'draíocht' formed from draoi + -acht meaning Druid like. Originally, like the Druids in Ireland like the Magi were the priests of an ancient religion. Sometime in the course of the fifth century BC the Greeks started to use the term for those engaged in occult arts and private rituals. Magic like so many words in the English language was borrowed from French through the Normans.

Image - The Adoration of the Magi (central panel) - Pieter Aertsen (1508-1575)

Newgrange Winter Solstice

Once a year, at the winter solstice, the rising sun shines directly along the long passage into the chamber for about 17 minutes and illuminates the chamber floor. This alignment is too precise to be widely considered to be formed by chance. Professor M. J. O'Kelly was the first person in modern times to observe this event on December 21, 1967. The sun enters the passage through a specially contrived opening, known as a roofbox, directly above the main entrance. Although solar alignments are not uncommon among passage graves, Newgrange is one of few to contain the additional roofbox feature. The alignment is such that although the roofbox is above the passage entrance, the light hits the floor of the inner chamber. Today the first light enters about four minutes after sunrise, but calculations based on the precession of the Earth show that 5,000 years ago first light would have entered exactly at sunrise.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Viking longboat project

A photo of a replica Viking longboat, which was launched in Waterford city on the 25 Nov 2012. The vessel is modelled on one of the famous Viking ships found at Roskilde, in Denmark. An analysis of the wood used in its construction shows t hat one of these ships (Skuldelev 2) came from the Dublin area in Ireland with timbers felled in 1042-1043 AD. In about the year 1070 the inhabitants of Roskilde scuttled five ships in the narrow mouth of their fjord, in an attempt to barricade themselves against attacks by their fellow Vikings.

The project was aided by the Irish State agency with responsibility for training and skills which afforded participants opportunities for learning and to develop and fine tune the traditional skills required for building the longboat.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Scandinavian Dublin

Fine Gall (literally, kindred of the foreigners) was the name given to a stretch of territory north of the River Liffey that was ruled by the Scandinavians of Dublin. It thus developed after the foundation of the longport in 841, at the hei ght of the Viking incursions. Today the name "Fingal" still applies to the area north of the city from the River Tolka to the Devlin River near Gormanstown.

Several place names reflect the Viking history of the area. The names Howth, the Skerries, Ireland’s Eye, Lambay, and Holmpatrick found along the coast north of Dublin contain Norse place-name elements. While it is likely that Vikings settled in the district, archaeological evidence (for example, from the excavations at Feltrim Hill in North Dublin) indicates that an Irish population continued to flourish under Viking control. It is also clear that there was a high level of interaction between Gaelic and Scandinavian culture in the area.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Medieval Music

Visitors to medieval Ireland often marvelled at the skill of the Irish at playing music. In Gaelic Ireland, there were at least ten instruments in general use. These were the Cruit (a small harp) and Clairseach (a bigger harp with typically 30 strings), the Timpan (a small string instrument played with a bow or plectrum), the Feadan (a fife), the Buinne (an oboe or flute), the Guthbuinne (a bassoon-type horn), the Bennbuabhal and corn (hornpipes), the Cuislenna (bagpipes - see Great Irish Warpipes), the Stoc and Sturgan (clarions or trumpets), and the Cnamha (castanets). There is also evidence of the fiddle being used in the 8th century.

Image: Galway Early Music Festival takes place every year in the month of May.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Connacht Flag

A Dinnseanchas (topographical) poem named "Ard Ruide" describes the kingdom of Connacht thus. “Connacht in the west is the kingdom of learning, the seat of the greatest and wisest druids and magicians; the men of Connacht are famed for their eloquence, their handsomeness and their ability to pronounce true judgement. (a translation from Old Irish)

The flag of Connacht is a heraldic banner of the arms of Connacht, a dimidiated (divided in half from top to bottom) eagle and armed hand. The arms of are recorded as such on a map of Galway dated 1651, now in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin.

These arms closely resemble those of the Schottenkloster or Irish monastery founded in Regensburg, Bavaria, in the 11th century. However, it is unclear how the arms of the Schottenkloster located deep in the heart of the Holy Roman Empire came to be associated with the province of Connacht in Ireland.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Geraghty Surname

The name is unique in the variety of ways in which it is spelled. The original Mag Oireachtaigh name has variously been spelled as McGeraghty, McGarrity, Geraghty, Garrity, Gerrity, Garritty, Heraghty, Gerty, and quite a number of other spe llings. Mag Oireachtach, translates as "the son of a member of the Assembly (of Ireland). Oireachtach is the ablative form of Oireachtas which in turn is used as the name for the Irish National Parliament. It consists of the President and two Houses: Dáil Éireann (the House of Representatives) and Seanad Éireann (the Senate).

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Seanchas Tradition

The seanchas tradition in late medieval Ireland- The art of writing history was a long-established one in medieval Ireland, and the status of the historian in contemporary society was high. Mícheál Ó Cléirigh and his fellow scholars Fearfea sa Ó Maoil Chonaire, Cú Choigcríche Ó Cléirigh and Cú Choigcríche Ó Duibhgheannáin all belonged to families from the north and the west of Ireland who had practiced the arts of history and poetry throughout the late medieval period.

These families, and many others throughout Ireland, were members of the courts of the medieval Irish aristocracy. They sustained important schools of learning, were hereditary keepers of medieval churches, and possessed extensive lands and other wealth as a consequence of their profession and the nobility that accrued to it. An essential element of the art of preserving and writing history in this world was an understanding of the concept of seanchas, a word deriving from sean ‘old, long-standing’.

The practitioner of seanchas was known as a seanchaidh ‘a historian’. Seanchas consisted of the many traditions that related to the Irish as they were perceived in the medieval period – their origins and genealogies, their saints and their landscape. Briefly defined, seanchas was the memory and narrative of Irish history as preserved and written from the early medieval period to the writing of histories of Ireland in the seventeenth century. -Edel Bhreathnach

Monday, December 3, 2012

Imperator Scottorum - Ireland the land of the Scots

The Book of Armagh declares the High King of Ireland, Brian Boru to be “Imperator Scottorum” or “Emperor of the Irish”. Ireland was named by the Romans “Scotia” and its people Scoti. The invasion of Irish tribes of northern Britain led it to acquiring the name “Scotland” or land of the Irish. 

A 9th century philosophiser working on the continent writes his name as Johannes Scotus Eriugena - John the Irishman born in Ireland (Ériu-gena/born) as opposed to Scotland. Almost three centuries before Isadore of Seville wrote that Ireland and Scotland were the same country. Later the lands were distinguished as Scotia Major (Ireland) and Scotia Minor (Scotland). Hibernia is also a Roman term for the Island of Ireland and can be translated as “the land of eternal winter” or “wintry”. It is sometimes claimed that the name Hibernia derives from the ancient Greek name for the island Iouerníā (written Ἰουερνία) an alteration of the Q-Celtic name Īweriū. A variant Ierne was also used; Claudian 395 AD says “When the Scots put all Ireland in motion (against the Romans), then over heaps of Scots the Icy Ierne wept”. In other words many Irish were killed when they attacked the Romans in Britain. Image: Sculpture of King Brian Boru, Chapel Royal, Dublin Castle