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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A Full Moon Over Dublin Bay

During my time in Ireland this year I have been a very lucky moon-gazer.  Our summertime night skies haven’t been blighted by typical Irish cloudy skies. I’ve been blessed to observe the full moon in all its glory casting a torchlike glow over Dublin, illuminating both sea and land. Dublin Bay by the light of the full moon is a breathtakingly beautiful sight.

 

Full Moon Over Dollymount

In typical Irish fashion myths and superstitions abound regarding the full moon. Here’s a little sampling of some of these ancient stories.

Full Moon

In centuries past, Irish people didn’t always observe a man in the moon. Instead they talked of spotting the hare in the moon who supposedly carried an egg. A lunar hare image is also prevalent in Chinese, Japanese and Mexican mythology, but I don’t know if he was an egg snatcher in those corners of the world.

In some parts of Ireland the ‘man in the moon’ is said to have once been a lazy Irish boy who was carried to the moon as punishment for his slovenly ways. His inadequate brush sweeping skills were at fault in some stories, and in other versions he failed to carry sufficient water from a well with his bucket. Whatever the poor lad was remiss in doing, he is doomed to watch the sleeping world forevermore.

Full Moon Over Dublin Bay

Now if you are a student of Irish luck and want to learn all the rules for mastering the ‘luck of the Irish’ then pay close attention to these upcoming lucky lunar lessons.

When moon gazing it’s very important to search for the moon over the appropriate shoulder. Spotting the full moon over the right shoulder is considered lucky, but bad luck is inevitable if the moon is first spotted over the left shoulder. You wouldn’t know where to look on a moonlit night.

Dublin Mountains By Moonlight

To maximize your lunar luck then a haircut is in order. You are supposedly ensured the best luck  of all by getting your tresses trimmed in the light of the full moon.

But be careful afterwards as you sleep. You are doomed to the worst luck in the world if the light of the full moon lands on your face as you rest.  Some superstitions go as far as to say you won’t even see the year out if moonlight crosses your face as you slumber. So remember to close your curtains on full moon nights.

The Dublin Smokestacks by Moonlight

Now if you are interested in looking into the future to perhaps spy a potential beau, then head outside with a mirror to examine the reflection of the full moon. Stare long and hard and you might see that special someone.  And again, don’t forget to close your curtains as you dream of your prince or princess, for fear the moonlight illuminates your smiling face.

If you have recently recovered from an illness kneel and pray facing the full moon giving voice to your gratitude for being blessed with the grace to live.  This old superstition is once again an example of how the Irish mixed old Celtic mythology with Christian beliefs.

Dublin By Moonlight

The ancient druids were supposedly great students of the heavenly bodies. They often took their oaths by referring to the powers of the sun, moon, and stars.

This ongoing influence of astral bodies on human affairs is evident in old Irish folk speech. “By the strength of the sun and moon” was a favorite old exclamation.

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If you are as confused as I am by all these lunar directions, then I think it’s best to stick to the old poem we used to say as children.

“I see the moon, and the moon sees me,

God bless the moon and God bless me:

There’s grace in the cottage and grace in the hall;

And the grace of God is over us all.”

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

 

 

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Happy Lughanasadh

Happy Lughnasadh everyone.  Celebrated on the 1st of August, Lughanasadh (pronounced Loo-nah-sah)  is the third of the four ancient Celtic seasonal festivals.

Today marks the waning of summer and the beginning of autumn in Ireland. Seasons change earlier on the Emerald Isle than in North America. And today on Lughanasadh the ancient Celts celebrated the first harvest festival of the year.

Lúnasa is the modern Irish spelling for both the month of August and the festival. With my little smattering of Irish, I mistakenly believed the name was associated with the moon. As a child I used ‘luan’ as the Irish word for moon.

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Since I don’t trust my rusty brain, I decided I better double check the meaning, only to discover the more common term for moon is ‘gealach’.  Well, that got me thinking I better investigate my assumptions for Lughanasadh, and as expected I was a little off base.

The harvest moon is associated with the festivities, but the feast bears the name of the sun god Lugh.  Ancient Celtic Ireland was an agricultural community. On the first day of Lughnasadh Celtic farmers cut the first grains of the season, and families baked loaves of bread, marking the beginning of the end of summer.

Lugh, the ancient Celtic sun god, is credited with hosting the first harvest festival. His poor foster mother, Tailtiu, died from sheer exhaustion after clearing the brush and forestry from the central plains of Ireland for planting crops (another poor, over-worked Irish woman!!)

Lugh commemorated his foster mother’s sacrifice and dedication, by organizing a great feast and sporting competition. Let’s face it, he really should have just helped the poor woman clear the brush.

Over the years this harvest festival evolved into a great tribal assembly. Násad is the ancient Irish word for assembly. It became a time for making legal agreements, resolving disputes, and challenging competitors to great sporting feats.  Hand-fastings, or ancient Celtic weddings were also held on this date.

Reek Sunday Pilgrimage Croagh Patrick - © Copyright Alan James and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License.

Reek Sunday Pilgrimage Croagh Patrick – © Copyright Alan James and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License.

Image Credit

Since much of the festivities occurred at the top of mountains, climbing Ireland’s hills became associated with Lughnasadh. This tradition was Christianized over time, the most famous trek being the Reek Sunday pilrimage to the top of Croagh Patrick. Thousands of pilgrims climbed this famous Mayo mountain last Sunday.

 

And so today, when celebrations of Lughnasadh no longer

dominate Irish culture, perhaps we should just pause for a

moment, taking time to be grateful for the food on our table

and for all of our blessings.

 

Summer days are drawing to an end and evenings are beginning to grow noticeably shorter.  Lughanasadh is a time to begin reaping what has been sown, and to remember the ever turning cycle of Mother Nature.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

 

 

 

 

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Awakening The Horsemen – A Summer Solstice Festival Planned For The Grianan Fort In County Donegal

Grianan of Aileach, an ancient stone ring fort in County Donegal, is a must-see destination for any tourist with an interest in ancient Irish history.

In May 2012 Inishowen hosted Féile Grianán Áiliagh to celebrate life as it was thousands of years ago for the ancient Celts who lived atop this windy hill. Battle reenactments, basket making, sword making and food from the era were some of the amazing educational experiences enjoyed by visitors.

Watch the youTube video above for a little sample of the festivities.

This year  Féile Grianán Áiliagh will be celebrated once again. The festivities will center around the summer solstice on June 21st through 22nd.

Feile Grianan Ailigh21 Line up

© Lorcan Doherty Photography – May 20th 2012.

The Irish landscape spectacle company LUXe will light up the sky, keeping darkness at bay from dusk to dawn.  Visitors will be treated to a fire and light display, sculpture, weaving, and ancient music. The celebration will culminate in the awakening of the legendary horsemen who supposedly sleep beneath Grianan of Aileach.

We visit this stone fort every time we return to Ireland. Here is a previous post I wrote on our last visit to this ancient ring fort. Located in Burt, Co. Donegal, it is only a few miles from my husband’s childhood home.

FEILE Grianan Ailigh

Members of the Errigal Edge pictured at the Launch in Grianan Fort of the “Feile Ghrianan Ailigh” Luah Irish Wolfhound, Katja Gallagher, James Friel, Charlie Gallagher, Jason Mcleanne and Claire Fox . Photo Donal Dunn.

My children love this site. Their imaginations run wild as they climb the stone walls to take in an unobstructed  360° view of the surrounding countryside.  In their mind they are the ancient knights of the Grianan.

I so wish we could join the people of Donegal this year when this historic hill erupts in festivities.

The celebration will begin with a dawn chorus early on Friday morning (June 21), and trust me, dawn is very early on an Irish summer solstice.  That evening a spectacular musical and lighting event is planned and on Saturday afternoon (June 22) a thrilling cultural event is planned for all the family.

Feile Grianan Ailigh11 wedding

© Lorcan Doherty Photography – May 20th 2012.

For anyone planning a trip to Donegal in June, I highly recommend taking in the festivities at the Grianan on June 21st.

Tickets are available on the Earagail Arts Festival website.

Updates are also available on the Facebook page for Féile Grianán Áiliagh.

Hope everyone has a wonderful time next weekend.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

 

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Glencar Waterfall And Lake

There was no shortage of rain during my quick trip to Ireland this month. Glencar Waterfall in County Leitrim was  particularly impressive after so much precipitation. Plenty of water cascaded over the falls, even if the foggy light was less than optimal for photos.

Glencar Lake

On the drive to the waterfall I stopped by Glencar Lough to snap these gray shots of the lovely lake.

Reeds On Glencar Lake

Just 8 miles north of Sligo town, the drive to the waterfall takes you through beautiful scenery along the foot of Ben Bulben and the shores of Glencar Lough.

Boat By Glencar Lake

Despite being overcast and wet, the lake rippled romantically in the gloom.

Sheep On Road To Glencar Waterfall

 The car park greeter wore a wet, woolly coat.

Sheep By Glencar Lake

Sheep grazed on the soggy shores of the lake. The car park opposite the falls overlooks the lake where I took this shot of the flock.

The River From Glencar Waterfall

The waterfall is just a short walk from the car park. The sound of rushing water fills your ears. As I crossed the road I felt my heart quicken in expectation. Waterfalls are beautiful, and no matter how many waterfalls you ever see in a lifetime, the prospect of another veil of cascading water always makes the heart sing.

And as I worked my way along the wooded path, my heart galloped in sync with the thundering water.

I remembered the words of Yeats’ poem, The Stolen Child, which immortalized this mystical place.

Glencar Waterfall

“Where the wandering water gushes

From the hills above Glen-Car,

In pools among the rushes

That scarce could bathe a star,

We seek for slumbering trout

And whispering in their ears

Give them unquiet dreams;

Leaning softly out

From ferns that drop their tears

Over the young streams.”

 Side View Of Glencar Waterfall, Co. Leitrim

“Come away, O human child!

To the waters and the wild

With a faery, hand in hand,

For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”

 

Plunge pool of Glencar Waterfall

I stood at the top of the wet steps, leaning on the fence watching the lacy froth of the glorious plunge pool.  Glencar is magical, just as Yeats proclaimed. Wandering along the looping paths, breathing the finely misted air you can’t help but imagine the faeries dancing here at night.

Stone Bridge At Glencar Waterfall

The previous time I visited Glencar I was probably only ten years old. Back then the path to the waterfall was muddy and treacherous. The new decking, bridges, and beautifully maintained paths make this wonderful place accessible to those who are not so nimble of foot.

Some purists may believe the natural beauty of the waterfall is somewhat eclipsed by all the levels of decking, but I thought it was very tastefully done.

Goodbye Sign At Glencar Waterfall

As you say goodbye to the waterfall don’t forget there are some wonderful hiking trails for the more adventurous.  Wooded trails wind through the trees, meandering in loops up the steep incline along the flanks of Ben Bulben, and finally emerging over the waterfall.

This trip I had no time to take the rocky path to the top, but next time….. Yes, next time I hope to scale those mysterious heights.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

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