Reading My Way Around the World

Friday 31 October 2014


Samhain, or  the Celtic New Year - the time when the veil between the worlds is thinnest and when the ancestors can be honoured - is the precursor of both Hallowe'en and the Christian All Saints and All Souls Day.  

It is one of the main Celtic Festivals.

(This image is from A Stitch and Thyme Website)

Here are some facts collated from various sources about Samhain.

My friend Dolores Whelan is an expert on Celtic Spirituality.   At 2 minutes 30 in this clip, she talks about the Celtic Year - Her Celtic Calendar is absolutely beautiful.

This article in the Huffington Post has lots of bits of information about the festival. 

At Newgrange, all the cycles of the Celtic Year are researched in depth. 

The entrance stone to Newgrange
Image taken from Newgrange Website
An excerpt from

As millions of children and adults participate in the fun of Halloween on the night of October 31st, few will be aware of its ancient Celtic roots in the Samhain (Samain) festival. In Celtic Ireland about 2,000 years ago, Samhain was the division of the year between the lighter half (summer) and the darker half (winter). At Samhain the division between this world and the otherworld was at its thinnest, allowing spirits to pass through. 
The family's ancestors were honoured and invited home whilst harmful spirits were warded off. People wore costumes and masks to disguise themselves as harmful spirits and thus avoid harm. Bonfires and food played a large part in the festivities. The bones of slaughtered livestock were cast into a communal fire, household fires were extinguished and started again from the bonfire. Food was prepared for the living and the dead, food for the ancestors who were in no position it eat it, was ritually shared with the less well off. 
Christianity incorporated the honouring of the dead into the Christian calendar with All Saints (All Hallows) on November 1st, followed by All Souls on November 2nd. The wearing of costumes and masks to ward off harmful spirits survived as Halloween customs. The Irish emigrated to America in great numbers during the 19th century especially around the time of famine in Ireland during the 1840's. The Irish carried their Halloween traditions to America, where today it is one of the major holidays of the year. Through time other traditions have blended into Halloween, for example the American harvest time tradition of carving pumpkins.

The Lia Fáil (Stone of Destiny) atop the Hill of Tara, County Meath
And on the Hill of Tara , this year's celebrations ask that people bring some things to let go of as well as a photo of an ancestor who has passed over.

And some more information from their archive

The Hill of Tara was the seat of the High Kings of Ireland - it lies almost in the middle of the country.  In what was a scandal of our modern times, the Irish government allowed a 
motorway be built through the main part of the hill.

Whatever your traditions for Hallowe'en, be safe and warm:)

Happy Hallowe'en everyone :)  Blessings of the season to you.

This blog is Day 20 in Sarah Allen's 30 day blog challenge

Thursday 30 October 2014

More of Narnia

 We've mostly been house based this week - in the studio every day - working on the recording or setting up videos, or working on the Kickstarter campaign - which goes live on Saturday 1st November.

Plus the weather has turned very Autumnal, although they're saying that this will be the warmest Hallowe'en on record.

I've been finding it very difficult to keep up with the 30 day blogging challenge - I'm now on Day 19 I think.   It's not simply the fact of putting a blog up each day, it's more the fact of having some content to put up without boring you all to death :)  Each day I'm saying, ok that's the last one, but I hate giving up on a challenge ... So 11 more to go.


Please don't forget the Giveaway that I posted on Tuesday by the way.   Click here to check it out. 

The entrance map ... 

Narnia (Part 3)

We went back up to have another look at Narnia - the signage is up and nearly complete, so especially for my friend Jo at her blog Jo on Food, Life and a Scent of Chocolate,  I'm putting some references to the pictures I've already put up here and here.

and the detail of what is written.  It's behind
a glass frame so it's quite hard to photograph
A friend recently suggested that bringing Narnia to earth was like bringing all its tendencies to the planet as well - the first in the 7 parts is the Frozen World - he suggested that our politics, certainly here in Northern Ireland, are totally frozen at the moment.  Hmmm interesting theories.

One of the Tree People
The Tree People are about 8-9 foot tall.   I love the fact that you can only see one of them at a time - even now when nearly all the leaves are gone. 
I hadn't noticed this one's head dress before.

The UnderWorld - His Hair is just brilliant - it's made of ivy.

The four thrones for the four children.

Today we recorded a video for the Kickstarter campaign - Tom's hard at work editing at the minute.

As I mentioned at the top
This blog is Day 19 in Sarah Allen's 30 day blog challenge

What have you been up to this week?
Has the weather been good in your neck of the woods?  

Wednesday 29 October 2014

My favourite Tea Set

In response to a post by Josna at Tell Me Another earlier this year, I thought I'd put up some photos of my old Belleek Tea Set that I guard like a mother lion incase anyone should break a piece.

Belleek is best known for it's shamrock ware which was mostly exported to the United States and was a big seller with Irish living anywhere abroad.  We sent it as presents and it was especially sought after for wedding gifts.

And second to that was the basket ware - hand made and hand woven baskets with hand made and hand painted flowers.
A finished basket

Wet clay being rolled into flowers.
The basket before firing

I spent a couple of school holidays working in the Pottery, in the office, learning how to do up the wages and piece ware books (the potters were paid by the piece) ... but most of all I learned my way around the workings of the pottery.   I used to love watching the guys working at the basket ware  ... the wet clay was a bit like pasta when it was pressed out into strings of clay and it had a very unique smell.

But then there were designs that weren't so popular and those were far and away my favourites and are collectors items.   Nowadays, the china has changed a bit in texture but it's still lovely.

My tea set was passed on to me by my mother after Dad passed away.

The design is Mask I think from the period between 1925-55.

I love the ritual of using a special tea set ... it takes me right back to my childhood.

This parian ware (another name for the fine white porcelain), they said, could be dropped on a stone floor and not break .... I've never wanted to test that out, but for sure tea and coffee tastes a lot better in it.

This blog is Day 18 in Sarah Allen's 30 day blog challenge

Tuesday 28 October 2014

A Giveaway

An album of Irish Songs sung by women, my most recent CD

I'm planning a giveaway later this week on my Facebook page so I thought I'd kick things off by doing one here first:)

Just leave me a comment here and tell me if you'd prefer a traditional CD - those are from my collection of old Irish folk songs - or a contemporary CD - my own songs - and I'll put all the names in a hat on Monday and draw a winner from each section.

As we prepare for a new CD it's time to make some space in the attic and we'll be doing a couple of promotions in the coming weeks - a Kickstarter campaign for the new CD plus a sale in our shop on all the old ones.   So watch out for me keeping coming back with ideas in the coming weeks.

A collection of mostly my own songs plus some new songs from other writers.
From 2002.
This blog is Day 17 of Sarah Allen's 30 day blog challenge

Monday 27 October 2014

Songbirds: Margaret Barry

Street singer Margaret Barry on stage in America

In 2005 we were very grateful that RTE (Irish National Television) took our 6 part TV series Songbirds the First Ladies of Irish Song and broadcast it. (A synopsis is available here.)

I narrated and co-produced, Tom edited and co-produced and a friend, Jimmy Hayden directed.   It was our first time attempting a TV documentary and it was an amazing experience.  Last year a small satellite station also showed the series in the UK - only viewers with Sky TV could see it though.

So I wanted to share it with everyone now - the first episode is available free through You Tube and is also on my website.

This is the first episode featuring Margaret Barry.   She was a street singer who became a big part of the British Folk Revival in the 1960s, is honoured in the Smithsonian FolkLife Museum and played concerts with Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.   Not the prettiest of singers, but she was an incredibly well loved character who was a wonderfully interesting subject to research and to document.

The next 5 episodes will come online in the coming weeks and I'll give you a notice of it here on my blog as they come up.

Margaret Barry at home in Laurencetown mid 70s
I hope you get a chance to watch - it'd be great to hear your comments.

This blog is Day 16 of Sarah Allen's 30 day blog challenge

Sunday 26 October 2014

Irish Songs in a Woman's Key: The Last Rose of Summer

All the guitar books that I've come across, for folk or particularly for Irish songs, annotate the songs in keys that are suitable for men.   Women who are starting to play guitar and who haven't mastered the art of transposing yet ( a subject for another post) try to play the songs and give up really quickly because either the song is way too low or way too high.  
Several of my female students ask me for the chords of songs so I thought it'd be good to start a series here with particular focus on Irish songs, both traditional and contemporary.  These keys are the keys in which I play and sing the songs.    To move the song higher, move the capo up another fret or two.

The Last Rose of Summer is a beautiful song about friendship.  Thomas Moore was writing at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries.   Irish born, he was the darling of the London court and wrote many beautiful songs that are still being sung today, mostly in a classical style, but I think they are just as valid sung in lower keys and in a more folk style.

This is in the key of G

The Last Rose of Summer
lyrics by Thomas Moore, tune traditional
                  G      C            G                     Em   Am    D      G
'Tis the last rose of summer, left blooming a---lone 
D             G   C              G                        Em  Am    D     G
All her lovely com-pa-nions are fa  - ded and gone
          Em            C     G                  Em            (Bm)     C        
No flower of her kindred, no rose bud is      nigh 
D         G      C       D     G                       Em   Am    D    G
To reflect back her blushes or to give sigh for sigh. 

I'll not leave thee, thou lone one! to pine on the stem
Since the lovely are sleeping, go sleep thou with them
'Thus kindly I scatter thy leaves o'er the bed
Where thy mates of the garden lie scentless and dead. 

So soon may I follow, when friendships decay
And from love's shining circle the gems drop away
When true hearts lie wither'd and fond ones are flown
Oh! who would inhabit this bleak world alone!

* ( The Bm in brackets can be omitted)

Here is a quite classical version, sung very high, from the US musical spectacular Celtic Woman ( I love their outfits)

This blog is Day 15 of Sarah Allen's 30 day blog challenge

Saturday 25 October 2014

A dream for another day

I'm playing catch up on my 30 day challenge and going back through some drafts that I hadn't published I found this one.

I had wanted to share this picture that a friend of mine painted - it links in to a song I wrote called Dreaming back in the mid 90s before the ceasefires here ....

It won a song contest and one prominent politician when he heard it, commented "That'll split the camp!"  This is the story of it  - you can also hear the song there.

Colum McEvoy - a wonderful artist who hails from Rostrevor  - painted this representation of the first verse of the song ...
"I saw the devil, he was running after me
Past the Madonna who was happy just to be
in a room that was falling around her with thunder
that was coming from the floor not above like it should be
and when I looked around the door I just come running through was gone
and I awoke to find myself in the middle of this song
I'd been dreaming."

Colum illustrates books and his work has been exhibited across the world.   I love this picture - one day I might own the original.  

This is my  Day 14 blog of a 30 day blog challenge 

Photos of the week

Blue door
It's blowing a gale here this morning and I'm playing catch up on my 30 day challenge...

We've been in the studio these past few days - I'm putting down guitar parts for some of the songs for the album and making use of the school mid term break -  no choir, no students, no distractions for the coming week.   But we're fighting against the noise of the wind blowing against the window.  

 Out for a walk earlier in the week I noticed Autumn colours are really showing now.
This wee lane leads to the sea - there are surely fairies down there;)
 I love the fact that our weather changes so much - there'll be storms for 5 minutes - now the sun is shining :)   Four seasons in one day.

I don't know what that berry is,
but it's a spectacular blast of colour for the time of year.

The clock's go back tonight ... Have to remember they Spring forward and Fall back.

This is my  Day 13 blog of a 30 day blog challenge 

Thursday 23 October 2014

Home Schooled

My grandparents and uncle c 1965
This arrived in the mail a few weeks back - I thought you might like it :)

Most of our generation was HOME SCHOOLED but did not know it at the time.  

1. My mother taught me TO APPRECIATE A JOB WELL DONE.

"If you're going to kill each other, do it outside.

I just finished cleaning."

2.My mother taught me RELIGION

"You better pray that will come out of the carpet."

3.My father taught me about TIME TRAVEL.

"If you don't straighten up, I'm going to knock

you into the middle of next week!"

4.My father taught me LOGIC.

" Because I said so, that's why."

5.My mother taught me MORE LOGIC ..

"If you fall out of that swing and break your neck,

you're not going to the store with me."

6.My mother taught me FORESIGHT.

"Make sure you wear clean underwear, in case

you're in an accident."

7.My father taught me IRONY.

"Keep crying, and I'll give you something to cry about."

8.My mother taught me about the science of OSMOSIS.

"Shut your mouth and eat your supper."

9.My mother taught me about CONTORTIONISM.

"Just you look at that dirt on the back of your neck?"

10.My mother taught me about STAMINA.

"You'll sit there until all that spinach is gone."

11.My mother taught me about WEATHER.

"This room of yours looks as if a tornado went through it."

12.My mother taught me about HYPOCRISY.

"If I told you once, I've told you a million times. Don't exaggerate!"

13.My father taught me the CIRCLE OF LIFE.

"I brought you into this world, and I can take you out..."

14.My mother taught me about BEHAVIOR MODIFICATION.

"Stop acting like your father!"

15.My mother taught me about ENVY.

"There are millions of less fortunate children in

this world who don't have wonderful parents like you do."

16.My mother taught me about ANTICIPATION.

"Just wait until we get home."

17.My mother taught me about RECEIVING.

"You are going to get it from your father when you get home!"

18.My mother taught me MEDICAL SCIENCE.

"If you don't stop crossing your eyes, they are going to get stuck that way."

19.My mother taught me ESP.

"Put your sweater on; don't you think I know when you are cold?"

20.My father taught me HUMOUR.

"When that lawn mower cuts off your toes, don't come running to me."

21.My mother taught me HOW TO BECOME AN ADULT.

"If you don't eat your vegetables, you'll never grow up."

22.My mother taught me GENETICS.

"You're just like your father."

23.My mother taught me about my ROOTS.

"Shut that door behind you. Do you think you were born in a barn?"

24.My mother taught me WISDOM.

"When you get to be my age, you'll understand.

25.My father taught me about JUSTICE.

"One day you'll have kids, and I hope they turn out just like you !"

So there y'are now! as they'd say here :)

This is my  Day 12 blog of a 30 day blog challenge