Caernarfon Weeping Window : A WWI Tribute

Nov 3, 2016 by

Caernarfon Castle in Wales has recently opened a poignant tribute to the many Welsh soldiers who died in World War I: The Weeping Window.

 

Caernarfon Weeping Window

    Caernarfon Weeping Window poppies display–Image via LonelyPlanet

The Caernarfon Castle exhibit, entitled “Weeping Window”, is made up of more than 6000 red ceramic poppies.

  The poppies were first exhibited at the Tower of London in 2014, as part of the ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ memorial.

That display had over 880,000 hand made poppies, which marked every British and colonial death in the 1914-1918 conflict.

 

Artist Paul Cummins assembled the sculpture and said it had taken nearly six days to install. 

Designer Tom Piper said:

“We have got over 5,000 poppies here, representing probably a fraction of the Royal Welch Fusiliers who died in the First World War.”

Caernarfon Weeping Window

Cascading red poppies of the Caernarfon Weeping Window– Image via WalesOnline

Piper also said it was purely chance that the exhibit ended up looking like a red dragon’s claw.  The red dragon, of course, is a renowned national symbol of Wales.

 

Caernarfon Weeping Window

Observers have noted that the Caernarfon Weeping Window display looks like a dragon’s foot Image via Daily Post

Speaking to the Daily Post, Mr Cummins said:

“It wasn’t planned. What happened was on the last day, when they were planting the last ones, it was a bit of a rush, and there archaeological things on the site that meant we were not allowed to spike in certain places.

“You can only go down a few inches in certain places, so we had to go round those places. It’s just fate.”

Here’s a time lapse video of the installation of the Caernarfon Weeping Window:

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Ceramic poppies used in Caernarfon Weeping Window exhibit

        Ceramic poppies used in Caernarfon Weeping Window exhibit Image

The exhibit is free to the public, but tickets are limited (get them online at Caernarfon’s website here) and demand has been high.

Staff at the castle say the Caernarfon Weeping Window drew almost 40,000 visitors in just two weeks.

The stunning exhibit will remain on display until November 20, 2016.

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Quimper Faïence From Breton

Apr 28, 2015 by

Quimper faïence from Brittany is a popular hand glazed pottery that is uniquely Breton. 

  Quimperware, as this lovely, tin-glazed pottery is known, is highly collectible, especially the older and unique pieces. 

Quimper faïence

Vintage 19th century Quimper faïence binioù (bagpipe) wallpockets from Brittany, France–fabulous!! Image from ebay via Pinterest

Brittany, a former duchy, is known as Breizh in the native language, and has a rich Celtic heritage. 

Music is “E Garnison” by Denez Prigent, a Breton singer from Santec, in the Finistère (Breton: Penn ar Bed) region of Brittany, singing in the gwerz and kan ha diskan Breton styles. Click HERE to see the English and Breizh lyrics to this song about a wandering lady and amiable miller.

Quimper ( pronounced “kem-pair”) is the capital of the Finistère department of Brittany in northwestern France. It is also the ancient capital of Cornouaille, Brittany’s most traditional region that was settled by princes from Cornwall fleeing the Anglo-Saxon invasions of 430–1084 AD.

Quimper faïence

Quimper faïence for sale in Brittany. Image by Julle Kurtesz

The town’s best known product is Quimper faïence pottery. It has been made here since 1690, and is highly collectible.

Faience or faïence (in French) is the conventional name in English for fine tin-glazed pottery on a delicate pale buff earthenware body. Quimper faience is still hand painted, often depicting men or women in native Breton costume. I’ve even seen a Quimper piece featuring a dragon!

Quimper faïence dragon plate

Quimper faïence featuring a dragon, perhaps heralding the Breizh connection to Wales. Image from countryfrenchpottery.com via Pinterest.

Still looking for one of those dragon plates on ebay….

Here’s a brief video showing some of the decorative styles of Quimper faïence:

For more information about Quimper faïence and its history, I recommend the following sites:

OldQuimper.comwebsite written by Quimper faïence experts who also sometimes have vintage pieces for sale.

Quimper Faience Pottery by antiques expert Pamela Wiggins

Quimperfrenchpottery.com

Henriot-Quimper.com –a good site for collectors to see examples of the various Quimper faïence marks

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Rare Welsh Gold

Apr 16, 2015 by

Gold is a beautiful, valuable element, and rare Welsh gold is the most precious Celtic metal of all. 

Highly sought after because of its scarcity, Welsh gold is found in only two areas of Wales: in south Wales near the River Cothi and in north Wales, in a narrow band stretching from Barmouth towards Snowdonia.

Rare_Welsh_Gold_nugget

Rare Welsh gold nugget at the National Museum of Wales. Image by J.C. Mason

Ancient Welsh princes wore great torcs of gold, possibly from Wales. The British Royal family has continued the tradition of wearing rare Welsh gold.  In 1911, Prince Edward I was invested as Prince of Wales, using regalia such as a coronet, rod, and ring incorporating pure Welsh gold. Prince Charles used the same regalia at his investiture in 1969. 

In 1923, the Queen Mother ( Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon) used a nugget of rare Welsh gold to fashion the ring for her wedding to the future King George VI. Welsh gold was also used in the wedding rings of Queen Elizabeth II, Diana, Princess of Wales, Princess Anne, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and most recently, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge.

 

rare Welsh gold wedding band for kate Middleton

Kate Middleton’s wedding band is made from rare Welsh gold. Image source

Kate’s gorgeous gold band–somewhat overshadowed by her blue sapphire engagement ring– was created by Wartski, a jewelry company founded in 1865 in North Wales. Wartski has been commissioned by the Queen and other royals to create several rings from rare Welsh gold.

One of the oldest of Wale’s gold mines is the Dolaucothi Gold mine in Carmarthenshire, Wales.  Dolaucothi was established by the Romans more than 2000 years ago, and continued to produce gold until 1938. In 1941, the mine was donated to the National Trust, which now runs guided tours through the old mines.

The Gwynfynydd Gold Mine in Dolgellau operated from 1860 to 1998. Queen Elizabeth II was presented with a large gold ingot from this mine on her 60th birthday. The mine’s owners used to give guided tours and allow visitors to pan for gold; the Gwynfynydd mine was closed to the public, however, because of potential liability and pollution regulations.

rare welsh gold from clogau mine

Rock containing rare Welsh gold from the Clogau mine. Image source.

One of the most well known Welsh mines is Clogau (pronounced Clog-eye), also called the Clogau St David’s mine in the Dolgellau gold mining area. Located in Bontddu (bont-thee), in north west Wales, Clogau was the largest and most productive gold mine in the Snowdonia area between 1862 and 1911.  The officially recorded output between 1862 and 1911 was 165,031 tons of gold ore from which 78,507 ounces of gold was extracted.

rare Welsh gold dragon brooch

Clogau Welsh dragon brooch containing rare Welsh gold. Image source.

The Clogau mine was re-opened in 1989 by the founder of jewelry company Clogau Gold of Wales, Ltd, but reclosed in 1998.  Clogau Gold continues to produce beautiful gold and rose gold jewelry with Welsh and Celtic motifs, although the pieces only contain “ a touch of rare Welsh gold extracted from the Clogau St. David’s Gold Mine.Welsh gold is chemically similar to other gold, but its scarcity means Clogau and other jewelry makers are forced to use only a scant amount of Welsh gold or else risk depleting all supplies. Clogau says it keep records of all rare Welsh gold used in its jewelry and marks each with a dragon hallmark and authenticity certificate. True Welsh gold is not a rose gold ( an alloy of gold and copper), but rather the typical yellow of any other pure gold.

rare Welsh gold clogau

Nuggets of rare Welsh gold from a recent exploration in the Clogau area. Image source

 

There are no active gold mines in Wales today, making rare Welsh gold one of the most expensive and sought after metals on the planet. In fact, the total world supply of Welsh gold is thought to be small enough to fit in an overnight bag. More valuable than platinum, Welsh gold sells for more than three times the official bullion price in London.

If you are interested in owning a small piece of rare Welsh gold, make sure to do your homework before you purchase anything. Check out a company’s proof of authenticity for its gold pieces, and try to find out what constitutes a ‘touch’ of Welsh gold.  Consider auctions when sourcing pieces–you might get lucky and find a truly unique piece of Welsh gold jewelry.

Most importantly, remember– not all that glitters is truly rare Welsh gold.

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Entrudo, Portugal’s Fat Tuesday

Feb 16, 2015 by

In the ancient Celtic region of modern Portugal, Entrudo, meaning carnival, marks the beginning of the Lenten season.

Entrudo is celebrated on Fat Sunday and Fat Tuesday, right before Ash Wednesday, in the northeastern region of Portugal, once home to several Celtic tribes.  Although the modern celebrations are linked to the Christian season of Lent, Entrudo is rooted in pagan Celtic celebrations of spring.

Unlike the hugely popular, elaborate Carnaval of Brazil, complete with dancing showgirls, Entrudo is a traditional, localized festivity.  Even so, it successfully combines pagan Celtic customs with Christianity to express both a wild, primitive sense of fun AND a Lenten tone that impresses all who watch.

Not that Christianity can’t be fun, of course, but we’re talking about Lent, a time for penance, reflection, and fasting–not exactly a raucous time.

Entrudo in Podence, northeastern Portugal.

Colorful caretos at the Entrudo in Podence, northeastern Portugal. Image by TM

The three day Entrudo is most common in the Bragança area of Portugal.

Like Carnivale in Brazil and Mardi Gras in America, Entrudo is a noisy, exciting, colorful adventure through the streets of town–but on a smaller scale. Symbolically, winter is driven away and spring is welcomed.  Masks are worn, bounteous food and drink is available, and traditional masqueraders like the caretos roam the streets causing mischief and scaring people.  Sounds a bit like the Celtic festival of Samhain, aka Halloween, doesn’t it?

The energetic caretos are usually young men wearing green, yellow, red, black and blue fringed wool quilts. Their masks may be made of wood, leather or metal and are distinctive for their beaked noses.  They carry a mace or staff and are adorned with bells that herald their arrival with “tinkling”.

The caretos run wildly through the local streets in large groups, their loud shouting almost drowned out by the tintinnabulation of their many bells. Think of Halloween trick-or-treaters, but older and with too much caffeine in their system.   The caretos’ craziness can seem a bit wild, even frightening, to tourists, especially young women who are the primary targets of the caretos. That behavior relates to the Celtic fertility aspect of Entrudo.

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Gotcha! Women are the main target for caretos during Entrudo. Image by Rosino

 

Entrudo-podence-portugal

Young girl dressed as a careto during Entrudo in Podence, Portugal. Image by Rosino.

 

Entrudo-carnival-caretos

Entrudo: Caretos and carnival on Fat Tuesday. Image via Pinterest.

Although Podence is famous for its Entrudo, other parts of northern Portugal hold their own unique carnivals for Fat Tuesday. Here’s a video from the city of Bragança–watch for the plaid-covered bull (a common Celtic symbol of fertility); the traditional bagpipers playing gaitas, and the amazing variety of costumes and masks.

 

 

Here’s a photo of a fabulous masquerader from the small village of Lazarim. His costume has an agrarian theme: corn cobs strung together for the outer costume; a mask carved from alder wood by a local craftsmen; gloves adorned with dried corn kernels and a donkey to ride upon (both pagan and Christian symbolism).

Entrudo in Lazarim Portugal

Corn man at Entrudo in Lazarim, Portugal. Image by Alfredo Miguel Romero via Flickr

Here’s a short video of other caretos at Entrudo in Lazarim, 2010.

Oh, look at the cute, fluffy ram costume–wait–is THAT what I think it is?!

Only at a Portuguese Entrudo are you likely to see a pagan fertility careto marching alongside a nun while she hands out blessings to the crowd!

I think I have a new item for my Celtic bucket list.

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Love Poems Of William Butler Yeats

Feb 11, 2015 by

 Valentine’s Day is almost here, and what better gift for your beloved than the love poems of William Butler Yeats?

After all, Yeats was Ireland’s greatest poet. Brilliantly quoting from the lyrical love poems of William Butler Yeats is more likely to win his or her heart than gambling on a fat, winged baby to hit the correct target.

 

love poems of William Butler Yeats

Love Poems of William Butler Yeats: A Drinking Song

 

 

A Drinking Song may seem a strange title for a love poem. Yeat’s words, however, make clear that this brief verse is a toast to love, not to wine.

 

Romance is not just for the young. In When You Are Old, Yeats reminds us that love can be eternal.

love-poems-of-william-butler-yeats

Love Poems of William Butler Yeats: “He Wishes For the Cloths of Heaven.” The image is “The Meeting on the Turret Stairs” (1864), by Irish painter Sir Frederic Burton (1816-1900)

 

Yeats’ He Wishes For the Cloths of Heaven is a beautiful, eloquent love poem.  I’ve paired this heartfelt verse with an exceptionally romantic painting: “The Meeting on the Turret Stairs”, by Irish painter Sir Frederic Burton. This painting was voted Ireland’s favorite painting in 2012.

 

Christopher Plummer (he has Scottish ancestry) gives a poignant reading of Brown Penny in this clip from the 2005 film Must Love Dogs.

Yeats tell us we can never know the good and the bad that comes with loving someone.

Don’t try to seek advice from scholars or fortune tellers–just go and love, says Yeats, for “one cannot begin it too soon.”

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Richard Burton, Man of Wales

Nov 10, 2014 by

Richard Burton, the great Welsh thespian, was born on this date, November 10, 1925, in Pontrhydyfen, South Wales.

 

The son of a coal miner, Burton was born as Richard Jenkins,  the twelfth of thirteen children.  He grew up in a working class, Welsh-speaking household; in fact, the majority of Pontrhydyfen’s inhabitants speak Welsh as their first language.

 

 

 

 

Richard Burton came to be regarded as one of the greatest acting talents of his day, although he never received an Oscar ( despite being nominated seven times for an Academy Award) and was never knighted.  To see a synopsis of 6 memorable performances by Richard Burton, read Wales Online’s new tribute article HERE.

Burton certainly enjoyed the limelight, but didn’t view his profession as a higher calling:

The Welsh are all actors. It’s only the bad ones who become professional.
Richard Burton

After playing King Arthur in the Broadway production of Camelot, Burton replaced another actor as Mark Antony in Twentieth Century-Fox’s Cleopatra (1963). It was on the set of Cleopatra that he met and fell in love with Elizabeth Taylor (both he and Taylor had spouses at the time), beginning a tempestuous love affair that would intrigue the public and the media for decades.

 

 

Burton died at age 58 from a brain hemorrhage on 5 August 1984, at his home in Céligny, Switzerland, and is buried there.

To read more about Richard Burton’s life and achievements, visit the Official Richard Burton website HERE.

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Tommy Makem, Irish Bard

Nov 4, 2014 by

Happy Birthday, Tommy Makem–we miss ye.


Tommy Makem, the internationally known and loved Irish musician, poet and storyteller, was born on this day, November 4, in 1932. He died at age 74 in 2007.


I had the privilege of meeting Tommy Makem when he came to the now-defunct Atlanta Celtic festival back in 2000( or maybe it was 2001). He was a charming Irishman, who could tell a tale as adroitly as he played the banjo and tin whistle. Tommy was a legend of Irish music, and he lives on in his songs and in the many musicians inspired by him.  Here’s The Dubliners in 1978 performing The Town of Ballybay, written by Tommy Makem:


Born and raised in Keady, County Armagh, in Northern Ireland, Tommy grew up in a household where both parents were performers of traditional Irish music. Tommy emigrated to the US in 1955, eventually joining with the The Clancy Brothers for recordings and tours, becoming hugely popular in America and around the world.  Click HERE to see an excellent documentary about the history of Tommy Makem and the Clancy Brothers.
Here’s a video of Tommy and the Clancy Brothers performing The Wild Colonial Boy (remember it from “The Quiet Man” film ?) on the Ed Sullivan television show in 1965:

Makem was a prolific composer/songwriter whose compositions often became standards in the repertoire of the Clancy Brothers and many other Irish folk groups. Four Green Fields, one of his best known songs, became so popular amongst Irish Folk bands that many mistakenly thought it was an anonymously penned traditional Irish song. It is an emotional, moving tribute to the hardships Ireland has suffered throughout the centuries:

 


Other well known songs written by Tommy Makem include  Gentle Annie, The Rambles of Spring, The Winds Are Singing Freedom, The Town of Ballybay, Winds of the Morning, Mary Mack, and Farewell to Carlingford.  Even though many people mistakenly believe that Makem wrote Red is the Rose, it is truly a traditional Irish folk song.

Thank you, Tommy Makem, for your deep love of your native country, for your songs of pride and peace that you shared with the world, and for bringing Irish music to so many of us who first felt that magical pull from Ireland when we heard your songs.

 

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Valkyries and the Death of Brian Boru

Apr 20, 2014 by

Like Scotland, and the Isle of Man, Ireland is a Celtic country with a strong historic connection to the Vikings. Viking raids into Irish territory began as early as 795 AD, with the Northmen plundering monasteries and churches along both the east and west coasts of Ireland. Raids gave way to Viking settlement in Ireland including fortified encampments, or longports, the most well known being on the River Liffey at would become Dublin, and alliances with Irish kings and clans. Viking influence in Ireland was waning even before Brian Boru became high king, but many view the Battle of Clontarf as the event marking the end of the Viking Age in Ireland. Certainly, the Northmen saw the battle as a major event, worthy of writing down in sagas, including the Valkyries‘  battle song of the death of Boru.

 

The Battle of Clontarf (Irish: Cath Chluain Tarbh) took place on 23 April 1014 between the forces of Brian Boru and the forces of the King of Leinster, Máel Mórda mac Murchada, composed mainly of his own men, Viking mercenaries from Dublin, the Orkney Islands and the Isle of Man, who were led by his cousin Sigtrygg Silkbeard, the Norse King of Dublin.    It ended in a rout of the Máel Mórda’s forces, along with the death of Brian, who was killed by  Norsemen who were fleeing the battle and by chance came upon the king’s tent.

 

 

 

Darraðarljóð  or The Lay of Dörruðr, is an 11 stanza skaldic poem in Old Norse found in chapter 157 of Njáls saga.  It is a song of the Valkyries, who weave Norse and Celtic imagery into their prophecies of who will die in the coming battle. Like the Morrigan of Celtic myth, the Valkyries are war goddesses, and their tale here is replete with the blood and gore of a mighty battle.  The twelve weave their tapestry with strings of their own intestines, using bloody spears and swords as parts of the loom of destiny:

 

Blood rains from the cloudy web
On the broad loom of slaughter.
The web of man grey as armor
Is now being woven; the Valkyries
Will cross it with a crimson weft…

Lands will be ruled by new peoples
Who once inhabited outlying headlands.
We pronounce a great king destined to die;
Now an earl is felled by spears.

The men of Ireland will suffer a grief
That will never grow old in the minds of men.
The web is now woven and the battlefield reddened;
The news of disaster will spread through lands.

It is horrible now to look around
As a blood-red cloud darkens the sky.
The heavens are stained with the blood of men,
As the Valkyries sing their song.

We sang well victory songs
For the young king; hail to our singing!
Let him who listens to our Valkyrie song
Learn it well and tell it to others.

Let us ride our horses hard on bare backs,
With swords unsheathed away from here!

And then they tore the woven cloth from the loom and ripped it to pieces, each keeping the shred she held in her hands… The women mounted their horses and rode away, six to the south and six to the north.

 

Darraðarljóð, from Njal’s Saga, ch. 157

 

 

 

 

Though the saga seems to connect the poem to the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, some scholars have pointed out that there are some discrepancies between the poem and what is known of the battle and have suggested that the poem was originally tied to the Battle of Confey in 917.    The Battle of Confey (or Cenn Fuait) was a battle fought in Ireland between Norse invaders and the King of Leinster,  Augaire mac Ailella.   The Irish defeat  led to the recapture of Dublin by the Norse dynasty that had been expelled from the city fifteen years earlier by Augaire’s predecessor,  Cerball mac Muirecáin Ó Fáeláin and his ally Máel Finnia mac Flannacáin, the King of Brega.

 

 

Sources, in addition to those linked above:

The Viking Answer Lady

Orkneyjar, The Battle Poem of the Valkyries: The Clontarf Link

Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

Norse Mythology For Smart People

 

 

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