Thursday, December 14, 2000

BRIGHID OF NAMES: A TRIPARTITE LIFE iii


BRIGHID OF NAMES: A TRIPARTITE LIFE

I
Breeda, Bridey, Bridge-it:  Those eedjit Sassenach
never could wrap their thick Bearla around our sweet teanga.
Once I was Bree-id,  but I bridle at being called Bridie,
so undignified. Then they called me a Bride of Christ.
I, who was God-ness far beyond the Scythian Sea
I was every maiden, every bride and every crone.
In the Isle of the Blesséd, the Túatha  called me Brigantia
and gladly I gave my warrior cry to them,
for were they not my children?
Now brigantine corrupts my line.

In the beginning I was the triune Brí-ed,
but men from the east stripped me of my sisters: I was reduced to
Brighid of the healing, whom midwives and mothers beseeched,
Brighid of the Goibniu, who fanned the forge with her sweet breath.
And I, the anvil of poetry, wrote the ranna into the numbering of years,
I was christened Naomh Brighid for my deeds.
But they drove my Túatha    underground, calling them sídhe—faeries.

Up the airy mountain, down the rushy glen
we durna go a huntin’ for fear of little men
Wee folk, good folk trooping all together
Green jacket, red cap and white owl’s feather.

They took little Brigit for seven years long...

I was reduced to a faery, a mortal and a saint in one blow.
Poor Brigid Cleary, reduced to ashes by a husband who thought her a changeling.
Her only crime—a bad cough—but it was an unusually damp winter in 1889...
but that’s another story.

I was born at the atha  between worlds, betwixt night and dawn,
neither within nor without the house, ní an thigh ní an rígh.
The Daghda, the Good God, he was my áthair,
who was my máthair? Bóand of the Cows? Or Dana? I never knew.
Dana whose rivers adorned continents. Dnipr, Dienster, Don, Danube.
They say I was a fussy child, drinking only bainne from the red-eared cow.

I was wed a while to Bres, but he was a half-Fomorii from beyond the sea...
more interested in playing the Cattle of Tethra, his blasted fish, instead of me.
I watched our three sons fall, blessed by the song of the sword.
It was I who keened the first sorrow ever to face Éire.
I wanted them beside me, not in the land of the ever-young. Tír na n-Óg.

Caesar, in love with the scheme of things,
called me his little Minerva, making me patron of arts and crafts,
but he, with his silly interpretatia  never guessed
I was the fire Sulis, and her sisters of the lost names.
Greine Bélsima (most brilliant I was). The very heart of the sun.

Then, from across the sea they came with their tonsures and Latin learning,
reduced my Féis Dé, to Candlemas, but I was still a woman of sudden flame.
Nothing could susume me. I was simply present in the beginning of language
for my name simply means goddess, goddess, goddess.

Ah, Imbolc, the sweet milking for the lambs on the first day of Earrach.
It was I who divided the year into lovers: Samhain and Gemredh. (fall and summer)
In the first paragraph of paradise, I was shaper of the land, the consort of kings.

II BRIGIT AS MORTAL

In the first year of the plagues, Cogitius the monk scribed:
to a mortal slave she was born, swathed in a druid’s ráth on the Curragh.
I was thrice-born in the sweet land of Medbh, intoxicating queen of honeyed thighs.
I was born at Cú Chulainn’s menhir where he faced his final hour,
where my sister, the Mórrígan,was the war-raven tasting his eyes.
To appease his jealous wife, my dark father, Dubthach,
sold me to a king who thought me too worthy a wife
when I gave away his sword, chariot, horses, and treasury...
With my mantle, I claimed the whole of the Curragh
that land where as a girl I raced my chariot against the wind,
I claimed it to grass the cattle of the poor.
Milk overflowed in my fields. I bettered the sheep, I satisfied the birds.
For the night I was born, three cows gave birth at once
in the kitchen of the milk god.

It’s true, in the mortal coil, I refused marriage, even to the filidh
who couldn’t take a joke and fled like an omen hare
when my eye burst like a meteor on my cheek. Ach, it was only in jest.
Before battling with goddesses, remember the poem is better than any lord.
The lepers and the blind loved me, for my holy wells healed their maladies.
My little speckled fish wagged his tail, restored sight and prophecy.

St. Brendan of Tra Lí,  with thoughts always to the sea,
who preferred its music to that of the harp,
stayed in his blue martyrdom seven long years.
No one to cure my headaches, or to tell me tales of leviathan isles,
where he unwittingly said Easter mass on the back of a whale,
how it shrugged him off when he tried to build a fire.

Over the wave-voice of the strong-maned sea
and over the mouths of the marvelous, bitter ocean...
multitudes of furious red-mouthed monsters chased him.

He told me of The Land of Promise, an isle of mice, a paradise of birds,
and stories of crystal columns, and lost cities of glass beneath the foam,
and of ships in adrift in the sky, dropping anchor on some steeple below.
And the mayhem that followed when he climbed down the chain for a closer look.
My Forever Navigator, he tried to hang his wet cloak upon sunbeams like me.
My jealous brother, born between the salt water and the sea strand,
claimed the beasts of the sea loved me better. He was right, you know.
I gentled mad horses and soothed the voices of the waves.
They say I never crossed seven furrows without thinking of God.
I simply never took my mind off her.

With seven sisters, they say I built monasteries beneath the oaks.
But the oaks, not the churches, were my temple.
Even Column Cille loved his oaks. I came to him as a bird and sang.
Did they not know Cill Dara was already mine own?

From the time the earth took me back into her womb
until the dubhgaill  pirates came in longships from the north
I was smuggled to Dún Pádraig with himself and Colum Cille,
for 500 years we three slept together, blissfully forgotten.
No separation of marrow from bone.
We had but one heart and one mind.
I sleep but my heart waketh.
On the eve of Invasion, it was Maolachi who found us...

Dear Cormac in his Glossary penned that as a saint I usurped “a goddess
whom the bards worshipped, for great and noble was my perfection.”
He was right, you know, Briga is the word for Goddess.

Nineteen of my cailleacha  kept my fires lit with their sweet breath
Brigit guard your fire, the next night belongs to you, they always said.
I left a footprint in the ashes as a token of my affection.
In the 1200th year of Our Lord, Normans doused that fire and my 10,000 nuns wept.
That Welsh monk Gerald scryed there was a matter of a hedge no man could cross.
Hmmf! Plenty of men came to visit me, let me tell you.
The only thing that drove them mad was their silly fear of desire.
Hairy-psalmed men moved by soft Latin and flagellation never interested me.
Three sons I had: and they claimed me a virgin! What were they thinking?
I sent the kestrel to the spires of Kildare when her breeding was done
to mock them. Let them breed in someone else’s parish.
And that bit about the nuns: as if I needed prompting to mind my own fire!
Neither Gerald nor Cormac never recognized me as their own St. Ffraid.

It wasn’t Ibor who conferred me to the veil—history has it wrong—
it was Mel, so intoxicated by my presence,
that he read the ritual for ordaining a bishop over me. Bishop Brigit,
second only to Ticfa Pádraig; I kept my monks supplied in food and beer.
Silly things drank my bath water from Maundy Thursday to Low Sunday
before they realized it wasn’t ale. They, who called me Mary of the Gael
were clean mad to drink anything if it were blessed—even bog water.

Everything I put my hand to, received a threefold increase.
Churning, spinning, weaving were at my board. Brigit of the braziers.
Once I fed the dog the bishop’s dinner; and the meat was back on the bone by supper.
The multitudes I fed from that same haunch! Go leor: plenty and enough at my board.
But a sleighty fox stole the bone so I sent him packing to trouble a king’s court
to beg for tricks like a hound for a year and a day.

As a child, my hands charmed three yields of milk from my cows,
and the butter! I once filled the dairy with it to impress a stranger
who was horrified at the sight of a mountain of butter.
But to the vain woman bearing me wizened gifts of pride-apples,
I gave her fruitless trees as a small token of my gratitude.
How she eagerly watched the blossoms set to fruit each spring
only to ripen into husks, like herself. Crone!

How I miss my little bishop, Conleth, the metal-smith, falsely accused
of fathering a child, but it was Brón, (sorrow’s patronage abused.)
I bade the newborn speak the name of his father.
Brón Trogain, he mewed. Earth’s sorrow.
Did I not reside over His birth, did my sisters not nurse the Holy Child,
he who was to come, the triune God, the Son and the Father, all in one,
who was three in one, and one in three, a trinity like my sisters Bríd and me?

III
Know you that at the red hand of Ireland
I have been resurrected in the third age, a woman
without name, reborn in the fire of the last phrase of the millennium,
while child soldiers slouching on street corners, defend blood faith,
and the alien Bearla is now our sweet foreign tongue.
The Navigator Poet saying, Read the hand, read the hand...
In Ulster and Killdare, I sleepeth but my heart waketh.
I, who made Patrick’s shroud, who will read mine
when the last paragraph of paradise unfolds its wings?


Tuesday, December 12, 2000

The Tangle-Coated Horse & Other Tales: Episodes from the Finn Saga

Klar, Celtic Romanticism CS 170
Final Paper

THE TANGLE-COATED HORSE & OTHER TALES: EPISODES FROM THE FINN SAGA

Glory O to the bold Fenian men.
—Irish Rebel Song


Utilizing Celtic Revival translations of medieval Irish texts and ballads, Irish folklorist Ella Young retells a richly embellished, but streamlined version of the youthful deeds and the coming of age of a super heroic warrior-hunter, Finn mac Cumail, in her third collection of tales based on Irish mythology, The Tangle-Coated Horse and other Tales from the Finn Saga. 

In her foreword she wrote, “The Fionn saga is one of the oldest of Gaelic sagas: it is also one of the best-remembered… Finn McCool is a household word.” Like the patriot-hero, William Wallace, in Scotland, Finn’s name also survives everywhere in the place names of Scotland and Ireland. According to her colleague, Padraic Colum, Ella Young’s collection departed from tradition in that: “…the Fionn saga was originally the hero-lore of dispossessed men who hunted and hired themselves out as fighting men, and looked back to where they had good hunting or pleasant shelter as places of romance and charm.” (Ella Young, an Appreciation, p. 10).

Whether intentional or not, the timing of Ella Young’s ancient tales published on the eve of Irish nationhood in 1929, contained many parallels with Ireland’s modern-day struggle. The concepts of nationhood and freedom must have been forefront in Young’s mind. She referred to Finn as “The Big Man” (perhaps a reference to the Irish rebel leader, Michael Collins?)... though the Fenians adopted the mythology of the Ulster Cycle and CúChulainn, not Finn, as their national symbol of freedom. However, Finn’s resemblance to CúChulainn is overwhelming. 

In Ella Young’s own story, we also glimpse the quintessential Celtic story of the good fight, heroes overcoming great obstacles, and betrayal—within a modern context. According to Florence Jury, “During the Irish Rebellion she lived in houses where ammunition and rifles and mausers were hidden. She rode horseback at night, carrying messages to hidden units of revolutionary soldiers. She earned a place on the English blacklist.” (Everything Opposite the Golden Gate, p. 319). And Ella herself, “a figure out of romance,” was something of a dispossessed Fenian warrior trying to gain entrance to the modern Tír-na-nÓge, America, and ultimately, to what was to become the Celtic Studies Department at UC Berkeley.

Set in the Golden Age of First Century Ireland, the Fenian Cycle saga unfolds with an introduction to Finn’s childhood troubles: his lack of a homeland, the usurpation of the inheritance of his father’s chiefdom and Fianna band, and how the Clann Baiscne came to be disgraced, outlawed and homeless, betrayed by the clan steward, bearer of the treasure wallet—tribal sovereign treasures. 

And of the regaining of his inheritance and the restoration of his ancestral tribal lands. (The idea of the Fianna, already an outlawed troop, being doubly outlawed, was stiff sentence to bear in a shame-based society.) 

It is a tale of redressing past wrongs, of restoring tribal rights—with a warrior-elite army upholding a chivalrous moral code akin to that of Maloroy’s King Arthur and his court at Camelot. 

These traditional Celtic tale-type motifs are rife with regnal, warrior, and hound lists. The stories include boyhood deeds, namings, coming of age, wooings, abductions, hunts, raids, battles and enchantments—replete with larger-than-life warriors who overcome insurmountable obstacles at great odds; their half-faery dogs, horses; the prophecies of gods, druids and druidesses; and a host of otherworld characters including hags, giants and monsters. 

Young’s Fenian landscape is unspoiled and bucolic (no flies syndrome), the parallel otherworld is positively jewel-toned, the sky is made of sapphires, and flowers are vermilion rubies; the dúns of mortals and faery alike are spacious shining abodes all aflutter with silken banners art and music.

The second half of The Tangle-Coated Horse is comprised of several tales associated with the Fianna, where Dairmid, representing youth, is the main protagonist, and bald Connan/ Cunnaun is the aging storyteller recounting the band’s past deeds. 

The final tale is of Finn’s son, Oisín’s return to Ireland from Tír-na-nÓge. But the heart and soul of the book is the story of young Finn. Because the foretales of Finn’s birth are omitted from Young’s story, I looked to other sources for motivation. In Eileen O’Faolin’s 1950s redaction of “The Young Finn,” which is closest in tone to Ella Young’s version, we learn there was rivalry between the Cumal and the clan of Morna “wishing to get the headship for one of their own family, rose in revolt against Cool…” (Irish Saga and Folk-Tales, p. 126).

I found that Young’s main story closely parallels the medieval text, “The Boyhood Deeds of Finn,” as recounted in Ancient Irish Tales. Young doesn’t furnish the backstory as to why the Clann Morna, at the request of Finn’s grandfather, and Conn, high king of Tara, killed Finn’s father, Cumal for abducting Muirne/Moorne. 

But in an older version of the tale, “The Battle of Cnucha,” we learn of a hereditary blood feud. “Cumall was slain…. by Goll mac Morna.” (Ibid p. 358). The reasons are at best, convoluted: King Conn’s Fianna warrior—Goll, the one-eyed—at Conn’s request, slew Finn’s father, Cumall, who was also Conn’s uncle, at the Battle of Cnucha, for abducting Muirne, a druid’s daughter, from Conn. 

So we really have a story of homicide within the familial derbfhine, an abduction and cross-age love triangle, not mere clann rivalry. And like CúChulainn’s mother, Muirne, rejected by her druid-father, is forced to give birth outside the tribe; Cumal’s sister Bovemall/Bodball, is her midwife.

Young omitted critical portions of the tale which foreshadow events Finn is destined to repeat—the sins of his forefathers. Is it because Young claimed to have collected her stories from the oral tradition and these subtle, complex relationships were too abstract to preserve? 

In the ancient tales, to win back his name, family honor and lands, Finn demands an eric honor price or blood-fine of his maternal grandfather Tadg, for being the cause of his father Cumal’s death. In retribution, Finn is given the palace of Almu, or Allen in Kildare. Cumal means “the equivalent of one slave” and erics, or fines, were rendered in cumals: three cumals equaled one milch-cow (this is still a cattle herding society). So there’s clever word-play in the old stories. It’s possible that medieval audiences didn’t attach significance in a character’s name but I suspect naming was important as it plays a significant part in the Finn saga.

With the additional help of the two versions of Finn’s boyhood in Ancient Irish Tales, we get a more in-depth picture of Finn, a CúChulainn type figure, where we learn his mother’s sisters, druidess Bovemall/ Bodball who controls weather, and her sister the leech/healer Liath. Both “natural philosophers” are also his foster-mothers. They, like Scathach, CúChulainn’s teacher, are women-warriors. Bovemall teaches him forest craft and hunting. She reads him his future. 

His aunts are literally forced to abandon him to the wolves (after introducing him to the king of wolves, making a pact of fealty—a touch of totemic animism as Finn is the hunter king of men), because they’re hunted by the Clann Morna. 

Finn literally goes into the wilderness in order to become a man. His being raised in the forest, which is pure and primeval, is soft primitivism at its best. He is the Noble Savage. The clann scatters to the wilds of Connacht (Cromwell’s line, to hell or Connacht, comes to mind) living like hunted wolves. In Finn’s story, on a subtle level, we also have a supremacy battle erupting between Leinster and Connacht. Professor Eoin McNeill calls the Finn epic “the epic of a subject race.” (Ancient Irish Tales, p. 356).

In Young’s story, “A Night of the Nights,” she weaves a story within a story not related to the Finn Cycle, a theme included in her first book, Celtic Wonder Tales. The story Bovemall tells Finn of the Shining Ones in a parallel Heaven World who created the earth, is stunning in its use of poetic prose. Young’s rich language worthy of the sub-plot where Finn gains eloquence, wins his warrior career, and vows that all prospective Fianna warriors of his band must be equally adept at poetry. Here, Young borrowed from the Leabor Gabala, the Book of Takings, to create a multiple worlds.

Triple Goddess Sive/Sadb looked into the Pool of Fec, where every Samhain Eve, Fintan the Salmon of Knowledge, grazed on the Hazelnuts of Wisdom. Dissatisfied with the beauty of her reflection, Sive slid down into the darkness of the pool and into the abyss. 

Out of that darkness, the earth was created. Partholán joined her, as did Nuada, the ethereal Tuatha Dé Dannán, and lastly, the Milesians, or Men. The Shining Ones, the Tuatha Dé Dannán, are equated with the stars throughout the story—related to quantum mechanics. They gave to the Clann Basiscne the four jewels, and the treasure wallet, talismans of sovereignty and luck which the clann loses due to treachery from within the clann. The treasure wallet bearer Lia Luachra tells Cumal the wallet is lost, and thinking the luck of the clann is lost, Cumal is killed. Goll mac Morna takes over Cumal’s Fianna band and home.

A I previously mentioned, naming, whether secret, or true, plays a prominent role in the Finn saga. Finn means “the white/fair” or “chosen” one, (“gwyn” in Welsh), whose real name is Demna. When Finn’s abandoned by his tribe, he apprentices himself to Finngas, the exiled court druid-poet of the Clann Baiscne, where he learns poet-craft (eloquence). 

Padraic Colum wrote that The Tangle-Colored Horse “is a book… about youth, and in this it has an affinity with another book of Celtic stories, Lady Charlotte Guest’s The Mabinogion.” (Ella Young: an Appreciation, p. 10). In the preface to The Misfortunes of Elphin, the editor (?) compares Elphin/Taliesin to Finn: “They have obviously a common origin with the Gaelic legend of how Finn MacCool got his gift of second sight by scalding his thumb and clapping it into his mouth when cooking the magic salmon for his master. (The Misfortunes of Elphin, p. 550). 

And like his Welsh counterpart, the poet Taliesin, Finn too accidentally gains druid-wisdom from eating the Salmon of Knowledge that was meant for Finnegas—or so Finnegas thought. There is a confusion of names with Finnegas’ own name, because the prophecy naming Finn or Finnegas. But Finn gave Finnegas his birth name, Demna. When it’s all sorted out, Demna is officially re-named Finn. 

To further confuse things, the salmon’s name is Finntan. All these favored ones converging in the same pool is positively blinding! But Finn refuses to name his father or his clann until he’s avenged them, and secured oaths of reward. He proves to be shrewd and clever. 

Only after Finn perfects his poet-craft is he armed. Finn’s warrior arming is unusual in that the marsh [bog] seems to take the responsibility upon itself to present him with a bronze sword of the Tuatha Dé Dannán, the symbol of his dual-world warrior sovereignty. Finn’s father’s warrior, Fiachra, arms him with a faery spear that Cumal had stolen. 

Finn becomes a warrior-hero by saving his tribe and Conn’s Tara from the Tuatha Dé Dannán youth, Allyn mac Midra, who, every third Samhain, burns Tara with his breath because Finn’s father, Cumal once stole a faery spear. The spear keeps him from falling asleep when the faery music begins. By killing Allyn, Finn asks his boon of Conn for the restoration of his clann to its rightful status.

How does a half-mortal hero obtain a mate/ sovereign goddess? from the otherworld, but the caveat is that he can’t keep her. We learn of Finn’s otherworld marriage to Saba, the Tuatha Dé Dannán girl enchanted as a pale otherworld fawn, and how he breaks the enchantment only to lose her when he fights the Vikings. 

The hunter carried his quarry Saba, across his threshold/sanctuary which broke the Dark Enchanter’s evil spell. But while Finn was gone seven days, the Enchanter appeared in his guise (shapeshifting) thus tricking her across the limnal boundary of her own free will. The reason for Finn’s stronger magic was because he is righteous. Seven years later, still grieving, he finds his child Oisín raised in the forest by his mother who once again is a deer. We learn of Finn’s otherworld adventures, and beyond, as he tries to forget his sorrow and loss. The lamenting begins in earnest.

Young’s version of the episodic stories of Finn’s heroic boyhood deeds are intended for young audiences, as the stories of Finn’s middle, and old age are significantly missing from this collection. Padraic Colum wrote: “…in olden times the saga dealt with the life of a hero from childhood to old age, from Fionn’s first boyish feats to the time when he weeps over Oscar, his grandson, slain at the battle of Goura, and see Usheen, his son…go to the Land of Youth.” (Ella Young: an Appreciation, p. 8). In the following stories, Finn is mentioned by reference in the second half of the book, where Diarmid, one member of his band, suddenly becomes the main protagonist.

Most of these stories are told within a framework of storytelling and have to do with the context of retelling the story for posterity, themes of hospitality and of previous right action reaping its just rewards, with an emphasis on maintaining a medieval chivalrous warrior code. 

In one story, the recount the creed of their fellowship—the noble rules of life: generous, hospitable, courteous, and valiant—protecting the weak and under enfranchised. Very Robin hood. University of Chicago professors Cross and Slover wrote:
According to the Irish annals, Finn flourished during the third century…, but the earliest references to him in literature do not appear until several hundred years later, and the vast majority of the tales about him are found in manuscripts dating from the twelfth and later centuries. (Ancient Irish Tales, p. 355).

One group of tales represents Finn as the head of a national militia; in another group of tales, he is powerful enough to oppose the high-king; and the third group “elevates him to a position superior to all opponents, portraying him as a slayer of monsters, a general benefactor of his country, and above all, a national defender of Ireland against foreign invaders, especially the dreaded Vikings.” (Ibid p. 355). 

Cross and Slover concluded that the Ulster epic was “the literary property of the aristocracy, while the Finn material was … from the beginning the literature of the folk…modernized by each succeeding generation.” (Ibid, p. 356) I don’t know some of the original tales that Young draws upon to comment on them—except that they do have a ‘Robin Hood” quality, and are rife with the traditional motifs we associate with Celtic mythology: abductions and enchantments; battles and allegiances with otherworld folk—especially involving Manannán mac Lír’s realm under the sea. 

The title story of “The Tangle-Coated Horse” is about Manannán’s own faery horse who whisks the Fianna off on his back to the Land Under Waves. When otherworld folks are in need of rescue, they seek help from the mortal world. Diarmuid’s wooing is similar to Finn’s story, except that the resent his going off with a faery woman and are instrumental in the destruction of his match with the King Under Waves daughter, Storm.

The penultimate tale in Young’s book, “The Nuts of Knowledge” is about Finn’s double death in the otherworld on Samhain. Finn muses that the sword game is better than old age. Young picks up the lost threads and weaves a samite cloth for the hero’s death. In the first story, Finn wanted to see the shadow Sive/Sadb the triple goddess who created the earth. It’s Samhain. From Sleive-na-mon, Sive comes to draw water from the well of wisdom for the Gods of the Dana. Finn waits for the shadow of the goddess Sive. By naming her, he earns the right to see her, and is changed into Fintan, the Salmon of Wisdom, for his troubles. 

But her terrible beauty and the knowledge is too much for him so he dies twice: once for her Shiva-like beauty and once for her profound knowledge. When he awakens the next morning on the grass outside Tara, he retains some otherworld knowledge, he understands the speech of the birds and grass. 

The final tale is not in the heroic tradition because Finn’s son, Oisín, dies of old age, though the Rip van Winkle theme is archaic. Oisín returns 300 years later from Tír-na-nÓge, the Land of the Ever Young, to tell the stories of Finn to St. Patrick, therefore recording the story we are reading—creating a mirrored Möbius strip much like the motifs recounted in Tales of the Elders of Ireland. In Young’s version, the monks tell Oisín of Finn and his band asleep in a cave, waiting to be wakened like Arthur—when the time is ripe.

How does the story fit the framework of Celtic romanticism? We have issues of nationalism, issues of land, we’ve lots of fighting: with just causes to fight for (usually saving maidens), head-taking, we have treachery from within the tribe. Finn has a divine parent, he gets knowledge from the otherworld (salmon, water, goddesses, druids, druidesses, mists and white animals). 

We assume Finn died a hero in battle though we have no story of it (I looked up “The Death of Finn,” and the battle of Gabra sounds like the battle of Clontarf, with Finn/Brian Boruma fighting the Vikings.) We have feasts galore. Major events happen on Samhain, and at water/fords. There are thin boundaries at Samhain; “To-night a mortal could enter there: could drink, ungrudged—from vats of mead and hydromel—the golden heady drink of immortals.” (The Tangle-Coated Horse, p. 163).

Other Romantic motifs include the quest to save ancient knowledge. From reading Ella’s writings, one gets the sensation that just in the nick of time, she single-handedly saved the stories from oblivion, from a lost tradition, when in reality, many of the stories were already published by the Celtic Revivalists. 

Young (1867-1956) wrote the introduction to The Tangle-Coated Horse from Halcyon, shortly after Samhain eve...1928, the stock marked hadn’t yet crashed; I suspect that cataclysmic event had a profound negative effect on her career. 

However, after the publication of The Tangle-Coated Horse, she was appointed a UCB lecturer from 1931 to 1936. Young is better known for her first book, Celtic Wonder Tales, (1910). Young wrote that she learned many stories as a child in the village of Feenagh, County Antrim, Ireland. We learn from the Dover edition jacket page of Celtic Wonder Tales, that:
Irish poet and mythologist Ella Young recalled hearing as a child, “Tales of ghosts, banshees, haunted castles, mischievous and friendly sprites…” Later in life, she realized what a splendid heritage awaited her in Celtic literature…Celtic Wonder Tales… was the product of her fascination with ‘lost inheritance.

Young was well-acquainted with Dr. Hyde and the Celtic Revival movement. She immersed herself in Gaelic Language, literature and culture. On the Floris Books edition jacket page of The Winder Smith and His Son: A Tale from the Golden Childhood of the World, Ella Young wrote:
The stories were told to me in Gaelic at times, at times in English. I heard them in cottages by turf fires, I heard them in brown-sailed fishing boats and on rocky hillsides. They are mixed in my mind with sunshine and sweet air and wide empty spaces: with lakes in Donegal, where faery horses are said to hide, with pools in Connemara, where crested serpents called Piasts, lift their heads and with glittering inlets of the sea and mountains in Kerry.

Young clamed to have collected her stories in Ireland, and later, in California, she wrote them down. Young stated: “The stories were told to me in Gaelic at times, at times in English.” She named stroyteller Patrick Gallagher as her main source. She wrote, “I have amplified the tales but I have not altered any incident.” But she also liberally borrowed from earlier Celtic Revival authors.

Not only did Ella Young describe the collecting of her stories in glowing romantic terms. Indeed, lore about her life itself could be rendered in romantic terms: she is variously described as a druidess, a seanachie, a Fenian, a deva. “One did not feel she was human or on our plane,” wrote Rosaling Sharpe Wall (A Wild and Lonely Coast, p.186). 

I remember my best friend Micaela’s parents telling us stories of bohemian California in the 1930s and ’40s—especially of Carmel and Big Sur, where they then lived. We grew up on boozy stories of Doc Ricketts, Jaime de Angulo, and Henry Miller. Even stories of Ella Young. We were kids, more interested in horses, and didn’t pay too much attention, but the stories left resonances. 

It was Micaela’s father, Patrick Wall, who whimsically named the Big Sur coast the “Second Celtic Twilight” because of Ella Young. Micaela’s mother, Rosalind Sharpe Wall, a native of Big Sur, practiced bits of her M.A. thesis on me. Rosalind recalled that Ella made quite an impression with her purple druidic or bardic robes, her long flowing white hair and flashing blue eyes: like her otherworld counterparts. Rosalind said that she was super humanly beautiful—an ageless being as shining as the legendary figures she so deftly portrayed:

Ella Young, the extraordinary Irish woman who held a seat in Celtic lore at the University of California… was active in the Irish movement in Dublin and was closely associated with Lady Gregory, Yeats, George Russel, Synge, and Maude Gonne, came to America when she felt the magic had left Ireland, or rather, as she put it, “when its guardians changed.” 

She felt some of the magic that had left Ireland could now be found in America; that is why she decided to come here. The authorities detained her at Ellis Island when she first arrived here because they heard she believed in fairies… They did not want this crazy Irish woman to enter the country. (A Wild and Lonely Coast, P.185).


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Cross, Tom P., & Slover, Clark Harris, Ancient Irish Tales
Henry Holt & Co., Ltd., © 1936; reprinted by Barnes & Noble Books, © 1996

Colum, Padraic, The King of Ireland’s Son
Henry Holt & Co., Ltd., © 1916; reprinted by Dover Publications, Inc., NY, © 1997

Colum, Padraic, Ella Young: An Appreciation
Longmans, Green & Co., NY, © 1931

Dooley, Anne, & Roe, Harry, translators, Tales of The Elders of Ireland (Acallam na Senórach)
Oxford University Press, NY, © 1999

Gregory, Lady, CúChulain of Muirthemne, (also) Gods and Fighting Men
Colin Smythe Ltd., Gerrards Cross, GB, © 1902, Coole Edition, © 1970; PB ed. © 1973

Jury, Florence, McArdle, Phil, ed., Everything Opposite the Golden Gate
(PUBLISHER?)

Kinsella, Thomas, The Táin Bó Cuailgne
Oxford University Press/ & Dolman Press, Dublin, © 1969.

O’Faolain, Eileen, Irish Saga and Folk-Tales
Oxford University Press, London, © 1954

Peacock, Thomas Love, The Misfortunes of Elphin
(PUBLISHER ?) © 1829

Sharpe Wall, Rosalind, A Wild and Lonely Coast: Big Sur Pioneers
World Wide Publishing/Tetra, San Carlos, CA, © 1989.

Young, Ella, The Wonder Smith and His Son: A Tale from the Golden Childhood of the World
Longmans, Green & Co., NY, © 1927; reprinted by Floris, Edinburgh, Scotland, © 1992.

Young, Ella, Celtic Wonder Tales
Maunsel & Co., Dublin, Ireland © 1910; reprinted by Dover Publications, Inc., NY, © 1995

Young, Ella, The Tangle-Coated Horse and Other Tales: Episodes from the Finn Saga
Longmans, Green & Co., NY, © 1929 (soon to be reprinted)

Finn’s son Oisín returns 300 years later to visit with St. Patrick sometime in the 4th or 5th century.

I’ve reverted to traditional spellings of character names as Ella Young’s phonetic orthography makes it harder to identify who’s who, as the original meaning of the name is lost: 
Moorna/ Muirne, Finn’s Tuatha Dé Dannán mother is “Of the Sea”; 
Uail/Cumal, Finn’s father, means “Slave”; 
Usheen/Oisín means “Little Deer.” 
Goll mac Morna, a.k.a Eichaid “Horse” is “The One-Eyed”. 
Clann Bassa is Baiscne, Sive/Sabd, 
Bovemall/Bodball, etc. I suspect a meta-tale is hidden beneath the name-types, as so many stories have to do with the sea and water, and naming is a central theme. 

University of Chicago Professor T.P, Cross (1879-1951), one of the editors of Ancielt Irish Tales, was a contemporary of Ella Young’s. He and Professor C.H. Slover first compiled the book for their students; it was later published in 1936. Unfortunately he didn’t list his original sources, but I suspect it’s Standish Hayes O’Grady’s Silva Gaedelica.

As the central Finn Cycle story of Finn’s less-than-glamorous love triangle, the Pursuit of Dairmuid and Grainne, is omitted—where, like in the Táin Bó Cuailgne, Conchobor pursues the Sons of Uisneach for abducting Deirdre, he pursues his own man Diarmuid who has run off with Finn’s young intended bride, Grainne.

To her credit, Young gives us her sources for the Fenian Cycle in The Tangle-Coated Horse: Silva Gaedelica (Standish Hayes O’Grady); Legendary Fictions of the Irish Celts (Kennedy); Leabhar na Feinne (MacInnis); The Red Woman (“The Shining Beast”) in Sgealuidhe Gaedhealach (Dr. Douglas Hyde) Fionn and the Phantoms (“The House in the Valley…”) in Revue Celtique (Kuno Meyer); The Daughter of the King Under Wave in Popular Tales of the Western Highlands (Campbell); and excerpts from Gods and Fighting Men (Lady Gregory).

Sunday, December 10, 2000

California Poets in the Schools Residencies


INDEPENDENT STUDY/COMMUNITY INVOLVMENT SUMMARY
with Prof. Maxine Chernoff (for 3 units/ CW 899, creative process requirement for MA; Fall 2000)

CALIFORNIA POETS IN THE SCHOOLS RESIDENCIES

Though I’ve taught California Poets in the Schools workshops since 1979, and was Sonoma County Area Coordinator and master-poet teacher: duties included training poets, marketing workshops, grant writing, and PR. I created multi-cultural programs including a 21-artist poetry & art exchange with the former Soviet Union. I was a board member, & planned state and international conferences.

However, I wish to focus this Independent Study report on my most recent teaching experience. But due to a new urban student population, it was brand new territory. This year, I taught some 18 CPITS poetry classes for a total of 120 sessions to elementary and middle school students in Oakland and Sonoma County. Classes were one-hour sessions; some classes met for one-and-1/2 hour- sessions and most classes took place during the spring, 2000. 

I also made student poetry anthologies, edited poems with students, and taught drawing classes. I wrote, and was awarded a multi-artist grant to the Oakland Cultural Arts council for future funding for spring 2001. Enclosed please find attached: student anthologies and sample lesson plans.

STATS: In Oakland, I taught at Frick Middle School: 12 one-hour sessions (6th & 8th grade; 6 sess. ea.); 6 sess. at Hawthorn (4/5th grade); at Manzanita Middle School I taught 18 sess. (three 6th grades; 6 sess. ea.); at Roosevelt Middle School I taught 30 sessions (6 classes: 5th, 6th, 7th grades; 5 sess. ea.; one was team-taught with Jorge Argüeta) for a total of 75 one-hour sess., plus several drawing classes for anthology art. 

I taught a 6th grade at Riebli Elementary School (6 one-and-1/2 hour-sess.) in Santa Rosa, and a 3rd grade at Alexander Valley School (6 sess.) where I also taught an after school GATE (four one-and-1/2 hour) sess. in science & creativity (grades 3-6). At the private Higham Family School in Santa Rosa, so far I’ve taught 15 one-and-1/2 hour-sess. (2 - 4th grades;); this class will continue to meet after winter break, 2000/2001.

STUDENT POPULATION: With the exception of Sonoma County schools and one class at Roosevelt, classes were ESL/ELD classes. All the Oakland residencies were inner city schools, and English as a second language classes. I taught five bilingual Spanish classes; four classes were Asian students, primarily Mien speakers with fair English speaking skills but bizarre writing skills: the verb “to be” was a virtual landmine field, so I also developed poetry & grammar lessons.

CHALLENGES: Though I’ve been an extremely succesful poet-in-residence since 1979, having received 7 competitive California Arts Council grants, & 2 Montana Arts Council grants (I’ve taught poetry workshops to thousands of kids)—I’ve even taught in Russia and Holland, where we had no common language—but nothing prepared me for working in Oakland inner-city schools. I have never worked so hard in my life. 

In addition, I’ve never worked in so many classes where the majority of the students had little, or no verbal or reading English skills. My passable Spanish skills were taxed to the limit, as I also had to type up their poems from phonetic Spanish—this nightmare inadvertently turned into a crash language course. For some of the Asian-speaking kids, we had translators; often other student translated for us—especially the Korean and Vietnamese students. 

In Sonoma County, the schools are rural or suburban, and though I’ve worked in in what is considered to be the tough, and/or bilingual schools—there, teaching is a very different proposition. Most kids have basic reading skills. In Oakland, I had to completely rethink my teaching process, I had to strip it down to the bare bones and to drastically lower my expectations, which I was loath to do. So I had to reach into a place previously untapped, to teach from the sheer willpower of persona, which left me exhausted & asking the larger question: how to avoid burn-out?

THE TEACHING PROCESS: When I teach poetry, I use a similar format for all grade levels. Introduction: what is poetry? In a nutshell, I tell them (or rather, let them tell me), and I write on the board my basic expectations: comparisons, imagery/imagination and feelings/emotions. I tell students if they use strong comparisons and imagery, the third concept automatically happens. We brainstorm kinds of poems we could write about, and they’re eager to begin. I tell them that poets and scientists use the same observation tools and skills—the poem is the hypothesis & conclusion.

I’ve already met with the teachers and tailored lessons to compliment their curriculum (ex. 4th grade: California history; 6th grade: ancient civilizations; I also choose model poems that reflect student ethnicities, whenever possible). I use a handout so that they can see the model poems in print (see enclosed lesson plans in packet), or if they get stuck, they can use some starter lines if they wish). 

I often begin with “I Am” poems because they’re non-threatening and easy to write; sometimes I ask students about their personalities: are they fiery, smooth as water, adrift in daydreams, etc., and have them write about aspects of themselves. I ask them to imagine secret animals/places inside them, etc., tailoring it to the curriculum. 

(If a student can’t write, I take no prisoners; I take dictation.) We read poems aloud, I tell the kids they’re all great poets, and we have a feedback session (was it hard? easy? What surprised you? What did you learn?) Students write in special poetry journals, which I read and make comments on; I type up a selection of poems for the next session, until I have at least one strong poem per student for anthology publication.

DAY TWO, ETC. I type up a page of kids’ strongest poems so that they can see the printing process. We read poems aloud, I tell the kids these are only our first drafts and the poems will change a lot before we do the anthology (that’s the carrot at the end of the stick; I also give out award stickers when kids get three poems typed up). 

They make verbal changes, sometimes another student will make suggestions, and I’ll point out junkfood words and redundancies, ask them about structure, etc. I say, “in the process of writing, we often forget to put in words/phrases, so it’s OK to add them in verbally.” In this manner, I introduce craft, as well as editing processes. We do a five-minute warm-up freewrite on anything they want (but I often ask for comparisons). I tell them to “write faster than you can think.” They’ll often add onto first poem or try another take. 

We read poems aloud; then I segue into the day’s lesson (see packet) which varies from class to class, depending on student writing skills, interests and curriculum. This is the overall format for the rest of the residency. (For a summary of a typical residency, please see my introduction in the Alexander Valley poetry anthology My Poem is an Explosion of Stars Inside Me in the packet.)

ON THE LAST DAY I bring in typed, corrected poems which they further edit, often adding new material or recombining poems to make a long poem (they only get one poem in the book, unless something knocks my socks off). We often meet one-on-one to solidify their first choice. In Oakland I was unwilling to give up the editing process of student poems. 

But in some cases, because their reading/writing skills were so poor, I brought my computer to class, and they made changes orally, which worked extremely well. I then edit, paste-up and layout the poetry book, and when it’s printed, we have a student reading and autographing party, if there’s time.

IN RETROSPECT, I invest a huge amount of time and energy with this intensive teaching style (2-3 hours per each contact hour), but my student work is the stronger for it. My goal is not to create a league of junior poets, but to develop their creative processes. I’m dyslexic, my philosophy is to develop students’ divergent thinking skills so that they’re empowered to creatively express themselves. Teachers insist that my methodology is extremely successful. 

Though I rarely get closure in teaching, some former students are still writing 20 years later—saying that if I hadn’t gotten in their face in 3rd or 5th grade, to get them to write, they wouldn’t have learned to express themselves so eloquently—to see the world through the poet-colored lens. A story about the MBA student/ basketball jock about to graduate from college, comes to mind. He called out of the blue to thank me for making him write poetry in 6th grade. He said at first he thought it was stupid, then kinda cool—and 15 years later, he found himself again writing poems. . . out of the blue.

Letter to Graduate Affairs, SFSU (missing text)


To Whom It May Concern:

I am a MA candidate (English: Creative Writing) attempting to graduate, having completed all my necessary units last year. To date I have been unsystematically thwarted in my many attempts to graduate by several SFSU offices: culprits I can name include the Office of the Dean of Humanities, and the Office of Graduate Affairs. Repeated filing and refiling of paperwork plus numerous phone calls has not as of yet resolved the myriad bureaucratic complexities plagueing my application form. I would like to know why.

The process for applying for MA graduation should not be akin to that of Soviet bureaucracy, a system which I have also been a victim of. But I wish to bring this to your attention and document the process so that other students less loquacious and stubborn than I, won’t have to suffer similar indignities.

I will try to make this humerous in that Aristotle said that learning should be pleasurable and I believe that you—who are competently completing your jobs—have a high learning curve ahead—because I, the student am consistently falling through large bureaucratic cracks that you may not have not noticed. It is time to find, and mend them. I believe you are there to serve me; I pay you for the priveledge of attending SFSU. I should not have to be telling you how to do your jobs. But you’ve left me no alternative. And an unfortunate side effect is that you now have a very (missing text...)

XXX

Perhaps you’re familiar with the movie/ book, “Catch-22” a lexicon that has entered the English language ammending the WWII acronym SNAFU. I’ll let you discover the origin of that one. I had illusions that SFSU was a newer, kinder bureaucracy. I was a student here in the 1970s and because of similar ridiculous bureaucracy, dropped out of SFSU an..... (missing text...)   damU ASCII hell

XXX

Not sure when this was written. But clearly I was on a roll, and since I must've sent it to several departments, things were on a roll and suddenly my paperwork was approved so fast, it made my head spin.

Russian River Writers’ Guild & Other Readings Produced


INDEPENDENT STUDY/COMMUNITY INVOLVMENT SUMMARY
with Prof. Maxine Chernoff (for 3 units/ CW 899, creative process requirement for MA; Fall 2000)

RUSSIAN RIVER WRITERS’ GUILD & OTHER READINGS PRODUCED


SSU ORIGINS: I never meant to be a literary arts coordinator, my accidental career as a events producer spans 20 years—some events were weekly readings, other were monthly, seasonal, or special events. I first booked readings as an undergraduate art student at Sonoma State University, after volunteering at a conference in 1978 that changed my life’s direction, The Child in Changing Times Conference, where I was first exposed to poetry. Hooked, I took to the streets running: I undertook the equivalent of a second BA in Expressive Arts and trained to become a poet-teacher for California Poets in the Schools.
 
In addition to working in the field, teaching kids poetry while pursuing my own literary career, I also began my MA in Creative Writing; I produced and later, taught a publishing class for SSU’s literary magazines, Sonoma Mandala and Open Hand. I was also an ad hoc T.A. in a poetry class when a professor faced a medical emergency—it was the loony bin—but I digress… 

Sonoma County was laid back and rural. Most of my literary organizing career evolved out of the times we lived in and/or being at the right place at the right/wrong time and my having excess energy waiting to be harnessed. (Luckily, my professors let me blindly follow my vision as I was often the last to know what I was doing. 

Somehow I learned the necessary skills along the way—amazing, since I had no basic writing skills: but I learned poetry saves lives, my own included. I was later diagnosed with dyslexia—after I’d became a journalist/photographer and poetry/entertainment editor for alternative newspapers. I probably have ADS* as well but I was able to get things done on sheer willpower alone.)

One community project was to resurrect SSU’s defunct Public Poetry Center and to create a liaison between the university and the community—which I successfully accomplished. In addition to hosting campus literary and art events for the English Dept., The College of the Humanities and the ASUC InterCultural Center, etc., I co-produced a 2-week poetry festival, Ear to the Ground, featuring acclaimed poets including Forché, Bly, Gunn, Hass, Olds, Olsen, Kizer, Dubiago, Kinnell, LeSueur, Bromige, etc. produced mega-readings at the Inn of the Beginning and the Cotati Cabaret,—except most poets—Pat Nolan, Hunce Voelckler, Mike Tuggle, even Andrei Codrescu—lived on the Russian River, more than an hour’s drive away, so, I went to the River and, it became a countywide project.

As a literary arts event coordinator, my overwhelming passion was to bring together a wide variety of multi-ethnic local, regional and national artists, writer/performers in order to develop larger, more diverse audiences—as poetry was a marginalized art form. I was a zealot, having been newly converted to poetry, I wanted to share that experience with others. How to develop audience? Make it available to artists, not just poets. 

Since I was an artist as well as a poet, I experimented with combining art/photography openings with music and poetry events. For example, I produced a multi-arts event for Guerneville poet-painter/sculptor, Boschka Layton, Canadian Poet Laureate Irving Layton’s former wife, and sister to actor Donald Sutherland. My connection with the university allowed me to network with numerous poets and arrange diverse funding sources, educating myself along the way. 

THE OLD RRWG: I created a liaison between SSU’s Public Poetry Center and local writing groups, including the Russian River Writers’ Guild and Sonoma County California Poets in the Schools, producing a multitude of events in venues countywide. I joined the flagging RRWG and we produced weekly reading series. 

I served as a board member and three years as executive director (by default), and helped to bring it to a 501c3 non-profit status in order to get grants. Grant writing is tedious and the amount of funding we received was not worth the effort. We relied primarily on tiny gate revenues and donations to meet our overhead rent, printing and postal bills. Obtaining free, or cheap housing was critical: bookstores, libraries, a senior center (a disaster of pissy couches, we found after the fact.)

* Attention Deficit Syndrome

THE NEW RRWG: After a serious back/neck injury in 1981, I dropped out of school and quit my reading series obligations & spent time healing and building my California Arts Council artist-in-residency career in the schools. I thought I was done forever with organizing events, other than book parties for my students—until 1992, when R&B musician Johnny Otis asked me to produce a weekly event at his nightclub in Sebastopol. The siren call was irresistible. 

I combined the RRWG (produced by an ad hoc committee) with my new group—we had a truly dynamic reading series. I mean Mr. Hand Jive himself! Everybody wanted to read at the Johnny Otis Club. It was way cool, and sometimes Johnny dropped in for a listen. He always gave us good publicity on his KPFA FM morning show broadcast live from the café, we’d come down and read poems on the air. 

But after Otis’ nightclub folded, adequate housing for the RRWG was a serious problem as the new locations, Mudd’s Café and Higher Grounds Café in Santa Rosa didn’t draw in large crowds. We couldn’t pay poets much (half the gate, or even a match from Poets & Writers), a poet-stipend was a central objective of the RRWG.

Besides booking the talent for the RRWG at the Johnny Otis Club and beyond (a shared duty between myself, David Bromige, Steve Tills, Jayne McPherson, Marianne Ware and invited guest host-producers—this idea prevented coordinator burn-out, gave us a more diverse poet/audience base), I also produced and published a newsletter, did publicity and flyers. 

I developed a paid membership base, as well as emceed. (In the pre-desktop publishing 1980s, our 8-double truck page RRWG monthly newsletter included poems from featured readers, but the cost was prohibitive and was eventually abandoned, as was my poet photograph archives.) Due to shrinking funds and rising postal costs in 1995, I resorted to publishing a quarterly newsletter in order to save money.

In retrospect, it was a very successful reading series, when I look back at the flyers, I can’t believe we hosted so many diverse poets and events. We found it necessary to establish a one reading per year limit for featured poets. We also included quarterly thematic readings in order to keep the audience coming (it was an ongoing party—especially the (n)erotic Valentine event). Please see flyers, and tally sheet at back of packet in order to see the wide range of featured readers we’ve hosted.

OTHER RELATED SERIES: The RRWG was also hosted other readings at SSU and Santa Rosa Jr. College as well as local bookstores and regional public libraries, the Sebastopol, Rohnert Park and Santa Rosa branches of Copperfield’s Books, Reader’s Books/ Sonoma Valley Poetry Festival and the Santa Rosa Barnes & Noble. The Barnes & Noble liaison was the most controversial as it was built right across the street from Copperfield’s and was picketed by locals and independent booksellers alike, but the damage done, the bookstore operational, someone was going to coordinate the reading series.

So, when I was asked to produce a monthly reading series for B&N 1995-97, I saw a unique opportunity to foster local input on the national bookstore’s buying policy. Mega-giant B&N is not fond of carrying small press books (too much bookeeping), but that was my deal: Black Sparrow, Caedmus, SunMoonBear, Clamshell Press. Surprisingly, they bought it as they needed the support of the literary community. 

We featured local, and nationally acclaimed poets, B&N displayed & sold small press books, and produced a hand-set collectable broadside series (see packet). It was a good collaboration as it gave local poets exposure. Though I am no longer involved with coordinating the reading series, B&N still uses the format we created. In addition, B & N continues to host book parties for local anthologies including Green Fuse magazine. A favorite event I produced, the California Poets in the Schools children’s poetry reading for National Poetry Month, is still drawing in record crowds. A good legacy.

ENDGRAM: When I was seriously injured in an auto accident 3 years ago, I was no longer able to coordinate the series, and though we were a consortium, after a successful 27-year run, the RRWG, the oldest continuous reading series in the north bay, foundered. 

I hear rumor that David Bromige still produces events from time to time. In the blood, I guess. I hope that after 20 years, I’m done with producing poetry events, maybe I can put my “Queen of Sonoma County Poetry Readings” laurels aside, though I still have the urge to emcee… getting 3 units credit for producing events seems a fitting retirement plan as any. But then, there are all these great venues in the East Bay where I’m currently living while I’m in school, and there’s the Poetry Center, and the archives at SFSU…


Tuesday, December 5, 2000

The Hounds of the Mórrígan by Pat O’Shea. Summary


Klar, Celtic Romanticism 170
Summary

THE HOUNDS OF THE MÓRRÍGAN
by Pat O’Shea

Pidge and his little sister Brigit go on a quest to save both this world (Galway) and the otherworld from the evil grasp of the battle goddess, the Mórrígan and her two other selves, Bodbh and Macha, who wish to reinstate a reign of terror. After Pidge finds an ancient manuscript in a bookstore, he inadvertantly sets the story of the hunt in motion.

This is a story of the ancient battle between good and evil, a medieval wild hunt where the hounds of the Mórrígan tracking the children through the soft boundaries between this world and the otherworld (replete with mists, gods, heroes and evildoers) to find one of the three drops of blood of the Mórrígan once spilled by CúCulainn at the Battle of the Ford. 

The triune goddess Mórrígan wants Olc-Glas, the evil snake that St Patrick imprisoned between the parchment pages: if she succeeds, her power will be tremendous and the apocalypse as we envision it, will truly be at hand. My heart is an ice well, said the Mórrígan. Soon I shall have one drop of my own strong blood. With it, I will dissolve Olc-Glas and swallow him into my cold heart. I shall add his poison to mine. Only Pidge (who is Patrick’s namesake) with faery helpers, can bring back her blood and save the world.

This clever story, written in three books, utilizes traditional fairytale motifs with specific rules: a previous good action pays off its reward in times of need.. . I was enraptured by the story-within-a-story motif (the 3-day journey through Tír-na-nÓg takes little more than an hour, our time), and I loved all the talking wee beasties: especially the frogs, the earwigs, the ducks, and Cú Rua, the fox. 

But the way Pat O’Shea wove the afterstory of the Cattle Raid of Cuailgne into Pidge & Brigit’s story was most satisfying, and the ending where the children couldn’t quite remember what happened, was also ingenious. We have the full pantheon of Irish gods and heroes: The Daghda and Brigit in their many (good) disguises, the druid, Cathbad, a repentant Queen Medbh and Ailill, their sons, the seven Maines, the entire hosting of the sídhe. . . We have a nasty half-Fomirii GIANT-smith who likes his neggs, the threatening hounds, and lots of delicious treachery all culminating in a glorious mother of battles.

Larry Niven was reputed ot have said that fairy tales were written for adults, not children. One could read a bit between the lines. Adults are dolts, and then there’s the English-Irish dilemma. 

There are some hilarious moments as the Mórrígan and her sisters mistaken for bad-ass English punker hag-chicks riding into town on—of all things—a Harley Davidson—who set up a command post in Galway, fits nicely into time present. (In 1996, a gaggle of British lesbians seeking refuge in Amsterdam, proclaimed to me that Galway was the new dyke heaven.) 

Representing the authority of the adult world, we have the poor misguided Garda sergeant who falls in love with the Mórrígan in her maiden aspect, and calls her his Angel (more like avenging angel, but then, Lucifer was said to be the most beautiful of God’s fallen beauties). And a stone of destiny, the Lía Fáil,

The King of Ireland’s Son by Padraic Column, summary


Klar, Celtic Romanticism 170
Summary


THE KING OF IRELAND’S SON
by Padraic Column

In these seven inter-related tales within tales within tales—closely resembling Celtic knotwork—The King of Ireland’s Son learns how to become a hero (and some wisdom along the way) and saves his father’s kingdom from the evil enchanter’s curse of barrenness. In a sub-plot, base-born orphan Gilly the Goatboy also breaks a curse, finds his parents, and is named. Together, the boys break spells, find wives and become men (or maybe it’s really the other way round).

In a nutshell: Conall, the King of Ireland had three sons: the eldest, the King of Ireland’s son, is the main protagonist. We never do learn his name, but he naively played three card games with an enchanter-king, Conall’s great enemy, who wins the third game. The Enchanter-king of the Black Bad Lands puts a geas on The King of Ireland’s Son who now must find his kingdom and pluck three beard hairs within a year and a day, or forfeit his father’s kingdom.

We have the usual archetypical fairytale motifs. The good king and stepmother, brave princes and suffering heroines who undergo trials to win their true loves back from evil.

The King of Ireland’s Son (Caintigern is his stepmother) goes questing and meets Fedelma the Enchanter’s youngest daughter. She and her two sisters help The King of Ireland’s Son to complete the seemingly impossible tasks their enchanter-father, but only Fedelma’s help is true. She is spirited away by the King of the Mists and The King of Ireland’s Son must find her. 

He loses and regains his true love by completing many tasks including gaining the sword of light, the crystal egg and the entirety of the Unique Tale (what came before and what followed after), thus breaking the enchantment. 

The King of Ireland’s Son’s vain and somewhat shallow half-brothers, Dermott and Donall, also have parallel adventures and find justly deserving brides. They all meet their unknown sibling, a long lost kidnapped child of King Conall (who is really the Hunter King) and his wife Caintigern (who is really Sheen/storm)—the childwho must be named in order to become a man. His love too is put to the test, ugly Morag’s love is true and she gains beauty. 

And all’s well that ends well. Gilly, who is really a prince, gains a name—Flann—and is reunited with his family. Conall and Canitigern have their own unfinished story cycle resolved when their children, by saving themselves, save the parents (and the kingdom) as well. And when the King of Ireland went to the Isle of Destiny, his two sons equally ruled over his kingdom; one had rule over courts, towns and harbors, the other ruled over the wastelands and villages where masterless men walked. 

This story is peopled with triads of princesses and hero-princes who must perform all manner of tasks in order to break enchantments. Celtic motifs include feasts, and giants, mists, bogs, and fords where battles are fought, red-eared animals and enchantments, all signifying the Otherworld. Good deeds and right formulae (done in the right order) are what is necessary to signify success.



The Wild Hunt, by Jane Yolen, summary


Klar, Celtic Romanticism 170
Summary

THE WILD HUNT
by Jane Yolen

Jane Yolen’s The Wild Hunt is about boy as hero. In this Celtic-flavored fairytale, Yolen explores the uneasy boundaries and perceptions in this story of opposites in a hunt, as personified in the yearly cyclical battle between a divine couple.

In this story within a story, the medieval wild huntsman, Lord Herne (Cernunnos) as winter, and Robert Graves’ archaic White Goddess (a white cat of the hearth) representing summer—are continually at war. 

Herne, with his horses and hounds, is dark, evil, cold—and like most men, he wants to dominate with brute strength, to make winter a permanent season. Yearly, his wife, the White Goddess (she of many names) must find an innocent boy to become a hero and thus break cruel winter’s grasp so that the thaw may come.

Yolen writes that this is a story about magic, the wild hunt, power choices and names. . . (but heroes have two names). . . There are parallel worlds with twin houses with two boys who live in different dimensions: Jerold and his alter-ego Gerund. As Jerold reads a picture book entitled The Wild Hunt, the story begins to unfold around him. 

Luckily the houses are protected from Lord Herne’s evil vassals by a magic ring of rowan trees. When Gerund is kidnapped by Mossman and renamed “Bait” by Lord Herne, which he becomes, the two boys meet up and must resolve the dilemma. Language and naming plays an important part of the story. 

When Jerold writes his name on the window pane it is seen (backwards)by Mossman and used as a weapon against him. Lord Herne, must name and capture Jerold, and though married to the White Goddess, doesn’t know her true name either, and so, can never dominate her. 

She is portrayed as an aloof enigmatic talking cat/kitten who can’t be governed like dogs or men alike. Gerund’s dog, Mully, with the flatulent brainpower of a matchead, provides comic relief to the cat’s conundrums, and becomes sacrificial fodder.

The 15 tripartite chapters are almost and sort of clever, and the language, with its aphorisms and puns is well crafted to engage an adult reader, though the tale itself is sketchy. I emailed Jane Yolen to ask about her sources, and she said she has a whole wall of books on folklore that she draws from. 

Though no stranger to Celtic legend, she claims her story was based on Germanic (not Celtic) myth; and Mossman came from forestlore. She said the house itself in the story is based on her home in St Andrews, Scotland, where she spends half the year (presumably as the White Goddess).


Friday, December 1, 2000

Flowers: pastels (art) 2000




Most off these traditional pastels on a black ground are from around February, 2000, a couple are from 1998 (I can't make out the date), so they'll all live here for now.



















lone oil pastel I never finished


Growing up Irish, no efile



only copy

Thursday, November 30, 2000

The Wallace, Nigel Tranter, summary


Klar, Celtic Romanticism 170
Summary

THE WALLACE
by Nigel Tranter

Tranter’s modern historical fiction based on the apocrypha surrounding William Wallace weaves together stories of Wallace’s ’s many skirmishes, historical or otherwise. Interesting to see how different the movie, Braveheart was from this novel.

A compelling read it wasn’t; this tedious four-part novel really was ‘homework.’ Give me Mel’s version, or should I say, dramatist Randall Wallace (who relied on Blind Harry)—even though John Balioll wasn’t dead in 1290, the French Princess was 5 or 6 years old, and at the Battle of Stirling Bridge, there was no bridge depicted. 

I love Randall Wallace’s ribald comment: “I try not to let facts get in the way of truth.” (History’s Mysteries, 11/29/00, The History Channel.) “As a dramatist, you need to know why you should tell the story before you decide how to tell it. . . . Blind Harry and I are both dramatists. . . . History is far more than scholars, history lives in storytelling.” Tranter manages to fit in most of the stories of Wallace, but they seem stilted, a chore to read. This is a manly story, no bodice ripper, with incredible attention paid to battle details. He occasionally forgets himself and writes well when it involves scenic descriptions.

Tranter’s story opens with the slaughter of the nobles of Ayr, as does Braveheart, except Wallace is an adult. Wallace and 50 men (commoners) with boulders for weapons, seek revenge on the English captain responsible, Fenwick, who is Wallace’s father’s murderer—with a guerrilla strike at Loudon Hill. This incident is the catalyst to overthrow English oppression. 

With English weaponry, and encouragement from the clergy, John Blair, Thos. Gray, Bishop Wishart and William Lamberton of Glasgow, they continue their guerrilla tactics from their base, Ettrick Forest, Wallace’s “capital.” We read of their taking of strategic cities: Perth, Glasgow, Edinburgh (without a blow taken), Aberdeen, etc. Sir James Steward, Wallace’s overlord, and an official for the English crown, is an example of the crossed allegiances between English and Scots nobility, of which, The Bruce, vacillates the most. 

A nice twist on the tale is when The Bruce knights Wallace when the Privy Council members refuse to accept Wallace as Guardian at Selkirk because he is of lesser rank. The way Tranter handles the council scenes and the way he portrays Wallace’s astute political decisions, makes for a good read. He depicts Wallace as a leader of bands, not a general of an army: his greatest weakness and character flaw is unveiled at Falkirk. 

Tranter does not neglect the significant role the Church of Scotland played in Scotland’s struggle for freedom from the English (spiritual warriors). A tidbit on the drawing & quartering: medieval man was preoccupied with burial for a good reason: he needed an intact body, buried facing east in a churchyard—in order to be resurrected. Edward’s attempt to literally send Wallace to hell only served to make a martyr of him.

Tranter seems unaware of Celtic motifs. However, we can overlay Celtic stereotypes: the clergy function as druids and warriors; Wallace is literally larger than life, warriors are nearly undefeatable (but they’re commoners), they’ re betrayed by nobles (warrior class), and kings. 

Rival Edward is a combination of druid (lawmaker, arbitrator), greedy king (Caesar), and warrior. But Wallace (a Vercingetorix/CúChulainn character), a commoner, is his primary target in an enormous game of chess/fidchell with live knights, bishops, and pawns. In Tranter’s story, we learn of the historical background of the principal players, and their motivations—the visual story of Braveheart is painted more imagistic. 

BUT with the advent of Braveheart, we’ve literally witnessed romanticism in action. Time past and time present. Braveheat resurrected the Wallace icon as a symbol for freedom. A catalyst, it reawakened nationalistic feelings in Scotland and galvanized it into rethinking its political identity. In May, 1977, the Labor Party wins 3:1 on the “Braveheart ticket” (freedom!) 

On Sept. 7, 1997, the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Stirling Bridge, the Referendum for Devolution was signed, and in July, 1999, a new Scottish Parliament was called to order. Today is St Andrew’s Day, Scotland’s patron saint. Alba go Bragh! Wallace needs no tomb for resurrection, he has risen again in celluloid format. Arthur must be waking.


Tuesday, November 28, 2000

The Bruce, by John of Barbour, summary


Klar, Celtic Romanticism 170
Summary

THE BRUCE
by John of Barbour

As I previously mentioned in my review of Blind Harry’s Sir William Wallace, I had trouble reading and (comprehending) the Lowland Scots texts. Prelate John of Barbour, archdeacon of Aberdeen, then the richest city in Scotland, wrote in 15 “buiks” The Bruce, ca. 1376, within living memory of Bruce’s reign. Celtic motifs: heroic battles, superhero, kings, druids/priests, soothsayers, treachery, revenge, freedom! This story contains more traditional Celtic elements: most battles happen at fords, between worlds, there are mysterious mists.

Robert the Bruce is portrayed as a super hero with no equal rival, save his knights: brother Edward and the black James of Douglas. Though more powerful than the Scots, the English suffer greatly under his hand, especially at Bannockburn.

The story opens with an envoi proclaiming the tale’s veracity, and sets the scene with the interregnal origins of Scotland’s oppression: the competing claims of John Balioll and The Bruce (surely he means the father?) to the throne; Edward Longshanks is invited to arbitrate and gives the crown to Balioll, a puppet king who, in effect, gives Scotland to England. 

The Lowlands are planted with (English) Norman noblemen who don’t rule wisely. Scots are hung for the merest offenses and yearn for freedom in a marvelous rallying speech: A! Fredome is a noble thing! ...all solace to man’s giffis.... And sould think fredome mar to pryss/ Than all the gold in warld that is.

William of Douglas is seized, slain while his son James lives in exile in France for three years. He lands at St Andrews to reclaim his lands and is compared to Ector of Troy. Bishop William of Lamberton presents him to The Bruce as knight. Bruce is betrayed by familial enemy and arch rival to the crown, John of Comyn. Bruce is summoned to London, escapes arrest and returns to Scotland to slay the traitorous Comyn at Dumfries. 

He is crowned at Scone, defeated at Methven, and Dalry by John of Lorn, where he is compared to Hannibal and Charlemagne. A chivalrous scene and feast with the queen, who are made prisoners at the Girth of Tain. Neil Bruce is betrayed, Edward I consults a fiend as to the time and place of his death (shades of Homer!). 

The Bruce returns to Arran and rallies forces with James of Douglas and Edward, his brother, lands at Carrick, holds a council of war. A woman accosts him on the beach and prophesies his victory. Percy abandons Turnberry, the queen is captured, the king attacked by traitors, and fights his way out single-handedly. The Galloway men attack, he routs them. 

A portrait of English Warden Sir Aymer de Valence (worthy opponent?), who attacks; but John of Lorn attacks form the rear, and pursues the fleeing king with bloodhounds. The Bruce slays his trackers, his foster-brother slain. As Edward Bruce makes some headway in Gallwoay, Bruce engages in single-handed combat with Valence and like Arthur, is wounded, and carried in a litter.

He rises again ad routs his enemies (the mist cleared suddenly)s; Perth falls. Douglas overhears plans to betray The Bruce, and attacks. Edward II marches, we get the four battles of Bannockburn in full detail; the taking of Edinburgh castle; Edward Bruce lays siege to Sterling, the governor capitulates.

Bruce address his troops like Caesar, Scottish archers destroy the English Horse, camp followers, some 15,000 strong, come to see the battle. The English mistaken them for enforcement troops and capitulate. Bruce reunites with his queen and daughter traded as hostages. Engram with the king and a laundress (weird—oblique reference to the washer at the ford  = death motif? ) followed by the death of Bruce.

As James Goldman, author of The Lion in Winter said "Historians and storytellers don't have much in common, but they do share this: the past, once it gets hold of you, does actually come alive. For scholars, this is troublesome. For writers, it's the good stuff."