Lough Gur – A Magical Lake In County Limerick

Lough Gur is a mystical lake in County Limerick, reported by locals to hide a magical realm beneath its glistening surface.  Lough Gur may not feature on most tourist’s lists of places to see when visiting the Emerald Isle, but believe it or not, it is one of Ireland’s most important historical sites.

Scenic Lough Gur

Lough Gur boasts rich evidence of ancient Irish life, Neolithic dwellings, man made islands (crannógs), pillar stones, ruined castles, a large Bronze Age stone circle, and a wedge tomb.

Visiting Lough Gur is always on my “to do” list when I spend time in Ireland. One of my favorite childhood haunts, it lies less than twenty miles from our family farm. Here my imagination runs wild. I love to recount old legends to my children.  Faeries, enchantresses and wild knights inhabit these shores and waters.

Today I thought I would finally share some of last summer’s photos of this glorious spot.

A Swan By Lough Gur

Lough Gur’s current shape is very different to its circular outline of ancient times.  Today, meandering shores kiss the feet of surrounding hills. Before the 1840′s the lake’s water levels rose much higher.

The Hill of Knockadoon lies on its eastern side, but once formed a large island in the middle of the lough. Drainage schemes in the 1840′s lowered lake waters, revealing many of its archaeological treasures.

Visitor's Center at Lough Gur

The Interpretative Center, built in a thatched replica of a Neolithic hut, offers audiovisual overviews of the area, bringing to life over 6,000 years of archaeology and history.

“The Giants Grave” is a wedge shaped tomb dating back to around 2,500 B.C..

Grange Stone Circle is composed of 113 standing stones. Dating back to 2,200 B.C., it is the largest stone circle in Ireland.

Crannogs at Lough Gur

On the summit of the surrounding hill, Knockfennel, there is a ring-cairn of stones. Upon archaeological excavation pockets of burnt human bones were found.  Yikes!!!! Our ancient ancestors were a crazy bunch.

Island in Lough Gur

Bolin Island – a man made island.

Over one thousand years ago the local inhabitants built Bolin island as a defense against their enemies. This artificial island is called a ‘crannóg’, from “crann” the Irish word for tree. When under attack the farmers of Lough Gur retreated to their island by an underwater causeway, lifting the bridge to deny admission to their attackers.

Lough Gur, County Limerick

During excavation of one of Lough Gur’s ring forts a hoard of Danish silver was discovered suggesting the presence of Vikings.

Castle at Lough Gur

Bouchier’s Castle is a typical tower house with defensive balconies and a causeway guarding its approach. It is currently listed for restoration, so hopefully government budgets will soon allow work to begin.

Informational Sign at Lough Gur

An Informative Shield Sign Recounting An Ancient Mythical Tale Of The Lake

Stories of a mystical past abound. One folk tale of the lake recounts the enchanted fate of Gerald Fitzgerald, 3rd Earl of Desmond  (1338 to 1398), a Chief Justice of Ireland and a poet in both Irish and French.  Supposedly he never died, but now lives beneath the waters.

Lough Gur in Ireland

Every seven years this lost Fitzgerald emerges from the lake, riding his white steed, shod with glistening silver shoes. He gallops around the shore and across the lake before returning to his watery home. The legend foretells he will regain his mortal form when he finally wears away his horse’s silver shoes. If I ever bump into him, I must remind him to stick to the hard shores for his midnight rides. He’ll never wear out those shoes riding across the water. When he returns for good he will restore the glory of the Desmonds.

Lakeside Walk at Lough Gur

Another famous Fitzgerald with connections to this area is Honey Fitz, Mayor of Boston and grandfather of the 35th President of the United States. The family of John Francis Fitzgerald (1863 – 1950) emigrated to Boston from this area.  He was known as “Honey Fitz” because of his beautiful singing voice.

View of Lough Gur from top of the scenic walk

Many other folk tales exist recounting tales of the goddess Áine known to sit by the lake combing her golden tresses.

I found a wonderful website, Voices From The Dawn, which dedicates a full post to the history and folklore of Lough Gur.  Here you will find short videos of the late Tom McNamera, the storyteller of Lough Gur, recounting the mythical tales of these waters.

For anyone interested in visiting this beautiful lake, the Lough Gur website includes plenty of helpful and informative information.

If you’re the type of tourist who enjoys getting off the beaten path and visiting the treasures of hidden Ireland, then a trip to Lough Gur should feature on your list of places to see.

Wishing visitors to Ireland, this summer and always, happy, educational and exciting adventures.

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

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Good Friday Traditions In Ireland

Good Friday is a strange name for the day the Son of God was put to death, but it is generally believed to be derived from the term God’s Friday.  To mark Good Friday, I thought I would share some photos of Irish Celtic crosses which I took last summer, and review some old Irish traditions associated with this holy day.

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In Ireland, this day was traditionally dedicated to penance, fasting, and prayer. Some Irish Catholics fasted completely until midday. Then at noon they only broke their fast by eating a piece of dry bread washed down by three sips of cold water, each sip taken to honor the Holy Trinity.

Hot Cross Buns cooling on wire rack

For those who preferred a little less Lenten austerity, one meal and two collations (snacks) were allowed on their Good Friday menu, but fish was recommended for the main meal.  Hot cross buns could be eaten for one collation.

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In the past this was a day of rest with little or no work completed on the land.  One minor task was allowed – good luck and blessings for the summer’s crops could be attained by planting a small amount of grain or seed potatoes.

In preparation for Easter, cleaning and tidying the house and yard was permitted.

No nail could be driven on Good Friday as a mark of respect. Carpenters definitely took the day off.

No animal could be slaughtered, since shedding even a drop of blood was frowned upon.

Fishermen stayed at home with all vessels and fishing nets remaining idle on this holy day.

Good Friday was never the day scheduled for moving house or starting an important project.

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Good Friday is not an official public holiday in Ireland, but banks and pubs are closed. When I was young no pub was open on this day, but I believe in recent years a few exceptions have been made.

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Good Friday is one of the best days to visit a graveyard or holy well.  On this day it is believed holy water has curative properties.

Silence is encouraged by many older Irish people. Remaining silent between noon and 3 pm is a sign of respect for our Crucified Lord, who hung on the cross for these three hours.

Celtic Cross at Cashel

Good Friday has always been considered a good day to die. I’m not sure if any day is a good day to die, but on Good Friday the Irish believe the deceased’s soul ascends straight to heaven.

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If you happen to be a migraine sufferer today is the day to cut your hair. Our ancestors believed a good haircut would ward off headaches for the coming year.  A good toenail and finger trim was also recommended on Good Friday.  Women and girls working in the house loosened their hair, allowing it to hang down as a symbol of mourning.

Penance was practiced by remaining barefoot throughout the day.

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In years gone by there were no fancy chocolate Easter eggs to be found in Ireland. Instead, eggs laid on Good Friday were marked with a cross.  These eggs were then cooked and eaten on Easter Sunday. Also if you were in need of healthy hens, setting eggs to hatch on this day was highly recommended. 

Those born on Good Friday and baptized on Easter Sunday often possessed the gift of healing.  Boys born on Good Friday were encouraged to join the priesthood, with the expectation they would become a parish priest or a bishop.

Crucifixion Carving at Cashel, Ireland

These old Irish customs show us that in days gone by, Good Friday was not merely a day to commemorate the sorrow of Christ’s death. Through these simple, solemn customs our ancestors found a way to remember Easter’s spiritual message of ultimate hope.

 

 

Beannachtaí na Cásca Oraibh

(Easter Blessings)

Irish American Mom

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Snowdrops And Daffodils And Flowers Of The Spring

The first sight of Irish snowdrops in early spring brings hope of warmer days ahead. I love these little, dainty flowers.  They truly lift my spirits after the dark days of winter.

Snowdrops

Snowdrops

Ireland’s snowdrop crop of 2014 has already bloomed.  Tiny flowers, as white as pearls, sway on green-hooked stems, shaped like St. Patrick’s crozier. Daffodils dance in the winds, and crocuses bring color to dormant flower beds.

Crocuses

Crocuses

For those of us who grew up in Ireland in the 1970′s “snowdrops and daffodils” were an important part of our sing along repertoire.  Ireland’s first Eurovision Song Contest winner, Dana, was loved by Irish school children. Her winning song brought springtime to mind:

“Snowdrops and daffodils,

Early morning dew…..

….. All kinds of everything

Remind me of you.”

 

Daffodils

Daffodils

Snowdrops and primroses featured in Ireland’s folk songs. One of the most haunting songs of my childhood is “The Old Bog Road.” These sad lyrics tell the story of an Irish immigrant to New York, yearning for his homeland. This verse brings a tear to my eye:

“My mother died last springtide, when Ireland’s fields were green:

The neighbours said her waking was the finest ever seen.

There were snowdrops and primroses piled up beside her bed,

And Ferns Church was crowded when the funeral Mass was said,

But there was I on Broadway, with building bricks for load,

When they carried out her coffin from the Old Bog Road.”

 

Primroses

Primroses

Listening to my father recite these lines led me to assume the snowdrop is a native Irish plant. I included a description of snowdrops in my historical novel, set in Ireland in the 1840′s. I decided however I better do some snowdrop research to ensure historical accuracy. I soon discovered there probably weren’t many snowdrops to be found in Ireland at the time of the Famine.

What I thought is an-ever-so-Irish plant actually originated in not-so-snowy Turkey. Reluctantly, I deleted my lovely snowdrop descriptions from my novel.

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And so I asked the question, how did these precious little flowers find their way across 2000 miles to thrive in the cold, damp soils of my homeland?

Back in 1874 a Victorian botanist, Henry Elwes, collected the plant in Izmir. Before leaving Turkey he established a system for bulb collection and transportation to the British Isles. Millions of snowdrops have been exported ever since.

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Snowdrops and daffodils flourish in Ireland, probably because Irish gardeners find them poetically beautiful. Springtime bulbs are planted with care in autumn, with an eager eye kept on the dark soils of winter, watching and waiting for the first spiky green stems of spring to appear.

Daffodil Close-up

And once in full bloom we know brighter days are on the way. Here’s hoping sunny spring days will arrive very soon in North America.

 

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

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Winners Of Sean Feeny’s Northern Soul CD

A big thank you to everyone who participated in this week’s giveaway for four copies of Sean Feeny’s Northern Soul CD.  It was lovely to hear how much everyone enjoys Irish music.

Album Cover - Northern Soul

 

Our four lucky winners are:

Mary Sullivan

Keri

David McMurray

Julie B. Green

 

Congratulations to all four winners. I will send e-mails to arrange delivery of your prizes.

A big thanks to everyone who commented and supported this giveaway, and to Sean for sponsoring the prizes. Best wishes and I hope everyone had a lovely St. Patrick’s Day.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

Irish American Mom

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Irish Breads For St. Patrick’s Day

Irish breads are rustic and hearty. These are the breads of my childhood.  Unsweetened  soda breads are full of tasty homemade goodness, and simply delicious with soups and stews. A hint of sweetness in raisin breads and scones makes them perfect with a cup of tea. Here is a selection of my recipes:

 Bread And Cakes

 

Irish Raisin Soda Bread In Baking PanIrish Raisin Soda Bread

Ireland is famous for delicious soda bread made with simple ingredients.  It gets its name from the bicarbonate of soda or baking soda used as the leavening agent. Growing up I loved my Granny’s “sweet cake”.  Here’s my Americanized version of her raisin soda bread….. Read more and get the full recipe here.

 

 

4 slices of brown bread

Irish Brown Bread

A nice wedge of brown bread perfectly partners soups and stews.  Here’s my recipe, created with all-American ingredients. No expensive baking mixes required for an authentic Irish brown bread…. Read more and get the full recipe here.

 

 

 

Sliced Potato BreadIrish Potato Bread – Yeast Recipe

Potato bread made with yeast, flour and mashed potato is a hearty bread.  I love to make sandwiches with this bread.  Here’s my step-by-step photo instructions for baking these rustic loaves……. Read more and get the full recipe here.

 

 

 

 

Kerry or Irish Apple CakeKerry Apple Cake

Kerry Apple Cake, also known as Irish Apple Cake, is a moist cake with a crunchy top, and can be served cold or warm with chilled cream or custard. An Irish Apple Cake is technically not a cake at all.  Apple bread is a better description, but I suppose our ancestors assigned the title cake to any baked good with a little bit of precious sugar added….. Read more and get the full recipe here.

 

 

 

Scones

 Irish Raisin Tea Scones

One of my fondest memories of Ireland is sitting down to an afternoon cup of tea and a hot buttered scone.  My mother makes delicious raisin tea scones, so when I lived in New York, I promptly tried to replicate her recipe. The secret to scone success, I discovered, is all in the flour…. Read more and get the full recipe here.

 

 

 Tea Brack in Cake PanIrish Tea Brack

Brack is a traditional Irish cake baked at Halloween.  The name comes from the Irish word ‘breac’, which means speckled.  Fruit freckles every slice of this delicious cake or bread….. Read more and get the full recipe here.

 

For all the cooks out there planning their St. Patrick’s Day menus, I hope these recipes help you choose the perfect bread to accompany your dishes.

 

 

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig

(St. Patrick’s Day Blessings)

Irish American Mom

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