Eponalia is the feast day of the ancient Celtic Horse Goddess, Epona. The word ‘pony’ is derived from her name. Ancient peoples from the west of Ireland, to as far east as Anatolia (Turkey), from the Danube River to Yugoslavia, down to Rome and even North Africa, worshipped the Horse Goddess.  Her Facebook fan page would have broken world records.

The ancient Celts had totem animals, much like Native Americans.  The horse, and the white horse in particular, was a powerful totem, symbolising the land and journeying (both physical and spiritual). It was believed that the Horse Goddess could help humans transcend the limitations of mortality. 
Today, Ireland is definitely horse country. When you visit the west country, you’ll undoubtedly see (and perhaps meet) lots of different breeds, from Thoroughbred racehorses to sturdy Cobs, and everything in between. But the most prevalent by far is the native Connemara pony. More of a horse than a pony, the Connemara is a cross between the original very small Irish horses referred to as ‘Hobby’ and the Arabians and Andalusians that came to Ireland with the Spanish Armada in the 16th Century. The Connemara pony is hardy, intelligent and good-tempered—much like the rest of Ireland!

The Water Cure

Arnamentia (or Arnametia) was an Anglo-Celtic goddess of spring waters and of healing. The last part of her name was taken from ‘nemeton,’ which was a sacred grove of trees where druids worshipped. Usually, those groves would be near water, for water marked the entrance to the OtherWorld and offered great healing powers.

Oh, Arnamentia, where the heck are you? Ireland needs you now . . .

This month marks the first time ever that Irish people will have to pay for water. It’s a utility long taken for granted in this country because we have so much of it. Unfortunately, the water we are now paying for is often polluted or carcinogenic. And people are angry. Many picketed in protest against the water charges, and threatened not to pay. There’s a video on Facebook showing how to remove the water meters that have been installed. Shops are selling giant plastic rain barrels so people can collect water for free. On the radio, DJs joke about not washing dishes and drinking alcohol instead of water.
And in the middle of all this angst and controversy, I started: 

The Water Cure
By now, most people have heard of the water cure, but just in case you haven’t, I’ll share a bit of what I know and am learning about this interesting antidote. Originally, I started this cure to help lower my blood pressure naturally, without harmful pharmaceuticals, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that it’s also helped my achy old-dancer joints and even helped me lose a bit of weight without trying.
In the early 1990s, a physician named Fereydoon Batmanghelidj (he’s mercifully referred to as ‘Dr. Batman’ for short) published a book entitled, YOUR BODY'S MANY CRIES FOR WATER. The book describes his discovery that chronic dehydration is the root cause of many ailments, including Asthma and allergies, Obesity, High cholesterol, Heart disease and stroke, Diabetes, Hypertension, Infection, Depression and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Sleep disorders, Lack of energy, Addiction, Osteoporosis, Leukaemia and Lymphoma, Attention Deficit Disorder, Hot flushes, Gout and Kidney stones. Batman’s byline is: You’re not sick; you’re thirsty. Don’t treat thirst with medication. That’s wonderfully provocative, especially when you consider that water is cheaper than medication. Dr. Batman asserted that most people don’t even know they need water, as dry mouth is the last sign of dehydration. He also said that people drink less as they age, thereby aging faster.

Here’s how The Water Cure works:
1.      Water. Calculate half your body weight in ounces. So if you weigh 300 pounds that would be 150 ounces. You’d drink 150 ounces of purified, not tap water per day, divided into at least six servings. For a 300 pound person, that would be roughly three 8-ounce cups of water six times a day. But, the good news is, that 300 pound person would begin losing weight quickly, so he or she could drink less!

Here’s a link to convert ounces to millilitres and vice versa:
2. Salt. Before drinking each serving of water, you dissolve 1/16 tsp (a pinch) of Himalayan Pink Salt or Celtic Sea Salt on your tongue.

Most conventional physicians will tell you to cut out salt or sodium to lower blood pressure. But Himalayan Pink Salt is very different from basic table salt. Both are sodium chloride, but table salt is like white flour – it has been stripped of minerals and its ‘good’ properties. According to Dr. Batman (I love that name), the human body needs the minerals in pure salt.
     3. Timing. Dr. Batman said that when we drink water is important. I was drinking more than half my body weight in water before I started this cure, but I was sipping it, and usually drinking quite a bit with meals. Drinking when you eat is okay, but your body uses that water to help digest the food, and it then leaves your body. Water is really important on a cellular level, and it needs to remain in your body for about two hours. This means we need to drink a fair amount of it in between meals so that it can get into the cells and our bodies can really use it.  For that reason, there’s a schedule to this cure.

First thing in the morning, take a pinch of salt and dissolve it on your tongue, then drink your first amount of water (1/6th of half your total weight in ounces). This water should be consumed in five minutes or less.
Wait 30 minutes.
Eat breakfast
Wait 2 to 2 ½ hours. Do not consume anything except water, if you wish, for those two hours.
After that 2 to 2 ½ hour wait, repeat the whole process.
Do this a total of six times each day.

Right away, I think of a friend of mine who says she ‘hates the taste of water.’ Bizarre, but true. For people who ‘hate’ water, adding a bit of organic vanilla extract to the water can make it palatable. As an added bonus, Christiane Northrup, M.D. says that organic vanilla extract added to water can help regulate thyroid function.

Now, with a heightened awareness of the importance of water, I’ll say a silent prayer to the goddess Arnamentia and ask for her help with the whole Irish water situation. Maybe she can help my fellow countrymen understand that we should be boycotting water quality rather than water charges. If the Irish government would use the money we pay to actually purify our drinking water, then maybe that water would quench our anger, and cure a load of other problems. 
Torc Waterfall, County Kerry

A Most Unusual Lighthouse

This is the Ballycurrin Lighthouse, an 18th Century structure that most people around here take for granted. But this summer, I took several tourists to this difficult-to-find landmark and, because they'd never seen it before, they found it fascinating.

For those who don't know, this old lighthouse is situated on the shore of Lough Corrib (the largest lake in the Republic of Ireland), on the Galway/Mayo border, and it has a fascinating collection of stories behind it. It is so hidden that when William Wilde, Oscar Wilde’s daddy, wrote his extensive account of this area (Wilde’s Lough Corrib), he sailed right past this lighthouse and didn’t even remark on it.

Said to be the only inshore lighthouse of its kind in Europe, with a roof made out of a mill wheel (now there’s an interesting architectural choice), the Ballycurrin Lighthouse was built during the Georgian era, in 1772, by a member of the Lynch tribe. Which Lynch, though, is a matter of debate.

First, there’s the claim that Liam Lynch, a local landlord, built the lighthouse. But, there's a boathouse beside the lighthouse with a stone on which is engraved, ‘Erected by Henry Lynch, Esq. A.D. 1772.’ So that supports another story that says Sir Henry had this structure built as a marker for the Galway to Cong ferry. Timber was burned in the uppermost portion of the lighthouse to create the light that would guide the ferry to Lynch to deliver his provisions. Sir Henry was a 7th ‘Baronet,’ an inherited title which meant that, technically, he was gentry, but literally, he had not been knighted or even received any kind of accolade. He was just a guy whose great-grandda owned a big house. This might be why he was more often referred to as ‘Harry.’ 
Another story involves Sir Henry’s wife. The polite version is that she had the lighthouse built so he could find his way home at night, since he was fond of visiting the pubs in Galway and Cong. In this version, Sir Henry’s wife has no name or identity of her own, poor creature.

However, in another version of the story, Sir Henry’s mistress is named. Sibella Cottle, the mother of seven of Henry’s illegitimate children, might have built the thing. She was reputed to use ‘witchcraft’ to spellbind Sir Henry to her for life. 

Oh, those wacky Georgians . . . 

Selkie Love!

It's a face that begs to be kissed. And amazing eyes that reflect the vast, mysterious depths of the ocean. This little guy was sick, but recouperating nicely, when I visited the Dingle Wildlife & Seal Sanctuary. He's a young pup--you can see he still has his baby fur--and without the help of the sea goddesses at the Sanctuary, he would have died.

The ugly facts are that Ireland, Scotland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Namibia, all massacre seals, but Canada takes the cake went it comes to sheer numbers. The Canadian commercial seal 'hunt' is the largest mass slaughter of marine mammals in the world. This year alone, they plan to kill over 335,000 seals. For. No. Reason. The Canadian government openly admits this is a make-work project for out-of-work fishermen. And it isn’t just a bullet to the head. These innocent animals are bludgeoned to death; sometimes spikes are hammered into their heads. If you'd like to help stop the slaughter, here's a link that will guide you:

Some years ago, I met an old fisherman in Ballyferriter, a remote area on the Dingle Peninsula. Without being prompted, he talked about how he hated seals for 'eating all the fish in the sea.' Then he spat on the ground, I guess to prove just how much he hated seals. A couple years ago, I helped rescue a seal on the Dingle Peninsula. He'd been left on the beach by his mother and was a wild, frightened creature, bloated with worms and feeling miserable.

Those experiences still haunt me. So I'm writing a thriller about seals. Not just your ordinary, everyday grey seals, although they are included. This modern day thriller involves selkies--those mythical creatures that are seals in the water, but humans on land. According to the lore of the Orkney Islands, selkies are supernaturally formed from the souls of drowned people. In Wales, selkies are humans who return to the sea (kind of de-evolution). And in Ireland, selkies are usually just hapless creatures who get stuck on land and desperately long to return to the sea.
If you really look at their faces close up while they're sleeping, they do look kind of human. So it's easy to see where the myth began. Then again, maybe it isn't myth at all.

Incredible Irish Legends Based in Fact

Remains of the earliest human habitations in Ireland, dating from the beginning of the Stone Age, have been found in quite a few places around the country, but principally in Antrim (in Northern Ireland) and Sligo (the county just to the north of me).
However, all over the island, farmers digging for turf in the boglands, as well as archaeologists looking for historical treasures, have found innumerable artefacts of stone, bronze, gold, silver and bone, all of them relics of the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages. Many of these artefacts are in museums. Some are on bookshelves, or proudly displayed on a mantle, or maybe lying forgotten under a layer of dust in a shed. The earth of this country seems to spew up ancient objects the way a human might spit cherry pits. And these objects tell amazing stories.

Walking over a natural bed of shimmering quartz crystal, climbing to the top of an ancient cairn (burial hill) a mile from my house, or picking up fossils from the lake shore—these are things that send my mind on wonderful journeys to the past. So many Irish legends are tied to the land and, even the legends that sound the most far-fetched, have a grain of truth to them. When I take the trouble to trace them back to their origins, there’s always an ‘Aha!’ moment. This really could have happened.

Here’s an example . . .
Early Annalists recorded invasions and settlements of the island of Ireland carried out by such tribes as the Parthalonians, Nemedians, Formorians, Fir Bolg, Tuatha de Danann, and finally the Milesians or Celts. The Milesians came on boats from what we think of as ‘Spain’. They introduced implements and weapons of iron to Ireland for the first time and overcome all previous settlers still existing. The iron weapons made it that much easier for them to subdue any and all opposition. These same Celts also brought with them a Celtic language of their own, which would later develop into Gaeilge, or the Irish language which we know today. Looking at it that way, Irish is just another version of Spanish.

The strangest of the early tribes to settle here was surely the Tuatha de Danann (or ‘The People of the Goddess Danu’), who were supposed to be able to understand magic. These are the people who have been associated, more or less, with the Sidhe, the Fey or Fairy Folk. Their amazing tales and deeds were recorded and have come down to us through the ages. You’ll want to remember these folk now, the de Dananns, because whatever or whoever these early settlers were, they have left an astonishing legacy of megalithic tombs, court cairns, dolmens, tumuli, etc., dotted all over the country.

Perhaps the most remarkable structure they left is the enormous tumulus at Newgrange in Co. Meath, which covers an acre of ground. Newgrange dates from 3500 BC, which makes it much older than either the Pyramids of Egypt, or Stonehenge in England. Only a fraction of these tombs and tumuli have been unearthed and explored over the years.
Some of the stones at Newgrange are beautifully decorated with swirling designs that are thought to represent unending life. Ancient Celts and Druids believed that life began, ended, and began again in a continuous process of reincarnation.

In a display of frighteningly accurate astronomy, these ancient construction workers (likely the de Dannan) built Newgrange so that every single year on the winter solstice, the light of the rising sun would penetrate the structure, travel up the 19 meter passage and dramatically illuminate the very centre of the cruciform crematorium at its heart. To Druids and ancient peoples, the winter solstice would have been a terrifically powerful day, a day when the sun was ‘reborn,’ causing each day after the solstice to be a bit longer. This must be the reason why they made the passageway look like a birth canal. 
This phenomenon attracts hundreds of visitors from all over the world on the 21st of December every year.
Building Newgrange, and the other passage graves around the country, was a mammoth undertaking and would have required a great deal of labour over a prolonged period of time. But there is no evidence of a large-scale settlement such as would explain the organisation and sophistication indicated by the tombs. So these people of the Middle Neolithic/the de Dananns remain an enigma.

There are tombs all over Ireland—as far away as Northern Ireland and Sligo to the north, Kilkenny in the east, and Dingle in the southwest. They appear to maintain an exact geographic alignment. That alignment is not necessarily with the astronomical points of solstice and equinox, but with the other tombs.

This indicates that the influence of those who built at Newgrange must have extended over vast areas of Stone Age Ireland. According to Prof Muiris Ó Súilleabháin of the school of archaeology at University College Dublin, ‘The network of passage tombs across the countryside, reinforced by the alignment patterns, suggests extensive social control on the part of those responsible for the passage tombs.’

There are hundreds of legends and stories of the Fey controlling humans, manipulating time, playing ‘tricks.’ It isn’t a great leap to suppose that those same Fey or de Dananns, might be the Middle Neolithic people of Ireland who somehow crafted a complex web of structures across the island, meant to honour the passage of time.

Over the years, I’ve visited Newgrange on a number of occasions. It’s a major tourist destination, like Disneyland or the Eiffel Tower, so any archaic spiritual energy the place might have held has been washed away by years and years of camera-wielding humans. But the mystery behind the creation of the place lives on, as do the stories of the magnificent de Dannan. It offers a world of speculation for writers.

Once upon a time, Dementia didn’t exist . . .

. . . and since Aloysius Alzheimer wasn’t born until 1864, ‘Alzheimer’s’ didn’t exist either. The old women and men of the tribe were wise. Okay, maybe they didn’t have any teeth or hair left. And maybe, just like today, those wise people would forget things or lose something from time to time. But they kept their minds and bodies active, and that could slow down the aging process considerably. Atrophy can’t happen to tissue that’s in constant use. So, when the younger members of the tribe came to the old wise woman or man for advice—‘How do we keep beetles out of the grain?’ ‘What’s the best cure for heat rash?’—the wise person felt useful. 

Recently, I was part of a community service programme to teach computer skills to seniors. My students, farmers’ wives, were nearly eighty and had never used a keyboard, much less a computer. While I did teach them useful skills, they taught me surprising things as well. Like the basics of milking a cow, herringbone vs. swingover techniques, and what kind of milk can be used for drinking or must be used for cheese. They also taught me a few things about cooking (an activity I’ve never enjoyed) by sharing recipes we found online. They calmly explained things that would normally send me into a panic attack—separating eggs, making whipped cream, choosing the right ingredients for Irish Christmas cake. While learning what ‘Ctrl’ and ‘Alt’ meant, they joked about their dentures or how they wouldn’t be caught dead in a swim suit. Yet, after each computer class, these wise women of the village hurried off to set dancing or yoga or a céile in the neighbouring county.

Did I mention—This was a volunteer job, but I got paid in a currency called ‘insight,’ making the whole thing a wonderful experience I won’t forget.