Crone in Corrogue: Wild Wisdom of the Elder Years

Glorying in the elder years, a time of spirituality, service and some serious sacred activism

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Solstice Crossroads

There is a cultural stereotype that Ireland is a Catholic country, harrassed by clergy and neurotically pious. The literary canon tends to reinforce this view; contemporary writers are less concerned with overturning this and getting on with fresh material. Ireland may be a majority Catholic country, but as Catholic friends from other countries point out - not as they know it! While the Catholic Church may be a social institution still, especially in rural areas, it does not hold sway spiritually anymore.  (The resounding 'Yes' vote to gay marriage on 22nd May 2015 in the Republic of Ireland displayed little heed to Bishop's sermons to the contrary.)  The popularity of ancient sacred sites at Summer Solstice is one piece of evidence that Ireland has never really divested itself of her pagan roots. 

Uisneach has become a popular site for celebrating Bealtaine bonfires in May in recent years. The Hill of Tara attracted hundreds at dawn on 21st June this year. While many people in Ireland may not identify (exactly) as pagans or witches, there has definately been a movement recently towards coming out of the broom closet in Ireland. The main Irish newspaper, The Irish Times, covered pagan celebrations at Tara this year.

But many others are adopting the pagan festivals for free form spiritual expression.  A shaman up near Derry of my acquaintance hosts drum circles at power points on the calendar, as well as occassional fire walks.  Over in my neck of the woods this solstice Mental Health Ireland walked around the Cavan Burren Park megaliths before holding a ceremony of song and candle lighting where participants were encouraged to make personal affirmations of well-being.

Wishing trees, cursing and blessing bullaun stones, the cures of holy wells' sacred water, the healing clay from a holy person's grave - Ireland has never forgotten these pagan-ish ways. Some would call it superstition and the church has at times banned clooties (the rag trees) at holy wells and over-frolicksome Lunasa festivals. But they have never been able to completely suppress the devotions and reverence for the sacred sites in the land.

One example of the resurgence in pagan-ish spirituality is the reclaiming, cleaning and renovation of holy wells.  There is a holy well about two hundred metres from my house that was rededicated on August 15th (feast of Mother Mary's bodily assumption into Heaven) a couple years ago. The hereditary well keeper asked the local priest to come say Mass to rededicate it. But that was no ordinary Mass. He wanted the local priest to lift the curse on the well. And said priest did what he could to oblige. (He's a rural Cavan man and understands about these things.)

There has a been a revival in Leitrim in solstice (or Feast of St. John on 23rd June) dancing at the Crossroads.  Out in deep country, in the shadow of Sheebeg and Sheemore, people from all over South Leitrim will gather for live trad music and a dance at the crossroads.  The year is turning. The first hay cut is done. It is Bonfire Night. In old days bonfires would have been lit on all the hill tops on St. John's Eve. Now they have them on the crossroads in Effrinagh. The old ways are never completely forgotten. Our collective spirit hungers for the connection to land and celebrates it in music, song, poems and dance.

You can't really take the Pagan out of the Irish Church. They tried, but it has never truly succeeded in the anarchic, wildish Irish spirit.


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Bee Smith has enjoyed a long relationship with SageWoman as a contributor, columnist and blogger. She lives in the Republic of Ireland, teaches creative writing and is a member of the Irish Art Council's Writers in Prisons panel. She is the author of "Brigid's Way: Celtic Reflections on the Divine Feminine."    


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