THE LOWDOWN ON IRELAND - BY TIP

THE LOWDOWN ON

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The following Subjects are available:

Ireland :- Ireland | State Name | Flag | Coat of Arms | National Anthem

Folklore In Ireland :- Folklore | Poets | Epical Heroes | Saints | Love Songs | Trades


IRELAND

Ireland offers an entire adventure that would take weeks to investigate and even then, this only allows you an impression of a country which is strange and beautiful in it people and places which you can meet on your travels.

Ireland is approx. 84,500 sq km. The longest None-Stop travel of its greatest length is approx. 500 km, and on its greatest width it is approx. 300 km, Its coastline extends just over approx. 5,500 km. The highest point in Ireland is a mountain called Carrantuohill approx. 1,040 meters, in County Kerry. The longest river is the unsurpassed river Shannon approx. 370 km with some of the finest fishing in Ireland, which find its slow winding way, down to the sea in county Limerick. Among The Biggest of its lakes is Lough Neagh 396 sq km which boarders counties Armagh, Down, Antrim, Derry and Tyrone.

The country is divided into the four provinces, Ulster which includes 9 northern counties, Munster which includes 6 southern counties, Leinster which includes 12 eastern counties and Connacht which includes 5 western counties. Ireland's population is at last count around approx. 5 million people. At no point are you more than 70 miles from the sea, that means your only at maximum a 1.5 hours travel from the nearest coast line

There are over 800 lakes and rivers for the water adventure seeker and One of Ireland advantages is that this country has not been over-industrialised. The Country-side is not littered with heavy industry and its rivers and lakes run mainly pure and untouched by man.

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NAME OF STATE

The Irish Constitution provides (Article 4) that the name of the State is Éire, or in the English language, Ireland. Normal practice is to restrict the use of the name Éire to texts in the Irish language and to use Ireland in all English language texts, with corresponding translations for texts in other languages. The Republic of Ireland Act of 1948 provides for the description of the State as the Republic of Ireland but this provision has not changed the usage Ireland as the name of the State in the English language.

The etymology of the name Éire is uncertain and various theories have been advanced. There is no doubt, however, but that it is of considerable antiquity. It first appears as .lÉpvn (Ierne) in Greek geographical writings which may be based on sources as early as the fifth century B.C. In Ptolemy's Map (ca. 150 A.D.) the name appears as .louEpviX (Iouernia); some such Form was transliterated into Latin as Iuverna. The standard Latin form, Hibernia, first appears in the works of Caesar, who seems to have confused it with the Latin word hibernus (wintry). Ériu, the Old Irish form of Éire, was current in the earliest Irish literature. The modern English word Ireland derives from the Irish word Éire with the addition of the Germanic word land. In Irish mythology, Ériu was one of three divine eponyms for Ireland, together with Banba and Fòdla. The idea of Ireland as a heroine re-appears as a common motif in later literature in both Irish and English.

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FLAG

The national flag of Ireland is a tricolour of green, white and orange. The tricolour is rectangular in shape, the width being twice its depth. The three colours are of equal size, vertically disposed, and the green is displayed next to the staff.

The flag was first introduced by Thomas Francis Meagher during the revolutionary year of 1848 as an emblem of the Young Ireland movement, and it was often seen at meetings alongside the French tricolour.

The green represents the older Gaelic and Anglo-Norman element in the population, while the orange represents the Protestant planter stock, supporters of William of Orange. The meaning of the white was well expressed by Meagher when he introduced the flag. 'The white in the centre,' he said, 'signifies a lasting truce between the 'Orange' and the 'Green' and I trust that beneath its folds the hands of the Irish Protestant and the Irish Catholic may be clasped in heroic brotherhood.'

It was not until the Rising of 1916, when it was raised above the General Post Office in Dublin, that the tricolour came to be regarded as the national flag. It rapidly gained precedence over any which had existed before it, and its use as a national flag is enshrined in the Constitution of Ireland.

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ARMS

The heraldic harp is invariably used by the government, its agencies and its representatives at home and abroad. It is engraved on the seal matrix of the office of President as well as on the reverse of the coinage of the state. It is also emblazoned on the distinctive flag of the President of Ireland - a gold harp with silver strings on an azure field.

The model for the artistic representation of the heraldic harp is the fourteenth century harp now preserved in the museum of Trinity College, Dublin, popularly known as the Brian Boru harp.

Her excellency President Mrs. Mary Robinson

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NATlONAL ANTHEM

The text of The Soldier's Song (Amhràn na bhFiann), consisting of three stanzas and a chorus, was written in 1907 by Peadar Kearney, who together with Patrick Heeney also composed the music. It was first published in the newspaper, Irish Freedom, in 1912. The chorus, of which the words and music are given below, was formally adopted as the National Anthem in Fenian anthem, God Save Ireland. A section of the National Anthem (consisting of the first four bars followed by the last five) is also the Presidential Salute. 1926, displacing the earlier.

Soldiers are we, whose lives are pledged to Ireland,

Some have come from a land beyond the wave, no more our ancient sireland,

Shall shelter the despot or the slave.

Tonight we man the gap of danger,

in Erin's cause,

come woe or weal,

'Mid cannon's roar and rifles peal,

We'll chant a soldier's song,

Check out the real thing in Irish sample .wav file.

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FOLKLORE IN IRELAND

The speaking voice of Irish tradition comes to us from many sources and, together with its values of learning and entertainment, is of interest because if preserves traces of all these sources. Its richest base lies in the heritage of the Irish language, but all the peoples who settled in this island - Norsemen, Normans, Scots, and English - have made their own contributions.

Further more, since striking narratives and curious ideas are transmitted easily from one culture to another, a great wealth of international folkloric materials has been borrowed into Ireland down through the centuries and has found a new creative context here.

In mediaeval Ireland, responsibility for preserving cultural data devolved upon a special learned caste. Such data included accounts of mythological heroes and of the important figures of ancient history, together with detailed genealogical and onomastic traditions. The range and scope of this learned lore is well represented in the older Irish literature, which abounds in descriptions of personages, septs, and locale and which had a marked reverence for antiquity and for rhetorical style. The literature originate dint he 6th century AD and continued to flower until the suppression of native institutions a thousand years later. The period form the 17th to the 19th century witnessed a great weakening in the Gaelic culture, and this was accompanied by an increasing decline in the use of language itself. Some of the old heroic tales were, however, preserved in readily available manuscripts and, through being read aloud in the peasant environment, were given a new lease of life in oral storytelling and have survived among speakers of Irish to our own time.

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Poets

The mediaeval poet Rumann mac Colmain came to the Vikings of Dublin seeking aid for his people, who were dying of amine. The Vikings wished him to compose a poem in praise of their ships, and he did this in ‘swaying’ metre and with sounds of the sea. He then demanded in payment ‘ a coin from every bad foreigner, and two coins from every good one!’ Every man of the Vikings gave two coins, and so Rumann had enough money to save his people form hunger.

From time immemorial, the poet or file was a leading personage in Irish culture and was accorded very high social status. The poets specialised in praise an satire, and their verses were thought by many to contain mystical knowledge and to have magical effect. Being the leading representative of the learned caste, they were professionals and enjoyed the lavish patronage of Gaelic, and later Norman-Gaelic, lords. The traditional poetry survived the demise of the Gaelic social order, it being - from the 17th century onwards - composed in the more popular stressed metres know as amhran (‘song’). Living among the ordinary people and themselves often reduced to penury, the later Gaelic poets made a significant contribution to the sense of style and accuracy of expression which remains a distinctive trait of the Irish language. The poets also become themselves the subjects of folk legends, in which they are portrayed as vanquishing with the keenness of their verse those who indulged in authoritarianism, pomposity, or stinginess.

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Epical Heroes

This native stream of lore has left a considerable heritage of mythic and historical stories in contemporary Irish folklore. The adventures of the famous seer-warrior Fionn Mac Cumhaill are still known to, and related by, many Irish people. These include how he gained his wisdom as a boy by tasting the ‘salmon of knowledge’, how he triumphed over miscellaneous giants and magicians, and how his son Oisin spent three hundred years in the other world and returned to Ireland to find all his friends long dead.

The hero Fionn mac Cumhaill was journeying by night, and came to a little house in a valley. There he was welcomed by a very old man and a very beautiful young lady. Supper was prepared for him, but a ram raced in and knocked the table over. Fionn failed in his efforts to tie up the ram, but the old man did so with ease. Later that night, the lady rejected Fionn’s advances, saying: ‘You had me once, and you will never have me again!’ Before he left the house next morning, the old man explained all: ‘The ram is the world and cannot be tamed except by me, for I am time and time weakens all. The lady is youth - you are now in middle-age and will never have that again!’

The champion Lugh, originally a god of the Continental Celts, is also remembered - especially how he slew his tyrant-grandfather who had a horrific eye which destroyed all of which it gazed/ The adventures of the super-warrior Cu Chulainn are also spoken of as well as the tragic story of the beautiful Deirdre whose sorrow and death was encompassed by the jealous old suitorking Conchubhar. Other hero-tales are told of more true to life characters, such as the quasi-historical High-King Cormac Mac Airt and the historical though much romanticised Conall Gulban, son of the great king Niall and contemporary of St. Patrick.

Much lore centres on the patron-saints of the various localities. These saints, historical personages form the early centuries of Irish Christianity, are portrayed in legend as miracle-workers who used their sacred power to banish monsters, cure illnesses, and provide food for the people in time of need. Holy wells, dedicated to individual saints, are still frequented on their feastdays in many areas, and people pray at these wells for relief from different kinds of physical and mental distress. Most celebrated were the national saint Patrick, the great founder of monasteries Colm Cille, and the ubiquitous Brighid who as protectress of farming and livestock preserves many of the attributes of the ancient earth-goddess.

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Saints

St. Brigid wished to build a convent, but had no site for the purpose. She went to a local king and asked him for some land. The king, who was a pagan, sneeringly said that she could only have as much land as her cloak would cover. Brigid took off her cloak and laid it upon the ground. It began to spread, and soon it covered a large area. The dumbfounded king begged her to cause it to cease, which she did on condition that he give her a reasonable piece of land. That place was Kildare, where she founded her first convent, and the area which had been covered by her cloak is the wide rolling plain of the Curragh.

Ireland is famous for its fairy-lore, which contains vestiges of pre-Christian tradition. The fairies are known in Irish as the people of the si, a word which originally designated a mound or tumulus, and the Irish fairies can be connected with early Celtic beliefs of how the dead live on as a dazzling community in their burial chambers. Through their identification in the mediaeval literature with the Tuatha De Danann (‘People of the Goddess Danu’) they may also be connected directly to the early pantheon of Celtic Deities. In folk belief, thousands of ‘raths’ - ancient earthenwork structures which dot the Irish landscape - are claimed to be inhabited still by the si- people, and many stories are told of humans being brought into these hidden places at night as guests at wondrous banquets.

This Irish lore of the otherworld has been enriched by migratory legends from the rest of Europe, which have readily become domiciled here. These include accounts of men who married a fairy lady or a mermaid, midwives who ere brought into the fairy world to assist at births, children or young women who were abducted by sprites and replaced with sickly changelings, people brought on overnight trips to foreign lands by the fairies, help rendered by individual spiritual beings, and other world armies lying enchanted at secret locations.

Versions of numerous far-flung international folktales have been current in Ireland for many centuries. The simplest of these are fanciful little tales concerning the faun, which deal with such matters as the fox and wolf, or the eagles and wren, pitting their wits against each other. Most popular of all are the ‘wand tales’, which are long and lend themselves to very imaginative events and to highly stylised descriptions, and are therefore very suitable to storytelling in the Irish language. The plots of these stories are situated in a never-never land ‘long ago’, and they introduce the audience to impoverished young men on magical steeds who win the hands of beautiful princesses, to the overthrow of wizards and giants and dragons, and to many other kinds of wondrous and phantastic happenings. Of almost equal popularity are the ‘novelle’-type tales, based on other international plots concerning tricks and coincidences, but in amore true to life setting - many of these have, in fact, come to be told of leading Irish social figures such as Jonathan Swift and Daniel O’Connell.

Dean Swift was travelling in his coach, accompanied by his servant Jack. On passing a cemetery, they noticed a woman crying copiously over the grave of her husband. The Dean immediately began to lecture Jack on the matter of loyalty and fidelity, but Jack was a cynic and would not agree with his master. They laid wagers with each other and, to prove his point, Jack approached the woman and made an offer of marriage to her. She accepted the offer without much delay. The highminded Dean was left disillusioned with human nature, and quite disgruntled since he had lost the wager.

There is, of course, a large variety of humorous stories in Ireland, of both native and foreign derivation.

Legends of historical characters, and folk accounts of historical events, have always been popular. Such stories cover a wide range of folk memory and fancy - featuring celebrated chieftains and leaders, outlaw-heroes, political and social tyrants, misers, prophets, folk healers, and great sportsmen. And, needles to say, like all other peoples, the Irish are partial to stories of ghosts, revenants, and spirits. These may either be of the malevolent kind who terrify or even injure benighted travellers, or the benevolent kind such as souls in distress who return seeking prayers on their behalf or proffering assistance to abused relatives.

Respect for the dead has always been a prominent feature of our culture. Indeed, a very special female spirit, the bean si, is often heard to announce by her wailing the impending death of a member of an Irish family. A wide range of beliefs and practices were concerned with the issues of death and burial and, in former times, the waking of the dead was an important social occasion. People not only prayed, but also sang, told stories, and even played games at the wake of a departed relative or friend who had enjoyed a long and fulfilling life. This was considered the proper way to pay tribute to the deceased person. Although this tradition of wakes has now all but disappeared, the more inherently joyful stages in the life cycle, such as births and marriages, maintain their age-old importance as great communal occasions and are celebrated with feasting and conviviality.

The Irish people have always had a great lover for song. The compositions of the early poets were sung or chanted to the accompaniment of the harp, and there are several indications that occasional songs, working-songs, and laments were cultivated by the ordinary people with simpler patterns of rhythm and metre. In the latter Middle Ages, colourful love-motifs gained currency, particularly of the type which attributes the sympathy of the natural environment to human emotions. It is clear that these motifs were borrowed from Continental troubadour poetry, through the medium of the French and English languages. They were soon assimilated into native verse-forms to produce the many plaintive and touching love-songs which are still very popular in the Irish language.

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Love-songs

Songs in Irish focus on the expression of feeling and rarely tell a story, and because of this the tradition of singing was influenced but little by the rapid spread of narrative ballads through other European countries in the post- mediaeval period. Such ballads were, however, introduced form England and Scotland in the course of the 18th and 19th centuries. They were often printed on broadcast and sold at fairs and other gatherings, and thus formed the basis of Irish folksong in the English. Also very common on these broadcast were newly-composed patriotic songs, and a variety of others dealing wit memorable event sin social life, as well as humorous and satiric pieces.

Tomas Costello was a handsome and athletic young man, a champion wrestler and one of the finest horsemen in the land. He fell in love with Una MacDermott, the gentle daughter of wealthy parents. Disapproving of Tomas, the girl’s parents would not allow them to marry. Una’s sorrow was so great the her health began to fail, and she died of a broken heart. She was buried on an island in Lough Key. Tomas did not attend the funeral, knowing that he would not be made welcome by her relatives. In the darkness of night, he attempted to swim across to the island but was overcome and drowned by a great wave.

Popular Irish sons were, and to an extent still are, sung without accompaniment, but music has long had an established context of its own. The earliest instruments were the harp and pipes but in recent centuries violins and accordions were adopted and gained great vogue. The major division of Irish folk music is between melodious slow airs and lively dance- music. This latter is based on popular dances form England an d Scotland, as well as on fashionable quadrilles taught by dance-masters who travelled the countryside. The popular developed the steps to their own more robust and vivacious taste, thereby giving rise to the traditional Irish set-dances which were performed outdoors in the summer and autumn, an din the dwelling-house when the weather was more inclement. After a period of decline in the middle of this century the set-dances have recently revived in all parts of the country.

In the days before TV and commercialised entertainment, the most popular indoor pastime, apart form storytelling, was card-playing, to which many people were quite addicted. There was also a great taste for posing and solving riddles, for tongue-twisters, divination games, and of course for practical jokes. The indigenous festivals of the Irish calendar - such as St. Brighid’s Feast (February 1), May Eve, the festival of Lughnasa (August), and Haloween, all had their own special forms of amusements and preserved vestiges of earlier rituals. Of the Christian festivals, most custom centred on Christmas, Easter, St. John’s Night, and the Feast of St. Martin. The forms of outdoor entertainment which featured most prominently were athletic contests, hunting, horse-racing, football, and hurling. The latter is a very ancient game, and is surely the most distinctive visual aspect of Irish culture today. It is played with a long curved stick and a fist-sized ball between two teams of payers with great skill, courage, and electrifying speed.

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Trades

The realm of folk-belief is well represented in Irish traditional culture, and provides a good illustration of how realistic knowledge, derived from observation and experience, combines with fanciful ideas which are born of curiosity and lively imagination. Here, as elsewhere, popular lore testifies to the fusion of the practical and the poetic. The life experience, the passing of time, the home and community, the different trades and sills, the natural environment, all have their own special beliefs attaching to them. Although these and some other aspects of traditional Irish folklore have lost much of their vigour in the contemporary world, they call still be readily met with.

Goban Saor was the greatest craftsman who ever lived. He was engaged once to build a fine monastery for a community of monks, and had almost completed the task. He as perched on top of the building when the monks took away the ladder. The told him that they would not allow him to come down unless he accepted a very low fee for his work. Unperturbed, Goban began to throw down brick after brick, saying that he would descend in this way. The monks promptly agreed to pay him the proper amount.

Many of the country’s modern writers and artists have made copious use of data from the folk culture, and Irish oral lore itself displays an impressive creative and aesthetic sense. A great deal of information can also be gleaned form Irish folklore concerning the social and cultural history of the country. The causal visitor, as well as the more serious investigator, may indeed be surprised at the strength with which old tradition has been preserved. Perhaps more than in any other European country, folk narratives, customs, and beliefs survive with striking immediacy and elaborate detail in Irish life, and this has led many researchers from abroad to come to this country for the opportunity to examine a living folklore at first hand.

Much effort has been made in Ireland to study and preserve this heritage, and to relate it to the traditional cultures of other peoples. An extensive range of academic and popular publications is available from book-shops, and there are also museums and folk-arks, as well as local festivals which include relevant lectures, discussions, and performances. A pivotal role in developing interest is played by the Folklore of Ireland Society, which was founded in 1926 and has a large membership. The Irish Folklore Commission was set up by the Government in 1935, and has down through the years collected a vast amount of lore and ethnological data. It now functions as the Department of Irish Folklore at University College Dublin. Scholars form the Department are engaged in widespread co-operation with their counterparts in other countries, and Irish delegates played a leading role in the adoption of the UNESCO policy on world folklore in 1988.


By Dr. Daithi O hOgain, Department of Irish Folklore, University College Dublin.

Other Notable Publications

A Handbook of Irish Folklore, Sean O’Suilleabhain, (Dublin 1942)

Irish Folk Custom and Belief, Sean O’Suilleabhain, (Dublin 1967)

The Year in Ireland, Kevin Danaher, (Dublin 1972)

Myth, Legend and Romance:, An Encyclopedia of Irish Folk Tradition, (London 1990)


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