This post includes a sign language video of our trip to Ireland, and some “comic relief” as we talk about our experiences of the day! Sorry, the video is not captioned, but the notes underneath it should pretty much explain everything that you can’t figure out from the video itself. Enjoy, and Samhain Blessings to all!
Last year, in October of 2011, I had the pleasure of taking the trip of a lifetime to Ireland with my travel companion D’Angel – a fellow Deaf Pagan. We stayed in the area around Kells, and visited many of the sacred sites in the Boyne Valley; including Newgrange and the Hill of Tara.
Our tour guide for this trip was none other than well know Pagan teacher and author Gavin Bone. Gavin’s knowledge of these areas added much to our understanding and pleasure, and we also enjoyed the opportunity to visit with him and Janet Farrar at their lovely Irish cottage out in the country.
This is the video that D’Angel took on October 31st – Samhain. We spent the morning visited Loughcrew, one of the sacred sites near Kells, and then that night went to Tlachtga to participate in the Samhain ritual there.
You will see some signing in this video. It’s not specifically captioned in regards to what we are saying, but I think you will be able to get the gist of the main content of the video. D’Angel does add captioning to explain certain places and items, so you won’t be completely befuddled.
I have typed up notes about the video underneath, so you can read and get more information what you’re seeing here. Hopefully this will help as well.
Please feel free to leave a comment if you have specific questions, concerns, etc.
I think you will see that Ireland is a beautiful country. It was still very green while we were there – not a lot of fall colors like we are accustomed to here in the United States. The weather was fairly cool, but there was no snow…Ireland doesn’t get a lot of snow in most of the country. It was quite windy, which is common for Ireland. It did rain a little while we were there – including a major downpour on this particular day that caught us while we were out in the middle of a cow pasture looking at ancient tombs.
And yes, D’Angel did fall in the mud coming down that hill. She has never forgiven me for laughing at her.
Irish breakfasts tend to be quite hearty, to say the least. Because we were staying in a B&B, we didn’t have a whole lot of control over the menu, so it tended to be the same thing every morning. There would be a bowl of Irish oatmeal (steel cut oats!), followed up with a plate of eggs, Irish bacon (which tends to look and taste more like ham than our typical American bacon), sausages, blood puddings, and a broiled tomato. Blood puddings are not as yucky as they sound…they don’t taste bloody, although blood is an ingredient in the making of them. I didn’t think they tasted bad, it was more the texture of them that I didn’t care so much for…the meat and blood is mixed with various grains, and so they have a grainy feel to them. I would have to try them again cooked somewhere else to get a real good idea of whether I really like them or not. One also gets a plate of scones and some slices of homemade Irish brown bread or soda bread. This is definitely not a breakfast for people on a diet, but it does fill you up and keeps you satisfied for the day. Since Ireland is a strong agricultural country, this would be the breakfast of farmers and country folk who needed such a meal for the day.
We saw a lot of farms while we were driving around; lots of cows and sheep. I even saw a farmer with his dogs herding sheep. Horses are also common in Ireland…we passed by a number of stables and horse farms, and even a gathering of riders getting ready for a fox hunt. Fox hunting is popular in the area around Kells (no, they do not kill the fox).
In the morning we went to Loughcrew, another ancient site with a number of cairns (passage tombs) dotted around the area. These sites are known as passage tombs because 1) they have passageways that lead into the main chamber, and 2) they were believed to be places of spiritual significance in the celebration of the passage of life and death, as well as the astrological passage of the sun and thus the seasons of the year. As we began hiking up to Cairn T, which is the main tomb, it was very windy and it looked like it was going to rain…
And it did.
Not just a little sprinkle…it poured. While my upper body stayed nice and dry thanks to the Lands End coat I bought with my sistah Crystal, my jeans got soaked and my hair was sopping wet. At least I got it cut short right before I left on the trip, so it would dry quickly and be easy to style. We entered into the cairn and were happy to get out of the rain! This tomb is laid out similar to Newgrange. There are alcoves with carvings. Again, there is an astrological component to this tomb – the entrance is aligned so that the rays of the sun hit onto the main alcove and light up its carvings on the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes (March 21st and September 21st). It is clear that these ancient people had a strong relationship to the sun and the solar season, and thus the solstices and equinoxes were important to them.
The Irish name for Loughcrew is Sliabh na Cailli, which means “mountain of the hag.” The legends say that these hills and their tombs were created when a giant hag, walking across the land carrying stones in her apron, tripped and dropped some of the stones. Again, we do not know what the carvings mean, but they obviously had some significance to these ancient peoples.
Afterwards we walked back down the hill in the slippery mud and grass. Because I had good hiking boots on I did not fall…but others did, including D’Angel – who fell twice and ended up with mud all over her ass. Then we went – dripping wet and mud covered – to a nearby pub for lunch. They didn’t even bat an eye as we walked in. They served us pots of hot tea (everyone drinks tea in Ireland!) and we had a delicious lunch. I really liked the pub, it had a strong Celtic feel to it and was decorated with celtic knotwork, etc.
Because of the weather we didn’t do our afternoon part of the tour; instead everyone went back to their B&B to shower, change clothes, and get ready for the evening’s Samhain celebration. First we went to another pub for dinner – a place in Kells called Jack’s Railway Bar. Good food. Then we all drove to the nearby Hill of Ward for the Samhain celebration.
Samhain (pronounced sow (rhymes with cow) – wen (rhymes with when) ) is the Celtic version of Halloween. However, it’s celebrated much differently from the usual “trick or treating” that most of us are familiar with. It is one of the most sacred of the eight Sabbats in the Pagan Wheel of the Year, and in some traditions is viewed as New Year’s Eve as it ushers in the start of a new year on the Wheel. It is a time for honoring our ancestors and paying attention to the messages of the dead – for the veil that separates the living world from the Otherworld is said to be lifted at this time.
The Hill of Ward is also known as Tlachtga. Tlachtga was an ancient fertility goddess. The hill is said to be sacred to Her. While the Hill of Ward tends to be overshadowed by its more famous counterpart – the Hill of Tara – it is actually at Tlachtga that the ancient Samhain bonfires were lit and celebrations took place. These celebrations have been brought back to life thanks to the efforts of Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone, along with others in the area. About 200 – 300 people attend the Samhain celebrations. Interestingly, most of these people are NOT Pagan – they come out of curiousity or simply to honor the Irish legends and history. Whether or not you are Pagan, the old Irish myths are still very important to the people of Ireland, and they take great pride in them.
First everyone gathered in the park, where Gemma of White Gables taught us the various chants/songs. I didn’t catch all of them, but the one that I already knew goes “Hoof and horn, hoof and horn, all that dies shall be reborn. Fire and rain, fire and rain, all that dies shall live again.” Then everyone hikes around a mile to the Hill of Ward itself. Along the way we can stop at an ancient well, where the witch sits to proclaim the prophecies of the new year. Once we got to the actual circle, we made our way up to the front and watched.
This was not a true ritual in the concept that we know it…rather, it is more of a celebration of Samhain. Gemma shared the story of Tlachtga and reminded us of the power of the Goddess and how we should be thankful for all the gifts She has given to us. Then at the end of the rites, the bonfire was lit. It was a nice ceremony, although it was difficult without an interpreter for D’ and I to truly understand everything that was going on. It would have been nice if we could have actually participated. In all fairness, Gemma had approached me on this, but I was so busy with things going on in my life (buying a new house and trying to get moved in before my trip), that I really didn’t have the time to follow up on this idea. Nevertheless we enjoyed ourselves.
After the rites, we set off “candle balloons” – paper balloons that have a candle sort of thing inside them, which makes them expand and then lift up and float away in the air. I lit a balloon in honor of the Deaf Community and set it off with wishes for greater awareness, accessibility, and acceptance for Deaf people everywhere.
You will notice I am wearing my special Sabbat robe, which is handmade from silk fabrics with beads and embroidery. It felt very special to wear it for this night.
On the way home we were saddened to see that some local hooligans had decided to create havoc and had actually set fire to a vacant house in the town. The police and the fire department were out and about, and we were forced to have to take a different route to get home. How sad that some people have to use this night to do such destructive things…there’s not reason for such.
But celebrating Samhain at Tlachtga will definitely be one of the great memories of my life as a Pagan, and my journey to Ireland.