Celtic Shock And Awe, With KILTS

Aug 16, 2014 by

Celtic shock and awe, using kilts, is usually a winning tactical move. Whether on ancient battlefields of old or in modern sports arenas, kilts have always provided maximum impact.

 

Celtic-shock-awe-kilt

Shock and awe, Celtic style

Just how effective is this type of Scottish “regimental” campaign on the field of battle? William Lawson’s Scotch answers in a popular and funny video featuring a traditional Celtic war challenge in response to a Maori haka rugby dance:

 

 That takes the Celtic intimidation factor to a whole ‘nuther level, ye ken.

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The Callanish Standing Stones of Scotland

Aug 12, 2014 by

 The ancient Callanish Standing Stones of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland are among the most photographed megalithic monuments in the world.  Erected 4500-5000 years ago, the Callanish standing stones are laid out in a rough Celtic cross-shaped pattern, consisting of 13 large stones in a circle with lines of stones radiating from the circle to the east, west and south.  Two lines of stones form the approach from the north, ending in a large solitary monolith in the center of the circle. Its exact purpose is unknown, but most scholars think the Callanish standing stone circle represents an astronomical observatory based on lunar patterns. It was abandoned about 1000 years after it was built and left uncared for until 1885, when the stones came into the care of the Scottish government.

 

 

callanish-standing-stones

Callanish Standing Stones — Image: Jim Richardson

 

In Gaelic, the Callanish standing stones are called Tursachan Chalanais[Toor-sakh-khan Khalanish] or Calanais Stones. Scholars believe the name Tursachan is related to the Old Norse word Tursa, which meant giant, because the stones, especially the central ones, do tower over people.
Local Scottish tradition says that giants who lived on the island refused to be converted to Christianity by Saint Kieran and were turned into stones as a punishment.

Callanish-standing-stones-distant-view

A distant view of the Callanish standing stones: the circle, stone rows and part of the northern avenue. Image: Netvor

There are several smaller monuments near Callanish as well, including Cnoc Ceann a’Gharraidh, a circle of eight stones (three of them fallen), and Cnoc Fillibhir Bheag, a double circle with eight stones in the outer ring and four in the inner ring.  Whatever the purpose, the site was clearly important to its ancient builders, and the Callanish standing stone circle remains one of the most mysterious and magical places in Scotland.

Callanish-standing-stones-northern-lights

Center stone in the Callanish circle, with the Northern Lights overhead. Image: Colin Cameron, colincameronphotography.co.uk

 

Sources:
Historic Scotland

Callanish Visitor Centre

Sacred Sites

Wikipedia

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The Uragh Stone Circle of Kerry

Aug 10, 2014 by

Today we visited the Uragh Stone Circle on the Beara Peninsula in County Kerry, in Tuosist. The location is a bit remote and requires a bumpy ride to get there, but the views are spectacular and worth every pothole, dip and hairpin turn we passed through on our way. Of all the megalithic monuments on the Beara Peninsula, the Uragh stone circle is the one you absolutely must see, especially if your time in Kerry is limited.

 

Uragh stone circle megalith Ireland

The ancient Uragh stone circle on the Beara Peninsula, County Kerry, Ireland.

The Uragh stone circle is close to the bustling market town of Kenmare,  or An Neidín, “little nest”, as it is known in Irish.  Take R571 west out of town, towards Ardgroom; about 14 kilometers down the road, you’ll take a left at sign pointing you towards Uragh. It is on private property, but accessible for a small fee.  Follow the road til it ends at gate, open that gate ( and shut it after you get inside), and drive across the narrow bridge down to the parking area. The bridge crosses a lovely stream flowing down to Lough Cloonee Upper, one of the two lakes near Uragh.

Once you reach the parking spot, you’ll meet meet a nice older gentleman farmer, who grew up on the Uragh land which his son now farms. He charges two Euro for entrance–a pittance for access to this magical place– and is a joy to talk to, willingly answering all your questions about the site, the weather and Ireland in general.

 

Uragh stone circle site with stream

Water flowing down to Lough Cloonee Upper at Uragh stone circle site.

There is a short hike up to the Uragh stone circle, but the path is well maintained and the incline is manageable. As I mentioned earlier, the stone circle sits on private farm land, so don’t be surprised if you have a close encounter with the farm’s hardy sheep.

uragh-stone-circle-sheep

Sheep are unimpressed by visitors to the Uragh stone circle.

The stone circle is just over the crest of a hill, rising up against the backdrop of the stunning Kerry mountains and lovely Lough Gleninchaquin ( aka Inchiquin, the second lake in the Uragh nature reserve surrounding the circle)). There are five stones in the small circle, but the most impressive is the huge outlying monolith that is almost 10 feet tall. This stone is aligned radially with the circle on the NE-SW axis.

uragh-stone-circle-monolith

Monolith stone at Uragh stone circle is aligned on NE-SW axis of the circle.

The stones in the circle are in good shape for their age (several thousand years), although one of the two portal stones directly across from the monolith is starting to lean.  Numerous smaller stones surround the circle and may have been part of the original design.   There is a shallow sunken spot in the center; I’m not sure if something has been removed from that area or if it is a naturally occurring depression.

uragh-stone-circle-mountain-view

The Uragh stone circle is an important piece of ancient Irish history.

There are many wonderful sights to see any where you go in Ireland, but if you want to immerse yourself in the wild Irish landscape and reach back to ancient Ireland and its peoples, then you must go to the Uragh stone circle in Kerry. Stand next to the stones and watch cloud shadows race across the mountains, feel the strong winds buffet you and whip the waters of the lake, and just let the moment sink into your soul. There’s no souvenir stand at the Uragh stone circle, but you will take away a memory of Ireland that will be with you always, as a touchstone for all your future journeys, physical and spiritual.

For more info on the Uragh stone circle and the surrounding area, click on any of these links:

Megalithic Ireland–has exact coordinates for Uragh, plus a wealth of info on other sites in Ireland

Megalithics.com–info on Irish sites, and ancient sites throughout Britain

Kenmare.ie--official site for the town of Kenmare, with info on local sites

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The Altar Wedge Tomb of Toormore Bay

Aug 7, 2014 by

On our second day in County Cork, we drove down to Mizen Head, and stopped along the way to see the Altar wedge tomb. This late Stone Age tomb is easily accessible from R592, about seven km west of Schull–just pull off into the well-marked parking area, walk a few feet and there it sits, facing out towards Ireland’s lovely Toormore Bay.

Altar wedge tomb

Altar Wedge Tomb on the Mizen Peninsula

The location of the tomb, facing southwest towards Mizen Peak, seems a bit like a Disney exhibit to some visitors because of the tomb’s carefully mown verge, its close proximity to a busy road and its endless stream of visitors. It is very much an ancient sacred site, however, with evidence showing it was used by Stone Age, Bronze Age and early Celtic peoples as a ritual site. Archaeological work in the mid-1990′s found burnt human remains dating back 2000-3000 years ago. Between 1250 and 500 BC, shallow pits were dug inside, probably to hold food offerings, and ancient Iron Age Celts filled a pit inside the tomb with seashells and whale bones, some time between 124 and 224 AD.

 

Altar Wedge tomb

Entrance to Altar Wedge Tomb, on Ireland’s Mizen Peninsula

The rise of Christianity in Ireland brought an end to the ritual use of the Altar wedge tomb site. In the 18th century, the tomb was used as a Mass altar by local priests who had been forbidden by English authorities from conducting Mass in a church, giving rise to the stone structure being called the Altar Tomb.

Altar Wedge Tomb view

View to Mizen Peak and Toormore Bay from the Altar Wedge Tomb in Ireland

If you’re in west Cork, you should consider a trip down to Mizen Head to see the Altar wedge tomb. It’s easy to find, easy to access and the views out to the bay are phenomenal– a marvelously megalithic moment in Irish history, preserved in stone for the ages.

 

For more info on the Altar wedge tomb and other ancient sites in Ireland, try Megalithic Ireland’s website HERE.

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Ballabuidhe 2014: Day One In Ireland

Aug 5, 2014 by

I’m currently on vacation in Ireland, and Day 1 was all about the Ballabuidhe 2014 Races in Dunmanway, Ireland. This ancient three day racing event in County Cork is currently in at least it’s 399th year–the first written references to Ballabuidhe are in the year 1615.   Many long-time attendees will tell you that these races date back more than a thousand years.

Ballabuidhe 2014

Ballabuidhe 2014

The Ballabuidhe (pronounced BALLA-bwe) races draw more than 300 horses, including trotters and pacers (and donkeys!) for the sulky races, and ponies and horses for the flat races.  In the flat races,the ponies and horses (usually Thoroughbreds that are too small to compete at regular tracks) are generally piloted by young, aspiring jockeys, eager to prove their skill.  The best of these young men go on to careers in professional horse racing.

 

Ballabuidhe 2014

Crossing the finish line at Ballabuidhe 2014

Ballabuidhe is very much a family friendly event, with people of all ages sitting side by side on the grassy embankment above the turf track. Many families are also active participants, bringing their own horses to race each year, with fathers and sons sometimes competing against each other on the track. I saw women involved in almost all aspects of the equine event–from grooming and harnessing the horses to receiving the ribbon in the winner’s circle. I didn’t, however, see any female jockeys or sulky drivers.

The last day of Ballabuidhe is a huge horse fair and horse show held on the streets of Dunmanway town. I’ll post some pictures of that event after I attend it. I’m looking forward to talking with the wily horse traders again!

For more information on Ballabuidhe, click on their official website HERE or HERE for a short news article about the races.

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Starz Releases Outlander Episode One

Aug 1, 2014 by

The long wait is over, Sassenachs!!

Starz will release Outlander Episode One on August 2nd at 12 am EST on Starz.com, Starz Play ( their phone app), on your television via On Demand service and on the Starz Youtube channel.

At last, we’ll see author Diana Gabaldon’s  Outlander come to life, complete with Jamie Fraser, Claire Randall and all the glory and beauty of the Scottish Highlands.

  Are ye ready?

Starz Releases Outlander Episode One

Starz releases Outlander Episode One at midnight, August 2.

 

 

Here are the pertinent details to ensure you get to see the first episode of Outlander as soon as it’s released:

This complimentary episode is FREE, FREE, FREE-no subscription needed.

It is the full 1st episode, uncut and commercial free, but it is available to US VIEWERS ONLY, no other countries.

The official premiere is still August 9th for subscribers and the rest of the season will be available to Starz subscribers only. Starz is betting that after you see the first episode, you’ll be hooked and become a subscriber so you can see the entire series. Considering the legions of fans garnered by the Outlander book series, I’d say this is a safe bet on the part of Starz.

For all the details, click HERE to go to the Starz Outlander site.  You’ll find links to download the phone app, a list of cable providers offering the show via On Demand service and what devices you can use to view the episode.

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Star Wars Ireland 2014: The Filming Of Skellig Michael

Jul 29, 2014 by

Star Wars Ireland 2014: A long time ago, on an island far, far away….ancient Christians established a remote monastery off the wild Atlantic coast of western Ireland. Filming has begun on that same island, Skellig Michael (Irish Gaelic: Sceilig Mhichíl), a UNESCO World Heritage site, which will be the backdrop for a segment of the next episode in the epic Star Wars movie franchise. The nearby town of Portmagee has been flooded with Star Wars fans seeking a glimpse of the cast or the film’s popular director, J. J. Abrams, because public tour boats to Skellig Michael have been suspended for the three days of filming.

For those intrepid Star Wars devotees thinking of hiring their own private vessel to get out to the island, the Force will not be with them. The Irish Navy (standing in for an Imperial cruiser, no doubt) is patrolling the waters around the island for any unauthorized incursions with a clear warning: this is NOT the Irish island you’re looking for.

Star Wars Come To Ireland  In 2014

That’s no moon. It’s Skellig Michael! Image source

 

For more information on the Star Wars hulabuloo going on in County Kerry and its potential impact on the bird colonies of Skellig Michael, read The Daily News‘ story HERE or Entertainment Weekly’s story HERE.

You can read one of my previous posts about the Irish town of Portmagee and the Skelligs HERE–this beautiful little town on the Iveragh Peninsula is the starting point for the Skellig Experience.

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Making a Statement With Tartan Brogues

Jul 28, 2014 by

 

Fall is just around the corner (I know, wishful thinking on my part) and its never too early to start putting together a tartan wardrobe or adding to your tartan and plaid collection, especially if you have Scottish ancestry.  Good shoes are a must for any sophisticated closet and tartan shoes always get high marks for style and class.  Of course, men appreciate fashionable footwear almost as much as women do, but I’ve seen few men’s shoes with tartan accents–until now.

Scottish tartan brogues from ScotlandShop

Scottish tartan brogues from ScotlandShop

 

ScotlandShop.com, an online retailer based in Scotland, is currently selling tartan brogues that you can custom design by selecting the leather and the tartan. You may choose brown, black or burgundy leather and pick from–drum roll, please!–over 500 Scottish wool tartans, woven in Scotland, to further customize your look. I have no affiliation with the company, I simply think these shoes are wonderful for anyone who has Celtic ancestry or loves tartan and plaid.

The shoes aren’t cheap, but then you should not expect hand made, custom leather footwear to sell at bargain prices. Just think of them as a long-term investment in your Scottish heritage, as you would if you bought a beautiful antique sgian-dubh (pronounced skee-un doo) or an elegant wool kilt in your clan’s tartan.

Personally, I think men’s brogues can be a great addition to a woman’s wardrobe–look at photos of style icons Katherine Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich and you’ll see what I mean. If you don’t want the manly look, however, you can buy lovely women’s brogues from the same company and choose from over 500 tartans to personalize your shoes. They may even have national tartans for other Celtic countries, such as Cornwall, Ireland and Brittany, that you can choose for your shoes.

Now, if only I can talk my husband into letting me buy a pair in Robertson tartan….

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Starz’ Outlander Debuts In San Diego

Jul 26, 2014 by

Outlander,the new romantic adventure cable series set in 18th century Scotland,  officially made its debut last night, July 25, 2014 at San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) and the clips, peeks, and reviews are starting to pour in.   I’ve gathered a few videos and pictures here to whet your appetite until the first episode debuts on August 9th on Starz cable channel; the episode will be available online beginning August 2nd.

 

 

 

 

The official trailer, just released at Comic Con. I saw it today on the Starz cable channel on my big screen, hi def tv–all I can say is WOW, guess the new tv was worth it, after all.

 

 

Starz has also released the beautiful opening credits sequence for Outlander. The song is the well-known Scottish traditional tune, Skye Boat Song, in an arrangement composed by Bear McCreary featuring the vocals of his singer wife Raya Yarbrough. I’m sure this version will be available on iTunes within 48 hours.

 

 

 

Cinema Blend sent a reporter to the SDCC premiere of Outlander, who snapped a shot of this helpful kilted hottie pointing the way to the screening at the Spreckels theater. Read the full report HERE.

 

 

I like this review by on-the-scene reporters because they talk about Outlander from the perspective of someone who hasn’t read the book series, and/or maybe doesn’t even like historical romance. They gave Outlander a shot because they ARE fans of Ron Moore, who also produced the award-winning sci fi series Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009), ultimately giving positive comments for style and adherence to the books.

I, too, am a long time fan of Ron Moore (who also wrote episodes for Star Trek:TNG) so I’m glad to hear that he has been so meticulous with Outlander. It’s good to know there will be no True Blood (the disastrous, from a book fans view, HBO adaptation of Charlaine Harris’  vampire novels) style mangling of Diana Gabaldon’s books, thanks to Ron Moore.

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It’s Not Always Scotland

Jul 22, 2014 by

 

During my frequent travels through the internet world, fulfilling my mission to explore strange Celtic worlds, to seek new Celtic life and civilization, etc., etc., I sometimes see pictures that are mistakenly identified and shared–over and over again–as “Scotland”.

SPOILER ALERT: Despite what you may have heard, the things you see on the net are not always true or correct.

Where in the world is this castle tower? Image source

Where in the world is this castle tower? Image source

Take, for example, this lovely photo of a castle tower in a remote loch–it’s misty, it’s romantic, it’s magical, so it must be in Scotland, right?

Nope.

While the scene is perhaps reminiscent of beautiful Eilean Donan Castle in the western Highlands of Scotland, this tiny tower is dollhouse size by comparison.   It’s actually a folly tower (meaning it’s merely ornamental) set in the magnificent gardens of Pena National Palace (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) in Sintra, Portugal.  Northern Portugal has a strong Celtic heritage, so at least the confused captioner is keeping it in the family, so to speak.   The “castle” is one of two such structures that are home to the park’s elegant swans and ducks, which sometimes sit at the base of the towers, preening their feathers for the tourists.

The Pena Palace Duck houses  Image source

The Pena Palace Duck houses Image source

 Photos are often shared as is, with the sharer unaware of the mistaken identity of the photo.  It happens to the best of us, usually with no one the wiser and no harm done.  Honestly, I do understand why the first picture above  has been repeatedly misidentified as a Scottish scene, but the research geek in me just has to set the record straight— for posterity, ye ken. 

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Sunday Morning With The Butler

Jul 20, 2014 by

 

Sunday mornings are perfect for having a leisurely breakfast in bed, especially when it’s brought to you by a Scottish Butler. I’m referring to Scotsman Gerard Butler, of course.
Just two sugars in my coffee, Ger, and a little maple syrup for my oatcakes, please.

indexsundaygb

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A Romantic Scotsman– Honestly!

Jul 12, 2014 by

We all know Scottish men can be charming, but are they also romantic?  I’m not sure who wrote this silly love poem, but it may  shed a wee bit of insight on what Scottish men consider “romantic” behavior.


A Scottish Love Poem

A’ course ah love ye darlin’

Ye’re a bluidy top notch burd

An’ when ah say yer gorgeous

Ah mean every single wurd

So yer bum is oan the big side

Ah don’t mind a bit o’ flab

It means that when I’m ready

There’s sumthin’ there tae grab

So yer belly isny flat nae merr

Ah tell ye, ah don’t care

So long as when ah cuddle ye

Ah kin get ma erms roon’ therr

Nae wummin wha is yer age

Hiz nice roon’ perky breasts

They jist gave in tae gravity

But ah know ye did yer best

Ah’m tellin’ ye the trooth noo

Ah nivir tell ye lies

Ah think it’s very sexy

Ye’ve got dimples oan yer thighs

Ah sweer oan mah grannies grave noo

The moment that we met

Ah thocht ye wiz as guid as

Ah wiz goanie get

Nae metter whit ye look like

Ah’ll alwiz love ye dear

Noo, shut up while the fitba’s oan

An’ fetch anither beer!!

Source

Really, though–what DOES make Scottish men so popular with the ladies?  Craig Ferguson and James McAvoy explain:

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Songs in Manx Gaelic

Jul 10, 2014 by

The last native speaker of Manx, the language of the Isle of Man, was Ned Maddrell, a fisherman born in 1877 who died in 1974. This unique Gaelic ( Gailck, in Manx) language is not extinct, and a small portion of the island’s inhabitants do speak it, with an even greater number having at least a basic familiarity with Manx. As with many of the Celtic languages, there has been a strong effort to revive Manx, an undertaking aided by the fact there is both written and audio documentation of the language.

Manx is a beautiful language, as you’ll hear in the following videos, lyrical and unique, with hints of Ulster Irish and northern Scots Gaelic, all flowing together to give voice to the ancient Celtic culture of the Isle of Man.

 

This is a traditional Manx folk song,  a woman’s invocation to the sea gods to bring her fisherman home safely. The English and Manx lyrics are contained in the comments section of the video.

 

 

Ushag Veg Ruy( Little Red Bird) is a Manx lullaby, sung here in Manx and English. Click HERE to see the full lyrics in both languages.

 

 

This lovely track, Fin as Oshin, is from Ruth Keggin’s debut album of Manx Gaelic songs, Sheear (“Westward”).  Click HERE to go to Ruth’s website and HERE to to preview/purchase  the album.

 

 

 My Caillin Veg Dhone (My Little Brown Girl) is performed here by Caarjyn Cooidjagh (“Friends Together”), a group of singers based on the Isle of Man.  Click HERE to see the lyrics in English and Manx and HERE to preview another track from the group.

 

Sources and more information on Manx Gaelic:

A Wooden Crate Preserved the Manx Language, BBC

Audio recording of Ned Maddrell, last native speaker of Manx

Basic Manx Phrases, Manx National Heritage

LearnManx.com

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The Piebald Irish Cob

Jul 9, 2014 by

The Irish Cob, also known as the Gypsy Vanner or Gypsy horse, has long had an important role in Irish life, as a cart horse in the city streets, an all purpose farm horse in the countryside, and a means of transportation and barter for the Irish Travellers.    Although this sturdy draft horse comes in many coat colors, the  most common is a piebald, or black and white pinto coat pattern.   Whatever the color, however, the Irish Cob is a fitting symbol of  Ireland: strong, resilient, spirited.

 

Piebald Irish Cob galloping.  Image source

Piebald Irish Cob galloping. Image source

Denise Blake of Donegal wrote a lovely poem about a piebald horse who faced down the dreaded Black and Tans during the Irish War of Independence:

PIEBALD-SOUL
It is said in Ceannconn — the Head of the Hound –
the Black and Tans came for my great-grandfather’s horse,
a piebald horse that ate windfall apples from a child’s palm,
who back-burdened their small farm, who cart-pulled
a whole clan the miles to Schull for Sunday mass.

They came for his horse as they came for all others,
with no intent of any speedy return.
Paddy Callaghan, staying gravestone silent, stared
at the horse who reared full height on his back legs,
brandished hooves more deadly than smuggled Fenian guns.

So the Black and Tans went away,
passed the family in their moonlight ransacking.
If Paddy and his piebald came wandering towards
a boreen checkpoint, the makeshift soldiers stood aside
as if he was Lord of West Cork, his family the heirs.

Has his Ceannconn nature passed through our blood,
a piebald-soul that can incite bone-crushing wildness?
Come between me and mine, and we’ll see.

WILD HORSES by Denise Blake

from TAKE A DEEP BREATH, Summer Palace Press

Rearing piebald at Dublin's Smithfield Horse Fair. Image source

Rearing piebald at Dublin’s Smithfield Horse Fair. Image source

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The Empty Chair

Jul 6, 2014 by

 

Irish brewing company Guinness has a new video that shows the best way to end the American Fourth of July holiday weekend—with a nicely poured pint of Guinness… and a patriotic reminder that out of sight doesn’t mean out of mind.

 

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