Monday, September 1, 2014

The Fairy Thorn: Bad Advice!

Get up, our Anna dear,
from the weary spinning-wheel;
For your father's on the hill,
and your mother is asleep;
Come up above the crags,
and we'll dance a highland-reel
Around the fairy thorn on the steep.
* * * * *
Bad advice, this first verse of The Fairy Thorn by Sir Samuel Ferguson. Everyone knows if you dance around a fairy thorn, the fairies will steal you away. Especially in Galway, home of Finvarra, the King of the Connaught Fairies.

Finvarra is usually a decent sort. He likes human women, however, and often kidnaps them as dancing partners, as Janet, an American teenager living in Ireland, learns to her dismay. Janet and Finvarra costar in Glancing Through the Glimmer, the first of The Glimmer Books, my young adult adventure series.

Here's the Blurb:
In the modern Kingdom of Ireland, few mortals believe in the fairy folk. Without that belief, the fairies are dying. Finvarra, the King of the Fairies, would rather dance than worry—but he must have a mortal dancing partner.
When Janet Gleason’s grandfather becomes the new U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, the sixteen-year-old orphan must leave Boston and her friends behind. Janet is lonely in Dublin and unused to her grandparents’ stuffy social life. An invitation to a royal ball terrifies her. She can’t even waltz and dreads embarrassment. Finvarra’s fairy witch overhears her fervent wish to learn to dance.
Seventeen-year-old Prince Liam Boru loathes the idea of escorting another spoiled American girl to a ball. In fact, he detests most of his royal duties. He dresses down to move through Dublin unnoticed and finds himself on his royal backside when Janet crashes into him. Intrigued, he asks to see her again, and she willingly agrees. Unaware of each other’s identities, they arrange to meet. When they do, the fairies steal Janet away.
Liam’s attempts to find her trigger a series of frustrating misadventures. Can he and Janet outwit a treacherous fairy king who’s been hoodwinking mortals for centuries?
* * * * *
Available in Print and eBook from
Available in Print from
Barnes and Noble

Monday, July 14, 2014

Children in Adult Stories

Blackmail and murder hardly make Fiery Roses a story for children. Yet a few vibrant moppets have stolen their way into this action/adventure fantasy set in an Ireland that might have been. Why include children in an adult story?

A child’s perspective can ease the tension, offer a simpler point of view, or add a touch of humor as it furthers the story along. In this excerpt, two girls amuse a reporter.

The sight of two red-haired demons bicycling straight at her frightened her until she realized the skinny legs pumping the pedals belonged to freckle-faced Mary Margaret Gannon and her sister Joanie.

"Allison! Allison!" Little Joanie skidded to a halt, braking with the toes of her sneakers. "An old, old man is visiting Aunt Betty. He must be a hunnerd-an-ten!"

Mary Margaret backpedaled to a stop. "He came to see her garden." Holding the handlebars, she straddled her bicycle and sighed. "He said none of the flowers in her garden was as beautiful as her, and then he kissed her hand."

"He’s going to court her," squealed Joanie. "Wait till we tell Daddy!"


No secrets with kids around. Then we have the adult character who flashes back to childhood. I used this trick to help readers understand Neil Boru, the adoptive cousin and newlywed husband of Princess Talty. Here, he shares a haunting memory of his first meeting with his grandmother.

"‘Come here, boy’, she said. ‘Let me look at you.’ My mother gave me a nudge, and I went and stood in front of Bridget." His eyes shut tight at the recollection. "I thought she was a witch, Tal. I can still see her weird purple eyes staring at me, never blinking. Then she said, ‘You look nothing like my Frank.’ She only spoke to my mother after that. While we were having tea, she said, ‘He’s left-handed. That’s no good,’ and other equally endearing things."

Fiery Roses takes Neil and Talty to a parallel world, where they meet Kavie, a darling eight-year-old who gives Talty a chance to demonstrate her archery skills.

Kavie stood with his back to the sun, shooting arrows into, or at least near, a moth-eaten hide thirty yards in front of him. Pieces of straw peeked from beneath the target, an old boarskin shaped to somewhat resemble the unfortunate boar who had once owned it.

Smiling at his comical lack of skill, she waited until he reached for an arrow before she spoke. "Hello, Kavie. You’re up early. Practicing your shots, are you?"

"Good morning, goddess," he said in his squeaky but endearing young voice. "I’m going to be a great hunter, like Papa."

"That will take lots of practice and hard work."

"I don’t mind." He stood tall. "I’m small, but I’m very brave."


Kavie will have a chance to prove his bravery, as will little Joanie, and yes, even Neil. The children’s presence undeniably enriches the plot of Fiery Roses. I’m glad they insisted on jumping aboard.

* * * * *

Fiery Roses, Book Two in the Band of Roses Trilogy, is available in print and eBook on Amazon, as are Book One, A Band of Roses, and Book Three, Salty Roses. Additional excerpts are available on my website.


*This post originally appeared on Jester Harley's Manuscript Page, August 30, 2012

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Ride the Fairy Wind!

The fairies of Ireland star in my young adult adventure novels, Glancing Through the Glimmer, and its sequel, Autumn Glimmer. I couldn’t have written these books without learning more about the Good Folk and their ways, and my research has led to bursting bookshelves. Most of these volumes are my own acquisitions, though some are on loan from my aunts’ incredible library of Irish lore and history, books so old the pages are falling apart. Among my favorites are the authoritative A History of Irish Fairies by Carolyn White, and Meeting the Other Crowd, a fascinating collection of eyewitness accounts of “Them” from Irish oral tradition.

Autumn Glimmer features the Fairy Wind, a supernatural phenomenon known in Irish as the Sí-gaoith (Shee-gwee-ha). According to those who understand such things, the Fairy Wind usually signals the passage of a fairy troop. In its more sinister forms, the wind delivers a grave warning to mortals trespassing on or interfering with fairy property—and it inflicts dire vengeance upon those who foolishly ignore the warning.

The Good Folk aren’t all bad, however. Sometimes the Fairy Wind serves as a gift to those who require assistance. A farmer struggling to harvest his hay might find it suddenly blown into a tidy pile, thank you very much.

Mortals have, of course, provided every account I’ve seen of the Sí-gaoith. In this brief excerpt from Autumn Glimmer, I offer the Good People’s take on the Fairy Wind. As “They” have clearly allowed me to do so, who knows? Perhaps this is how it really happens.
A breeze arose in Crooked Wood, a whistling gust that rapidly grew loud and powerful.

Blinn shouted over the racket, "Line up, boys. We’re going for a ride!"

Lewy scooted behind her; Mell took up the rear. Around them, fallen foliage whirled like tiny tornadoes, gaining in speed and number until they formed a wall of buzzing, spinning leaves.

"Whoa ho!" Mell cried as they rose in the air.

He grabbed Lewy’s waist, and Lewy grabbed Blinn’s. A sudden upward tilt forced them to sit on the firm bed of leaves. The wind took off, soaring like a magic carpet, whisking them up and over the treetops. Lewy whooped. Blinn shrieked with delight. Even Mell laughed.

Secure in Blinn’s glimmer, Lewy held tight to her willowy waist and gazed down at the water. The small oval lake glittered beneath the slanted rays of the rapidly tiring autumn sun. Shadows from the approaching storm clouds speckled the falls at the pond’s northern end.

Their bird’s-eye view revealed the remains of the crannog, submerged near the reedy eastern shore. Or was it submerged? From so high up, the ruins appeared to break through the pond’s glassy surface. An illusion, no doubt.

On the western shore, a small bog sloped from a knoll to the edge of the crystalline water. Boulders littered the southern shore, the passage by which the Daoine Linn accessed Crooked Wood every seven years. The woods glowed in the autumn light as if an invisible hand had slathered the treetops with honey and marmalade. Lewy’s mouth watered to think of such treats, but he had no time to admire the show: Blinn veered sharply east.

Thousands of years before, the mortals had cleared the land of the rubble the big ice had left behind. They built walls of stone, creating neat squares for pastures and farmland. The familiar squares still checkered the emerald landscape, and the road to the house unspooled through the patchwork. In the distance, the mist-wrapped Wicklow hills endured, standing like phantom sentinels, a bulwark between the sinister sea and the midland lakes the Daoine Linn called home.

The carpet of leaves abruptly dropped. A trapdoor opened in Lewy’s gut. He managed to keep from screaming, but Mell roared in horror.

"Hey! You could warn a guy!"

"Sorry," yelled Blinn. "It went down by itself, and I can’t get it to go back up."

"I knew it," Mell said. "You’re tired. Lewy, call up your glimmer and help her!"

Lewy scrunched his eyes and tried. Feathers of glimmer tickled him from his toes to his ears. He had to coax it, expand it fast, make it fill his chest and shoot to his fingertips, but he couldn’t remember how. Many wheels of time had spun since he’d last summoned glimmer.
The Fairy Wind bucked and plunged through the air.
* * * * *
Glancing Through the Glimmer / Available in Print and eBook
 Autumn Glimmer / Available in Print and eBook
Amazon U.S.

Amazon U.K.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Proverbs of Ireland

"Yuh sleep wid daag, yuh ketch him flea.” Most of us know this venerable Jamaican adage as “He who lies down with dogs rises with fleas.” Proverbs provide insight into human nature that transcend nationality, yet their individual versions offer a taste of a nation’s soul—and none are more delicious than the proverbs of Ireland.

Irish warnings against misbehaving abound, such as “The road to Heaven is well signposted, but it’s badly lit at night.” Sweet sayings for lovers include “He who stares into the middle of a fire does be heavily in love” and “Where there is love, it’s easy to halve the potato.”

And when the glow of love wears off? “A woman’s tongue is a thing that does not rust” is well met by “Men are like bagpipes—they make no sound until they're full.”

The Irish word for proverbs is seanfhocail (SHAN-uck-will), which literally means "old words.” I read through several volumes of these witty gems in my quest to make the characters in my alternate Irish history tales sound more Irish.

My Young Adult stories, Glancing Through the Glimmer and Autumn Glimmer, feature a few proverbs, but these wise old sayings really shine in my "Band of Roses" trilogy.  A Band of RosesFiery Roses, and Salty Roses are a rollicking blend of historical fantasy, romance, and suspense starring the indomitable Princess Talty Boru, her devoted champion Neil, and a lovable cast of dauntless heroes and devious villains.

The trilogy supposes what Ireland would be like today if High King Brian Boru had survived the Battle of Clontarf in 1014 A.D. His descendant, modern day Princess Talty, wishes she were anyone but the heir to her father’s throne. An arranged marriage offers an escape from her royal duties, but she quickly learns to be careful what she wishes for.



To properly flavor the stories, I added a dollop of Dublin slang to the characters’ speech. A generous sprinkling of Irish proverbs added a complexity not only unique to the Emerald Isle, but also fun to read.

Honey is sweet, but don’t lick it from a thornbush.
Don’t show your teeth until you can bite.
Leave a little room for the fairies to dance.

One of Talty’s kinsmen describes her by saying, “A lion isn’t a fitting companion for all men,” and “It takes a woman to beat the devil.” The Boru family motto is “The Strong Hand Rules.” King Brian constantly reminds his family that “There is No Strength Without Unity,” but Talty learns the hard way that “Adversity is the Source of Strength.”

The climate, culture, and people of Ireland produced a wealth of these magical phrases. I barely tapped the proverbial well to enhance A Band of Roses. More than enough remained to enrich Fiery Roses and Salty Roses:

The new broom sweeps the house best, but the old broom knows where the dirt is.
Don’t be banging your shin on a stool that’s not in your way.
The finest shoe makes a sorry hat.
Hunger makes a good sauce.

and one of my favorites:

The world is quiet and the pig is in the sty.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Away With the Fairies

“In a shady nook one moonlit night a leprechaun I spied . . .”

Thanks to my family’s love of music, I learned the poem/song, The Leprechaun, when I was knee-high to a fairy. ‘Twas on an Irish record, of course, one of many recorded by the great Irish tenor, John McCormack. (Enjoy The Leprechaun in its entirety at the end of this post.)

I knew about the teensy Tinker Bell types of fairies from stories like Peter Pan and Sleeping Beauty, but the fairies of Irish folklore were always leprechauns to me. Not so, I learned while delving into the wealth of literature depicting these elusive beings. Leprechauns belong to the class of “Solitary Fairies,” which includes cluricauns, dullahans, pookas, merrows, silkies, and banshees.

Then we have the “Trooping Fairies” who party in crystal palaces beneath the Knock Ma (See Knock Moo), the hill in County Galway said to house the palace of Finvarra, the King of the Connaught Fairies. Finvarra costars in my Young Adult novel, Glancing Through the Glimmer. We didn't meet him the day we visited Knock Ma, but the local postman assured us that he and his troop were there.

It’s no surprise that these beings and the lore surrounding them have inspired many tales over the years. Glancing Through the Glimmer incorporates alternate Irish history with the magic of the Other Crowd, and it has been a joy to research.

More than once, I’ve felt inexplicable tugs toward wonderfully inspiring articles and books. I've learned that Irish lakes provide homes for water fairies, who live in underwater palaces, such as the one featured in Autumn Glimmer, the sequel to Glancing Through the Glimmer. And the leprechauns star in A Pot of Glimmer, the third book in the Glimmer series, currently in the works.


I’ve found countless web sites devoted to fairies, faeries, fae, fay, etc. During my latest visit to Ireland, I added several volumes on the Good Folk to my personal library. The public library helped my research too, but my most successful foray was into the incredible collection of Irish books my aunts have compiled over the years (See Seeking Irish Heroines.)

Every culture has fairies, whole hierarchies of them. In Ireland they aren’t the cute little Walt Disney squeakers we all know and love. Many are human-size, and all can be downright mean if one crosses them. Hair, eyes, teeth, and toenails can all fall out if we mortals distress them. (I'm in high hopes they’ve willingly joined the cast of the Glimmer Books.)

My grandmother once said that when she was a child in County Sligo (circa 1910), her father would set out a line of stones before he erected an outbuilding on their farm. If in the morning the stones were still where he’d placed them, he knew he was good to go. If not, then the fairies had disapproved of his choice, and he had to try again. Superstitious nonsense?

I’ve visited Ireland too many times to be sure, to be sure. What do you think?

The Leprechaun
(Attributed to Robert Dwyer Joyce)

In a shady nook one moonlit night,
A leprechaun I spied
In a scarlet cap and a coat of green,
cruiskeen* by his side.
'Twas tick, tack, tick, his hammer went
Upon a tiny shoe,
And I laughed to think of a purse of gold,
But the fairy was laughing too.

With tiptoe step and beating heart,
Quite softly I drew nigh.
There was mischief in his merry face,
A twinkle in his eye.
He hammered and sang with tiny voice
And drank his mountain dew.
And I laughed to think he was caught at last,
But the fairy was laughing too.

As quick as thought I seized the elf.
"You're fairy purse!" I cried.
"The purse," he said, "is in her hand,
The lady by your side."
I turned to look, the elf was off,
And what was I to do?
Oh, I laughed to think what a fool I'd been,
And the fairy was laughing too.

* jug

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Reflections on Boston Irish Kitchens

When I was a kid growing up in Boston, festive occasions usually meant plates of Wonder Bread, sliced ham, and two bowls of potato salad with handwritten signs stuck in them reading "Onions" and "No Onions."

The oldest of seven, I was married and cooking before my siblings. My youngest brother once raved about a lasagna I made for a family party. When I thanked him and told him it was actually manicotti, he said "Oh" and put it aside, never to be touched again.

My parents didn’t get along well. My father had never tasted garlic in his life, and when my mother tried a chicken dish containing garlic powder, he accused her of trying to poison him.

My favorite story comes from the funeral of my beloved grandmother, Dolly O’Brien. My mother and my aunt argued over the food for the back-at-the-house-after-the-mass thing. My aunt wanted to prepare a buffet, but my mother vehemently told her not to bother, since "people were bringing food." Well, what they brought were foil-wrapped loaves of Irish soda bread. I counted them: 48 loaves, stacked on the kitchen counter! Fortunately, my aunt ignored my mother and set out a lovely buffet, no Wonder Bread, no handwritten signs.

Okay, there was ham, but that’s not so bad.


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

No Irish Need Apply

My aunts found this sign in a Pennsylvania antique store twenty-five odd years ago. My grandfather loved it. He emigrated from County Sligo to Boston in 1911 and said similar signs were all over the place. Guess he enjoyed showing them what's what. 

This sign has been on display in my aunts' house for years, but I found it particularly poignant now. I've just finished reading John Kelly's The Graves are Walking, a comprehensive history of the Irish Famine and how the famine victims who left Ireland were treated when they arrived in the United States.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Band of Roses Trilogy - Adventure and Romance in Ireland

April 23, 2014 marks the 1000-year anniversary of Ireland's bloody Battle of Clontarf. On Good Friday in 1014 A.D., the armies of High King Brian Boru challenged a host of Vikings and their allies on the plains of Clontarf, north of Dublin. Though Brian’s troops were victorious, he was murdered by fleeing Vikings as he prayed in his tent.

Many historians have speculated that Ireland would be a different place today if King Brian had survived the Battle of Clontarf. The Band of Roses Trilogy, a romantic action/adventure series set in modern Ireland, supposes he did survive and established a royal dynasty that still rules the Emerald Isle. The current King Brian upholds ancient traditions, as does his daughter, Crown Princess Talty, though Talty has a knack for landing in trouble. She wishes she were anyone but the heir to her father's throne—and she learns to be careful what she wishes for.


In Book One, A Band of Roses, Talty must hide her identity to outwit assassins, but she can't hide her ingrained training as a warrior sworn to protect her homeland. From Japan to California to an eleventh century Ireland, she finds romance and adventure, yet all she wants is to return to her family and Neil Boru, the adoptive cousin she secretly loves and cannot have—or so she thinks.

In the second book, Fiery Roses, the discovery of offshore gas ensnares the Boru clan in a web of blackmail and murder. When the residents of rural County Mayo object to pipelines on their land, an arsonist tries to change their minds. One of his fires sends newlyweds Talty and Neil to an ancient world at the mercy of a waking volcano, where they must fight not only to survive, but to save their fledgling marriage.

Book Three, Salty Roses, finds the dynamic princess believing her days of adventure are over. Her royal duties seem endless, and a day off with Neil is looking good. The royal couple accepts an invitation for a jaunt aboard a luxury submarine. As they view an eerie shipwreck, an unknown enemy lures them to an ancient tomb and sends them to a world infested with treacherous pirates. Talty takes charge of a pirate ship and its mangy crew, while Neil matches wits with a temptress who jeopardizes his wedding vows.

In this Excerpt from A Band of Roses, a military assignment teams Talty with her 'Veddy' English commanding officer, Richard Gale, who knows her as Major Christy McKenna. In an experiment gone wrong, they arrive in our world in 1014 A.D., just before the Battle of Clontarf. They've met a lady named Leesha, whose handsome son Gayth has his eye on Talty. In this scene, Gayth is leading his Dalcassian clan to aid King Brian in his fight against the Vikings—but Gayth has more than warfare on his mind.
* * * * *
For three rainy days, the Dalcassians rode two hundred strong. On the third day, Gayth called a stop to rest. Talty and Richard tethered their horses and made their separate camp. While Richard prepared a fire pit, Talty rummaged beneath the shrubbery to find dry wood.

“Can’t we cheat and use matches, Richard? I’m tired of being cold and wet.”

“So am I.” Richard poked through his toolkit until he found the waterproof matchbox. When the fire was burning well, they finished the last of their oatcakes and ale.

“So here I am, the protector of a holy woman. Who knew?”

Talty winced. She regretted agreeing to the deception. Gayth had told the men her presence would protect them. “I wish Leesha hadn’t started this. I’m not some saint who can heal battle wounds with a touch.”

“They don’t know that, darling. We have an edge as long as they think you’re no ordinary woman. Why did she say that, anyway?”

“She was afraid I’d spirit Gayth away to fairyland. She needn’t have worried, though. He seems able to resist me just fine.”

“Perhaps you married too young to learn how devious men can be. Our friend Gayth isn’t finished with you, holy woman.”

Gayth stepped from the darkness. “My kinsmen are grateful for your fire. The furze is too wet to burn. They invite you to join them in a game of spear fishing, Richard. There’s salmon nearby, and we need the food as well as the sport.”

“I’m reluctant to leave Christy alone.”

Talty bristled at Richard’s protectiveness. “You should get to know the men. I’ll be safe enough at my prayers.”

Gayth’s chocolate eyes sparkled in the firelight. “I will stay and protect you while you pray.”

Still smiling, Richard found a spear and went off to fish. Though Talty had encouraged him to go, his abandonment annoyed her. “I’m going to pray beside the pond. It could be a watering hole for game.”

“You hunt game, holy woman?”

“Even holy women must eat.” She left him by the fire and was soon scanning the ground at the edge of the pond. The twilight’s glow revealed animal tracks in the rain-damp soil. She walked toward a dense stand of trees, not quite sorry that Gayth and his sparkling eyes had caught up.

“Did you see any tracks?” he asked.

“Yes. Deer, I think. Smaller game as well, and I’m sure I heard waterfowl a while ago.”

“I like roast goose. Can you pray for some?”

Silently groaning, she studied the sky. “Do we have time to roast meat?”

“The men must eat. Once we’ve rested and refilled our food sacks, we’ll ride again. We should reach Dublin in three, maybe four days’ time.”

“What day is this?”

“Monday of Holy Week. What holy woman wouldn’t know that?”

Barely aware of his teasing tone, she supposed they could reach Dublin by Good Friday, though that would be cutting it close. Yet in this world, the Battle of Clontarf might not take place on Good Friday. Perhaps no battle would occur at all. Perplexed, she stole into the trees.

Gayth followed her.

“This will make a fine blind.” She spoke more to herself than to Gayth.

“You intend to wait here for deer? Praying?”

Ignoring him, she returned to the fire to bank the embers and fetch the Viking bow.

Gayth was right beside her.

She slung the quiver and arrows over her shoulder. Her hooded cloak went on next to protect both her and the bow from the weather.

Her preparations seemed to mystify Gayth. “Why don’t you simply rush the herd and cast a spear when they bolt?”

“This way I’ll get the deer I want, not one who falls behind because it’s old or sick.”

“I’ll come with you.”

“I need silence.”

“Yes, I know. To pray. I promise to be quiet.”

They stood in the natural blind together and watched the water’s edge. She didn’t resist when he pulled her against him.

“Lean on me, lady,” he whispered. “Rest a little.”

He wrapped his cloak around her. She leaned against him, breathing in smoke and sweat, banishing all thought until a small herd of deer appeared to investigate the clearing. Though tempted to forget them, she broke away from Gayth and uncovered her bow. Silence was critical now.

He caught her face in his hands and kissed her well. After the briefest pause, she kissed him back, grateful for the fading light that hid her burning cheeks. Then she nudged him away. The deer wouldn’t tarry long.

Kiyoshi’s words flowed back to her: See the target as a reflection of your mind, as a mirror. Your mind will find the target.

Gayth stepped back. Talty fixed on the biggest doe in the herd. She drew without breathing, released, and held her position until the arrow pierced the doe’s side.

Shot clean through, the doe hovered over the ground for the briefest moment before collapsing in a motion so natural, the other deer failed to notice. The arrow’s strange whoosh had alarmed them, however. They scattered into the forest.

Pleased with her success, Talty lowered her bow. The kiss that lingered on her lips unexpectedly angered her. “Why are you here, Gayth? You ran from me before.”

“I ran from a holy woman. Your warrior skills bestir most unholy thoughts in me.”
* * * * *
Thanks for reading!
Pat
Pat’s Website

(This post originally appeared on The Celtic Rose)

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Imbolc & St. Brigid's Day

Newgrange
Ireland abounds with stone monuments built by prehistoric tribes to help them divide the year into seasons: Samhain, November 1, the start of winter; Beltane, May 1, the first day of summer; Lughnasa, August 1, the beginning of autumn; and, Imbolc, February 1, the glorious arrival of spring.

Carrowkeel
The Newgrange passage tomb is famous for its roof box, which allows sunlight to penetrate its interior chamber during the winter solstice. A Neolithic mound in County Sligo’s Carrowkeel cemetery has a similar box that lets light in during the summer solstice. On the Hill of Tara, sunshine illuminates the chamber inside the Mound of the Hostages on both Samhain and Imbolc.

In ancient times, spring arrived during the first week of February. Imbolc (from i mbolg, old Irish for "in the belly") refers to the impending birth of lambs and calves, a time of renewal, the start of the agricultural season. The celebration belonged to the Celtic goddess Brigid, daughter of Dagda, the Irish equivalent of Jupiter, Zeus, or Odin.

Brigid was a triple deity, a benevolent mother goddess of healing, fertility, and fire, as well as the patron of poets and smiths. When Christianity arrived in Ireland, the church superimposed its saints and holy days over many pagan deities and festivals. Brigid became St. Brigid (Bridget, Brigit, Brighid, Bride, Brid), the female patron saint of Ireland, guardian of hearth and home. Born in the 5th century, she became a leader of the early Celtic Christian church. Her feast day, February 1, is the first day of spring in modern Ireland.

Brigid, said to be the daughter of a druid, supposedly fed on the milk of Otherworld cows, a rumor that gave her dual authority over both Christian and pagan ways. A generous woman, she fed the poor and tended both cattle and land, and is often portrayed with a cow at her feet. She became a nun and founded convents and monasteries. Of the many legends associated with her, my favorite is her acquisition of the land on which she built her most famous monastery.

In 470, Brigid petitioned the King of Leinster for some prime property. Thinking himself clever, the king said he would give her as much land as her shawl could cover. Brigid took off her shawl to measure the land, giving each of the four nuns with her a corner of the cloak. The women ran north, south, east, and west, and the shawl stretched to cover acres of land. Her monastery, built near a huge oak tree, became known as Cill Dara, the Church of the Oak. Cill Dara is now the Town of Kildare.

St. Brigid’s Cross, one of the best-known symbols of Ireland, is still made from rushes on St. Brigid’s Day to ensure health and prosperity in the coming year. The practice hearkens back to Brigid’s attendance at the deathbed of a pagan chieftain, who was curious about the new Christian religion. She drew rushes from the floor and wove them into a cross, and when she told him of its origins, he converted to Christianity.

Whether goddess or saint, Brigid symbolizes the renewal of life and the hope of abundance, and Christians and pagans alike still honor her on her day.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

From Fairies to Giants: A Story in a Story

Ireland’s fairies star in my young adult novel, Glancing Through the Glimmer. Who are the fairies? Where did they come from?

According to one legend, the Celts, the ancestors of the modern Irish, arrived in Ireland 1700 years before Christ and defeated the magical Tuatha de Danann, the Tribe of the Goddess Danu. One of the Danann leaders, a womanizing rascal named Finvarra, negotiated a truce with the Irish that gave the Dananns half of Ireland—the bottom half.

Finvarra became the King of the Connaught Fairies, and though he loves his wife, Queen Oona, he prefers to dance with ‘grippable’ mortal women. He’s been known to kidnap them, as Janet, an American teenager living in the modern Kingdom of Ireland, learns to her dismay in Glancing Through the Glimmer.

Janet is on her first date with Liam and doesn’t know he’s the King of Ireland’s son. Seventeen-year-old Prince Liam is not only a scholar, he's also a storyteller, or shanachie. His talent for telling tales helps him rescue Janet from Finvarra and his gang, who are partying in an underground cave north of Dublin. Finvarra knows Liam for a shanachie and demands a story.

Liam eyed his peewee host and pint-sized audience. The perverse idea of telling them a story about giants appealed to him. He began with the standard "long, long ago" and eased into the tale of the giant Finn MacCool’s encounter with his Scottish rival, Benandonner.

Liam told an old folktale that offers one explanation for the origin of the Giant’s Causeway, a spectacular stretch of Irish coast in north Antrim. The Causeway is supposedly all that remains of a bridge Finn MacCool formed long ago to link Ireland and Scotland. Finn who, you ask?

Finn MacCool was the leader of a roving band of gallant warriors who lived in Ireland centuries ago. He and his comrades appear in many entertaining tales. The legend concerning the Giant’s Causeway depicts him as a mighty giant who challenged his Scottish counterpart, Benandonner, to a contest of martial skill.

"Finn shouted across the sea to Scotland and challenged Benandonner to do battle. The two had never met. Now Finn being a thoughtful sort, he set a trail of mighty stones into the sea between Scotland and Ireland so Benandonner might keep his feet dry when he came."

Finn expected a sporting fight, some fun and entertainment, but when he saw the monstrous size of the approaching Scottish titan, he ran in terror to his wife and asked her to hide him.

"She dressed him as a baby and placed him in a giant cradle. Benandonner entered their house, and when he saw what he thought was an infant, he screamed in fright. ‘If this is the baby, why, the father must be huge indeed!’"
The fairies belly-laughed at Liam’s theatrical imitation of the terrified giant’s hasty retreat to Scotland. "He tore up the stepping stones as he went so Finn couldn’t follow."
The stones that Benandonner left in his wake formed the Giant’s Causeway. Having seen this amazing World Heritage site, I prefer this enchanting version of its origin, though geology tells a less fanciful story.

The Giant’s Causeway is part of the Antrim Plateau, the largest lava plateau in Europe. Its massive cliffs are the result of volcanic activity that occurred 60 million years ago. Lava filled a river bed and cooled slowly, cracking into columns and forming unusual structures with intriguing names like the Giant’s Boot, the Chimney Tops, and the Giant’s Organ. (Nothing anatomical here - it seems Finn created a pipe organ for his son, Oisin, to play).

Liam paused. Benandonner had given him an idea. He must rip up stones, so to speak, to keep the fairies from following him. He decided to give his story a brand-new ending.

. . . and Finvarra isn’t going to like this brand-new ending one bit . . .

The Giant's Organ
The Giant's Boot
The Chimney Stacks

Glancing Through the Glimmer / Available in Print and eBook from
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(This post first appeared on Flowers on the Fence)